Critiquing Mike Riley's moves, and a look at the 4-1 OSU Beavers
Part of a columnist's job is to call out a coach when he commits a grievous error of judgement.
Mike Riley did that Saturday by leaving franchise players Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks in the game until near the end of Oregon State's 44-17 blowout victory over Colorado at Reser Stadium.
Mannion and Cooks should have departed after OSU seized a 38-3 lead with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter. The Buffaloes were dead and buried.
The pair played four more offensive series -- until Mannion hit tight end Connor Hamlett for his sixth touchdown pass of the game with 6:48 to play, setting a school single-game record.
Backup quarterback Cody Vaz didn't enter until the Beavers' final possession, with a 44-11 lead and only 4:39 to play.
Riley said Sunday night he wasn't aware that Mannion was on the precipice of a school record.
"When I heard the (public-address) announcer say it, I asked (offensive coordinator) Danny Langsdorf, 'What record was that?' " Riley said.
Even so, there are several problems with Riley's decision, the biggest by far being that without Mannion and/or Cooks, Oregon State's season could so south in a hurry. Any kind of injury to either after the issue was decided would have amounted to disaster.
Vaz was good enough to leave Riley with an apparently difficult decision on his starting quarterback. The veteran coach didn't announce Mannion as the starter until a week before OSU's opener against Eastern Washington. Yet Vaz -- who started three games as a junior last season and was Pac-12 offensive player of the week after the victory at BYU -- wasn't good enough to protect a five-touchdown lead with little more than a quarter to play? I wouldn't blame Vaz for feeling a bit disrespected there, though I know that's not the way Riley meant it.
Finally, it gives the appearance of pouring it on. I know, that's not Mike Riley. But what else is Colorado's first-year coach, Mike MacIntyre, to think?
Why did Riley leave Mannion and Cooks in so long?
"I don't know," he said. "I guess I'm always a little conservative on that. I've always been a little slow to substitute. You never know what's going to happen."
But what if either one had been injured in the fourth quarter?
"Well," he said, "they could get hurt in the first quarter."
Mannion could also have been hurt on the fourth-quarter play in which tailback Terron Ward took a pitch, then threw back to Mannion in the flat. The junior quarterback gained six yards on the play but took a hit from a Colorado defender. Was Riley concerned about Mannion getting hurt there?
"I'm always concerned," he said.
I don't expect Riley to take advice from a sports writer. I would hope, though, that in a similar situation in the future, Mannion and Cooks are safely tucked away on the sidelines.
Ward -- starting at tailback in place of the injured Storm Woods -- also played until the Beavers' final possession. I'd liked to have seen more of the third-stringer, Chris Brown, who picked up 29 yards on five carries and showed some speed and moves, mostly against Colorado reserves. Brown had fumbled out of bounds on his first career touch -- a 6-yard reception -- in the second quarter, but Riley said that didn't affect his playing time in the game.
"We didn't really plan on subbing Chris in," the coach said. "He's third on our depth chart. He'll go back to third with Storm back. Terron was our experienced back. He was going to play unless we needed to spell him.
"But Chris made some nice cuts and ran with authority. I think he's going to be a good player."
Next, a coaching tip for MacIntyre, who blamed the first loss in his three games as Colorado's coach on turnovers.
"That's what the difference in the game was," he told the media afterward.
Colorado had four turnovers -- plus an interception on a two-point conversion attempt -- and Oregon State had two. OSU scored two touchdowns off the Buffalo giveaways, both in the second half with the Beavers well on the way to victory.
"Mainly, it was turnovers and taking care of the ball, and we had some holding penalties and that type of thing," McIntyre said.
It was also Colorado managing only five first downs and 124 yards total offense through three quarters. And Oregon State amassing 540 yards total offense, including 420 through the air.
"We can't be (giving up that many yards)," MacIntyre said. "We should have had three picks in the first half. I mean, we were right there. We need to work on making the play."
