Before the season, I pointed to the Texas game as a test of Cal's physical maturity. With 41 rushes for 280 yards and a victory, they passed the test. Interestingly, the key block on the longest run of the night was not sprung by one of Cal's older, more mature offensive linemen, but by a walk on freshman.
No one, however, would accuse Malik McMorris of lacking physicality. The 5'11'', 300 pound fullback has fast become a fan favorite, and for good reason. This human wrecking ball has already made several key blocks during the season, but none resulted in such an explosive play as Khalfani Muhammad's 74 yard touchdown run against Texas.
Football comes down to fundamentals - making blocks, beating blocks, making tackles, breaking tackles, etc. On this play, Texas won at the point of attack. So much so that I originally thought the play was a wham scheme (for a previous article I've written on the wham scheme, click here). This Texas victory should have led to a defensive win, but as we will see, McMorris managed to block two players at the point of attack, opening a hole in the Texas line that Muhammad would not waste.
This is what I suspect the blocking scheme was. As so often happens in football, however, plans change…
Cal has missed on two blocks on the left side of the line, as happens against a good opponent. McMorris is now engaged with the most dangerous man - and McMorris delivers a hit that stuns the defensive tackle. What are the fundamentals that allows McMorris to win this battle? The low man wins in football, and you can see that McMorris is lower than the man he is blocking. This is where his lack of height - the probable reason why he was not a major recruit - is actually a benefit; he has an easier time getting lower than his opponents. Next, McMorris leads with the shoulder. You can see (especially on the gif, below), that McMorris's shoulder makes contact with the his opponent's chest. The shoulder acts like a hammer, while the chest has a larger surface area and generates little power. Thus, McMorris wins the engagement. Also note how well Muhammad sets up his blocks. At the moment of this screen shot, he is making a quick juke to the left. This is subtle, but effective. It influences three defenders at the point of attack in that direction (both of the men who McMorris blocks as well as a linebacker who effectively blocks himself by reacting to the juke), and allows Muhammad to "read McMorris's butt" (the butt pointing the runner in the correct direction) to the open space.
Next, McMorris does something that is often not advisable - he leaves the first man he is blocking to block a second man. This can be tempting for blockers, but difficult to execute. Unless the first block is great, trying to block two defenders at the point of attack will most often lead to blocking neither. McMorris's fundamentals allow him to make both blocks. Notice that the first defender he blocked is still stunned by the hit, facing the wrong direction. McMorris moves to his second target - and again executes with good fundamentals. While this is not the same type of impact collision as the first block, McMorris is still lower than his man and gets a nice shove with a strong, square base that takes the defender out of the play. Also note the great job done by the right side of the Cal line. Dominic Granado, Jordan Rigsbee, Steven Moore, and Stephen Anderson all execute great, fundamentally sound blocks. Granado and Rigsbee have great leverage at the point of attack, with their helmets between their defender and the intended point of attack. The respective butts of McMorris, Granado (in the above screen shot, his butt being to the left of the defender is the key), and Rigsbee point Muhammad towards the end zone highway.
The rest is all on Muhammad. He had "speed through the hole, not to the hole," meaning that he showed good patience at less than full speed, set up his blocks, and when he saw daylight, he hit it. If Muhammad had been at full speed from the snap, he would not have been able to make his subtle juke and accelerate the way he did; Muhammad's pace and patience were perfect. After that, he could showcase his world class speed. Texas is a recruiting juggernaut with some of the best athletes in the country, but on this occasion, they appear to have several good angles on Muhammad, but Muhammad destroyed those angles.
With each game this season, Cal has faced steeper competition and new challenges. Against Texas, they faced a traditional power filled with high end talent - exactly the type of team that the younger, less physically mature Golden Bears struggled with the last two seasons. Cal showed their gains in experience and maturity against Texas, running for 6.8 yards per carry and scoring two "big boy" goal line touchdowns against the Longhorns. But it was the efforts of one of the smallest players on the field running behind a true freshman walk on lead blocker that provided the most electric physical statement of the night.