(1) I'm glad we played Southern Utah. Prior to this season, I, like most people, were probably disappointed that Cal was playing such a lowly team. As the argument goes, there is nothing to gain from these games and everything to lose. But after we lost to Nevada last week, and with two scary road trips to Ohio State and U$C after Southern Utah, I'm glad we had a cupcake on the schedule for the "guaranteed" win. Because wouldn't it have sucked if Cal had played some non-cupcake and lost to them? Cal would then be 0-2 heading into Ohio State and U$C. Cal could very well come out of the first four weeks of the season a craptacular 0-4. So while a win against Southern Utah doesn't mean much, it's still a "win" in the history books, Cal sits at 1-1, and at least won't finish week four of the college football season with a record of 0-4.
(2) This "guaranteed win" wasn't so guaranteed. Unfortunately, this game was a lot closer than it should have been for a long time. Cal's offense couldn't get started in the first quarter and didn't score a single point. Even while Cal had four scoring possessions in the second quarter, only two of them were touchdowns. I think we can all agree that this game's score should have been something around 35 to 3 by half time, with Cal's starters coming out of the game early in the 3rd quarter. But this game was only a three point game in the third quarter, and Cal's starters stayed in the game until the final 6 minutes or so. Why?
(3) Penalties are killing us. Penalty after penalty seemed to stall our drives. On Cal's second drive, a fifteen yard penalty (Allen's unsportsmanlike conduct, if I recall correctly), put Cal from 4th and 2 on their 31 yard line, into a 4th and 17 from their 46 yard line. Cal is forced to punt, and cannot kick a field goal or go for the 4th down conversion.
In the second quarter, an offensive holding call turns a manageable 2nd and 3, into 2nd and 11. Immediately after that, a false start turns it into a 2nd and 16. Although Cal will go on to score a touchdown a few plays later, Cal can't keep shooting itself in the foot and expect to win games against more talented opponents.
Again, in the second quarter Cal faces a 2nd and 14 from the Southern Utah 15 yard line. Cal suffers a snap infraction (if I recall correctly), and the down now becomes 2nd and 19. Cal can't convert the following third down and is forced to kick a field goal.
Overall, Cal had a horrible day playing clean football and racked up 106 penalty yards on twelve penalties. There's nothing more to really say other than this dirty play has to stop.
(4) Individual Errors. Another reason for this being too close of a game through three quarters was because of all the little individual errors here and there. The penalties. The fumble (Harper's lost fumble). The interception -- which, by the way, is not really Maynard's fault. The right tackle didn't cut his man (the defensive end) enough to chop him down and clear out the passing lane on the screen pass.
The team is right there, just a hair away from playing good football, if that one person can just not screw up on one play. But it seems like every other play, somebody screws up here or there. It's either a penalty, a mental error or a physical error.
It seems so stupid to say this, but it really does take 11 guys to execute well to have a successful play. One little screw up, even a screw up away from the ball, can result in a failed play.
(5) Bad Penalty calls. And another reason for the close game, bad penalties. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Keenan Allen for allegedly throwing the football was borderline. He didn't uncork a deep 50 yard spiral into the stands. Nor did he really spike the ball hard into the ground like one does when they score a touchdown. He just sort threw down the ball in disgust much like one would throw away a pen that you've just picked up to only realize it is out of ink. You just kind of flick it down right into the trash. I mean, I do understand those kind of calls could go either way, but I would think most refs probably would have let that one slide.
The pass interference call on Steve Williams right before halftime was absolute crap though. Absolute crap. That was a horrible call. The wide receiver just fell to the ground. Williams might have had a hand on the receiver, but he certainly didn't push him down. When a receiver falls down and the defender has a hand on him, that's not pass interference. The defender has to actively do something to get the receiver onto the ground. That never happened. And it was that crap call which basically let Southern Utah score on that freak hail mary touchdown right before halftime.
