Cole Elasser / USA TODAY Sports

How crucial will the run game be to the Cal offense going forward?

With a soft underbelly of the passing game exposed against Oregon State, how much will did the performance of the run game change offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's plan for the rest of the season?

California offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was faced with a choice after his offense's second series. Starting quarterback Davis Webb had injured his thumb in what he termed "a freak accident," and to even grip the football was "very painful."

For a team that had thrown the ball as many as 72 times in a game this season, and had run as few as 14 times in a single game -- just the week before -- and for a team who had seen four of its previous five games decided by 10 points or less, the run game wasn't as big a part of the offense as it was projected to be. In five previous games, the Bears were averaging just 119.4 yards per game on the ground and 29.6 rushing attempts per game.

But, with a hamstrung quarterback and an unexpectedly close press man coverage, Spavital had to go to the ground. Cal rushed a season-high 44 times --  the most since the Bears ran 46 times against the Beavers on Nov. 14 of last year, and tied for the fourth most rushing attempts since Sonny Dykes came to town. In the first half, the Bears rushed 13 times for 56 yards, compared to 19 passing attempts, but after halftime, Cal dedicated itself to the ground game, rushing 31 times for 261 yards. With Vic Enwere sidelined due to a "nagging ankle," according to running backs coach Garret ChachereKhalfani Muhammad rushed for 123 yards after the break on 14 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run. 

Tre Watson -- who had only run coming into Saturday, he'd rushed 35 times for 163 yards on the season -- ran 16 times for 134 yards.

"He ran well. He ran hard and he looked good," Chachere said. "He and Khalfani were the guys. They looked the best, they were running the best, they were getting it going, and it was a good one-two punch we had going there. That's about it: Stick with who's hot, those guys were rolling, no more one than the other. We kept them fresh, and with Khalfani coming into the game being injured, it was perfect that Tre was hot at the same time."

Hot is one word for it. Against the Beavers, Watson averaged 8.4 yards per carry. The only game in his career in which he bested that mark was the week before -- against Utah (9.3).

"I think he ran well in the Utah game, and I think Utah's a different caliber of opponent," Chachere said. "I think he ran well at Arizona State, made some plays against Arizona State, but I just think it was one of those deals where the game worked that way, where there were big chunks of yards to be made on runs, and he made the most of it, made people miss, and it was just one of those nights for him. I don't look at it any different -- see this in this game that I didn't see in the other -- we were fortunate to have three backs that can get it done."

Cal's 317 net rushing yards against Oregon State were a season high, topping the 189 the Bears had in their opener against Hawaii. The rushing total marks the highest in the Dykes era, and Cal's 7.2 yards per rushing attempt mark the highest average yards per carry of the Dykes era.

"I thought that was a huge turning point for this offense," Spavital said. "The ability, when things weren't going very well in the first half, we found a way to move the ball and to score 24 points. The resiliency of that group, I thought it was pretty good. A lot of teams would fold and turn away, and just give up on that game, but they kept fighting, and we had to rely on those running backs a lot. What was it? 340 yards rushing, around there? 330 or something? That's impressive, and it shows a lot to those running backs, that we can rely on them to compete and move the ball efficiently." The Bears had to run efficiently. While Cal came into the game averaging 13.4 yards per completion and 8.3 yards per passing attempt (Webb was 160-for-257 for 2,143 yards before Oregon State), those fell to 4.9 yards per completion and 2.6 yards per attempt against the Beavers. 

"That night, it was the running game that had the engine running," Chachere said.

"From a playcalling standpoint in the Oregon State game, when you're down 17-0, at some point, and not get completely away from the run game, that shows that we can still play at a fast pace, and get some cheap yardage, and get that run game going, which I think is going to help going forward, for the rest of the season," Spavital said.

The fortunes of the stretch run may wind up resting on the shoulders of the likes of Muhammad -- who injured his leg during a nine-carry, 74-yard first half against Arizona State before sitting out against Utah -- and Watson, if Enwere is forced to the sidelines.

"I'm just going out there with the mindset that I can't be brought down," Muhammad said last week. "I just keep in that mindset and keep the feet moving. I just run like a madman."

What we said last week was necessary to see from the Bears during the bye is even truer, now that Dykes was loathe to answer a question about the status of receiver Chad Hansen, who had his ankle rolled against the Beavers, and was initially thought to only need a week to get back in fighting shape.

"My thoughts are, in our room, we've always felt like we were a weapon, but there's a lot of weapons on our team," Chachere said. "You don't use them all in every battle, but sometimes you need them in different battles. The battle the other night, we were the weapon of choice. We've always felt that we were ready to be primetime players. We've got a lot of other guys being primetime players, too -- the quarterback and receivers -- so everybody can't be primetime. When I say primetime, I mean the main cog in the wheel. It's been good. We're looking forward to the stretch run."

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