Chuckie Keeton came to town two weeks ago. On Saturday night, it will be Sean Mannion.
When Oregon State rolls in to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Beavers will come armed with one of the best pro-style quarterbacks in the country, a slinger with a big arm and speedy receivers. Mannion is a leader with confidence, and the ability to generate bundles of points and yards for his team. If Utah’s defense doesn’t meet his challenge head-on, it could be a long night.
Entering Saturday, Mannion has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns, and an impressive pass-efficiency rating of 181.2.
The Beavers are 1-1, having recovered from their shocking season-opening loss to FCS Eastern Washington by routing Hawaii 33-14 last Saturday. Mannion believes his team is rounding into form at just the right time.
“The offense has gotten off to a good start and I think a lot of that is due to the chemistry that we all have,” he said. “We all worked out together in the summer and I think that’s a big deal. All the receivers and tight ends, all we did after the spring was throw the football and work on our routes and our timing. Getting the reps down has been a key.”
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who himself is off to a pretty impressive start — a 202.2 efficiency rating while completing 66 percent of his passes for 566 yards and five TDs — knows all about Mannion.
The two QBs have similar story lines: They are both tall signal-callers with big arms. They are both natives of California and were both thrown into the fray as starters during their freshmen seasons.
The two know each other, as well, with Mannion offering words of support to Wilson last year during his freshman struggles. Mannion’s career has gone through hiccups of its own, courtesy of a torn meniscus in his left knee last season that required arthroscopic surgery.
“I’ve known Sean the whole time I’ve been here,” Wilson said. “He’s from around where I live, so it’s good to have that kind of connection. Our high schools are big rivals. He’s been doing a great job so far this season and he’s been doing a great job with finding open receivers.”
While Wilson has shown the ability to make plays with his feet, Mannion is more of a classic pocket passer. But the OSU quarterback has got a quick release, and his offensive line has done a good job in protecting him early in the season. Mannion also is big enough (6-foot-5) that getting him to the ground isn’t a sure thing once the rush converges on him.
Utah’s secondary will be key slowing down Mannion on Saturday. But Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is placing just as much emphasis — if not more — on the Utes’ defensive line ability to get after him.
If the front four — led by Trevor Reilly, Tenny Palepoi and Nate Orchard — fails to get a significant push, the secondary will be faced with the prospect of having to cover for too long. Against Mannion, that will probably lead to a long night.
“He’s someone with a big arm and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Whittingham said. “We have to get a pass rush; it starts there. We can’t let him get comfortable in the pocket. We have to put pressure on him.”
Sean Mannion file
• Missed a chunk of time last season due to knee surgery
• Has been a starter since his freshman season
• Threw for more than 400 yards in a loss to Eastern Washington
• Has thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception this season
Oregon State at Utah
O Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1