What did you see from the Running Backs in 2012?

Ezra Shaw

Though we didn't know it at the time, it was the final season of the Ron Gould era at Cal. So how did you think that the RB's did in 2012 under Gould and Tedford?

Kodiak: Just like the WRs/TEs, it's a little hard to give a grade to this position without a grimace towards the Oline/QB.

Since we had little semblance of a competent passing offense, other teams could just stack the box and load up against our run game.

If I had to take a step back for a macro view, I think our running game suffered a bit from the same disease that afflicted our offense as a whole: too many choices. Just like we were trying to be a quasi-spread/hybrid/pro-style/read-option/multiple offense that lead to us lacking consistent execution and a coherent identity, I think we had too many options in our run game.

Single back? Two tailbacks? Traditional fullback with tailback? Pistol? I? Shotgun? Slot? WR? Isi or CJ? Bigs?

On the one hand, you want to give Ron Gould a pass because of his track record of developing NFL-caliber backs. I think that CJ could continue this trend if he tests well and lucks into the right team. But on the other, this is the first year that I can remember really scratching my head about the distribution of snaps. In the past, it was pretty well-known that Gould ran this position group with total autonomy. He went with his gut and played the guys when/where he felt it was appropriate. We'll probably never know whether that was the same this year, or whether Tedford gave more input. Maybe some of the snap distribution came from the playcalling. There are some formations which favored one back over another.

It used to be that we had a clear #1 back who would be spelled by the #2 back, and we'd occasionally give the #3 back snaps in carefully selected situations. There was really no rhyme or reason to the rotation this year. We'd start CJ. Then talk about Isi needing more snaps in the post-game presser...and boom, now Isi is starting despite CJ out-performing him.
Head-scratching to say the least.

Personnel-wise:
CJ really improved his all-around game from last year. I loved his passion and enjoyed how hard he ran. It's unfortunate he got nicked up because I think it limited what he could do towards the later part of the year.

I think Isi maxed out on his potential. I love his toughness as a little guy and still think he's underrated with regards to his blitz pickup. Wish he could have cured the fumble bug.

We'll also probably never know why Bigelow didn't get more snaps. You could see some ball security issues and playbook issues. Honestly, I put the playbook stuff more on the staff than the player. I think we spent too much time cooking up clever schemes than focusing on a group of simple plays and counters that put the ball in Bigs' hands. Look at DJ Foster for ASU. When we spoke to him in spring ball, Brendan Bigelow was gracious, humble and well-spoken. I can't wait to see him flourish next year.

Eric Stevens made a nice recovery from last year's season-ending injury. I thought he was criminally under-utilized.

Cal's Brendan Bigelow - 81 yd TD run (via ESPN)

NorCalNick: I rarely have issues with the performance of Cal's running backs (as opposed to the performance of the running game, which bring up issues of blocking and play calling.) And that was mostly the case this year, with one prominent exception: fumbles. In all, Cal fumbled the ball 31 times this year, almost 3 times per game. 17 of those fumbles were recovered by the defense, good for 116th in the nation. How many close games were lost due to fumbles? How many potentially close games became blowouts due to fumbles?

Calbears.com doesn't list total fumbles, and I"m not masochistic enough to go through every box score, but a healthy percentage of those fumbles came from the running backs, or came on the QB/RB exchange. Maybe it's just a random blip, because it's not like fumbles have been a huge problem for Cal in the past. It's something that Coach Ingram will have to work on next year.

Ohio Bear: "Masochistic enough"? You rang? I went through the box scores and present you with the fumble breakdown. (Aren't you excited?)

Player/Fumbles (lost):

Maynard 11 (3)

Harper 4 (3)

CJA 3 (2)

Sofele 2 (2)

Bigelow 3 (3)

Lasco 3 (2)

Allen 2 (1)

Powe 1 (1)

Manuel 1 (0)

Harris 1 (0)

I bolded the running backs (including Manuel, but his fumble was actually on special teams in the ASU game). Of Cal's 31 fumbles, 12 were by running backs (9 of them lost).

All the fumbled QB/RB exchanges were credited to Maynard.

atomsareenough: Wow, Lasco had 3 fumbles in whatever small number of carries he had? That's a little surprising. I remember Bigelow's fumble problems, but not his.

Ohio Bear: To underscore atoms' "wow," Lasco had 10 touches (6 rush, 4 return) and fumbled on three of them. By comparison, Bigelow fumbled three times in 86 touches (44 rush, 7 rec, 35 return).

NorCalNick: In a sense it's comforting to see that it wasn't just one guy with a ton of fumbles, but rather a few here and there by everybody accumulating into an ugly number. I know that by rule a fumbled exchange is automatically credited to the quarterback, but I wonder who was actually at fault on those exchanges.

The stats also indicate how important ball security is for running backs. If a QB fumbles the snap or somebody messes up the exchange, it's still pretty likely that the offense will recover the fumble. But when a running back fumbles he's typically surrounded by a tackler or two (or three or . . . ) and that's why 75% of the fumbles by running backs, special teams or otherwise, ended up with the opposition.

Isi Sofele 21-yard run, C.J. Anderson 35-yard run Cal vs. Southern Utah Football 2012 Berkeley (via kevinsyoza)

Berkelium97: Those fumbled exchanges between Maynard and Anderson drove me insane (there may have been some with Sofele, but I don't remember them as clearly). All those fumbles were not worth the meager production the zone-read provided.

What I found most frustrating about the running game this season was the play-calling. I didn't care for the aforementioned zone reads. We used them sparingly--just enough for the offense to be uncomfortable with them (as evidenced by all those fumbles) but not enough that it seemed like we took full advantage of Maynard's agility. Despite the speed of Bigelow and the elusiveness of Sofele, we rarely ran sweeps or other field-stretching runs. This was particularly frustrating in the end zone, where the run game often sputtered and died. It wasn't until the 9th or 10th game of the season that I remember that we ran off-tackle away from the short side of the field. Finally, there was that abomination of a Big Game, where we repeatedly ran headfirst into the Maginot Line.

LeonPowe: Running into the Maginot would have been preferable. The furd d line and backers were much more stout than the French defense.

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