During the 49ers’ season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, a certain running back tore up defenses and looked unstoppable out of the backfield.
It wasn’t the infamous Adrian Peterson who stole the show on Monday Night Football, it was second-year running back Carlos Hyde, who shined under the bright Levi’s Stadium lights while rushing his team to a 20-3 victory over the Vikings.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
In his first regular-season appearance since taking over for longtime starter Frank Gore, the 23-year old Hyde tallied the only two touchdowns of the game, while seamlessly carving up the Vikings defense.
Hyde finished the night with 165 yards on 26 carries, solidly ushering in the post-Gore era in San Francisco. Hyde, who also caught two passes for 14 yards, looked like a three-down back for San Francisco, using his versatility to chew up yardage before scoring in the second and fourth quarter.
The newly-appointed starter looked comfortable in his heightened role, aided by the fact that the 49ers recently switched to a zone blocking scheme that Hyde was accustomed to during his time at Ohio State.
After the game, Hyde spoke about using the familiar scheme to his advantage:
“My offensive line does a really good job of zone blocking, and it makes it easier for me to hit those cut backs that I was hitting. But it’s really up to me. Just be patient and there’s a pretty good chance there’s gonna be a hole there, you just gotta hit it.”
Hyde admitted he wasn’t expecting to get a career-high 26 carries, though the young running back stated that he was ready when his number was called:
“I just try to be that momentum builder for our offense. Get the offense rolling, spark the offense to be able to drive down field and put points on the board.”
Backing Hyde, QB Colin Kaepernick and the first-team offense played admirably as a mixture of play-action passes and Kaepernick’s legs gave the Minnesota defense fits throughout the game. Kaepernick, who looked far removed from his shaky preseason, completed 17-of-26 attempts for 165 yards.
There had been much speculation, mostly negative, as to how the 49ers offense would fare after an overhaul at offensive line left the team thin. But despite a myriad of penalties, the offensive line allowed just one sack on Kaepernick while clearing the way for 395 net yards.
Defensive-minded head coach Jim Tomsula praised his offensive line group following the win:
“The criticism hasn’t come from me. I mean, we’re not there yet, this is one game in a long season, so we aren’t there in any means. But I’ve defended the offensive line. People have their opinions, but I just deal with what we see in practice and believe it will work.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailings for the 49ers Monday night. The team sabotaged themselves early and often, as sloppy offensive line play and special teams blunders squandered prime scoring opportunities and stalled promising drives.
Under the Monday Night Football lens, 49ers special teams tallied an unimpressive blocked field goal attempt, muffed punt from Australian sensation Jarryd Hayne and a negated punt-return touchdown from Bruce Ellington after a pair of illegal block penalties during the first half of play.
After failing to impress during the preseason, the 49ers and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini dialed up the pressure on Bridgewater and the Vikings offensive line early to positive results. The 49ers blitzed their way to five sacks for 54 yards on the night, while limiting Minnesota to just three points on 248 total yards.
But perhaps the biggest storyline beside Hyde was the 49ers defense holding the Vikings’ Peterson to just 31-yards on 10 carries.
After losing Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, the 49ers defensive line played big, plugging up the lanes and disallowing the dangerous Peterson to break out to the sidelines. Aaron Lynch, who finished with three tackles and a sack, had this to say about the defensive outing.
“The 49ers defense is about stopping the run. That’s what we did exactly today. We were prepared for him. I mean, he’s Adrian Peterson, he’s going to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. He’s a Hall of Famer. We just set the edges, made sure he couldn’t get out in the open field. We did our best to just stop him from doing anything and it worked out.”
While the 49ers defense was able to stuff Peterson, the Vikings had no answer for Hyde. The 49ers’ second-year back added the lone score of the first two quarters after breaking off a nifty spin move to change direction near the line of scrimmage, rushing far left to plunge into the end zone for a 10-yard score to give his team a 7-0 advantage heading into the locker room.
After the game, Hyde stated that his spin move was inspired watching film in preparation for Monday night:
“I watched a Washington game when they played the Vikings last year and the running back, they run pretty much what we run, so I saw one play the running back on a run similar to what I had tonight, and 99’s (DE Danielle Hunter) hips looked pretty stiff, so I said when I get that chance in the game, I got a move for him, and he was that guy back there. And that spin move took him.”
Like the game’s opening possession, the 49ers used a steady mix of Hyde, play-action passes and their tight-ends to open the third quarter with a 73-yard drive — that also stalled short of the goal line. K Phil Dawson and the special teams atoned for earlier mistakes by perfectly splitting the uprights with a 30-yard field goal to extend the 49ers lead to 10-0.
After bringing the pressure in the first half, Bridgewater took advantage of a break in the 49ers pass rush to bring the Vikings into the San Francisco red zone for the first time near the end of the third quarter. But again, the 49ers’ young defense stood resolute, limiting the Vikings to a 30-yard field goal from K Blair Walsh and cutting San Francisco’s lead to 10-3.
It was then time for Hyde to slice through the Vikings defense once again. The back showcased his solid field vision and sharp cuts to cut through the pack, running 17 yards to the back of the end zone before leaping into the Levi’s Stadium crowd to celebrate his second score and a 20-3 lead.
Bridgewater and the Vikings attempted one last late push, but the 49ers defense and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch stymied any chances of a late rally with an interception before the 49ers ran out the clock to secure their first victory of 2015.
The game hands Tomsula his first win during his tenure as permanent coach of the 49ers, and second overall. The blue-collar Tomsula stressed the importance of working out any kinks rather than basking in the glory of his team’s victory, though one would have to believe that the win lifted a heavy weight from the backs of the team following a brutal offseason.
The 49ers still have a long road to go to overcome the offseason exodus of talent, but Tomsula has one simple goal for what he wants his group of players to become:
“I would like this team to be a team. That’s what I think we have, that’s what I believe we have.”
After all the drama of the offseason, the simple yet elusive element of chemistry is just what the 49ers need the most.
The 49ers travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday to take on the Steelers at 10:00 a.m. PDT.