Looking up close at Cal's 36-34 loss, one can look at the number of missed tackles, a beleaguered defense that surrendered 567 yards, and a last-minute interception as official certification that as far as the 2014 season goes, the Bears are pretenders and not contenders, a team that's still in the process of getting where they want to get.
But taking a broader term view – and
considering the state of Cal football for the past few years,
everything has to be viewed in the broader term – the loss to UCLA
marked a big step up for the Bears.
It was a game that they managed to be
competitive in despite being outplayed for big stretches; it was a
strong bounceback after a deflating effort against Washington the
week before; and it was another game where even though the Bears
lost, they took a favored team down to the game's final minute before
the game was ultimately decided.
These were things that couldn't be said
about the Bears last year or the year before. And UCLA is a step up
from the Sacramento States and Northwesterns of the schedule.
Still that doesn't mean that the Bears
were jubilant after Saturday's game. Far from it. After the game,
the talk was of missed tackles, bad passes, a lackluster first half
effort, and that for all the Bears put into the game, they came away
with a loss.
“There are no moral victories,”
said linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who recovered one fumble and caused
a second fumble in the first half, keeping the Bears in a game where
the offense was limited to 144 first-half yards. “Bottom line is
that we lost the game and the bottom line is that we left some plays
out there like the screen play right before halftime. There were
guys just being out of their gaps, guys missing tackles and we have a
lot of work to do. We are going to go back to practice tomorrow, go
back to basics and work on the technique.”
While the Bears had probably their
worst tackling game of the year, with a number of losses and short
gains being read perfectly by the defense, but a missed tackle or a
bad angle leading to a longer gain; yet in the final moments of the
game, Cal found themselves in a position to win the game, despite
being outgained by 200 yards and despite being outrushed 237 to 56.
Cal's defense forced three UCLA
turnovers, which led to 20 points which played a big part in the
Bears trailing 36-34 in the game's final moments. The Bruins took
the lead on a 26-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn, but at the time
of the field goal there was 3:40 left, which would lead Jared Goff
and the Bear offense plenty of time left to score.
Just needing a field goal to win, the
Bears didn't need to race down the field right away. If anything
they wanted to take care to use enough of the clock so that the
Bruins wouldn't have enough time to score.
Following a kickoff return which saw
Trevor Davis take a knee to the head and saw him carted off the field
– but giving the team a thumb's up on the way out - the Bears
started on their 22-yard line and used a combination of runs and
short passes to make their way down the field. With just over a
minute left, the Bears had a 2nd-and-8 from the UCLA 37-yard line.
Cal kicker's James Langford's long kick
for the season is a 47-yarder which meant that the Bears would have
just needed about seven or eight yards to get within field goal
Kenny Lawler was lined up on the right
side of the field and ran a streak pattern down the sideline.
Earlier in the quarter, Lawler ran a
similar pattern around UCLA defensive back Anthony Jefferson enroute
to catching a 23-yard touchdown pass that gave Cal a 34-33 lead.
Goff threw the ball in Lawler's
direction. The ball sailed a little bit and was beyond Lawler's reach
but was well within the rage of Bruins defense back who caught the
ball and may or may not have had possession while he may or may not
have been out of bounds at the UCLA two-yard line. The initial
ruling was an interception and there was not enough evidence to
overturn the call.
UCLA subsequently ran out the clock,
escaping Memorial Stadium win a win by the skin of its teeth.
“It was just not a very smart play by
me,” said Goff who was 25-of-41 for 303 yards with two touchdowns
and an interception. “It was a similar play that I had thrown a
touchdown to Kenny earlier so I thought I'd get it again. I kind of
forced it a little bit, and it was probably not the best play in that
situation. The defensive back made a great play on it and picked it
off. It was a play we had just scored a touchdown on, so I was
feeling pretty good with it. Again, it was a very similar look with
the defense; similar to the play we scored on. The only difference
when we scored, the defensive back stopped running and this time he
ran right underneath it and made a good play.”
Had the Bears managed to score, it
would have given Dykes the signature win of his brief Cal coaching
career. A game where Cal came back despite trailing on what would
have been five different occasions to tie or take the lead, where
despite imperfect efforts from the offense and defense managed to get
enough out of each unit to pull out a win.
For now, that game will have to wait
another week, but with each passing week, the Bears are coming closer
and closer to becoming the team they want to be.
In the short term though, it's still
not good enough.
“I'm proud of our team for the way we
battled in the second half,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “I
didn't think we competed as well in the first half. I challenged them
at halftime, and I thought we needed to play harder and tougher. To
their credit, they really did that in the second half and gave us a
chance to win. In the end, we did some good things. We got some
stops when we needed to, we moved the ball offensively – it just
wasn't as crisp as we would like it to be. We struggled at times to
get into a rhythm, but I think the defense did a great job of
creating turnovers that gave us a chance to win the ball game. It's
a tough way to lose. We have got to give our guys credit for putting
ourselves in a position to win it. We just came up a little bit short
down the stretch.”
