On a night of the rededication of Memorial Stadium, it seemed only fitting that Cal’s football team came out in their most inspired and seemingly rededicated effort to stun a disheveled UCLA squad. The Golden Bears absolutely dismantled the UCLA Bruins to a score of 43-17, notching their first win over a ranked team in three years. The Bears rode the wave of reenergized crowd support and the new shining lights of Memorial Stadium to show that their was still some fight in this program.
Put more simply, it was an absolutely critical win for a team and fanbase that needed it in the worst way possible.
Cal enjoyed its best offensive performance of the season and a large part of it had to do with Zach Maynard. Maynard played out of his bloody mind and turned in his best performance of his career.
On Maynard’s first pass of the game, he was picked off at Cal’s own 26 yard line after he made the poor decision of trying to force an out route to Keenan Allen. Immediately following Maynard’s interception, you could almost hear the entire stadium’s collective sigh and everyone thinking, “This is going to be a long night.”
What happened next was simply stunning. Maynard then went on to complete 25 of his next 29 passes, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for another. You have to credit the Cal coaching staff for creating an offensive gameplan tailored to Maynard’s strengths and the offensive line’s pass blocking deficiencies. It’s what fans have been crying out for weeks now: quick outs, slants, hitches, bubble screens and hitting his tight ends and fullbacks on bootlegs instead of forcing Maynard to sit in the pocket and hit his receivers downfield.
As much as Maynard has taken his knocks and criticisms, you’ve got to him credit when he plays as well as he did on Saturday. It’s arguably the best performance from a Cal quarterback in years, and a lot of it has to do with the coaching staff asking him to play within himself and Maynard executed his duties to the T.
I don’t think even the most optimistic Cal fans could have expected the type of defensive performance they saw from the Bears on Saturday. The Bruins were held to just 17 points and 381 total yards, both season lows for UCLA.
Clancy Pendergast called a brilliant game on defense which was driven by constant pressure on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. It helped that Cal’s defensive line held their gaps and got decent penetration on UCLA’s offensive line, but it was the constant and diverse set of defensive pressure that really disrupted UCLA’s offensive rhythm. From a variety of stunts, slants, and a series of blitzes that came from all angles, sacking Hundley four times hurrying him another four times.
The end result was by far the worst performance from Hundley in his young career. Though Hundley did throw for 253 yards, he threw a career-high four interceptions, three of them to sophomore Kameron Jackson.
Speaking of Kameron Jackson, you gotta give him a helmet sticker for rising to the occasion after starting CB Marc Anthony was knocked out of the game. It seemed evident that UCLA was set on picking on him throughout the game, but the defensive pressure combined with Jackson’s heads up play led to him having the best game from a Cal DB in years. Jackson even deflected the pass attempt that led to Cal’s fourth interception. After losing his nickelback job early in the season after an uneven performance against Nevada, it was nice to see Jackson play so well. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.
Young Defensive Stars Emerging
This defense has a chance to be pretty special group in a year. I think we forget just how young this defense is. Cal’s starting defense Saturday featured just 2 seniors, 2 juniors, 6 sophomores, 1 freshmen. And this group is just now starting to play fast and not overthink their jobs.
Nick Forbes and Jalen Jefferson have really impressed me with their play so far this season. They’re getting better each week and are flying around to the ball. In my opinion, Nick Forbes’ sack was one of the most impressive plays of the game. He showed tremendous speed in chasing down Brett Hundley (who’s no slouch in the speed department), and mauled him forcing a fumble which sent the Bruins back about 20 yards.
This linebacking corps can be pretty solid if they can play this way each week. With Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain looking for future NFL players with each week, the Bears have the makings of a very strong linebacking corps.
Best TE in the Nation?
What a difference a healthy Richard Rodgers makes for Cal’s passing offense. Rodgers nearly validated Coach Tedford’s preseason comments on Rodger’s abilities in just one game. Richard Rodgers posted the best receiving total from a Cal receiver this season, hauling in 7 catches for 129 yards.
It was great to see Rodgers healthy and involved in this offense. They used Rodgers on simple outs and on playaction passes, and even worked him in the middle of the field, a component of Cal’s offense that had seemingly been extinct until Saturday night. Rodgers showed great hands, speed, and a nice physicality to move piles. It’s just absurd to see how different this offense looks when the tight end is heavily involved, and I’m hoping this gameplan becomes the norm instead of a temporary blip.
CJ Anderson turned in a solid performance as the primary back for the Bears, running 21 times for 155 yards and a late 68 yard TD. He also added a TD reception on a 7 yard slant.
