Jessica Buchannan - USA Today Sports
SEATTLE - All week, the coaches message to the players was one of an opportunity to face a top 10 team on the road, a chance to surprise, with the attitude that they expected to win. One side of the ball got it to an extent. The other did not. Cal fell in Seattle by a final of 38-7, as the offense struggled to produce and the defense couldn't clean up to cover for their trouble. The offense was blanked, on their way to a second consecutive awful offensive performance.
Now, this Washington team is the best coached unit Cal will face. The Bears were without Kanawai Noa and Melquise Stovall, along with the other three skill position players who would be starting on this offense (Demetris Robertson, Ray Hudson, and Tre Watson). With the way that the offensive line played, it's not clear how that would have helped.
From the beginning, the Bears struggled. They got a first down, with a couple quick passes to Patrick Laird, but the drive stalled. Washington then drove down the field, where Cal had their opportunities to create a turnover, with Derron Brown just missing an interception.
Instead, true freshman TE Hunter Bryant caught a TD pass over Josh Drayden, simultaneous possession, and Washington took a lead that they'd never give up.
Cal had to hold defensively on the next possession, Patrick Laird fumbled, getting hit on what appeared to be a missed targeting call. Washington's poor kicker situation bit, as Tristan Vizcaino went wide right.
Cal continued going three and out, with Bowers getting pinballed around as Washington threw a three man rush at him. Vita Vea played a strong game, manhandling whoever was put in front of him, giving Washington better and better field position. The hidden yards that Washington is so good at getting, those got to Cal, as the Huskies took a 24-0 lead into the half.
The most yards the Bears gained on a drive was 29 in the first half, half of that coming on an illegal hands to the face penalty. The Bears ended the half scoreless, with a Matt Anderson FG attempt from 60 coming up short.
Bowers was sacked four times in the first half, which appeared to have an effect on him. He's been sacked 14 times in two games, and the consistent hits have affected his decision making, at least from the view of the observer. That being said, if the line can't hold to give him two and a half seconds, then changes need to happen.
The second half started with a Washington punt, as Tevin Paul got the Bears sole sack of the game. Paul flashed as a threat to get in the backfield for a couple tackles for loss on the evening.
The big nail in the coffin, while there was still a glimmer of hope, came in the hands of a play where Bowers had time, and he uncorked a beauty, which went in and out of the hands of Jeremiah Hawkins on what would have been a 51 yard touchdown reception.
Instead the Bears punted, and Washington gashed the Cal defense for another score, driving 90 yards on 16 plays, finishing with a play action boot pass to the fullback.
The sole score of the game for the Bears came on their next defensive possession. They sniffed out a screen to Dante Pettis, who was relatively held in check, James Looney got the ball to pop out, and Darius Allensworth took it back down the sideline 37 yards, evading pursuers to give the Bears a respite from having a zero on the scoreboard for the remainder of the game.
That didn't matter, as the Huskies continued to get after Bowers, sacking him seven times as the offensive line subbed in new guards in Mike Saffell and Ryan Gibson. Washington scored again, Myles Gaskin got his two touchdowns on the day, and that ended up being the final, due to a bad snap on a final field goal attempt that put the Bears well into the negatives on the rushing totals. Taking out that snap, the Bears finished with one rushing yard. They ran 52 total plays, getting 9 total first downs while getting sacked 8 times. The leading receiver was Gavin Reinwald, with two receptions for 37 yards. It was not pretty.
- We've gone into offensive line issues in-depth here, depth hasn't been recruited and attrition took out quite a bit during the offseason. Against a sizeable defensive front, they faltered, as Bowers started to have to run, which he couldn't do. He made some poor decisions as well, on one deciding to run into a closed hole, and trying to do too much. He may be getting a bit shellshocked with the pressure, which has piled onto him, and without an effective running game to count on, the Bears became one dimensional.
- On 17 non-sack, non bad snap carries, the Bears gained 62 yards. 6 of those carries for 28 yards were on the final drive. That leaves them at 11 for 34 for the game leading up that, which is unacceptable. The inability to make things short for manageable 3rd downs (Cal averaged having to gain 7.2 yards to convert on 3rd down) was a killer. Whether it's widening splits on the OL, running with the QB more to open up the read threat, or using some misdirection with jet sweeps, something has to change in this area for success
- Chase Forrest put together a solid drive at the end of the game, mostly against backups and little pass rush, but he got in a rhythm enough that he might merit a few more reps this week.
- Defensively, that was as much of a decent performance as you could ask for. Paul and Evan Weaver both had two tackles for loss, coverage was at least decent, and while tackling could be better, Washington was held to 4.7 yards per play, while Jake Browning was held to around 5.4 yards per attempt. The short fields didn't help, but the Bears played well enough on that end of the ball.
- There was actual penetration this week as well on the defensive side, and while it was far from perfect, it's a development against a strong offensive line. They need to figure out a way to get a pass rush though. Browning was very good with the time that he had.
- Not much to say on the special teams end, though Pettis did get a couple return opportunities, coverage was alright. Coutts and Klumph both got their opportunities, Coutts averaging more with 42 yards per kick.
Cal now has another short week to figure out how to deal with another tough defense, and an explosive offense in Washington State. Hercules Mata'afa looms large for the Cougars, as the Bears have to find a way to get yards, as the 93 yards that they finished with cannot become a normal thing.
The Bears' shiny start is looking like pyrite now, but there's still a half season left, and what they try against Wazzu will have to set the tone for the rest of it.