Oregon State coach Mike Riley stresses the need for a balanced offensive game plan between the number of run and pass plays.

He’ll also say the Beavers need to run the ball more.

Still, the Beavers are a pass-first team that catches up with the run game to eventually lead to a balanced attack.

Part of that comes from the success of quarterback Sean Mannion throwing to Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton.

“It’s more about how the game is going,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “Every week we have to establish the run, and sometimes that happens late in the game. Sometimes we hit some runs early and we keep that going.”

One reason for the slow start is the running game continues to be a work in progress.

OSU averages 108.3 yards a game with running back Storm Woods the primary ball carrier with a 75-yard average.

Malcolm Agnew is a productive backup with a 4.2-yards per carry average and contributes 25.7 yards a game.

Both are in their second year and still learning the game. Woods is a redshirt freshman and Agnew a sophomore.

“We are getting better and getting more familiar with our scheme and expectations with the second year in,” running backs coach Chris Brasfield said. “They are getting more comfortable with what we are trying to do.”

Being able to run starts up front, and the offensive line has improved to give the ball carriers room to work.

However, Woods and Agnew are much better at finding holes and bursting through the openings with added experience.

“We are pressing holes better and seeing the lanes,” Brasfield said. “Our timing is a little bit better. There’s just more confidence. Those guys are moving things up front and it’s our job to be there.”

A good showing from the running backs tonight, when the Beavers face Washington at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, may help in the outcome.

The Huskies have struggled stopping the run, allowing a Pac-12 Conference worst 196.0 yards a game.

If the Beavers are able to match that total, they’ll control the tempo. But don’t expect a steady diet of run plays at the onset.

“I don’t pay attention to where they are statistically,” Langsdorf said. “It’s more about where they line up, who they have and if we can handle that. We look at runs and passes off how they align and if we can beat a certain guy. Sometimes those statistics are misleading.”

What Woods and Agnew give the Beavers is the threat to run. They’ve shown their elusiveness in space and willingness to take on tacklers.

They’ve also improved as pass blockers and Woods can be an effective receiver out of the backfield.

OSU also has depth with Terron Ward. Woods has been hampered with minor knee and ankle injuries this season, but the others have filled in.

“We just have more depth and it’s definitely good,” Brasfield said. “In our position, we get banged up here and there and things happen. The next guy has to be ready to go. It’s nice to have guys to go to when someone has to come out. The next guy in line has to do what the first guy did.”

An extended position battle helped develop that depth and camaraderie. Brasfield believes his main trio is interchangeable.

“All of us work hard and we are special at different things,” Woods said. “That’s the reason we have depth. All of us are capable of starting or finishing.”

Woods redshirted to learn the system and Agnew won the starting job last year. Agnew dealt with hamstring issues and Ward took the bulk of the carries at the end of the season.

Through all that, they learned the finer points of the game, such as blocking technique and picking your way through the defense. Being a Division I ball carrier is more than just running fast.

“We make sure we know where the plans are supposed to go, and make sure we are assignment sound and make sure our technique is right,” Agnew said. “We put a chip on our shoulders. We want to make sure we do it right.”

Agnew said it was difficult to take being demoted, but accepted his role and still works hard.

Since he was a former starter and has an experience edge, Agnew pushes Woods to keep his spot.

“It was the whole year to compete for the spot and we got better,” Agnew said. “We make plays when we go in because we push each other so much.”

Cliff Kirkpatrick covers Oregon State sports for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at cliff.kirkpatrick@lee.net.

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