One of the strengths of the Cal football team this year, conventional wisdom said, was the running back corps. In particular, there was plenty of talk before the season began that Cal has the fortune of having a formidable one-two tandem of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson as #1 and #1a at the running back position. After all the talk of Sofele and Anderson going into this game, Cal ran the ball only 29 times. Perhaps most surprisingly, Cal ran the ball only five times in the first quarter (compared to 12 passes), even though Allan Bridgford made his first career start at quarterback in the wake of the Zach Maynard benching to begin the game.
CGB's shellshocked leadership convened the roundtable after Saturday's debacle and tackled, among other things, the running game issue. Did Cal run the ball enough? Though the Bears were behind most of the game, it was for the most part a manageable deficit: going to the ground wouldn't have been all that bad, would it? Was the run-pass balance out of whack and particularly at the beginning, particularly given the fact Bridgford was the one starting things off rather than Maynard?
TwistNHook: The concern I have, which actually relates to the Maynard discussion, is that we had the backup QB in for most of the first quarter AND yet still did not run that much. Could have helped take some of the pressure off of Bridgford. Now, presumably Nevada was lining up for the run and Tedford wanted to counterbalance that. But I think you can get too cutesy here. They line up for a run to force us into a weakness, so we then keep on that weakness? We have two great running backs, let's just pound them and weaken the D.
yellow fever: The run wasn't working all that well, so I'm ok with abandoning it. By and large, teams run because they're already winning, not to build the lead in the first place. (SEC excepted.) C.J. did get a few cracks at it at first, but to me the problem with the offense was that no receivers were getting any separation while Bridgford was in the game.
Avinash: I just found it odd we ran so little given (1) Nevada's D-line is definitely their weak point, and (2) Sofele and Anderson weren't having bad games regardless of what formation they were lining up in. Sofele averaged 4.2 yards per carry, Anderson 4.7. I would imagine some more runs would have really helped loosen the defensive backline. Really strange that we pitted up the weaker part of our game against Nevada's strength.
(More thoughts from the more of CGB's Marshawnthusiasts, Jahvidticians, Folletarians, and Hit Squadders after the jump.)
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Ohio Bear: I was disappointed in the running game. Especially with Maynard not starting the game, why are we putting ourselves in a position to be in 2nd and long or 3rd and long? If Bridgford was known to be the starter, I don't understand why we didn't implement a run-first strategy in the first quarter, especially when you consider that D-Line was supposed to be the weakness of the Nevada defense. And even when we were down two scores after the 1st quarter, it's not like we were far enough behind to abandon the run entirely.
Kodiak: I was also surprised that we went away from the run game so quickly. Didn't make sense to start an inexperienced player like Bridgford and then rely on him to wing it all over. Didn't make sense tactically considering the Nevada Dline was smaller and inexperienced. Didn't make sense schematically because Nevada didn't come out stacking the box. They played a fairly standard 4-3 with two safeties deep and one LB moved up on the line of scrimmage across from our TE.
Berkelium97: Like Kodiak, I was surprised we did not come out with a run-first offense, particularly when it was apparent that Bridg was struggling. If we had an overwhelming advantage at any position, it was our run game vs their depleted, inexperienced D-line. I do not know why we did not come out and push this advantage (even though we would later find out the Wolfpack was not outmatched out front). Only ONCE in the first three quarters did we run on consecutive plays.
Vincent S: The offensive line wasn't getting much push. The gains were coming off tosses and runs off-tackle. Nevada was also stacking the box much of the game. Because of this, I'm relatively okay with what we saw in terms of run-pass balance. When we went no-huddle, Nevada was off-balance, that was a good time to run - CJ busted out some great runs at that time. When they had 8 in the box, that was not as good a time to run.
unclesam22: I have no idea why we didn't just pound the ball up the middle play after play. The more I think about it the less sense it makes. Why not try and take advantage of all the excitement re: Memorial and come out with one long pass attempt, then get back to what's always been the strength of recently good Cal teams and run the ball. Put some pressure on Nevada to actually stop us, and if they stack the box, then go to the air.
atomsareenough: I was indeed surprised that we weren't running it more. And not only were we not running it, when we did run it we were getting cutesy and trying to get to the edge. Nevada's D-line was supposed to be relatively inexperienced; why not play some smashmouth football, create some holes, and get a north-south run game going? I don't understand. I thought the O-line was mostly okay in pass protection, but the run game was a total mess with the plays we were running. I am not exactly sure why. If Anderson is getting the bulk of the carries, I'm especially curious as to why we were trying to find the edge all the time instead of opening up some holes in the middle. I would've liked to see a bit more Sofele though.
(What are your thoughts, CGB readers? Were you as surprised and disappointed in Cal's nonexistent running game as the CGB writers and mods were? Share your thoughts in the comments.)