The Oregon State Beavers were largely written off after their season-opening loss to FCS Eastern Washington. But the Beavers have rallied back to win six straight games coming into their showdown in Corvallis against the Stanford Cardinal this weekend. They’ve turned things around to get to 6-1 and 4-0 in conference play thanks to the elite play from quarterback Sean Mannion, who leads the nation in passing. Despite his eye-popping numbers, however, Mannion or the Beavers aren’t getting much respect. That can all change Saturday against the Cardinal.
It has been pretty incredible to watch the way Mannion has been dealing so far this season through the air. He’s completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 2,992 yards (427.4 per game) with 29 touchdowns (tying a school record for touchdowns in a season) and just three interceptions. He’s thrown for 400 yards or more in five of seven games this season, including three straight, and connected on at least three touchdown passes in every game this season. His season-low in 2013 was still an excellent 367-yard performance against the San Diego State Aztecs back in September which would rank him second in the nation in passing if that were his season average.
But some will argue that those numbers are inflated because he hasn’t faced a defense quite like Stanford this season. His four conference wins, where he’s thrown 19 touchdowns and two interceptions and 414 yards or more in each game, have come against four of the bottom five pass defenses in the Pac 12 in the Utah Utes (No. 8), Colorado Buffaloes (No. 11), Washington State Cougars (No. 10) and Cal Bears (No. 12). Oregon State ranks No. 9 in pass defense, so he’s been practicing against them all season long as well. The Cardinal will present the toughest test of the season for Mannion by far.
That isn’t to say there won’t be opportunities for him to excel. Stanford is uncharacteristically ranked No. 6 in pass defense this season, allowing 247.1 yards per game, and has given up 300 yards or more passing in three games this season against the Arizona State Sun Devils, WSU and the Washington Huskies. That yards per game average is even a little skewed in Stanford’s favor after playing a non-conference game against the Army Black Knights who attempted just 10 passes for 49 yards. In their six other games, Stanford has allowed an average of 280.2 yards passing per game which would rank No. 11 in the conference.
Stanford appears to have figured out their issues, however, in pass defense. They’ve held back-to-back opponents to less than 250 yards passing, including keeping Brett Hundley and the UCLA Bruins to just 192 yards through the air in their win last week. They have been getting after the quarterback regularly this season, ranking No. 4 in the Pac 12 with 19 sacks on the season (15 of which have come in Pac 12 play) and have nine interceptions on the year, led by Jordan Richards and his team-high three picks.
The Cardinal are a well-respected defense with playmakers at every level who will do their best to make life difficult for Mannion. If the junior quarterback can lead the Beavers past Stanford, it will legitimize this team and make many forget that unfortunate start to the season. By toppling the defending Pac 12 champs, Oregon State will become a real threat for the Pac 12 title and Mannion will finally earn the recognition that his play should warrant.
If Mannion dominates on Saturday the way he has all season long, you won’t be able to ignore the Oregon State Beavers or their big-armed quarterback anymore.