Cal vs Oregon postgame thoughts

Steve Dykes

These columns get longer every week, I swear.

In which we attempt to examine this game fumblefest in perspective

Because the Pac-12 and DirecTV remain locked in the longest television beef this side of Charlie Sheen and CBS, most people across the country were unable to watch Cal versus Oregon on Saturday night.

If you were one of those people, lucky you.

Those of us who had the misfortune of doing so received a four hour dose of comically diluted football-related substances, but not an actual football game.

How comical, you ask?

  • Playing in the leftovers of a Japanese typhoon, two teams combined for t-e-n fumbles - six by Oregon, four by Cal.
  • Cal's first four drives ended via - you guessed it - fumble. Oregon's field possession from those fumbles? The 25, the 33, the 22, and the 40. That's Cal's 25, 33, 22 and 40 yard lines, mind you.
  • Our starting quarterback was pulled in the first quarter not for his ineffectiveness, but because he could not handle a soaked football.
  • At one point, Bralon Addison took a punt return in which he ran through pretty much every Cal defender...twice. Stefan McClure even collided with Richard Rodgers. You could have slapped Yakety Sax on the background for a ready made lowlight clip. [Nobody actually do this, please.]
  • For the third straight week, Cal got off to a slow start, continuing a rather troubling trend. I'm inclined to give this one a pass compared to the first quarters against Ohio State and Portland State, though. After all, the weather forced Oregon to struggle out of the gate just as we did - they just happened to have all the fumbles bounce their way instead.

Unfortunately, the result - no matter how hilariously awful and fluky - stands. The Cal Bears are 1-3, after having over 50 points dropped on them for the second straight week.

On the flip side, the rain didn't last forever - the torrential downpour gave way to relatively better conditions in the second half, in the same way that dying from a gunshot is relatively better than one by strangulation.

And like the storm that swept through the Pacific Northwest last weekend, the worst of this year should now be over; the daunting task of playing two top-five teams back to back, completed. This is about where most reasonable projections had Cal after four weeks. 1-3, maybe 2-2 at best. In that sense, they are still meeting expectations, although some of the play has been very, very uninspiring. More on that later.

There isn't too much reason to be upset following this loss, seeing as Cal was never going to reach six wins this season by beating Ohio State or Oregon - to expect that we would bordered on foolish optimism. And while I understand there might be some upset at the way we lost, let's not forget that this is what Oregon does pretty much every week, regardless of opponent - overwhelm you with their athleticism and then bury you under a deluge of points.

Ask Tennessee or Virginia.

We are only the latest to succumb to the Oregon scoring machine, not the first.

Plus, with the elements and the way the game unfolded, I actually find it rather difficult to piece together any coherent conclusions. Again, more on that later.

In which Washington State is somehow the biggest non-Big Game game of the year

It is where the team goes from here that will be truly telling, and particularly in how they respond next weekend.

As this first month has shown, Cal does not yet have the talent and depth to compete against top tier teams, but there should be more than enough to handle the Washington States of the world - especially a Washington State team that could start their second team quarterback next weekend. [Connor Halladay was knocked out of WSU's 55-17 loss to Stanford with an apparent hip injury.]

As bad as the defense has looked, a bowl game is still possible - however unlikely it might currently seem. A win over the Cougars will be essential in that, though - middle of the Pac/lower-tier teams are the ones that the Bears must best for a bowl berth, not the Ducks or the Buckeyes.

If they cannot manage a decent, complete performance against this caliber of opponent, then a bowl is likely out of reach, although that isn't necessarily a death knell for the Sonny Dykes era or anything.This was always going to be a rebuilding year of some sort, and it'll take at least another year or two to be able to gauge his adequacy as head coach. Realizing that we are not bowl capable would just be a sad realization, and in my mind, indicative of little more than that at this point.

But until we know for sure otherwise, let's remember that there are still five possible wins on the schedule - USC, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State and Wazzu. Yes, it will take dramatic improvement to sweep that slate, but it very much remains in the realm of possibility, which is why Wazzu is so crucial. Drop this one and the forecast for the season becomes immediately dimmer, as it puts our backs are against the wall and into the unenviable situation of having to beat UCLA, Stanford or Washington to qualify for post-season play.

Cal has been tested thoroughly this first month, and starting now is when the lessons need to begin paying off. We'll know how good - or bad - the 2013 Bears really are from this point forward, I think.

