Cal vs Portland State postgame thoughts

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Where do the Bears stand a week before Ohio State?

As I promised, this column would likely look different every week, until I settle in on what I want it to look like consistently. Let's get started.

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In which I share thoughts on the game itself

It was ugly.

No one is disputing that. When you give up 553 yards to an FCS opponent - any FCS opponent - you can't exactly be happy with your efforts. While we would undoubtedly rather be 1-1 than 0-2, a performance like this has to dim some of the Sonnyshine from last week's strong showing.

Still, now that we're basically two days removed from the game, rationality gets to set in a little bit more. Though I'm slightly discouraged by what happened Saturday, I can't say that this PSU game lowers the ceiling for this season or anything - most people around these parts expect Cal to be a fringe bowl team, and we still can be.

Really, one of the biggest things to take away from this one is the knowledge of how much better we will need to play if we want to upset Ohio State [or Oregon, or any other team.] An offense like this will give you a puncher's chance with anyone, but even with all the fantastic numbers Goff has put up, if this same team shows up on the 14th, it won't even be close. The Buckeyes can run Cardale "not here to play school" Jones out there under center, and it will not matter.

At the very least, we should be encouraged by the fact that the players and coaches all understand this. Judging from the way they're talking about it, no one will come to the Ohio State game flat and lethargic - two words that certainly would have described Cal's first half efforts against the Vikings.

If there's a silver lining from this game, it's probably this - for a second straight week, the Cal staff made great halftime adjustments, this time on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings only had 119 yards in the 3rd and 4th quarters, punting on their last 6 drives. It feels like forever since I've seen the Bears come out better prepared after halftime, but that's what it's been like under Sonny Dykes.

In which I give various #BearRaid related observations

The run game looked a tad better this week. Counting carries by our running backs only, Bigelow and Muhammad took 31 attempts for 143 yards and a 4.6 yard average, a slight uptick from last week's totals of 111 and 3.9. That still won't cut it when we get to the meat of the Pac-12 schedule, but it felt like there was more of an emphasis on the rushing attack, which was better.

However, most of their success running came out around the edges, and there is a serious problem for this team getting push up the middle right now. You would expect that they could impose their will upon an FCS opponent, but that isn't what happened, at all. Such is life with three new starters up front. There isn't exactly anyone whose redshirt is waiting to be burned, so I don't expect the starting line to look too very different in the near future, if at all. We are just going to go through some growing pains with these guys.

Still, to say the team is not doing anything about it would be wrong - Cal is very clearly dabbling with some scheme adjustments. Saturday featured a visibly increased usage of the Bone formation, and particularly, the Superbone sub package, which features Bill Tyndall and Lucas Gingold in the backfield. I expect to see much more of these types of tweaks going forward, small things that might make a difference overall, including the yet to be unveiled 7 OL package.

One of the plays they liked to run out of the Superbone was a power run right - Cal pulled Jordan Rigsbee from left guard and led him through the B gap (between Matt Cochran and Steven Moore), followed by Tyndall and Gingold as lead blockers. The Bone formation offers a lot of flexibility overall, and you should expect to see further wrinkles coming out of this set in the weeks to come, especially in terms of potential personnel.

They also passed out of the Superbone at least twice on Saturday, which is good for variety. Lucas Gingold certainly earned the catches he got, and though he is not a feasible option for substantial carries, we might want to consider using him a bit more in the run game. He's proven to be a tenacious, physical runner, and though Bigelow has that quality as well, the additional size Gingold offers might make him a better short yardage fit.

Calling it now - before the end of the season, there will be a pass attempt to Bill Tyndall.

For their struggles in the run game, I still like what I'm seeing from this offensive line in terms of pass protection - they do give up a number of sacks, but at least a few of the ones that occurred have not been their fault. [One example: a coverage sack that would have been charged to Chris Adcock.] So far, everything feels reasonably proportional to the 114 times we've passed. Mostly I'm just glad I no longer have to fear for the quarterback's life every time he drops back.

Jared Goff leads the NCAA in passing yardage through two games, and I don't like it. Not because his play hasn't been good - he's played better than anyone could have expected at this point, and that goes even for the people who picked him to start. I just don't throwing it 50 times a game is the best for long term success - it puts a burden on Goff's arm that he might not be physically ready to handle yet, and I'd rather see Bigelow/Lasco/Muhammad get going more first.

That being said, Goff's second game was better than his first, so things are definitely heading in the right direction. Without a couple of those ill-timed drops, Goff would have given had the single game passing record, easy. Two out of the top three ain't bad though, rookie.

No passes swatted down at the line, either.

His most impressive play to me came on an early completion to Darius Powe - after fumbling the ball, he picked it up, rolled out, and then threw for the completion anyway. That's the sign of a cool customer, man.

Muhammad had his largest workload to date, and there was lots to like from his day. For one, his reputation as a kick returner is already established - just a week after his first college game, he already has teams intentionally kicking away from him. When Daniel Lasco comes back in place of Darren Ervin, that option will become slightly less desirable for other teams.

For two, Muhammad showed some nice versatility, recording four catches for 85 yards in addition to the work he put in on the ground. His 62 yard catch came in one of those aforementioned schematic wrinkles - he and Bigelow were both in the game at inside receiver.

For three - and this is the most impressive part, to me - Khalfani held up well the handful of times I saw him in pass protection. He stepped up where needed, scanned around for potential rushers, and while he wasn't tested too heavily, he didn't seem overmatched at all.

