Troy Wayrynen - USA Today Sports
The Novel has a new author this week as you might notice. Don’t worry, this is not at all permanent, and if it is, something has gone drastically wrong.
Anyhow, there was one thing clear that coaching ability had made a lot of people forget. There’s still a long way to go for this Cal team. That was apparent as they got dominated at the lines in the 45-24 loss.
It isn’t as far off as it seemed at the beginning of the season, but it isn’t as close as it seemed during the season opening three game winning streak. There are limitations to the Bears this year, ones that on fullest display against a game Oregon team on Saturday.
What does that mean?
Despite a loss, my general thought is that the Bears are ahead of schedule, though it’s looking like the early part of their schedule was easier than first assumed, with North Carolina and Ole Miss both struggling in the early part of the season. It isn’t an indictment on the potential of the team. It’s an indictment on where the team is right now, a wake up call that some of the weaknesses thought of during the beginning of the season are very much in view.
They will grow from this. Justin Wilcox has imbued an air of competitiveness throughout the roster, and his coaching staff has already taken the team a level up. Now it’s to see how many levels they can go. That might be more limited this year than it will be in years to come and limited by a few key season-ending injuries.
I don’t think the Bears have tapped those upper limits for this year yet. This may have been the basement for the year, though they arguably have the matchup that presents with the most issues up next.
II. Other Thoughts
The fact that there was a chance to get back into the game in the fourth, with the score a touchdown away from being tied, despite line issues on both sides of the ball, is partially a testament to the coaching staff, but also a bit of a testament to how many injuries Oregon came away with. From what I’ve heard, the Autzen turf was much harder than the Memorial Stadium turf.
Evan Weaver was the starter at one of the ILB spots. Nam noted this may be a way to rep him at the spot, as Cal loses Devante Downs and Ray Davison after this year.
The Washington game got a 7:45 start, reminiscent of the 2013 game that started at 8 PM. That marks four out of five games starting at 7:30 or later for the Bears.
These next two games are pivotal, and while the Washington game seems relatively unwinnable, the memory of a 3-0 start will be quickly forgotten if the Bears can’t either do the unprecedented against Washington, or slow the Air Raid and take down Mike Leach’s Washington State team.
Based on the circumstances, this felt like the Oregon State game from a year ago, as the Bears struggled to stop a team without a quarterback who could throw. Thematically, the surrounding atmosphere was nothing like that.
Oregon improved a ton within a year defensively. Jim Leavitt deserves a ton of credit for taking an undisciplined unit, a talented one but undisciplined, and turned them into a speedy, havoc-causing wrecking ball.
III: Offense, Grade: D (Dreadful)
Can’t go full troll for this one, but it’s close. Cal allowed seven sacks, with eleven total tackles for loss. That had Cal ending the game with 29 carries for a grand total of 8 yards, with a longest gain of 7. That’s not going to do it. It led into 3.7 yards per play, which is more than a whole yard per play below last week’s number.
The line was responsible for maybe five of the seven sacks, with Bowers holding the ball too long on one, and Patrick Laird missing a block in pass protection. The others came from almost everywhere, with Kameron Bennett getting pushed back by Jaylen Jelks on one, and Pat Mekari getting beaten around the outside by Justin Hollins on a strip sack that essentially quelled any hope of a comeback.
It was a wholly problematic struggle, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of shakeup on the line this Saturday, whether this comes from giving Mike Saffell more of a shot (TV broadcast pointed out he sold the heck out of an RPO in the early going) at the guard spots, as Valentino Daltoso went out after returning from an ankle injury for this game.
It seemed like the Bears got a little too cute at points, trying to test the discipline of the Oregon defense with screens that took too long to set up or swing passes that were quickly stopped in the backfield.
What keeps this from being a Troll performance is that Ross Bowers looked to have improved, and showed what he could do when given the opportunity to take time and make the deep throws. He limited mistakes for the most part, though he did have a critical miss on a corner route to Kanawai Noa. He can throw a heck of a wheel route though.
