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Vaz gets start; Wheaton, Poyer, Woods expected to play Saturday for Beavers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Cody Vaz is back in the starting lineup at quarterback for Oregon State, which plays Saturday night at home against Arizona State.CORVALLIS — Cody Vaz will be the starting quarterback and Sean Mannion the backup when 11th-ranked Oregon State (6-1 overall, 4-1 in Pac-12 play) plays host to Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) in a 7:36 p.m. Reser Stadium matchup Saturday.

Mannion returned as the starter at Washington last Saturday after missing two games following knee surgery. The 6-5, 215-pound sophomore was replaced by Vaz in the fourth quarter after throwing four interceptions in the Beavers’ 20-17 loss.

“Cody is going to start at quarterback,” OSU coach Mike Riley said after practice Monday. “It wasn’t an easy decision.

“It’s kind of the integrity of competition. You try to make a decision that’s best for the team right this minute. Cody is playing a little bit better now and deserves to start.”

Mannion completed 18 of 34 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown at Washington. Vaz connected on 7 of 11 passes for 97 yards and a TD with no interceptions, going 4 for 5 for 70 yards in a scoring drive that drew the game even at 17-17.

“Sean made some great plays and also didn’t get some help at times,” Riley said. “We dropped some balls on him. He’s going to be back, he’s going to be ready. We’re fortunate to have two guys to pick from.”

Both players have been named Pac-12 offensive player of the week this season. Mannion was honored after throwing for 379 yards and a pair of TDs in a 27-20 win at UCLA on Sept. 22. Vaz earned the award after passing for 332 yards and three TDs in the Beavers’ 42-24 victory at Brigham Young on Oct. 13 — his first career start.

“I’m excited, but nothing really changes,” the 6-foot, 200-pound junior said of his starting assignment against the Sun Devils. “I’m going to prepare like I have been. I was ready to go last weekend and I’ll be ready to go Saturday. We just want to get a win.”

Mannion and Vaz have been supportive of each other as they have competed for playing time the past two seasons.

“You feel for Sean,” Vaz said. “He’s one of my good friends. But I know he’ll be right there for me like I was there for him. We’re going through this thing together. We’re going to keep plugging away.”

This will be the first time Mannion hasn’t started a game when healthy since the Beavers’ 35-0 loss at Wisconsin in the second game of the 2011 campaign.

“There’s a little bit of disappointment,” Mannion said. “But at this point, all I can do is work hard and try to become a better player.”

Oregon State’s offense has been relatively stagnant the past two weeks — in a 21-7 win at Utah with Vaz at the controls and in the loss at Washington.

“We just need to execute better,” Vaz said. “We have to hit some big plays, we need to establish the runs and we need to convert third downs. We have to keep our defense off the field and continue to move the ball.”

Three of Oregon State’s top players watched practice in sweat clothes Monday — receiver Markus Wheaton (concussion), tailback Storm Woods (knee) and cornerback Jordan Poyer (knee). Riley is hopeful all three will return to practice later in the week and be available Saturday.

Wheaton will go through the normal five-step protocol after a concussion before gaining clearance. The earliest he could return to full practice is Thursday.

“We’re waiting for all the symptoms to go away,” trainer Ariko Iso said. “Markus started today with light work on the exercise bike. We wait 24 hours, and if there are no symptoms, he moves to running and increasing the heart rate. Then it’s on to non-contact drills and finally contact.

“The steps can be completed in about three days. He’s moving along the best we could hope for at this point.”