It’s been seven years since California left the state of Oregon with a win, and the Bears did just that on Saturday, thanks to one Daniel Lasco. The redshirt junior running back fueled a win over Oregon State when quarterback Jared Goff was wildly inconsistent, and missing two of his top four receivers. Cal’s 45-31 win marked the first time that the Bears licked the Beavers in Corvallis since 2006.
“It wasn’t always pretty,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “We won the ballgame because we ran the ball.”
Cal (5-4, 3-4 in Pac-12) are now just one win shy of a bowl game, and Lasco, this week, opined on just what it would mean for the Bears to go to the postseason a year removed from going 1-11 – the worst finish in school history.
“Every single game is important,” Lasco said. “We all knew this was a huge game coming in. I kept telling the team we are 0-0. It’s a whole new season now. It feels good but the train doesn’t stop here. We need to continue to get better and keep working in the right direction.”
Now, Cal has three games left to get one more win. It’s something that the Bears have talked about, plenty, in the locker room.
“We have conversations about it all the time. It feels like each year, the class that I came in with just gets smaller and smaller, and it’s crazy looking around the locker room and seeing who you came in with and how old I truly am on this team,” Lasco said. “For the most part, they come up – especially the freshmen – they just hear stories and see Instagram pics and things like that on social media of gifts and things that come with going to a bowl, and when you whip out that ring and show them that, it’s a whole different conversation: ‘Everybody gets this for going. I want one of those.’ It just comes down to everybody wanting to get there, especially the freshmen and underclassmen that haven’t been to a bowl game. You go to college and you expect to play on a great team and go to bowl games and things like that, and it's in our grasp. It's nice sitting here saying that it's there. It’s there. It’s up for the taking. It's not impossible.”
Dykes, though, remained judicious.
“We have three games left against three good teams, and we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Dykes said.
And, with that, Lasco leads off tonight’s Fifth Quarter.
1. It’s Lasco’s world. We’re just living in it. Lasco set career highs for single-game rushing yards (127), scoring two touchdowns in a game for the second time in his career and rumbled for first downs on four of Cal’s eight third-down conversions out of 13 tries. Oh, by the way, all of that happened in a single half.
“He plays hard, he’s a tough kid,” said Dykes. “He’s one of our captains, and he’s one of those guys you want to put the ball in his hands when the ball’s on the line.”
That’s exactly what the Bears did, giving the ball to Lasco four times on the final drive, including a 15-yard touchdown rumble, and Lasco then hauled in a low pass from Goff for a two-point conversion to seal the deal.
“It was good for us to weather that storm and make some plays down the stretch to win the ballgame,” Dykes said.
By the time the dust had settled, Lasco had scored three rushing touchdowns, the first time a Cal running back had turned that trick since New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen rolled into the end zone three times in the 2009 Big Game, when he had 42 carries. Lasco's career-high 188 yards rushing are the most by a Cal player since Isi Sofele had 190 against Oregon State at AT&T Park in 2011.
Lasco didn’t have to tote the rock quite that many times, finishing with career-highs in rushing yards on a career-high 30 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. To put that into perspective, the Bears came into the game averaging 133 yards per game on the ground as a team. Last season, Cal averaged 122 yards per game on the ground.
“We just had to ground and pound,” Lasco said, “and that’s what we did.”
Lasco wasn’t just a force on the ground, though. After the Bears coughed up a 17-point lead, trailing the Beavers 31-27, Lasco picked up a big chip block on second-and-nine at the Oregon State 10-yard line to free Goff to hit Chris Harper in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, returning to the game after Vic Enwere came in for four plays to pick up some big yards. That score gave Cal a 34-31 lead – one the Bears would not relinquish.
"I give all of the credit to our offensive line," Lasco said. "I wouldn't be up here without them."
“We’ve had enough games like this to be able to preach to our team to just keep playing and not worry about the scoreboard,” Dykes said. “They got the momentum and the crowd got involved. There was a lot of energy in the stadium. I’m proud of our guys for keeping their wits about them and continuing to play hard and do their job.”
2. Just g-Off. Goff was, at one point in the first quarter, 5-for-14, arguably his worst stretch since going 1-for-10 for -4 yards against Arizona last season.
Without two of his top four receivers, Goff went 13-for-30 in the first half for just 158 yards and no touchdowns, finding Stephen Anderson six times for 66 yards. Was Goff thrown off by not having Kenny Lawler and Trevor Davis? It sure seems like it, though he would have none of that talk earlier in the week.
“It’s not going to be too much of a difference because of how much we rotate,” Goff said on Tuesday. “Jack Austin and Drake Whitehurst are in there with the one’s all the time. We’re on the same page.”
Neither of those two receivers had a single target in the first half.
Instead, Goff turned most frequently to Anderson, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last year. Anderson set career highs with nine catches for 117 yards to pace the receiving corps, which was augmented by Khalfani Muhammad for a bit, but he was only targeted once.
Harper hauled in four passes for 56 yards, and Maurice Harris also chipped in four grabs for 28. The passing numbers were rather pedestrian, and that was due to Goff, who had no fewer than four downfield balls that were overthrown, with three of those in tight coverage. Goff went just 24-for-47 for 277 yards and just one touchdown for a 107.6 passer rating – by far lowest of the season (his previous low was 132.38 against Oregon). In fact, it was Goff’s lowest passer rating since last year’s loss to Colorado (78.96).
3. The run game matures. Lest you think the running game was all Lasco, there were 10 other carries in the first half for the Bears, with Muhammad Tre Watson, Goff, Enwere and Luke Rubenzer each running twice. Watson added a third-down conversion in the first half on the ground, meaning that the running game was responsible for five of Cal’s eight third-down successes. The Bears ran for a season-high 181 yards in the first half alone.
