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Cal football is broken

How does Justin Wilcox fix it?

NCAA Football: UCLA at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

For those wondering what the insights were into Team GoldenBlogs before, during, and after Saturday night’s game, a quick commentary about how the night went from the bleachers. This is paraphrased.

TwistNHook: Write it in, we are going to lose. I guarantee a Cal loss to UCLA.

Reef: What if we lose? I don’t want to start thinking about Cal basketball!

CGB commenter 1, after UCLA scores: This is not going well. On the bright side, we haven’t run the pick-six play.

Nick, by the 2nd quarter: Let’s let the quarterback whose primary strength is to run NEVER RUN.

Me, during every drive: This is not going to end well. A pick-six is coming at any minute.

CGB commenters, around the second half: TURN IT OVER. LET THIS END.

Reef: Well my Cal football bet is on fire. At least I’ll make it all back betting against Cal basketball.

Nick, after Cal ran a shotgun snap up the middle on 4th and 1 again. Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHA. HA HAHA HAHAAHAH.

Loyal CGB commenters after McIlwain drops the ball on the ground: [erupted in something that would best be described as a mix of delirium and ecstasy]


Reef: You haven’t written something in awhile to stir the pot. This might be the time.

Me: [Tweets the most insensitive thing possible postgame. Deletes it five minutes afterward, but Cal Twitter works in mysterious ways.]

Everyone to me after the game: Let’s explore what has happened in the last ten years of your life for you to have ever decided to tweet that.

Me: [points at Twist]

Reef: I support you.

Me: [orders mojitos]

Cal is wretched.

The Cal offense, which offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin has put in the trusty hands of Brandon McIlwain, has now managed 17 meaningful points in their last two weeks against Arizona (who conceded 42 to Utah) and UCLA (who had given up an average of 35 the last four losses). These are the BAD defenses on Cal’s schedule.

(The Cal offense has managed 48 points these past two weeks, and McIlwain has gifted the opponents 35 points, so at least the Bears are winning that crucial battle.)

Remember when Cal was running back U? Sum the contributions of all of Cal’s running backs together, and they might not get past 1000 total yards this season. There’s still a decent chance McIlwain will outrush them all.

And that’s the more functional unit.

Passing yards per attempt? Six (117th in FBS). Receivers? Not one is on pace to hit 500 yards this season. Interceptions thrown? 11 (tied for fourth-to-last in FBS).

Wide receivers could not even get close to separating from their defensive back counterparts. The offensive line gets some push but usually someone misses a block because this offense wasn’t designed for the quarterback to hold the ball for 20 seconds.

And, most inexplicably of all, McIlwain still plays. Like a sacrificial lamb, McIlwain goes in there, tries to create something, gets naturally overwhelmed, and does something crazy. Nothing from the Oregon game made it apparent that McIlwain had earned the starting job. Nothing since the Oregon game has shown that he has deserved to keep it. It is a curious hill for Baldwin to die on, but there he is.

The defense, the only elite unit on this team all season, came apart at the seams on Saturday. Cal gave up a 100 yards in rushing in the first 20 minutes to a UCLA team that hasn’t broken 151 rushing yards in an entire game. UCLA ran three plays most of the game (inside zone, outside stretch, safety valve) and Cal appeared totally disoriented at how to counter this after grinding it to dust the week before.

Justin Wilcox, for all his defensive prowess, continues to put up at least one or two stinkers a year against teams that spread and shred, and his old buddy Chip Kelly was happy to oblige him. This defense looks more and more exasperated at how little room for error they have to overcome the ineptitude of the offense, and today it all fell apart.

And so we enter stage gloom, mid-October, as has been the case for the last decade of watching the Bears. But this is the worst it’s ever been.

Cal just put up its two biggest stinkers in its two most vital games of the year. Cal played its worst football game against the worst team on their schedule at home. How does this team come back from this, with the Bears back-slate filled with Pac-12 title contenders?

With Cameron Goode out, with Cal running out of wideouts who can even get downfield or catch a pass, with the starting quarterback turning the ball over every third possession and gifting the opponent a touchdown every fourth, with the coaching staff coming up with no solutions or adjustments, with recruiting basically stuck in the bottom tier of the conference, where is the improvement coming?

The Bears have no switches to flip. They are playing backups and transfers and walk-ons against other Pac-12 teams who care quite a bit more about this whole arms race thing. It’s clear the offense needs a reboot, but it’s unlikely Wilcox has any more of a pulse on how to create a real identity on that side of the football the way Sonny Dykes did on defense.

Long-term, things get bleaker. Academic requirements have now shoehorned Cal into a corner recruiting-wise. Cal will get decent talent locally, and maybe in a few years that turns into something sustainable, but the Bears are years away from turning that into anything reasonable. The cheap coaching contracts that we are likely to hand out future-facing will discourage most top-tier assistants from ever deciding to join up with Wilcox if he decides to reboot this offseason.

Cal is now 2-10 in the Pac-12 in the Justin Wilcox era, and that record is about to get a lost worse. Cal hasn’t had a winning Pac-12 season since 2009. Cal has had one winning season since 2011. Cal has not won on the road in the Pac-12 in three years. Cal has been swept more by the California rivals this decade then they’ve beaten one of them.

So honestly, I’m not sure what Cal fans are signing up for the rest of the season other than nice trips to Berkeley, a good Top Dog, and a chance to spend time with friends and revisit old memories.

I’m still waiting for these Bears to create new ones.