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Oregon State's Sean Mannion, a redshirt freshman, continued his evolution as a Pac-12 quarterback in last week's 37-27 win over Arizona.
Now, he is BYU's problem.
Whether it was getting the ball to secondary receivers, making plays to keep scoring drives alive or executing in the red zone, Mannion advanced his game at precisely the wrong time for the Cougars.
BYU faces Mannion and the suddenly-rejuvenated Beavers on Saturday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, and the Cougars' chance of winning could depend on their ability to limit Mannion's effectiveness.
Arizona couldn't do it.
Against the Wildcats, Mannion led Oregon State to its first victory of a previously dreary season. He completed 32 of 41 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Beyond the numbers, coach Mike Riley was impressed by Mannion's improving grasp of his position.
"He grew," Riley said. "I thought a couple of times he checked the ball off to a running back that wasn't the focus of the pass pattern. … Instead of trying to force something down the field, he dumped the ball. That's good stuff."
Significantly, Mannion's first pass of the game was an unlucky interception. He quickly put the turnover out of his mind, however, and guided Oregon State to a touchdown on its next possession.
"I thought that was good composure," Riley said.
Mannion, a pocket-preferring passer, threw for 6,129 yards and 50 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, Calif. A four-star recruit whom Rivals.com rated the 14th-best pro-style quarterback in the country in 2009, Mannion made an early commitment to Oregon State and stuck with it despite late interest from Cal, Arizona and UCLA. He redshirted last season, but quickly impressed Riley by his work habits and eagerness to study the game.
"He's got a nice arm and he's smart," Riley said. "But the [improvement] is coming from learning more and knowing how to use the offense."
Mannion came off the bench behind junior Ryan Katz in Oregon State's first two games, but he started in Week 3. He has passed for an average of 297 yards in losses to UCLA and Arizona State and the win over Arizona. The 19-year-old son of a high school coach, Mannion's performance against the Wildcats caught the eye of BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
"I think they are gaining momentum," Mendenhall said.
Said Riley: "He did a nice job of driving our team, and that's such a big part of quarterbacking."
Against BYU, Mannion faces a defense that has limited four of its first six opponents to 17 points or less.
Even including a turnover-plagued 54-10 loss to Utah, the Cougar defense ranks 49th in the country in scoring defense (23.5) and 29th in pass defense (200.17).
Riley believes playing against BYU's 3-4 defense gives Mannion another opportunity to take another step forward as Oregon State's quarterback of the future.
"With a 3-4," Riley said, "they can rush three. But more often than not, they bring one of those linebackers to balance up the rush lanes. They corner blitz, too. So there is a lot of stuff we have to be prepared for. … Just much more variety."
What does Riley hope to see from Mannion this week?
"Continued growth," he said. "That's what he needs to keep going."
Work in progress
Oregon State's Sean Mannion's game-by-game passing statistics:
Opponent Comp-Att Yds TDs INTs
Sacramento St. 8-12 143 0 0
Wisconsin 25-38 244 0 0
UCLA 24-40 287 1 1
Arizona St. 40-66 341 1 4
Arizona 32-41 267 2 2
Totals 129-197 1,282 4 7