"Offensively, that was a poor performance. We couldn't block them. There was too much pressure on the passer and we couldn't convert third downs. Give them credit, they played hard and were better than we were today."
That was a pretty good summary from Coach Tedford in regards to Cal's disheartening 21-3 loss to Stanford in the 115th Big Game this past weekend. There are a ton of obvious statements there. And I don't blame Tedford for stating the obvious. This team and this program is what it is, and it was painfully obvious to all those who watched on Saturday.
So in keeping with the current trend, this recap will be filled with a number of obvious statements.
1) First Half: Tale of "Almosts"
Despite the Bears being down 21-3 and being unable to generate anything on offense, I thought the Bears were always "this" close to getting back in the game in the first half.
Brendan Bigelow was a borderline face mask away from returning his kick for a TD.
Keenan Allen was a juke-in-the-other away from returning his punt for a score. Allen had already broken the ankle of the punter but made the split second decision to cut back to the middle of the field instead of turning it left in what would have easily been a TD.
Bigelow was also this close to turning his bubble screen into a TD after spectacularly bouncing off multiple tackles to get down to the 2 yard line. Instead the Bears would have to settle for a FG.
In a game that was as lobsided as it was, my point is that Cal wasn't that far off from making it game in the first half. Not that it really matter because...
2) This was the least organized and least prepared Cal offense I've seen all season.
We'll get into some of the numbers in a little bit, but to say cal's offense was abysmal on Saturday is a kind understatement. But when you have 3 fumbles and 1 interception is not ok. Converting 1-14 on 3rd downs is not ok. Going 0-2 in the red zone, especially when you start out at 1st and goal at the 2 yard line is not ok.
You could certainly tell that the gameplan was to try and get into space, but none of their attempts seemed to do any good. It seemed like every offensive play was out of sorts. On two occasions, Bryce Treggs caught a ball on an out route, but was stopped just short because he seemed to lose awareness of where the first down markers were. Maynard continued to sail passes. Runningbacks making poor reads and being unable to see running lanes. Missed blocking assignments. Questionable and predictable playcalls on third and fourth downs. (Hello 3rd and long draw play that are easily read by seeing that Maynard's feet are actually flat footed for once).
It was an "ok" gameplan that was brought down by poor execution.
3) This Offensive Line Isn't Equipped to Handle Good Defensive Fronts
Notice, I didn't even say elite pass rushes. I simply said good. But Cal's offensive line has been ranged from decent to flat out bad for the good part of about 5 years now. We all hoped that having Coach Michalczik back would return the Bears to offensive line dominance, but it hasn't happened almost two years in, and to put it nicely, I'm having my questions as to whether it will ever happen again under Coach M.
I still think Coach M is about as good as they get in terms of O-line coaches. And I'm not trying to throw dirt on the players as it's clear they're busting they're asses off out there.
But this o-line just can't handle good defensive fronts. They haven't this year, as they allowed 4 sacks on Saturday and a whopping 32 this year (worst in the country). And they're weren't all that great last year in when they followed the same vein of being ok against mediocre defenses, and pretty poor against good defensive lines.
We knew we had a tough year ahead of us with 3 new starters, a solid center, and a guard woefully out of place as a right tackle. The worst part about all this is that there's not much you can do about it. I'm not entirely confident that any of the backups would fare much better at this point. Perhaps Freddie Tagaloa might do a better job than Tyler Rigsbee at LT, and perhaps Galas is ready to replace either Adcock or the other Rigsbee brother at one of the guard spots, but again, I'm not sure it's going to make a world of difference. We're just in for a really rough year at this position group.
4) Run Game Defense Continues to Struggle
The game was lost in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but Cal's defense gave up 252 yards on the ground. I don't care what your offense does, Stanford's going to beat you if they're averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
I can't pinpoint what exactly it is that's led to Cal's run defense falling to such levels this year. Having Brennan Scarlett and Jalen Jefferson may have made a small difference. But that's still a pretty young linebacking corps regardless of who you throw in there.
The defensive line has also struggled to live up to expectations after having been the supposed strength of the Cal defense. Perhaps it's that Deandre Coleman or Villami Moala have yet to breakout, or that Aaron Tipoti has battled injuries and seems out of place at defensive end.
Whatever it is, this Cal defense seems to be a shell of its former self in regards to defending the run.
5) The Streaker Had More Rushing Yards than the Bears
I didn't expect the Bears to gain more than 100 yards on the ground against Stanford. Their defense was too stout. So keep in mind, I had very low expectations heading into this game.
But three rushing yards? Three? That's 3.8 inches per run. INCHES.
It was a massive failure on so many levels. From the massive inability to hold blocks, to the run blocking schemes, to the play calling...just so much fail here. Where were the zone reads? Why have Isi Sofele run into the heart of Stanford's defense on 4th and 1? Why is Brendan Bigelow given just 2 carries up the middle instead of tosses or stretches? It...just doesn't make any sense.
6) Not Sure if There's Anymore Upside to Starting Maynard
Despite this post's theme, I'm not going to give a breakdown of all of Maynard's positives and negatives. We know them like the back of our own hands at this point. An athletic quarterback who can do some good things, but is wildly inconsisted and limited as a pocket passer.
