On a day that Bret Bielema learned that SEC speed is no match for Toledo Rocket speed, Cal did something that seemed unthinkable a year ago. The defense picked up the slack for an offense that sputtered a bit, and led the Bears to a 35-7 victory over San Diego State. While I find it difficult to call an offensive performance uneven when Jared Goff completes 70% of his passes, Daniel Lasco gains 100+ yards, and there is 100 yard receiver, a lot of that came late in the second quarter and beyond. For the first 27 minutes or so, this game was relatively even.
Then a quick series of events happened. Darius White gets an interception at the 35 yard line. Goff hits a seam to Bryce Treggs for 28 yards. Kenny Lawler jukes a defender for 24 yards. Then Maurice Harris takes a screen the last 13 yards to the house. Then halftime comes, the Cal band plays a lovely motown set, and I get a beer to bring me down from the adrenaline high that the last drive gave me. Then Cal gets the ball back after a touchback, run a Lasco motion out of the backfield, the cornerback bites on the pump fake, and Trevor Davis is as about as open as a receiver can be. One skinny post route for 75 yards later, Cal is up 21-7 and the collective tension in the stadium is eased.
That really felt like the end of it, as the Cal defense clamped down over the remaining quarters. The lead grew to 35-7 due to some nifty running by Daniel Lasco and Vic "Spearmint Rhino" Enwere. There it stayed. There were two defensive standouts in this game, Michael Barton and Darius White. Both of them had interceptions, and both of them made some excellent hits. White busted up some short screens, while Barton made a solid hit to stop heralded SDSU running back Donnel Pumphrey in his tracks in the backfield.
That being said, the defense was shaky early on.
While the first play of the game got the crowd going, with James Looney taking Pumphrey down for a three yard loss, the remainder of the drive didn't follow that script. Quarterback Maxwell Smith went 4-4 for 58 yards in marching the Aztecs straight down the field. Smith capped the drive with a wide open 29 yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Brunskill. The wide open tight end seemed to signal many Cal fans' PTSD, with visions of Ed Dickson and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins running amok on the Memorial Stadium turf. Four letter words were uttered, and many folks began to resign to a notion that the defense would remain the same for another year. That didn't happen. The next six drives went as follows for the Aztecs, four punts, one interception, and one drive stopped by the end of the half. A couple of sacks helped, provided on a blitz by Cameron Walker and a solid pass rush by Devante Wilson. White's interception turned the momentum. San Diego State only averaged 4.1 yards per play in the first, compared to 8.9 for Cal. The defense completely stabilized, giving a struggling offense some wiggle room
The offense did struggle mightily early on. A false start penalty, a blitz, and a dropped pass doomed the first drive. A blown pass interference non-call ended the next. While a great pass between roommates Goff and Ray Hudson set up a strike to Powe for the first TD, the next two drives ended in a bad interception and a shanked field goal from Matt Anderson. The White interception gave Goff and company something to draw some momentum from.
There were quite a few issues that I noticed in the first half. First and foremost, Brian Farley needs to solidify his play at left tackle or get replaced by Aaron Cochran. On the long completion to Hudson, Farley got destroyed by a blitz. Goff used some fancy footwork to get away and make a solid pass, but that's unacceptable. The Aztecs sent a couple more overload blitzes at the left side that ended in sacks or incompletions. With an even better defense in Texas that's going to challenge our offensive line, precautions have to be taken.
Next is a special teams issue, with the kickoff coverage. there were a couple of long returns that were concerning for the second straight week. Coach Tommerdahl needs to shore his unit up in their pursuit angles. Another small thing that irked me was Devante Wilson's pass rushing technique. In a 4-3 defense, the defensive ends are usually supposed to play contain. Wilson continually rushed to the inside on passes, leaving a big gap outside for a more mobile quarterback to escape to. It wasn't really taken advantage of today, but it could be next week and beyond.
Second Half and Thoughts
Luckily the second half started with a bang with the throw to Davis. Goff now trails Troy Taylor by 15 yards for the all-time yardage record in Cal history. That will hopefully be broken within the first drive of the Texas game. The pass from Goff to Davis was a thing of beauty just for the set-up. They had been running Lasco in motion out of the backfield a few times, trying to set up the bubble screen, or at least the thought of it. They ran a similar bubble screen setup with Bryce Treggs on the play, and the San Diego State defense went up to try to make a play. They didn't. 75 yards later and Trevor Davis had an easy score.
And so the rest of the game went, as Daniel Lasco churned out a bunch of yards on the ground, Vic Enwere earned the nickname "Spearmint Rhino" (Yes I'm aware what the namesake is), and everyone went home happy. He's some telling stats about the game, courtesy of our friend Nam.
Cal plays in SDSU territory 1st half: 14 Cal plays in SDSU territory 2nd half: 17 31 of 61 50.8%— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) September 13, 2015
The dominance in opposing territory cemented a confidence building victory for the moment. Next week Cal heads into Austin to face a test in Texas. We want revenge for 2004 and 2011. This may be the time to get it.