COMMENTARY: How to fix OSU run game

CORVALLIS – It's already a discussion that's sprung up on the BF.C message boards: Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf have some thinking to do on their running backs. For me, the Civil War cinched it – Oregon State is a much better football team when they have one main guy pounding the turf rather than two and OSU needs to find "that guy" to get it done. And they really don't have to look far…

From my chair, that guy needs to be Terron Ward.

Sure, there is still a whole offseason, spring ball and fall camp plus a veritable grab bag of hypothetical situations that could render Ward less of a factor come the 2014 regular season. But the fact remains that Oregon State is more effective offensively with a primary back.

And by definition that requires a solid but sparsely used handcuff/secondary back to help shoulder the burden of a season's worth of carries. Let's looks at the Civil War:

Ward notched 145 yards with his legs against No.12 ranked U of O last Friday. The junior tailback averaged 8.5 yards a carry and had at least three runs go for 20-plus yards. While OSU maintained its myriad two-back options throughout the matchup at Autzen Stadium, Ward was the man, and not sophomore Storm Woods.

And my observations throughout the past two seasons have led me to a conclusion regarding the dual-back system OSU employed in 2013:

It is essentially a crapshoot as far as consistency is concerned.

My argument there isn't a novel one, but it's been shown to be the correct one time and time again. Using two running backs prevents both from finding his groove throughout the game and the season. Neither Ward nor Woods ever got the ball consistently enough to establish a credible threat.

Oregon State needs – big time -- just one guy they can rely on to run the ball. If not, it's hard to see them being an effective rushing squad in 2014. They need a player that can have more than just one of those 100-yard plus games, a guy that will be their workhorse and make more of big games turn into big W's.

NOW YOU MAY find yourself asking, why Ward?

For starters, after observing so many practices over the last two years and of course every game, Ward is more prone toward a ‘big game' because of his instincts. And large gains on the ground not only spread a defense thin but open up opportunities for the play action.

Ward (5-7) always seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and trying to turn an inch into a mile. When he finds a hole, he generally hits it with 202 pounds of dogged authority. I said it last season: Defenders don't really tackle Terron Ward, there's a collision and they hope he falls in unison with them to the ground.

Ward in the Civil War was faster both laterally and horizontally than Woods. He isn't a burner but he has more speed than he's given credit for and with that thick upper body, Ward was able to slip Duck defenders and gain a ton of downhill momentum. That's part of why Ward had a 31-yard jaunt Friday that came within just four yards of OSU's longest run of the season (34, Ward against Stanford).

REMEMBER LAST YEAR against a stout ASU defense when Ward ran wild for 146 yards and a TD on 19 carries filling in for an injured Woods? The Beavs were ranked No.11 in the nation then and movin' on up, instead of crossing their fingers in 2013 for the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

No, Ward wasn't the sole catalyst for the 2012 ranking and campaign. However, Ward knew he was ‘the guy' in that ASU game. And he was devastating on the ground that game.

I get the feeling that Ward's production last week was a wakeup call for Riley as well. OSU's head man postulated both after the game and during his weekend teleconference that the possibilities could have been endless for the Beavers had they found similar success on the ground earlier in the season.

However, there are potential downsides to naming Ward the definitive starter at running back moving forward. First and foremost, his stature is a double-edged sword. At 5-7, Ward is harder to spot behind a massive pile of moving linemen than the 6-0 Woods. Conversely, one could argue Ward has a tougher time seeing the field, particularly in those game-changing split seconds when a back breaks into the second level.

Secondly, Ward doesn't always keep his feet as well as some other backs.

On the other hand, Woods' habit of incurring bumps, nicks and other nagging injuries as a running back is a concern. So why not use him in another way, one that I believe has been shown to be his best role. In 2013, Woods accounted for 419 receiving yards, compared to just 370 hashes on the ground.

Based on his years in Corvallis to date, it's hard for me to see Woods being an every down running back. The sophomore is a terrific athlete, but he is a specialist. His talent lies in his ability to make the screen and short passing games more efficient.

In looking ahead to the future of this program, I feel that it is safe to say that Oregon State wants a whole hell of a lot more of what they saw from their ground game at Autzen.

And if the Beavs were to go that route now, and name Ward the starter for 2014, I believe the end result would be to watch power, aggression and consistency take hold.

Cumulative 2012, 2013 Stat Lines
Woods – 1,310 yards, 17 TD's, 4.1 YPC Average
Ward - 882 yards, 10 TD's, 5.3 YPC Average

Woods' stat line through the last two seasons looks more impressive on paper than that of Ward, but 940 yards and 13 of those touchdowns came in the 2012 season, a season where Woods was the starter, and Ward was used more sparingly. And therein lies the facilitator of Woods' success last season – he was confident that he was the No. 1, and he played like it. Such was not the case in 2013.

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