Avinash Kunnath: As awesome as the passing game was this season, the emergence of a competent running attack probably surprised me more this year. Daniel Lasco exceeded my expectations and made an impact in almost every game this season even when he wasn't hitting 100 yards. The offensive line (we'll get to them later) had their pass protection issues, but they generally did a yeoman job of opening up the running lanes for Lasco to operate and attack.
Lasco has proven he can be the feature back, but now he needs help from his mates.
There's Khalfani Muhammad, who had a disappointing season (admittedly, he broke his finger early in the year and it never really recovered, but still). Muhammad had a total of 46 rushing yards after September. Muhammad is a critical part of this offense because he's undoubtedly the fastest player we have. He needs to get out there and might have to consider if the football/track double sport thing is worth it.
Vic Enwere is going to be a load to stop. He's the early favorite to supplant Lasco as the feature back after he graduates. He probably needs a bit more conditioning, but considering the leap Lasco took after one season, I'm excited to see how much more effective he is with a collegiate body. He's going to be a bruiser who does a lot of damage to defenses, as we saw in the Oregon games.
Tre Watson is the wildcard. He's not as speedy as Muhammad, but probably has the higher upside and can be a big play guy for us if he develops correctly. He wasn't quite ready to go this year, but is also poised to take a leap and maybe become the player we hoped Khalfani would be this season.
Cal isn't likely to take a RB in this class, so these are our four guys. What did you see from them this season that you liked, and what are you looking for them to improve upon going into next year?
boomtho: I was very encouraged by the RB corps this year. Last year, there was a lot wrong with the running game, but I thought the RB's looked tentative and ran East/West far too much. With that baseline, I was very, very happy with the progression they made. Lasco was obviously the star of the show, averaging 5.3 YPC, cracking the 1100 yard barrier, and scoring 12 TDs (for perspective, Khalfani had the most rushing TD's last year with 4). Lasco showed much improved toughness and North-South running and more explosiveness, partially negating thee need to use Khalfani as a "speed" change of pace.
I was disappointed in what Khalfani did this year. Like Avi mentioned, he hurt himself early in the year, but he never seemed like he could channel his blazing speed into consistent production. As the year went on, the coaches did a slightly better job getting him the ball on the edge, but I think there's a definite tinge of untapped potential with Kahlfani.
The freshmen RBs showed flashes early but really weren't large factors in the run game. Enwere demonstrated good power, though was surprisingly stopped on a number of short yardage downs. I'm excited to see him run over people in the future! Watson also showed glimpses of success, though again was not a huge part of the run game. Like Avi mentioned, he doesn't have a singular skill like Muhammad's speed or Enwere's power I'm hopeful he can become the "all around back" that Lasco was this year.
So basically... long story short, great production from Lasco this year (team MVP!), glimpses of greatness in the future, and slight disappointment from Khalfani.
Leland Wong: The best thing about the emergence of our running backs is that people will stop claiming we're a pass-only offense. Oh wait... people are still obsessed with that misconception? Lovely.
The greatest improvement I saw from Pierre Ingram's crew is the ability to gain yards after contact. With either Lasco's power running and Muhammad's shiftiness, either Bear was generally able to make explode past the first defender's initial contact after just a few yards to turn a run into a considerable gain. This was especially helpful for days when our still-developing offensive line would struggle at executing all of their blocks. No need to sweat it when the unblocked defender isn't able to pull down our running back.
My minor little quibble is with our fullbacks/bone players, whom I'm gonna kinda throw in with the running backs. It felt like as soon as Lucus Gingold went down with injury, the Bone formation vanished, so I'd like to have enough depth to keep this weapon in our arsenal if one of our bone players go down. It's true that we ended up trotting out about a dozen other Bone variants with offensive linemen like Jordan Rigsbee subbing in as upbacks, but those always felt like different beasts with a unique gimmick (though I do not use that term derisively), rather than the "standard" Bone that presents a number of different run or pass threats.
(Cue Scott or Nam or Bk97 coming in with the Xs and Os analysis to show me how I'm wrong on this.)
Trace Travers: With increased carries came increased responsibilities for Daniel Lasco, and he delivered. Lasco's ability to use his lateral quickness was utilized this year, allowing for a more balanced attack. I was impressed with Lasco's development as a receiver out of the backfield. His presence in the future will cause defenses to creep up on the swing route, which will lead to bigger plays. As a runner, Lasco ran for the most yards since Isi Sofele in 2011. After last year's moribund running game, Lasco's success was a much needed breather for Jared Goff's arm. His spin move is Madden-esque, his ability to bounce off tackles has come around, and while he isn't Jahvid Best, he does have some good speed north to south. He was deserving of that team MVP (since Goff got the super MVP essentially), and next season will hopefully cement him amongst the top running backs recruited by Ron Gould.
Khalfani was disappointing, but I think that's more injury than anything. He looked tentative in attacking holes, which often ended up with no gain or a loss. It was frustrating to watch when you know that he has the speed to make these runs. It came out in flashes against Arizona, but there wasn't much else from him this year.
Vic Enwere was probably my favorite freshman to watch this year, followed closely by Devante Downs. He is inconsistent at this stage, which lead to him being stopped on 3rd and short quite a few times. But when he got to rumble, the potential was apparent. Working on attacking the hole in short-yardage situations will be a focus for him in the offseason, but he can shed tackles in a, dare I say, Marshawn-esque way. He's going to be fun to watch.
As for Tre Watson, he will take time to develop. He has the speed, but I don't think he's entirely adjusted to the college game yet. He'll play a bigger role next year, but finding playing time will be tough with this crowded backfield arrangement. It really isn't a bad problem to have.