It was two years ago in Corvallis when the Washington State Cougars shocked the world by thumping Oregon State during another lost season. By the final whistle, I was jumping up and down so hard I nearly put a hole in my floor and Rancourt nearly destroyed his refrigerator. No one expected to leave Corvallis with a win late in the season but somehow, someway, the Cougars did.
Next season was supposed to produce the same result. The Beavers were having a down year and with the Cougs coming off a late, brutal loss to UCLA and a thumping at the hands of Andrew Luck's Cardinal, they needed a win in the worst way to even think about making it to a bowl. Then, the Cougars walked onto the turf at CentruyLink Field and promptly forgot how to play football. Oregon State finished the game with 551 yards of offense, including 376 yards worth of scorched earth beneath Sean Mannion's passes. Oregon State punted just once in a 44-21 trouncing and the Cougs bowl hopes all but died in the Emerald City.
This year, Sean Mannion continues to impresses. Through three games, he's thrown for 1,088 yards while completing about 65 percent of his passes. Of his 127 attempts, only one has gone to guy not wearing an Oregon State jersey. Although Oregon State's run game is good as well, anchored by Storm Woods who averages about five yards a touch, Mannion is the bigger threat to the Cougs chances of victory. This means Washington State is going to have to lean on a group we're scared of them leaning on.
The word porous gets thrown around a lot, normally about stuff involving water but it definitely applies to this secondary. There have been gaps in coverage big enough to fit an Abrams tank in. What's worse, the previously solid Deone Bucannon has had a less than stellar year. Between the late hits, the blown coverages and a severe case of the "whoops, where did that guy carrying the ball go" syndrome, Bucannon just isn't the same.
Oregon State provides a tremendous test for the Cougars' secondary. Besides Mannion, the Beavers possess a solid group of receivers with cornerstones Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Brief aside: coming into the game, Wheaton is averaging 134.3 yards receiving a game and Cooks 134.7 yards every game. No real point to this, I just don't think I ever seen receiving numbers that big be that close. Woods will also catch some passes out of the back field and although that's probably something for the linebackers to worry more about, the defensive backs need to keep their eyes on it.
Slowing down the OSU passing game could force them to go to the ground game and right into the waiting arms of Ioane Gauta, Toni Pole, Travis Long, Darryl Monroe and others. In order for Washington State to upset the 14th ranked Beavers, they must do what no one else has been able to do this year: take the passing game away. They must stop a quarterback who, in this young season, has been more prolific than Connor Halliday and a receiving corps who has arguably been the best in the conference. This will likely be the toughest task the secondary has faced this season and if the Cougars have any hope of leaving Reser Stadium with a higher number of the scoreboard, they have to slow down the OSU passing game. Otherwise, it's going to be a very long day watching Sean Mannion do his best Geno Smith impression and push the Cougars even farther away from their bowl hopes.