"We knew going into the game that we needed to run the ball," Lasco said. "Our front five, the receivers, everybody knew we had to run it. Our offensive line has been able to step up a lot lately and they were able to progress even more this week. I'm so proud of them. I wish I could have all of them up here with me right now talking to you all instead of just me. They played a great game tonight. I can't even express my feelings enough towards them."
Cal set a single-game best for rushing on the season, with 269 net yards on 47 carries. Enwere added six carries for 37 yards and his second touchdown in as many weeks, while Muhammad had two for 26. Watson had three for 18.
Curiously, the offensive line – which was so strong blocking for the run, as Lasco ran to both sides and both between and outside the tackles – wasn’t too stout in pass protection, with Goff taking three big hits from Concord (Calif.) De La Salle product Dylan Wynn and another mammoth shot from Cyril Noland-Lewis for a sack late in the third quarter. Goff was pressured all night, and that pressure forced him to make some questionable choices, including a near-pick six to Ryan Murphy in the second quarter.
“They did a good job defensively – mixing it up and doing different stuff," Goff said. "They are a good team, I mean they have good athletes on that side of the ball – really good pass rushers – and they played a good game tonight.”
4. Defense, Bears, Defense? Take away a 49-yard run by Storm Woods, and Oregon State was awful in the first half. They were 0-for-5 on third down and had just eight first downs before the break, and Sean Mannion had just 91 passing yards.
The Bears held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since the third game of the season against Arizona. They forced three straight three-and-outs to start the game, covering up for an offense that seemed intent on shooting itself in the foot -- Cal out-gained Oregon State 339-183 in the first half, but at the break, but still held only a 10-point lead, at 20-10, despite Lasco’s superlatives.
The Beavers came out with a rush-heavy attack, with 11 carries for 92 yards, but then went heavy on the pass, with 19 throws to 11 runs over the second and third quarters, during which they scored 24 points and passed for 139 yards. Mannion was the centerpiece of the fourth quarter, going 12-for-18 for 135 yards against the much-maligned Cal secondary, but there was one hero out of the bunch, who arguably turned the tide on two straight drives: Caleb Coleman.
Coleman started his work early, though, ripping a ball out of the hands of tight end Caleb Smith on third down and three at the Oregon State 49, which was succeeded by a shanked punt, and then a Cal scoring drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal from James Langford.
It was in the fourth quarter, though, that Coleman really shined. On second-and-11 from the Oregon State 31 with under 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Coleman jumped a route on a single-read play-action from Mannion and hauled in his first career interception, in part thanks to pressure applied by defensive end Jonathan Johnson.
“It felt great,” Coleman said. “I knew I was going to be a free player ... I just saw the ball come out and went and got it.”
Oregon State got off just two plays following the touchdown from Harper, and now, the Beavers defense had to take the field again. Cal, though, had its worst series of the game, with Lasco running for no gain, Goff seeing the ball out of his hand after getting popped, and an incomplete pass to Harper over the top on third-and-14 into double coverage. The Bears had to settle for a career-long-tying 47-yard field goal from Langford to put them up, 37-31.
“We knew they would get some momentum at some point in time,” Coleman said. “We knew we woud have to make some stops and turn the momentum back in our favor. It’s a big win. It’s a big point in our season. This team keeps fighting, no matter what the circumstance. It’s definitely a big win for the team.”
Again, Coleman came through to give Cal another chance. Mannion nailed Jordan Villamin with a strike for 11 yards, and then found Victor Bolden for four yards on a screen. Then, Johnson once again came up big with a sack, untouched over the left side, bringing up third-and-16. Up to that point, the Beavers were just 3-for-9 on third down, and Mannion’s try for Vilamin came up two yards short. On fourth-and-two, Oregon State had to go for bust, but, again, it was Coleman and Johnson teaming up. With pressure from the JuCo transfer off a blitz, Coleman stopped Chris Brown inches short of the first-down marker, giving Cal another chance to score. That score wound up being Lasco’s 15-yard touchdown with 1:39 left on the clock, followed swiftly by his two-point conversion grab.
Overall, the Bears held the Beavers to just 3-of-11 on third down.
Mannion finished the game 30-for-45 (66.7%) for 320 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the Pac-12’s career leader in passing yards by passing Matt Barkley’s 12,327-yard career total.
The defense allowed 30 or more points for the seventh straight game, and the ease with which Mannion was able to pick apart the secondary with wide-open passes down the middle should be troubling, particularly because many of those down-the-middle passes came with four- or three-man pass rushes. On one third-and-10 play from the Oregon State 37, Mannion saw a three-man rush and hit a completely uncovered Connor Hamlett for 15 yards, giving him the passing record. Two plays later, Mannion hit a wide-open Bolden for 19 yards, setting up a 12-yard Terron Ward run and then a 16-yard Ward touchdown that put the Beaers up, 31-27.
It was by far a less-than-complete effort, especially once Oregon State went to the air. Cal’s next opponent – USC – features quarterback Cody Kessler, who is just behind UCLA’s Brett Hundley for the conference completion percentage lead, connecting on 70.2% of his passes.
5. Odds and Ends. Cal had 47 passes and 47 rushes, passing for 277 yards and rushing for 269. Now that's what I call balance ... Michael Barton was tremendous. He covered sideline-to-sideline, came up with a big TFL on tough-to-tackle Storm Woods, sniffed out a fly sweep to Bolden and nearly came up with a pick-six on Mannion. Barton was the co-leader in tackles on the Cal defense, with nine, tied with Cameron Walker ... With 1,120 rushing and receiving yards, Lasco is the first Bear to hit that plateau since Keenan Allen (1,398) and Sofele (1,355) in 2011.