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Bears on the Run: The Bear Raid has Balance

Many casual observers have seen the Cal offense put up large numbers in the passing game. In the second year of the Sonny Dykes regime, the Bears have made great strides in having a highly functional run game to give the Bear Raid some balance.

Daniel Lasco has emerged as a massive threat in the Bear Raid
Daniel Lasco has emerged as a massive threat in the Bear Raid
Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports

In a matchup of Bears and Beavers, Cal put up 45 points despite the struggles of Jared Goff. This was done through an improving running game absent for the Bears over the past two years. The Bear Raid has been pigeon-holed as a passing offense, and rightfully so after last year, where the only way to move the ball was through the air. What Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin want is balance though, and the running game is beginning to provide that balance. The star of the running game is Daniel Lasco, on pace for a 1000 yard season. Lasco has had backup so far from sprinter Khalfani Muhammad, true freshman Vic Enwere, and even backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer. Combined with an improving offensive line, the run game put up 269 on 47 carries Saturday night, for 5.7 yards per carry. This is a huge step for a team that has lacked the ability to hold onto the ball to run down the clock.

Cal's offense has done this in a multitude of ways. Last Saturday, the Bears took advantage of Oregon State playing the pass, leaving six men in the box on multiple occasions. Even without two of the team's top receivers in Kenny Lawler and Trevor Davis, Oregon State remained afraid of the passing game. During Lasco's second touchdown run, this showed, as Cal comes out in a base formation with four wide receivers.

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In the Bear Raid, every run play has a fake off of it for a pass, so the receivers will run routes no matter what, but they will block at the end of them. On this play, Stephen Anderson (on the inside on the top side of the photo) runs an out, while the rest of the receivers run streaks. The outside linebacker is worried about Anderson (who became Goff's favorite target for the evening) and runs with him without reading the play for whether it's a run or a pass.

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That clears out the area for Lasco, who puts on a burst of speed and fulfills his reservations for six for the second time during the evening. Lasco has made great strides, pardon the pun, in becoming a threat for the Bears this season. He has adjusted to the zone blocking system after essentially a throwaway year last year. Lasco is incredibly agile laterally, and has used that to bounce and cut to the open running lane.

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A second reason for improvement is the downfield blocking prowess of the wide receivers. Vic Enwere's touchdown Saturday was made possible by blocks from Anderson and Maurice Harris. Cal runs an outside zone, and immediately the offensive line gets a solid push in moving OSU's line back a yard or two.

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Anderson and Harris don't make the greatest blocks, but Anderson manages to seal his man inside, while Harris goes for a cut block, which stymies the Oregon State defensive back enough to give Enwere the edge. Enwere, a running back that seems to take being tackled by the first defender as a personal insult, shows some surprising speed in getting out on the sideline and outrunning the Beaver defenders the rest of the way.

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Showcasing the downfield blocking even more is a play from the first quarter, a long run by Khalfani Muhammad. Muhammad hasn't had the same success as Lasco in the running game this year but on this play, his speed is evident, along with good blocks thrown by Lasco and Anderson. Cal lines up here in a three wide set, using Lasco as a second back next to Goff.

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On the snap, Chris Borrayo pulls, and Lasco looks for someone to cut. While Borrayo whiffs on the pull, Lasco's block has given Muhammad enough space to speed through the hole, while Anderson is keeping his man on rails.

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These two blocks combined give Khalfani the space to turn the run into a 23-yard gain. Considering Goff was having a less than stellar evening throwing the ball, a run game consistently getting yardage picked up the Bears to the tune of 45 points. When Goff is on, it will be hell for opposing defenses to stop both threats.

This leaves out one final piece of the running game unseen in the big Bear-Beaver matchup. Luke Rubenzer, a true freshman quarterback out of Scottsdale, has been some sort of hybrid between Tim Tebow as a freshman at Florida and Johnny Football. He has mostly been used in the run game, though he holds the national high school record for completion percentage and can throw the fade route well (evidenced by a throw against UCLA). Against Oregon, the Bears used Rubenzer more frequently, and took advantage of a six-man box early in the game. The Bears opened the play in a four-wide set, with receivers stacked.

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Upon the snap, Alejandro Crosthwaite pulls to the left side of the formation. The backside defenders go unblocked, giving the Cal O-line an advantage. Crosthwaite's pull takes out one defender and seals out another defender giving Rubenzer a massive hole to run through, untouched, for a touchdown. Rubenzer also makes this play by cutting back hard right to the hole, freezing that outside defender behind the Crosthwaite pull block. All in all, this play takes advantage of a defense willing to sit back and wait for an expected pass.

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The Bear Raid has progressed beyond the expectations of many in season two of Tony Franklin's Wild Ride. When the defense catches up and the Bears put together a complete game, they can be perennial contenders even in a challenging Pac-12 conference.