The dream of the 90s is alive in Corvallis or at least 84 miles north in Portland, and the story of Sean Mannion over his Beaver career connects pretty strongly with one of the greatest movies of the 90s, Good Will Hunting. Mannion has paralleled the life of Will Hunting over the course of the last four years, hopefully looking to end his career with the Beavers with a couple of wins and a bowl game. That seems unlikely at this point, though so far, the story written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck holds for the most part.
Mannion's beginnings rival that of Hunting's, as his 2011 and 2012 seasons had flashes of the talent that they'd become. The 2011 performances against the Washington schools and the 2012 performances against Arizona and Cal were the beginning of a greater film for Mannion, a glimpse into what kind of quarterback he could become. These performances were his equivalent of calling out the guy with the ponytail about his use of the works of Gordon Wood and the solving of the first math problem Stellan Skarsgård puts up on the chalkboard. No one really knows about his talent, due to sharing time with Cody Vaz or running away from the scene of the problem, but there is something known to be brewing in both areas
In 2013, Sean Mannion ranked amongst the top quarterbacks in the country, ranking second in passing yards, third in completions and fourth in touchdown passes with a 66.3% completion percentage. While the Beavers were winning, Mannion was having a fantastic year. During the Beavers' six game winning streak, he averaged 428.3 yards per game with a 66% completion percentage. This was his version of Will working with the professor, having the conversation about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series with the late Robin Williams, and dating Minnie Driver's character. Making plays like this one against Colorado, in avoiding the rush (one of his bigger weaknesses), and pulling a Rex Grossman into a tight window into double coverage is his version Will Hunting's burgeoning success in that fictional world.
Specifically, Mannion excelled in moving to his other reads when given the time. He had some fantastic touch on some passes to his third or fourth receiver in a package, usually the tight end or a running back. His offense gave him a few strengths that he could play to during the season. Firstly, the screen game helped negate the threat of a rush, which helped to mitigate his weaknesses in avoiding the rush, like so. Secondly, Bradin Cooks worked ashis security blanket, with the possess ability to be a safety valve, and the speed to stretch defenses to make catches downfield.
The only problem in all this was the five game losing streak that the Beavers went on to end their regular season. Mannion did throw three or more interceptions in three of these game, the equivalent of Will Hunting blowing off job opportunities and becoming distant toward Minnie Driver. Mannion recovered from this downturn and completed 72.7% of his passes in a win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, which could have been his "I gotta see about a girl" moment, and declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. He was graded as a mid-round prospect, which apparently wasn't good enough for him to leave the confines of Reser Stadium.
This year, the Beavers have been uninspiring even with Mannion leading the offense. The defense has faltered as of late, allowing 267 yards rushing to Cal and allowing 471 passing yards and 5 touchdowns to Luke Falk in his first start. Mannion torched a suspect Wazzu defense for 419 on 31-41 passing, but he came away with only one touchdown, with the Beavers settling for four field goals. Mannion was also sacked four times. He's in the same downward spiral as the year before, where Mike Riley need to continue to tell him that it's not his fault. And to a certain extent it isn't.
His offensive line is currently held together with duct tape after returning two starters from the previous year,and the loss of Isaac Seumalo has really driven a stake into those problems. In the majority of schemes, the center is the one calling the protection schemes, and having an inexperienced center can cause probems against blitzes. All four sacks in the Washington State game came from blitzes, and three out of four times, men came unblocked (1, 2, 3, and 4) straight through holes in the protection. Either the running backs are failing in pass protection, or there is miscommunication up front that doesn't allow Mannion to step up and throw. This leaves out another problem in the lack of weaponry Mannion can utilize. Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamen haven't come close to equaling the impact that Cooks had last year, and the screen game isn't working on the same level due to that patchwork line. Mannion can't hide his weakness at playing against the rush, which leads to sacks, or as was the case against Cal, getting intercepted at a critical juncture.
Mannion has suffered the Matt Barkley problem, or the Sam Bradford conundrum depending upon which part of the country you live in, by staying too long. He needed a Chuckie to tell him that he needed to take his talents elsewhere, or he'd kill him. Right now, it feels like Mike Riley is in the Robin Williams role, holding Mannion while repeating that it's not his fault. With three difficult game coming in Arizona State, Washington, and Oregon in the Civil War in Reser, Mannion needs to get in his rebuilt Chevy Nova, and find a way to drive off into the sunset with two more wins and a bowl berth. Hopefully his team can keep him upright so he can do so.