Cal vs Oregon State postgame thoughts

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What's after 1-5? Oh.

My recording of this game was messed up by ESPN's coverage of the Ole Miss - LSU ending, so all observations picked up from rewatching start at 9 minutes in the first quarter. Thanks for that, ESPN.

In which we try to contextualize another demoralizing loss

It sucked, it sucked, it sucked.

Of course it sucked - another game where the Bears took too long to get going, and eventually drowned underneath wave after wave of passing yardage.

Attendance - by students and fans alike - was dismal, and the on-field play about the same.

49-17 was a merciful conclusion, all things considered.

Yes, it sucked. A bowl game remains technically within reach, but has rarely felt further away than it did Saturday night. Losses - and seasons - like this one are trying upon loyalties, to be sure.

It is a frustrating time to be a Cal fan. Knowing that serious improvement is still a year off does little to numb the frustrations of today.

Still, with five games left, the goal should be to enjoy them as best we can, in spite of scores and stats. Too much of our year is spent looking forward to fall not to savor it while it lasts.

One small silver - maybe not even silver, more like a slight hint of ashy grey - lining is that the losses and lumps are coming against quality opponents.

In which there is talk about Zach Kline

By halftime of this one, I began to think that we would, at some point, see Kline take a start this season - or, at the very least, see playing time in non-monsoon conditions.

And like most - if not all - of  you, after Goff's second fumble, I knew right away that that time had arrived.

So, now, we're left with the conundrum of what to do going forward.

In previous weeks, I've argued that there wasn't yet sufficient reason to take the job away from Goff, and that to do so after Oregon or Washington State would be premature. But after a series of bad showings, those reasons are indeed starting to appear - for someone whose strength purportedly lies in ball security, he has been doing an increasingly poor job of performing it.

One example of this was on the interception, which came on a play that he did not have to make - the freshman rolled out of the pocket and tried to loft it up to Bryce Treggs while running from pressure, only to have Rashaad Reynolds snatch it out of the air. Sure, it was a great, athletic play by Reynolds, but Goff clearly never should have thrown it in the first place.

Another was a completely unforced fumble, which happened in completely dry conditions this time. A troubling development, to say the least.

Moments like those end up really detracting from the great ones. Goff did have a few of those, obviously, and his performance would have been alright, had it not been for the turnovers.

That being said, whether or not Kline played much better statistically - and he did not - his insertion did kickstart things and eventually led to two end zone trips, which is the ultimate goal of any offense. That much is inarguable.

Although I feel very reluctant about this and believe it opens up a potentially dangerous tug-of-war over the position of Bear Raid Commander, all of the above should lead to Kline getting a start fairly soon - if not immediately against Washington. He has earned it just as much as Goff has flatlined.

Despite being been fantastic for a true freshman, Goff has looked increasingly rattled and uncomfortable as of late, often unable to move the ball consistently and leaving the team in a huge hole. The team's spotty ability to protect him has almost certainly played a role in that, but it cannot fall on the line alone.

Kline does have one clear advantage over his Kentfield counterpart, which may serve him better behind in these conditions - he has a much more advanced ability to scramble when things break down. Sure, he's not Manziel or Jordan Lynch, but it doesn't hurt that he is decisive and ready to run when the situation calls for it. He also doesn't look like an injured gazelle when he's taking off. Sorry, but it's true, Jared.

Mostly, I just want one of these two guys to play consistently and put the debate the rest permanently. No one wants an inconclusive multi-year battle, which would be dreadfully tricky to manage from both a team and fanbase perspective. In the absolute worst case scenario - and the one I kept thinking of every time someone demanded we play Kline - each time one of Goff or Kline struggles, there would be an immediate clamoring for the other.

Here's to hoping something works out.

In which the defense takes a step back

Grade: Dreadful

As you know, I have long thought that Andy Buh has been put in a very difficult situation as a defensive coordinator. He has had injury layered on injury, but he was clearly out-gameplanned by Oregon State, which took advantage of Cal's aggressiveness, and then ripped them apart again and again via screen. The Bears were adequate on a majority of the wide receiver screens, but the ones to Storm Woods and Terron Ward gave them fits in particular - I had to check my schedule at one point to make sure I wasn't at a basketball game.

Worse, we looked confused and unable to recognize when some of them were coming - one that went out to Brandin Cooks looked a lot like a badly covered pick and roll, with the defenders trying in vain to follow their original assignments.

