SALT LAKE CITY – Oregon State’s performance in the first half on Saturday night at Utah was what many in Beaver Nation had expected out of the Beavers this season.
The second half was a sequel to the nightmare they witnessed in the season opener, a shocking 49-46 loss to FCS Eastern Washington, which lost 33-21 to Toledo on Saturday.
The Beavers bottled up quarterback Travis Wilson and the Utes in the first 30 minutes, limiting Wilson to 147 yards passing and zero rushing.
And when Sean Martin intercepted Wilson and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown on the Utes’ first drive of the third quarter, the Beavers had all the momentum and a 27-10 lead.
How quickly that changed.
Wilson finished with 279 yards passing and 142 yards rushing, all in the second half, and scored three times on the ground and tossed two touchdown passes as the Utes made it a wild shootout that topped the game in Tucson, Ariz., last season. The Beavers on that one 38-35.
Still, the Beavers found a way to win, as Sean Mannion connected with Brandin Cooks from six yards out in overtime for a thrilling 51-48 victory in the Pac-12 opener.
That touchdown may have saved the Beavers’ season.
Instead of being 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the Pac-12, the Beavers have now won two straight and are 1-0 in the conference for the second straight season.
“It’s really big," Riley said. "It’s a chance to build some momentum and confidence, obviously, and you don’t want to fall in a hole early. It’s great to win an opening conference game. Maybe this is an indicator of how our conference is going to go this year. It’s going to be really, really competitive.”
But as thrilling as it was, the second half was anything but pretty for the Beavers.
While the defense gets a lot of the blame for its inability to contain Wilson in the second half, they don’t get it all.
Like the first two games of the season, the Beavers were atrocious running the ball. They finished with 48 yards on 28 attempts and couldn’t do much in the fourth quarter when they had the lead.
“We were having a hard time running the ball, so we had to scramble around and found a way to make some plays," Riley said. "Richard Mullaney, Kevin (Cummings), all those guys took turn making plays. It was pretty neat how everybody battled out there, both teams”
Mannion once again carried the load with 443 yards through the air and five touchdowns.
Still, the Beavers had to settle for three Trevor Romaine field goals, which isn’t always bad but in what turns out to be a shootout, it can be the kiss of death.
Take the fourth quarter. After Mike Riley chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the OSU 45, converting with a trick play when Mannion pitched the ball to Terron Ward who threw it back to Mannion, who hit a wide-open Cooks to the 7, the Beavers settled for a 20-yard field goal to make it 37-31 instead of making it a two-score game.
Penalties were also a problem. Several false starts and substitution violations hurt at crucial times. All told, the Beavers had 10 penalties for 69 yards.
But when the game was on the line late, the Beavers made plays on offense and defense.
They even overcame the loss of Woods. Watching a teammate being taken off the field in an ambulance moments earlier makes it tough to focus on football. Woods was hurt when he was trying to make a block on a third-down play. He did give a thumbs up before being loaded into the ambulance.
“That, understandably so, takes the wind out of you," Riley said. "Everybody was worried. Then when the doctors and trainers came over and said that he was responsive and moving, everybody lightened up. They gave him a big applause and just started playing again.
“All I know is that he is stable. It seemed to be a very positive outlook.”
It may be a tough film to watch at times, but in the end the Beavers persevered. They need to shore up a lot, but it’s a lot better to have things to work on after a win.