Oregon State football gets victory

The Beavers' defense helps the offense in a win over Washington St.

By Zack Hall / The Bulletin / @cogolfguy

Published Oct 7, 2012 at 05:00AM

CORVALLIS —

Sometimes all anybody needs is a little help from a friend.

In the case of Oregon State's offense, which struggled so mightily in the first half Saturday, all it needed was a transcendent performance by cornerback Jordan Poyer and a defense that gave quarterback Sean Mannion and his offense all the time they needed to get it right.

The No. 14 Beavers, off to their best start in 10 years, beat Washington State 19-6 in front of a record crowd of 46,579 at sun-drenched Reser Stadium.

Though the Cougars represented the potential for a classic letdown game for Oregon State, the result was expected for the heavily favored Beavers. But unlike the past two wins — in which Mannion and company lit up UCLA and Arizona — it was the OSU offense in need of a bailout.

Oregon State's sophomore quarterback threw for 271 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions. And the Beavers struggled early to handle the blitzes of Washington State. But the defense came up with four interceptions and came up with big play after big play.

“It was one of those games that were just hard,” said Mike Riley afterward in the Valley Football Center. “You can't script these things. We knew (WSU) was going to be disruptive, play hard.

“Our defense this week picked our team up and made plays and really did the same thing to them.”

Yes, a week after the Beaver defense allowed more than 500 yards of total offense at Arizona, it held WSU to 227 yards and did not allow a single touchdown.

Of course, it does not hurt to have Poyer on your side. The senior from Astoria intercepted three passes, including the game-clincher late in the fourth quarter.

And with an offense that was struggling, Poyer's performance was necessary.

“I go against him every day (in practice) ... and he is real tough,” said Beaver wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who caught nine passes for 95 yards a touchdown. “He makes me a lot better. So it doesn't surprise me at all that he did what he did.”

The Beavers' offense came out as if it wanted to show its fans what they had been missing while OSU was away racking up big points and yards in road wins against in Pasadena and Tucson.

Mannion hit Brandin Cooks, who ended up with five catches for 82 yards, on a gorgeous pass over two Washington State defenders to get inside the Cougars' 20. That led to a Trevor Romaine field goal.

As far as quality offense goes, that would be about it for the half. Oregon State's offense was abysmal near the end zone. The Beavers made four first-half trips inside Washington State's 25-yard line — including their first three possessions of the game — and managed just six points in the game's first 30 minutes.

Moments after the opening field goal, Poyer stepped in front of a Wazzu receiver to intercept Connor Halliday's pass on the OSU 32. But the Beaver offense was stymied on a fourth-down play.

Worse yet, Mannion was performing a spot-on impression of the 2011 version of himself. His two first-half interceptions were reminiscent of the puzzling decisions that helped him lead the nation in interceptions as a redshirt freshman a year ago.

With 2:23 left in the first quarter, Mannion lofted a ball to Cougar safety Deone Bucannon on a curious throw nowhere near an OSU receiver. In the second quarter and under duress, Mannion appeared to throw directly to nose tackle Ioane Gauta, who lumbered the gift 38 yards to the OSU 31.

Thankfully for the Beavers, safety Anthony Watkins put a stop to the momentum with an interception of his own that led to another OSU field goal.

In all, Mannion managed to complete just 11 of 23 first-half pass attempts for 140 yards and was sacked twice.

That stat line would have meant doom last year. But this Beaver defense was up to the challenge again and again.

That was not lost on Riley.

“It was just one of those games,” Riley said, “Our kids fought through it and won it. And for right now that is good. And tomorrow we'll talk about the rest of it.”

The defense provided Mannion enough time to get his act together, which happened on the Beavers' opening drive of the second half. Mannion rolled out right and dropped a 12-yard touchdown pass to a crossing Wheaton. That capped an impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive.

After playing so poorly in the first 30 minutes, Mannion hit on all five of his passes for 65 yards to lead the Beavers to a 13-3 lead.

“They might have caught us off guard at the beginning, myself included, but as the game went on we really settled down,” Mannion said. “I'm really proud of the way our team came out in the second half. I think that says a lot about us.”

The Beavers sprang to life one last time to salt away the game, going 86 yards on 12 plays and ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tyler Anderson with 5:01 to play.

For OSU's young quarterback and his team, it was a moment of growth made easier by a win.

That offense had carried OSU to two Pac-12 wins. Now the defense has led the Beavers to a win over Washington State and, in the season opener, a 10-7 victory over Wisconsin.

And the Beavers are salivating over the thought of both units playing well at the same time.

“I can't wait to put together a total game,” said freshman Oregon State running back Storm Woods, who struggled with 55 yards rushing and two missed blocks that led to two sacks. “I'm very happy to be 4-0, but I just know that even though we're 4-0 there is a lot of work we can do. I think we're a good team, but I think we can be a GREAT team.”

Maybe so. But even great teams need to be bailed out every once in a while.