CORVALLIS — It sounds like it doesn't fit, but Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf likes to talk baseball when he's watching film with his quarterbacks.
"We've got to be able to throw strikes," Langsdorf said. "Just like a pitcher in baseball, we can't just go in there and walk guys all the time. When we talk about accuracy, we talk in those terms all the time, about throwing strikes."
So Saturday against Cal, starting quarterback Sean Mannion's job is pretty straightforward: Throw strikes. The sophomore is back with the first-stringers as junior Cody Vaz continues to nurse an ankle injury. Vaz has not practiced all week, and while he is expected to dress Saturday, Mike Riley wasn't sure if Vaz would be available as a backup.
But if Mannion does his job and stays healthy against the Bears (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12), it might not matter. Mannion started off the season in dominating fashion, helping OSU to a 4-0 start. He was stellar in September, completing 82-of-127 passes for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. He helped Oregon State (7-2, 5-2) to its fourth win in a 19-6 victory over Washington State, but threw three interceptions.
After missing two games while recovering from knee surgery, Mannion returned against Washington, and had a nightmare of game: He threw four interceptions, and the Huskies handed OSU its first loss of the season. After that he was benched in favor of Vaz, who went 1-1.
An up-and-down season that featured long stints on the sideline could damage some players' confidence, but Mannion said he feels 100 percent right now, physically and mentally.
"After the Washington game, when they told me Cody was going to start, I had a good talk about it with Langs," Mannion said. "He told me to hang with it. To have someone like that to help me through what was a bummer of situation for me, personally, it was good. All my teammates have been awesome, too. I know now why they call it a family program."
It is a running joke around Corvallis that Mannion's favorite response to any question is "we've just got to watch some film," but Langsdorf said there's plenty Mannion can learn from video repetition. He also believes quarterbacks get crucified a little more than necessary after bad games.
"The seven interceptions he threw the last two games, those were not all his fault, and our guys know that," Langsdorf said. "There's a lot of stuff that goes into negative plays. He's going to get too much credit when we win, which he did early, and then he takes too much of the blame with those interceptions. It's our job to filter that."
Mannion has said it before, and he'll say it again: He has to be more accurate. Hours of study in the film room have reinforced that to him.
"There's a decision to be made on every play, but if you're accurate with the ball and keep it safe, even when you make mistakes, it might not be so bad," Mannion said.
Langsdorf and Riley said Mannion has had an excellent week of practice, and they expect him to play well against Cal.
"Those two games, he didn't play completely terrible football, but he had some throw that he'd like to have back, obviously," Langsdorf said. "But I think he's really anxious and excited to get back to that early season form. He's itching to get back in and prove himself."