Ask any fan on the street in Beaver Nation who their favorite beaver football player of all time is and you’ll likely hear names like Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard, and Jacquizz Rodgers (among others).
Besides being legends of the fall betwixt the tenures of Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson, they were the foundation of an era, 1997-2010, which had some nostalgically glossing Oregon State “Tailback U”.
With twelve 1,000 yard rushing seasons between the aforementioned tailbacks, Beaver fans became comfortable, possible a little too comfortable, with the presence of a tough, gritty running game that always, ALWAYS brought a sense of balance and stability to the offense.
Its now been four years since a Beaver tailback has broken the 1,000 yard mark. In that stretch, Oregon State has managed two winning seasons, and only one bowl victory in two appearances. 2014 will not doubt be powered by Sean Mannion‘s arm, but how far the team goes may depend on how far its legs can carry it.
The Beaver backfield returns three backs who saw action last year. Storm Woods is the most experienced of the group, with 23 career starts under his belt. Woods, a junior from Pflugerville, TX, rushed for 477 yards and 6 touchdowns in 11 games.
Senior Terron Ward is far from second-string, piling up 521 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games last year as a 1B option to Woods 1A. Ward did take on full time duties temporarily after Woods was hurt in a game against Utah. Sophomore Chris Brown was also in the mix, adding 144 yards and a touchdown.
Woods and Ward are a nice set of complementary backs who could both easily eclipse 750 yards this year. Mannion’s arm will likely account for the vast majority of the Beaver offense, so squeezing in two thousand-yard rushers might simply be unrealistic. Even still, that’s not a knock on Woods or Ward, who both displayed plenty of grit and athleticism in 2014.
Brown is also an intriguing figure, who saw limited action in 2013, but will no doubt be given ample opportunities to flourish in the running game this year.
The Fresno, CA native appeared in four games last year for the Beavers. Of his 144 rushing yards in 2013, Brown snapped off runs of 26, 24, and 16 yards, flashing shifty moves and great speed. Although he remains third on Oregon State’s depth chart, Brown’s athletic potential on the field gives the Beavers a change of pace, wildcard in the backfield.
Senior Tyler Anderson will, as always, be a big part of Oregon State’s red-zone offense from the fullback position. Anderson has struggled with knee issues throughout his college career, but has been a clutch role player when healthy, grabbing the ugly one to five yard gains near the goal line.
Neither Wood’s nor Ward’s size or physicality is overwhelming in an Adrian Peterson-kind of way, so Anderson’s rhinoceros-like running style and senior leadership qualities will make him a pivotal part of the huddle in high-pressure situations.
Oregon State’s backs have statistically underwhelmed in recent years. Unfortunately, the group is at a disadvantage due to the heavy passing attack that will no doubt continue under new offensive-coordinator John Garrett.
However, the loss of a game-changing receiver like Brandin Cooks means that the Beavers will need their stable of running backs to help the offense both on the ground and through the air. Talent abounds; now is the time for the backfield to shine.