CORVALLIS — It was a football game: Colorado at Oregon State. But the week leading up to it included almost boxing style hype for a rumble at Reser, a war of wideouts: Paul Richardson vs. Brandin Cooks.
Colorado's Richardson entered Saturday's game as the nation's leading receiver with an average of 208.5 yards per game, while Cooks was second nationally with 159.8 yards per game. Cooks had the edge in catches per game, 10.75 to 10.5.
The winner: Cooks, with nine catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson was limited to five catches for 70 yards — with four of those catches and 68 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter when OSU was well on its way to a 44-17 victory.
OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker felt the Beavers' biggest concern wasn't necessarily Richardson but D.D. Goodson, who lined up in the slot and had been a frequent third-down target for the Buffaloes.
"We did a great job against him because there were some tough things with him — some rub routes and some option routes where they would motion, because he was always in the slot, he was tough to get to," Banker said. "Richardson wasn't hard to get to because he was outside. And as long as we made sure we executed coverage-wise, the types of routes he ran, we were going to be okay against him."
With corners Rashaad Reynolds, Sean Martin and Steven Nelson taking Richardson at various times, he had just one catch for two yards through the first three quarters. Even so, Cooks wasn't going to crow about winning a one-on-one battle.
"He's a great receiver and a great guy, also," said Cooks, who met Richardson at the preseason Pacific-12 media day. "He's a special receiver and there's a reason he's talked about."
Clamping down on the nation's leading receiver was just part of a big day for Oregon State's defense. By the end of the third quarter Colorado had managed just 124 yards — 31 passing — as OSU built a 38-3 lead. The Buffaloes finished with 300 yards total offense and 146 passing after entering the game averaging 467 total yards and 370 yards passing in winning their first two games.
"It was good for us, because they did parts of stuff we're going to see all year long: the zone read stuff, the hurry-up stuff, the formation change stuff, the personnel group changes," OSU head coach Mike Riley said. "Our team was well-prepared by Mark (Banker) and our defensive coaches and probably played their best game today."
RUNNING AND CATCHING: Oregon State's much-maligned rushing game reached triple digits for the first time since the season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, and the Beavers' 120 yards on the ground more than doubled their output in any of the previous three games.
OSU rolled up 540 total yards, and much of that came from turning runners into catchers and catchers into runners.
Terrell Ward, filling in for injured running back Storm Woods, had 55 yards rushing but also caught seven passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Cooks, in addition to his receiving, had five carries for 47 yards on the fly sweep.
"We definitely want to have balance," Riley said. "We are at our best when we can run and play. We are trying to get that back. But we also need balance within our passing game ... our screen game is crucial here, too. That came back a bit for us today."
The big plays belonged to Cooks, including an acrobatic 52-yard catch that started the scoring drive that put OSU in front for good at 10-3. Going down the right side, he twisted between two Colorado defenders to haul in the ball.
"Once I turned around I kind of lost the ball or a little bit, and when it came down I stuck my hands out," Cooks said. "Once I touched it, I knew I had to bring it in."
Said Mannion: "He's an unbelievable player. Whenever Brandin goes for it, he has a chance to come down with it."
WEATHERING IT: The storm predicted for Saturday afternoon offered up more wind than rain during the game. The Beavers picked up 10 points in the first quarter with the wind, then seven more in the second to go in front, 17-3.
OSU had its choice to start the second half and took the ball. Riley was interested in seeing whether Colorado took the wind in the third or fourth quarter; the Buffaloes opted for the third and the Beavers responded with 21 points in the period.
"I thought that was a major part of the game," Riley said. The fact we were able to score twice [actually three times] going into the wind, I felt real good about the game."
Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion felt he missed some throws but not necessarily because of the wind.
"I try not to really think about it," Mannion said. "There wasn't any point where I really noticed it. I've always tried to block it out instead of overthink it. It was a little rainy but I didn't think it was too bad, a little windy but I didn't notice an effect."
As for catching in those conditions?
"It was kind of light rain, on and off, so it really wasn't that big a deal," Cooks said. "The wind picked up a lot today but other than that it was just playing football."
BOUNCING BACK: The blowout of Colorado came after the Beavers had won in overtime and in the final minutes in road games the previous two weeks.
"I'd rather win like this but maybe those things are good for you once in a while," said Riley, whose team takes the Pac-12 North lead into the coming bye week. "If you can find a way to win, you learn how to do that."
The victory was Oregon State's fourth straight after being upset by Eastern Washington in the season-opener.
"I like the way we rebounded after a rocky start," Mannion said. "We've just got to go full speed ahead from here and look back at what we've done and be happy with it. We have to continue to work hard."
Riley was proud of how the Beavers came back after losing their national ranking in the opening week.
"You have to own who you are and we lost the first game and you have to deal with that," Riley said. "I'm proud of how our players and coaches dealt with it, and I think we're getting better, which is pretty neat. And it's what we're going to have to do because the teams get better and better and better. We just take it one at a time; I'm really glad we have a bye week and we can get healthier. We're hanging by a thread in some areas. It will be nice to get some guys back."
LONG SNAPPERS: The Beavers were without their regular long snapper for punts and placekicks, Michael Morovick, who is out for the season with a knee injury. That meant the first game action for Andrew Maughn on punts and Harrison Linsky on placekicks. On a wet, windy day, the only slip-up was an off-target snap that foiled OSU's final point-after try; by then, the Beavers led 44-11.
"It's definitely a mystery — these guys have never done it in a game, and it's different in the games," Riley said. "I was very interested, and especially to have your first shot in weather like we had today."
Riley noted that with a stiff breeze blowing everyone thinks a punting team has an advantage, but pointed out that the center in that situation is snapping against the wind.
"And that makes a difference," Riley said. "I have seen guys absolutely freak out snapping into the wind. And I'm somewhat of an expert because about 90 percent of the game we played in Winnipeg (while coaching in the Canadian Football League) were windy."
THIS AND THAT: Two past OSU stars — quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzedeh — were on hand Saturday. "It was awesome," Riley said of their presence. "I let them talk to the team in the locker room for a minute after the game and they were really well received — it was fun." "¦ Oregon State's three Pacific-12 championship teams — baseball, wrestling and women's gymnastics — were honored at halftime. The baseball team also reached the College World Series. Prior to the game, the Beavers' 1963 Final Four men's basketball team was honored "¦ the game was Colorado's first-ever football visit to Corvallis. OSU now leads the all-time series 4-2 "¦ OSU placekicker Trevor Romaine recovered a fumble on one of his kickoffs during the third quarter "¦ Keith Kostol's 67-yard punt with the wind tied his career long and is tied for the sixth-longest in OSU history "¦ in addition to Mannion's OSU-record six touchdown passes, his 414 yards passing is eighth on OSU's single-game list. Mannion's five straight games of at least 350 yards passing is also a new OSU record, and his four 400-yard games in his career is an OSU record "¦ Cooks' nine touchdowns this season ties him for fifth on OSU's all-time single-season list.