If someone would have told me prior to the Cal football team’s game against Oregon State that Jared Goff would only complete 51 percent of his passes for just one touchdown and 5.9 yards per attempt, I would have completely written off the Bears’ chances of pulling out a win in Corvallis, Oregon. Yet Cal still managed to score 45 points and walk away with a 14-point win. For that, Cal fans should thank the running game.
Against the Beavers, starting running back Daniel Lasco rumbled for 188 yards on 30 carries for 6.3 yards per attempt. He also found the end zone three times. As a whole, Cal’s running back corps — Lasco, Vic Enwere, Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson — combined for 269 yards on 41 carries. That’s nearly six yards per carry. On a night where Goff didn’t look like himself, Cal ran the ball down Oregon State’s throat.
The Bears’ first touchdown of the game, a 14-yard scamper by Lasco, didn’t come until the second quarter. The result of excellent blocking and an adept vision from Lasco, the score unleashed Cal’s offense.
With that, let’s go to the tape.
With just more than 10 minutes left in the first half, the Bears are trailing 7-3. They’ve moved the ball down to the Oregon State 14-yard line, but they’re also facing a third-and-seven.
Cal comes out with four wide receivers. Maurice Harris occupies the right side of the field, while Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are on the left. The fourth receiver is Stephen Anderson, but in this situation, he’s purely a blocker. Anderson is lined up to the left of left tackle Stephen Moore. He is on the line of scrimmage and going to execute the crucial block to spring Lasco, who is next to Goff in the backfield, into the end zone.
Meanwhile, the Beavers are lined up with four linemen. They’re spread out, however, probably because they think the Bears will pass the ball with seven yards to gain for a fresh set of downs. By lining up wide, their ends gain a better angle on Cal’s tackles. But with the significant gaps between linemen, the defense is also more susceptible to a big run.
At the onset of the snap, Cal’s left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle all block the man directly in front of them. But Anderson, who is lined up across from Oregon State right end Luke Hollingsworth, doesn’t. He lets Hollingsworth fly past him and instead begins to block defenders in the second level. Anderson doesn’t block him, because Cal’s right guard, Alejandro Crosthwaite, pulls on the play and picks up Hollingsworth before he can reach Lasco.
Lasco, upon receiving the handoff from Goff, starts rushing toward the middle of the field. With Crosthwaite pulling and with the other four linemen blocking straight ahead, Lasco has a secure bubble of blockers. It’s at the line of scrimmage that Lasco changes direction, heading toward the left. In order to this, Lasco has to quickly juke linebacker Jabral Johnson, who is unblocked. Lasco accomplishes this with ease, breaking free of Johnson’s tackle attempt.
Now that Lasco is running left, Anderson is essentially acting as Lasco’s lead blocker. Anderson not only manages to seal off linebacker Rommel Mageo, but he also forces him toward the middle of the field, right into cornerback Devin Chappell, who is attempting to track down Lasco. At the 10-yard line, Anderson takes out two defenders at once.
From there, Lasco is free to waltz into the end zone for the first of his three touchdowns of the night.
When Sonny Dykes was hired by Cal prior to the 2013 season, a buddy of mine expressed his concern for the future of the Bears’ running games. Dykes was known for his “Air Raid” offense, not for an offense built on running the football. When my friend told me this, I looked into Dykes’ offense at Louisiana Tech. In 2012, the Bulldogs compiled 521 total rushes, compared with 533 passing attempts. In 2011, they ran the ball 510 times. They attempted 477 passes.
Last year, in Dykes’ inaugural campaign with Cal that ended with zero FBS wins, the Bears only ran the ball 426 times, while they threw 620 passes. A lot of that had to do with game situations — Cal often trailed from the opening quarter until the last — but it wasn’t the kind of balance that Dykes usually seeks out.
So far this season, the Bears’ run-pass ratio is more balanced — 332 runs to 388 passes. But until Saturday, it was Goff and the deep receiving crew carrying the load on offense. Saturday, in the most crucial game of the season to this point, was the first time Lasco and the other backs did the heavy lifting. And now, because of that performance, the Bears are just one win away from bowl eligibility.