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Roundtables: Dismantled by Utah

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Let’s talk about what happened in Salt Lake City

California V Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Initial thoughts on the game? What on earth happened....

Ruey Yen: It was a tough matchup for the Bears against a very good team in Utah. All the injuries issues have caught up to the Bears. We have got to remember that a lot of the guys starting now have not had all spring/summer to prepare to their current roles, because they were just backups then or were playing a different position primarily.

christopher_h: I have to imagine that depth is a key issue in what happened on both sides of the ball. Cal actually looked pretty good for the first half of the 1st quarter (coincidentally, the part not shown on FS1 as they were switching over from the previous game): they forced a 3 and out from Utah, got a couple of first downs amid positive plays (the offensive line opened up a hole for Chris Brown Jr. even!), and ultimately ended up punting the ball to the 1 yard line. Unfortunately, that was about the only time Cal looked like what we’ve expected after the first 4 games this season, and it was all downhill from there. The offensive line wore down quickly and the run game never had a chance, Utah’s defensive line gave Cal’s offense very little time for plays to develop, and since Utah didn’t need to guard receivers all that long before pass protection broke down the pass game went nowhere either. There’s no quick fix for this, but we have to develop depth along both the offensive and defensive lines for future seasons.

DaneStopper: What happened is what has been happening since the dawn of time, when the strong meet the weak, when the predator meets the prey. We, a team bad at offense and stopping the run, played the conference’s best defense and running back. Nothing really could have changed this.

Offense? Play calling looked more diverse with screens, rollouts, PA Bootlegs, Wildcat, multiple looks. Thoughts?

christopher_h: I actually liked some of what Cal did to try to counteract Utah’s defensive line, but there’s just no way Cal’s backup offense, desperate enough to try putting a defensive player in at WR, had the horses on offense to compete with Utah on defense. There were a few plays on offense where the wide receivers could have done more to help out Spencer Brasch, but I think best case scenario was that it would have just made the final score a bit less embarrassing.

DaneStopper: Of all the games to start this, why now? Why not last week, when we couldn’t move the ball at all? Why not against Oregon, to take advantage of our turnovers? Why not against ASU, when Garbers went down and Modster was still learning? It’s like Baldwin threw everything out just as a stubborn “Here!” than actual coaching.

What happened with the defense? Thoughts on playcalling and execution?

christopher_h: Utah is a physical team that will punch you in the mouth over and over, and the lack of depth on the offensive and defensive lines is killing us. Utah shouldn’t be able to run for 8-9 yards on every play, and when you are running the ball effectively and have a QB that can run it too, it starts opening up the pass game more as safeties suck in further on run support, etc. I’m also a bit worried what this defense is going to look like after Evan Weaver is gone, because he’s one guy doing way too much for this defense.

DaneStopper: Honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed. They’re tired, and the big plays they gave up were pretty random and unplanned (the huge pass to Moss only happened because Weaver got too aggressive, and what are you gonna tell Weav, don’t be aggressive?). Normally, we’re one of the best in the nation at completing tackles, so if this is the game where we got lazy, I’m not complaining.

Another bye week that we did not think we needed. What do the Bears do from here?

Ruey Yen: Well, game experiences (even in a blow out loss) are good for developments. Assuming that the team is not too affected by the power outage and/or fire in the area, they could use the reps during the extra practice time. While I’m resigning to the fact that it will likely not happen, maybe the coach staff will also change up some of the game plans to adjust to the available guys’ strengths now. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the bye week may give some guys much needed time to get healthy. An OL or two men back and/or a Devon Modster back, and the Cal offense is completely different.

christopher_h: Rest, recover, heal. Nothing helps Cal’s chances more than bringing more players back from injury.

DaneStopper: Decide whether Brasch is noticeably better than Modster in practice, and get guys healthy. Mentally, we got an Air Raid offense (time to feast) and then three huge rivalry games. Go Bears!

4 games left. Do we have 2 wins there?

Nick Kranz: My answer is a qualified maybe. Cal, getting 7/8ths of a game from Devon Modster, nearly beat Oregon State. And OSU is roughly as good as Stanford or UCLA, depending on the day and which players are in or out due to injury. So: If Cal gets kinda sorta healthy (say, Modster, Saffell, and some of the WRs back) then this is a team that could absolutely win two of their next four games.

Could is different than will. If Cal gets some guys back on offense, their games will still probably be close ones that can easily swing one way or the other. And it’s worth noting that this is still largely the same defense that held UW to 10 points and USC to 14. Given the right game plan, this defense still very much has it in them to shut an opponent down.

Ruey Yen: Maybe? Stanford and UCLA clearly have had their issues this season. Washington State has traditionally struggled against our sturdy Golden Bears in recent years (maybe Mike Leach has arkoudaphobia given his thoughts on the Pac-12 mascots). Even againstUSC, who currently controls their own destiny in the Pac-12 south, Cal has a realistic chance given some expected improvements from current guys and possible return of other guys. Of course, there could be even more injuries to decimate this Cal squad even more.

The Big Game, easily the game that Cal fans want the more(particularly now that the USC streak has ended), is easily the most winnable game left. Maybe Cal fans do deserve that win at long last, to salvage an otherwise disappointing season that that had such promise just a month ago.

christopher_h: If we were playing the next 4 games as the first 4 games of this season, I believe exactly the same thing would have happened: Cal would start 4-0, we’d have a national ranking, and optimism would be running high. Fully healthy, I’d bet on Cal in every one of these games. If we’re still digging deep on the depth chart, I’m not so sure. Wilcox has shown he knows how to shut down the Air Raid, starting with that 37-3 destruction over a much better Washington State in 2017. We match up well defensively against Wazzu and pretty well against USC, and so these are games where Cal just needs maybe 17 points on offense to win. How likely it is that Cal can score 17 points on offense is another story. Wazzu has an atrocious defense this year, so if there’s any game where Cal’s offense can score, it’s that one. USC has a stout defensive line but a similarly atrocious secondary, so they’re no defensive stalwarts either. Stanford is as beatable as they have been in years, and don’t have the personnel to run the type of offense that has brought them so much success in recent years. KJ Costello is particularly bad under pressure, and Stanford is also suffering a large number of injuries to their offensive line as well. UCLA’s offense is not a good matchup for Cal, but it’s like a worse version of Utah’s offense (dual-threat QB, but unlike Huntley, DTR can’t throw the ball even remotely accurately), so Cal really needs to figure out how to stop the run and prevent another monster game from RB Joshua Kelley.

In summary: all 4 games are winnable, albeit less winnable now due to injuries. I still believe Cal can “upset” (as small underdogs) at least 2 of these teams.

DaneStopper: We’ll finish 8-4, right where all the predictions had us in the first place and making all the hand-wringing seem funny to look back on.