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OSU NOTES: Vaz to start; suspended trio will miss Alamo Bowl

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Cody Vaz has received the starting job over fellow Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion as the Beavers prepare to take on Texas in the Alamo Bowl.A look at Oregon State football as the Alamo Bowl matchup with Texas looms ...

• Junior Cody Vaz will start at quarterback for the 15th-ranked Beavers (9-3) as they face the Big 12 Longhorns (8-4) at 3:45 p.m. PST next Saturday at the Alamodome.

Vaz won the job over sophomore Sean Mannion, who started eight games for the Beavers this season.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Vaz, who started four contests, completed 94 of 159 passes (59.9 percent) for 1,286 yards and 11 touchdowns with one interception. The 6-5, 215-pound Mannion connected on 200 of 309 passes (64.7 percent) for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 picks.

“It was a difficult decision,” OSU coach Mike Riley. “They’ve both looked good in bowl practice sessions. We just feel that Cody is most ready to start.”

Riley said he won’t platoon the position. If Vaz plays well, he’ll play through the game.

The coach said he had a long conversation with Mannion this week and was pleased with the results.

“He’ll continue to be very engaged,” Riley said. “Learning to handle this and play well with competition will be a big step for him.”

• Senior defensive end Rudolf Fifita and juniors Mana Rosa, a D-tackle, and Dyllon Mafi, a linebacker, will remain suspended through the bowl game. Riley said Rosa and Mafi will be given an opportunity to regain their good standing and remain with the program next season.

• Three defensive freshmen won’t be with the Beavers at San Antonio as academic casualties — safety Peter Ashton, end Lavonte Barnett and tackle Ali’i Robins. They are working to maintain their eligibility by the end of spring term.

• Oregon State’s two recent junior-college signees, cornerback Steven Nelson and defensive tackle Siale Hautau, could make an immediate impact for the 2013 season.

The 6-foot, 315-pound Hautau is from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah — the same JC from which OSU plucked Stephen Paea. “He will help us right off the bat,” Riley said.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Nelson initially verbally committed to Georgia and was offered a scholarship by Southern Cal before choosing the Beavers.

“Steven’s a great corner and a great return man,” Riley said. “He should come in here ready to play.”

A third JC player — 6-2, 295-pound D-tackle Kyle Peko of Cerritos JC in Norwalk, Calif. — has not completed academic requirements but has committed and will sign a letter-of-intent in February. He is unlikely to arrive in Corvallis until the summer.

OSU received a verbal Friday from 6-2, 225-pound high schooler Manase Hungala of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, projected to be a middle linebacker. The Beavers believe they also have a commitment from prep D-lineman Lyndon Tulimasealii, 6-4, 270 out of Palm Desert, Calif., though the word is he wants to take a visit to Utah.

With Tulimasealii, that would make 15 verbals plus the two signed letters in the 2013 class. The Beavers can take another five to seven players but still have offers out to nearly 30 prospects with whom they believe they have a legitimate chance.

They will visit with four prep seniors from Texas after their time at the Alamo Bowl — tailback Lawrence Mattison from Spring Branch, receivers Joshua Reynolds from San Antonio and Hunter Jarmon from Waco and linebacker Darrell Songy from Pflugerville. The latter has verballed to Texas State.

Another continued focus is on offensive linemen, including tackles Braydon Kearsley of Aloha, Sean Dowling of Fallbrook, Calif., and Sean Harlow of San Clemente, Calif. Kearsley has verballed to BYU and Harlow to Washington.

OSU would like to pick up another linebacker and is recruiting Joe Bean out of Tulsa and Keishawn Bierria from Harbor City, Calif.

• Texas’ decision to start sophomore David Ash at quarterback “doesn’t really surprise me,” Riley said, “but they have two good players there. We knew we were going to have to deal with one of them.”

The other is Case McCoy, Ash’s understudy and younger brother of ex-Longhorn great Colt McCoy.

The 6-3, 225-pound Ash started the first 11 games this season, completing 193 of 285 passes (67.7 percent) for 2,458 yards and 17 TDs with seven interceptions. He also ran for 202 yards before sacks and “is a very good athlete,” Riley said. “But McCoy is a good athlete, too.”

McCoy, a junior, started in the 42-24 loss at Kansas State on Dec. 1 and connected on 25 of 34 passes for 312 yards and two TDs.

Riley has concerns about the Longhorns in every facet, including special teams. Punter Alex King ranked second in the Big 12 this season with a 45.3-yard average. D.J. Monroe — a senior who won the Texas state high school 100-meter championship in 2006 in 10.45 — has returned 17 kickoffs for a 26.5-yard average, with three going for more than 70 yards and one covering 100.

“We’re going to see as talented a team as we’ve faced all season,” Riley said. “They have as much speed as Oregon. They’re really athletic and fast.”

Establishing the run will be important. Oklahoma rushed for 343 yards and five other foes have gained 200-plus yards on the ground against the Longhorns this season.

“We’ve been better this season with the run, but not great,” Riley said. “We’re going to attempt to run the ball and hope we can get it going. If we don’t, Texas has really talented pass-rushers who could cause a lot of problems for us.”

• The Longhorns are big in the offensive line, with all five starters 300 pounds or better and each of them at least 6-4. Overall, the team is young, with only four senior starters — tight end D.J. Grant, safety Kenny Vaccaro, defensive end Alex Okafor and punter Alex King. Thirteen freshmen or sophomores are starting, including 5-11, 205-pound freshman running back Johnathan Gray. No wonder Coach Mack Brown is looking forward to next season.

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