The Bears set the tone Saturday afternoon.
In a season marred by injuries, disappointment and an overall lack of enthusiasm, Cal showed that it is capable of lining up across from an opponent and running it through its face “over and over and over … and over again,” as Cal alumnus and former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch once said.
Though Lynch mentioned running through a “motherf—er’s face” only 16 times, the Bears went above and beyond his guidance Saturday, running the ball 40 times to the tune of 213 yards on the ground. In just seven games so far, Cal has accumulated 1,159 total rushing yards, which is more than 40% of its total offense. Against Colorado, the Bears hit a season high for rushing attempts and tied their second-lowest number of pass attempts (30).
When you’ve got the talent, running the ball and forcing your will on an opponent is the winning formula. That was the case for the Bears on Saturday.
Cal found success with a wide variety of run plays against the Buffs, but there seemed to be a special focus on a family of plays called “trap.” The idea behind trap plays is to catch a defender (usually a defensive tackle) rushing upfield and then block him from the side to create a crease for a runner to come right underneath, hopefully for a big gain.
There are few things I love more in life than the blocking angles that Trap creates pic.twitter.com/fZFww9bz50
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) December 8, 2020
A “wide trap,” present in some playbooks, is much of the same idea — let the designated defender rush up the field, then block him out.
Cal successfully ran this play several times throughout the game, but the real star of the show was a variation of it called “wham,” in which instead of an offensive lineman doing the blocking, it’s a tight end, fullback or any other assorted tone-setting individual.
Against Colorado, tight end Nick Alftin split out wide before motioning back into a fullback position. Quarterback Chase Garbers then snapped the ball and, upon the snap, the offensive line did what is unthinkable upon first glance: It left a defensive tackle totally unassigned.
Then, Alftin steps up and steps in.
Wham <3 pic.twitter.com/uLBvCpk4MG
— coach stew (@jessedstew) October 25, 2021
Alftin had the responsibility of walling off a man significantly larger than him — and he did a great job. Taking on that block is no easy task, but his willingness to get in front of his man and set the tone from the fullback position is what springs running back Christopher Brooks for a nice gain.
While this play is effective, the design and execution speak to a greater theme of the Cal offense. This team has an incredibly diverse catalog of run plays. On a week-to-week basis, we can see plays such as trap, wham, counter, pin and pull, duo, inside zone and more.
And that only scratches the surface.
To be clear, running all of these as well as the Bears do is incredibly impressive. There have been critiques of the offense so far this season, and some of them have been warranted. Losses are never fun to watch, but a diverse and well-executed run game signifies a program that is hitting deep fly balls — ever so close to getting the job done but falling just short. Weak college teams don’t have the same caliber of offense that the Bears have, as evidenced by Colorado this past week.
With Cal’s record of 2-5, it might not be fun to be a fan of the blue and gold right now. Everything here tells the story of a team that is so desperately close to breaking things open yet falls so heartbreakingly short.
But as long as the Bears can run it like this, they will always have hope.