[Note: I'm going to preface this post by stating that I had written the majority of this post only to find that it wasn't saved. FML. Just know that this ensuing post isn't nearly as good as what I had just spent an hour typing up earlier. Seriously.]
On a day of heightened enthusiasm surrounding the Cal football program, the Bears were thoroughly dejected, suffering a 31-24 loss to the Nevada Wolfpack. One would be hardpressed to find a dichotomy in college football as striking as the fanaticism that entered Memorial Stadium and the supreme disappointment that exited it.
The level of disappointment likely varied among the 63,000+ that filled out the newly renovated stadium that day. For freshmen or casual fans who decided to check out the game based solely on the allure of the new stadium, the disappointment was likely akin to disinterest and apathy. For the donors, or multiyear season ticket holders, the disappointment probably wavered from feelings of loathing to flat out rage.
As for myself, I tried to take pull myself away from thinking about the game for much of the weekend. Granted, this was a tough task given how engrained Cal football had been in my head for the past half year. I met up with friends and family, but really did all I could not to allow myself to get swallowed up in such feelings of despair.
And after finally allowing myself to reflect on the game upon watching it a second time, I really can only arrive at one thought:
This was an inexcusable loss.
Really, it's hard for me to come up with any good reason the Bears should have lost this game. And this is not to take away anything from Nevada. This is a potent, tricky offense, and that defensive unit can play some sound, physical ball. After watching Boise State this past weekend, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Nevada win the Mountain West conference this year.
But how could one possibly justify this loss?
The Bears were outrun and beaten in the trenches by a team that it had shouldn't have been close in terms of talent and athleticism.
Cal also had an entire offseason to prepare for an offense that they had known full well had their number in years past.
They had the support of a fanbase that was riding the high level of excitement surrounding this program in years.
Yet, despite all that, the Bears found themselves deflated on the losing end of a 31-24 contest that featured all the symptoms of the most sickening type of loss: penalties, mental mistakes, substitution infractions, poor reads and questionable coaching calls.
Let's get into a few more specifics after the jump.
Let's address the QB situation right off the bat. Starter Zach Maynard was held out of the game early on as a result of missing a tutoring session early in the summer. There's already a pretty active discussion of this matter and the decision to play Allan Bridgford despite not informing the offense until the day before.
Look, I'll just say this: it wasn't the right call. I don't have a huge issue with holding Maynard out a few series. If Maynard missed a tutoring session, I do think there are other ways of punishing him without it affecting the rest of the offense. But if you want to hold him out, I can understand that.
But I believe Tedford is either being disingenuous or incredibly naive if he actually believes that isn't going to put his offense into a funk. It puts the entire offense out of rhythm when you limit your backup to a few reps with the ones throughout the week, tell the offense that the starter isn't going to start, and then expect the team to come out sharp. It's an odd decision, and one I felt ultimately torpedo'd the offense in the early going.
As for the quarterback play itself, I do believe Allan Bridgford wasn't quite as bad as he looked in person or his 1-8 stat line would indicate. He made the right reads, wasn't that off in his accuracy and generally put the ball in the right place. However, his passes lacked zip, and again, you have to wonder if the lack of practice time affected his timing with his receivers.
As for Maynard, I thought he looked like..well Maynard. By no means do I think Maynard lost this game for the Bears. He made some plays, had some nice throws and looked like he knew where he was going for the most part. He was far from being the biggest issues for the Bears. However, he's still wildly inconsistent, struggles with his accuracy, his footwork in the pocket is still questionable, and he still isn't progressing through his reads as quickly as I would like from a 5th year senior quarterback. On Cal's second to last possession, Maynard was completely oblivious of the blitz from his blindside, and couldn't go right to his hot read in Richard Rodgers, and ended up taking a critical sack.
Look, let me put it this way: Who looked like the 5th year senior quarterback out there? Cody Fajardo or Zach Maynard? I rest my case.
There was a lot to like from Cal's defense. Unfortunately, there was a lot more to shake one's head at.
