Huskies use the sixth different grouping on the offensive line this season, with Mike Criste at right guard and Ben Riva at right tackle.
Washington’s revolving door on the offensive line continued again Saturday night in its game against Oregon State at CenturyLink Field.
The Huskies opened with an offensive line featuring Mike Criste at right guard and Ben Riva at right tackle, the sixth different grouping UW has used on its offensive line this season, changes forced largely due to injuries.
But that didn’t stop UW coach Steve Sarkisian from deciding that he had to establish the running game early Saturday night, even against an Oregon State defense that came in allowing just 80 yards per game — second-fewest in the Pac-12 and a key reason the Beavers came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 7 by The Associated Press.
Washington had passed 52 times last week at Arizona — the most for the Huskies since the 2002 season. Sarkisian later said that was too many.
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Ten of the Huskies’ 14 plays in the first quarter were runs, going for 54 yards. Many came on a 66-yard, 12-play drive that set up a Travis Coons 45-yard field goal.
“We had to do it just for our locker room,” Sarkisian said. “We had to come out and instill our will and we had to run the football.”
The running game tailed off in the second half and the Huskies finished with just 99 for the game and only 15 in the second half.
But the early running set the tone for a game in which UW wanted to establish its physical dominance, after its toughness had been questioned all week.
“I was surprised they were able to run the ball,” said Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, a graduate of Tacoma’s Foss High. “They played better than us today.”
Crichton came into the game leading the conference in sacks with eight but was held without one by Riva and left tackle Micah Hatchie.
Criste stepped in for sophomore James Atoe, who started against Arizona and also in two other games at guard this year, as well as three at tackle. Criste became the fourth different player to start at right guard, a spot that was held in the opener by Erik Kohler before he was moved to tackle for the LSU game to take the place of Riva, who suffered a broken forearm against San Diego State.
“Our offensive front battled and competed against a really good defensive front,” Sarkisian said.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley was mum on whether he’ll make a permanent switch at quarterback after benching ineffective sophomore Sean Mannion for junior Cody Vaz in the fourth quarter.
Mannion tossed four interceptions after missing two games with a knee injury. Vaz, who was 2-0 in relief, replaced Mannion and threw a game-tying touchdown with 4:58 remaining.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment obviously, but I support Cody and our team 100 percent no matter the circumstances,” Mannion said. “Would I have liked to play? Obviously, but at the same time I know it’s about the team and not me.”
After a vicious second-quarter collision forced senior receiver Markus Wheaton into the role of spectator in the second half, the Beavers lost one of their most explosive offensive weapons.
“Other guys stepped up, but that was a big loss,” said receiver Brandin Cooks, who had nine catches and 123 yards.
Without Wheaton, redshirt freshman Richard Mullaney had four receptions for 70 yards, both career highs.
• Sarkisian said the game might have been the best of the season for safety Sean Parker, who had an interception and forced another with the hard hit on Wheaton. His absence was also felt when he went out for a few plays due to an ankle issue and the Beavers responded with a 53-yard TD pass from Mannion to Cooks on a bubble screen. Sarkisian said there was miscommunication on the play between Parker’s backup, Will Shamburger, and cornerback Desmond Trufant.
• Sarkisian said he didn’t bother talking to Coons before he made his game-winner with 1:20 left, saying he had no doubt the kick would be good. “I didn’t even think he’d miss it,” Sarkisian said.
Said Coons: “It feels good but it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”