It is no surprise, then, that junior running back Shane Vereen is emerging at a time when the offense needs him the most.
Vereen, who has earned a reputation for carrying the team on his back during the toughest moments, is doing it again. As the California Golden Bears (3-2, 1-1) have hit the dog days of fall, Vereen has only gotten stronger.
In California's 35-7 win over UCLA on Saturday, Vereen did much of the same: 25 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns, along with two catches for 51 more yards. On a day when senior quarterback Kevin Riley struggled to throw the ball downfield (9-of-16 for 83 yards and one touchdown), Vereen was there to shoulder the load. When presented with the opportunity to score, Vereen always capitalized. Against a defense that stifled a powerful Texas rushing attack just 2 weeks ago, Vereen found a way.
"We definitely started off great," says Vereen. "The o-line was feeling good about the way we were running the ball. We got some good matchups. It was pretty soft inside, and so running the ball went well."
Vereen's performance continued these trends: three straight 100+-yard games, and six 100+-yard games in his last nine. In his last three games, Vereen has rushed for 451 yards. He has scored multiple touchdowns in six of his last eight games.
For a football player who has primarily been known as "Jahvid's backup," Vereen is showing Cal fans why he could be one of the finest backs to ever play at Cal.
"Shane played another good game today," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "I think we all understand what Shane brings to the table. He is a productive, consistent back, whether it is in the backup role or as a starter toward the end of last season and so far this year. He has been very dependable, very tough, very smart guy. You know you can always count on him. But, with that being said, we can't run him into the ground. We need to spell him to keep him fresh."
The concept of keeping Vereen fresh means having a capable backup who can fight for yards. On Saturday, sophomore Isi Sofele filled that role quite well. Sofele finished with 13 carries for 80 yards – both career highs. Sofele was especially effective with the direct snap, where he had runs of 24 and 12 yards, along with picking up a couple of first downs.
"We have done that for a long time," said Tedford regarding the direct snap. "Instead of Shane, that is where Isi's carries were going to come. Isi has a real good feel for it, and did a nice job with it."
Sofele's performance allowed Tedford to keep Vereen at 25 carries for the ballgame. But what it also did was help Tedford realize that Sofele needs to touch the ball more.
"We definitely need to get Isi more involved in the game as we continue to move forward."
There is a saying in football that you cannot have an excellent rushing attack without a superior offensive line. For the Golden Bears, that is no different. On Saturday, both Vereen and Sofele consistently had huge holes to run through, all due to the offensive line. Even with sophomore Dominic Galas replacing team captain Chris Guarnero (ankle), the Bears offensive line physically manhandled the UCLA defensive front, paving the way for 331 rushing yards, 16 rushing first downs, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
"We came into the game with a mindset that we are going to pound them with the run," said Vereen. "I wasn't expecting us to run the ball that much, as much as we did. But the chains were moving, the holes were opening up, the O-line did a great job. So I think, as the game progressed, we developed more of an inside run game."
If the ground attack keeps piling up numbers like that, there will be many dog days for opposing defenses ahead.
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