CORVALLIS — The Oregon State Beavers have a break this week to heal up and address some issues after an uneven but interesting start to the season.
The Beavers dropped their opener to lower-division Eastern Washington, but have since reeled off four straight wins.
And they’ve done it nearly exclusively on the arm of quarterback Sean Mannion and the hands of his favorite target, Brandin Cooks.
“I like the way we rebounded after a rocky start,” Mannion said. “We’ve just got to go full speed ahead from here and look back at what we’ve done and be happy with it.”
Mannion was the Pac-12 player of the week for the second time this season following Oregon State’s 44-17 victory over Colorado this past weekend.
The 6-foot-5 junior threw for 414 yards and a school-record six touchdowns over the Buffaloes. He leads the nation with an average of 403.6 yards passing a game and is on pace to throw a stunning 50 touchdown passes. He’s even emerged as a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate.
“He’s just amazing, I mean look at the numbers he put up,” Cooks said. “The guy is playing with confidence.”
Cooks caught nine of Mannion’s passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado.
Cooks leads the nation with an average of 10.4 receptions per game and ranks second with 161.4 yards per game.
Overall, the Beavers’ passing offense is ranked second nationally with 420.6 yards a game.
“He is a really driven guy. He is a hard worker, he’s talented and he has always been good,” Riley said about Cooks. “But he is stronger than ever now. He had a really great offseason and came back stronger. He runs through people, you can’t arm tackle him. He can run and stop.
“Those are the two key things to being as good as he is. He can run and make a break and stop on a dime. He is a great leader and key piece of this team.”
But for as good as Mannion and Cooks are, that can’t mask the struggle Oregon State is facing with its running game forever. Riley says it’s a priority for the Beavers to address during the bye, especially given the level of competition in the Pac-12 this season.
The Beavers improved from a 10-yard rushing performance in the victory over San Diego State the week before to rush for 120 total yards against Colorado, but they still are only averaging 68 yards rushing a game, which ranks them 120th out of 123 among FBS-level schools.
That’s uncharacteristic for a team that’s been known for more than a decade for its prolific running backs, from Ken Simonton to Steven Jackson to Jacquizz Rodgers.
“We definitely want to have balance,” Riley said. “We are at our best when we can run and play. We are trying to get that back.”
The break will also give Oregon State a chance to heal up.
Oregon State was without top running back Storm Woods for two straight games because of a concussion. Woods was the Beavers’ leading rusher with 152 yards and two touchdowns through the first three games. He had 940 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns last season.
The Beavers believe Woods and right tackle Grant Enger (knee) will return following the break. Oregon State could also see the return of offensive linemen Gavin Andrews, who has been out with mono, and Josh Mitchell, who has an ankle injury.
Right guard Roman Sapolu is most likely gone for the season after suffering a foot injury and starting linebacker Michael Doctor is still out after undergoing left foot surgery.
Following this weekend’s bye, Oregon State travels to Pullman to play Washington State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) on Oct. 12. The Cougars visit California in Berkeley on Saturday.