Following Thomas Tyner’s shocking decision to finish his career in Corvallis, Oregon State is loaded at running back, leaving head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven with plenty to think about. All experienced and capable starters, there is no guarantee as to who will see the ball most this coming season. Nevertheless, each of the four bring an extra something of their own, as depth and different running styles will only expand the playbook, hopefully resulting in Andersen and McGiven having their way with defenses. Here is a deeper look into Oregon State’s backfield.
Although a down year, there were a few bright spots in 2016, most notably the emergence of Ryan Nall. Steadily making his name throughout season, he saved his best outing for last, as Nall single handedly took over the Civil War, ultimately upsetting the rival Oregon Ducks. While averaging five yards per carry, Nall posted 155 yards on 31 attempts, adding four touchdowns. Having scored 28 of the Beavers’ 34 points, the game was his.
With Nall comes consistency, as Oregon State’s primary workhorse recorded for 951 yards on 147 attempts, finding the end zone 13 times while average 6.5 yards per carry. In what resulted in a 47-44 overtime home victory over the California Golden Bears, Nall rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 15.8 yards per carry, 80 yards being his longest. Likely to be atop the depth chart, Nall is sure to see the field. Though he may end up splitting carries, his numbers justify the notion that Nall should be Oregon State’s primary and/or featured back.
In what will be his junior season, there is still room to improve, as Tyner’s presence and further knowledge of the game will only better Nall’s play. As a receiver, Nall caught 22 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. That said, Nall does lack pass catching ability, a now essential element of a prototypical college running back. Nevertheless, his vision and power should suffice as it pertains to Nall earning a starting job in the backfield.
A hidden gem and raw talent, sophomore Artavis Pierce has shown unexpected flashes and positive signs as a freshman. Easily a better pass catcher than Nall, Pierce’s speed and finesse could elevate his playing time. Posting 132 yards on 21 receptions and a touchdown as a secondary option is somewhat bright, as that will be Pierce’s likely role. Nevertheless, pass catching backs are the new necessity, thus Andersen and/or McGiven asking more of the promising sophomore.
Resulting from a lack of power is an east west running style, often resulting in a loss of yards, with the exception of backs possessing blazing speed, as the name Jacquizz Rodgers immediately comes to mind. If used as a secondary weapon, mainly on third downs, the wildcat formation, and even option plays, Pierce will flourish. Having rushed for 523 yards on 98 attempts, Pierce did hold his own in 2016, averaging 5.3 yards per cary, along with four touchdowns.
Only a sophomore, Pierce will have plenty of time to develop into a starter before leaving Oregon State. Andersen has him in the right place, as he will serve as a lethal offensive weapon in the running and receiving game. Following the departure of dual threat Victor Bolden Jr., Pierce could take on that role in the near future.
We now arrive at the wild card, as former TCU Horned Frog Trevorrris Johnson recently committed to Oregon State as a graduate transfer. Making the leap from an air-raid system in a Big 12 offense, Jonson will be making plenty of adjustments throughout his tenure in Corvallis. While at TCU, Johnson was a bit lost in the fold with superstars in quarterback Trevon Boykin and go to receiver Josh Docston. A powerful downhill runner, Jonson will at the very least serve as a formidable third down back in short yardage situations.
If asked to split carries, Johnson will likely do so with Pierce rather than Nall, solely dude to the fact that power and finesse is the ideal combination in any backfield. However, if Nall adds finesse coupled with agility to his game, the duo of he and Johnson could be lethal. Johnson’s running style is simplistic, in that it is dictated by a hard-nosed mindset, adding a much needed level of physicality to the Beavers offense.
In three years with the Horned Frogs, Johnson posted 789 yards on 137 attempts, along with eight touchdowns on the ground. Oregon State’s backfield has not featured a true downhill runner in recent memory since 2001-2003. Assuming he is used in the right situations, the Beavers could have landed the next Steven Jackson in Johnson. If the featured back, those throughout the college football world could experience a blast from the past.
Having decided to take his talents to Corvallis, Oregon State’s offense is now on another level, as Thomas Tyner is a significant upgrade on and off the field. However, any injury that results in retirement from the game is difficult to overcome. Injury prone and eligible for just one more season, Tyner has much to prove in a short amount of time. That said, if healthy and able to return to form, the Beavers will have one of the Pac 12’s and maybe college football’s dangerous offenses.
In only two years, Tyner put forth breathtaking numbers, filling the stat line as a runner and receiver, ultimately proving his worth when lined up at either position. He accumulated 1485 career yards from scrimmage on 253 plays, averaging 5.9, along with 15 touchdowns. Though 1284 were rush yards, Tyner’s 201 receiving yards displayed a wide array of skills he could bring to any team.
Tyner is a natural born student of the game, able to work power, finesse, speed, and agility into his game. Nonetheless it is Tyner’s awareness that stands out most, as he has always been a disruption for defensive coordinators in and out of conference. Once a fan favorite in Eugene, those throughout Corvallis will welcome Tyner with open arms. Years of experience will help those around him, as his presence will be infectious upon the three mentioned above.
So what can we expect in 2017? Oregon State’s offense is back, plain and simple. It will take time for all four backs to gel, but once able to play off one another, look for the Beavers to shred opposing defenses. Reser stadium will be buzzing in 2017, as Andersen has and will take this program to newer heights.