(1) This is All We Need From Maynard. Prior to this season I had this vision of Maynard. It was a vision where he handed the ball off to a strong Cal running game, where he could complete 60% of his passes, where he didn't have to put the entire offense on his shoulders, where he would scramble for five to ten yards when nobody was open, and where he would be an effective zone-read threat by gaining five to ten yards per zone read keeper. That vision of Maynard is pretty much what we saw against Washington State.
When Cal's run game is working well, Maynard doesn't have to be a world-beater. And I think that's when he's also at his best. Cal was able to rely on the run game pretty often. Cal stayed out of a lot of long-yardage situations (very crucial), thus reducing the amount of times Maynard had to throw. Maynard attempted 23 passes which isn't an extraordinary amount. He completed 14 of those 23 (60%). That completion percentage is acceptable. And for the most part, Maynard completed passes when he needed to. There were two interceptions. Those were those fluke interceptions where the ball is tipped and the defense gets a freebee. Yeah, perhaps both balls were a little too far out in front of the receivers but at least those INTs weren't because Maynard was just mis-reading the defense and throwing the ball into coverage. There's a difference between throwing INTs because of mis-reads and throwing INTs because of tipped balls. The former is worse than the latter.
Anyway, if Cal can continue to just rely on its run game, everything is going to be just fine. We can limit the passing attack to short high percentage passes (which also gets the ball out of Maynard's hands quicker thus avoiding sacks). We can control the ball and the clock. We can move down field, tire out the defense, and score points.
(2) It All Starts With the Offensive Line. Whether it be running or passing, you're not going to do either without an offensive line. And I think this was perhaps the best performance by the Cal offensive line this year. I don't think Maynard was sacked once. He wasn't hurried significantly. He did get knocked down a few times. But overall, pass protection this game was great.
Maynard looked like a totally different QB in the pocket. He seemed comfortable. He didn't seem nervous. It seemed like he had confidence in his offensive line to protect him. And I think that confidence carried over into his game. He maintained his accuracy and wasn't overthrowing receivers due to the jitters or having to aggressive step up into the pocket.
As for the run game, this stat line pretty much sums it up: 6.4 yards per attempt rushing overall. That's beyond great. That's excellent. The way Cal was running it seemed like all we had to do was run to win the game. In fact, some might argue Cal didn't run enough. The official stat line says that Cal ran the ball 50 times to just 23 passes. The run count is a little high because a few of those runs were from Maynard scrambling on pass plays. So in reality, the run/pass distribution was probably more like 47/26. But still, Cal clearly was just out to run the rock and why not when you're gaining 6.0+ yards a pop?
(3) Running back by Committee = Depth. As a running back, you might not like a running back by committee situation because you're sharing snaps with other players. But as a coach, a team, and as a fan, I think you'd have to like the situation. Some might say if you have a running back by committee situation that's bad because you clearly don't have a running back. That can be true. Or it could mean that you have a bunch of great running backs. I think Cal's situation is the latter -- Cal has a bunch of great running backs. And I think we saw that this game.
Isi Sofele ran the rock 14 times. CJ Anderson ran the rock 15 times. Brendan Bigelow ran 8 times. When Sofele looked a little beat up, Anderson took over. When Anderson got injured, Bigelow stepped in. And the entire time, the running backs just didn't miss a beat. There was not a dropoff in talent from one to the next. Every guy's game is a little different than the rest, but they all can hit the holes and get yardage. It was very enjoyable to watch these guys trade off snaps and break off good runs. Truly enjoyable.
(4) Steve Williams -- Straight Baller Status. We all knew Steve Williams was good. He was good last year. He was good two years ago. He was just as good 20 years ago when he was still in diapers. The guy can flat out play cornerback. How many passes defended did he have? Like 8??? He got called for at least one pass interference which wasn't a pass interference too.
Granted, he wasn't covering Marquess Wilson all night, but still... in the moments when he was covering Wilson he held his own just fine. If Williams continues to play this well, he'll be playing on Sundays. For now though, his ability to lock down a receiver will give Cal Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast some comfort and more chances to blitz the QB.
(5) Avery Sebastian -- Next Great Cal Safety? I am a little surprised it's taken him this long to assert himself as a starter. But now that he's starting, I think he's definitely here to stay (so long as he doesn't get injured). This guy can play. What a ball hawk. Pretty good in run support. Reacts to the ball in coverage fairly well. Not afraid to lay some wood on receivers. And he has a strong Twitter game too.