A lot of people are going so far as to say, “See?! CJA should have been the lead back all year!” I’m not so sure about that. I’m perfectly content with the Bears switching off between Isi and CJA depending on their offensive gameplan and the week’s opposing defense.
At this point, barring a miraculous turnaround, the Bears aren’t going to feature a 1,000 yard rusher this season. However, with the Bears averaging 174 yards per game on the ground, I’m fine with the Bears posting their best rushing numbers since 2008. A lot of it has to do with Cal’s run blocking (which has been pretty decent), and Cal having a wealth of riches at the RB position. The Bears can afford to ride their hot hand, whether it’s Sofele, CJA, or Bigelow, which is a nice luxury to have.
Good Use of Bigelow
Bigelow didn’t have the type of night some may have hoped for given the frustrating lack of touches in the past few games. As for me, I was ecstatic with the ways Bigelow was used. I’ve never once stated that Bigelow needed to be starting this season. He isn’t close to being as complete of a back as either Sofele or CJA at this point in his career.
What he is though however is an electrifying playermaker, one who needs to get at least 5-10 touches again, preferably in space. And the Bears’ coaching staff did just that, giving Bigelow 5 carries, though he did get manage just 12 yards on those carries. He also recorded two catches, scoring a TD on a 32 yard swing pass.
Again, that’s exactly the way the Bears need to start incorporating Bigelow into the offense. He provides such a mismatch in certain situations and a spark to an offense that frankly can be stagnant at times.
Red Zone Efficiency
For all the good things Cal did on offense on Saturday, it might have been their red zone efficiency that really made their offense effective. The Bears have struggled mightily in the red zone this year, to the point where my wife and I joke around about the Bears being allergic to the red zone. But Saturday was a different story with the Bears scoring on 4 of their 5 red zone opportunities, with three TDs.
The Bears were far from perfect, settling for a field goal early on in the game, and coughing up the ball on another, but I will certainly take what the Bears showed on Saturday over the red zone ineptitude we had been used to seeing in previous weeks.
It’s the return of the PAT blocks! Blah!
There’s no other way to say it, two blocked PATs in a game is inexcusable and we’re lucky the Bruins shot themselves in the foot enough to keep this from biting the Bears later.
Other than that, Special Teams has been a mixed bag, but they’ve been far from atrocious, particularly in their punt and kickoff return game. It’s helped that kickoffs have moved forward this year and that for all of Vincenzo D’Amato’s rough patches, he’s been pretty strong on kickoffs. Daniel Lasco has quietly emerged as one of the better gunners on the team along with Avery Sebastian, and they’re both good for one good hit on special teams each week.
Usually, I’m simply hoping for Special Teams not to be a liability, but they’ve contributed positively the past few weeks, with a nice punt return from Keenan Allen this week, and recovering a muffed Bruin punt return as well.
For those of you who were unable to attend Saturday night’s game, it was thoroughly enjoyable. First off, every game at Memorial Stadium should be played at night. Seriously, you get the entire day to watch college football, live it up with friends, and the trek to Memorial Stadium as the sun is setting is one of the more beautiful experiences in the Bay Area. Also, the stadium simply sparkles under the lights. Gone are the days when Cal had to rent out temporary lights on gameday. The permanent lights around the stadium shine literally and figuratively, and the entire field and stadium looks fantastic. It also beats sitting out in the blazing sun for those of us on the East side of the stadium.
Second of all, the crowd was electric that night. I don’t know what it is, whether it was Cal’s early lead in the game, or the fantastic turnout, but the crowd was feeling it from the getgo. It was almost surreal to experience given the negative juju surrounding the program this past month, but it was evident that the Cal fanbase that showed up on Saturday, much like the team showed they were down but certainly not out.
All in all, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had at a game in a while. At one point in the night, it might have been after one of Cal’s four interceptions, I remember turning to my wife and just smiling. She asked, “You look like a kid on Christmas.”
I simply responded, “These are the kind of games I remember enjoying as a Cal fan. I mean, c’mon, this is fun!”
Last night was a fantastic game and a great experience. Despite that, it doesn’t change the fact that the Bears are just 2-4 on the season. It also doesn’t answer some of the biggest questions surrounding the current coaching regime. It also doesn’t change that the Bears have a huge battle ahead of them in becoming bowl eligible.
Still, last night’s game was an absolutely critical win. You also have to hope that if the Bears are going to turn this season around, that yesterday would be looked back as being the turning point.
So many of these positive feelings will be easily wiped away if the Bears lose to WSU next week. But at least for one night, it was fun to be a Golden Bear again.