Five observations from Cal's 30-24 win over Washington.
If games lasted 40 minutes, the
Bears would be a Top 25 team.
If you look at the statistics, this
shouldn't have been a six-point win. The Bears dominated yardage,
turnovers, time of possession, and generally had the better of both
sides of the field. But as was the case last week, Cal was in a
situation where they were comfortably ahead late in the third
quarter, yet towards the hand found themselves hanging on.
But where last week, it was a case of
the defense running out of gas and chasing around a quarterback who
was having the game of his life, this week, it was the offense that
was out of sync. The Bears were up 27-14, when a 70-yard fumble
return for a touchdown narrowed the Bears advantage to six, 27-21.
Once again, the offense is caught
between whether to play the clock – run the ball and hope to speed
up the end of the game, or stick with their strength which is the
short passing game. The one risk of attacking the opposition is that
there is a greater risk of turnover and of having short possessions,
but the flip side of that is that the Bears keep attacking, they're
bound to leave Washington's defense on their back foot and two scores
could effectively end the game.
As generally effective as Cal's offense
is, they're still struggling with short-yardage running. They also
found themselves in a number of long-yardage situations, due to sacks
and runs for losses. The first possession in the fourth quarter
ended with a sack and an incomplete pass. The second possession came
to an end when Cal turned a 1st-and-10 into a 1st-and-25 due to a
holding penalty and a false start penalty, and the third one ended
with an interception and a sack, after a first down run resulted in a
The final possession, where the Bears
were trying to run out the game, resulted in a runs of 0, 7, and 0,
but was extended when Goff made a heroic second effort to gain three
yards for the first down.
The circumstances of the Texas and
Washington games were different. But in both cases, you have a Cal
team that can run better than it did last year so the Bears are much
more comfortable doing do than they might have been in previous
years. But the question always lingers – do you want to try to win
a game going away from your strength?
Five turnovers is only part of
the defensive story.
One can't underestimate how thorough
the defensive improvement has been. So far this year there's been a
rough fourth quarter at Texas, but against Washington the only reason
the game was close was because the Huskies returned a fumble for a
touchdown – on a play where Vic Enwere's hip appeared to be down
before he fumbled. Otherwise, aside from a touchdown drive in each
quarter, and a field goal when Washington's offense had the benefit
of a short field, the Husky offense was generally not a factor.
The Golden Bear defense bounced back
from a week where Jerrod Heard had a career week – this week he was
limited to 119 yards passing and 48 yards rushing - and limited
Washington's Jake Browning to 17-of-28 for 152 yards throwing.
But aside from numbers – the Bears
are tackling better, defenders are in position to make plays, and
they're generally less vulnerable to big plays.
In previous years, Cal would be in
trouble when opposing offenses had two receivers on two defenders to
the outside. Eventually somebody would slip, one receiver would be
able to take two defenders, or a tackler wouldn't be able to wrap up
and a big play would develop. Teams would be happy pecking away with
six- and eight-yard gains, because sooner or later a broken play
would lead to a big gain. But now the one defender who's being
blocked by one receiver is driving the receiver back towards the
player who's catching the pass which disrupts the rhythm of the play.
On one sequence of plays, Washington
was driving down field and Dwayne Washington was stopped for a short
loss. The defense would have just tackled the runner, but Marcus
Manley reached over and knocked the ball loose.
On one interception, a deep ball was
underthrown. There was a time when a Bear defender might have just
kept running past the play to get behind the receiver. But on
Saturday, Darius White read the ball, made an adjustment and undercut
the receiver to make a catch.
Even the pass rush – which hasn't
been a Bear strength this year – Cal was able to get pressure on
Browning and they quickly found that his decision-making gets
extremely shaky when he's flushed out of the pocket. But instead of
rushing him all the time, the Bears would also rush three and drop
people into coverage – which caused Browning a different set of
And by causing turnovers and not
letting Browning settle into a pattern they were able to do a good
job of getting the Washington offense off the field.
Cal is two wins away from being
And to think it's just September. This
isn't a case of the it being late October and the Bears needing some
weird combination of outcomes to reach the six game mark. As a
matter of fact, this is the earliest that the Bears have won their
fourth game of the season since 2007.
Or how about this, this is the first
time the Bears have won road games in consecutive weeks since 1993
when they defeated Stanford and Hawaii in November. In the 22
seasons since, they've had back-to-back road opportunities on 32
occasions and have never have wins in both games.
Coming into this year, the Bears were
picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the Pac-12 North, and
while that estimate is still very much in play, this isn't the Pac-12
where Oregon and Stanford were at unreachable levels – this year
both teams have shown a level of vulnerability that they haven't
before, which should make the conference race considerably more
Now much of that is due to scheduling
quirks, the Bears generally play back-to-back road games maybe once a
year – and very seldom in conference play, but still, anytime you
have to go back to something that hasn't happened before Tedford and
Holmoe, that's a very rare occurrence.
The 2015 version of the Football
Outsiders Almanac projected that there was a 32 percent chance that
Cal would finish with three or fewer wins. And a 32 percent chance
that the Bears would finish the regular season with four wins. Put
differently, they projected that there was a 64 percent chance that
it gets no better than this.
Anyway you look at it, this was
It would be easy to look at this game
and have concerns about Cal's shakiness in holding a lead, the
increased number of hits that Jared Goff was taking, and the missed
opportunities that resulted in the game being much closer than it
should have been. But the Bears outplayed Washington for significant
parts of the game. Of the Huskies' first eight possessions – they
scored one touchdown, attempted no field goals, and ran five plays on
Cal sides of the field. During the previous two years, the Bears
wouldn't have been capable of doing that even against bad teams.
The Bears pulled off a road win against
a team that's given them trouble, and they were able to do so without
playing their best. If Cal played at or near their peak and barely
beat a middling Washington team, that would be one thing – but they
were without starting running back Daniel Lasco – and were able to
win consecutive road games. There were four dropped passes by
receivers – which is unusually high.
In three years, Cal's gone from not
being able to beat anybody, to barely being able to beat bad teams at
home, to beating decent teams on the road. There are still eight
games left in the season, and things can still go well and badly.
From a perspective of what's in front of you, the Bears could
certainly play better, and they'll have to as the level of
competition improves. But whether you look at them from where they
were in 2013 or from where they were at the beginning of the season,
they're definitely trending up and they're still a way from playing
The skill players may want to
look into tighter fitting jerseys.
The days of the tearaway jerseys are
long gone – a golden age of football when a ball carrier would race
his way through a secondary leaving jersey fragments strewn all over
the field as defenders tried to grab ahold of whatever they could.
But the Bears had a couple of plays where a player was about to break
free of a defender for a big gain and possible touchdown but a
defender was able to hold onto a jersey just long enough to impede
the ball carrier's progress and wait for help to arise. Had their
been no jersey to grab onto, the player would have been long gone.
Players do wear pads and unless the jerseys are extremely tight, it
would be very difficult to design a jersey where defenders had
nothing to grab onto, but at the very least, it should be possible to
give them less.