We won by 26. Therefore, 26 points!
1. We needed this. All of us. We were all bleeding together, and this game provided the perfect prescription of joy. For the coaches, it gives them immediate relief to stop worrying about their jobs for a week, and it gives them things to work with on both sides of the football. For the players, it gives them the belief that they can go out and beat anyone in the conference. For the fans, there's now a signature win we have under our belt--a win over a top 25 team that everyone felt was on the rise. We can all breathe just a bit, even if it's only for a second.
2. Zach Maynard. 83% completion rate. 10 yards per pass attempt. Four touchdowns. 203 QB RATING. I know he played well in this one watching it live, but until I got home and saw the statline it's hard to believe he played THAT well. Some of the throws he made tonight were lasers right into the hands of his receivers. Some of them were of a dubious nature. Some were easy pitch-and-catch (although that hasn't always been the case). Some his receivers had to adjust to. But in general, I was pleased.
That was an A-game performance from Zach, perhaps his best as a Golden Bear, and even more remarkable considering his first throw was a pick and he was getting blasted all night (even if he wasn't getting sacked, he was getting hit plenty of times just after release). This is the type of game I've wanted Zach producing from the beginning: Quick, decisive throws, plus resilience to bounce back from the mistakes and the hits.
3. Keenan Allen. No cases of the dropsies tonight. Allen grabbed every big throw that came his way. He went out and blocked very effectively on the perimeter. He had the huge punt return at the start of the 2nd half that set up the early touchdown. He burned Sheldon Price on tight one-on-one coverage.
4. Richard Rodgers. You want your difference maker tonight? Here he is. Been waiting for Rodgers to show up in our offense, but he got hurt against Southern Utah and has been hobbling for a few weeks. Boy, do we look like a different offense with Rodgers healthy.
Rodgers picked up first downs (or turned first downs into second-and-short) almost by default. So you have Rodgers rumbling down the field for 42 and 50 yards and four other catches of seven yards or more, and you have Cal only allowing three sacks compared to the five to seven they were giving up the past few weeks. Coincidence?
5. Richard Rodgers, Part II (because he was that important). Establishing Rodgers was crucial, because it kept UCLA from sending as much blitz pressure as they probably would've liked because an extra defender had to drape on him. It made Maynard's life so much easier.
It's just so hard to guard Rodgers one-on-one because he's a threat to block on screens, runs, and pass protect, which means you have to put two guys on him or jam him up straight, which not only makes it easier to exploit mismatches but neutralizes some of the blitzing too. And then to top that all off he runs wide receiver routes as a tight end. YIKES.
6. Quick, short passes. I've advocated this for awhile, and it seems like we're finally committing to it. I did feel like the Bruins were getting pressure, but Maynard did a good job of getting the football out fast. When Maynard just sat back, didn't drop, moved in the direction of his throw, and delivered the football, he was quite effective. When Maynard moved into three step drops, he was equally effective. And he was doing that most of the game. (I recall him getting clobbered on at least one or two conventional dropbacks.)
It's not conventional, but nothing's conventional about Zach. More, please.
7. Brendan Bigelow is not the answer on his own, but he's part of the solution. Bigelow started the game and averaged a yard a rush after his first seven yard gain, which gives you the idea of why he doesn't play. He still needs to read his blocks better and the offensive line has to open things up for him, which doesn't happen often. And he fumbled an exchange, which is a no-no.
That being said, he still needs to play. That one Bigelow touchdown really seemed to put Cal firmly in the driver's seat. Give him a chance to operate in space and he's a threat to break out with that one big play. (Sounds like someone else in the conference who's Snoop Dogg's bff).
8. C.J. Anderson closed the game. He got eight of the nine last snaps for 111 yards and a Gravitron touchdown, and that was even after a fumble. Sofele seems to struggle with the teams that can close gaps and windows, but Anderson just bulldozed right through tackles to polish off a win. He plays like that, he'll keep on carrying the football.
Not to mention a nice little touchdown catch from the slot to give the Bears the lead to begin with. Started and finished this one.
9. Offensive line played well. They didn't play great--Maynard got hit a lot, but to his credit he did a lot better job of getting the ball out in time. The false starts come to mind, and those blocked extra points were like "Whyyyyyy". Nevertheless, it was a step up. The run game didn't get blown apart, and thanks to the versatility of Rodgers the O-line seemed to deal with less pressure.
10. Diamond formation? The Packers run this a lot where they put two blockers in front of the RB to cave in more holes and carve up steady yards through the ground. I kind of like how we utilized it with Stevens on one side and Rodgers on the other, because there's also the potential for them to roll out into the flat in play-action. I don't recall if we picked up yards through the air from this formation, but we definitely got some on the ground. I like it though, there's some potential here.
11. Defense brought it. Yes, watching the Bruins take advantage of the outside over and over was tough to take, and the missed tackles were frustrating. But UCLA never punched it in. After the 28 yard drive to start the game, the Bruins only managed one touchdown and a field goal. Big kudos to Steve Williams and Josh Hill for holding the perimeter for much of the game.
