Defense carries Beavers to 4-0 start

By Andrew Kilstrom

Defense carries Beavers to 4-0 start

While waiting to give their post-game interviews, Oregon State sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion leaned over to senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who was sitting next to him, and whispered something inaudible into his ear.

Wheaton smiled in agreement, and Mannion gave the star receiver a low five with a small grin as if to say, “that was close, but we did it.”

After leading by only a field goal at half time, and dodging what seemed to be bullet after bullet, Oregon State beat Washington State 19-6 on Saturday, and moved up to No. 10 in the Associated Press Poll.

“Obviously we’re happy with the win, but I think there’s a lot that we can do better,” Mannion said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that … but we’re happy with the win however we can get it.”

The story of the game for the Beavers (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) was the defense, and specifically the secondary. Coming into the game, the main storyline was the high powered Washington State passing attack against an inconsistent Oregon State passing defense.

Oregon State clearly won the battle, holding Washington State (2-4, 0-3) to a meager 207 yards through the air on 37 attempts, including four interceptions.

No one played better than senior cornerback Jordan Poyer, who had not one, not two, but three interceptions on the day.

“I was seeing the field really well, and the plays that were there to make I made,” Poyer said. “You come into every game thinking that the defense is going to have to win the game, as far as playing defense goes. You come in expecting that, and I feel like we did OK.”

While Poyer was modest about his performance, the rest of the Oregon State team appreciated what he did Saturday and praised him for it.

“[It was] just a beast performance,” said sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton. “That’s what you call a superstar right there. He carried us on the defense too, so it was amazing.”

“Unbelievable game,”  head coach Mike Riley added. “He’s such a smart, instinctive, well-prepared guy. He can change a game with some plays and he did.”

While the defense dominated, the offense had one of its worst performances of the year. The unit only mustered 19 points against a Washington State defense that was allowing 32.5 points per game coming into the contest.

One reason for the lackluster performance on the offensive side of the ball was the play of Mannion and the offensive line.

After coming off of a career-high 433 yards passing, including three touchdowns and no interceptions, Mannion had his worst game of the season, throwing for only 270 yards and a costly three interceptions. Additionally, the sophomore was rushed throughout the game, being sacked three times and knocked down consistently.

“I can always think of tons and tons of stuff that I can do better,” Mannion said. “Today was a perfect example of that. I’m happy where I’m at, but at the same time, I can get so much better.”

“He can get better and he will,” added Riley. “He’ll study what went wrong and he’ll take it to heart and he’ll be better.”

The offense moved the ball like they have most of the year, but was constantly derailed by costly penalties and turnovers.

“It was one of those games when it’s just hard,” Riley said. “We knew this team was going to be disruptive, play hard. Their coaches did a nice job with a bunch of curve balls that we didn’t handle very well. Then penalties set us back early, some dropped balls did, so it was all hard.”

Penalties especially were something that had everyone talking after the game. The Beavers — who were already leading the Pac-12 in penalty yardage per game — racked up 110 yards on 10 fouls.

“We had so many penalties offensively that we couldn’t have any kind of flow,” Riley said. “We’d make a play and it would get called back to make it first down and 20. Those are hard to keep overcoming, and we didn’t, so that’s why the game was where it was.”

Despite everything that went wrong for OSU, they still managed to come away with the victory.

Interestingly, the win was similar to the victory in the season opener against Wisconsin, when the defense dominated and carried a struggling OSU offense.

It looked as though there would be a new trend that would be the norm after two great games from the offense, and average to poor performances from the defense. The win shows that Oregon State can win almost any type of ballgame, giving them many dimensions that could bode well for the team as the year progresses.

“Our defense this week picked the team up and made plays,” Riley said. “It was just one of those games. You have to play the game you’re in, and our team basically fought through it and won it. For right now, that’s good.”

A lot of the talk this week will likely have to do with concerns about the inconsistencies and potential weaknesses, but for now the Beavers are undefeated: a perfect 4-0.

“Our record says we’re perfect right now,” said Wheaton. “So I can’t argue with that. But we do have a lot to work on.”

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