BERKELEY -- Texas is 96th in the nation in passing yards allowed (273.5), so one would think that California quarterback Jared Goff would seem to be the focal point of the Bears' attack when they travel to Austin this Saturday.
Keep looking at the numbers.
The Longhorns (1-1) are tied for 110th in the nation in rushing defense (221.0 rushing yards per game). Last week against San Diego State's stunting, twisting, blitzing defense, the Bears (2-0) ran the ball 36 times, to 25 passes.
If tailback Daniel Lasco is healthy (and, honestly, even if he's not, and Cal still has Vic Enwere, Tre Watson and Khalfani Muhammad at its disposal), the Bears should turn to the running game, again. Why? Erosion.
Texas is not San Diego State, and the Longhorns certainly aren’t Grambling State, in terms of the kinds of athletes they have on defense. That being said, Texas is dead last – 127th in the nation – in third down defense at 62.9%.
Cal is tied for 80th in third-down conversion percentage – 36.4% -- thanks to a 2-for-10 effort against the Aztecs last week, but only 12 teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision have had fewer third downs to convert than the Bears (22), which means they’ve really been moving the ball well on first and second downs. The root cause of the Longhorns third-down issues stem from dealing with early downs.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1587343-lasco-listed-as-da... Of everything Texas head coach Charlie Strong said on Monday, this single line is the most important for the Bears: "The run game is what's eating us up right now. What we're not doing is we're not winning on first down. It ends up being a second-and-five, a second-and-three, a second-and-two. That's where we're not winning right now. We have to win on first down."
The Longhorns, do, however, have more talent than either the Tigers or the Aztecs, and have faced arguably tougher competition than the Bears thus far.
"They get pressure," says Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. "Rice’s quarterback is an athletic guy, moves around pretty well. They got good pressure all night, rushed a lot of throws, kept him from settling in and getting comfortable. It’s going to be important for them to try to pressure Jared and get to him. We’ll have to win some of the one-on-one match-ups, do a good job picking up their blitzes, being creative and executing our offense. They’re an athletic team that runs well, and they do a good job of playing fundamental football. They’re good at keeping their leverage, good at forcing the ball where they want it to go, and chase the football well.”
Strong wasn't so complimentary of his own team.
"So many missed tackles," Strong said earlier this week. "I think we had like eight missed sacks. One time we had four people miss him on one sack. Then we get him pinned to the boundary on their side, we miss. It just comes back to fundamentals and technique. When a defense is called, just execute the defense. But believe in yourself and have confidence.
"What's happening right now is we're getting so many three-man rushes, we got to bring a fourth rusher. If you watch, [Hassan] Ridgeway got a lot of pressure in the middle," Strong continued. "Then Tank [Desmond Jackson] has come in. I don't know if he's actually at 100 percent. He's playing hard, but it's a matter of him having confidence in the foot where he can get that foot in the ground. Then we have to win outside with Sheroid [Evans], Naashon [Hughes] and Bryce [Cottrell]. We have to win on the outside, which we're not doing. We're just allowing too much time in the pocket. Also with our gaps, we're not staying fundamentally sound where they got control."
Strong specifically cited gap control as an issue, and while that's certainly more prescient with a running quarterback, given Cal's strength at the running back posiition, and the tempo at which the Bear Raid moves, this opens up a very, very vulnerable spot in Texas's defense: Third down run defense.
“They’re a pretty stout front, but they have struggled in situations like that, especially I think later in drives," said senior right guard Jordan Rigsbee. "With our tempo and the way we play, I think that’ll give us the advantage on those late downs, third downs, fourth downs, later in the drive. I think we’ve got to keep running the ball. I think that really helps our offense. We’re known as the Bear Raid, but I think running the ball is really essential to getting the rest of the offense going. It’ll be a big part of the game, for sure.”
With the Bears' tempo offense, the Texas defense is going to get worn down, and by the time Cal comes to those third downs late in games, the Bears may very well be able to run at will, and Charlie Strong alluded to that concern in his weekly presser on Monday.
"The thing about Cal, up-tempo offense, they can score a lot of points," said Strong. "[Their] quarterback does a great job of releasing the ball. His receivers do a great job of catching it. Our hands are going to be full covering the back end. We have to be ready to go play."
And if the Longhorns have to drop back in coverage on third down, the Bears in the backfield will be waiting for them.
"When we do get it to third down, if we're going to play coverage, we have to play coverage and cover them," Strong said. "We're not winning one-on-ones right now. I tell them all the time, 'You can't be a shock absorber, go in there and get stuck to a blocker.' Let's get off the blocks and go win, apply the pressure."
So far, Texas hasn't been able to do that.