A lot has been made about the Bear Raid offense. Sonny Dykes came from the pass-heavy background of Texas Tech before taking his ideas to Arizona as an offensive coordinator and then Louisiana Tech the last three years. At Louisiana Tech, he built an offensive machine that even made Texas A&M’s “SEC defense” look silly.
That was, of course, with experienced players who were recruited for his system and had the time to grasp the finer points of it. California is not that team. This is a team full of players held over from Jeff Tedford’s run as head coach. The newly dubbed Bear Raid is going to take some time to take root.
Dykes might have his his quarterback in place in freshman Jared Goff. But the other pieces are likely too much of a mix of the old on offense to fully implement the new. There is a lot of youth on this roster and last year was not exactly a success with Cal going 3-9.
What the Golden Bears do have is history and a highlight. Maybe that is not enough to defeat Northwestern, but it is important to remember what Cal has and what could be the quiet difference in this game.
We have all seen the video of Brendan Bigelow running roughshod over Ohio State’s defense. It is one of the most replayed runs from the 2012 season. Yes, Cal went on to lose to Ohio State by seven, but the potential of that run held Cal over the entire summer. Especially since the team graduated C.J. Anderson (790 rushing yards) and Isi Sofele (757 yards) last season. Bigelow is the team’s top returning runner having gained 431 yards on 44 attempts last year with three touchdowns.
With the uncertainty about who Goff is as a quarterback and what Cal might be able to do with the pass-heavy offense, Bigelow might be the surest thing the offense has. Or at least the thing Northwestern’s defense has the most certainty in preparing for.
While much has been made about the offense Dykes has brought over from Louisiana Tech, California for much of the Jeff Tedford area cut its teeth running the football.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers went there and he transformed Cal from a nice up-and-coming team to a serious threat to USC’s vice grip over the Pac-12 for much of the past decade. The most consistent options though were the running backs — and a line of them that went from J.J. Arrington to Marshawn Lynch to Justin Forsett to Jahvid Best. For the first seven years under Tedford, Cal had a back rush for at least 1,000 yards and seemingly another one to replace him. Only in the last four years (starting with the season Best suffered the devastating concussion injury) did Cal’s running attack really suffer — with only a temporary reprieve from Shane Vereen in 2010.
Tedford’s inability to get another running back likely is the reason Cal suffered so much. Just looking at those names of running backs who played under Tedford is a pretty incredible string of talented backs and runners.
The focus for Northwestern has been on the shiny ball of the passing attack. Last season, Northwestern’s pass defense remained a big concern and that likely has not changed. The run defense turned out to be the biggest different for NU last season, giving up only 128 yards per game on the ground, the lowest average since 2008 and a 28 percent decrease from the previous season’s defense.
This matchup between Northwestern’s run defense and California’s run offense appears to be a potential strength vs. strength matchup.
Dykes certainly will be looking for a way to take the pressure off his freshman quarterback. Handing the ball off to Bigelow might be the way he tries to do it.
For what it is worth, Louisiana Tech rushed for an average of 227 yards per game. The passing attack might get the headlines, but the rushing attack should draw some concern too.
The Wildcats do not want to get caught on the wrong end of a rushing highlight over and over again.