Oregon State goes with Vaz against Arizona State


Oregon State goes with Vaz against Arizona State

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State coach Mike Riley was faced with a delicate decision after the Beavers' first loss of the season last weekend - whether to start Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion at quarterback against Arizona State on Saturday night.

Mannion was the team's starter at the beginning of the season, leading the Beavers to wins in their first four games and averaging 339 yards in passing. But the 6-foot-5 sophomore hurt his left knee and required surgery. Vaz, a junior who hadn't started since he'd been in Corvallis, took over and led the Beavers to two straight wins.

Then came Washington. Mannion returned as starter but threw four picks before he was replaced by Vaz, who fell just short of pulling off a Beavers comeback in a 20-17 loss last Saturday.

That put Riley in a difficult spot.

``Obviously, it's one of those things that's not easy,'' Riley said. ``You look at the integrity of the competition and you try to make a decision for the team that's right this minute. We think Cody's playing a little bit better right now and deserves the start.''

Mannion was gracious, telling Vaz he was ``behind him 100 percent.'' He also vowed to get better.

``It's a little disappointing, but I'm confident in myself, and I've got a ton of confidence in my teammates,'' Mannion said. ``You know, this is a team. It's not about any one player.''

Overall, the 13th-ranked Beavers (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) were banged up as they looked toward rebounding from the Washington loss against the Sun Devils. Receiver Markus Wheaton suffered a concussion after a hard hit in the loss to the Huskies, but should return against the Sun Devils. Running back Storm Woods had a sore left knee but said he's probably play.

Oregon State will likely be without cornerback Jordan Poyer, who has five interceptions this season and is tied for second nationally. Poyer has a sprained right knee and didn't practice this week, although Riley wouldn't definitively rule him out for Saturday night's game.

Arizona State is expected to see the return of defensive tackle Will Sutton, who returned to practice this week. Sutton, considered one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12, injured his right knee early in the Sun Devils' 43-21 loss to Oregon on Oct. 18 and hasn't played since.

The loss to the Ducks was the first of two straight at home for Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) after a three-game winning streak. The Sun Devils fell 45-43 to UCLA last weekend, but they are still in the thick of the Pac-12 South race behind USC and the Bruins.

``Our guys had a great spirit and a great attitude, just like they have had for me all year long. I know they are going to go up there for me and play hard and prepare to win and that is what we have to do,'' Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ``That is the great thing about things in the south right now, it is wide open and no one is sitting any better than we are.''

Arizona State, just a win away from bowl eligibility, has a three-game losing streak in Corvallis, although the Sun Devils defeated the Beavers 35-20 last year in Tempe.

Whether the Beavers play Vaz or Mannion shouldn't make much of a difference for Arizona State, which is ranked third in the nation in pass defense, allowing opponents an average of just 148.8 yards per game. Conversely, the Beavers are ranked 15th in the nation for pass offense with an average of nearly 312 yards a game.

In fact, the game figures to be a battle of defenses. Arizona State and Oregon State are ranked first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 for overall defense. The Sun Devils are allowing just 322 yards a game, while the Beavers are allowing an average of 344.1.

Vaz is averaging 201 yards passing per game in his two-plus appearances, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He said he has some goals against Arizona State, and they have nothing to do with any competition with Mannion.

``I just want to make the most of it. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win,'' he said earlier this week. ``We can't try to force anything offensively, we've got to convert on third downs - that's kind of been our Achilles' heel in the last few games, not staying on the field. We just have to move the ball down the field, convert on third down, and we'll be fine.''

Quick Links

The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting


The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

The Kerrigan family is about to make a big-time addition to its roster.

Ryan and his wife, Jessica, already have two very, VERY, very, very cute bulldogs in their household. 

But on Tuesday, the two announced in separate Instagram posts that Jessica is 18 weeks pregnant and that a third human Kerrigan will arrive in 2019.

"Can I eat dis sign aftur da picturr iz over?" George the bulldog said when reached for comment on the news.

"How did dey gett such a smawl jerzey for da baby alreddy?" Franklin the other bulldog added.

This is all very wonderful.

Come next March, the world is about to get a little precious-er.


Quick Links

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”