Five observations: Cal vs. Utah


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By Ted Lee
Posted Oct 11, 2015
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2015

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Five observations from Utah's 30-24 win over Cal:
  1. This one's going to hurt.

This game might not have been the gut-punch that the 2007 loss to Oregon State was, but this was a game where the Bears had a lot of odd things go against them and yet they had numerous opportunities to win the game. Jared Goff threw five interceptions, sure-handed receivers dropped balls, for much of the game the Bears were down to their third and fourth running backs, the offensive line had its roughest game of the season, and the defensive line, despite being punished for the better part of three quarters by Devontae Booker, managed to stand tall in the fourth quarter.

And even with all of this, Cal found themselves down six, driving for possible game-winning touchdowns and were in Utah territory twice in the fourth quarter, on the road against the 5th-ranked team in the country which was coming off a bye. Heading into this week, the Bears might have been thought of as one of the softer 5-0 teams in the country, with all of its wins coming against unfancied opponents.

But with Washington beating USC, Washington State defeating Oregon, and Texas conquering Oklahoma, those unfancied opponents all took major steps towards respectability. Perhaps similar to the 2004 loss at USC, the Bears might have elevated their stature in people's eyes in defeat. But as well as the Cal's competed, it's still a loss. If they were beat by a team that was better than them, that would be one thing. And while Utah is a very good team, ultimately on Saturday the Bears weren't beaten by the Utes so much as they were beaten by themselves.

  1. One again, the defense carries the Bears.

Although 30 points wouldn't suggest a strong defensive effort, Utah's offense had short fields for much of the evening due to Cal's turnovers. The defense managed to hold the Utes to just three points following Cal's first three turnovers. But Utah's offense was too strong to hold for that long and they ended up scoring two touchdowns following Cal's next two touchdowns.

While the Bears did concede a lot of yardage, they limited Utah to just two field goals in the second half. They did manage to gradually slow down Booker – although it could be argued that he was wearing down – and while Wilson has pierced other teams with long runs, he didn't have a run longer than 15 yards against the Cal defense.

When Cal closed to within six, and the offense was stopped. The defense had to come through – even a Utah field goal would have made it a two-score game and would have changed the Bears' strategy considerably. The first Utah possession was a three-and-out, the second possession, resulted in one first down and then a punt. Nobody would have been surprised if the Bear defense ultimately wilted but in the fourth quarter, they held the Utes to just 19 yards. As has been the case in recent weeks, the Bears generally did a good job of tackling, especially on short passes.

There was no shortage of players who were outstanding. Kyle Kragen had 14 tackles – including four solo, and two for losses, while Hardy Nickerson had 11 tackles and six solo. But early on, Cameron Walker made a couple of big tackles, Trey Turner had an interception and had a key tackle for loss, and Marcus Manley broke up an option play on 3rd-and-short that resulted in the ball being fumbled out of bounds.

  1. Jared Goff wasn't Jared Goff.

After a week where the national spotlight was directed towards Goff, he had a chance to make to a big statement against a highly-ranked team on the road. And while he had some terrific moments – his 35-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Davis was marvelously thrown – leading the receiver and to his outside, well away from the defensive back, and he found Stephen Anderson up the middle for some very good gains, there were also batted/deflected passes, more odd throws than usual, and the five interceptions.

Now to be fair, he wasn't getting much help from his offensive line. Utah has a very good defensive line, and Goff was under pressure all evening. And the effects of the pass rush affected his decision-making as he attempted some throws that he might not normally have tried, and in other cases he didn't have a chance to go through all of his reads.

But against the rush, he was opportunistic about his runs – while he was sacked three times for 23 yards, he did finish with 30 yards rushing; so he had runs and scrambles for 53 yards – and he was able to do without taking an unusual level of punishment.

He also faced a defense that was very aggressive in defending Kenny Lawler. The slant pattern which is almost always open was now blanketed, and in one case the pass was intercepted. Lawler also had a couple of passes go through/off his hands. Early in the game, he did take a blow to the head, but anything connecting that to his subsequent performance would be strictly speculation.

But even with his five interceptions, had he been able to lead the Bears on a game-winning touchdown, the talk wouldn't be about the interceptions, so much as as it would be about how he's got the calm and poise to lead the team on a fourth-quarter comeback in the midst of everything that had happened to the offense up to that point.