Buoyed the two first half turnovers
that Nickerson played a part of, the Bears seemed poised to enter the
locker room at halftime trailing 17-14. Daniel Lasco had scored on a
three-yard touchdown run and Luke Rubenzer threw a six-yard touchdown
pass to Chris Harper.
UCLA had the ball on its 6 with 1:17
left and had the option of either running out the clock, getting a
first down or two to make sure they didn't have to punt the ball and
give the Bears good field position, or play aggressively and see how
far they could get.
They managed to advance the ball to the
Cal 49 with 13 seconds left, when Brett Hundley found tailback Paul
Perkins for a 49-yard touchdown. The Bruins faced a 2nd-and-10. Cal
gambled with the blitz sending five players – but that left an open
space in the middle of the field where Perkins ran into. With two
blockers accompanying him, Perkins then ran up the right sideline and
into the end zone helped considerably by a block by wide receiver
Eldridge Massington on safety Michael Lowe.
Instead of a 17-14 deficit, the Bears
went into the locker room with a 24-14 deficit and with UCLA slated
to receive the opening kickoff in the second half.
Yet in the second half, the Cal defense
forced UCLA into a three-and-out.
Another Lasco touchdown brings the
Bears to within seven at 24-21.
A long kickoff return gives the Bruins
the ball on the Cal 22, but the Bears limit UCLA to a field goal
thanks to a third down sack by Mustafa Jalil and Michael Barton.
Cal forces UCLA into another
Later in the third quarter, Goff throws
a 24-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Davis on a play where Davis is
receiving contract from defensive back Jaleel Wadood before, during
and after the catch, and suddenly the Bears find themselves leading
Both teams trade touchdowns; UCLA
regains the lead late in the third, 33-28, thanks to a 15-yard
Hundley had a terrific game – the
Bears did get pressure on him – but he was often able to run out of
pressure. He was 31-of-42 for 330 yards with two touchdowns and one
interception, but also ran 17 times for 94 yards.
Every time Cal scored, Hundley led the
Bruins to a score on the following possession.
“We just had to come out with a win,”
said Hundley. “It was a hard fought battle, but we had to.
Everything that happened – we had to win. We don't put excess
pressure on ourselves, but the harsh reality is we are 5-2. That's
good, but we still had stuff in front of us that we could get to. If
we win out and do what we're supposed to do, we can still get to the
Pac-12 Championship. As long as we're winning games, everything will
UCLA's offense gained 567 yards on 89 plays, much of which was aided by poor tackling from the Bears.
"I thought our tackling was poor," said Dykes. "I was not happy at halftime, but I talked to the guys and I thought we did better in the second half. I am still not pleased with out tackling at all. I thought we gave up leverage too many times."
In the fourth quarter, with the Bruins
still up five, they drove the ball from their one into Cal territory.
Facing a 3rd-and-11 from the Cal 45, Hundley attempted to throw a
deep cross down the middle of the field to wide receiver Jordan
Payton. Cornerback Cameron Walker read the play perfectly and jumped
in front of Payton to make the interception and returned the ball 39
yards to the UCLA 22.
Three plays later, Goff threw a
touchdown pass to Lawler on the right side of the end zone. Lawler
had run the pattern in such a way that Bruin defender Anthony
Jefferson was left flat-footed as Lawler ran past him for his
team-leading sixth touchdown reception of the year, giving Cal a
34-33 lead. The Bears attempted a two-point conversion but Goff was
On the subsequent possession, UCLA
drove 55 yards in eight plays to set up Fairbairn's 26-yard field
goal with the two big plays being a 13-yard scramble by Hundley on
2nd-and-6 from the Cal 44 and a 15-yard late hit penalty on Barton
that was tacked on afterwards.
Yet when Fairbairn made his kick there
was just under four minutes left, which was plenty of time for a Cal
team that had five touchdown drives on the afternoon, with the
longest lasting 2:12.
The Bears were getting close to field
goal range when Goff''s pass to Lawler was intercepted by Rios.
“The biggest advantage we had coming
into the game was when they pressed outside, when their corners
pressed our outside receivers, we made a lot of really big plays with
Kenny (Lawler) and throwing some fade routes, so we liked that
matchup,” said Dykes. “In a perfiect world, we would throw the
ball to one of the inside verticals, which would probably gete us
down to that part of the field. Jared looked out there and saw press
coverage, and saw the matchup he wanted. He snapped the ball, the guy
bailed out and we didn't make a very good play on the football, That
is what happens sometimes. We got a little bit fooled and their guy
made a play on the football.”
Cal's next game is against 9th-ranked
Oregon at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
“We're going to come back strong,”
said linebacker Michael Barton who finished with nine tackles (three solo, six assists) and 1.5 tackles for loss. “We're looking to go to a bowl
game...This'll be the defining moment of the season.