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Roundtables: WSU and moving forward

NCAA Football: California at Washington State hJames Snook-USA TODAY Sports

What was the turning point in the game for you?

Ruey Yen: The obvious choice here is that Brandon McIlwain interception thrown into the end zone, but I would argue that the turning point for me was the drive afterward where the Bears went 3-and-out with two incompletions that were nowhere close, thrown by Chase Garbers. Bears did not eat up much clock nor force Washington State into using a timeout. If the Bears were able to pick up a first down or two, that game would probably have gone into overtime.

joshua.morgan: It has to be the McIlwain interception. The offense was moving the ball (albeit with a lot of help from the refs) and about to score the go-ahead points before the entire team had their hearts completely ripped out of them. It is no surprise that the defense allowed Wazzu to march right down the field following that single play. The entire team had played so hard and that had put themselves in position to win, and then it was all over. There are more people to blame in the loss than McIlwain, and to be fair this is a game that we had no business even being in contention for considering the fact that Wazzu statistically dominated us, but after this play, we all knew it was over.

HydroTech: I think everybody is going to talk about the McIlwain interception. For me, I lost a lot of my remaining faith in Baldwin on Cal’s second to last drive when there were about 3 minutes and 20 seconds left in the game, and the game was tied 13-13. Cal was backed up on its own 20 yard line. It was my hopes here that Cal would run the clock and take the game to overtime. Instead, Baldwin ran the ball on 1st down gaining 3 yards, then called a shot play on 2nd and 7 which was incomplete, and a shot play on 3rd and 7 which also went incomplete. Cal punted the ball. WSU scored on its next possession and Cal ultimately lost the game.

I presume Baldwin didn’t want to take the game to overtime and wanted to try and win it in regulation, hence the two shot plays. But Cal has had such difficulties in completing deep passes this year (and last year). Cal doesn’t have a speed WR who can burn a cornerback or a tall wide receiver who can consistently win the jump ball. Those two deep shot plays were low-probability of success plays. Very low. They took no time off the clock because they resulted in incompletions, and it allowed WSU to get the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Perhaps Baldwin had the utmost faith in the Cal Defense to hold WSU even if that Cal playcalling series failed. The Cal Defense had held most of the game. But all too often, you will see in football the defense holding tight all game long, and then suddenly give up a crucial score in the final few minutes because they change their defensive gameplan from what had worked so well earlier on. Earlier in the game, Cal had played very conservative defense, never blitzing, keeping everything in front of them, and limiting WSU’s big play abilities. In that final game-winning WSU drive, Cal’s defense got really aggressive, blitzing WSU’s offense. Blitzing has its perks, and it has its downside. Cal got the downside -- a WSU score.

Going back to Cal’s final (real) possession with 3:20 remaining in the 4th quarter, and the game tied. I would have preferred Cal to just get first downs. Just call your higher percentage plays to get the 1st down and keep the clock running. If you happen to break a big play and you feel like you truly have a decent shot at scoring, then you can pick up the pace. But the most important goal at that time should have been to run the clock, prevent WSU from getting the ball back in regulation, and taking the game to overtime.

I really liked Cal’s chances in overtime. Why? Every Cal drive would have started in the redzone, meaning Cal is in field goal range. Then it just becomes a battle of the defenses and the kickers. Cal’s defense was better than WSU’s. Cal’s kicker was also better than WSU’s kicker. WSU’s kicker missed an easy chip shot just minutes earlier in the game. I would have preferred Cal’s chances in overtime over than trying to win the game in regulation by taking shot plays with 3 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter.

For me, it was this play calling series which was a “turning point,” causing me to groan in frustration and disagreement.

Going into our final 3 games of the season, what offensive strengths do we need to rely upon to get one more win?

Ruey Yen: Patrick Laird and the running game is what the Cal offense needs to ride to get the Bears to at least another regular season win and a bowl appearance. The entire Cal offense is build on the running game, both Garbers and McIlwain are both good runners as well. Running the ball also eats up the clock and give Cal defense some time to rest.

Yes, the Big Game is shaping up to be perhaps a rather non-ascetics pleasing game, particularly for those people who would just be watching casually. Still, Cal fans would happily take an ugly win to liberate the Axe.

Rob Hwang: Running the ball and screens. We’re in dire need of some speed at all of our skill positions and that might come down to being creative in getting guys the ball in space. Our screen pass game was effective against WSU so I expect to use that package thoroughly for the rest of the year since that will give us some easy completions and some blocks down the field. But that’s only set up with a solid run game that can sell the fake.