Man, what a game. The Bears came into the Horseshoe as significant underdogs and lost 28-35 to the Buckeyes in a close game.
First off, I understand people are disappointed by the result of the game. Everyone would have loved for the Bears to go have gone into ‘Shoe and pulled off the upset. And many will spend the next week or more dissecting every gaffe and questioning every coaching decision. There will be some of that in this post as well. But as a Cal fan, and a college football fan, can we just take a step back and appreciate a good game when we see one? Because that was a competitive contest, with a Cal team showing more life than one we’ve seen all season, so let’s appreciate and enjoy that for now, as much as the bad taste of a loss creeps its way into the back of our throats.
With that said, this game was one that was absolutely in reach. The game wasn’t a fluke, nor should we be applauding moral victories here. The Bears were the better team for most of the game, but were undone by some painful missed opportunities and poor officiating. Let’s get into the specifics.
Defense - the Victim of Busted Assignments
Overall, the defense far surpassed my expectations. They did solidly against a quarterback and offense that had shown the ability to roll defenses, and it was a frightening endeavor for a defense that had been torched by mobile quarterbacks. Yet, the Bears kept a net around Braxton Miller, and didn’t allow him to gash them for a ridiculous number of yards.
If you take away Braxton Miller’s 55 yarder, Cal’s defense held Miller to just 20 yards on 11 carries (1.8 ypc). By the way, speaking of that run, the Bears were actually in pretty good position there, Miller just put a ridiculous PS2 L2 button move on safety Alex Logan there to bust out for the score. That’s a running back playing QB there folks.
The Bears defense really buckled down after giving up three TDs early in the game, and shut out the Buckeyes in the 3rd quarter. Where they Bears killed themselves though were on busted assignments in pass coverage.
OSU’s final TD came on a busted coverage assignment between DB Marc Anthony and safety Alex Logan. It looked like Anthony was passing off WR Devin Smith to safety help on top, but Logan was caught spying Miller and completely lost Smith behind him. At least that’s what it looked like. But if you’re a safety, you can’t let a receiver get behind you. The result was a 72 yard score and the deciding score.
On top of that, Cal’s safeties failed to locate OSU’s tight ends in goal line situations, leading to two easy scores. I understand with OSU being a running team that you have to respect the run, but you can’t completely lose the TE like that. Especially not twice.
Anyone who thinks Maynard is the reason we lost this game is on meth. Like Walter White quality meth.
Look, I understand people are going to point at Maynard’s interception that iced the game for the Buckeyes, and polish their pitchforks.
But get off it. It’s getting tiresome. I’m not telling you to rave about Maynard. But up until Brendan Bigelow exploded in the second half, he was the best thing going for the Bears’ offense in the game.
Maynard was 26-37 for 280 yards, two TDs (one rushing) and that late pick. Given the hostile environment, the multiple drops, the low snaps, and the fact that he was getting destroyed in the backfield, I thought he played a very solid game. He didn’t force many throws, he showed solid accuracy, and managed this offense. You know he wishes he had that last pass back, but this was a blotch on what was overall a solid performance.
So I’m not going to argue that Maynard is an elite quarterback. Not even close. But I do know that I’ve seen enough from Maynard to know that this team can win more games than it can lose with him at QB, if the rest of the team holds their weight.
Coach Tedford’s decision to elect for the 42 yard field goal on 4th and 1, tied 28-28 late in the game is the one likely to draw the most ire from Cal fans. After all, Vincenzo D’Amato had just missed two field goals from around the same distance earlier in the game.
It was a tough call. I felt like it could have gone either way. I understand the sentiment that not going for it shows a lack of trust in the offense to pick up the yard. But some might forget that the Bears had also gone 0-2 on 4th down in the game as well. So you’re looking at 0-2 on field goals, and 0-2 on 4th down.
Ultimately, I can understand the decision to go for it. You got to try and take the lead there with the way Cal’s defense had been playing up until that point in the second half. Even if you pick up the first down, you may only be setting yourself up for a slightly shorter FG. What I didn’t like though, was the timeout before the FG. You effectively ice your own kicker, and you could have used it later in the game.
I won’t disagree with people who say that the Bears should have gone for it, but I will disagree with those who say it was a no brainer of a decision.
Offensive Line Play
The result of an offensive line featuring four new starters and one playing his third game at a different position? A line that allows 6 sacks to a defensive line that had managed just two going into the game.
