The problems associated with Oregon State’s lack of a running game began as a trickle, but are now a flood.
The Beavers, ranked 11th in the Pacific-12 Conference, are averaging just 94.6 rushing yards a game.
Without a legitimate threat of running the ball, the Beavers have been forced to pass the majority of the time, and it has made life tough on freshman quarterback Sean Mannion.
“It impacts him a ton,” coach Mike Riley said “If there’s no threat of the run, the defensive linemen play differently. They don’t penetrate as quickly if they have to play the run.”
The offense has gained only 851 rushing yards. Take away the losses on sacks and it’s 1,085.
Primary running back Malcolm Agnew only averages 83.2 yards a game and has 416 rushing yards. At that pace, with three games left, he won’t reach 1,000 yards.
“It’s been tough sledding,” Agnew said. “We’ve been playing some tough defenses. There have been some holes, and I’ve missed some. It’s a little bit of everything.”
If Agnew doesn’t get to 1,000 yards, it will be the first time since 2004 the Beavers didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher.
That was the transition year between Steven Jackson and Yvenson Bernard. OSU had a winning season that year on the arm of senior Derek Anderson.
“We didn’t want to live that way,” Riley said. “We wanted to get back to being a really balanced football team after that. We can work on that right now.”
Producing on the ground is a team effort, Riley said. However, problems with the effectiveness of the offensive line have been the primary culprit.
He likes the ability of his ball carriers and thinks they’ll improve in the future. The four who are getting work this season return next year.
“We do have ability at running back,” Riley said. “We’ll continue to get the best of what we can from them. We are working that part of the game. We are going to work hard to get it back.”
OSU likes to run between the tackles, but that hasn’t been consistent. The outside running of the wide receivers has worked.
Markus Wheaton averages 6.1 yards a carry, James Rodgers 8.1 and Brandin Cooks 4.3.
“A lot of it has to do with winning at the line of scrimmage,” Riley said. “You would think if we have balance with our fly sweep we would do better inside and that’s our goal. Our struggles are not going to diminish our will to run the football.”
The Pac-12 responded to Riley’s request to review the hit cornerback Jordan Poyer put on Stanford receiver Chris Owusu that drew a flag in last Saturday’s game.
He was told it was the right call because there was contact to the head. Riley understands the emphasis on safety, but didn’t like the situation.
The call led to a 10-point swing and a momentum switch that may have cost the Beavers the game.
“I think it was an inadvertent head knocking, it looked like to me, but their heads did collide,” Riley said. “From our vantage point it looked like both guys lowered their shoulder.”
Middle linebacker Kevin Unga (calf) and center Grant Johnson (ankle) are doubtful for Saturday’s game against California, Riley said. Receiver Jordan Bishop (ankle) is questionable.
Offensive guard Burke Ellis (back), middle linebacker Tony Wilson (concussion) and running back Jovan Stevenson (knee) are probable.
Injuries have ravaged the Beavers this season. Projected starters have missed 45 games since the beginning of the season.
The final home game of the season on Nov. 19 against Washington will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and be broadcast by ROOT (34).
The final game of the season on Nov. 26 against Oregon in Eugene will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and be broadcast regionally by ABC (2, 9).