12. Shred and stop. The thing with Mazzone's offenses at ASU was that they were always good at moving the football up and down the field because of the quick passing attack that got players out in space. But one missed pass, one missed block, and suddenly those offenses were facing 3rd and long.
13. Pass rush was monstrous. Five sacks, three hurries, and constant flushes from the pocket on Brett Hundley. They occasionally gave up a scramble. McCain balled out, Kendrick Payne collapsed on the inside, and the pressure grew more relentless through the night.
14. Kameron Jackson. Marc Anthony got hurt (again). Poor Marc. But Kam became yet another defensive youngster this season who came in and stepped up and made huge plays. The tiptoe interception was a momentum-changer, the two picks in the fourth quarter essentially ended the game, and he even had an assist to Michael Lowe on the game-breaker. Kudos to Kameron, who had to play almost immediately as a true frosh, swallowed his lumps, and produced two years running.
15. Turnovers. We've wanted them, we got them all at once. Brett Hundley threw up some hero balls, but we also got two critical fumbles courtesy of UCLA Alamaring it and Nick Forbes stripping the ball. Looked like every UCLA road game in the history of forever. What is it with those Bruins against a half-decent road team? Even we can keep it close against teams not named USC or Oregon.
16. Okay, we got lucky regarding one UCLA decision: Johnathan Franklin only touched the ball 15 times averaging seven yards per carry. To be fair, Mora was probably saving him for overtime.
17. Far from finished. This team still has major room for improvement. We won by 26 but no one will ever consider this one a blowout except for those who checked the box score in the morning. It was a competitive game until UCLA decided to play hot potato in the 4th.
18. Penalties. 10 for 100 yards. We tended to fix those by forcing aforementioned turnovers. Luckily, UCLA (as they have been all season) was game to keeping up with us with 12 for 99. These guys gotta learn how to play football right.
19. Turnovers. Feels like a lifetime ago, but that Maynard pick felt like a killer. Turned out to be a footnote. Good for Zach.
The fumbles though. In a closer game, those could have killed us. One ended a scoring drive. Another gave the Bruins a chance to halve the lead. That's three in three weeks, one by each running back. I get the feeling we'll be playing some close games soon, so ball security from our RBs will become paramount.
20. The next generation. On offense, it was Rodgers and Bigelow following right behind Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. On defense, it was Jackson following right behind Sebastian, who followed right behind Forbes and Jefferson and Barr. We've got a lot of promising freshmen and sophomores on this team, bright players who give maximum effort.
EDIT: One cool play that Calfan reminded me of in the comments was on the Bigelow touchdown, when BB looked like he lined up at the incorrect spot, but then Treggs pointed him out to where he had to go and seemed to explain further play specifics. Then Bigelow got the catch, Treggs made the downfield block, and Bigelow took it to the house.
21. Only one game. We've been here before. The last few seasons, we've followed up a great win with derrrrpppppppp. This week is a very winnable game, but so have many of our games this year.
22. Still feels good though. With 2-4 and the soft underbelly of the schedule upcoming, there are possibilities.
23. Stadium-wide card stunt. One of the coolest things Cal Athletics has ever done. Let's do it again, maybe for a Big Game.
24. Great crowd. I seriously worried with all the Bay Area traffic that there could be problems getting a great crowd. Never underestimate the Old Blues and Young Golds. It was pretty loud and boisterous in the student section, and the whole crowd rose up when necessary late. Solid fan support all game long.
25. Athletes acknowledging the students. One of my favorite things from this year has been seeing the players come over to the student section and acknowledging their fellow students for their support. Of course, it's been kind of sad watching them travel over to an empty student section after Nevada and Arizona State (the long faces were tough to look at).
So you have to imagine how cool it must've felt to see the players get all excited coming over and feeding off the energy of the crowd. Some of the players imitated the band director, a few others got to dancing, but everyone was smiling.
Hats off to all on the field for taking out five weeks of frustration on a top-25 team. In two weeks, we'll hopefully get to meet them on it.
26. Living for the moment. This game doesn't alter what's happened the past five weeks, and it doesn't particularly change what might or might not happen come the end of the season. I'm sure many of you are still dutifully watching every football game out there, compiling a list of every great coordinator on the market. We'll cover it when the time is necessary.
But in reality, none of that is much fun. Talking about buyouts isn't why I started writing about Cal football, and I imagine most of you who aren't permanently grinchy don't like reading about it either.
Games like these are why I started writing about the Bears. It's games like these that keep me coming back. Seeing our Bears get knocked down, get called out, get publicly ridiculed for a week, then come out and own a supposedly superior team (much less our little brothers) wire-to-wire at home makes things feel possible again.
I want more of what I saw tonight, and now I know these Bears are capable of bringing it all four quarters. That's something to roll with.
So keep on watching. Keep on cheering. Keep on hoping.