The Bears are leaving Pullman with the result they wanted, but it wasn't the prettiest thing to watch and it could have some negative repercussions on the rest of the season. Multiple key contributors for both teams left the field with injuries of varying degrees, and team health will be something to monitor as we enter Big Game week. But we have all week to worry about that - for now it's time to revel in some excellent performances from our Bears!
Keenan Allen was one of those briefly injured players after taking a big hit on a crossing pattern. But that was a tiny negative blip in what was just another monster day for KA21. Facing single coverage for much of the game, Allen continued his march up the Cal receiving record books with 11 catches for 166 yards. Cal's first touchdown came on a nifty play call. Allen lined up in the slot in a 5 receiver formation, which set up a single-coverage mismatch that was quickly exploited for a 69 yard touchdown.
While Allen was the biggest individual star on offense, it wasn't Cal's passing game that won the game. Instead it was a dominating rushing attack that routinely ate up chunks of yards straight up the middle. Isi Sofele, C.J. Anderson, Brendan Bigelow, and Zach Maynard combined for 312 yards, and it was C.J.'s jailbreak run straight up the middle that essentially clinched the game in the 4th quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball Cal spent another week bending but not breaking. Washington State had plenty of success moving the football into Cal territory, but five of those drives ended with an interception, a missed field goal or a turnover on downs. 17 points is a paltry total when you consider that the Cougars piled up 430 total yards, although a decent portion of those yards did come after the game had virtually been decided.
The game started brightly for the defense with an assist from Connor Holliday, who badly overthrew two passes into the arms of Cal defenders. Holliday was quickly removed in favor of Jeff Tuel, who was significantly more effective. Unfortunately for Tuel his receivers didn't help him out by dropping a number of catchable passes, and Cal's pass rush routinely chased him out of the pocket.
And especially unfortunately for Jeff Tuel? Steve Williams was in the secondary, and he played brilliantly. His first interception was impressively difficult, and he was credited with four pass break-ups. Watching the game, it seems like twice as many. He had great downfield coverage throughout the game and as usual flashed his excellent open field tackling abilities.
Negatives? There weren't a ton. Washington State had two touchdown drives. One of them came in garbage time and the other was significantly assisted by two very questionable pass interference calls that extended the drive. Penalties might have been another negative, depending on how strong the blue tint on your glasses is.
Zach Maynard did throw two interceptions, but neither of the passes were bad decisions or horrible missed throws. Both were marginally off target, and both were tipped by Cal receivers into the arms of Cougar defenders. Obviously it would be better for Maynard to hit his receivers in the chest, but in this case I'm inclined to file both plays in the 'bad luck' category and move on.
No, the biggest negative from this game was how frustratingly slow it was. Four 1st quarter reviews, too many penalties, lots of incomplete passes . . . it was an ugly disjointed slog. Except that the game ended with Bear Territory chants, which makes it immediately beautiful.
Other scattered post-game thoughts:
- Perhaps my most conflicted moment of the game was Vince D'Amato's 52 yard field goal. It was great to watch Vince celebrate with his teammates after hitting a career long. But I'd very much prefer that he doesn't attempt any more field goals from that range. The field goal was good by about two feet, and you might recall that a 48 yarder against Southern Utah hit the crossbar. 50 yards is just barely within Vince's range, and that's ignoring the possibility of the ball going wide. In those situations in the future I'd much rather see Cal go for it.
- Allen's prolific day meant that every other target was largely ignored. That would concern me if it meant that nobody else was coming open. But honestly, I got the sense that Maynard could have chosen from a number of different open targets on each play. And when you have your choice, I think throwing to the future 1st round draft pick is a solid choice.
- Major props for the offensive line for opening up space for 300+ rushing yards and ZERO SACKS ALLOWED! I don't even recall Maynard getting hit much. Washington State doesn't present nearly the same challenge to the line that other teams on Cal's schedule, but they've gotten to the quarterback often enough this year that keeping Maynard's jersey clean means something.
- With the possible exception of Michael Lowe, none of Cal's injuries seem likely to be serious. But it's safe to say that having everybody feeling 100% next Saturday would be ideal. Hopefully everything turns out to be minor bumps and bruises that will be gone in a week.
- IT'S BIG GAME WEEK CAL FANS!