Boise State came into the 2013 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl looking for its first win without Chris Petersen at the helm since 2005. Oregon State sent a message to the Broncos that the rebuilding effort might be a bit more rocky than they'd hoped.
Spurred by two defensive touchdowns by Rashaad Reynolds, the Beavers turned in their most dominant first half of football all season en route to a 38-23 victory over Boise State at Aloha Stadium.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for Oregon State, which took Mike Riley's squad from the top of the Pac-12 Conference all the way down to merely hoping to receive a bowl bid. Suffice it to say the Beavers took advantage, winning their first postseason game since 2008.
Reynolds, a senior defensive back, stole the show with two first-half fumble returns for touchdowns. He scooped up a Scott Crichton strip-sack of Grant Hedrick from three yards out in the first quarter, and then went the distance from 70 yards after picking up a Troy Ware fumble in the second quarter.
Reynolds was easily the player of the game for his efforts, helping lead the charge that gave Oregon State a critical 31-6 halftime lead.
In falling behind four scores early, Boise State looked every bit like a team going through a transition. The Beavers scored on their first two drives to get out to a 10-3 lead, followed by the two Broncos fumbles on their next three drives that turned the contest into a blowout before fans were settled into their seats. Reynolds' second touchdown put Oregon State ahead 24-6 with 7:46 remaining in the second quarter.
The early deficit made life difficult for linebackers coach Bob Gregory, who replaced Petersen as the interim coach for the bowl game. While Gregory obviously did his best to maintain continuity, it was evident that Boise State wasn't ready for a hungry Beavers team.
It also didn't help that the Broncos were hamstrung by the dismissal of quarterback Joe Southwick. The senior signal-caller was sent home from the bowl game Friday, after allegedly urinating from a hotel balcony. Southwick had not been named the starter by Gregory, but was expected to get major action in his final game as a Bronco.
"We investigated the matter with university administrators, coaching staff, a law enforcement official, hotel security and student-athletes," a Boise State statement read, per ESPN. "We made the decision to send the student-athlete home, and we stand by this difficult decision."
Hedrick, who served as Boise State's top quarterback while Southwick was injured for part of the season, performed admirably in his stead. Despite the early turnovers, Hedrick completed 32 of 44 passes for 382 yards and a touchdown. He was instrumental in the second half, as Boise State came back from a 38-6 deficit to bring the game toward respectability.
Matt Miller was on the receiving end of 206 yards' worth of Hedrick passes, including an 85-yard touchdown reception that brought the score to 38-20 with 9:19 remaining. Running back Jay Ajayi also had a stellar outing with 97 yards and a touchdown.
While the score mostly indicated a blowout, Boise State actually gained 538 yards to Oregon State's 454. The Beavers employed a mostly conservative style in the second half to keep their lead. Quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 259 yards and a touchdown against an interception, while running back Storm Woods led all rushers with 107 yards on 16 carries.
Woods' five-yard touchdown with 7:58 remaining in the third quarter finalized the scoring for Oregon State. The Beavers finish their season at 7-6, their eighth winning season in Riley's 13 years as head coach.
Boise State, meanwhile, walks into an uncertain future. Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State quarterback who served as the Broncos' offensive coordinator from 2006-10, takes over the program from Petersen. The talent cupboard isn't exactly bare, but Petersen leaving for Washington after years of being pursued by other programs may indicate Harsin won't be walking into an instant top-bowl contender.
Sean Mannion (QB, Oregon State): B
The Mannion for Heisman push went down in flames late in the season, but the Oregon State signal-caller provided a strong reminder why he was so highly regarded for much of 2013. His offensive line gave him seemingly hours at a time to throw, and Mannion responded in kind with a series of accurate throws underneath.
Oregon State's early defensive excellence made it clear that Mannion wouldn't have to do too much. As the Beavers' 2013 season was going down in disappointment, too often Mannion was given the responsibility of single-handedly making a comeback effort only to fall short.
Mannion hasn't indicated whether he will return to school next season. He and Brandin Cooks are one of the nation's best duos, at times resembling a collegiate version of Tom Brady and Wes Welker.
Cooks is going to get NFL looks himself, but this Oregon State offense could be really dynamic if both return.
Grant Hedrick (QB, Boise State): B-
You can't really fault Hedrick. He came out in an untenable situation, did his best to perform and just wasn't good enough. There was no clear indication as to whether he or Southwick would be the starter when the team arrived in Hawaii, but the fact that they were preparing as if both quarterbacks would play had to affect Hedrick's performance.
That said, it's not like Hedrick was a wide-eyed freshman starting his first game. He had been the Broncos' starting quarterback down the stretch, and has been in the system long enough that nothing should shock him. Hedrick should have been much better before garbage time, but he was solid enough to bring the game back to respectability.
Late stats are nice and make his performance look better, but he was probably a net negative in the first half.
Jay Ajayi (RB, Boise State): B+
The Boise State running back found consistent success all evening, running with power inside and dragging Beaver defenders with him along the way. He finishes his sophomore season with touchdown runs in each of his final four games, and Ajayi went only three games all year without getting into the end zone.
In a game that was filled with frustration and fixable mistakes, Ajayi was the one constant. He is one of the nation's most underrated rushers, and it will be a shock if he isn't even more heavily featured in 2014. Either way, it was a solid finish to a breakout season—even if the result wasn't ideal.
Rashaad Reynolds (CB, Oregon State): A
Admittedly, both of Reynolds' touchdowns were a result of being at the right place at the right time. Scott Crichton and Larry Scott were responsible for the fumbles Reynolds scooped up and scampered into the end zone. In a certain respect, he could be considered the goal-line back vulturing the scores away from the guys who did all of the work.
That said, two defensive touchdowns speak volumes. Scoring two touchdowns in your final collegiate game, as pro scouts sit at home watching you? That's the type of stuff that can artificially inflate a draft stock enough to make Reynolds an even richer man once he reaches the next level.
His 70-yard fumble return was the third-longest in school history, and for a kid who has been considered a leader throughout his time at Oregon State, it was a special moment. Couple that with excellent coverage in the defensive secondary, and the Hawaii Bowl was one heck of a showcase for Reynolds.
Luck or not, Reynolds deserves his "A" grade.
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