(1) Desperation Time. Cal entered this game 1-4, and seemingly staring in the face of a losing season -- and perhaps Tedford's last season. So from the very first snap of the game, I couldn't help but wonder if Tedford was going to pull out all sorts of craziness in this game to secure a win. I mean, if there is any time to go buck wild and do a fake PAT or fake FG or third down punt or quadruple reverse, this was the game to do it in. And for a second, it seemed like perhaps Tedford was going in that direction when Bigelow trotted out onto the field to start the game instead of Sofele or Anderson.
Cal fans -- whether for right or wrong -- have been calling for Bigelow to see more playing time and it looked like Tedford had finally caved into the pressure. But fast forward to the end of the game and Bigelow only had five rushes on the night. Should he have had more? I don't know. Quite frankly, I don't care. Gould and Tedford are the two people on Earth who are probably most qualified to say. I'll leave it up to them. And apparently they felt like he shouldn't have.
(2) Oh Noes. Maynard's first pass attempt of the game ... intercepted. Right after that happened, I think we all had that collective "here we go again..." feeling. That feeling that the game was already slipping away. The feeling that we were going to lose this perfectly winnable game. That pass was a bad pass. It was probably Maynard's worst pass of the night. I think it might have been one of those situations where he was probably looking for his brother again, and -- of course -- the defense was looking for Allen too. Based on Maynard's post-game quotes, it seems as if he misjudged Allen coming out of his break a little bit. That, and from my perspective in the stadium, the UCLA safety just bit down hard on that comeback route a lot harder than Maynard and even I imagined he could have.
(3) Turnovers lead to Points Allowed lead to Losses. So Maynard throws an INT. And then the defense gives up a short-field touchdown. Great. As Tedford would say: "Gotta protect the football." So true. So true.
It's worth noting why exactly Cal was even in that situation where Maynard threw the interception. Remember, it was a 3rd and 14. Two plays prior, Cal suffered a false start penalty which put Cal into a 2nd and 14 (long yardage situation!!!). Cal ran the ball on that down and didn't gain any yards (bad run blocking leads to another long yardage situation!!!). So Cal is in 3rd and 14... and Maynard throws an INT. Yes, Maynard made a bad decision/read, but it was that FALSE START penalty and some bad RUN BLOCKING which put Cal in that situation in the first place. See? It's all interconnected. You draw a penalty and your team pays. You miss a block or don't win your positional battle, then your team pays.
(4) And Then Things Changed. So Cal is off to a crap start. Maynard has thrown an INT and the defense gives up a touchdown. But by some miraculous happenstance, Cal responds instead of going three-and-out. Cal drives the field and converts a 1st and 15 (false start penalty), a 3rd and 4, a 3rd and 1, and a 3rd and 6! Wow. When was the last time you saw a penalty or 3rd down NOT stall a Cal drive? Okay, so Cal did have to kick a field goal on this drive but still... Cal responded and got some first downs in crucial situations. Note that none of the 3rd downs we faced were long yardage third downs. That's the miracle of gaining yards on 1st and 2nd down!
(5) And Then Things Got Good. Just when Maynard delivered what was perhaps his worst performance (statistically) of his Cal career last week, he responds with perhaps his best performance to date. Maynard completed 25/30 passes (83.33% completion rate!!! -- hella good!), with a 9.8 yards per attempt (hella good too!). Maynard just seemed on his game tonight (except for that first throw). He threw the ball pretty well. He was seeing the field well. And he even gained one or two crucial first downs himself by scrambling. And Maynard also got a lot better help from his offensive line this week. Which brings me to my next point...
(6) Pass Blocking Seemed a Lot Better. I haven't reviewed any tape yet, but Maynard seemed to have a lot more time to throw this game than against Arizona State. I think the offensive line did a better job providing Maynard with time to throw. I think Maynard was only sacked three times or so. One sack was definitely his fault. He had plenty of time in the pocket. Nobody was open. He hunt onto the ball and stayed in the pocket and ended up getting sacked. Gotta either run with it or get rid of the ball. But overall, the pass blocking was a lot better this game. (Side note: It didn't seem like UCLA was blitzing us much and I found that to be very surprising.)
(7) Defense Plays Well Enough. Yeah, I guess they gave up more yardage than they would have liked. The UCLA offense did manage to gain 382 yards -- of which 253 came through the air. But they defended the run well enough. They played those annoying as hell UCLA jet swing passes good enough. There were definitely some lapses out there, it seems. For example, on one particular play, UCLA QB Hundley could have ran for a 20 yard touchdown in the north endzone on a 3rd down, but instead he overthrew a wide open Bruin receiver in the endzone. On another play, the pass rush got too far up the field and allowed Hundley to convert a 3rd and 16, and a 3rd and 10 with his feet. But the defense made up for those lapses too. Kameron Jackson had 3 INTs. We got sacks and pressure on the QB! Steve Williams played some FANTASTIC run support defense out on the perimeter by blocking his wide receiver into the UCLA receiver receiving those jet sweet passes. I think Williams did that at least twice! (Once was along the west sidelines as UCLA was driving north.) Cal has become a defensive team this year. The defense keeps the game manageable, and then it's just up to the offense to score.
