Oregon State QB Sean Mannion Quietly off to a Hot Start
Lost in Oregon State becoming the first Top 25 team beaten by a Championship Subdivision opponent in three years was quarterback Sean Mannion's outstanding individual performance.
The junior threw for 422 yards and three touchdowns in the 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington. For his encore in the Beavers' 33-14, bounce-back defeat of Hawaii, Mannion struck for 372 yards and another four scores.
Memories of a quarterback battle with Cody Vaz, which began in late October 2012 and lasted until the final week of preseason practice, are past. Mannion has taken firm control of this offense.
Through two games, his 794 passing yards are second-most among all quarterbacks in the nation. Registering big yards is nothing new for Mannion—in his freshman campaign, his 25.4 completions per game for 3,382 yards were No. 11 in college football.
His big arm also left him prone to turnovers. Mannion was picked off 18 times in 2011, and 13 more last year. Four came in the Beavers' first loss, at Washington, after his return from arthroscopic knee surgery. That showing ignited the competition that raged for several months, spilling over into the past offseason.
Mannion's prolific output to start 2013 has coincided with much-improved decision-making. He's finding teammates for long gains and touchdowns as he had in the past, but without the turnovers that were frequently one big step back anytime the Beavers stepped forward.
The quarterback competition came down to Mannion's risk-over-reward against Vaz's stability. Vaz was not susceptible to the interceptions that sometimes plagued Mannion, but the senior is also not the type to make a splash.
Mannion has game-changing potential. That's been both positive and negative for Oregon State, but head coach Mike Riley's decision to wager on Mannion providing more of the former is paying dividends.
After the Beavers' 2012 season-opening defeat of Wisconsin, the writing was on the wall that such play is what Riley ultimately wanted from the position.
Riley said to 750 The Game in Portland, Ore., following that game that striking a balance was critical.
"Quarterbacks have to make split second decisions, and I think that [Mannion] passed up some opportunities, and I thought played a relatively conservative game. You have got to have that mixture, of a little bit of a gunslinger."
Mannion is making those snap judgments and slinging it around plenty thus far—and doing so without his previous No. 1 target. Brandin Cooks has settled in nicely as replacement to Markus Wheaton, catching 20 balls for 288 yards and four touchdowns.
It's not just Cooks doing damage, though. Mannion has spread the wealth among 10 different receivers, including five with at least four catches. His even distribution will be a foundation for keeping defenses honest and cutting down on turnovers going forward.
Should Mannion continue at his current pace into Pac-12 play—which begins for the Beavers in Week 3 against Utah—his productivity won't go under the radar for long.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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