Let me try to better describe that last play, which happened late in the second quarter--Hardy Nickerson was responsible for the tight end, whose assignment was to run to the left flat and block Kam Jackson. This would allow Cooks to curl back under the block to receive a quick pass from Mannion, an action that is fairly familiar and standard--we run it a ton in our own offense. Jackson, still responsible for Cooks, attempted to fight through the block, but got hung up. It looked like Nickerson realized this too late and continued to stay with that tight end anyway. He lingered for a moment too long, rather than try to pick up Cooks, who caught the ball and then slid by him for a big gain.

The whole sequence looked badly bungled and was indicative of some serious unpreparedness, since it was yet another time they ran the screen at us. In the past, there have been instances where we've been beat after having guys in the right position, or by poor individual play. I don't think this was one of those instances.

In the second half, they started to fake the screen a few times and throw down field, instead. Impressive gameplan and play calling from Oregon State's Danny Langsdorf.

Here's a man smarter than myself who agreed:

Kam Jackson played his worst game of the season in this one, giving up a number of catches and committing a pair of pass interference penalties, although hobbling around on a bothersome ankle certainly didn't help things. There were some good moments from Jackson - a couple of times in the first half, I saw him smartly maneuver around his defender to force a ball carrier back inside, and there was also the great pass defensed in the photo above - but it was mostly subpar work from him, considering what we've seen this season. The tough matchup makes it a little easier to swallow.

A lot of credit does go to Brandin Cooks, though, who pretty much roasted, flambéd, grilled, charred and seared everybody in Cal secondary - Adrian Lee, Jackson and Joel Willis were among his many victims. Berkeley native Lil B would have been proud. As for Cooks? Well, that man is heading for All Pac-12 First Team, and surely one of the All-American ones. It was the first look I've gotten of him, but he's quick, explosive and refined - one particular cut of his left four Cal defenders grasping air. Very talented player.

The other Cam - Walker - looks more solid out there each and every week. There's a legitimate conundrum about how the Bears will deploy him next season, but it's a good problem to have. I originally thought that we could move Avery Sebastian to linebacker, the way Washington did with Shaq Thompson, but Eugene reminded me that Avery weighs 190 pounds, not 220, although I might add he certainly plays more like 220. Still, that would make Sebastian a poor fit to take on opposing guards and rule out an immediate position switch. Either way, I expect that Walker will continue to see the field in some capacity. Perhaps at outside, and with Stefan McClure in the slot?

I'm not sure why we continue to shuffle around the safeties - Mike Lowe seemed pretty serviceable last weekend, while Damariay Drew was clearly overmatched in coverage and looked pretty lost from the start. Against throwing teams like Oregon State, I think I'd like to have Walker and Lowe at this point. Against bigger sets or rushing teams, Drew and Lowe definitely work better.

Though Hardy Nickerson looked fairly stout against UCLA, he remains a liability in pass coverage. On Saturday, the redshirt freshman was repeatedly gashed by Oregon State's screen game, and often looked like he was chugging through quicksand - or at the very least, wearing some weighted cleats, ala Goku in Dragon Ball. No play was more evident of this than Brandin Cooks' touchdown run, where he blew right by Nickerson without any real effort. Granted, Cooks had a running start from the left side, but...

Being slow is not always a death knell for a player. Plenty have been effective despite fading - or an outright lack of - physical speed, because they have compensated with instinct and know-how. Hardy is still lacking in these areas, which results in just enough tentativeness for guys to skate right by him. He is also not tackling very well, either. Things were marginally better overall in this category, although not by much.

By the end of the game, Chad Whitener was in at the MIKE instead, presumably because of Hardy's ineffectiveness. Whitener did contribute a fantastic block and recovered a fumble on a heads-up play, but from what I could tell, was just generally okay. That is both good and bad, I suppose.

The rush defense continues to be fantastic, holding Oregon State to the same sorts of numbers as it did against UCLA. Yes, some of that is due to the fact that teams are able to pass essentially at will.

Still, I think these guys have been hurt by depth issues too - the Bears continued to go with four down linemen at the goal-line, even when Oregon State was in 23 (2RB, 3TE) personnel, a heavy run look. They simply overpowered the right side of the Cal defense for their first score, easily pushing back four Bears - Jalen Jefferson, Khairi Fortt, Hardy Nickerson and Damariay Drew - with a pulling lineman and tight end on that play.

Sean Mannion was at least mildly inconvenienced on occasion by our pass rush, although it didn't make too much of a difference. His playaction fakes were very good, too - even the camera was fooled on at least one. All in all, a very impressive evening from him. Of all the QB's we've played this year, Mannion ranks second to only Guiton.

Scary stat - the Bears have collected nine sacks on 271 opposing dropbacks, according to the official numbers released by Cal Athletics. That's about 3.3%, and this website says it's even worse than that, with Cal ranking pretty much dead last in the country in sack percentage. Worse, only three of them have come from our starting defensive ends. Um, yeah. Not good.