Let's see if Saturday's rain spurs the growth they now desperately need to show.

In which I write about the Kline situation

In a very weird and admittedly twisted way, I think we dodged a bullet on Saturday - the worst possible thing for this team would have been for Kline to come in and play brilliantly, thereby setting off a renewed Longshore-Riley type debacle. As it stands, though, Kline was only fairly mediocre and did little to show he was better than Goff. Count me among those who would be surprised if the freshman loses his job after this one.

Some of Kline's poor play can be blamed on the weather, which obviously affected compromised his ability to throw normally. Still, a good amount of his throws sailed off target or were behind receivers, showing that his accuracy in the short game remains an issue. [Chris Harper had to jump on one completed tunnel screen.]

More concerning was the fact that he could not get much velocity on the ball, no matter what type of route he was throwing - so much so that it was even mentioned several times on air by the announcers.

How much of Saturday was rust, how much of it was him being unable to plant his foot solidly and how much of it was due to a lack of reps with the first string, I'll let you decide.

Whatever the case, I think Kline performed quite admirably given the conditions he was thrust into - a four touchdown deficit on the road - but that he did not show enough to reclaim the starting quarterback job. That being said, the coaches will not hesitate to switch the two if they think Kline gives us a better chance to win. The ongoing competitions at left tackle, right guard and linebacker should prove that much.

On the flip side, it was good to get Kline game action of any kind after over a season on the bench - if he has to play again, I expect that he will be significantly better than he was on Saturday night, having had a chance to re-acclimate himself a bit. Staring down the number two team in the country and coming away relatively unscathed can be nothing but a good growing experience for him. Plus, no fumbles or turnovers [that were his fault, anyway]!

As far as Goff goes, some people may think that being pulled early might hurt his development in the long-term, but I don't think this will be the case at all.

For one, even Goff felt like it was the right thing to do:

And for two, it was a very unique situation on Saturday night, with almost nothing to be gained by leaving him out there in monsoon-like conditions. You could make the case that Goff's confidence would be equally damaged if he continued to fumble every other snap and played us into an even larger hole. Goff literally could not catch, let alone throw the ball.

Keeping possession is paramount in his offense, and he had immense difficulty doing so in the inclement weather, forcing the coaches to go to someone who could. Because he has shown a repeated ability to do these things in less freakish conditions, I do not think there is any more to read into than that, and am doubtful it did anything to his confidence.

I would, however, like to see Goff practice with a Ben Roethlisberger/Kurt Warner type throwing glove for future rainy situations. I am also not sure what Saturday's game says about Goff and wet weather just yet, since it wasn't your garden variety rainy game. Is Goff just unable to hold slick footballs of any kind? Was his issue with the absurd, Perfect Storm amount of rain? If it's the former...then we have a long-term problem. Perhaps - and I float this idea only half jokingly - we could prep Kline as our designated rainy day quarterback...

I haven't been to practices in a while, but it's not common for teams to gameplan or give reps to any more than their first two quarterbacks, so I would surmise that that is why we did not see Hinder.

In which there is some talk about defense

Let's take a look at the injury list for a second:

  • OUT: Scarlett (hand), Jalil (knee), Forbes (back), Sebastian (achilles)

That's four starters Cal played without in this one. Throw in Chris McCain's unfortunate dismissal and you have five starters who will be out for the year or indefinitely. Then there's Michael Lowe, who was injured in the fourth quarter, and Kam Jackson (knee) who came out in the first. Updates on their health are still unavailable, but that brings the list up to seven.

I mean, at this point, it's fair to say they're playing with less than the first string, right? This is basically the 1.5 string Cal defense, if even that.

So, keep that health situation in mind as I say this next part - despite giving up 55 total points, I think the defense arguably had one of its better games this season. It was by no means acceptable in its level of performance, but there were some signs of life, even after factoring in the weather.

Consider, if you will:

  • 14 points came off of special teams, meaning Oregon's offense really scored 41 points on Cal's defense. Again, this is unacceptable, but it is a sign of improvement, no matter how small. I also realize that they pulled their starters by the early third quarter.
  • To add onto that last point, the 55 points Oregon scored was a season low for them, and it's not like they didn't pull their starters against the likes of Nichols State.
  • See also the yardage totals totals below, which are somewhat skewed due to the short fields they started on. Still, holding Oregon to 5.14 yards per play, no matter how you do it is pretty good.