(8) And the Offense Scored. TE over the middle?! Oh no! But it's OUR TE over the middle, for once! Richard Rodgers had a pretty epic game. He caught some tough passes and got some great yards after the catch. It was nice to see him so involved in the offense. And how about that run blocking? Cal's stable of runningbacks were averaging about 5.9 yards per carry altogether (Bigelow, Sofele, Anderson). That is a great average. Kudos to the OL, FB, TE, and WRs for a great blocking game.
Maynard did his part through the air. I already said he completed 25/30 passes, but it wasn't just that he was completing passes, he was completing some great passes too. Two slant touchdown passes. A tough pass man coverage pass to Rodgers on a south-bound post route for 42 yards in the 2nd quarter. A great read-and-recognition pass to Rodgers on a north-bound skinny post for 50 yards in the 4th quarter. (On this play the UCLA defense ... FORGOT TO COVER THE TE OVER THE MIDDLE!!! How many times have we been on the receiving end of one of those?!) And that awesome TD pass to Keenan Allen on the southbound go route against jam man coverage no safety help.
I don't know what it was this game, but Maynard just seemed to be seeing the field really well this game. As I said earlier, that northbound 50 yard pass to Rodgers was great pre-snap recognition that nobody would be covering the TE. The go route TD pass to Keenan Allen was another great pre-snap read and recognition to see the UCLA safety dropping down into the box for run support leaving Allen 1 on 1 outside. Allen easily beat the jam coverage and had 3 steps on his defender. Maynard threw a gorgeous pass over the top (without too much air because the you give the single high safety a chance to get over to the ball and deflect it) for a touchdown. For the most part, the offense was a true joy to watch. But... there were a few issues.
(9) Turnovers. We already talked about the INT. But the two fumbles. I haven't rewatched the game yet, but from what I saw during the game, it appeared as if those were botched handoffs. It looks as if on the first fumble, Maynard might have been trying to hand off the ball to Anderson, but then changed his mind and tried to pull the ball, but he pulled the ball too late. This caused the ball to not be securely in either Anderson's hands or Maynard's hands and it went to the turf. On the second fumble it looks as if Maynard just missed the handoff or Bigelow's handoff approach was off -- perhaps because he started running towards an opening before he quite had the football. (If the problem was the latter situation, perhaps that's why Bigelow isn't playing more? Just speculating.)
As coaches all over the world say, you gotta protect the football. Luckily, Cal was sporting a good enough lead, the defense was playing well enough, and UCLA wasn't playing well enough that those two fumble turnovers didn't cost Cal the game... but they were pretty frustrating to watch.
(10) That Cassius Marsh Guy was Annoying. Sure was. Cal recruited him. I suppose he wouldn't have been so annoying had he committed to Cal and wasn't on their team.
(11) Lots of Penalties. Okay. Still way too many penalties. Yeah, some of them were bogus. That targeting penalty was totally bogus. Obviously, Cal needs to cut down the penalties. But luckily for us, UCLA had just as many penalties.
(12) Interesting Formational Stuff. Well, Cal used a new formation this game. I don't know what to call it but Cal basically put tight end Richard Rodgers in the backfield as a fullback would be lined up... while also having fullback Eric Stevens lined up in the backfield as a fullback too. This put, in essence, two lead blockers for our runningback on the field. And the formation is balanced (no strength to one side in particular) meaning Cal is equally as dangerous to run either left or right.
Also worth noting is Cal's use of splitting RBs out side. Most of the reason behind this strategy is to get Keenan Allen in the inner slot against either a safety or linebacker. Cal did this numerous numerous numerous times this game. This also puts a defensive cornerback to waste on coverage against that RB since most defenses tell their cornerbacks to simply cover the "outer-most" offensive guy (which would be that RB split out wide).
And a random tidbit from the Southern Utah game, they seemed to play a lot of zone that game and Cal seemingly expected this and played a lot of trips formations that game. Why? To overload the zones.
Formations formations formations. Interesting stuff.
(13) Keeping Hope. I have to admit, after the game I felt guilty for having given up on the team. Last week's post game thoughts were me pretty much writing off the season. I had serious doubts we could win another game with how poorly the team was playing. But after bouncing back this week, I feel bad. I had given up on the team, but it was clear that they hadn't given up on themselves. This game, they seemed more involved, energized, and determined than ever before. Maynard, Allen, and the defense, took many efforts to rouse the crowd by waving their arms up at them. Players seemed to play with a desperate reckless abandon.
I suppose as a player it's hard to be on a team whose fans have given up on you. I know if I was a player I'd be disappointed and sort of upset about it. So, I'm going to try and keep hope on this team. Not because I'm some eternal optimist or a Tedford-loving sunshine pumper (I'm not), but just because I'd rather know I was rooting for a team who I believed in, rather than merely attending Cal Football games just because I had season tickets, I didn't want them to go to waste, and I had already written off the game as a loss before it even started. Ya know?
So despite how painful it may be, I'm going to try and stay hopeful and support this team to the very end. I suppose it's the least I could do as a fan.