Puka Lopa - as a substitute - is threatening to equal their production with another good game. It boggles the mind how bad this pass rush has been. ManBearCal is a huge fan of Lopa, and I can see why. He plays hard and with aggression all the time, right down to forcing that fumble right before the half. Plus, there's a nice floppy hairdo that's easy to recognize and fun to watch.

Sonny Dykes mentioned it before, but it definitely looks like Brennan Scarlett is not coming back this year. The latest piece of evidence was that he was not even dressed for this one.

In which the offense didn't do so hot either

Grade: Dreadful

Sonny Dykes' offense only scored 26.8 points per game his first year - so it's not like he took off like gangbusters in the WAC, either. Explaining the regression in recent weeks is easy. The line was already playing at a fairly mediocre level with Chris Adcock and Matt Cochran in there, and then proceeded to lose both of those guys, as well. Raise your hands if you thought Mark Brazinski and Alejandro Crostwaite would see playing time this year, or should have.

I wrote about Goff and Kline above, so we'll go ahead and proceed to other things about the offense.

Perhaps those fears about Bigelow falling out of favor were a bit overblown after all. He saw a healthy amount of snaps out in the slot, although his actual statistics were rather pedestrian.

New look this week: a bunch 2x2 set, with the inside receivers lined up on the LOS, instead of the outside ones. I don't think it made a huge difference or anything, but it's always fun for me to keep track of things that are new.

A second new look: Bigelow lined up with Coprich in the backfield in a two RB set, one on each side of Goff. One of the few times - if not the first time - we've shown two backs like that. Bigelow took a sweep right from this formation and cut up field immediately for three yards. It would be his only carry of the night, but I liked what I saw, since he planted his foot and rushed up the field right away. The linebacker from the opposite side came over to make the play.

Really liked the playaction call to Wark at the goal line. I really just like playaction at the goal line in general.

Scott Crichton is one of the Pac-12's finest defensive linemen, and facing off against Freddie Tagaloa, he showed it. all evening. There was a vicious swim move for a sack/forced fumble in the first quarter, several occasions where his quickness simply overwhelmed Tagaloa, and a couple of pass deflections, to boot.

It feels like I write about Richard Rodgers every week, but he plays really hard every time the ball is in his hands. Not a man you can take down with one defender, and one of the guys who might make it to the next level. Interesting that he did not get multiple shots in short yardage this week.

Zach Kline was the team's most productive rusher on the night. I don't think any more needs to be said here.

Okay, I lied - there's more to say. The Bears continue to trot ineffective option after ineffective option out in the backfield, which has to rank among the most disappointing developments of the 2014 season. There was some nice, decisive running from Ervin, but nothing that indicated he or Coprich would be a long-term starter or anything.

Conclusion: get well soon, Daniel Lasco.

Special Teams Grade: Acceptable

The punt return game showed some potential, but twice, Bryce Treggs was tackled by the first Oregon State defender to reach him, with running room actually available. Frustrating.

Khalfani Muhammad didn't hesitate with his kick returns, and as a result, he had his best game so far in this department. Unfortunately, he was tackled from behind - yes, I know, it was disappointing to me, too, considering he is a track champion - before he could reach the house on his 52 yarder.

Cole Leininger placed two punts inside the 20 and left little to complain about.

In which I close this column with some other thoughts that didn't fit elsewhere

I never got to make it to Bryan Harland's tailgates and never met him personally, but wish his family and fiancee all the best in this terrible time.

I'd also like to apologize to BearlyLegal for accidentally and excitedly hitting him in the face after Jacob Wark's touchdown.

Overall, Coach Dykes was right - nobody played very well, on either side of the ball.

Oregon State's helmets are ugly.

Despite the lack of results, I am still sure that Cal made the right move in letting Tedford go. Check last year's Oregon State, Utah and Stanford tapes again, and you'll see a team whose future was bleaker and attitudes far more unmotivated than this current one.

I don't blame students for leaving early, but I am massively disappointed, only because I would never think of leaving, regardless of the score or situation. This is also not the kind of insanity most fans suffer from, and I understand that as well.

In a way, I think this loss against Oregon State was better than last year's. Guys - Jordan Rigsbee, Bryce Treggs, Richard Rodgers - still looked like they had fight in them. Nobody did the equivalent of Maynard running out of bounds on 4th and 20, and it certainly doesn't look like the coaches are phoning it in. Someone I saw on Facebook made a good point about that, seeing as our first play with Kline in the game was a flea flicker.

No injuries! I think.

Oregon State's helmets are ugly.

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