Speaking of Noa, he played another fantastic game. In addition to his 75 yard TD reception where he turned on the burners that no one really knew he had, he got open on multiple occasions, where he shook off a targeting penalty, got held, interfered with, yet kept to the course. Noa’s taken to playing receiver in the new offense among this group faster than anyone else, and it shows.
Cal gave themselves a good chance through going to the pass on earlier downs in the second half, but the lack of pass protection and balls getting batted at the line hurt the Bears.
Vic Wharton noted in his postgame press conference that he may have been a bit distracted, due to the birth of his daughter earlier the week, which had him missing a couple practices.
There’s a lot of limits on this group as the moment, as their deep threat in Robertson is officially gone for the year. What remains to be seen is how much an actual threat at the TE position would do. Right now, Gavin Reinwald and Kyle Wells could do the fusion dance, and the resulting player still wouldn’t be at the level of Ray Hudson. Hudson will be back this season, but it’s a matter of when. The hope would be in the next couple of weeks. The pessimist in me believes it might be later. What Hudson had been up to the point was a mismatch for defensive backs, someone who can split out, line up on the line, H-back, do whatever is needed. That’s what Baldwin wants in his tight ends.
Without a bigger player who can get separation physically, Cal has been missing that separation, and it would open up some things downfield or underneath depending on how he’s deployed.
Cal also needs new deep threat. Brandon Singleton got open deep once, and Bowers and him didn’t connect. He’s going to have to play a bigger role going forward.
Want to see more of Zion Echols and Derrick Clark going forward. Cal tried the Washington State shovel pass that felled USC with Echols, which didn’t work, as Cal doesn’t employ the same wide splits that Wazzu does, nor was Oregon fooled on the play. That’s a call I do like from a play design standpoint, it just wasn’t one that would get the yards needed on 3rd and 9.
Baldwin has stated his intent to be multiple on several occasions, but with the injuries piling up and pass protection lacking, that hasn’t happened and I’m not sure how much it can happen until the pieces are back in place. The Bears don’t have anything too reliable at this point, other than Noa drawing a bevy of pass interference penalties, and that’s a glaring issue
IV: Defense, D (for Dreadful)
I have no doubt that if Nam were doing this, he’d give it a T for troll. And he’d be right. I’m an easy grader. Luckily for the public school system, he’s the teacher and I’m not.
The only reason I am giving this unit a D instead of the F rests solely on Jordan Kunaszyk, who made a heck of a play intercepting Taylor Alie near the end of the first half. That gave Cal a brief flicker of life as they scored on the next play. Kunaszyk had to play most of the rest of the game, as Devante Downs appeared to go off with an injury, missing the second half.
Otherwise, Cal allowed 6.2 yards per carry to a one dimensional offense on backup running backs, against a quarterback who couldn’t throw (Alie finished 9-13 for 41 yards, on mostly bubble screens and swing passes). Wilcox noted that they did what they wanted to do against the run, but they didn’t execute.
That they did not, getting blown back off the ball on a multitude of occasions, the biggest coming on the 68 yard TD run by Kani Benoit. Rusty Becker got pushed down, opening up the hole, and Kunaszyk made a step in, getting him out of position as the running lane opened up to the second level. The safety couldn’t fill the alley quick enough, pursuit wasn’t fast enough, and a lot of comeback hopes died there.
There’s not much to say in the regard of pass defense. The Ducks didn’t pass, partially because they couldn’t, partially because they didn’t have to. Before going out with a broken collarbone, Herbert threw a perfect skinny post to Brenden Schooler for a score. Bynum lost inside leverage and Tartabull came down to defend something underneath, which lost the help Bynum needed. That’s pretty correctable in the grand scheme of things.
Ray Davison was moved to OLB this week, and didn’t appear to see much time at ILB, even with Downs out.
A lot more in the way of nickel fronts, Oregon’s speed on the outside kept the defense honest even though Alie couldn’t throw much more than to the outside on bubble screens.
Oregon’s offense had a short field on their last two touchdowns, going 18 and 23 yards. You could very easily argue that this shouldn’t have mattered, and the Bears got blown back on these plays anyway, and you’d be absolutely right. Only three tackles for loss for the Bears as well, as they struggled to get a pass rush even when Oregon dropped back for longer throws.
