BERKELEY, California — California quarterback Jared Goff sent multiple school passing records as a freshman in 2013. He's looking forward to a lighter workload this year.
Coming off a season in which their running game ranked 101st nationally, the Golden Bears hope to be more balanced to alleviate pressure on the rest of the offense.
"If the run game is what we need to do to win, then that's what I'm all for," Goff said Tuesday as Cal prepared for its season opener at Northwestern this weekend.
Cal's defense was largely to blame for the team's 1-11 record in coach Sonny Dykes' first season, but the lack of production on the ground was also at fault. The Bears didn't have a single back run for more than 450 yards. As a team, Cal was held to fewer than 90 yards in four of its 12 games and scored just 10 touchdowns on the ground.
With no relief from the running game, Goff ended up breaking school single-season records for passing yardage (3,508), attempts (531) and completions (320).
Goff's season was one of the best ever by a Cal freshman quarterback, but left him essentially on an island as defenses loaded up to stop Cal's air game.
The Bears were still fairly successful throwing the ball as part of Dykes' Air Bear offense, but still finished winless in the Pac-12.
"We put a lot of pressure on our quarterback through the year last year not being able to run the football," Dykes said. "That's been a huge point of emphasis for us really from the day we came back in January and started working in the weight room. We've done some things schematically to help ourselves out a little bit, we think.
"We just have to execute in the run game, finish blocks, play low. All the fundamental boring stuff that nobody likes to talk about but ultimately decides if you win or lose ballgames."
With Brendan Bigelow, Cal's starting running back for a majority of 2013, having left for the NFL after his junior season, the Bears will lean on Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco to revive the rushing game. Muhammad, a sophomore, led Cal with 445 yards and four touchdowns. A multi-threat running back, Muhammad finished with 1,638 all-purpose yards.
Lasco, a team captain this year, started one game and had 317 yards overall and a 4.7-yard average that was second to Muhammad's 6.0 mark.
"I like the challenge," Lasco said. "We have depth at the running back position and I feel very comfortable saying that any one of us can explode on a big play. And any one of us can pick up the short third-and-1s, third-and-2s, little itty bitty gains that we need."
Goff joked that he would love it if the Bears rushed for "a million yards," while Dykes said he'd be satisfied with any sort of offensive balance as long as it resulted in wins.
"If we were 80 percent run, 20 percent pass, that means you're winning a lot of ballgames," Dykes said. "Ideally we'd like to be able to run it 55 percent of the time. Part of it last year was we got down so fast in games, and so we have to do a better job of giving ourselves a chance. Last year we really didn't do that."