By this point Ryan Nall has to be the most forgotten household opposing player name amongst Cal fans. In most homes, you may hear a curmudgeonly old blue exclaim “remember that Oregon State running back who ran all over us last year? Who was that guy again?” That folks, is Ryan Nall and he is back once more to take on the Bears. For those unfamiliar, Ryan Nall was a big reason why the Bears season last year took a turn for the worse. Cal, famously bad after bye weeks under Dykes, went to Corvallis heavily favored and was essentially asleep at the wheel for most of the game. The Bears rallied late but ended up losing the game on a quarterback scramble to the end zone.
Just watching that Nall run is painful for so many reasons. The good news for Cal fans is the 2017 defense is much improved this year, even with their late struggles against more run heavy offenses. Nall has been solid this year, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and recently lighting up Colorado for 172 yards. Cal would absolutely take his performance last week against Stanford with 19 carries for 84 yards and if the Bears saw that total come Saturday you’d like their chances to win.
2017 Season To Date
In classic Cal fortune, Oregon State looked a whole lot worse before Gary Andersen threw his assistants under the bus and left the Beaver life behind him. Enter Cory Hall, former NFL defensive back and Oregon State assistant head coach who took over for Andersen. The Beavers have looked substantially better since his promotion and are starting to believe in their ability to win against Pac-12 opponents. Look no further than their surprising 14-15 loss against Stanford at home last week as solid evidence of the change in culture.
The expectation Saturday is hard to predict, especially when a head coach talks about his game plan as “striking fear into the heart of their opponent”. With Hall, you can expect an improved effort from the Oregon State defense and a much higher dependency on Nall for consistency on offense.
Players to Watch
Darell Garretson, QB
Garretson should be a familiar name as he had the walk off play against Cal in the upset last season. He actually lost the quarterback competition to Jake Luton in the offseason but still found his way into the offense all season long. Luton went down with an injury and Garretson has filled in the starting quarterback role. His most recent performance against Stanford was relatively pedestrian, passing for just over 100 yards and an interception. Cal was killed last season with Garretson finding first downs with his legs but the Bears defense should find a much easier assignment in Garretson rather than Tate or Montez.
Thomas Tyner, RB
Thomas Tyner is also another name that should be somewhat familiar to Cal fans. Tyner was an Oregon Duck before retiring and then finding his way back to the field with the Beavers. Recently, Tyner has found his way into a more prominent role in the Beaver offense. Against a strong Stanford defense last week, Tyner was the lightening to Nall’s thunder totaling 52 yards on nine carries. The Bears defense will have their hands full with a run first offense and two talented running backs for Oregon State.
What to Expect Come Saturday
The good news for the Bears is senior day is a great motivating factor headed into their last home game of the year. The Bears have some stalwarts on defense that will be departing in Looney, Allensworth, Davison, Mekari and Downs and the Bears coaches will have the defense fired up to play their most winnable game of the schedule.
The Bears will be facing the kryptonite of the 2017 season, a run first offense that isn’t afraid to run on 60% of their plays throughout the game. Perhaps James Looney said it best after practice this week, if the Bears stop the run they can win the game. Sometimes football can seem simple and for the Bears this week the assignment isn’t particularly complicated. There isn’t much the Oregon State offense will do through the air, particularly with their starting quarterback out with an injury. Therefore the game will break down to a battle in the trenches and this is the game the Bears defense can finally flip the script on.