Editor’s Note: For each game this season, we are identifying a player and position group that could be the X-factor for the Beavers in that game. We claim no responsibility for jinxing any players.
Ryan Nall (RS Sophomore) — Running Back
Vitals: 6-2, 234 pounds; from Sandy, Oregon; Attended Central Catholic High School; Rushed for 1,648 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior; 6A Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-league at running back and linebacker; Scout 3-star recruit.
2016 Stats: Played in nine games, all starts; Has rushed for 796 yards and 9 touchdowns, while averaging 6.2 yards per carry; His longest run this season was 89 yards; Has caught 20 passes for 180 yards and two TDs.
Why he’s the X-factor: There’s no denying the Beavers are a much better team when Nall is on the field. In OSU’s two Pac-12 wins, Nall has rushed for 345 yards and four touchdowns. And guess what? Oregon ranks second to last in the conference in rushing defense, giving up an average of 240 yards per game. So, if Nall is healthy come Saturday, he could have a major impact.
And honestly, the Beavers need to ride Nall all game long if they want to break their Civil War losing streak that dates to 2007 — and not just for obvious reasons (touchdowns). While Oregon has struggled mightily on defense, their offense is still potent, so keeping them off the field will be crucial for the Beavers — and Nall can play a big part.
Last year against the Ducks, Nall sprinted into OSU lore with a 174-yard performance, highlighted by a 66-yard touchdown run that helped the Beavers stay within striking distance of Oregon. There’s no reason that Nall can’t have another huge game, considering the Ducks are weaker on offense. The Beavers need to run Nall straight up the middle and let his play dictate the game like a true factor.
Position Group: Offensive Line
Why they’re the X-Factor: If Nall is to have a huge game, the offensive line needs to help pave the way for him. It’s a unit that has been up and down this season for the Beavers, but has also shown spurts of strong play. Oregon’s defense isn’t nearly as strong as it was last season, so if the offensive line can come out strong, it should be more than able to hold its own.
But beyond helping clear things for the running game, it’s important that the OSU offensive line protects Marcus McMaryion. We all saw what McMaryion can do when he has time to throw. You can bet that the Ducks will be keying on Nall and doing everything they can to stop him, so McMaryion needs to be able to make them pay, or at least keep the defense honest.
Despite this unit’s struggles this season, the good news is that it’s coming off one of its best performances, as Nall rushed for 125 yards and McMaryion passed for 5 touchdowns. If the linemen have a repeat performance this Saturday against another down defense, the Beavers will have a much easier time against the Ducks, who are coming off a big run. Here’s to you hogs, up front!
Blitzers, who are your X-factors for the Civil War game?