We are less than four weeks away from the start of fall camp and some major decisions about the offense are still to be made. Besides letting Mannion and Vaz settle the starting QB role, the next crucial decision that will go a long way to OSU winning a bunch of potentially close games, is who wins the coveted #2 receiver in Riley’s system behind Brandin Cooks, otherwise known as the ‘X receiver’. Cooks and Wheaton were a balanced duo last year with Wheaton just edging Cooks in statistical categories. To fill the hole left when Wheaton was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, OSU needs either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham to fill some big shoes and become a reliable and dependable target through 4 quarters of play in every game of the 2013 season.
Looking at the two options, we are told that the race is neck and neck and some have even suggested “Boom Boom” Gwacham could hold a minor lead heading into camp in the coaches’ minds. Mullaney made a handful of nice catches last year and looks to be a very good “‘hands” man. His top end speed may not be ultimate but it is crucial in this position to fight for the catches and make them when thrown to. I feel he gets just enough separation and does a good job of catching the ball. Gwacham on the other hand, for all the hype that surrounded his supposed progress heading into last year had very few catches and atleast last year less impact than Mullaney. Mullaney seemed like a pretty good option to me down the stretch of last season who was under utilized. Gwacham always had the “potential” but seemed to bobble almost half of the few balls that did come his way. His top end speed also may not be blistering, and his technique seems better for snagging a few of the high balls. Thing is balls are just as often underthrown and I am not sure he will go down to scoop them up as much as Beaver Nation needs to move the chains and play a key role on numerous scoring drives throughout the season.
As it stands right now my lean is Mullaney as the #2 or X receiver. This is too crucial of a position that has to produce and help spread the field for Cooks on the other side. To be honest even Cooks seemed to not be as effective down the stretch in the big moments of key games as he should have been. Being the primary target now I don’t expect that will be the situation in 2013, but he will need a constant threat beside him to balance the attack. Boom Gwacham I am not sure is even the 3rd best receiver on the team. Malik Gilmore seems from what we know had the football background as a receiver all through high school and was well recruited. I would hope he would be ready to step up and become another relied upon receiver ready to display some leadership. Cooks has those qualities for sure and after him I think Mullaney and Kevin Cummings are most capable of showing those leadership qualities. Cummings may actually end up with the 2nd most catches in 2013 but from what I have read the X position battle is between Mullaney and Gwacham so I suppose that means Cummings will more often than not be spotting Cooks and also coming in for some multiple set looks.
If properly handled, this possible slight step back in terms of a commanding #2 receiver could mean that OSU will feature the running game just a tad more in 2013 which could turn out to be a positive. Storm Woods is near becoming a Pac-12 top 3 running back and Terron Ward also has shown some very good flashes and reliability. If Oregon State can stick to their ways of how they often are able to take leads through 3 quarters, then this year I sincerely hope they will stay dedicated to the running game in the 4th and let the boss hogs like Andrew Seumalo create some lanes to ice games down the stretch and take some pressure off the QB as teams attack defensively and rush more while starting to get in desperation mode. Too often last year we went way too pass happy and played right into the hands of the opponent. Beating either Washington or Stanford last year, OSU would have gone to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1965. All of Beaver Nation would have rejoiced and we seemed to have the Stanford game in hand until we didn’t and a part of that was asking too much from the QB when the load should have been spread out. Sacks are too costly for how they kill drives so ways to counteract blitzes need to be utilized and executed under pressure.
So who do you want as OSU’s X receiver in 2013? Does Gwacham’s potential and the early schedule give you enough belief that he will blossom by the time of the earlier Pac-12 contests, or do you like Mullaney for a player who isn’t overly flashy but has the hands to grab the ball and get the needed first downs to keep the offense moving and the other team off the field? Converting first downs and winning the time of possession are important in Riley’s system and the 2013 team will again be one that probably has to outscore many Pac-12 opponents somewhere in the 28-21 or 30-24 range in a lot of games with help from a defense that made some strides last year and seemed to show better DB technique under the guidance of NFL veteran Rod Perry. As long as Langsdorf doesn’t get to keep calling nearly 90% pass plays in the 4th quarter and we instead try hard to go 55-45 run/pass in the 4th, then I think this OSU team will get the overall contributions they need to win quite a few of the close ones. Some experts think OSU with their favorable early schedule, and if they beat Utah on the road, has a shot to start the season 7-0. They then finish with Stanford and USC at home, at ASU, UW at home and then the Civil War in Eugene. If they learned some insight on the tough final stretch last year they may get another game where they can win it for a BCS Bowl and maybe the Rose Bowl. Riley after 13 years needs to show he is a BCS caliber coach or his legacy will not be as great as he or Beaver Nation would like.