The last time Stanford saw an extended dose of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion was two years ago in Corvallis, Ore.
A freshman on a bad team, Mannion was poised and efficient in a 38-13 Stanford win. The performance left a lasting impression with Stanford coach David Shaw and as No. 8 Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) prepares for a return to Corvallis on Saturday, Shaw couldn't help but notice his growth since that game.
"(Mannion) is playing so much better than he's ever played," Shaw said. "He's always had the talent and the ability, but he's playing so composed and throwing the ball so accurately."
Mannion's 68.6 percent completion percentage is among the nation's best, but that's not what jumped out to Shaw on film.
"I don't know that we've seen a team more dedicated to the deep pass in the last few years than the way they are right now," he said. "The thing is you can try it a lot, but to try it a lot and be so efficient at it?
"Usually deep passing teams, you're hovering around 50 percent completion. These guys are completing about 65 percent of those passes, the deep ball passes."
The stats say Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks are the nation's most dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem. Mannion leads the nation in passing yards (2,992) and touchdowns (29) and Cooks is tops in receptions (76), receiving yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12). Mannion (Pleasanton) and Cooks (Stockton) are both from northern California.
"The way Cooks is playing right now, there is nobody that he hasn't got behind," Shaw said. "They've tried to double cover him, tried to play off of him. Even when they play off him, he still runs past them."
As good as they've been, Oregon State coach Mike Riley expects Stanford's secondary to provide as difficult a test as the Beavers (6-1, 4-0) have faced this season.
"I think they are very athletic and tough. They really complete," Riley said. "It's a good looking group of guys. They're always well coached and sound in what they do. It's the most athletic group on defense that we've seen so far and they're very sound in what they do."
Safety Jordan Richards is the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording two interceptions last week against UCLA.
As for who will be responsible for slowing down Cooks? Well, that's simple
"Everybody," Shaw said. "He's everybody's responsibility. There's no other way around it. Safeties, corners, nickels all have to be aware where he is."
Shaw left the door open for receiver Devon Cajuste to play against the Beavers despite a right knee injury suffered against the Bruins. An MRI showed no ligament damage and Shaw said if Cajuste isn't ready for Oregon State, he'd be back in time to play Oregon on Nov. 7.
Kicker Jordan Williamson will make the trip to Oregon State, but it's still unclear if he ill play due to an unspecified leg injury. If he's unable to play, Conrad Ukropina would again fill in. He was 1-for-2 on field goals against UCLA, hitting from 31 yards and missing from 46.