V: Unofficial Advanced Stats
Unofficial Advanced Stats
Yards per play
Explosiveness % (% or runs 10+ yards; passes 20+ yards)
6.9%, 5 of 72 (5 pass)
9.3%, 7 out of 75 (1 pass, 6 run)
4 of 18
6 of 14
Avg. Yards to go
Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards on 3rd and 4th down that were successful)
1 of 2: Enwere on both attempts
3 of 3: Benoit 1 of 1, Brooks-James 2 of 2
Avg. Starting F.P. | Plays in opponent territory
Own 30 | 20 of 72 (27.8%)
Own 34 | 29 of 75 (38.7)
Points per trip inside 40
2:14 1Q - 0
1:08 2Q - 7
0:36 3Q - 3
8:01 4Q - 7
17 on four trips, 4.25 average
15:00 1Q - 3
10:23 1Q - 7
5:33 1Q - 7
14:08 3Q - 7
9:51 4Q -7
3:32 4Q - 7
38 points on 6 trips, 6.33 average
Havoc (percentage of disruptive plays – TFL, picks, PDs, FFs, sacks – divided by total plays. 2015 Cal's was 13.8%, and ranked 100th in the country; TCU was 15.4% and 64th among the 128 FBS teams )
3 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF, six havoc plays on 75 snaps (8%)
11 TFLs, 5 PBUs, 1 FF on 72 snaps (23.6%)
(Note, the final Oregon kneeldowns are not included in these calculations)
Yards per play: It all ties in to a greater theme of the line play on both sides of the ball being ineffective. Cal couldn't stop an athletic defense from swarming on one end, while they couldn't get off blocks to stop the consistent 5-6 yards gains coming at them from the Oregon running backs.
Explosiveness: Again, no big runs by the Bears, and not too many opportunities for big passes without Demetris Robertson. This team needs a deep threat soon. On the Oregon side, this stat is better than you'd initially think, but the defense got the death by a thousand paper cuts offense coming at it, then those turned into gashes, like the Benoit TD.
3rd down: Way too many 3rd and long situations. 4 of 18 will never cut it, and when the average distance is about 9 yards, it never will. Being unable to run on the early downs doomed this in the early going. The Bears have got to create running lanes in the future on early downs, but they got a bit too predictable in the early going. Being able to throw early helps, but then you need the wideouts to get more separation on the quick routes. Those problems circle each other.
Points per trip inside the 40: I think this is self-explanitory. Oregon scored every time they were inside the 40. They did it better, more often and more efficiently than Cal did. The last two came from a fumble and a turnover on downs late, but the offense plays into the defense and vice versa.
Havoc: Probably the biggest difference maker in the game. Oregon wreaked havoc in the backfield with their team speed. Cal couldn't get a pass rush going on Herbert early, and couldn't get penetration when Oregon went solely to the run. It's been better in past games, so this isn't the norm, but it needs to jump back up, whether by scheme or plain effort.
VI. Special Teams (Poor)
Matt Anderson made his FG and extra points quietly after missing a gimme field goal a week ago.
Dylan Klumph did what was expected, with a couple big punts, and at least one rugby style kick.
Vic Wharton muffed a punt, which luckily didn't mean anything thanks to Kunaszyk's interception, but that can't happen again. That's mainly why the grade is poor other than anything.
Siemieniec is putting kickoffs into the endzone consistently, the Canadian kicker is doing some solid work there, as coverage on kickoffs and punts has improved.
Ashtyn Davis is getting better returns, still not close to breaking one, but they're trying to spring him on the outside a bit more.
I don't have any sort of promo to put in this section, but this much is clear.
Wilcox noted that they were outplayed in every phase of the game during the postgame press conference. I'm not one for reading body language, but you could see the fire built up as he talked abut how unacceptable a performance that was. That's a fire you don't want to see turned on you.
There's a determination to improve being impressed on this team. Some of it's been immediate, some of it will take time and new faces to truly sink it in.
With the talent of this staff and what they're capable of? There's a long way to go, but it's that much more possible that they'll get there.