What should have come as a resounding achievement for one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the Pac-12 instead came as a flash on the scoreboard and a frustrating postgame.
On his 15th completion last Saturday, Sean Mannion broke the Pac-12 passing yards record previously held by USC’s Matt Barkley. He saw the screen in Reser Stadium announce the record, heard the fans cheer and appreciated the well-wishes from his teammates on the sideline.
But 15 completions later, the Beavers had lost to Cal and their opportunities for a bowl game lessened as Oregon State now needs to pick up two victories in their final four games against Washington State, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon to become bowl-eligible.
“It was a little difficult, to be honest,” Mannion said. “Immediately following the game it was very mixed emotions because I was so down about the game, and at the same time, I get this achievement. It was really hard to know what to make of it.”
After a 3-0 start to begin the season, the Beavers have struggled. They're 1-4 in their last five games and their losses have come by an average of 17 points per game.
The Beavers have been snake-bit by injuries on offense and have struggled to find any kind of group of receivers to replace the production of Brandin Cooks from 2013. At this point last year, Mannion had thrown 13 touchdown passes to Cooks alone. He has only nine TD passes so far this season.
It's almost a theme for the Pac-12's record-setting quarterbacks to have disappointing senior seasons. Barkley, the previous record-holder at 12,327 career passing yards, ended his senior season with a three-game losing skid after USC entered the season ranked No. 1, and Barkley missed the last two games because of injury.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, who’s now fourth on the list, ended his college career last Saturday after breaking his leg in the Cougars' loss to USC. Former Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson, who’s now No. 5 on the list, finished out his Beavers career with a 7-5 record despite passing for 3,615 yards as a senior.
But company in misery or pain isn’t always the most comforting thing.
He can take comfort in the fact he has had one of the more impressive four-year careers in Pac-12 history. He has thrown for 77 touchdowns and was a huge reason why Cooks was a first-round NFL draft pick last season (as was Cooks a big reason why Mannion was able to throw for 37 touchdowns and 4,662 yards in 2013).
Mannion is one of the most respected quarterbacks in the conference, which is so deep at the position that many backups would be starters elsewhere.
And on a weekend when he made history, most of the attention turned elsewhere in the conference as the Beavers continued to sputter through the 2014 season. And, in the same respectful, mature manner he has approached his time at Oregon State, he didn’t mind that few people turned an ear when they heard that he had broken the record.
Because to him, it’s just another yard in his career that's had a fair share of ups and downs.
“I’m not really interested in the press clippings or how much notoriety I may or may not get for breaking that record,” Mannion said. “When I came here five years ago, I just wanted to get the chance to play quarterback in the Pac-12. And once I got the job, I just wanted to help us win as many games as possible.”
The Beavers have four more games to try and earn a postseason appearance and one final bowl game. The next step is Saturday, when the Beavers welcome Washington State to Corvallis.
Some people might look at every passing yard he throws for now as a bit more of a buffer between himself and the next big passer to come into the league, but he’s just looking at it as a yard closer to finishing out his season the way he imagined.
“If I could trade that record for wins,” Mannion said, “I would in a second.”