(6) All the little things add up. So as I pointed out above, it's the penalties, it's execution errors by a player here and there, it's calls not going our way -- all that stuff will add up to stall a drive. Cal really has to just play mistake free football. I'm not saying they need to play perfect football. I don't think even USC can do that. But cut the penalties in half. Avoid 15 yard penalties. Win your positional battle. Cut block your defensive end so he doesn't intercept the screen pass. Little crap like that. If Cal does that, the game is entirely different. It's almost ... amazing how such little things can decide a game once you really sit down and look at what went wrong and why a team isn't scoring or winning. Like I said, Cal is right there. We're not a complete disaster. Nevada could have been won with better execution by certain players on offense and defense (no need to completely single out people, but I'm sure you all can name a couple of guys who messed up). Southern Utah could have been a 50 point win if a few small things didn't happen. Cal could be sitting pretty at 2-0, beaming with confidence going into the Ohio State game, and Cal fans wouldn't be so sour. The line between winning and losing really is razor thin.
(7) Maynard has a good game -- statistically. He finished the game 17/23 (74%) with a 10.0 yards per attempt average. Those numbers, statistically, are great! I'm going to ignore the interception since that really wasn't his fault. But what was sort of concerning about Maynard's play were his overthrows of backs and receivers coming out of the backfield. I sort of hate to say this, but those bad overthrows reminded me of Kevin Riley. I think Maynard had two or three of those bad overthrown passes. Once again, it's an execution error which essentially results in a loss of down. Those types of mistakes can easily kill a drive. Maynard will probably have to play near perfect next week at Ohio State. That being the case, he has to make those easy throws.
(8) Pass Defense was Okay. I'm starting to wonder if Clancy Pendergast feels that we don't have the skill or athleticism in the secondary to plau a lot of man coverage. For the most part, it seemed to me like Cal was playing a lot of zone against Southern Utah. And the Thunderbirds were just eating it up. They were doing a great job getting the ball out quickly to avoid sacks, and were utilizing all of the field -- including those tough to defend sideline passes. Finally, after most of the third quarter had gone by, it seemed like Pendergast started playing a little more man, and that's when Cal FINALLY started locking down the receivers, causing the Southern Utah QB to hold onto the ball longer, and Cal started netting some coverage sacks.
(9) Cal's Hurry-Up Offense Hurries Southern Utah. It was nice to see our hurry-up offense actually working for once. I think a handful of times I saw Southern Utah trying to substitute players in, only to have those players stop, turn around, and run off the field because Cal was about to run another play. This is, of course, the benefit of the hurry-up offense. Defenses can't substitute, guys get tired, defenses can't disguise their coverage as much, and the offense can gain cheap yards on (often) the very same play they ran earlier. And in fact, at least on three occasions, I saw Cal run the very same play twice in a row off of the hurry-up offense for easy gains because the tempo was catching the defense off-guard. So this hurry-up offense isn't total crap (contrary to what I hear so many people around me saying).
(10) Special Teams worries. Okay, we miss a gimme field goal last week. We miss a PAT this week. Our kickoff coverage wasn't so hot against Southern Utah. Our punts were even worse. There was a time when Cal was great at special teams. Those days seem long gone. I worry that in the future, Cal will lose games due to short punts, or a missed placekick. In a close game, just a few yards or even one point can mean the difference between winning and losing.
(11) I Feel Better. Sure, we weren't great from the get-go. Sure, the team we beat isn't a great team. But we have a win. The team is probably feeling a little relieved they CAN play good football (see the fourth quarter of the game). Although they clearly aren't satisfied with the way they played, they have a little confidence knowing that they have played good football before, and it can be done. The last thing we needed was our team to be 0-2 going to Ohio State, without having played one good quarter of football, and questioning their very abilities and worthiness. A win is a win. Even if it is against a cupcake. I'll take it. Especially this year.
I would like to announce that after this season I will be stepping down from CGB. I suppose the timing of this is a little weird -- being mid-season and with tons of great Xs & Os analysis popping up from two of our readers. But my decision has nothing to do with any of that. Retirement has been on my mind for the past two seasons. I'm at a time in my life where I have a lot going on, and my time needs to be spent on other things. For now, I will continue post-game thoughts through the rest of this season (excluding Ohio State), but after that, I think I will be done. I am appreciative that people have found my thoughts and analysis posts worthy of their reading time. I hope people have learned stuff. Thank you for your readership, and Go Bears!