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.
One again, the defense carries
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 calbears.com, 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
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
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
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.)