Seven point margin of victory, so I'll provide seven points in bold.
The team is improving. Too often I see a Cal team blow their football load opening week, only to start sputtering sometime during the season and go into a hole. But for two seasons now I've seen a Cal team that seems to struggle to incorporate a lot of new elements, but clearly has a lot of potential to be better than they are.
This week we saw more of what we've been looking for. 500+ yards of offense, and even if you discount two spectacular plays by one spectacular player (more on him later), we averaged about 4.8 yards per play against a stout Ohio State front. The Cal defense put together impressive shutdown performance for the middle 30 minutes against the Buckeyes. The last three years this is a performance where we fold the tent.
College football is a funny thing when you overachieve and come up short. You sort of feel mad that you didn't grab the win, you're kind of irritated at the questionable decisions, but in the end you brush it off and move on because things look better today than they did yesterday. I'm really more encouraged that we can get back to bowl eligibility than I was last week, and feel real better about out future considering how many youngsters are contributing and producing already.
If we can survive next week with minimal damage (we've lost Matt Summers-Gavin, Richard Rodgers, and now Spencer Hagan on offense in three weeks now, and who knows when any of them will be back), I really think we have the capability to make a run through the rest of the season. I'm not sold on the rest of the Pac-12, and I feel we can compete with anyone if we keep on putting together games like these.
Phantom penalties. It has to be mentioned. The "holding" against Jacob Wark wiped points off the board, and then the "personal foul" forced Vincenzo D'Amato into a longer field goal. Turning seven sure points from three into zero turned out to make the difference in this one.
Other than that assorted nonsense, the Bears cut down on their penalties overall as a group, and all-in-all other than a hold or two looked much improved up front.
Zach Maynard gave us everything he could. Maynard performed really, really well. He completed 70% of his passes. He converted crucial third downs. Distributed the football to eight receivers, including the tight ends, fullbacks, and every wide receiver (including Darius Powe, who made some nice catches over the middle). He executed well out of I-formation and shotgun. He did the most he could with poor snaps. He made plays in the pocket with defensive linemen in his face. He even caught a pass!
He only had two bad passes, and unfortunately one of them was the last one. But he put us in a position to win in the Horseshoe. Impressive. That's the sort of balanced Tedford offensive attack I remember fondly from the old days. Spread the wealth as best you can. Maynard did his best to find his receivers instead of relying on his brother, and the result was perhaps his most polished performances as a Bear.
The offense has a big play threat. Yeah, we have Keenan Allen, but he doesn't have many gains outside 10-15 yards unless someone really blows a coverage. Without someone who can get behind the defense it really forces the defense to play closer to the vest.
Brendan Bigelow gives Cal an added dimension offensively. His two touchdown runs were Jahvidesque, and he seems to have additional strength that allows him to stay up (Jahvid would've had trouble staying up on that first run). Really great blocking by the wide receivers, particularly Bryce Treggs.
The second run was just straight burst.
If Bigelow can keep on producing a run or two like this every game, it really can open up the offense when he gets on the field, and might open up the offense to quicker scores. I hope this performance will get him on the field more. I'm guessing he'll have to gain more versatility in pass protection and pass catching before we see him on the field though, since it's almost a given he gets the football when he's on the field.
Defense did its job for the most part, but some crucial errors. Outside of the one touchdown run by Braxton Miller, Cal bottled him up. He completed only 53% of his passes. They forced him sideline to sideline, and most of his yards came in the trash (outside his touchdown rush, 20 yards on 11 carries). We also seemed to be aggressive at the snap, forcing the Buckeyes linemen to make some bad penalties. Ohio State had only two methodical drives on the day; the rest came off of defensive errors.
Unfortunately, they were huge defensive errors.
Strong safety Alex Logan made two of the most crucial defensive errors of the game; getting juked to the inside by Miller and losing contain, then bizarrely trying to jump an intermediate route and leaving Smith wide open for the deep score. Both of those errors cost us big and placed 14 crucial points on the board.
Cal also didn't anticipate the old staple Meyer jump pass at the end zone, and left tight ends wide open. Gotta get that fixed.
Still, even when the defense played well, Miller stepped up and made a few huge throws. Steve Williams played great press on Devin Smith on two early plays, but Miller's timing was exceptional with his receiver. It's hard to give a grad on this one.
Offensive line run blocks well, pass protection bad, snaps poor. Good stuff from the run game. We weren't opening up huge holes, but we were getting steady yards. 31 carries by our running backs yielded 270 rushing yards, and even if you subtract Bigelow's monstrosity
Unfortunately, the inexperienced offensive tackles made mistakes. Tyler Rigsbee is too slow to handle athletic edge rushers. Bill Tyndall was better at protecting the blind side. Six sacks killed multiple promising offensive drives. Summers-Gavin needs to get back fast.
As for Brian Schwenke, come on man. Those were weak grounders to first base he was lobbing back to Maynard. I'm almost more impressed the offense didn't miss a beat despite those errors.
Tedford. There are things to criticize here. The early decisions to go for it on 4th down. The quizzical 4th and 1 field goal decision might have cost us a chance to win. All of that can definitely be critiqued. Tedford has made decisions like this before and they've worked out for us; this time it didn't and he will get called many names for the next week. Such is life as a football coach.
In terms of actual game prepration, I was really impressed. The gameplan was solid. It was a nice balance of outside zone running with short and intermediate passing involved from multiple formations that seemed to keep Ohio State's talented defense off balance. There was also a lot of half-rollouts and moving pockets. We had some good passes to the fullback out of I-formation and designed some nice plays that took advantage of Maynard's ability to improvise. There was some good read-option stuff and decent zone-read stuff added in. And the execution was solid, particularly on screens. Play-action too! I miss you play-action.
Also, there was a fun little trick with the Maynard to Allen lateral to Maynard pass again. It was great! Set up a short 2nd and 1 and an easy touchdown.
I'm encouraged that the Bears coaching staff seems to be regaining its mojo. They seem to be getting these young Bears to work better as a group, which bodes well for the rest of the season when we play teams with bigger deficiencies and banged-up players get healthy. The key will be replicating that effort in the Coliseum a week from now and not lose the positive momentum we've built up from this one.
Kicker. I'm not ready to discuss this. And besides, we're at seven points. Maybe tomorrow.
Chin up Bears. We're getting there. Hold your head high, the boys did us proud today.