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Business as usual for 4-0 Beavers?

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Cody Vaz warms up before a 2010 Oregon State game. He appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman that season, completing 6 of 17 passes for 48 yards. On Saturday, he'll be thrust into the starting lineup for injured quarterback Sean Mannion as the 10th-ranked Beavers visit defensive-minded BYU.CORVALLIS — With its franchise player out, Oregon State’s offense will re-set for Saturday’s game at Brigham Young with a little-used backup at quarterback.

Sean Mannion has undergone surgery to repair meniscus damage in his left knee, leaving the offensive controls to junior Cody Vaz.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Vaz hasn’t started a game since his senior year at St. Mary’s High in Stockton, Calif., in 2008. He saw limited duty in five games as redshirt freshman at Oregon State in 2010 but didn’t play at all as the third-string QB behind Mannion and Ryan Katz a year ago.

The timing couldn’t be much worse for the Beavers, ranked 10th nationally and in position to start a season 5-0 for the first time since 1939. Mannion, the Pac-12 offensive player of the week two weeks ago against Arizona and ranked sixth nationally in passing yardage per game, was the unequivocal leader of the OSU offense and, even as a sophomore, is one of the best signal-callers in the Pac-12.

Now Mannion passes the baton to Vaz, who everyone in the Beavers’ camp believe is up to the challenge.

“It’s really sad, but it’s football,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says. “Just like at any other position, we have to move on. That train is still rolling.

“It’s unfortunate for Sean, but we have a ton of confidence in Cody. We’ve talked up Cody for a long time now, and now is his chance. He knows it. It’s not doom and gloom around here.”

Vaz smiled often and seemed loose as he met with media following his first practice as the Oregon State starter on Monday.

“That’s the type of person I am,” Vaz said. “I’m sure there will be some butterflies on Saturday, but as a quarterback you have to stay calm and let your teammates know everything’s going to be all right.

“I’m not going to be too overwhelmed with the whole situation. I’ll stay calm, be positive and try to go in there and get a win.”

Vaz threw for 3,908 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at St. Mary’s, completing 31 of 46 passes for a state bowl game record 336 yards and four TDs in the CIF D-II state championship game. He was one of 10 finalists for CalHiSports.com’s Mr. Football state player of the year.

Langsdorf and head coach Mike Riley have given Vaz almost as many snaps as Mannion since spring practice, and Vaz has worked in with the starting group often. He has a gun for an arm and knows the OSU offense as well as Mannion, if not better.

“We’ve been going with Cody for a long time,” senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton says. “He came in (to Oregon State) when I came in. We’ve had a lot of reps together. I’m real confident in his abilities. He has always looked good at practice. I don’t think we’ll miss a step.”

Oregon State’s other big-play receiver, Brandin Cooks, hails from Stockton, too, though he was a freshman at Lincoln High when Vaz was a senior at St. Mary’s.

“Cody’s a great player,” Cooks says. “It’s been a competition between Sean and Cody through camp. I’m really confident with both guys. Cody’s going to step up, and we’re going to keep on shooting.”

Vaz says he feels comfortable playing with the OSU starters.

“It’s going to be a little different taking more reps with those guys, but we’ll get the chemistry down,” he says. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Langsdorf says the Beavers won’t have to alter their plan with Vaz at quarterback.

“We really don’t,” the O-coordinator says. “There’s always that consideration with the No. 2 guy, where you might have to pare down some things. That won’t happen with Cody.

“He’s a junior, he’s been here forever, he’s had a ton of work and he had a wonderful (training) camp even a year ago. He hasn’t played in games, but he has played a ton of football (at practice) for us. We’ll run the same exact package that we had for Sean. Nothing will change.”

Oregon State’s offense was going to be in a tough game Saturday even with Mannion at quarterback. Brigham Young leads the nation in rushing defense (59.5 yards per game) and red-zone defense, is third in scoring defense (8.8 points), fifth in total defense (229.3 yards), sixth in opponents’ third-down conversation percentage (26.7) and seventh in opponents’ first downs (14.2).

BYU beat Utah State 6-3, lost to Boise State 7-6 and shut out Hawaii 47-0. The Cougars haven’t yielded a touchdown, and only three points, in the past 13 quarters.

The Cougars use a 3-4 base defense but mix it up with some 4-3 and a nickel package.

“They give you a lot of looks, put some pressure on the quarterback and have good personnel across the board,” Langsdorf says. “It will be the best defense we’ll have faced, and you could argue the best we’ll face all season.

“They’re scary. They’re physical and they’re fast. They will be our biggest challenge.”

It may take everyone else on the offense stepping up to relieve the pressure on Vaz.

“I feel like our line is going to do a great job of keeping (BYU defenders) off him,” Cooks says. “And Cody, he’ll figure out a way to get the job done.

“They’re a physical, sound defensive team. You have to give it to them. But we’ll go in there and play like we’ve been playing.”

Langsdorf knows establishing the run will be a key Saturday.

“We have to protect the quarterback,” he says. “We have to get the ball out of his hands quick. And we have to be able to run the ball. It’s the normal cliche stuff, but it’s real. When we’re a balanced team, we’re very good. When we’re one-dimensional, it’s hard.

“You have to be able to sustain some drives against this team and continue to try to run. It’s not always going to be easy. If we can run early and get two to three yards and keep going, then those things turn into five and six yards in the fourth quarter, and that’s how you win.”

If it happens, it will mean a sweet first start for Vaz.

“I’ve been waiting for this chance,” he says. “So here it is, and I have to make the most of it.”

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