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Sports Desk: Oregon Has Barner and Thomas, But OSU Has Cooks and Wheaton

in Firehose/Rotator/The Sports Desk by

News broke last week of starting quarterback Sean Mannion‘s indefinite injury that would force backup Cody Vaz to take over the starting role. Vaz, who hasn’t started a game since the 2010 season, was thrown into the lion’s den against a BYU Cougars defense ranked in the top-10 in pass and total defense. If you missed the game, all you need to know is Vaz went 20/32 with 332 yards and three TDs with no INTs.

Anyone with knowledge of the game of football knows those are phenomenal numbers, let alone someone making the switch on the depth chart having to learn the cadence and timing with, essentially, 10 strangers.

While most headlines are on Vaz’s performance, this column will be on just how much talent he has around him.

Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton celebrate in their win over Arizona (Rick Scuteri – US PRESSWIRE)

First off, let me start by saying the depth at running back is bad. It’s just awful. Oregon State ranks 102nd in rushing yards per game at 119.6, almost one third their 8th ranked passing attack. The RB talent isn’t there; it’s at receiver.

I never thought I’d say this, but OSU may have a better tandem of skill players in 2012 than they did with both Jaquizz and James Rodgers. OSU’s Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton are the next best pair of wide receivers in the Pac-12 behind USC’s Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

This tandem should just how good they are on Saturday when Cooks put up 173 yards receiving on just eight catches (21.6 YPC). His 59-yard catch and run to flip OSU’s field position displayed just how much speed he possesses. BYU’s speedy defensive backfield could not keep a man-on-man coverage finally broke down, and he was wide open in the middle of the secondary.

As for Wheaton, he was the go-to scorer. Wheaton finished with five carries for 66 yards and two TDs on the ground. With the woes at RB, he even rushed in a 12-yard score. Let me calculate that for you. That’s 78 total yards on six touches (13.0 yards per touch) and three TDs in six touch (one touchdown every two touches). Does DAT ring a bell, anyone?

Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner been receiving Heisman hype all season long, and for good reason, but OSU’s tandem of receivers deserve more recognition.

As just a sophomore, Cooks ranks 13th nationally in yards receiving with 659 yards. That’s second in the Pac-12 behind Lee at USC. Mind you, Oregon State still has seven remaining games. His 19.4 YPC should continue to rise as OSU plays Cal (112th in pass defense), Stanford (94th in pass defense) and the potential of playing FCS Nicholls State.

Wheaton is 14th in the country in receiving TDs with six already. He’s on pace for just over 14 TDs on the season.

Not to take anything away from Vaz’s performance, but he has incredible weapons at his disposal. Oregon State’s offense has continued to improve throughout the season after just putting up 10 points against Wisconsin, excluding one poor performance against Washington State. The defense, however, looked bad against BYU at times. They did force three interceptions from Riley Nelson, but two of those were absolute luck.

With some tough offenses remaining on Oregon State’s schedule, the Beaver’s offense will need to put up points at high rates to win some shootouts.

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