The Wazzu stop corps not only managed to throw a wrench in No. 14 Oregon State's plans to blow them out in Corvallis -- as most pundits were predicting. Instead, they had Washington State in prime position to pull off a major upset until less than five minutes remained on the clock.
To say the Cougars' offensive effort was lacking Saturday afternoon would be like saying the new forums had a small problem or two. But Oregon State's offense was hardly applause worthy, either, in its 19-6 win -- and that was because of the Cougar D.
A defense that mostly went dormant in weeks 2-4 flexed its muscles at OSU. Quarterback Sean Mannion left Reser Stadium sacked and intercepted three times each. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 270 yards. He wouldn't have had nearly those numbers had the WSU offense been able to sustain a drive.
This was the same Sean Mannion who blew through UCLA and Arizona last month, the latter having surrendered 613 offensive yards to Oregon State (4-0, 3-0) last week.
"I think our defense took a step today," coach Mike Leach said in a postgame radio interview. "I think they played with good effort. I thought they did a lot of good things on defense."
By halftime, the Beavers only held a 6-3 advantage, thanks to a pair of field goals by Trevor Romaine. It was the first time the Cougars had held a conference opponent without a touchdown in the first half since 2010 (when they surprised the Beavers with a 31-14 win in the very same stadium.)
Oregon State finally scored a touchdown in the third quarter when Mannion connected with Markus Wheaton on a 12-yard pass into the corner of the end zone. Their next and final TD came with 4:38 left in the game and the Beavs holding just a 13-6 lead.
SAY WHAT YOU will about another frustrating Saturday for Cougar fans, but also say that it was a clear sign of progress for the defense. Safeties Deone Bucannon and Casey Locker and defensive tackle Ioane Gauta all intercepted Mannion, and BUCK linebacker Travis Long contributed a sack, three tackles and a pass breakup.
"By far," Bucannon was quoted as replying when asked if this was the best defense the Cougars had played in his three seasons with the team.
Despite a shaky offensive effort in which he completed 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards – and an interception – quarterback Jeff Tuel praised the defense's effort.
"The defense did a hell of a job," the senior said in remarks to The Seattle Times. "I mean honestly — they gave us every opportunity in the world to win a game."
The Beavers finished the day with 370 total yards of offense, including 100 on the ground. They also racked up three turnovers and 11 penalties for 110 yards.
"Washington State played hard and played well," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said in the Portland Tribune, "but we were at times our worst enemy."
The execution by the Cougars on defense had something to do with that, Mike.
And for the Cougs, it's up to them to carry over that kind of defensive performance this Saturday against Cal, and not to revisit the same path they traveled in weeks 2-4.