BERKELEY, Calif. — Brandin Cooks will be the first to say his quarterback needs to be in the Heisman conversation, gushing about Sean Mannion's play and his "perfectly placed" passes.
He praises his teammate's tremendous season through the air, pointing to Mannion's national-best 2,992 passing yards.
But it's time to start talking about the guy catching so many of those passes.
"He belongs in that conversation," Mannion said, "a lot more than me."
In front of at least 30 family members and friends, Cooks, the junior receiver who many believe is the frontrunner for the Biletnikoff Award, lived up to the hype, catching 13 passes for 232 yards in the Beavers' 42-17 rout of Cal (1-6, 0-4 Pac-12) on Saturday night. Yes, it was against an inferior defense — the Bears' secondary is flat-out bad — but he also did that damage in just three quarters, resting most of the fourth.
Cooks' total through seven games is 1,176 receiving yards, best in the country and on track to set an Oregon State season record. Former All-American Mike Hass finished 2005 with 1,532 receiving yards and at this point, that looks like it should be easily surpassed by season's end. Cooks totaled 1,151 receiving yards in 2012, then talked about how he was going to get faster and stronger in the offseason.
It seems to have worked.
"Day after day it's impressive," Mannion said. "How great he is running routes, how great he is after the catch. He really does it all. I know if I give him a chance, something good is going to happen."
Mannion completed 35-of-45 passes for 481 yards and 4 touchdowns and a Scott Crichton-led defense frustrated Cal quarterback Jared Goff all night. Also, don't forget that the Beavers (6-1, 4-0) became bowl eligible but make no mistake: The show at Memorial Stadium was all about The Cookie Monster.
The Stockton native was so good, so explosive and so darn hard to stop that the Cal secondary resorted to the only thing it could do: It got called for a few pass interference calls.
"It seems like that's the only way (to slow him down)," said Oregon State cornerback Sean Martin. "He'll catch anything. One handed, behind the back. Brandin just wows me every game."
Hey, when the guy is lighting you up all over the field, can you blame someone for trying to hold him and hope the official doesn't notice?
"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," said Cal coach Sonny Dykes. "We did a lot of things ... He is a heck of a football player."
In typical Cooks' fashion, there were a few highlight-worthy plays, too. He danced around defenders all night, making the Cal secondary, and particularly cornerback Kameron Jackson, look downright silly.
His second catch went for 50 yards, and set up OSU's first score midway through the first quarter. He hauled in a 26-yard pass from Mannion just before halftime, a twisting, turning grab that he nabbed while falling down, with one defender on him and another breaking his way. He was tough on the ground, too, taking a fly sweep 14 yards into the end zone for a score.
"I saw green grass," Cooks said, "and I just went."
(And just to be clear, that's not a "trick play," despite what you might have heard on TV — it's a staple of the OSU offense, and it's run perfectly by the junior.)
But the play of the night was midway through the second quarter, when OSU had the ball at first-and-10 on the Cal 34. Cooks caught a pass, went sprinting to his right, slowed down to follow his blocker before deciding to stop on a dime and veer left instead. In a flash he was sprinting up the sideline for a touchdown. While Cooks cruised into the end zone, Cal defenders looked around trying to figure out where the speedster had gone.
"I get to yelling at him (up in the coaches' box) because I think he's taking too long, or he's screwing around and then all of the sudden he scores," laughed offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. "He's great with the ball in his hands. If we can get it to him, he's going to make something happen."
Cooks walked off the field with trainers early in the fourth quarter and didn't return, but he was simply getting his breath back.
He caught a long pass from Mannion but lost the ball on the ground after it slammed into his stomach upon impact and got the wind knocked out of him. It was a scary moment for a team that relies heavily on its passing attack, but Langsdorf said he knew Cooks was OK went he walked off on his own power.
Minutes later on the sideline, the goofy team captain was cracking jokes and high-fiving his teammates. He assured reporters, "I'm good, I promise," before he left the field.
On Twitter, one national college football writer called Cooks the most underrated player in the nation. Oregon State fans kept chattering about #HEISMannion.
But if Cooks keeps up his assault on the record books it might be time for someone to come up with a Heisman nickname involving him.