BERKELEY, Calif. -- In a groove?
Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks seemed almost beyond that in the cool, crisp air of Strawberry Canyon Saturday night.
Oregon State's pitch-and-catch pair, who have torn up the FBS ranks all season, turned California's defense into pretzels in a 49-17 victory at Memorial Stadium.
Mannion, who entered the game leading the nation in passing yardage and touchdown passes, threw for 481 yards and four TDs. Cooks, who came in No. 1 in receptions, receiving yardage and receiving TDs, caught 13 passes for a career-best 232 yards and a TD and scored on a 14-yard run in the latest of a season-long display of brilliance.
"Can't say enough about those two," Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton said. "They're playing out of their minds right now.
"Usually we'll sit down and take a rest when the offense is up, but we have to stand up and watch."
It was the sixth straight victory for the Beavers (6-1 overall, 4-0 in Pac-12 play), who sent the hapless Bears (1-6, 0-4) to their fifth straight defeat.
Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes in the game and had 315 yards through the air by intermission in helping stake Oregon State to a 28-3 halftime lead. He was on the verge of breaking the school single-game record of 493 yards he set in last Saturday's 52-24 rout of Washington State, but left with 9:26 remaining after throwing his fourth scoring toss to push the Beavers ahead 49-10.
Cooks did most of his damage in the first half, catching nine balls for 197 yards and a score before the break. He did not catch a pass in the fourth quarter, departing after dropping a bomb that would have put him close to Mike Hass' school single-game receiving yardage record of 293.
The 5-10, 185-pound junior from nearby Stockton, Calif., had receptions of 17, 50, 14, 38, 34 and 26 yards -- and that was just in the first half.
"We tried to get our hands on him, rolled coverage to him, jammed him at the line of scrimmage, played a linebacker outside of the box more to his side -- we did a lot of things," first-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "He made a lot of competitive plays on the ball. He is a heck of a player. That is what good players do -- make plays when they have an opportunity to do so. He did it over and over again."
Asked how the Beavers get the ball to Cooks when he is the focus of an opponent's defense, Riley shrugged.
"We were a little surprised," he said. "We got more man coverage than we expected. We have to look at that. We have to try to make sure we find some stuff all the time.
"But that question gets scary. If somebody wants to really do something with him, what happens? What we try to do is move him around, to change things up all the time. That's why (teammates) have to make plays. If other people make plays, Sean doesn't have to try to force it to Brandin."
Riley has praised Cooks often for the time he devotes to preparation.
"He's very talented, very driven and he's very savvy," the 13th-year OSU coach said. "He gets it. That's because he cares and he spent a lot of time with football in his life. This is not an accident. This is the culmination of a lot of work, and a lot of great chemistry with his quarterback. Those guys have spent a lot of time together.
"That's the difference-maker. If you combine talent with great work ethic, you have a chance to be good."
Most of the attention was riveted on Mannion and Cooks Saturday night, but they got plenty of help from teammates on both sides of the ball.
"That's the beautiful thing about this," Riley said. "This is a team. None of this happens without protection or a good supporting cast. Other people have to make some plays. If it's a one-man show, it's easier to defend. there are a lot of pieces that make this stuff go.
"The neat thing is, both Sean and Brandin know that. They're confident in what they do, but they know they're part of a team that's growing."
Oregon State had a huge advantage in first downs (31-19), total offense (570-366) and passing yardage (496-291). Cal's redshirt freshman quarterback, Jared Goff, came into the game fourth nationally in passing yardage at 339.3 per game, but finished with 220 and was benched for backup Zach Kline in the third quarter.
"We've seen these two very productive spread teams in Washington State and Cal the last two weeks," Riley said. "Our defense limited big plays again tonight. (The Bears) are going to get some yards. They're going to make completions. But we tackled, we forced turnovers, we played very sound. Way different than earlier in the year."
The game was over after the first possession of the third quarter, when Storm Woods rumbled 28 yards with a screen pass to push the Beavers ahead 35-3.
"Pretty good execution by us," Mannion said. "As the game went on, we got sharper, which is what we want to see."
Oregon State had gotten on the board first after a seven-play, 91-yard scoring drive. Mannion hit Cooks for 50 yards on the first play from the OSU 9. Terron Ward carried over from the 1 and the Beavers led 7-0 with 7:53 left in the first quarter.
Cal struck right back, Goff going deep on the first play for 45 yards to Chris Harper to the OSU 12. The Beavers held, though, and the Bears settled for a 22-yard Vincenzo D'Amato field goal to cut the margin to 7-3 with 6:32 to play in the quarter.
Rashaad Reynolds intercepted a Goff pass at the Cal 34, but the Beavers squandered a scoring golden opportunity. On third-and-1 from the Bears' 12, Ward tripped and fell for a 2-yard loss. On fourth down, Trevor Romaine's 31-yard field goal try hit the post and bounced away.
But the OSU defense got the ball back on the third play of Cal's next series. Crichton stripped Goff on a sack and Mana Rosa recovered on the Bears' 15. Three plays later, Mannion found tight end Caleb Smith for 14 yards and a TD and the Beavers led 14-3 with nine seconds to go in the period.
Oregon State extended its lead to 21-3 on a seven-play, 72-yard drive, Cooks scoring on a 14-yard fly sweep with 8:32 remaining in the second quarter.
Cooks one-upped himself on OSU's next possession, using a sensational cut-on-a-dime move on an inside screen to motor 34 yards for a TD and a 28-3 Beavers' advantage with 3:44 to go in the half.
"We just stuck to our game and what we practiced all week," Cooks said. "We stayed within our system. Sean trusted me, Coach Riley trusted me, and we got our thing going early."
