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Cal football roundtable: The Golden Bears are 4-1. How and why?

We list the reasons.

Ezra Shaw


A. Goff and the Bear Raid.
B. Going from historically awful defense to less than average
C. Fewer injuries

Leland Wong: These are my three top reasons, but in no particular order.

  1. Luck, which goes both ways. A lot of bad luck went into all of the injuries last year. I'm not saying that being unable to stay healthy is what kept us out of the Rose Bowl, but I think if we had just the typical number of injuries, then we'd have the players needed to win a few more games, which is particularly important in a coach's first season. We've also caught some lucky breaks and bad luck this year in these close calls.
  2. Improved run game. This is thanks to the offensive line and the running backs. It took a year, but the O-line is more accustomed to the style of the spread offense like the wider splits and two-point stance. Our running backs--particularly Daniel Lasco--have become stronger runners thanks to their significantly improved ability to make it past the first contact and make some big runs. (Honorable mention goes to improvements elsewhere in the offense thanks to a deep crew of receivers and improvements in Jared Goff's skillset.)
  3. Defensive improvements, which is crazy since the defense is still struggling. The defensive line has clogged up the middle and is even getting better penetration than last year. Coach Kaufman's new schemes has our players in the right position and ready to make tackles instead of chasing from behind.

TwistNHook:  OK, I will do that right now.

1.  Defensive improvement.  I know that that seems like an insane concept (esp since Cal is actually giving up more points so far this season than last, I think).  But they really have improved quite a bit.  NW didn't score tons of points.  Arizona was held down until the 4th quarter pretty much.

2.  Wide Receivers.  We knew they were good last year, but man with the addition of Trevor Davis, they are amazing.  Might be the best receivers in the Pac-12.  Every one is better than the last.  They all seem to make circus catches and then run 30 yards for the TD.

3.   Weaker seeming schedule to start the year.  Last year we had Ohio State and Oregon early in the year.  Of course I say that and then NW seems to be potentially better than last year.  Arizona and WSU may be at the top of the Pac.  Everything is so topsy turvy this year, so who knows.  But it seems like our schedule is more backloaded this year compared to last.  So there is that. 

boomtho: Top 3 reasons:

1. The offense: The offense has taken a pretty ridiculous leap from a decent first year under Dykes.Last year, we probably lose to WSU by 25, grouse about Buh and praise Goff a little, and move on. The fact that our offense matched them point for point (plus one!) is pretty darn amazing. It's such a cool blend of big play potential, the ability to move the ball in chunks on the ground, and somewhat reliable third down passing conversions. It's really a joy to watch. I'd also like to point out the drastic improvement in the OL and run game - that has been a big factor.

2. Teaching defensive fundamentals: Kaufman is dealing with injuries (though not as many as Buh), but I feel like the biggest difference has not been in scheme (which feels pretty vanilla) - rather, it's in the defense's ability to stay in front of receivers and make tackles. Obviously had WSU had two really long TD's but for the most part, we dropped deep and were able to actually tackle WR's after they made the catch.

3. Schedule gods: We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we've played the easiest part of our schedule by far this season - the difficulty is about to ramp way up, and despite the huge improvements we've seen on both sides of the ball, it wouldn't surprise me if we only win 0 or 1 games the rest of the year.

HydroTech: I think the biggest reason for Cal's jump from 1-11 last year to 4-1 this year is the fact that the offense has really come together in Dykes' second year.  Jared Goff is one of the better QBs in the Pac-12.  Cal has a bunch of talented WRs who are playing very well.  And most importantly of all, Cal actually has a down-field attack this year.  Last year we couldn't complete a pass for over 15 yards.  This year Jared Goff's yards per attempt is a NCAA 5th best 10.36 yards per attempt (national average is 7.5 yards per attempt).  That is insane.

Nick Kranz: I would like to illustrate why Cal is now a competitive team with a few simple stats:

2013: 5.20 (98th in the nation)
2014: 7.30 (7th in the nation)

3rd down conversion rate
2013: 33.64 (108th in the nation)
2014: 50.68 (9th in the nation)

40+ yard plays/game
2013: 1.2 (53rd in the nation)
2014: 3.4 (1st in the nation)

Sacks allowed/game
2013: 2.75 (107th in the nation)
2014: 1.6 (48th in the nation)

Red Zone scoring percentage
2013: 72.09 (117th in the nation)
2014: 95.24% (10th in the nation)

In conclusion: Our offense is almost unfathomably better than last year.

Avinash Kunnath:

1. Jared Goff. He's been phenomenal this season. The leap he took between last year and this year is remarkable. He is throwing up dimes on a frozen rope and is stretching the passing game in ways I haven't seen since the old receiving corps of Desean, Lavelle and Robert Jordan were on the field. He has a talented group of wide receivers for sure too and the addition of Trevor Davis has made a huge difference, but Goff's improved accuracy and arm strength have made all the difference this season.

He's thrown the second most touchdowns, has the third best passer efficiency, and is fifth in yards per pass attempt among all FBS quarterbacks. He's thrown only one real interception this year (the other two were tip-drills). He's authored two straight double-digit comebacks and came out of the gates torching Northwestern and Arizona. He's the best quarterback we've had since Aaron Rodgers.

2. Art Kaufman. I can't say how nice it is to have a defensive coordinator who knows what he's doing. Cal's defense looks much sounder this year and are making stops at critical points, and have also shown that when healthy can be a pretty decent unit. Their run defense is much improved and the Bears have done a much better job limiting big plays. All this despite the fact the Bears are throwing true/redshirt freshmen and JUCOs and walk-ons into the fire and hoping that something sticks.

Oh, don't get me wrong. This is not a good defense right now. If anyone else goes out, I have my doubts we can win any game this year if we don't #drop50.  But I have faith that they can improve from week-to-week and the young players we throw out there will improve over time. This was not something I could say at all at this point last year. 

3. I agree the schedule has been much kinder than last year. We started out last season playing two top ten teams, and we were pretty much wiped after that. This year there doesn't particularly seem to be any one great team we'll play this year (and Northwestern and Arizona are starting to look pretty good), but it's quite clear the tougher games are ahead of us rather than in front of us. 

Now we're heading through the gauntlet where two wins would seem awesome. But now that the Bears know that bowl eligibility is in sight, they'll be raring to go every week.