SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it's time to set down the shovel and quit shoveling dirt on the Oregon State Beavers.
The Beavers won a wild, back-and-forth Pac-12 game 51-48 over Utah Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It looks from here as if they kept the season from unraveling with Sean Mannion's 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks for the game winner in overtime.
Two weeks ago, Oregon State fans were on the brink after losing a home game to FCS Eastern Washington. But Mannion, Cooks, coach Mike Riley and an OSU team that refused to quit rallied to put things right.
The Utes were favored in this one, had the momentum and 45,221 fans at their back late in the game, but it wasn't enough. The Mannion-to-Cooks connection clicked one, last time and Riley and his team lived to fight another day.
If you're an Oregon State fan, there was a lot to like about OSU's performance on Saturday.
The Beavers played hard and well early, dominating the first half.
The passing game worked all night.
The banged up offensive line protected Mannion as if he had the Hope Diamond. He clearly has a nice chemistry with his receivers, including the game-breaking Cooks and emerging deep threat Richard Mullaney. Mannion threw for 443 yards.
OSU played lockdown defense in the first half. When Utah got into rhythm offensively after the break, the secondary staved off disaster with two interceptions by Steven Nelson and a third by Sean Martin. Martin returned his for the Beavers' fourth touchdown.
The Beavers didn't turn over the ball. And, they weren't afraid to break out the fourth-down trickery, when Terron Ward lataraled to Mannion, and the OSU quarterback went over the top to Cooks.
This victory helps put right the season-opening shocker, when FCS Eastern Washington ambushed the Beavers in Reser Stadium. To get back on track, OSU needed to get a victory back. This was the game.
The Beavers came in as underdogs. The Utes had beaten OSU the three previous times they played in Salt Lake City.
So the mental toughness OSU displayed at the end was impressive. But to be clear, the Beavers still have big issues.
Let's start with Utah's 48 points. The Beavers can't count on the offense to bail them out every week.
The OSU defense sprung some big leaks in the second half.
After corralling Travis Wilson in the first half, all of those problems OSU has with dual-threat quarterbacks resurfaced in the third and fourth quarters.
The running game continued to sputter. The Beavers averaged less than two yards per carry. Starting running back Storm Woods left the game in an ambulance with an apparent head or neck injury.
This team still has a ways to go, and a fresh look at the schedule reveals few soft spots.
What appeared to be the "easy," first half of the season has taken a sharp turn upward in degree of difficulty.
Colorado, a patsy last season, is unbeaten. Washington State took Auburn to the wire, beat USC in the L.A. Coliseum and blew out Southern Utah on Saturday. California's offense has been wearing out the scoreboard in Strawberry Canyon.
But those are problems for the future.
On a cool night against a good team, the Beavers picked themselves up and won a game that they could have — and maybe should have — lost.
There is a long way to go.
But put down the shovel. The season isn't over.
But for the first time since we saw Eastern Washington celebrating in Reser Stadium, OSU fans have a reason for renewed hope.