Traversing the Oregon Trail

I’m all in.
I completely fell in love this weekend and am 100% all emmer-effing in!
All in on what you (just my mom) ask?  
All in on the delightfully defeated Oregon State Football Beavers.
They came away from this weekend’s game with another loss.  They’re a pitiful 0-3.  They look sloppy.  They couldn’t score points against a sub-par UCLA defense.
And I love them.  They’re the cute, little, three legged puppy in the window.  Those of you that read my column last week, my chat with OSU die-hard Shawna, know that I knew nothing about the team before our talk.  I’m from Chicago.  I went to Purdue.  I don’t know much about the Pac-12.
So this past Saturday, on a spur of the moment decision to get some column material, I went out to watch OSU/UCLA, because I wanted to write about their red-shirt freshman and his potential to lead the team to ultimate glory.
But what I actually got was an itch.  No, not that kind of itch.  It was a football itch, one that symbolized the polar opposite of “jumping on the bandwagon.”  
Usually falling in love with a team with no prior allegiance happens when they’re doing really well.  This is popularly termed “jumping on the bandwagon.”  So what is it when you jump on a team that really sucks?
After talking it over with my buddy Hayden, we’ve fittingly decided to call it “Traversing the Oregon Trail.”
As we all know (from playing the computer game), the Oregon trail was an adventure of misery.  I mean, people died of diarrhea.  Your oxen always pulled their hamstrings and your wife had an 89% chance of dying of cholera.  Your wagon wheels always broke.  You have to traverse rivers IN A WAGON.  A wagon is not a catamaran.  Safe to say, it was a much slower version of suicide.
That’s why the name fits perfectly in this setting.  I’m falling into a shit sandwich situation.  My ship has just pillaged oodles of gold and treasures, and I’ve decided to bail on it for a sinking wreck.  The best part - I’m blindly happy about it.
It’s like when a chick meets a guy that’s so messed up and miserable, like he just got divorced and his kids say it’s his fault, that the girl feel like it’s her job to sleep with that guy to make him feel better/experience his pain/feel “passion.”  What I’m trying to say is this: I’m here to sleep with you Oregon State.
So yes, the greatest computer game ever is now the metaphor for jumping on a crappy team’s wagon.  The wagon thing works both ways too.  Beat that, Simmons.
So if I’m gonna do this for real, which I so am, I gotta dissect the future leader and savior of the squad:  redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.  This, in turn, has also brought me full circle, from going to the bar to check out a Mr. Sean Mannion to going to the bar to check out, and mancrush on, a Mr. Sean Mannion.
Let me reiterate: Love is in the air.
So what did I know about him before watching the UCLA game?
Almost nothing.  Never seen him play.  So my opinion is based on one game.  Not a huge sample size, but I’ll take an eye-test observation over staring at stats all day.  So here we go...
First off, he’s a giant.  Freeman-esque.  Not as heavy, but as a redshirt freshman, he’s still got time to put on weight.  His frame is solid, and he can easily see over both lines.  He can handle defenders tugging on his jersey.  I like all this.  
His frame also makes it alright for him to stay in the pocket for a little longer than his smaller counterparts.  His pocket awareness and size will let his receivers get open downfield, as shown on a couple nice 3rd down completions on Saturday.
The offense is mostly geared towards him as well, with those nice check-down cross routes over the top of the line.  Once again, his height comes into play.  Those passes were crucial for him to move the ball on UCLA.
And speaking of pocket presence, he had some nice movement when things started to collapse around him as well.  I noticed this right away, as on the first offensive play of the game, Mannion had to improvise a little bit to get a throw off.  It was incomplete, but I still liked the build up.
His throws are decent too.  Later on that same drive, he hit an in-stride James Rogers for a nice 3rd down conversion, right between a corner and safety.  Throughout the day, he slipped a couple nice balls past a few defenders and had fine timing with his receivers.
