Facing a second-and-10 at the California 28 early in the third quarter, Oregon State coach Mike Riley expected the Golden Bears to make a push at quarterback Sean Mannion.
Riley decided to go with a screen pass to counter the pressure.
It was the perfect play call.
Mannion dropped the ball off the Storm Woods, who raced 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Beavers a 35-3 lead.
The screen has been clicking for the Beavers all season.
The play has been an extremely important part of OSU’s offense this year and has picked up the slack in the run game.
“I don’t know how many touchdowns we’ve had on screens, but it’s been a lot,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.
“We’ve done a nice job of having screens that have been well-timed. They’ve been against some pressures and they brought some extra guys and we’ve gotten up a lot quick and have been able to score on them (with) big plays downfield. There’s been numerous explosive plays on screens this year. So it’s been a big part of what we’ve been able to do.”
The play involves setting up a screen of blockers downfield and dumping a short pass to a receiver running behind the blocks. If timed right, it can be highly effective against a blitz or heavy pass rush.
Screen plays can be run using running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.
Oregon State can run all three, but the running back screen has been particularly effective for the Beavers.
It has helped fill the role of the run game.
“It’s very important considering we haven’t been able to rip off those big runs we would like, so the screen game gets us the ball in my hands quicker, faster,” Woods said.
“We can get in the open space and we can just work on our moves out there and it’s been pretty great for our offense.”
The ability to “run” the football through the screen keeps the defense off-balance and unable to simply send blitz after blitz against the Beavers.
“I think it’s a good way to slow down the rush at times,” Mannion said. “I think we can do a lot of misdirection with it, so it’s a big part of our offense.”
Mannion has been able to stretch the field with some deep balls to Brandin Cooks and Richard Mullaney.
As the defense tries to clamp down with extra pressure, Mannion has been able to go to shorter routes or hit the defense with the screen.
He’s gone to Woods and Terron Ward out of the backfield for big plays. Cooks is also a threat on a receiver screen.
“We’ve been able to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally with the deep ball and the screens,” Langsdorf said. “It’s been big for us.”
The Beavers clearly have the players capable of making big plays in space.
The big key to springing the screen is getting the linemen in position to make the blocks.
“I think one thing that’s always stressed with the offensive line is just get the play started,” Mannion said. “Sometimes it’s hard for our O-linemen to get out if the defense is kind of slow rushing or reading. But if they can get the play started, then Storm or Brandin or whoever might have the ball on a screen can make a guy miss.”
With several working parts, the play isn’t easy to put together.
Mannion said the Beavers have been working on it quite a bit over the past few seasons.
“Two years ago, I’d say screens, we weren’t real good at them and we didn’t run them very much,” he said. “I think last year we made a lot of huge strides and I think we’ve continued that this year.
“We’ve seen how good we can be and how big of a part of our offense it can be.”