“It’s going to be a bigger factor just because coach Franklin is our running backs coach,” Lasco said of the run game. “He sees us every single day in practice, and he knows what we can and can’t do, what our flaws are, and that mindset of it all. I feel like he’s going to be more comfortable calling run plays and calling different things from the sideline and having trust in the running backs. It’s already starting to work out well. You can see it in practice. We’re running the ball a lot more.”
[READ MORE FROM THE FIRST SCRIMMAGE]
Lasco rushed for 23 yards on 5 carries, by BearTerritory’s count, including a 15-yard run on third-and-one with 1:12 left on the clock in the four-minute offense.
“He’s more confident,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “The thing he’s doing is, he’s making the right decisions. If you go back and you watch, every time we hand him the ball, he’s running to the right place, and making the right decisions.”
Lasco did make one mental error on the day, when he ran left but couldn’t turn the corner in the four-minute offense, and was pushed out of bounds by defensive end Jonathan Johnson. Lasco was also upended for no gain on a smart play by defensive back Darius Allensworth.
“That’s one of the things we’ll get addressed,” Dykes said. “That’s why we’re doing it. We want to learn those lessons on Saturday in April instead of learning on a Saturday in September.”
“Today, I feel like I took a step back, but it’s good that I have our young bucks behind me, pushing me. I’m glad that we have a strong running back corps,” Lasco said.
Lasco learned some of those lessons last year, and has shown a lot of growth – both physically and as a runner.
“He was somebody we had high hopes for, who had not had the opportunity to be a good player, and was unproven,” Dykes said of Lasco, who had the first 1,000-yard rushing season by a Cal running back since 2011. “He’s durable. We saw him get through a year last year and stay healthy, and being a good running back, a lot of that has to do with just being durable and being able to withstand the beating that those guys take.”
Lasco and Tre Watson led the rushing attack with Watson carrying the ball six times to Lasco’s five. With Khalfani Muhammad running his way to wins in the 100-meters (10.44) and the 200-meters (21.28) at a tri-meet between the Bears track team, and those of Virginia and Michigan, all members of the running back rotation got at least two carries. Freshman Lonny Powell had three carries for 4 yards (dropped for a loss of 3 yards for the first time this spring, by linebacker Jake Kearney), and also had one catch for 5 yards.
“I think that’s the thing you want to do: You want to make sure that [Lasco] is healthy for all 12 ballgames, and so him carrying the ball 40 times the first game of the season probably doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Dykes said. “What we’ll try to do is be smart about the way we run, and the good thing is, we’ve got enough good running backs where, if he’s not getting it, Vic’s getting it or Tre’s getting it or Khalfani’s getting it or Lonny’s getting it. It’s been a good group.”
Powell – despite his first TFL of the spring – has “been good,” Dykes said, and his runs featured the freshman dragging several defenders for chunks of yards after initial contact.
“I’ve been impressed with Lonny and what he’s brought to us, especially for a guy that ought to be still in high school,” Dykes said.
The most impressive rusher on the day was powerful Enwere, who bullied his way to 22 yards on four carries.
“Vic has really been impressive,” Dykes said. “He’s just a load. He’s one of those guys, when we put the pads on and tackle, he looks a lot better than he does when he’s got the shorts on and you don’t have to tackle him, so he’s gotten a lot better. It’s a good group.”
“Vic’s grown a lot,” said Lasco. “I think he comes out here every single day and works hard, especially since he knows the system, it comes with it. Every day he’s getting better, and it’s good that he’s getting better, because we need the depth. Everything’s starting to slow down for him. You can see it out there.”
Enwere’s day included a four-yard touchdown run, as well as a five-yard dump-off touchdown up the middle from Goff to finish off a nine-play 75-yard scoring drive by the first-team offense, highlighted by a 15-yard third-and-one run by Lasco.
“It was a little situational,” Enwere said of his first touchdown, which came with the defense backed up to the seven-yard line. “The O-line, they did a great job of firing off, and getting some movement up front, and really, it made my job very easy. It was just like clockwork. They did their job and helped me.”
The offensive line was once again the same as it’s been for the last five practices: Vince Johnson at left tackle, Chris Borrayo at left guard, Matt Cochran at center, Jordan Rigsbee at right guard and Brian Farley at right tackle. Dykes roundly praised Farley for the second practice in a row.
“Farley’s been as good as anybody all spring. I’ve been really impressed with him,” Dykes said.
Starting quarterback Jared Goff was effusive in his praise of the line, as well.
“I thought we did really well, compared to the last couple days,” Goff said. “We came out off a couple of sluggish days, and today was really good. I think we were crisp, we were sharp. Every facet of our offense, the receivers, the O-line, the running backs, the quarterbacks, all played really well.
“[The offensive line] is doing great, they’re getting better every day. I think Vinnie stepped up, recently, and asserted himself, moved up to that starting rotation and he’s done well since he’s been there. I’m happy with him there, I’m happy with Farley. They’re both doing really well. I’m very confident in the line. They’re a good group. They don’t take crap anymore. They just go out there, do their thing, and they look good.”
