Mike Riley announced today that Cody Vaz would be the starter for ASU. As long as he wins, he is very likely to remain the starter for the rest of the season. Should he struggle, Mannion will be ready as the backup. The decision is based primarily off ball security. Mannion has had three very odd interceptions the past two games he has played that were fairly short throws and right at defenders. These balls were not targeted properly at all. In some defense of Mannion staying out there to start the 2nd half vs. Washington, I will say that there were pretty much two consecutive drives in the 3rd where Mannion looked better. It rose my confidence noticeably as I was watching the game. The first was the scoring drive with the sideline throw to Cooks. Most of the 2nd drive was even better, as it lasted longer, until Riley decided not to go for it on 4th and 1 after a UW penalty from the 12 yard line.
I suppose he was wanting to preserve the Mannion confidence improvements that seemed to be taking place. Unfortunately, I think that backfired. A fullback run with Anderson would have been a good call in that situation. Sometimes Mannion is too slow on his handoffs and could do a little better on fake handoffs during play action and selling it. It would make a difference in getting linebackers and safeties to bite, so I wish Riley would try to fine tune that a bit. Oregon, for instance, is awesome with their sell jobs and it is what allows some of those plays to be major home runs. I think if we go for that 1st down, especially with a FB play, it would have worked and OSU likely would have gotten a TD shortly after. I didn’t see enough downside, even though tying the game seemed OK. UW was not moving the ball that well. Riley also had plenty of other opportunities when we had two first downs on the 28 yard line to make sure he got atleast 3 points and in those we got no points.
It is a different situation on the 12 yard line though, so I think he let the poor execution before have too much bearing in a different situation. Next time we are near the dang 30 yard line, hopefully he focuses on getting another first down first and foremost, so we know 3 points is the fallback should we stall after that. This strategy beats stalling out 4 times between the 38 and 28 with zero points like OSU did against UW. As far as Vaz vs ASU, I think it is the right call just because Vaz pays more attention to not making mistakes that lead to turnovers. When Mannion is best, the line is protecting well and he doesn’t have to be flushed much, because if he is, he becomes less reliable and a little too frantic. You don’t see Mannion throw it away as much as Vaz. Even though a throw away is nobody’s favorite there are usually a few times every game where it becomes the best option.
Based off how often Vaz does it he seems to have a pretty good appreciation of risk/reward. I know Johnathan Smith would throw a couple of balls away most games when warranted. I actually see Vaz as a bit of a hybrid between a Johnathan Smith and a Lyle Moevao, and probably with a little more Smith. That’s a compliment in my book. He also has similar leadership qualities to both as well. Mannion did have 4 or 5 balls dropped and atleast a few by Obum Gwacham. Those did not help, but Mannion’s main reasons for being benched were too much float on some of his passes and the last two interceptions which were both very ugly and way too much thrown at the defender. Him floating the ball is not stepping into it enough and not enough sense that when you see an open guy, he is open then and needs to get the ball quick. Lead him some and throw a quick pass so he gets it while still open. This advice should also apply to the 2 or 3 balls Mannion threw behind receivers.
Bottom line is Mannion is good, but is best when protected. Our line has seemed to actually provide Vaz a split second more than Sean, when Sean really needs that extra quarter second more. The line needs to understand how critical their blocking is and that microseconds often can make the difference. Vaz should be good enough to beat ASU, but the game won’t be easy, because now ASU is hungry after losing to UCLA. Mullaney needs to play for most of the game with Wheaton and Cooks. Cummings also can get plenty of time, but Obum should only be in for a few packages unless we are up by 2 TDs. He doesn’t have all the finer details of being a successful receiver down yet. Things like darting to the first goal line after catching it, being decisive, coming back to catch the ball to create some space between himself and the defender and limit the opportunity for a knockdown, and plain just catching the ball.
Hopefully Vaz and OSU do a solid job on Saturday and get a win by 10+ points and Cody can take the added confidence into Stanford. In that respect, and because that game will afford less mistakes, I think Riley made the correct decision. I think Cody can give us better odds against the Cardinal where we literally probably can’t have more than one turnover as a team and expect to have too great of odds of earning an important victory for the postseason. The ASU game will have 46,000 at it, so cheer loudly and let Cody know we welcome the Commander at the helm and have alot of faith in him. The Vazmanian Devil is legit and should take his starting record to 3-0 with an all around strong team effort.