As for that personal foul hit on Marquess Wilson, that wasn't malicious or intended to be helmet to helmet. You could clearly see Sebastian leading with his right shoulder and not his helmet. Sebastian's helmet was below Wilson's helmet. Wilson was in the air, and as he was coming down, his helmet lowered right down into the helmet of Sebastian. In other words, it wasn't so much that Sebastian hit Wilson in the helmet, but Wilson moved his head in a manner which put his helmet in the way of Sebastian's helmet causing them to connect. If I'm a defensive coordinator, after that play I tell Sebastian not to worry about it and to keep hitting WRs who are coming over the middle just the same.
(6) Cal Gets AGGRESSIVE on Defense ... And has Nothing to Show for It. Wow. Clancy Pendergast blitzed the crap out of WSU. It seems like play after play it was a linebacker blitzing or a defensive back. Cal was bringing the heat on WSU and.... we just couldn't get to the QB. That was unfortunate, and a little disconcerting. You'd like these blitzes to work -- obviously. Since you're blitzing, you're more vulnerable down field and so unless you get that pressure on the QB, you could be giving up chunks of yards real fast. Luckily, Cal faced Washington State's Conor Halliday who had a bad day. However, when Jeff Tuel came in, he started lighting up the secondary.
For a moment, I had a slight feeling of DOOM when Halliday was benched and Tuel came in. Tuel is a senior. He's a seasoned QB. That guy can play. With him at QB, WSU's chances at winning the game improved dramatically. I was hoping that Halliday would stay in the game. If he did, I think Cal could have won this game by an even bigger margin... but I guess I should just be thankful we won.
Anyway, despite Pendergast being aggressive, Cal only registered one or two sacks all night. Towards the the end of the game it was quite clear that Pendergast gave up on blitzing WSU because then Cal started dropping seven and eight defenders into coverage (totes Bob Gregory style! Oh no!!!).
(7) No Rollouts? Random thought. Did we not see a single Maynard rollout this entire game? Were all his passes from straight dropbacks?
(8) Special Teams Performance. Was this perhaps the best special teams performance to date? Kickoff coverage seemed fine. WSU only averaged 24 yards per kickoff return on two attempts. Our punting seemed fine. Cole Leininger averaged 45.5 yards on four punts, including a long of 61 yards. And then Vince D'Amato kicked a career long 52 yard field goal! And no blocked PATs! I don't think I remember a game in a long time where Cal's special team woes haven't given me stress.
(9) Penalties. We had eight of them for 91 yards. It sounds bad, but I don't think it was. There were some absolute CRAP calls by the refs this game. Steve Williams got called for one pass interference which wasn't pass interference. Same for Kameron Jackson. And then Avery Sebastian got called for that person foul helmet-to-helmet hit on Marquess Wilson which was just a fluke accident. That's three penalties and 45 yards which shouldn't have been penalties. That would have dropped the count down to five penalties for 46 yards.
This was, by far, the cleanest game Cal has played in a long time (once you ignore the horrible calls). Cal had maybe... all of one offensive penalty? I mean, when was the last time you haven't seen a false start or holding penalty stall an offensive drive? Okay. Last week. But prior to these last two games, when have you not seen a false start or holding penalty stall an offensive drive? Perhaps last year!
(10) Injuries. I just hope we can stay healthy. We had some scares this game with Avery Sebastian getting injured, Keenan Allen getting injured, and CJ Anderson getting injured. If Cal can avoid any serious injuries to key players, I think we can be fairly competitive with the remaining opponents on the schedule.
(11) Confidence. I gotta think that the last two weeks have put some confidence back into the team. I don't think we have to worry about them being overly confident because the team's record is still 3-4. But I think with a nice win over a Top-25 rated UCLA and then picking up a road win, these past two weeks will give the team some great energy going into Big Game week.
And of course, Stanfurd is reeling from a tough emotional loss to Notre Dame in which Stanfurd QB Josh Nunes threw two interceptions (frustrating for him), and the refs basically blew a touchdown call (more frustrating). Stanfurd might be a little demoralized. Nunes might be a little shaken. Stanfurd might be buckling at the knees a bit from the tough blows they've received over the past three weeks (losing to UW, allowing Arizona to score 48 points, and losing to Notre Dame), and Cal is on a little upswing. I am cautiously a little more optimistic about Big Game. I'm not going to flat out say we're going to win or anything. But I feel like it could definitely be a hard fought game by the Bears.
It goes without saying, a Big Game win would do wonders for the team's morale as well as Cal fans' morale.