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Sean Mannion and the Oregon State Beavers have grown together, and they reaped the rewards with another outstanding victory on the road in Tucson against the Arizona Wildcats.
There it was. Sean Mannion, seven yards from the end zone, ready to survey the field and execute the plan. The play was already in place, and now it was up for Mannion to hope the defender bit just enough so he'd have the advantage to peg the middle of the zone.
Back he stepped. Ready to execute, ready to deliver. Mannion waited, let the play unfold, got the protection he needed, then found the dart: right down the left side of the field to the sneaking Connor Hamlett. Touchdown, and eventually ballgame.
Oregon State is now 3-0, and the Beavers took out two squads with new upgrades at coach. Rich Rodriguez's spread proved that it could score points with the best of them, but Mannion got the better of him and Jeff Casteel's vaunted 3-3-5. Mannion game-managed, kept the football when needed, threw away when needed, and then occasionally uncorked the potential of what is to come with him when people start looking beyond college.
But back to Saturday, this game was all about the two quarterbacks. Matt Scott dueled as valiantly as he could, but did make two crucial turnovers (one with Arizona just taking the lead, setting up a short field and a touchdown for Mannion, and the other on the final desperation drive). Yet he had to be near perfect to keep up with Mannion, who looks like he's getting better by the week. Add in crucial support from Markus Wheaton and Storm Woods plus crucial support from unknown names
This was what last year was all about for Mike Riley, who handed the car keys over to Mannion as a redshirt freshman. The Beavers were clearly not likely going to produce much of worth that season and Riley knew early on that this would be a rebuilding year, so why not rebuild around the quarterback too? Let the whole unit grow under a new leader, especially one as promising as Mannion, and the team might eventually accomplish something of worth down the line.
Riley played for the long-term in the short-term, and the dividends are paying off with a 3-0 Oregon State team that is showing it can win in many different ways. They can win with their defense and bottle up a run game like Wisconsin's. They can go pro-style with UCLA and play fundamentally sound and execute better on both sides of the ball. And they can play a helter-skelter offensively minded contest against a spread team like Oregon and stay alive doing so.
All of this has to do with not just Riley, but with Mannion, who is giving his Oregon State team the confidence they need to believe they can compete and battle with anyone and beat anyone anywhere. Together, they're going to show how far these gritty Beavers are able to go in their quest to make something impossible possible.