First off, the inability by the Bears to defend the zone read is just perplexing at this point. I liked the looks Cal's defense was giving Nevada, but there were just so many misreads and loss of outside contain. You were seeing both linebackers, safeties and even corners being pulled in the wrong direction multiple times. I understand that this is a difficult offense to defend, but ultimately it's still assignment-based defense that's less on reading reacting and maintaining one's gaps. But it's still an issue for the Bears.
More than that though, I was disappointed at the lack of penetration the Bears defensive front were getting. Though this was a veteran Nevada offensive line, the Bears' defensive linemen had to have done more to disrupt Nevada'a zone read than they did. It was a real quiet day for the unit that was supposed to be strength of this defense.
The third down conversion rate has to be the more alarming stat though. The Bears defense were able to do enough defensively down the stretch to put the Bears in good 3rd and long situations, only to see Nevada convert 11 of their 20 third downs. That's as sigh-inducing of a stat as you'll find on defense.
I like CJ Anderson a lot. I'm ok with him being the costarter at the RB position. But this is one of those rare instances where I disagree Ron Gould's distribution of runningback carries. When you have a 1,300 yard rusher in Isi Sofele, you can't just give him the ball 5 times for 22 yards.
Overall though, I would have liked for the Bears to establish a running game earlier on. This was a young defensive line that could have been worn down. But instead, the Bears were inconsistent on the running attempts, often electing to pass on first down.
Let's be clear, we don't have the type of personnel, mainly at quarterback to be a pass happy offense. Maynard works best when asked to complete short to mid-range passes, and hit receivers when rolling out of the pocket once the threat of the run game has been established.
But when you don't have that, you force the Bears to become a pass first offense, and we're not there yet. At all.
I don't feel deflated about this unit only because I had such low expectations heading into this game. With that said, I thought Cole Lenninger looked fine, and we'd all be remiss to expect Lenninger to duplicate the type of performances we saw from Bryan Anger. The decision to rugby punt is just the worst. Just, so terrible.
Vincenzo D'Amato looked fine on kickoffs and his 40 yard field goal was ok, but missing that 31 yarder was just huge.
Otherwise, Cal's coverage teams never made any huge blunders, and even forced a nice turnover that led to a Cal field goal. The Bears were afforded some pretty nice field position all day.
But, who's freaking idea was it to call a lateral on Cal's last kickoff with 32 seconds remaining? We're not talking about having just 2 seconds and needing to replicate the Play. We're talking about 32 seconds, more than enough time to run 4 or so pass plays and get down the field. I can't comprehend why you'd risk a turnover there and essentially end the game for yourself when you still have 32 seconds. Mind boggling. And if you think it wasn't that bad, imagine that Nevada hadn't been called offsides, they recover the fumble, and the Bears had ended on that note.
Wide Receiver Debuts
In one of the bright spots, I was encouraged by the play of Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Treggs has the distinction of scoring the first (Cal) touchdown in Memorial Stadium on a beautiful 39 yard strike from Maynard. He would go on to catch 3 catches for 62 yards.
Chris Harper impressed me far more than I thought he would. I knew he'd make a solid possession receiver for the Bears, but he showed some nice athleticism in the open field. At this point, he's the clear #3 receiver on the team. I know you hate to see his final catch be a fumble, but it's just one of those plays where the defense makes a big play. And for the record, I don't think Harper made an actual football move or truly controlled, but not much you can do there. Though I liked what I saw from Harper.
It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. The Bears were supposed to overcome a hardfought game on Saturday, build on it, and walk out of the stadium to the chorus of the Golden Bear faithful singing "Fight for California."
Instead, a shellshocked fanbase wanders aimlessly out of their shiny new stadium to the chants of "Wolfpack! Wolfpack!" Meanwhile, you have to think that everyone from the players and coaches to the dejected fanbase are asking themselves, "Now what?"
Ultimately, it's the type of loss that leaves even the most ardent of program and Tedford supporters speechless in what to say. Sure, I'll keep supporting the Bears, and I'll be there next week against Southern Utah. But it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible to object to the belief that this game simply affirms all the hot seat talk surrounding Tedford and the notion that he has at best guided this program into mediocrity the past few years.
After a long 8 month hiatus that felt like an eternity, it's going to be an even longer week. Just how long will the season feel?