I know there's been a lot of hand-wringing regarding Cal's lack of (explosive) running game these past two weeks so I decided to rewatch the games and see exactly what went wrong. I'm going to only focus on Vereen's carries because he is our starter.
This post is dedicated to the UC Davis game. If I have time and if others want to, I'll try to do the Colorado game as well.
Note of caution: I'm new to football terminology so feel free to make your own conclusions and correct me.
This post mostly focuses on the Cal running game when Shane Vereen is in play. However due to the grumblings in our post game threads and in BearInsider regarding the choice of Isi Sofele as the 2nd string tailback, I had to show this:
(Click on all images in this post to see a higher res version)
This is Isi Sofele blocking a rushing LB who decided to just jump on Sofele, who managed to stand up straight and outright stuff him. This gave Riley enough time to throw a bomb to Keenan Allen. This just goes to show that Tedford and Gould care about more things than running ability from a running back.
Back to our scheduled programming…
I’m going to basically break down each of Vereen’s 30 carries with screenshot(s) and my observations. At the end I’ll try to show some stats and round it up by answering the question that we all want to know: what is happening to Cal’s running game?
Davis here is clearly focused on stopping the run. They have 7 in the box with the safety almost in the box and as soon as Riley goes back for the handoff he (the safety) bites on it hard. The OL and the TE on the right handles their assignments well enough but TE #80 (Miller) isn’t able to get his assignment out of the way and allows the safety (strong?) get in behind him. Vereen tries to cut to the outside but is tripped up by the CB (#3 Calhoun) who surprisingly shows some speed in coming back to the scrimmage after Allen leaves him to run to the inside to try and block the safety (he misses… badly). Maybe if Vereen had kept running to the outside he could’ve outraced them or maybe he could’ve cut to the inside a little earlier before the safety got in there, but I think this is just one of those plays. If Allen had made the block it would’ve been a bigger gain, I think.
9yd gain, 8 in the box, 3TE, 1FB, 0WR
Well it’s pretty obvious from the formation that it’s most likely going to be a run, and Davis plays the run. The block is excellent here and as you can see in the 2nd image, Sparks, Miller, the Schwartz and Guarnero give Vereen a gaping hole to run through and the rest of the OL is up ahead blocking in the 2nd level. Vereen powers through the last 2 yards dragging #20 to get a 9yd gain. Everything is great here. Hell Schwartz has a great pancake block to break Vereen open.
2yd gain, 5 in the box, 1TE, 0FB, 3WR
First of all to note this run is from the shotgun. I’m no expert on zone read or whatever but it looks like a designed HB run. It looks like the WRs do a great job of blocking the LBs and the OL did a decent job. Schwartz almost lets his guy get a hand on Vereen but he smashes him to the turf and Vereen jumps out of the way. Edwards looks like he is getting pushed back to the pile by the DL but really I’m surprised as to why Vereen tried to keep following the line and putting his head down. In my naïve view, he could’ve bounced to his right and he’d have at least 4 or 5 yards easily.
11yd gain, 5 in the box, 2TE, 0FB, 2WR
This is a great true-Vereen run. It’s a counter and he follows the blocker in front of him (TE Ladner), makes a cut gains about 5 yards, makes another cut to get Allen’s block and gets even more yardage. He makes two defenders miss on just a great juke.
1yd gain, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Looks like #54 Guarnero wiffs on a block here and the second DL comes in from the side (he looked unblocked because he was sort of staying in the spot until Vereen got there but Edwards was the closest even though he was focused on others). Vereen was blanketed here.
9yd gain, 5 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
I unfortunately don’t have a pre-snap pic but I took the closest. The thing that jumps out here is seeing Edwards and Cheadle drive their defenders to the ground and Guarnero just drive his man back. This allows Vereen to burst forward for a nice 9yd gain.
Cheadle has a nice block and literally moves his guy and blocks the 2nd guy for Ladner which allows Vereen to burst open. He dodges the 2nd guy and puts his head down and charges #26. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Best but I kinda wanted to see him break #26’s ankles and go to the outside. Still a nice 5yd gain
3yd gain, 7 in the box, 2TE, 1FB, 1WR
A bit of shoddy O-line and FB play here. Guarnero basically lets his guy go to Vereen, the CB is left undefended and the FB doesn’t really get the block allowing the LB to come in and bottle up Vereen.
4yd gain, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Great blocking and running come together on this play. Schwenke (who pulled to the right) and Miller take out one each and Cheadle crushes his guy down field. Someone tries to leap over Cheadle and fails epically. Vereen has a nice cut and then spins away from a tackler to get a few more. Edwards does let his guy get by him but Vereen busts out his ankle-breaker and gets by the tackler who flails at air.
3yd loss, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
I’m going to say that the safety is the box even though I’m not sure. Vereen’s first loss of the day. Some fail blocking here. Galas (the backup center) completely screws up on his block and lets his defender get to the hole created by the FB, Schwenke just gets thrown off by the LB who joins up with the Safety (#20) and all three defenders swarm Vereen. I could be mistaken but I see a very tiny hint of hands to the face on Galas, but it could be accidental.
2yd gain, 4 in the box, 2TE, 0FB, 2WR
The blocking looks great. If Vereen takes the direction pointed at by the arrow (and in the screenshot it looks like he is about to) it would’ve been different but instead he decided to plough ahead into the pile for a modest 2yd gain. Maybe I’m naïve but holy crap that could’ve been big!
7yd gain for TD, 6 in the box, 2TE, 0FB, 2WR
Not much to say here other than solid all around blocking including one at the end by Ross to spring Vereen into the endzone for a TD. I see Schwartz, Lander, Cheadle, Miller, Guarnero, etc all overpowering their guys and driving them back and Vereen ends with a small leap over the hands of a UCD player. Nicely done
7yd gain for a TD, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Vereen’s last carry of the day goes for 7yds and a TD. Vereen just squeezes by the gap left by Cheadle’s and FB Steven’s block and then keeps his balance as a UCD CB lunges at him. Allen does a nice job of blocking two guys.
Vereen carried 14 times for 67yds at 4.8yds a pop. Looking at the stats it sure doesn’t seem like a lot or explosive but when I tried to break it down I noticed that it really wasn’t too bad. I mean Davis had about 6 players in the box on average (median: 6.5) and their safeties and corners were playing the run first (at least until Keenan Allen burnt them). For the most part the O-line did well but when they didn’t it was apparent. Vereen didn’t seem to have regressed as much as many feared. Sure he could’ve done a little extra here and there for a few more yards (plus in his 12th carry I think he could’ve had a big gain). I seem to remember him trying his damndest vs Zona or Furd last year to keep going which I didn’t see much of this time around. Perhaps he was still bothered by his hamstring or maybe he took it easy because it was just UC Davis.