- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Oregon State lost to Eastern Washington in its season opener to become the first ranked team in three years to lose to an FCS opponent, the proverbial sky started falling on a season met with high expectations.
Panic mode in Corvallis was short-lived.
Since the shocking loss, the Beavers have responded the way Mike Riley-coached teams tend to do and they’ll carry a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at Cal.
The Beavers (5-1, 3-0 in the Pac-12) can lock up bowl eligibility with a win over the Bears and tie a bow on the easier portion of their schedule. When Oregon State leaves Berkeley, it’ll begin preparation for five-game stretch to close the regular season that includes three top-20 teams (Stanford, Washington, Oregon) and two others that have spent time in the Top 25 (USC, Arizona State).
Much of Oregon State’s success can be attributed to quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks, who have become the top quarterback-receiver tandem in the country. Cooks leads the nation in catches (63), receiving yards (944), touchdown receptions (11) while Mannion has quietly emerged as a Heisman candidate.
If the Beavers are to continue to build momentum later into the season, it’ll likely hinge on the play of their defense, which ranks No. 70 nationally, allowing 401.8 yards per game. Since allowing 625 yards to Eastern Washington, the unit has gotten progressively better evident by limiting Eastern Washington’s other team, Washington State, to just 383 yards in a 52-24 win over the weekend.
Offensive MVP: Mannion. There’s been no looking back for Mannion since beating out senior Cody Vaz for the starting job. The junior leads the nation in passing yards (2,511) and touchdowns (25) and despite having the nation’s second-most attempts (289), he has been sacked just seven times and thrown only three interceptions. He tied the school record for touchdown passes in a game against Utah (5), then broke it against Colorado (6) and has twice been named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.
Defensive MVP: CB Steven Nelson. The jump from junior college to the Pac-12 has been seamless for Nelson, who is tied for the national lead with five interceptions. His pick-six late in the fourth quarter against San Diego State completed the Beavers’ fourth-quarter comeback in the 34-30 win.
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