If you had asked in August which team in the Pac 12 had the best tandem of wide receivers, the near unanimous answer would have been the USC Trojans. It would be hard to top the talent of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods with a Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Matt Barkley throwing their way. So after a month, surely these two mega-talents are dominating the Pac 12, right?
Not so fast, says Mike Riley. As it turns out, it is the Oregon State Beavers that have the best wide receiver tandem so far this season in sophomore Brandin Cooks and senior Markus Wheaton. We’ll forgive you if you didn’t have them on your preseason All-Conference watch lists.
Nobody expected the Beavers to be at 3-0 to start the season, and nobody has a more impressive three wins in the country than Oregon State. Shutting down Montee Ball and the Wisconsin Badgers at home, heading to Pasadena to stifle Jonathan Franklin and the UCLA Bruins, and finally winning a shootout in the desert over the Arizona Wildcats leaves little doubt about how legitimate these Beavers are.
The fast start has been a total team effort. The defense is ranked ninth nationally against the run (second in the Pac 12), Sean Mannion has been fantastic throwing for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns, and Storm Woods has given legs to the Beaver running game. But it has been Cooks and Wheaton on the outside providing the biggest spark.
In the opening game upset over Wisconsin, it was Cooks who hauled in the winning touchdown in the third quarter as part of a six reception, 80 yard performance. Wheaton provided plenty of offense as well, hauling in eight catches for 87 yards.
Two weeks later, both Cooks and Wheaton provided long touchdown strikes against the Bruins which proved to be the difference in the game. Cooks struck first in the second quarter with a 75 yard catch and run that broke a 3-3 tie. Later in the quarter, Mannion found Wheaton in the end zone for a 42 yard score, giving the Beavers the cushion they needed to hold on in the second half. Cooks finished the game with six catches for 175 yards while Wheaton hauled in nine catches for 150 yards.
Then in the Beavers trip to Tucson, it was Wheaton who broke out against the Wildcats. He hauled in 10 passes for 166 yards and found the end zone twice, including once in the 4th quarter to put Oregon State ahead 31-28. Cooks finished just behind him on the stat sheet, catching nine passes for 149 yards.
On the season, the duo has been the third best 1-2 combination of receivers in the country behind only Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin of the West Virginia Mountaineers and Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese of the Baylor Bears. They are the top two receivers in the Pac 12, with Cooks averaging 134.67 yards per game (5th best in the country) and Wheaton just behind him at 134.33 yards per game (6th best in the country). That’s what you call balance.
The emergence of a two-headed receiving threat for Oregon State to go along with their new-found running game will give the Beavers as much balance as anyone in the country going forward. It may not be what we expected when the season started, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.