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August 23, 2013

Running back key to Beavers success

When it comes to winning and losing, the importance of a solid ground game isn't lost on Mike Riley.

During the 10 year stretch since Riley began his second tenure as Oregon State's head coach, the Beavers have relished seven seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher: three each by Yvenson Bernard (2005-07) and Jacquizz Rodgers (2008-10) and one by Steven Jackson (2003).

In those seven campaigns, the Beavers have compiled a cumulative record of 54-35 (.607) compared to a 19-18 record (.513) in the three years (2004, 2011-12) when they failed to generate a 1,000-yard rusher.

Doing the math, OSU has averaged 7.7 wins per year during Riley's second tenure in Corvallis when they've partaken a 1,000 rusher and just 6.3 wins when they haven't had one.

Obviously, additional factors play an integral role in determining wins and losses, but a running back with the capability to churn out yards is an essential ingredient in Riley's offensive crockpot.

Oregon State hasn't produced a 1,000-yard rusher since 2010, but redshirt sophomore Storm Woods appears on the verge of crashing through the millennium mark for the first time in his career and becoming the eighth different Beavers ball carrier in school history to eclipse the four-digit magical mark signifying rushing royalty.

Woods fell 60 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 by finishing with 940 yards on 192 carries (4.9 yards per rush), nearly triple the workload of Terron Ward (68 carries for 415 yards), who is likewise expected to grow his numbers on the ground in 2013.

"Storm had a very productive freshman year and we're looking for more and better," Riley said. "That position has a 1-2 punch right now that is very strong for us."

Ward averaged 6.1 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns, one score for every 11.3 touches of the ball, last season. That high level of production is a key reason Riley referred to Woods and Ward as 1A and 1B at running back, and why he doesn't feel the need to alter the play-calling with either running back in the game.

"They're both capable of running the ball within our offense," Riley said. "It's nice to have two guys that I see as all-around players that you don't have to take out because they can't do this very well or can't do that very well. They're just good football players. To have them be able to go into the game and rotate is helpful because we can count on the fact that if something is there, they'll gain yards."

Woods and Ward both ran for 100 yards twice, with each enjoying breakout games against schools from the Grand Canyon State. Woods helped boost the Beavers to a thrilling 38-35 road win at Arizona when he rushed for a career high 161 yards in the third week of the 2012 season.




Five weeks later, Ward filled in for the injured Woods and powered for 146 yards and one touchdown against Arizona State, offering for the first time a glimpse of the tremendous depth at the position.

Woods finished three other games with between 90 and 96 yards, and finished off his year with a 118-yard, two touchdown performance in the Alamo Bowl.

This year, though, Woods wants more.

"With all the hard work we've been doing as a team and all the two-a-days we've been going through, I feel like I'm going to improve in every aspect of the game - running, blocking, catching, being a leader, all of that," Woods said.

Ward, who rushed for 128 yards against California two weeks after his career performance against the Sun Devils, should expect much more than the 68 carries he got a year ago.

Going into the Arizona State game last season, Ward carried the ball just 10 times in the first seven games of the season compared to 117 attempts by Woods, a ratio of almost 12-to-1. However, as soon as Riley saw what Ward was capable of doing with the ball in his hands on a more consistent basis, he had 58 carries over the final six games.

When Woods returned from injury after sitting out the 36-26 win over Arizona State, his average carries per week diminished slightly from 16.7 (77.1 yards per game) in the first seven games to 15 (80 ypg) in the final five.

Ward, however, saw his average carries jump from 1.4 in the first seven games prior to the breakout performance against the Sun Devils to 7.8 rushing attempts for 47.4 yards per game afterwards, diminishing the ratio with Woods to less than 2-to-1 even though the latter's production actually increased slightly.

In other words, the ratio of carries over the final five games was more about what Ward did and less about what Woods didn't do.

Riley anticipates the upcoming season will mirror the final five games in 2012. If anything, the gap between Wood and Ward could narrow even more.

"It's real close," Riley said. "It was a decision a year ago (to start Woods over Ward). Storm hasn't done anything to change that. All that has happened since then is Terron has elevated. Storm is our starter, but I think we have 1A and 1B."


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