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BERKELEY -- On Saturday, California rolled off 253 rushing yards – 56 yards more than the Bears rushed for in any single game last season. For running backs coach Pierre Ingram, that wasn’t enough.
“It was good, I liked it, it was great, I expect it next week,” Ingram said, firing off the boilerplate clichés, rapid-fire, before getting to the heart of the matter on Tuesday after practice. “We’re expecting better. We still want guys to compete, and see that as a challenge to improve on, and execute even better for Arizona.”
On Tuesday, the Cal running backs worked on fourth-and-one execution in early practice, a situation that cropped up down inside the Sacramento State two-yard line for the Bears on the first drive of the second quarter, when Khalfani Muhammad couldn’t punch the ball in on two straight plays, and instead, freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer took the plunge around the right edge.
“The back that’s ready, that’s right beside me, goes in at that time in the game,” said Ingram. “Of course, Vic [Enwere], we’re grooming Vic to be the pound-em back, and the downhill guy, and that’s what we’re going to eventually get to – the 230-pound back, pushing the pile. Khalfani, on the first one, he ran the linebacker over, so it comes in different shapes and sizes. I think, essentially, whoever has the hotter hand at that time, we’re going to try and get him in.”
What did Cal do well on Saturday?
“We ran the ball consistently, and I don’t think we put the ball on the ground besides the one that Vic had, but we recovered that as an offense,” Ingram said. “The big thing was ball security, and the guys just came out on the offensive line, and the running backs were cohesive.
“They’re determined. That’s the thing: We’ve said that since the beginning of the summer, that this crew will fight for each other. They lecture to each other. They watch film together. They care about each other. As a corps, they see the writing on the wall. There’s been a long legacy of great backs here, and we want to continue to do the same. They’re passionate about it.”
And as for Tre Watson, who got a four-yard carry on the third play of the game, but didn’t see another touch until the fourth quarter?
“It’s a situational deal, where, if I feel like somebody can do something well, we’ll try to get them in,” Ingram said. “When we get in the zone on offense, those guys can execute different things. They’re all different backs, so essentially, we can put them in, and they can all do the same thing, but you get different facets from each guy.”
While head coach Sonny Dykes had hoped to have running back Jeffrey Coprich ready by next week’s Pac-12 road opener against Arizona, it now appears as though he may not quite be ready, though he did have his boot off of his surgically-repaired foot, and was pedaling the stationary bike during practice.
“He’s probably still a couple weeks away,” Dykes said.
Dykes said that, despite his big 50-yard touchdown run and another 30-yard run that was called back, Daniel Lasco is “not really” emerging as The Guy just yet.
“I think Khalfani will continue to get reps, and then the other guys will continue to improve,” Dykes said. “Once we get Jeffrey back in the mix, we’ll kind of see what his role will end up being, as well.”
As for Lasco’s 94-yard performance against the Hornets, it’s a step forward for the junior, just as the 253 yards were a step forward for a team that ranked near the bottom of the conference last season in rushing.
“The thing with us is, we’re at our best when we can run the football, and I think that’s pretty clear,” Dykes said. “I think everybody is, offensively. It takes a lot of pressure off of your offense, when you can hand it off and block people, so I thought we did some good things. I think Lasco ran the ball probably the best he’s run it. I thought he ran hard downhill, had a couple of big plays, got one of them called back – about a 40-yard run, I think – and I kind of wish he would have gotten 100 yards in the game. Had he played more, he obviously could have rushed for more yards in the ballgame. It was a sign, a step in the right direction, a positive sign. We’re still a work in progress, just as a football team, and specifically with our run game, in general, and we’ve just got to keep on getting better up front, keep on running downhill and just getting good at it.”
While quarterback Jared Goff was, at times, as precise as he’s been on Tuesday throwing the ball, practice lacked the same crispness and pop that we’ve seen since the beginning of fall camp.