Nichols State

771 yards on 71 plays (26 passes, 45 rushes)

10.85 yards per play

Virginia

557 yards on 69 plays (29 passes, 40 rushes)

8.07 yards per play

Tennessee

687 yards on 76 plays (35 passes, 41 carries)

9.03 yards per play

California

381 yards on 74 plays (26 passes, 48 carries)

5.14 yards per play

  • Oregon managed to drop the football four times in the first quarter, but lost possession a grand total of zero times. Zilch. None. Nada. Nil. Think the game doesn't look a bit different if Cal can recover a couple of those? Or, you know, hang onto their own? Conventional football theory says that forcing fumbles is a controllable skill, but recovering them is largely luck. On Saturday, we didn't have any.
  • I wrote this above, but I'll put it down here again: Oregon's four possessions following their opening drive came at the Cal 25, the 33, the 22, and the 40. It is hard to expect a defense play lights out when they've already lost half the field to start. Quite frankly, it could have [should have?] been worse than 27-0 at the end of the first quarter.
  • The defense did manage to force two turnovers on downs early on, despite the massively disadvantageous position they were put in, and appeared to have a pretty decent preparation for the stuff Oregon was running. Their longest play was only 28 yards.

Still unacceptable, but there's some good signs. Signs of something, at least.

I'm not against firing Buh at the end of the season, but let's actually get there, first. Let's see if there's improvement from a defense that has been worst in the program's history through four games, and examine his body of work in context after that.

Now, onto other stuff.

The first concerning thing here is the fact that some players exhibited poor effort and body language, even in the first quarter - if you take a look at Damariay Drew on Oregon's fourth touchdown, he very, very clearly quit on the play and stops giving chase to Byron Marshall at about the 13 yard-line. This despite having a decent shot at him, mind you. It's too early for stuff like this to start happening, and part of why Wazzu will be so telling for this team is to see what the staff does about situations like these. Hopefully it was an isolated instance.

It may never come out publically as to what Chris McCain did to be kicked off the team, but one telling thing is that he did not play in the second half. Puka Lopa took his spot at end.

The Bears are continuing to toy around with different looks. On the first play of the game, they had Deandre Coleman lined up at nose, flanked by Dan Camporeale and Viliami Moala. Chris McCain was standing up at end, as Michael Barton. Khairi Fortt and Hardy Nickerson played linebacker. Though they only have three down linemen here, it is apparently still a 4-3 under front - Hunter Hewitt corrected me about this, so thanks to him for expanding my knowledge of the game. [I told you guys I'm still learning!]

There's more on that 4-3 front with 3 down linemen concept here in this article, if you're interested.

Anyway, back to that previous point - it's clear they're still tinkering around with the pieces they have available to them...the few they have left, anyway. Anyone who says the coaches are twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing just isn't playing attention. I believe the idea behind this one is to get Chris in a better position to make plays, since standing him up to allow him to crash gaps is a better use of his athleticism.

Sometimes both ends stood up - this one courtesy of Hunter Hewitt again.

One pleasant surprise on defense - yes, there has been at least one - has been the emergence of Kam Jackson as a flat-out shutdown corner, far out-playing his counterparts in the defensive secondary. He hadn't played the best in the open practices or heading up to the season, but something clearly went on in Kam's head once we kicked off this year. The junior from Long Beach Poly (that one's for you, Josh) has allowed very, very few catches this season - if any at all - and avoided the over-aggressive play that has been a repeated point of concern with him. This is a roundabout way of telling you that Jackson has probably been the best Cal defender this season, and literally the last person they could have afforded to lose back there.

Joel Willis can replace some of the physicality and most of the athleticism, but he is behind in his technical development overall, having not played cornerback full time for a while. Expect us to rotate between Willis and Lapite until someone looks serviceable. Lapite took reps for most of the Oregon game.

Marcus Mariota didn't have his best day, which helped things a bit. The rain affected him too, because like Kline, Mariota had many easy passes simply fall off-target or behind his receiver.

The missed tackles monster was back, although some of it was simply slipping from the rain. If you go back and watch the tape, it's common to see guys desperately trying to make shoestring tackles because they've fallen out of position. Things should be better in drier conditions next week. Hopefully.