The offensive line’s interior was particularly strong, opening up holes in the A and B gaps with regularity against a very strong defensive tackle corps, owing to the nastiness of Rigsbee, Cochran and Borrayo, and that concentrated mean streak has not gone unnoticed.
“That helps a lot,” Enwere said. “Our whole O-line, coach [Brandon] Jones has them playing really, really well, and our O-line as a whole has gotten better. It’s so much easier to trust in them. They were really good last year, and they’re getting even better now. Lining up and seeing my O-line in front of me, it gives me confidence.”
“It’s definitely improved, in their toughness and their mentality,” Lasco said. “They continue to grow. It makes the run game so much more efficient, and I know Jared feels more comfortable back there in the pocket, stepping up, even when defenders are closing in on him. He knows that the offensive line is going to hold. It comes down to being more physical than the defensive line, and it’s no joke in the trenches. They know it, especially against the teams we’re about to see in the fall. We’re still not where we need to be. We need to get better and continue to grow, every single day.”
Like Lasco, the rest of the offense is now in its third year under this system, and that’s when Dykes’s teams previously have shown the biggest jump.
“The process is normally, you teach them what to do, then you teach them how to do it, and then you can really get good at the little things,” Dykes said. “The little things are what make a difference between winning and losing, especially in a league that’s as competitive as the Pac-12, and so we’re trying to get good at the little things. The guys know what to do, they know how to do it, now we’ve got to be good at the details.”
Passing-wise, Goff went 9-for-11 for 118 yards, with two touchdowns, highlighted by a 13-yarder to senior receiver Bryce Treggs.
“He has made progress, and the good thing is, the ceiling’s really high with Jared, and he’s nowhere near it,” Dykes said. “He’s a hard guy not to be excited about.”
Goff has gotten comfortable enough with the system that he’s now able to access some of the more nuanced portions of the playbook and make all the little adjustments that he dared to do only a few times during his first two seasons.
“I’ve wanted to learn defenses, learn protections, really get better at the cerebral part of the game, making calls at the line – more advanced calls than I made last year, and making throws that I wasn’t able to make last year, taking some more chances,” Goff said. “It just comes with experience, becoming more comfortable. Coach Franklin has allowed me to do a lot of stuff, but I don’t try to do too much [changing plays at the line]. I don’t try to do anything I’m not comfortable with, an that’s part of the spring, is I’ve become a lot more comfortable with stuff.
“This is my third year coming up, so it’s starting to slow down a little bit, like everyone says. You get to the point where you feel like it’s slowing down, and I can make some more calls and do some more stuff at the line, if I have to.”
Goff “almost never” changed plays at the line, and last year, he did it “a little bit more,” but it wasn’t changing plays. It was more changing singular routes, and this year, he has the freedom to do more.
“If I see something, and I’m confident with it and coach Franklin’s OK with it, then we change the play,” Goff said.
The touchdown to Treggs showcased the junior signal-caller’s burgeoning mental acumen and maturity within Franklin’s offense.
“The route was already in, but he changed the protection,” Treggs said. “We had a tight end in the game at the time – Darius [Powe], so he held him in, went up to the linemen, told them that we were going to pass the ball, so that he has max protection, and has more time to throw the ball. He’s doing it a lot. If he sees that it’s cover-zero, which it was, he’s going to hold everybody in, because it’s man-to-man, and I don’t think we lose one-on-one, so he’s going to pass that, every time.”
Treggs paced all receivers with three grabs for 43 yards in the scrimmage, as no fewer than 12 players got into the mix catching passes from Goff and Chase Forrest, who went 7-for-11 with one interception – to David Garner during the third drive.
“Chase has been incredibly consistent,” Dykes said. “He threw his first pick today. He hadn’t thrown a pick the entire spring. He threw one today in our two-minute offense, but he’s done a great job taking care of the ball, and making good decisions. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
Without up to eight defensive backs that will be available in the fall – including the injured Caleb Coleman and Trevellous Cheek, who were sidelined for the past two practices – it’s hard to evaluate the play of the quarterbacks in any other way than in situ, but given that Goff and Forrest were so effective (though freshman Ross Bowers went 2-for-3, with a seven-yard touchdown to Maurice Harris), the offense was indeed impressive.
“They’ve both been good,” Dykes said of Bowers and Forrest. “That’s been as big a surprise as anything we’ve had this spring: How much Chase has improved, and then how quickly Ross has been able to come in, adapt and pick things up, and seem like a guy who’s been in your program longer than a month. I’ve been really pleased with both of them.”
Five-star running back Najee Harris was in attendance on Saturday, as were former Bears and current NFLers Justin Forsett and Jeremy Ross. Forsett was accompanied by former Cal volleyball standout – and his wife -- Angie Pressey.
Six-year-old cystic fibrosis patient Owen Provencher took in Saturday’s practice and was invited along with his family into the team’s post-practice huddle at midfield, where he handed out thank you cards to Goff, Dykes and several others who hung out with him at the Cal football facilities during a February visit.