These qualities showed in the fullest as Maynard struggled again with some routine passes and finished the day 19 for 31 214 yards, no TDs and 1 INT. And anyone who watched the game knows he actually didn't play as well as the numbers might suggest. Given how well Maynard played the past few weeks, it's pretty disappointing to see another step back.
Maynard has started the past year or so because he's given the team the best chance to win. And I actually can't dispute that. We know very little about the other QBs and what little we do know hasn't suggested that they're currently substantially better than Maynard.
But with Maynard looking at just four more games in his collegiate career, you have to wonder what the upside is of keeping him as the starter. Is it worth sticking with Maynard in the hopes that the Bears finish with 5 wins instead of 4? Wouldn't the team be better off giving either Allan Bridgford or Austin Hinder an honest look? And I'm not saying this because I think they're better than Maynard at this point, it's because we don't know. It's time to consider building for the future. That Maynard era at Cal is coming to an end, and I'm not sure how much sense it makes to prolong it much further.
But we all know that's not going to happen. It's probably unfair to make Maynard the linchpin given the systematic issues on offense right now. And Tedford knows that switching QBs might be construed as throwing in the towel, so he'll stick with Maynard because he gives the team the best chance to win now.
And just to be clear, do not burn Zach Kline's redshirt. I will begin firing puppies from Tightwad Hill should that happen. Mark my words.
7) No Bowling This Year
The team needed a win badly against Stanford. A loss has essentially closed the door on bowl hopes this year. All it needs is a tiny blow of air to close it shut. With the Bears 3-5, they would need to to go 3-4 with the following schedule: @Utah, Washington, Oregon, @Oregon State. Unless the run of all runs happens, that ain't happening.
8) I'm Still Supporting This Team
Am I in the least bit happy about this season? Not at all. I range from feelings of numbness to devastation. You're talking about someone who expected no less than 8 wins this season. I'm supremely disappointed right now.
But something doesn't sit right with me when I hear about fans giving up on the team or saying that they're done with the Bears. Sure, nearly ever single goal and hope that fans had for the team were cleanly thrown out this window after Saturday. But I don't know, I still love this team, and I'm still going to cheer my heart out for them every week.
Why? I can't articulate it right now. Maybe because I don't know. Or maybe it's because my love and support for this university and program run deeper than to be affected so easily by the results of single seasons. I really am not sure. But I do know that Cal football has given me some amazing moments since I've been a fan, and I'm not ready to throw in the towel because they're having a tough season.
To each their own I suppose.
9) The Tedford Era Seems All About Over
It's pretty difficult for me to type this out because I've been one of the more ardent supporters of Tedford since he first arrived. I will always be forever grateful for what he's done for this university, Cal football, and for me. It's fairly safe to say that a good majority of my love for Cal football can be attributed to what he's done for Cal football.
I think he's one of the few good guys in the sport and still think he's a pretty good coach.
So it's not with any level of joy or levity that I say that the Big Game seemed to mark the end of his time at Cal. For as much as the team needed the win, Coach Tedford may have needed it more. After the team's 1-4 start, it was widely understood by many of the more influential boosters and supporters that his only saving grace would be a Big Game win and a bowl berth. Well, it looks like it'll be a "no" to both of those.
For as much as you want to point to all the good Tedford has done (and he has), you can't objectively look at the program's performance the past few years and feel confident that he's the long term answer.
I'm likely rehashing points that were clear to many people years ago, but again, the theme of this post is redundancy. Since 2008's 9-4 finish, the Bears are 23-23 under Tedford, and just 19-23 if you take out FCS squads. They've struggled to hang with competitive squads, notching just a 5-20 record against FBS teams with winning records. The Bears are looking to miss their second bowl game in four years, having lost the two bowls they did play in. All of these numbers affirm a product on field that can at best be described as mediocre for the past four years.
Put simply, the Bears can't afford to simply to wait around for this team to turn the corner. Fans have waited long enough.
With all that said, I don't think there should be too much talk about Tedford leaving until after the season is done. I see far more negatives than positives in such an endeavor. Let him finish the year, and then sit down and have a conversation about it. Almost everyone can see what's coming, no reason to spend the next four games bashing this issue. Subsequently, this is probably the last you'll read of me talking about this until the season's done.
Will you believe it, I still think we have a shot at knocking off Utah. Ha! Seriously, I do. But I have absolutely no sense of what this team's mindset is right now.
I don't know what the future holds, though I'm getting a sense that some things are drawing to a close. It's a bit of an unfamiliar territory for me, but as I mentioned before, I'm going to continue to support this team. I guess I'm at a point where I'm looking to see the future developed. I honestly think there's a lot there. With a fresh start I think we honestly have the makings of a 9 or 10 win team. Seriously. We've got a whole lot of talent in the skill positions. The defense is young and taking their lumps, but there's a world of potential there. And you can't overstate how much better offensive linemen get with a season of experience.
I guess I'm just looking for ways to enjoy Cal football this season. I'm not trying to write off this year's team, but given we've seen this season, I'll take what I can get. If that's the development of some young stars, and maybe an upset here or there, then so be it. As always, Go Bears.