Part of this issue is the lack of a true rushing attack. Due to a depleted offensive line (center Chris Adcock and right guard Matt Cochran), injuries at the running back position (Daniel Lasco), and frequently facing large deficits, the Bears have found no solution at aiding their quarterback with the threat of a balanced running attack. Coming into Saturday, the Bears were 108th nationally in rushing at 111 yards per game. The staff has tried different tactics to improve on this -- from moving inside receiver Richard Rodgers to tailback in short-yardage situations, to shifting pieces around the offensive line -- but Cal has had no real success.
That issue remained true on Saturday. Not only did the Bears get thumped once again, but they failed to tack on yards in an effort to relieve pressure from quarterbacks Jared Goff and Zach Kline.
In their 49-17 loss to the Beavers, the Bears managed only 75 yards rushing on 30 carries (1.5 ypc). Those numbers were even worse in the first half (2 yards on 10 carries) when the game was already decided. Cal ran extensively in the second half, mainly in an effort to improve that aspect of the offense while simultaneously just trying to end the game.
With Brendan Bigelow utilized more at wide receiver and with Lasco out with a shoulder injury, true freshman Khalfani Muhammad got the starting nod at running back. Against UCLA, Muhammad showed flashes of speed, but was a bit more tentative when hitting the hole. Against Oregon State, Muhammad had no real opportunity to run, as the Beavers made a point to win the line of scrimmage and not allow Muhammad any space to run. Muhammad's longest carry went for 6 yards, with 3 of his 6 rushes going for 0 or negative yards. Perhaps to preserve health, Muhammad did not receive a carry in the second half.
Darren Ervin got the majority of work in the second half. Facing a majority of backups in a prevent defense, Ervin had a bit more success overall, gaining 40 yards on 11 carries. The good news is that Ervin found success bumping outside for gains of 8, 9, and 11 yards. The bad news is that despite the conservative nature of Oregon State's defense, Ervin had 4 carries that went for no gain.
Rodgers got another carry on 3rd and short early in the football game, but was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Coprich and Bigelow also saw minimal carries that did not do significant damage. So while the individual runningbacks were not effective, the Bears will look at the chart to see if perhaps they were a bit more successful running through certain gaps. Attached is a chart showcasing averages for runs that took place in the various rushing gaps, broken down by the left side and right side.
The chart indicates that California has marginally more successful running through the C gap (outside the tackle) than they do running right at the defense. Given the speed of guys like Muhammad and Bigelow, this intuitively makes sense. Going into Saturday, the Cal staff knew this, as 11 of their 27 designed rush plays went outside the tackle box. With the C-gap, there is also an increased risk of yards lost on carries, but the Bears only had two rushes that went for negative yards when attempting to rush the C-gaps.
The significant improvement in the rush game lies on the left side of the offensive line. The Bears were far more successful running left than right, by a margin of over 3 yards per carry. This also makes sense, given that the right side of the line has injury substitutions with Alejandro Crosthwaite replacing Cochran, and Brian Farley in for Steven Moore for most of the game, with the latter suffering from strep throat this week, according to head coach Sonny Dykes. The left side has the more experienced duo of Freddie Tagaloa (who was hurt repeatedly in pass protection against Scott Crichton, who forced a fumble from Goff at the back end of a sack in the first quarter) at left tackle and Jordan Rigsbee at left guard. The result was a modest 4.42 yards per carry running left, compared to 1.09 yards per carry running right.
Still, the staff called 12 plays left, to only 11 run plays right. Part of this might be balance, while part might be Oregon State personnel. Still, the potential clearly exists on the left side of the line, and I would expect Cal to primarily be running in that direction moving forward.
Dykes has repeatedly called this season a work in progress, and that includes the running game. At some point, Cochran and Moore will return on the right side, and Tagaloa will develop his technique to be a more dominant lineman. But until the offensive line can figure out ways to open holes, the run game will struggle, and the offense will continue to sputter no matter who is at quarterback.