YES, OREGON STATE HAS settled on a quarterback, with redshirt freshman Sean Mannion getting the nod from the Beaver coaching staff. The question now becomes, who's going to step up to help him get the OSU offense going?
The sure addition for the tilt with the Bruins (TV: Prime Ticket/Fox College Sports; 12:30 p.m.) is senior tight end Joe Halahuni, held out of the first two games as he recovered from spring shoulder surgery. Another likely addition for the offense is senior flanker James Rodgers, who has been out since last season with a severe knee injury.
"If we can get this thing rolling a little bit with those guys making plays, we'll be a lot better," OSU coach Mike Riley said of their return.
Unlikely to be ready to play is freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, still hobbled by a strained hamstring suffered in practice two weeks ago. And definitely out is left guard Josh Andrews, who suffered a knee injury against Wisconsin that likely puts him on the shelf for a month. Grant Enger takes his place.
At least the Beavers had a bye to work around all the questions, and to better prepare Mannion for his first start after he played extensively as a reserve in the first two games. The “first start” talk is somewhat misleading. Mannion has essentially played the last six of the Beavs’ eight quarters this season, including virtually the entire game at Wisconsin.
"He's had some game experience, and I think he's handled himself very well," Riley said. "Now what we're looking for is continued growth. He does not seem to be phased by the situation he's in at all. He doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by any of this."
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads 40-15-4, with a 17-14 win last year.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers should have more options offensively, with the return of TE Joe Halahuni and the likely presence of WR James Rodgers, both for the first time this season. That should help the passing game in the first start for redshirt freshman QB Sean Mannion. The bigger issue is likely to be whether the Beavers can effectively run the football to keep a balance to the play calling. With Agnew likely out, that task would fall to Jordan Jenkins and Terron Ward. Sophomore Jovan Stevenson is expected to also be used.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: With the biggest defensive lineman, Castro Masaniai, sitting out the game in his delayed suspension, it will be a challenge for the Beavers to hold off the UCLA running game. That was the major issue last season in a loss, and with the usual questions about UCLA's passing game, holding up against the run will be crucial for the OSU defense. Kevin Frahm and Andrew Seumalo are the d-tackle starters.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL, THIS WEEK'S GAME: UCLA at Oregon State, Sept. 17, 12:30 p.m. -- The conference opener for two teams that could use a lift after the Beavers lost their first two games and the Bruins went 1-2 in non-conference games. Any hopes of a bowl game and winning record all but require a win in this game for either team.
THE QUESTION: Can the Beavers measure up in a physical matchup with the Bruins on both sides of the football? Both the offensive and defensive lines of OSU will be tested by UCLA's size up front.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
H-Back Joe Halahuni -- In his first game this season, he figures to be a prime target. In Halahuni's place, Colby Prince had six receptions in the first two games, but only for a total of 34 yards. Halahuni gives OSU more of a threat for deep passes down the middle and is more of a challenge to tackle once he has the football.
S Anthony Watkins -- Cited for his much improved play against Wisconsin, when he was in on seven tackles, the junior figures to be busy helping against the UCLA running game as well as pass defense.
LB D.J. Welch -- He missed the first two games while recovering from an elbow injury but will become the 10th true freshman to play this season. He's expected to be a contributor on up to all four of the return or coverage teams as well as a primary backup with the defensive unit.
--Reserve TE Connor Hamlett will be available, with his scheduled one-game suspension again put off until later in the season.
--Even on the eve of fall term classes beginning next week, the Beavers are still awaiting a final determination on the eligibility status of DT Dominic Glover. The senior has been practicing but hasn't played in the first two games while awaiting a determination on summer class grades.
--OSU will have two more first-time starters against the Bruins in Mannion and Enger. That will bring to 15 the number of OSU players who already this season have made their first collegiate start.
--The Beavers have lost six of their past seven conference openers. But they haven't gone 0-3 to open a season since the 1996 season, which ended with a 2-9 record and led to the firing of Jerry Pettibone as the head coach.