Crichton was asked if he knows which two Pac-12 schools remain with unblemished records.
"Oregon and us?" he asked, nodding. "I feel great about that. We'll celebrate this win, but when (Sunday) hits, we have to get back to work."
With its sixth win, Oregon State clinched bowl eligibility for the eighth time in 11 seasons.
"Now let's see which one we can go to," Riley said. "It's our job to raise the bar and see what we can do.
"This team has been fun. We learned a real good lesson early (in the opening 49-46 loss to FCS opponent Eastern Washington) to stay in the moment and play the game. All of a sudden, if you don't play well, you lose. These kids like to play. They like to prepare. And they know they have to play one game at a time. That's the world we're in. We're excited about the next step."
The loss to the Eagles, Riley said, "is a constant reminder that we have to get ready every week. That's as simple as I can put it. Anything can happen. When you're ready, you have a chance."
Had the Beavers won the game against Eastern Washington, they'd surely be ranked among the nation's top 10 right now.
"That always lingers in everybody's mind right there," Riley said. "What if we were 7-0 right now? But, once we lost, we'll take this. It's a pretty next-best thing, and it says a lot about these kids and the group I have coaching. They've done a nice job of helping these kids get better.
"These are some of the best older kids in this program I've ever been around. Rashaad Reynolds and Ryan Murphy and Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton and Grant Enger and Josh Andrews they've been role models for the younger guys."
Next up for the Beavers is a Reser Stadium date next Saturday night against Stanford, which should move back into the top 10 after its 24-10 win over UCLA on Saturday. The Cardinal "have a good running game," Riley said. "They have those big tight end-type/hybrid guys. and they throw the ball downfield and make some unbelievable plays. They're balanced with the run, pass and down the field, and defensively they're the most athletic group we'll have played. We have our work cut out for us."
Cooks said back-to-back road wins at Washington State and Cal "gives the team momentum. We take that 'W's.' Now we have to have the best week of practice. We're playing a great team in Stanford. We know we have something in front of us that we have to work hard toward, starting (Sunday)."
NOTES: In his post-game talk to the players, Riley cautioned them not to eat too much in the locker room because a special treat was going to be ready for them on the bus trip to the airport. In-and-Out burgers would be the logical guess. "Hopefully, Riley knows what to do in California," Crichton said, grinning. The junior D-end was sensational in the first quarter, blocking passes on two of three attempts on Cal's second offensive series. In the first half, he had four unassisted tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Oregon State now ranks fourth nationally in turnover margin (plus-10, 19 takeaways, nine giveaways). California ranks tied for 120th (minus-11, 11 and 22). OSU had two turnovers, Cal four on Saturday. The Beavers have now beaten the Bears in six of the last seven and 12 of the last 15 meetings, including six in a row at Berkeley dating to 1997. Neither team got much done on the ground. The Bears had 75 yards rushing, the Beavers 74. Riley's record at OSU is 87-68 -- 79-54 since he returned for his second tour of duty in 2003. A dozen Oregon State players caught at least one pass. Freshman receiver/return specialist Victor Bolden injured an ankle and did not play in the second half. Woods had six catches for 63 yards and a TD to go with 23 yards on seven carries. freshman Chris Brown had OSU's longest run, for 26 yards in the fourth quarter.
Cooks said he had "30 to 40" family members and friends from the Stockton area at the game. "I had to rack up some tickets," he said. "Tried my best to get as many as I could from my teammates." Mannion is also from Northern California -- Pleasanton in the East Bay. "The most special part of it is we got a win," he said. "It's going to be fun to say hi to friends and family by the bus, but I treated it just like any other game." Oregon State had a strong contingent of fans who made an increasing amount of noise as the game went on. "I wasn't sure where we were playing for a minute," Crichton said. "They were really loud. that made an impact on the game." On a diving attempt to catch a bomb in the fourth quarter, Cooks laid on the carpet for a while before being helped up. He walked off under his own power. "Just knocked the wind out of me," he said. "I'm fine." Oregon State has scored at least 30 points in each of its seven games, the first time for such a streak since 2000. OSU has also scored at least 40 three times in a row for the first time in school history. The Beavers have won their first three road conference games for the first time since 1939. Cooks' 232 receiving yards is second-most in OSU history behind Hass' school mark of 293 against Boise State in 2004. Cooks now has 76 receptions for 1,176 yards and 20 TDs, the latter figured tied with Hass and James Newson atop the school career list. Cooks has 2,718 career receiving yards, moving him past James Rodgers and Sammie Stroughter into fourth in the OSU record books. His 13 receptions Saturday night were one shy of the school record he co-holds with Hass. Mannion has 2,992 yards passing and 29 TD passes this season, the latter figure tying Derek Anderson (2004) on the school single-season list. Reynolds' interception was his fourth of the season, all of them coming in the last three games.
SCORE BY PERIODS
Oregon State 14 14 14 7 -- 49
California 3 0 7 7 -- 17
OSU -- Terron Ward 1 run (Trevor Romaine kick) 7:53
CAL -- Vincenzo D'Amato 22 FG 6:32
OSU -- Caleb Smith 14 pass from Sean Mannion (Romaine kick) :09
OSU -- Brandin Cooks 14 run (Romaine kick) 8:32
OSU -- Cooks 34 pass from Mannion (Romaine kick) 3:44
OSU -- Storm Woods 28 pass from Mannion (Romaine kick) 10:42
CAL -- Darrin Ervin 7 pass from Zach Cline (D'Amato kick) 3:39
OSU -- Richard Mullaney 15 pass from Mannion (Romaine kick) 1:01
OSU -- Ward 1 run (Romaine kick) 4:07
ATT. -- 44,671