“I thought it was OK. We need to have a little more pop tomorrow,” Dykes said. “You could tell they had a couple days off, and we need to come out tomorrow and get after it good. It needs to be a little bit more physical than it was today. They had a lift that was tough this morning, and I think the dudes were a little sore, a little worn out, maybe. But, we need to have a little bit more pop tomorrow.”
Tuesday’s lift was “an unusual one,” in that the Bears lifted heavy, whereas, typically, in-season lifting is relatively light compared to the offseason.
“Today, we got on them pretty good, so you could tell that they were pretty sore and didn’t have that oomph that we need to have. We’ll get it tomorrow,” Dykes said. “Just the bye week this week, the chance to get back in there and make sure we’re still building our strength. We don’t want to just maintain; we want to be sure we’re building, and in order for us to do that, you’re going to have to get after it pretty good. They lifted well and responded well, but it wasn’t probably our sharpest practice.”
Cal was in full pads on Tuesday, and will likely be again on Wednesday and Thursday.
Goff lamented that he should have had an even better day on Saturday than his 17-for-22 passing line.
“I saw a lot that was good … something I’d like to improve, personally, I don’t think I should have thrown an incompletion,” Goff said. “I had a few balls that were a tad off, a tad in front of the receiver, a tad behind the receiver. I shouldn’t have thrown an incompletion, especially in that first half.”
Goff said that he had several perfect games in high schools, where he didn’t throw an incompletion, but those were only games where he played the first half, in blowouts.
“I think we did well, all around,” Goff said. “I’d like to see us run the ball better.”
Goff was sharp on Tuesday, with back-shoulder throws galore, including a 30-yard bomb to Maurice Harris in tight double coverage against the first-team defense.
Both Cedric Dozier and Darius Allensworth came up with picks against the offense, with Dozier picking off Rubenzer, and Allensworth pulling the trick against Goff. Patrick Worstell was solid in one-on-one work against receivers, with two breakups.
Safety Griffin Piatt was also solid in coverage, and after his two straight games with interceptions, Dykes spoke highly of the former wide receiver.
“Griffin’s an interesting guy. A year ago, he was playing receiver, and he was going to play, and then he had the ACL injury,” Dykes said. “I knew he was a good athlete. He tested well, when we tested him. He can jump, he can run, he’s one of the more athletic guys around and he’s got some length. We started looking at our safety depth, and knew we needed some additional guys. He played the position in high school. He’s been a little bit of a surprise, but maybe just how quickly he’s picked it up, but he’s somebody who, just as a football player, we had pretty high hopes for him.”
Safety Avery Sebastian worked more with the second-team and Piatt on Tuesday, and looked much more like his old self, after seeing a lot of game action on Saturday, tallying one tackle.
“I thought he moved around pretty good,” Dykes said. “I thought he played pretty well. Avery always plays physical. I think that he seemed like he was much better today. He practiced more and practiced better. As he gets a bigger load of reps in practice, he’ll get a bigger load of reps in the ballgame. Those two things always mirror each other.”
Also seeing more time on Tuesday was defensive tackle Austin Clark, who didn’t play on Saturday due to soreness, as Trevor Kelly took over the starting spot against his former team.
“He just had some soreness in his knee after the first ballgame, so he could have played Saturday, [but] we decided not to play him,” Dykes said of Clark. “We’re just trying to kind of get him back full-speed.”
Dykes said that Darius White -- who also did not play on Saturday – should be ready in time for next week’s tilt against the Wildcats, which will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.
“I would expect him to play against Arizona,” said Dykes.
The addition of the 6-foot-1 corner will be important for defensive back depth, which is shallow behind Dozier, Allensworth and Cameron Walker, particularly because he’s at least two inches taller than any of those three, and the top outside receivers for the Wildcats are no shorter than 6-foot-3, headed by Austin Hill and Cayleb Jones.
Joel Willis, though, is questionable with a nagging lower leg injury that he’s been dealing with since fall camp.
“We’re bringing him back slowly. He’s got kind of a weird injury,” Dykes said. “We’ve been kind of making sure that we don’t load him up too much, too early.”
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