It was an ominous start, as the first play from scrimmage was a snap that went flying over Sean Mannion's head, forcing the senior quarterback to do an about-face and chase after it. By the time he'd caught, and covered, up, the Beavers had lost 18 yards. A false start penalty later, it was 2nd and 33. After an incompletion, tight end Connor Hamlett fumbled a 3rd down reception and Oregon State was lucky to fall on that loose ball, as well.
Things would settle down, kind of. The Beavers had 13 penalties, good for 119 yards. Some can and will be fixed. Others, like tight end Caleb Smith's multiple false starts, are more troubling. Smith had the same problem last year, when the frequent penalties led to some decreases in his playing time. Smith, a big, powerful target and blocker, could suffer the same fate this year if he doesn't control his jumps.
Sean Mannion was another part that never settled down. As per usual for Mannion, when he missed the target he missed high, but on Saturday he missed much more often than usual. His completions rarely hit his receivers in stride, and at times his timing was off. The good news is that those will probably figure themselves out as the season goes on, and it's safe to say Mannion will get back to where he was last year. A promising sign is that he didn't throw an interception, and none of his throws were obvious mistakes that could or should have been picked. He's cut down on turnovers each year, and it appears he's taken another step in that direction in his senior year. He also displayed a level of awareness and comfort in the pocket above what he's shown in previous seasons, often making the little adjustments he needed to to stay safe, while keeping his feet calmer than they've been in the past. That said, I don't think we should expect too many more rushing touchdowns from him, though he did double his career total with one (1) against PSU.
There were many positives, however, to be seen in the run game as a whole. They had 176 yards on the ground, a mark they didn't hit until the Civil War last year. Storm Woods looked fast, strong, and shifty, and could get back to putting up numbers like his redshirt freshman year, when he had 944 yards and 13 touchdowns. What's troubling is that, while they racked up the yards, coach Mike Riley still heavily favored the pass, especially in the red zone. The most glaring example was in the beginning of the 3rd quarter, when the Beavers moved from their own 40 yard line to first and goal from the 9, with only 7 of those yards coming through the air. Riley promptly dialed up 3 consecutive passes, all of which fell incomplete. Last year, there were games where Oregon State would run the ball a few times early in the game, have little to no success, and then abandon it altogether. This year, they appear to be better on the ground, and without Brandin Cooks to bail out Mannion and the offense, they can't afford to abandon it.
Red zone efficiency as a whole was the most glaring problem of the game. OSU had 9 trips to the red zone, and came away with 5 field goals and 1 touchdown. That's not nearly good enough, and will need to change if Oregon State wants to come close to competing against the upper-tier teams of the Pac-12. Another area in the "needs improvement" category is the 2 minute drill. Time management at the ends of halves has been a problem for Riley in the past, and it showed again against the Vikings. The Beavers started their drive at the end of the first half on their own 25 with 1:36 left and two timeouts. 4 plays and 44 yards later, there were 15 seconds left on the clock. Obviously, the ends of halves are hugely important, and the ability to control the clock during those stretches is paramount to winning close games.
Luckily, the defense played even better than people expected. They pitched a shutout in the 2nd half, and while they were burned early by a mobile QB, it's hard to be disappointed after giving up just 14 points. One of the Vikings' scores was on a 58-yard run by QB Paris Penn, and the other came on a 73-yard drive during which the Beavs gave up 40 yards of penalty yardage. Tyrequek Zimmerman had 2 interceptions, Michael Doctor forced one fumble and recovered another. The linebackers and defensive backs showed they have talent, and just a little bit of help from the defensive line could turn this defense into a great one. Cleaning up the mental mistakes will lead to having the playmakers on the defense shining through.
As can be said for every team at this stage, the Beavers need to improve in order to accomplish what they intend to in 2014. But the defensive playmaking, improved run game, and reliability from Sean Mannion should get the team through the early part of the schedule, letting the team improve on its way to the big-name opponents that are a bit farther away.