Oregon's wide receivers blocked the shit out of our secondary. Like, all of the guys in the secondary. Their entire team is full of Harpers and Treggs. That's what makes the little bubble screens and quick passes go - wide receiver blocking, and we had only a little success getting off the blocks out there, some of which were of a rather dubious legality. And yes, they were helped on some holds too - Oregon's second touchdown is made possible when Kam Jackson is tangled up on the outside, making it impossible for him to come down and help on Josh Huff.

Stefan McClure headed the defense, breaking up a career high three passes and having a fairly stout evening on the outside. Deandre Coleman had his most visibly disruptive game to date, finding himself in the backfield pretty often. He ended up leading the team in tackles and forcing one nine yard loss, and I thought Moala had some fairly strong moments of his own. The man known as ManBearCal has a take:

Good to see Dan Camporeale stuff a screen in the first quarter to force a turnover on downs and for Kyle Kragen to record his first sack. We're going to need a lot more production on from those guys going forward, though their effort is not in question - Camporeale particularly. I would label Lopa as another guy we'd need more from, too.

And a haiku:

Defense: D+ (maybe a C- if you feel really generous)

Short fields all game long

Should have been a lot worse, really

Once again caught no breaks

In which we try to say some things about the offense

Seeing as Goff played half a quarter and backups from both teams took most of the work the rest of the way, these observations are decidedly limited.

Damariay Drew was not alone in his occasional lapse of effort. On Kline's interception, Drake Whitehurst gets tangled up with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but then appears to look to the refs for a flag, rather than up for an incoming pass. I am not sure what the route was supposed to be, here, but it does look like Drake kind of gives up on the play, although less obviously than Drew did.

As best I can tell, the running back situation remains in flux. Khalfani Muhammad took the first series, Jeffrey Coprich has more touchdowns than Brendan Bigelow, and on Saturday, he nearly had as many carries, too. Daniel Lasco did not follow up his strong game last week with anything substantial in this one.

It's hard not to label the Fresno Flash as the major offensive disappointment so far, and because we continue to rush for a middling 3.whatever yards per carry, I'm mostly on board with Avi about this:

The holes haven't been particularly large, though, and perhaps all Bigelow needs is more time to develop trust in his knee and stuff.

Jordan Rigsbee is sure as hell not a quitter - no matter what the score is, he plays with a mean streak and attitude, although you'd really like to see him get a better handle on that. Sometimes it runs him into penalty trouble. I don't think Steven Moore is either - I saw him charge down field to try to make a block for Treggs, despite the 27-0 score.

So, here's that disastrous first quarter sequence, as we try to figure out what happened:

Fumble number one came when Goff tried to throw, but it slipped out of his hands.

Fumble number two was a result of Bigelow juking backwards to try to find a hole, only to have an Oregon defender slap it out.

Fumble number three came when Goff was sacked on a six man blitz - Oregon brought more men than Cal's empty backfield could protect against, and there was no time for him to try to dump it off anywhere. That last part is due to Deforest Buckner dodging a cut block by Jordan Rigsbee and taking away Goff's last available passing lane with his insane wingspan. The result is that he had to take a loss.

Fumble number four came when Khalfani took an accidental forearm to the helmet. He did not play again the rest of the night, so I assume that is the play he got injured on.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell pretty much erased Treggs and Harper on Saturday night, thanks to a strong pass rush and Cal's inability to get anything going downfield. Meanwhile, Courtney Roby and Ohio State allowed over 200 receiving yards to Jared Abbrederis - after letting Harper and Treggs rack up a bunch of yardage just two weeks ago. Hey, NFL scouts. Pretty sure the corner you want is in Oregon.

As mentioned up top, Kline struggled to hit anything accurately at all, especially down the field, which is why the Bears averaged 4.5 YPA. Didn't help that Bouza, Rodgers and Treggs all dropped some fairly ordinary passes. By my count, Rodgers had at least three.

There was another fairly questionable play call after the turnover, this one with a throwback pass from Harper to Kline. Thankfully it only landed incomplete.

Oregon's Torrodney Prevot is going to be a problem for the next couple of seasons.

Christian Okafor and Geoffrey Gibson came in in the second half at right tackle and right guard, respectively.

Even a normally reliable special teams unit failed in this one, allowing two punt return touchdowns to Bralon Addison and then missing an extra point. Props to them for attempting to remain aggressive and running a fake punt with Leininger, though.

Here are two haikus:

Offense: F

A wretched rainstorm

Results in no pass offense

No run game either

Special Teams: F

Vince D'Amato missed

an extra point in this one

Tommerdahl's nightmare

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