Don't forget to fill out the report card. Onto the recap!)
Throughout the rout of the Buffaloes, Kevin Riley was being Kevin Riley.
There he was rolling out and finding Jones on a deep spiral early in the 4th quarter to give Cal one last burst on offense to bust the game open. There was the low release he put on what looked like a slip screen that dropped short of Shane Vereen. There was the fearlessness he showed to take off with the ball and pick up a first down, as well as taking a designed handoff and go right down the middle and barrel into linebackers. There was also the recklessness he showed with leading with his body and seeing him go down head first, leaving him vulnerable to headhunting defensive backs.
There was the pressure throw he made when his right tackle blew his assignment and throw an off-balance pass that sailed over Marvin Jones's head. There was the ability to throw on the run and find Marvin Jones crossing on the end zone to make it 14-0. Most importantly of all, there was the excellent accuracy at the goal-line to Keenan Allen on an out route and Isi Sofele on a play-action fake to wrap up Cal's offensive scoring.
All-in-all, it was as if the Colorado game was some elaborate metaphor to illustrate Riley's entire career as a Golden Bear--brilliant at some points, head-scratching at others. But the maturity seems to be there, and the improved decision-making allowed him to complete 15 passes on 24 attempts for 194 yards, 4 touchdowns and no picks. If you're a Cal fan, you take that, you move onto the next game, and hope he can keep on providing similar performances when the opposition gets stiffer. He's going to need them.
Cal's offense didn't have to do much in this one. As Ted Miller pointed out, the Bears started four of their first five drives in Colorado territory. They needed to drive a combined 57 yards to score 17 of their first 24 points. Jeremy Ross's big punt return (highlighted by one of his patented spins) put the Bears close to their own red zone to set up the first scoring drive. Andy Ludwig had a pretty impressive playcall on Cal's first scoring drive: the strong side wide receiver went on a crossing route to draw Colorado's cornerback inside. Then he put Vereen on a wheel route, getting a mismatch on the linebacker for Riley to target along the edge. Vereen leaped up and managed to haul it in along the sideline to make it 7-0.
Colorado spent the rest of the game killing themselves with penalties and turnovers. Colorado's most successful drive in the first half took them all the way to the two yard line--and then a chop block and a false start took them out of the red zone, leading to a missed field goal and effectively ended any hopes of a Buffaloes comeback. Colorado notched 9 penalties for 72 yards and shot themselves in the foot on one too many drives.
Because they're masochists over there at Boulder, they proceeded to shoot themselves in the kneecap. The Buffaloes turned over the ball five times, leading to 31 points, 14 directly by the defense. Mychal Kendricks sacked Tyler Hansen as Colorado drove to midfield, then Jarred Price hit Hansen on the very next play and forced a fumble that Kendricks recovered. Cal got another short field and drove 31 yards in under three minutes, capping it off with Riley to Jones to make it 14-0. Bryant Nnabuife took advantage of heavy quarterback pressure to reel in a bad decision by Hansen to release the ball, setting up another short field and a quick field goal.
There was a pick six "whoa is this my ball? I'll take this ball" for Michael Mohamed right before halftime to make it 31-0. Very late in the fourth, Robert Mullins stripped Ryan Deehan from behind and the ball landed right in Darian Hagan's chest. Hagan then took the ball 81 yards to cap off the scoring. Although Cal won this game fairly handily, Colorado killed themselves with their own errors. It should've been a much closer margin if not for a few unlucky breaks and their own executions in mistake.
Before you knew it, it was 31-0 at halftime, making it the second game in the row the second half doubled for extended garbage time.
For the second game in a row, the Cal offensive line was unimpressive. Riley got sacked on a 3rd down to kill the opening drive and was pressured on a few more occasions--although Colorado's defensive line is experienced, it's a little discouraging to see the front four manage to hold their points and keep Riley on his toes. The Cal run attack was depressingly average. Vereen never could get going on the ground, managing only 60 yards on 3.8 yards per attempt (although he did have a rushing score). Sofele was just as quiet, gathering 10 yards on 4 carries. Cal might've been playing vanilla down the stretch to see if they could beat the with the box loaded with eight and nine defenders, but it's a worrying sign that our linemen can't get push on our out-of-conference opponents with Pac-10 defenses looming down the road.
However, if Cal's frontline didn't make any noise, Cal's defense dominated. Colorado got themselves blown up in the first quarter, managing -19 total yards. Their first four drives ended up going backwards from the original line of scrimmage. Left tackle Nate Solder seemed to hold his own, but the rest of the offensive line got pushed around quite a bit, particularly right up the middle and off the right edge. Rodney Stewart managed only 32 rushing yards on 12 carries and got stuffed at the goal-line on both of Colorado's forays toward the end zone. Hansen was sacked six times, with Kendricks, Price, Cameron Jordan, Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu getting into the act.
The receiving weapons of Scotty McKnight, Travon Patterson, and Toney Clemons were held in check, managing 9 catches for a modest 84 yards. Hagan had an impressive pass breakup in the first quarter when Hansen went deep to Toney Clemons, and Marc Anthony did the same to break up one to Patterson. D.J. Holt played a very solid all-around game, getting seven tackles and nearly had an interception (he was probably surprised that Hansen threw it right into his lap). Kendricks came off the edge unblocked a few times to stuff Stewart from cutting tot he outside. Mohamed was his steady self, racking up 14 tackles.
The Bears defense will move onto a stiffer challenge in Nevada and senior Colin Kaepernick. We'll learn a lot more about our defense's ability to stop a real offense if they can run-stuff the flux capacitor that is Chris Ault's Pistol attack. Taking down an FCS quarterback in his first start and an inexperienced Colorado QB who can't throw into coverage just doesn't mean much in the big picture.
The one thing that we can take from this is Cal's special teams looks much better. Bryan Anger was back to his old form, booting punts of 66 and 58 and pinned Colorado deep close to their own end zone on another occasion. Ross is really showing he can handle the punt returns. Kick return coverage was good at times, spotty at others. The real pleasant surprise is Giorgio Tavecchio, who hit almost every kick inside the ten, even hitting a kick into the wind deep into the end zone. AND he nailed a 31 yard field goal right down the pipe (to outsiders this might seem amusing; to Cal fans this is dreamy). Replicating those performances in Reno and Tucson would be a huge, huge deal, considering how much more special teams means when trying to pull out road victories.
In short, this didn't feel like a 52-7 victory. But it did feel like a victory. The upcoming weeks will tell us if these wins mean something, mean everything, or mean nothing at all.