The 6-4 220-pound signal caller holds the keys to OSU’s fortunes in a season that is starting to slip away from head coach Mike Riley and his staff.
The Beavers (6-3, 4-2) are coming off a pair of home losses — 20-12 to No. 5 Stanford at home on Oct. 26 and 31-14 to USC on Nov. 1. This week, they must travel to Tempe, Arizona, to face a surging (7-2, 5-1) Arizona State squad.
Unfortunately for Mannion and Co., ASU leads the league statistically in pass defense and total defense. The Sun Devils have won four in a row and are unbeaten at home this season.
The good news for Oregon State fans: the Beavers have one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous offenses with Mannion at the helm. The redshirt junior has led the nation in passing and touchdowns. He has prototypical size and arm strength to be a viable NFL prospect. Mannion is known for his accuracy, good decision-making and proven leadership skills.
Mannion racked up 3,263 yards and 30 touchdowns against three interceptions in his first eight games this season. However, the Beaver passing attack has been shaky of late; Mannion was sacked eight times against Stanford and threw three picks against USC.
Mannion’s favorite target is wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who has the speed and sure hands to make every play a potential score. Additional aerial threats include WR Richard Mullaney and TE Connor Hamlett.
Oregon State hasn’t had much to brag about on the ground. RB Storm Woods has been largely ineffective behind an offense line that has shown itself to be more adept at passing blocking than opening running lanes. Ditto for fellow RB Terron Ward.
For this reason, the Beavers aren’t even trying to run much and are instead relying on Mannion’s arm to win games.
The defensive side of the ball has been a mixed bag for Oregon State thus far in 2013. DE Scott Crichton is capable of being a formidable pass rusher, as he demonstrated against Utah. Safety Ryan Murphy anchors a talented secondary that could test the skill of ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Oregon State has been at its best this season on the road, averaging 46.5 points while going 4-0 away from Corvallis. Nevertheless, the Beavers are just 3-10 against Top 25 opponents on the road over the last five years. One of those losses came two years ago in Tempe, as ASU intercepted Mannion four times in a 35-20 win.
Bottom line: Oregon State must find a way to protect Mannion from Arizona State’s aggressive, attacking defense to have any chance of leaving Tempe victorious on Saturday night.