MacIntyre needs to work on being a gracious loser. Offer a few words of praise, coach, for an opponent that just cleaned your clock. You'll come off a lot better than a guy blaming turnovers in a game in which your team was seriously overmatched.
OSU's offensive line picture looks much better than it did a week ago. Center Josh Mitchell (ankle) and tackle Gavin Andrews (mononucleosis) both played on the final offensive series against Colorado. Andrews, who had missed the first four games, was given the go-ahead to begin working out last Monday and got full clearance to practice on Thursday.
"We were just glad to get him in for a few plays," Riley said.
Mitchell, Andrews and guard Grant Enger (knee) should be able to play in Oregon State's next game at Washington State on Oct. 5. Enger expects to return to full practice duties on Thursday. If there are no setbacks, Riley says, "he'll definitely start" against the Cougars.
Riley and O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh will monitor Andrews' progress before deciding on whether he'll be in the starting lineup. If so, it will be the first time the Beavers have their projected starting interior five for a game this season.
Woods, who sustained a concussion at San Diego State, will practice Monday and is expected to start against Washington State. Tight end Connor Hamlett, who has had a sore knee for two weeks, will undergo an MRI on Monday. "We just hope it's clean," Riley said. "We play Connor and (tight end) Caleb Smith together a lot. We need them both."
NOTES: Mannion leads the nation in total offense at 390.2 yards per game, with Wyoming's Brett Smith second at 377.8, and in passing yardage at 404.5, with Ball State's Keith Wenning a distance second at 330.0. Mannion also leads the nation in touchdown passes with 21, with Utah State's Chuckie Keaton the runner-up at 17. Mannion, who has completed 160 of 238 passes (67.2 percent), has thrown for 2,018 yards in five games. Oregon State has seven games remaining, plus a possible bowl contest. The NCAA single-season record for passing yardage is 5,833 by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons in 2003. Mannion has two interceptions, but the second one -- in the first quarter of Saturday's game -- wasn't his fault. The on-target pass went through the hands of receiver Richard Mullaney to Colorado's Greg Henderson, whose 30-yard return set up a field goal. Mannion has five straight games of 350 yards or more passing. That breaks Derek Anderson's record of four in a season set in 2004. Mannion has four 400-yard games, breaking Anderson's school mark of three. Brandin Cooks leads the nation in TD receptions with nine (UNLV's Devante Davis has eight), in receiving yardage with 807 (Texas A&M's Mike Evans has 691) and receptions with 52 (SMU's Darius Joseph has 39 in four games). NCAA single-season records are for receptions (155 by Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes in 2009) and receiving yardage (2,060 by Nevada's Trevor Insley in 1999). Cooks, incidentally, has a much better chance of winning the Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation's outstanding receiver than Mannion does of winning the Heisman Trophy -- unless the Beavers run the table from here on out. Oregon State ranks second nationally among 123 FBS teams in passing offense at 420.6 yards per game, behind Baylor (444.3), and ranks 120th in rushing at 68.0 yards per game, ahead of Washington State (60.6), Florida International (48.8) and Connecticut (45.8).
Riley said he was surprised and disappointed at the Sunday firing of Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin. "I would have thought with a guy coming in under the (NCAA) penalties they've had, they'd given him some more grace," Riley said. "That's hard, even at SC. They were 15 scholarships down for three years. I know what that means to your special teams, to practice and you're not going to get any walk-ons at SC because it costs too much to go to school. I don't feel good about that. I've always appreciated Lane. He's real smart, a good coach. It's too bad." Oregon State will practice Monday through Thursday, then take Friday through Sunday off as all 10 coaches will head onto the recruiting trail during the bye weekend. Riley plans to visit the Bay Area. Eastern Washington is 2-2 after losing to FBS foe Toledo 33-21 and Sam Houston State 49-34 its last two games. Even so, the Eagles (2-2) are ranked third in the latest FCS Coaches Poll, just ahead of No. 4 Sam Houston State (4-1). Hawaii is 0-4 after losing to Fresno State 42-37 on Saturday. San Diego State (1-4) beat New Mexico State 26-16 on Saturday.