Oregon State football coach Mike Riley wanted to avoid a quarterback controversy going into the season, so he kept his plan to play redshirt freshman Sean Mannion secret.
He figured the Beavers would be leading in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Sacramento State.
Mannion would go in, get some experience and junior starter Ryan Katz would continue the game.
The Beavers would keep scoring and Mannion might get more work in mop-up duty.
It didn’t work out how Riley planned.
The Beavers were upset by the Football Championship Subdivision Hornets 29-28 in overtime.
Katz played the entire first half in an attempt to get the Beavers going. He struggled, completing only 11 of 22 passes for 87 yards and one interception.
Mannion played the second half and completed 8 of 12 for 143 yards. The Beavers ran the ball better with Mannion in, and they had four scoring drives.
The Beavers would have have won the game if Trevor Romaine hadn’t bounced a field goal off the upright. They may have scored on another drive, but running back Malcolm Agnew fumbled in the red zone.
“It felt good,” Mannion said after Saturday’s game. “It was a first time playing in front of crowd like that and it was fun. It was a great learning experience.“
So it looks like the Beavers have a quarterback controversy, whether Riley likes it or not. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have a firm answer to who his quarterback will be Saturday at Wisconsin.
“Right now he is the starter,” Riley said of Katz on Sunday night. “We haven’t made changes. We will have more information on Tuesday.”
Until then, Riley will have meetings with the coaches and quarterbacks, and have a practice.
There will be plenty of time to review the poise Mannion showed and the nerves the returning starter displayed.
No, the offensive line didn’t help Katz much the first half. He was sacked twice and he scrambled four times.
The Beavers focused on the run in the second half, and Agnew, a true freshman, exploded on the scene with 223 yards and three TDs. He leads the nation in rushing after one game.
Riley said the Beavers could have helped Katz more by running the ball early instead of passing so much.
“We had a much better everything in total offense because we started to run the ball effectively,” Riley said. “In the first half, we did nothing well. We were out of sync in the first half and Ryan took the brunt of that.”
Riley was quiet about the quarterbacks because he saw Mannion surge in his development during spring practice and training camp.
Mannion has a grasp of the offense and has all the physical tools the Beavers want — such as size and arm strength.
His success against Sacramento State supports Riley’s feelings. If the Beavers make a change, it won’t be because of a half of a football game but an accumulation of work.
Riley doesn’t like rotating quarterbacks so a decision should come shortly.
He rotated quarterbacks most recently when Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao split time for nearly a season. Long-term injuries helped him make his choice with them their last two-plus years.
Katz’s attitude wasn’t down during and after the game, Riley said, so maybe he can rotate them.
“He’s disappointed because he wanted to play,” Riley said. “He’s OK with it, as far as his attitude. I think Ryan has a lot of confidence in himself. He knows the work he put in. When these things have risen up, guys like Ryan continue to battle and get ready to go.”
What will help the Beavers as they move forward is an improved injury situation. Backup offensive guard Michael Lamb sprained an AC joint in the game but will not miss the next game.
Starting senior defensive tackle Kevin Frahm returns to practice this week after two weeks to recover from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He’s scheduled to play Saturday.
Tight end Joe Halahuni will practice full speed next week and be ready for the UCLA home game on Sept. 24.
Defensive tackle Castro Masaniai and tight end Connor Hamlett will play this week with their one-game suspensions hanging over them.
The return of Frahm and Halahuni allows Riley to suspend them after the bye week.
“We’ll do it soon,” Riley said. “We want to make sure that’s done and done right, and protect some guys on the team.”