Earlier this week, I found that Walter Football was projecting Richard Rodgers to be a 2015 first round pick. It's far, far too early to think about things like that, but the big fella certainly played like one on Saturday. He looked pretty much uncoverable, and this is the second straight week I've written this part: Richard Rodgers runs pretty fast for a dude his size. And the big man can MOVE, too.

Maurice Harris' actual catch isn't anything particularly surprising, since he does that kind of stuff all the time in practice. The more surprising part was that he put it together in a game, having recorded so little production up to this point. Still, just a great play overall. Seriously fantastic.

Cal showed a new offensive set with an empty backfield, and five wide. The fifth receiver was the running back working in the right slot. Nothing noteworthy was done out of this formation - I just like keeping track of stuff like this.

Speaking of things I've done twice, here it is again: Bryce Treggs' most underrated trait is his blocking. And we write a lot about his blocking.

In which I share some observations on the defense

Losing Avery Sebastian was huge. What we now know is just how huge, because the combination of Alex Logan and Michael Lowe was hopeless against Portland State. As you are now no doubt aware, Logan was fooled deep for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, which was the start of a nightmarish performance on the back end. On the play in question, Logan pulled up maybe two steps on a run fake, and that was two steps too many - the wide receiver got right behind him for a long score. Maybe a more athletic safety can get away with that play, but not him.

But that was only the start. The Lowe-gan combination then proceeded to be late meeting D.J. Adams in the open field time and time again, and that was when they were not missing the gap outright. Things improved a bit in the second half, but overall, it was not promising, because teams have repeatedly attacked the middle of the field to great effect these last two weeks. And that was with Avery Sebastian still back there. Now that Lowe could be out with an injury, we might be turning to Jason Gibson, who played linebacker the last time he was on the field.

Translation: it could get uglier, folks.

Giving Damariay Drew some credit with this next part: when he was in during the second half, he got to the right places...but his tackling ability simply isn't as good as Avery's. Portland State's third touchdown came directly off of one of his missed tackles. I believe he also had another one on Kieran McDonagh.

Stefan McClure did not have a great day at the office overall - at the end of the first half, he was actually targeted on three consecutive plays, and just had a hard time dealing with Victor Dean's size at the line, giving up both long catches to Dean, as well as a pass interference penalty.

When Stefan came out of the game for a bit, I was surprised Portland State did not switch Dean onto Lapite and attack him more...and on the one occasion they did, Dean dropped a sure touchdown that would have given PSU the lead. We definitely dodged a bullet there.

It wasn't all bad in the secondary, though. As best I can tell, Kameron Jackson recorded a Klean sheet against the Vikings. I don't recall him giving up any catches, and because he made no tackles, I like to think that supports my observation. The interception he picked up was kind of a gift - Kieran McDonagh's ball fluttered up there so long, he had no choice but to make a play on it.

Pretty much no player in the front seven played well on Saturday. Starting ends Dan Camporeale and Kyle Kragen struggled to set the edge on the run effectively, which is part of why Portland was able to gash us early on their power runs left. They would pull two linemen in that direction, then as our linebackers ended up having to take on all the extra blockers, no one came up to corral Adams [that goes back to that safety thing up top].

They weren't alone, of course. By my count, Gabe King got thrown to the ground three times in the first half...Jacobi Hunter and Todd Barr spent time diving and missing at guys when they were in there, Hardy Nickerson looked very lost and physically outmatched at times...just not a good day for these guys. Even the normally reliable Jalen Jefferson let some tackles slip through his hands. Sure, Chris McCain makes this unit a lot better on his own, but there's no excuse for getting physically manhandled by Portland State, no matter how well the Vikings played. Hopefully Mustafa Jalil's return is soon too, because they could use the bodies.

At some point, Andy Buh has to start bringing more five men pressure packages, right? The ends - missing Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett or not - are not producing, and three sacks through two games is no bueno. Get more pressure, and everything else will magically look better.

I'd still withhold judgment on Buh's abilities, seeing as he's playing with 2/3rds of a defense, which also happens to be one of the youngest in the country.

In which I present some stats in praise of Mark Tommerdahl, small sample sizes be damned

All figures courtesy of Cal Football, NCAA's official stats website, and cfbstats.com

2012

2013 - through two games

Kickoff Return

20.71 yards (80th in the country)

20.80 yards (65th in the country)

Opponent Kickoff Return

26.85 yards (122nd in the country)

17.86 yards (23rd in the country)

Average Punt

39.84 yards (90th in the country)

41.9 (57th in the country)

Average Opponent Punt Return

9.63 yards (83rd in the country)

Cal has yet to have ANY PUNTS RETURNED THIS YEAR.

Kickoff Touchback Average

18 of 60, 30%

6 of 15, 40%

Average Kickoff Distance

60.5 yards

63.1 yards

Punts Fair Caught or Inside 20 Yard Line

26 fair catches, 14 punts inside the 20, 62 attempts, 64%

41.9% of punts fair caught

22.5% of punts inside 20

4 fair catches, 3 punts inside the 20, 10 attempts, 70%

40% of punts fair caught

30% of punts inside 20

In which I close this column

REMEMBER TO WEAR YOUR ASSIGNED COLOR TO THE STRIPEOUT THIS WEEK

Finally, a big shout out to CGB reader Dave, who I met and sat behind at the game. Dave got engaged Saturday against Portland State, a team that holds special significance to he and his fiance - they began dating shortly after our last game against PSU, way back in 2006. Congratulations, man, and I look forward to delivering more high fives to both of you this season! [We sit in the 40s of QQ, if anyone wants to join us.]

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