Although on the next play, his limitations surfaced.  The play call was an out route towards the left sideline, which is not a throw that a redshirt freshman needs to be attempting on the first drive of his first start.  The coaching staff can’t be running low-reward plays like that with Mannion this early.  I would have rather seen a run up the gut for a paltry one yard gain instead.
On the next play, he finds Markus Wheaton over the top on a similar route as they ran with Rogers earlier.  Man, I love his size.  Makes it so much easier for him to see into the secondary on those over-the-LB throws.
And then coach calls another out route towards the sideline.  I really didn’t understand those.  Failed play.
And then, on the next drive, unfortunately some grip strength/coordination/hand size problems came into play with an unforced fumbled turnover in their own red zone.  Tough.  He also gave up on the play right away, which is somewhat defensible, but he needs to be taught to just go non stop.
Afterwards, the camera cut to him on the sideline laughing.  As a Bears fan, I see this happen with Jay Cutler after he screws up all the time.  It’s impossible to predict what a player is thinking on the sideline, but hopefully that’s just how he blows off steam, or maybe he was laughing at the ref’s call.  Either way, trust me, he does not want to start mimicking Cutler’s sideline emotions.  It doesn’t end well for anybody and causes egos to get misconstrued.
Later on in the half, Mannion had phenomenal touch on an arcing toss across the field to Jordan Bishop for a first down.  He put just enough air underneath the ball for only his receiver to come down with it.  Really nice loft.
But on the next third down, with OSU down 21-3 and the game looking to get out of hand, Mannion throws a called check down to his running back on the left side of the line, resulting in no gain on a 3rd and long.  And I’m curious: what’s the point?  I know I’m not the coach, and they get the money and I get the nothing, but your quarterback needs to learn how to play in tough situations.  He needs to learn how to win a game and how to come from behind.  He’s been making an above average number of fantastic touch passes this half - Why not let the freshman throw?  This season is pretty messed up as it is - might as well let your quarterback of the future learn in-game pressure situations and get him to make “the leap” before next year.  Frustrating.
My favorite play of the game came in the 3rd quarter when OSU ran a double reverse with who other than Sean Mannion as a lead blocker.  I could tell he was a little hesitant at first to dive into the secondary and make a block, but then half a second of deliberating turned into a full on head of steam, cutting up a couple open routes for the runner and giving OSU an extra yard or two.  Respect.
So now you see how my mind started diving into the game and latching itself onto the heartache.  I fell into the OSU venus fan trap, and I’m not even upset about it.  I love the (my) Beavers.
The rest of the game was back and forth for Mannion.  He had more 3rd down conversions than Tavaris Jackson has had all year*, but he still made some green mistakes.
The only way he’s going to turn this offense around is if he gets opportunities to make things happen.  I understand that coaches need immediate wins in order to legitimize the school paying their salary, but if OSU wants to build a solid foundation for an offense, the team needs to teach Mannion everything it can this year, so that next year he can throw out-route-type passes to spread the field.  He can also have more reps with the football in his hands, learning how not to fumble... and who knows? Maybe he gets nervous on game day and has sweaty hands?  It’s a stretch, but possible.  I’ve known plenty of confident people with this problem.
But he definitely won’t get over those types of things throwing little half-screens on 3rd and 9 when he’s got the right-now-talent to hit Rogers over the middle in tight windows.  Use his size.  He doesn’t need to get rid of the ball so safely and quickly.
And as a side-note to Mannion, he needs Agnew back.  OSU had that game if their run-game could take some pressure off their young QB.  Just a few next-level plows with a skilled RB could have given the Beavers the necessary yardage and first downs to pull off the W.
So, as you can now tell, I got pointlessly into the game.  I have no business caring about this team, but I’m all in.  I know that half the team has dysentery and the food’s spoiled, we’re out of fucking rifle ammo, and our spare wagon wheel was used as life preserver, which was a terrible idea, because it didn’t float and took down Uncle Jeff as a result.  But I don’t care.  I’m Traversing the Oregon Trail.  Because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Oregon State Beaver Sean Mannion will lead us to that light, even if it means damming the entire Willamette in the process.

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