While one or two of the sacks were due to the Buckeyes stacking the box, the Bears just lost one-on-one battles with OSU’s front seven. They were late in communicating pressure, and just showed bad technique and leverage in some other situations.
The problems were made worse with the number of low snaps we saw from center Brian Schwenke. This was one of the more surprising elements given that Schwenke had for the most part been solid in this area up until this game. But there were multiple low snaps throughout the game. Granted, it’s always better to have low snaps than high snaps, but it does so much to disrupt the rhythm of an offense when the quarterback is always having to spend an extra second to locate the ball, scoop it out of the dirt, and then get his eyes up to look downfield. That’s gotta get cleaned up.
Overall, this offensive line has me more concerned going forward than other unit on the team. It’s not a matter of just cleaning up mental mistakes. This is a makeshift offensive line that’s just flat out getting beat against defenders.
Playmakers Emerging on Offense
The Bears have some real nice playmakers beginning to make a name for themselves on offense.
Chris Harper scored his second TD of the year continuing his strong play, and Bryce Treggs contributed as well with 3 catches for 28 yards. Darius Powe finally made an appearance, catching two balls for 44 yards.
All of this is in addition to the 8 catches and 90 yards Keenan Allen recorded. And don't discount what Allen does in sucking up double and triple coverage, giving the younger receivers some one on one matchups. You’ve got to think the wide receiving corps is going to be in good shape for years to come.
But the big story is the emergence of Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow showed the type of speed and big play ability fans hoped for when the Bears recruited them two years ago. Bigelow led the Bears with 160 yards on 4 carries, with a ridiculous 81 yarder in the third quarter. Bigelow bounced off tackles, hit the spin move button twice and ran away from the defense in one of the best runs I’ve seen from a Cal back in years. He then added a 59 yarder later in the fourth.
Coach Gould, please give Bigelow the ball more. Please. He’s back. He doesn’t have to be the primary back, but get the ball in his hands. When he’s making OSU look like a high school squad, you know you’ve got something. Please.
Missed Opportunities on Special Teams
The Bears lost 28-35. Vincenzo D’Amato missed three field goals which would have provided 9 points. Do the math.
Look I’m not going to pile on a player who is likely feeling like the loneliest player in that locker room right now. But man, you’ve got to make at least one of the field goals. It wouldn’t have been the difference, but who knows how the game turns with a 3 point lead late in the game?
I said at the beginning of the year that people were underestimating the effect of not having a season kicker on the team. We all saw first hand how significant special teams are in a close game.
The Bears actually played a flag-free first quarter and this offense looked pretty good in the process.
Things fell apart though in Cal’s second to last possession in the second quarter. CJ Anderson made an amazing grab to haul in a pass from Zach Maynard, only to have his long catch and run negated by a holding call on TE Jacob Wark. I’m sorry, but that was not a hold. Wark kept his hands inside the defender's jersey the entire time, it was just bad leverage from the OSU defender.
Another bad call on guard Chris Adcock, who continued to play after the whistle but was flagged for unnecessary roughness because the OSU defender tried to spear Adcock with his head only to have his helmet fly off. What?
Then there’s the CJ Anderson catch that was ruled incomplete, though it was clear CJA got his foot down.
It got so bad that even the ABC announcers were lamenting about the Big-10 referee bias.
Some of the pains were self-inflicted however, with Jordan Rigsbee losing position and holding an OSU defender to wipe out what would have been 3rd and goal from the two yard line for the Bears after a QB draw by Maynard.
Look, it’s not like the Bears would have rolled the Buckeyes without the bad calls. But in a game when the Bears were doing all they could to pull the upset, it’s maddening to have the game held in the balance of some terrible officiating.
The silver lining here is that despite the sloppy second quarter, the Bears played much cleaner ball after that, with just one false start penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Does this team have some major question marks? Absolutely. The makeshift offensive line has yet to gel and special teams will need to find answers in consistency.
But the Bears showed signs of life. They did more than what many could have expected by playing a tough road game in one of the most hostile environments in college football. They played their hearts out on the field.
Did they show enough to indicate they’re going to knock off USC next weekend? Not really, but they showed they just might be back to being the type of team that fans had envisioned competing hard in the Pac-12 week in, week out. Playmakers are emerging, the defense is showing signs of life, and for all of the knocks on Maynard, he is indeed better than where he was last year.
Tough loss, and this is likely a 1-3 team after next week, but I’ve gone from thinking this team won’t be bowl eligible to thinking they’ve got a shot at doing some things in the rest of conference play. It’s why we play the games.