Just when it appeared that Oregon's defense had made the shift from horrible to average the Ducks have been dealt yet another blow.
Sophomore defensive tackle Rex Manu has been lost for the season with a leg injury. It's another in a long list of problematic developments for a battered and young defensive line that actually played solid football during a 30-28 win at then-No. 11 Utah on Saturday.
"Another gut punch inside there," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of his battered group of defensive tackles that has already lost redshirt freshman Drayton Carlberg (leg) and junior Austin Maloata (dismissed from team).
Oregon's bad news is good news for Oregon State, the Ducks' next opponent in the 120th Civil War, which kicks off at 1 p.m., Saturday at Reser Stadium.
The Beavers (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) last week snapped a five-game losing streak with a 42-10 win over hapless Arizona (2-9, 0-8) thanks in part to the hard-charging performance of sophomore running back Ryan Nall operating behind a solid offensive line.
Nall, when healthy, is one of the best backs in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-2, 234-pounder out of Portland's Central Catholic High School is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, and is coming off of a 124-yard performance against the Wildcats.
Oregon (4-7, 2-6) need only look at video from last year's Civil War to remind itself of how good Nall can be. He gouged the Ducks for 174 yards rushing and 54 receiving during a 52-42 UO victory.
"He's a load," Helfrich said. "He's very difficult to tackle."
Helfrich said Oregon must be mindful of the variety of ways Oregon uses Nall, who gets the ball on misdirection plays, fly sweep, out of the backfield and on straight ahead running plays.
OSU's creativity, Helfrich said, usually leads to Nall, who earlier this season went for 131 rushing yards against Washington State and for 221 on California, out in space against a linebacker or a defensive back forced to make an arm tackle.
"Him versus an arm is usually a bad matchup for the arm," Helfrich said. "We need to get multiple bodies to him."
Oregon did a solid job of doing just that against Utah's Joe Williams. He did rush for a healthy 149 yards but had a long of just 28, which for UO's porous defense is an accomplishment. Oregon ranks 11th in the Pac-12 against the run (240.7 yards per game) and has allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the conference (34).
Helfrich said Oregon's defenders have been somewhat slow in adjusting to the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, but did commit the least amount of mental errors and missed tackles against the Utes then the group had all season.
Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said he sees similarities between OSU's offense and Utah's. Beavers coach Gary Andersen worked under Utah coach Kyle Whittingham at Utah from 2004 through 2008. Both were assistants there prior to Whittingham becoming the head coach in 2004.
Familiar offenses aside, Neal said the Ducks must play with the same intensity they displayed at Utah in order to defeat an OSU team hungry for its first Civil War victory since 2007.
"It will be interesting to see how hard we go out there and play because they are going to play hard," Neal said.
If Oregon fails to show up mentally and physically, Nall will run wild. Neal is a fan of OSU's engine, but doesn't want to see him grind the Ducks into the turf.
"I love 34," Neal said. "I think he is one of the best players in or league. I don't think the kid has any weaknesses."