Oh the life of a Cal fan. Just when I thought I could kick back and enjoy a Saturday afternoon game against an FCS squad, you had to go and have us sweating down to the final possession. IS NOTHING SACRED ANYMORE?
Cal hung on to slip Portland State 37-30 after a 19 hour contest. On one hand, I was incredibly relieved to come out with the win. Now I can go back to being incredibly snobby and judgmental towards teams who fall to FCS teams. Here’s looking at you Oregon State.
On the other, why the hell should I have to be relieved? Cal went down to the wire against a team that had no business upsetting an FCS squad (after having previously gone 0-12 against Pac-12 teams). I know there’s less of a disparity between FBS and FCS teams these days, but there’s still a reason why we play in the Pac-12 and not in the MAC.
Sonny Dykes previously stated that anyone who didn’t expect a dogfight against Portland State was out of their mind. He probably said that after having watched our defense in practice for two months now. We’ve got some major trouble there. The offense, though better, isn’t out of the woods either. Special Teams, you are again the best unit on the field this week.
Whew. Ok, let’s to get the specifics.
Defense in Major Trouble
This defense has issues. Major issues. Like Amanda Bynes and Miley Cyrus type of batshit-out-of-our-mind issues. They look like a mess right now.
You knew we were screwed on Portland State’s second play of the game, when Cal’s entire defense was sucked in on PSU’s playaction, and Vikings quarterback Kieran McDonagh found his receiver wide open down the field for an 81 yard score. On the replay, not only did you see all of Cal’s young LBs stutter inside, but also witness free safety Alex Logan caught completely out of position.
On the ensuing drive, Portland State marched right back down the field for 75 yards and a score, making the Bears look like the FCS team in the process.
The first half feature the Bears showing poor gap discipline, struggling to make their defensive reads, playing out of position, slow to react, shoddy tackles, I mean you name it. Every symptom of a bad defense was on full display in the first half. It was easily one of the worst defensive performances from a Cal team I’ve ever seen. And I’ve see a lot of them.
The Bears did buckle down a bit more in the second half, holding Portland State to just 119 yards and 7 points in the second half, but it does little to erase the horrible memory of giving up 421 yards and 23 points in the first.
There are a couple of factors here. Injuries are obviously a big one. Cal’s currently without both of their starting defensive ends, both starting safeties, their starting middle linebacker and a key defensive lineman. That’s potentially 6 of their 11 defensive starters out with injuries.
Some of it clearly youth. I think when you have a team come out flat in the first half, only to turn it up a notch in the second half in back to back games, it’s obviously a case of a young, injured defense learning to settle in and catch up with the speed of the game.
At the end of the day though, you have to take ownership of a systematic failure on the defense by the coaches and players. Andy Buh needs to step up and continue to find ways to improve his young defense. Not only is technique poor right now, but schematically, this defense is behind the 8 ball.
Real Lack of Pass Rush
More specifically, the Bears went way too long without exerting any pressure on the quarterback, often electing to only send four pass rushers who did absolutely nothing to disrupt the pocket.
I understand that Buh favors staying in base formations to prevent any big plays, but there are ways to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without sending the house. Yet, I saw just a handful of twists and stunts in the second half.
In addition to that, Cal’s defensive linemen have been a supreme disappointment so far in disrupting the pocket. Part of that is having Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain out, but seemingly all four of Cal’s defensive linemen are getting stonewalled and pushed back by an FCS line. Incredibly disconcerting.
It’s going to be a long season. There’s no other way to sugarcoat it. All you can really hope is that some of the young defensive players grow up quickly, some of the more injured veterans come back sooner than later, and that Buh finds a way to make some adjustments because right now it isn’t working.
It’s not about trying to blank teams each week. It’s about having pride as a defense, and trying to become a one that’s one to be feared by opposing offenses. Right now, Cal’s defense looks hesitant, confused, and is clearly learning on the job.
Switching to offense, you’ve got to be impressed with the job Jared Goff has done in his young career. While the freshman gungslinger had a few misthrows, including a few behind his receiver in the endzone and a few deep balls you know he’d want back, he has continued to look pretty sharp.