People who watched the first half might have wondered if they were going to see a repeat of 10-interception debacle against UCLA in 1978 – but Cal lost that game 45-0. But this year's team fought and fought and nearly pulled it out.

With a bye week, Goff will have time to recover but he'll also get a chance to work on some things. Coaching staffs borrow heavily from each other, and opposing defenses will try similar tactics against Goff and the passing game, so the Bears will have to come up with a counter. For someone as inventive as Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, this shouldn't be a problem. Something along the lines of a pump fake to Lawler on the slant, have the defender bite and then have Lawler head for the end zone flag, would put an end to overaggressive play on the slant.

There's still a lot of season left, so Goff'll have a lot of opportunities to give big audiences a better account of what he's capable of . But that last 21 yards could have made him a legend.

  1. Another inspired bit of work on the punt unit

So they've shown the regular punt, the rolling rugby punt, and having Jared Goff punt when there's uncertainty about whether the Bears would punt or go for it. With Cal facing a 4th-and-2 from their 33 in the third quarter, Cal lined up as if it were going to go for it. But with the Bears down 27-17, nobody really thought that the Bears would go for it – especially because it was still fairly early in the third quarter.

Nonetheless, Goff lined up in the shotgun with a #38 behind him. Now other than the fact that he definitely couldn't have been Marc Hicks (ask your parents), not many Bears fans knew about him, so it's extremely unlikely that Utah had any idea who he was. As it turns out, Harry Adolphus from Guillford, England, is a junior punter/placekicker, who walked on this spring and will be playing his fourth year of rugby next spring. According to, Adolphus became curious about football after kicking with former Bears kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Now when the Utah defense sees him back there, for all they know he's the reincarnation of Jahvid Best, so they have to keep people close to the line of scrimmage in event that the Bears try to run or pass.

Goff steps to the side of the center, the snap goes to Adolphus who punts the fall downfield. There's considerably more oomph to it that the usual Goff punt. The ball's downed at the nine for a 57-yard punt. Four plays later, Utah loses the ball on a fumble. The Bears turn that around and score a touchdown to close to within six.

Now it's not all sunshine and roses for the special teams unit. Cal's Matt Anderson did miss a 40-yard field goal. Had he made that, the Bears could have been down three, and would have just needed a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime.

The Bears might not be able to get away with sneaking Adolphus into the game like they did against Utah, but in a game where a lot of things didn't go Cal's way, this move was inspired.

  1. A lot more games on the Bears schedule now look winnable.

One can argue whether Utah's overrated as the 5th-ranked team in the country. There's a thought that if a team's in the top five, it should be soundly beating opposition week after week. But so far this season, a lot of teams have looked vulnerable. Utah still has wins over Michigan – which looks more impressive now than it did a few weeks ago and at Oregon, although the air is coming out of that balloon very quickly.

It's certainly possible that as season unfolds that the Utes might have peaked too early.

Nonetheless, the Bears have shown that they're a very good road team. Winning at Texas and Washington isn't generally considered easy, and giving Utah a scare's a pretty decent accomplishment.

But given current form, the only team left on the schedule that looks like a monster is Stanford.

The Bears will be coming off a bye – which help the Bears given their injuries. Besides allowing the line and receivers to heal up, it also gives tailback Daniel Lasco a chance to regain his form.  With the two Los Angeles schools coming up, the Bears could certainly use a Lasco who's running closer to his peak ability than he's shown the past couple of weeks. The Thursday game also means Cal will have a little extra time to prepare for USC – and given how well Washington played them, the Bears may be apply some lessons there to frustrate the Trojans offense.

Oregon hasn't looked good recently, but that could all change when Vernon Adams comes back. Then there's Oregon State and Arizona State in Berkeley, which brackets the Big Game at Stanford.

Cal needs just one win to become bowl eligible - but Oregon's recent stumbles have made the race for the Pac-12 North title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship a lot more open than it appeared it would be in August, and by the looks of it, the Bears should be able to stay in the conversation for a few more weeks.

(The previous version incorrectly stated that UCLA will be coming off a bye.  They'll be coming off a Thursday game, so they won't have to play coming off of a short week.)

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