CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Washington State and Oregon State will likely recall the days of the old pass-happy Pac-10.
On one side there are the Cougars with new coach Mike Leach’s trademark Air Raid attack. On the other are the No. 14 Beavers with sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion, who is throwing with confidence after a trying debut last season.
Mannion was named the Pac-12 player of the week after passing for a career-high 433 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Connor Hamlett with 1:17 left, in Oregon State’s 38-35 victory at Arizona last weekend.
The week before Mannion threw for 379 yards — his previous career high — against UCLA.
“I think a year of getting to play for Sean was really, really good. There’s nothing like playing for football players in the games, and that’s especially true for a quarterback,” Beavers coach Mike Riley said. “The other thing about him is he really likes this game and works hard at it and spends a lot of time at it. He’s truly a gym rat, he spent a lot of time studying film and studying what he had to do.”
Nationally, Oregon State’s passing offense is ranked fourth with an average of nearly 363 yards per game. Mannion is ranked 10th with 350 yards in total offense per game, and eighth with an average of 27 completions per game.
Leach, who knows a thing or two about passing after leading the nation almost every year he was at Texas Tech, is well aware of the problems Mannion can pose.
“Obviously, you’ve got to play the pass,” he told reporters this week. “But on those broken plays when he gets loose, coverage has to hold up because he’s got a real strong arm and sometimes when he gets loose, that stuff’s way down field, and if you don’t attend to it he can hurt you.”
Mannion has a pair of talented receivers to work with. Senior Markus Wheaton had 166 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Arizona.
Wheaton is averaging 134.3 receiving yards a game, just behind teammate and Pac-12 leader Brandin Cooks with 134.2 yards a game for the Beavers (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12). Cooks and Wheaton are ranked fifth and sixth nationally.
On the other side is Washington State sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday, who took over when senior Jeff Tuel injured his right knee earlier this season.
Halliday and Tuel are listed as “or” on Washington State’s depth chart, meaning either one could get the start on Saturday, but Halliday has reportedly been getting most of the first-team snaps in practice.
Last week Halliday threw for 348 yards and a touchdown against No. 2 Oregon at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. But he also tossed a costly interception that the Ducks returned for a touchdown en route to a 51-26 victory.
Halliday has passed for over 300 yards in three straight games. Washington State (2-3, 0-2) is ranked third in the Pac-12 with an average of 333 passing yards per game as the Cougars adopt Leach’s new scheme. Texas Tech led the nation in passing in six of Leach’s 10 seasons there.
Halliday’s go-to-guy is Marquess Wilson, who had 12 catches for 182 yards against the Ducks and became the Cougars’ career leader with 2,893 receiving yards. He’s averaging nearly 100 yards in receptions a game this season.
Oregon State’s defense is allowing an average of only 83 yards rushing per game, ninth nationally. The Beavers are in the middle of the Pac-12 for overall defense, allowing opponents nearly 399 yards a game.
But they’re allowing 315.7 yards passing — last in the Pac-12.
Washington State is struggling on defense. They’ve allowed opponents 20 touchdowns this season, second-worst in the league. They’re giving up an average of 472 yards in total offense, 162 yards on the ground and 310 in the air.
The Beavers have won three straight to open a season for the first time since 2002. The three victories match the team’s win total for all of last year when they went 3-9.