Goff again went over the 400 yard mark in back to back weeks, going 33-51 for 485 yards and 2 TDs. Goff’s performance marks the first time a Cal QB has gone over 400 yards since Pat Barnes did it back in 1996. Goff’s yardage total through two games is the most from a true freshman since Colt Brennan back in 2007.
Yardage is one thing, but you have to really watch Goff to appreciate what he’s doing as a true freshman. He has an ability to make some really difficult throws look routine, and has been incredibly poised on 3rd downs. I continue to be impressed with the way he goes through his progressions, and makes fairly decent decisions with the football.
On the flip side, you do want to see him take a little better care of the ball. Though he didn’t actually turn the ball over, he did have two fumbles in the first half. He had a few coverage sacks in the first half, and there were a few throws where he could have been picked off.
Most disappointing though were the handful of overthrows on deep passes that could have really put the Bears in a comfortable position throughout the game.
All in all, the quarterback position is about the least of our concerns right now, which is something Cal fans haven’t been able to say for a while. Given that what we’re witnessing is coming from a true freshman, you’ve got to be pretty optimistic moving forward.
Offensive Line Continues to Stutter
You’ve got to be alarmed though at the poor run blocking performance so far in the season by this offensive line. It was easy dismiss part of it after seeing how many of Cal’s runs were aimed to hit the edges, but there were times when defenders were knifing into the backfield completely untouched. Brendan Bigelow had 18 carries for 75 yards (4.2 ypc) and true freshman Khalfani Muhammad earned 68 yards on 13 carries (5.2 ypc). Not awful numbers, but certainly disappointing considering the opposing defense involved here.
On top of that, it’s shocking to me how often Cal gives up sacks when opposing defenses send just 3-4 rushers. Cal’s flat out losing one on one battles, and Cal’s guards are making the wrong decisions on who to help out on when opposing defenses are just sending three rushers.
Like I’ve said, in proportion to the number of passing plays we run, I’ll take a handful of sacks. I’m far more concerned with the runblocking at this point, and am afraid that we’re going to be closer to a true air raid rather than the type of balanced attack that Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin, or frankly, anyone would like at this point.
Special Teams Continues To Shine
The best unit on the field was again Cal’s special teams. They get an A in nearly every category.
The Bears didn’t surrender a kickoff return for more than 19 yards, holding Portland State to 8.25 yards per kickoff return. Also, for back to back weeks, they prevented an opposing punt return team without a return.
Punter Cole Leininger continued to showcase a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 39.5 yards on 4 punts, while senior Vincenzo D’Amato continues a very solid final season. He avoided any kicks out of bounds this week, and notched 3 more field goals this week, bringing his early season total to 6.
I will say though, as soon as he lined up for the 45 yarder, I knew he was doomed. D’Amato has been reportedly automatic on anything 40 yards or less. Beyond that? Just pray, my friend. Just pray.
Some Impressive Individual Performances
Other than Goff, you have to hand out a couple of helmet stickers to a couple of offensive studs (That's what he said).
Richard Rodgers earned Cal's longest offensive play of the season, taking a Goff pass 75 yards down the field with a nice stop and go, in which he flat out juked a Portland State defender out of bounds.
Bryce Treggs is play like an all-conference receiver, again topping the century mark with 121 yards on 8 catches. He already has more receiving yards (266) through 2 games than he did all of last season (216).
Finally, you have to clap it up for true freshman Khalfani Muhammad who looked like the best Cal running back on the field on Saturday. He had 172 total yards, including a beautiful 62 yard deep reception.
There’s not more to say other than the fact that the future looks bright with this young padwan.
Saturday was supposed to be Cal’s easiest chance at a win, but with the way the defense played, you can’t help but think that it might have been their only win.
The only encouragement has been Cal’s better play in the second half of games, but you can officially color me scared. There are a lot of reasons for optimism, particularly on offense, and you can only hope the defense begins to put it together. But as it stands, it looks like it’s going to be a loooooong, long season.
F it. Let’s go shock the world against Ohio State. Go Bears.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 7:19 PM