Oregon State was a team needing a touch of good news.
Losers of five straight -- including a heartbreaking one-point loss to rival Oregon in the season finale Civil War -- the Beavers closed out the year with an uninspired thud after jumping out to a 6-1 start.
Enter Brandin Cooks, the newly crowned best wide receiver in America. When he took home the Biletnikoff Award last week for the top receiver in the country, it was an opportunity for the Beavers to take a step back from the crush of negativity that had surrounded them the last six weeks and re-focus on the things they did well this season.
And a gracious Cooks was sure to tip his cap to everyone who helped make it possible -- including his quarterback, Sean Mannion.
“I have to thank Sean for everything he did to help me get this award,” Cooks said. “This isn’t just for me. It’s for my teammates and it’s for the program. It took a lot of things for me to get this so it all goes to my teammates.”
Mannion was a bit more reserved at taking some of the praise. True, Cooks is catching what Mannion tosses. But in Mannion’s mind, it’s all Cooks.
“It’s Brandin’s award,” Mannion said. “It’s not mine. He’s an outstanding player. He earned that award and I’m lucky I get to play with him. When I was watching him on TV, I was really proud to see him win. Not only is he a great player, but I know what kind of guy he is on and off the field. He’s a guy that will do anything for our team. It’s his deal and I’m just lucky I get to tag along for the ride.”
The ride will last at least one more game when the Beavers travel to Hawaii to take on Boise State on Christmas Eve in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Cooks said he’ll make a decision on whether to turn pro probably a couple of days after the bowl game. Mannion said he hasn’t set a timetable for himself.
We know this. When the Beavers are clicking offensively, they can be tough to stop. Through the first seven games they averaged 44.1 points per game. Over the last five that number dipped to 21 points per game. Quality of competition over those last five weeks (Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington, Oregon) certainly has to be taken into consideration.
Mannion and Cooks have already set numerous single-season school records. And they’ve connected for touchdowns 15 times this year and 22 times in their careers, making them Oregon State’s most prolific QB-WR tandem.
After starting the first eight games with 30 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions, Mannion has slipped the final four games with just six touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Cooks said he has all the confidence in his quarterback that he can get them back on track against the Broncos.
“He looks as strong as he did during the preseason,” Cooks said. “He’s on fire right now and he looks like the Sean we all know. We’re confident in him that he’s going to get us this W.”
Added Mannion: “There are a handful of plays I really want back. Unfortunately those resulted in interceptions. But they are simple mistakes. They are things I can correct.”
For as much as Mannion is the leader by default of his position, Cooks has taken on a much stronger role as a voice of the team. That’s something he learned last year studying Markus Wheaton and the way he would lead. There were a lot of questions coming into the season about whether Cooks could get it done without Wheaton on the other side of him. But he took the knowledge Wheaton gave him and applied it to 2013. The end result is a record-setting season and the highest honor someone at his position can garner.
“All the little things he would do he passed down to me and that’s made me the receiver I am,” Cooks said. “I saw the way he acted and how he became the leader of the offense and I tried to do that. He was a huge part of my success.”
And now the Beavers will try to replicate that success for one more game and put a positive stamp on a season that had its share of highs and lows.
“We want to get back to playing good football,” Mannion said. “We got off to a real good start, but even then we really hadn’t played a complete game. We really want to finish on a high note and play a complete game against Boise.”