Cougs face an even better OSU team

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PULLMAN — Sean Mannion torched Washington State in a forgettable 44-21 Cougars defeat last season.

But a different Oregon State quarterback will be under center for the No. 14 Beavers on Saturday when WSU travels to Corvallis.

That quarterback, of course, is still the same person. It’s still Mannion. But he’s a sophomore now, and there is a consensus among observers that his approach to the game has changed in a very detectable way.

“I think probably the most notable thing is confidence,” OSU coach Mike Riley said. “He was always poised, even as a freshman last year. He always kept his wits about him, always good to talk to on the sidelines, has good explanations for what’s going on.”

WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske agreed with Riley’s assessment.

“Confidence,” Breske said. “You see it. How he carries himself, you see quite a difference.”

It’s only been three games, but Mannion leads the Pac-12 in passing with 362.7 yards a game, supported by two receivers — Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, who rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference in receiving yards a game.

So, yeah, things are going a little better for OSU this season. The Beavers’ victory over WSU in 2011 was their second of just three victories all year.

“They’re a team that took their lumps last year and feels like this is their year,” WSU coach Mike Leach said.

Mannion’s leadership has a lot to do with that.

He’s thrown six touchdown passes and just one interception this season.

He threw for 376 yards against WSU last season, which stood as his career best until he put up 379 yards against UCLA two weeks ago.

Then he threw for 433 in a 38-35 OSU victory over Arizona last week.

“I think the year of getting to play for Sean was really, really good,” said Riley, referring to Mannion as a “gym rat” when it comes to watching film. “There’s nothing like playing for a football player, in the games, and it’s especially true for a quarterback. And the other thing about him is, he really likes this game and works hard at it and spends a lot of time with it.”

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