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October 11, 2012

5 Ways to Win Without Mannion

So, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has a meniscus injury to his left knee and is sidelined for an indefinite period of time. The job of calling signals now falls to backup quarterback Cody Vaz. But he hasn't played since the 2010 season. As far as we know, they won't stop playing the games, including Saturday afternoon's road tilt in Provo, UT against Brigham Young, so OSU must persevere through the injury.

It won't be easy, but win anyway. Mike Riley's comment that 'We're gonna win the game with Cody' was smart because it will boost team morale and Vaz's confidence. What should the Beavers do to assure victory on Saturday?

1. Make Cody Vaz A Game Manager: Frankly, the worst thing for Vaz would be for the offensive coaches to develop a game plan requiring him to make plays from the opening kickoff in order for Oregon State to beat BYU. The NFL philosophy of 'You don't have to win it, but don't lose it, either' should apply here.

Instead, let the talented players around Vaz do their jobs. Allow Vaz, who has thrown just 17 passes in his career, to ease into the situation with safe, secure throws to Markus Wheaton (36 receptions) and Brandin Cooks (26) and a productive running game (See No. 2 below) in the first half. If Vaz proves he can handle the easier tasks, then Riley and the offensive coaches can open up the playbook a little more in the second half.

The mandate given to Vaz should be simple: ball security, ball security, ball security. In other words, don't turn it over.

With this game being his first action since 2010, he will likely experience a bout with nerves at the beginning. That's only natural.

But those are the most vulnerable moments for the ball slipping through fingers and landing on the ground. In order to enhance his confidence, the OSU coaches should remind Vaz that he was a successful high school quarterback at St. Mary's High in Stockton, Calif. when he threw for 7,176 yards and 64 touchdowns in his final two seasons.

2. Run The Football: BYU might have the top-ranked rushing defense in the country (59.5 yards per game), but the Beavers are going to have to prove they can run the football to help protect Vaz and improve their odds of winning this game. Redshirt freshman Storm Woods (86.8 yards per game) is averaging 18.5 carries per game, but he needs 20 or more attempts in this contest. He has proven he can get the job done if given the opportunity - Woods had a career high 161 yards rushing at Arizona in a breakout performance and he's averaging a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry. Here's a prediction - despite being ranked 103rd nationally in rushing offense, the Beavers will have some success running the football on the Cougars.

Why? BYU's lofty national ranking in rushing defense is largely built on a foundation of paper mache. Three of BYU's first six opponents are ranked 108th or below out of 120 Division I schools in rushing offense (Washington State, Utah and Hawaii). Two more are ranked 77th (Boise State) and 85th (Weber State). The highest ranked rushing team faced by BYU this season? Utah State in 63rd. Not exactly a Murderer's Row of rushing teams.

Playing on the road, OSU can't afford to turn one-dimensional on offense. So, the strategy should be to run straight at the Cougars in the early going to make them prove they're worthy of that No. 1 ranking.

The Beavers have been balanced this season by averaging 39 rushes and 43 pass attempts per game. Don't shy away from the ground game. In fact, embrace it.

3. Roll The Pocket: Four inches shorter than Mannion, the Beavers likely won't be able to do the same things on offense with the 6-foot-1 Vaz that they could do with Mannion - namely, utilize him as a drop back passer. Vaz is going to need throwing lanes to get the ball to his receivers.

The burden will be on the coaches to design a strategy to fit their new starting quarterbacks' skill set. There aren't many 6-foot-1 drop back quarterbacks around the country, that's for sure, so there should be some tweaks to the scheme.

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Riley has claimed that Vaz's playing style isn't much different than Mannion's. But once the game starts and the bullets start flying at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, UT, I'm sure things will change. Oregon State has one key advantage in this game - BYU has very little, if any, film on Vaz. So, their scouting report is minimal. The BYU coaches have undoubtedly been scrambling this week to locate tape of Vaz. If OSU runs their offense a little differently than when Mannion was calling signals, it could enhance the element of surprise.

4. Challenge the Defense To Step Up Even More: Oregon State has one of the top defenses in the country, ranking fourth in rushing defense (67.3 ypg), 23rd in scoring defense (17.0 ppg) and 39th in total defense (353.3 ypg). The only major defensive category the Beavers must improve is passing defense (286.0 ypg).

BYU features a balanced attack with 189.0 yards rushing and 209.3 yards passing per game. Somehow, someway, Oregon State must shut down one of those two areas and continue to excel on third down defense (20.4 percent conversion rate for opponents).

Getting off to a solid start will be beneficial. The Beavers have not allowed a point in the first quarter this season - joining Alabama and Penn State as the only schools to pitch a shutout in the opening frame in 2012. In addition, they have yielded a combined 158 yards (39.5 per game average) of total offense, eight first downs and forced eight three-and-outs in the first quarter through four games. So, continue the solid defense in the first quarter and proceed from there.

5. Channel The Road Warrior Mentality: The Beavers are looking for their third consecutive road win, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 2008. So far this season, OSU has displayed incredible grit and strength of character in posting road wins over UCLA and Arizona en route to the 4-0 record and Top 10 ranking. The Beavers have already won more games than they did all of last year thanks in large part to the success on the road.

It takes a mentally tough team to achieve the kind of road success OSU has enjoyed this season. Team leaders like senior cornerback Jordan Poyer, the Walter Camp Foundation Co-Player of the Week after intercepting three Washington State passes last week, must take the lead, embrace Vaz and the 'next man up' attitude and refuse to allow the defense to take a step backward from their strong start. Remember, BYU has quarterback issues of their own. Make them pay the price.


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