Its the second week of Oregon St.'s Cougarfest, as the Beavers trek to Provo, Utah, to take on the BYU Cougars, after picking up a 19-6 win last week against Washington St. to improve to 4-0, and move into the top 10.
Everything changed, of course, when Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion's knee was bothering him Sunday, and he got an MRI, which led to the news Monday morning that surgery would be required to clean up damage to the meniscus in his left knee.
Mannion's surgery on Wednesday went well, and Dr. David Aukerman said "He should kinda sail through this". Mannion shouldn't even miss more than 2-4 weeks.
But he will miss this week's game in BYU, and so Cody Vaz, who has been in the program for 3 1/2 years, but hasn't played since the 2010 Civil War game, and has only appeared in relief 5 times.
Compounding the problem, which was going to be a problem anyway, the Beavers are facing the top ranked run defense in the country in the Cougars, and the #5 defense overall.
Given past experiences with BYU, this was going to be a tough win to get anyway.
Despite their being highly ranked against the run, I expect Coach Riley to attempt to run the ball on the BYU defense, at least a little anyway, probably to the point of stalling a couple of drives. I also expect Vaz to make a bad throw that ends another drive; we can only hope its a miss and not an interception.
But even with Riley Nelson back, the Oregon St. defense won't allow BYU to get away from them. That will buy time for Riley to find some places in the Cougar defense where some work can get done. I expect both Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks to continue to torment opposing defenses; why would that stop now? And I think Riley will try to get something out of the tight end/h-back group, which could be a difference maker.
There's a chance for Riley to do some of his best coaching ever, and that in a year when he already has done some of his best work.
Whether it will be enough probably depends on who wins the turnover battle. Paging Scott Crichton!
Beaver Believer believes:
BB12's Keys to the Game Are:
1. Run the ball. I have enough belief in Cody Vaz as a backup qb that I'm not extremely worried about him, but the Beavs need to help him as much as possible. BYU has a great defense but Storm Woods and the offensive line still need to produce at a high level to help Vaz on his first start.
2. Better pass protection. Against WSU, Mannion got sacked too many times because of poor protection, with a new starting quarterback the Beavs have to do a better job protecting him.
3. Make field goals. This is not a game where Oregon State can afford to make mistakes. To leave points on the field and off the board against a strong BYU defense would be extremely difficult to overcome, Romaine has not been consistent so far this season and I personally have to close my eyes each time he kicks the ball. In a game that I believe will be a grind-it-out battle the Beavs need every point that they can get.
Losing Mannion hurts, there is no way around that fact. Vaz will be competent, he looked alright in training camp, he throws just as hard as Mannion. The only thing we need to see from Vaz is his poise and accuracy. The Beavs have had two good road tests before and overcame both and I believe the Beavers can do it again. I believe that the defense will continue to hold up and that the offense will produce just enough. I know that this is no easy match, but the Beavs have delivered so far and I see no reason not to believe now. 13-10 Beavs.
The key to beating BYU is not Cody Vaz. The key to beating BYU is to give Vaz the greatest room for error possible.
This has to do with everybody on the team not named Cody Vaz. Everybody around him needs to play at the top of their game, to accommodate for however low the top of his game proves to be. Ideally, the top of his game is about on par with Sean Mannion, but that doesn't seem too likely, and the BYU defense can shut a quarterback as good as Mannion anyway.
I do see this ending with a Beaver win. If need be, Oregon State is good enough to win despite a less than stellar QB performance, as we saw against Wazzu. This starts with a lot of Storm Woods carries, and a lot of Storm Woods yards. If the run game gets going, Mike Riley can continue to ease Vaz into the game with screens and quick timing routes that have been so effective. Then, if everybody does their jobs, not dropping accurate passes, letting defenders get into the backfield unblocked, or missing chip shot field goals, the Beavers offense will put enough points on the board to beat the struggling Cougar offense facing against the dynamic Beaver defense.
The final thought of this final thought piece is simple: In Vaz we trust.
So going into the Cougar Part 2 game this weekend my thoughts revolve around Mannion and the offensive line finding their form again, much like the defense did after the Arizona game against WSU. I think the offense should be taking it personally that they looked pretty flat against a WSU team that they should have lit it up on. I think Mannion and Co. should use this talk about how challenging the BYU defense is and find that poise and swagger we saw against Arizona and send a message around the country. Wait a minute...yes Andy?...oh, that's right...
Oh how things can change over the span of a Monday! So we have our backup QB playing for the first time in two years, and even then with very limited game experience, and going into a hostile on the road environment against a top-notch defense? Honestly it again seems on the surface to be back this week to a huge question mark for this team, but there is one big difference in my mind--the team has four wins under their belts and three high quality wins in my opinion. Yes I feel uneasy as heck as we put in an untested player into the most important skill position, the QB. At the same time though I have confidence in a tested defense that has proven they can win games for us. I also feel there could be a bit of a blessing for the offensive line in that they will have to put an extra bit of mental pressure on themselves to protect the new guy back there, and they seem to need an extra kick in the pants after what I thought was a poor showing against WSU.
I think a huge question mark will be the play calling and I felt it was a little stale at times against WSU, and now we have Vaz in there so will Riley stay true to what looks to be pass a lot to open up the run game from the passing? Will we see more short screen and crossing patterns with Wheaton and Cooks like we saw against Wisconsin? Or will we see them try and really establish a run game to take the pressure off the passing game (and against a very tough looking run defense)?
I have been talking a lot about this team's attitude and heart and I think we are going to see a big test of where this team is at as a team, and not just this Saturday but for how many games Mannion is out. It could end up being a bad step backwards thing, it could be a let's just get by until we get Mannion back good thing, or it could be a truly great building thing, for championship caliber messages can also be sent with a back up QB.
We'll find out soon!