Rushing attacks take center stage as Cal hosts Auburn

Field Level Media

September 06, 2023 at 7:53 pm.

Two powerful rushing attacks will be on display when California hosts Auburn on Saturday night in Berkeley.

Behind a rebuilt offensive line, led by Western Kentucky transfer Gunner Britton, East Carolina transfer Avery Jones and Tulsa transfer Dillon Wade, the Tigers (1-0) ran for 289 yards and six touchdowns in a 59-14 win over UMass.

Three of those scores came via the legs of backup quarterback Robby Ashford. But talented runners Damari Alston, Sean Jackson and Jeremiah Cobb also scored as Auburn averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Despite the success on the ground against the Minutemen, the Tigers will face a much stiffer challenge against a Cal defense that limited North Texas to just 41 yards rushing in an impressive 58-21 throttling of the Mean Green.

If the Tigers struggle to move it on the ground against the Golden Bears (1-0), Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne may have to play a much larger role in the passing attack after he completed 10 of 17 passes for 141 yards and a score in his Auburn debut.

Regardless of how it plays out, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze knows his team will be in for a challenge.

“Cal is talented,” Freeze said in Monday’s press conference. “(Coach Justin) Wilcox is a great defensive mind. They are very sound on that side of the ball. Not flashy but sound. Offensively they’re extremely scary. That tailback … he’s one of the best ones I’ve seen.”

Like Auburn, Cal had a lot of success running the ball in its season-opening win over North Texas. The Bears’ ground attack finished with 357 yards and six touchdowns.

Dynamic runner Jaydn Ott averaged 9.4 yards per carry and finished with 188 yards and two scores. Isaiah Ifanse tallied 54 yards and three TDs.

TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson V won Cal’s starting quarterback job in fall camp, but he left the game against North Texas in the second quarter with a left arm injury (non-throwing). Ben Finley replaced Jackson and completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown.

Jackson returned to practice this week and is listed as day-to-day, according to Wilcox. Starting center Matthew Cindric is also questionable for Saturday’s game.

“I suppose everything is on the table,” Wilcox said when asked about playing two quarterbacks. “We’ll see where it all goes.”