CORVALLIS — An Oregon State football team riding high on a No. 10 national ranking and an undefeated start got some sobering news Monday: Starting quarterback Sean Mannion will have left knee surgery and is out indefinitely.
Coach Mike Riley would not get into specifics of Mannion's injury, saying an MRI early Monday morning revealed Mannion would need surgery.
"I'm going to let the doctors talk about (specifics) or Sean, when he's ready to do so," said Riley, adding that the injury occurred on a handoff. "I don't know when the surgery will be."
Riley said a time line for Mannion's return should be known later this week.
Mannion, who had a doctor's appointment right after practice, was not available for comment. His injury is shocking news for almost everyone, as Mannion was not on the injury report sheet in postgame and as of Sunday evening was expected to practice this week.
One of the best young quarterbacks in the country, Mannion's improvement this season has played a huge role in OSU's 4-0 start (3-0 Pac-12). His best performance of the season came two weeks ago when he threw for a career-high 433 yards and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind 38-35 win at Arizona.
A year after taking his lumps as a freshman, Mannion had blossomed in Riley's offense this season, and had established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
Through four games he had completed 107 of 169 attempts for 1,358 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of almost 340 yards per game.
Now the focus shifts to Cody Vaz, a 6-foot, 198-pound junior who hasn't taken a live snap in more than two years.
"Being the backup, you have to prepare yourself," Vaz said. "You have to have a good mental approach each week, and that's something I've been doing these first four games, is preparing myself like I'm the starter. Now I am, and I'm going to make the most of this opportunity."
For his career, Vaz has completed 6 of 17 attempts for 38 yards (35.3 percent) with no touchdowns.
Mannion was in a knee brace and sweats Monday at practice, but besides an obvious limp, he showed no signs of being sidelined for a long time. He high-fived and chatted with teammates and laughed as he signaled in plays.
Riley told the team Vaz was the guy minutes before he told the media, and receiver Markus Wheaton admitted most of team was surprised by the news.
But this is no time to throw a pity party, Wheaton said.
"I'm bummed out, it's huge for our team for a leader to go down, but I've watched Cody for a long time and his chemistry with receivers is amazing," Wheaton said. "We'll be OK. Cody is confident, he's ready. We've all got to rally around Cody and take care of him."
Vaz will get one heck of an introduction as the starter this week at BYU, where the Cougars are 27-3 over the last five seasons and boast one of the best defenses in the nation.
"We're going to go win the game with Cody," Riley said. "Cody is a good quarterback. He's been preparing for this for a long time. Cody's had a ton of reps. He had a great spring and a great fall camp. He had almost an even number of reps as Sean in fall camp. He gets rid of the ball fast, he knows what we're doing and he's accurate."
The absence of Mannion will put even more pressure on the Beavers' defense, a unit that has improved dramatically from last season and is one of the best in the country at stopping the run (67.3 rushing yards per game, fourth nationally).
"We all have trust in Cody," said cornerback Jordan Poyer. "The defense, we're going to have a job ahead of us. I told the defense it's going to be on us again this week. We have to make plays, we have to create turnovers. It's going to be on us to be the difference makers."
Wheaton (foot), D.J. Welch (ankle) and Grant Enger (unknown) also missed practice Monday and are technically day-to-day, but Riley said he anticipated all of them playing Saturday.