It was never a question of talent with Sean Mannion. Nor was it a question of work ethic, intangibles or raw, physical tools. It was simply a question of youth. Time, however, has a funny way of taking care of that. So do good coaching and a healthy dose of confidence.
The emergence of Mannion in his encore season has gone hand in hand with the emergence of Oregon State, which has opened the 2012 season with consecutive victories over top-20 teams. The most recent, a 27-20 win on the road over No. 19 UCLA, was only a taste of what the 6-foot-5, 212-pound sophomore is capable of. He completed 24 of 35 passes for a career-high 379 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"We want to be more than 2-0 against two tough teams," Mannion said. "We have to continue to work hard. We’ve got another tough game against Arizona. But we want to enjoy this one. They are a good team, so this one felt good."
Sure, Mannion has some help with outstanding wide receivers in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. But if you watch some of the highlights from OSU's win Saturday over UCLA, you'll note Wheaton and Cooks had huge plays because their quarterback put the ball exactly where it needed to be.
Even after throwing an interception, he flushed it, and bounced back with poise and precision.
"I think he’s playing real well," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I love the fact that he’ll make a mistake, but boy is poised on the sideline talking about it. He’s got great composure and he’s not afraid to sneak the next ball in there. Which you have to do. You can’t get gun shy, and I don’t think Sean is like that at all. He’s super well-prepared. He’s well-coached by Danny Langsdorf and he also is a hard, hard worker. One of the hardest I’ve [seen]. ...
"I know he had a couple he’d like to have back. But I did like the fact that he was resilient and came back and made some throws to win the game."
Of those 24 completions, two in particular stand out. And it's no surprise that both went for big-play touchdowns to Wheaton and Cooks. The first was his 75-yarder to Cooks. Taking the snap and turning on play-action, Mannion barely had time to see UCLA's safety sneaking up. He hit Cooks in stride on a slant -- the only place he could put the ball -- and Cooks was off to the races for the touchdown that broke a 3-all tie in the second quarter.
The best part of that play? Mannion jogged to the sidelines, put his mouthpiece in the side of his helmet and gave a couple of high-fives, and that was it. He didn't drop to his knees with a double fist pump or do the awkward, jumping body bump. He was already on to the next drive in his head.
Later in that quarter, he hit Wheaton on a 42-yard touchdown pass that was placed perfectly as Wheaton caught it in stride. Same reaction ... mouthpiece out, slow jog, couple of high-fives. Next.
Now, it wasn't perfect. He did under-throw a pass that was intercepted. And he did fumble the ball after being hit from behind. That allowed Mannion the opportunity to, like a good quarterback, divert the attention from himself and talk about his defense. And after the game, he mostly wanted to talk about how his team can get better, not what it had already done.
It's that kind of maturity that has Riley and Beavers believing.