What did we witness?
boomtho: I don’t even know that I can put it into words (but am excited to read Nick and all the other talented Cal writers do a better job of that than I can!). In no particular order, a few things we witnessed that game:
-Chase Garbers looking like a completely different QB, making decisive reads and stretching the field side to side
-Our group of WR’s getting separation and winning 1 on 1 battles (HELLO Jordan Duncan!) when needed
-Our vaunted defense... honestly, struggling for a bit part of the game with RPO’s and a set of slippery skill players
-Ole Miss settling for FG’s throughout the game (to the delight of the Cal fans at the bar I was at), which definitely came back to bite them
-An absolutely bonkers last play, which I actually think the refs called right, forcing Ole Miss to a last second QB sneak which Evan Weaver said “not today” to.
DaneStopper: We’re witnessing a gritty, confident, lovable team win games it shouldn’t, and the transformation of an entire program. It’s a great day to be a Bear.
christopher_h: Raise your hand if you thought Chase Garbers was going to throw for 350+ yards and 4 TDs., and that Cal would win this game on the backs of the offense this time, while the defense struggled to hang on at the end? I have no idea what I just witnessed, but it’s so nice to finally see a Cal team that ends up on the right side of really close games. I’m particularly proud of the way this Cal team has managed to adapt to overcome the various challenges they’ve faced, as it bodes well for Cal to be a successful team.
thedozen: I noticed more hoopla than I’m used to seeing involving a Cal non-conference game. Even The Athletic mentioned the late game controversy as part of their NCAA national roundup.
Henry Keenan: The key takeaway from this game was the improved quarterback play from Chase Garbers. He finally seems to have found his confidence. As always this season, this team found a way to make it interesting after the introduction of Plumlee late in the game, and letting Ole Miss back in after what was otherwise a dominant performance.
Rob Hwang: I’m 99% sure we entered the twilight zone or the world between worlds.
The offense is alive? What did you like? What did you dislike? Is this them turning the page or is this a back against the wall performance? What did you think of the execution of Beau Baldwin’s gameplan?
boomtho: I still don’t think I’ve processed what happened in this game! This felt like a complete inversion of the Cal offense we’ve seen the last two years. Our OL struggled to create holes for our RB’s, and the run game was poor (even Garbers) for most of the day. In contrast, our 4/5 wide sets created tons of confusion for the Ole Miss DB’s, our WR’s consistently created separation, and Garbers trusted our WR’s to make plays. I don’t think I really believe this is what Cal will look like for the rest of the season. We have too much data that Garbers is inconsistent (to put it nicely) and that the WR’s are not going to consistently win their battles. But for awesome game, everything was in sync, from the coaches’ gameplan to the players’ execution.
DaneStopper: I haven’t been the most vocal supporter of anything on the offense, but to be honest, Saturday’s performance seemed mildly sustainable and exciting. Everything clicked for Garbers the way we know it can, Modster threw one pass but I actually think he’s better than Garbers, and the receivers seem to at least have a decent skill level, enough to make plays on their own. I still think we can do better than Baldwin though, his gameplan the first few games lingers in my head yet.
christopher_h: It seems like Ole Miss’ defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre was hellbent to stop the run and dare Cal to beat them through the air, and, well, they did. I think the wide receivers did a great job of getting open and adjusting to throws to help Garbers out, but I’m not sure how sustainable it is. I’m hoping we can see more of this version of Chase Garbers. Major props to him for coming back to fight after being rolled up on. I was concerned he would be out for weeks, not just a single series.
VincentS: For two games now, we’ve come out looking great on our first couple of drives, only to stall a bit. From what I know, teams typically script their first drive(s), so this speaks well to the gameplan the coaches are putting together based on film review. I’m a bit concerned that we seem to stall out deep into games (especially the 4th quarter)—I hope this isn’t because we’re not great at making adjustments once opponents have morphed in response to our own halftime adjustments. Otherwise, every game from here on out has the potential to come down to the wire.
thedozen: Chase Garbers showed a lot of toughness and flashed some obvious skill. The running game was not really clicking, but I tend to agree with the notion that Christopher Brown is not totally healthy at the moment. I think that amassing 373 total passing yards does qualify as a bit of a page turn.
Henry Keenan: The offense is most certainly alive. I really liked Garber’s confidence throwing the ball down the field. It’s much nicer to see that coupled with the occasional interception (which was a good defensive play in this case) than the awkward back foot and conservative passes that we’ve been accustomed to seeing last season and earlier this season. It would have been nice to see the offense put together a game winning, time consuming drive a the end of the game, maybe the lack of late production was due to Garber’s injury.
Rob Hwang: It’s ALIVE. Now we need to stay alive.
The defense looked to struggle early but once again finished strong. What worked? Is it sustainable with all these young guys?
boomtho: To distill to as simple an answer, Evan Weaver worked - he internalized the (what I thought was relatively tame) Ole Miss trash talk and turned it into a ferocious 22 tackle performance. We also got pretty luck that Ole Miss settled for FG’s consistently, and that they then missed two of those FG’s. It does’t feel like we can continue to hold teams under 20 points without our full stable of LB’s back and healthy, doubting Wilcox, DeRuyter, and these guys seems like a bad bet.
DaneStopper: With these injuries and true freshmen, I don’t think it’s best in the conference anymore, but it’s still top-4 in my opinion.
christopher_h: Well, the defense finally looked mortal. I know that Cal has a lot of injuries at defensive positions, but I also think we have a lot of depth on the defensive side of the ball, so I am not terribly worried about it. I was a bit concerned with how the secondary looked against a team they should have handled, because Cal is about to run into the meat of the schedule soon-- with Oregon, Utah, Washington State, and USC in the coming weeks.
HydroTech: There was a great chess match going on between the Cal defense and the Ole Miss offense. Early in the game the Ole Miss QB was able to break off some great runs because the Cal backside defenders were losing outside leverage (some were getting sealed off to the play side, others were just getting out run by the Ole Miss QB). Cal made great in-game adjustments prior to halftime by having Evan Weaver become the backside containment defender when Ole Miss lined up in read option formations. Cal also utilized the scrape exchange to defend against the read option. Basically, Weaver became a spy on the Ole Miss QB to shut down his run threat. And it worked. Weaver got some crucial tackles and would force the Ole Miss QB into errant throws. But Ole Miss adjusted again. In the third quarter, after the Ole Miss offense lined up at the line of scrimmage, they would then flip their formation so Weaver was now the play side defender. This put the responsibility of backside containment back on other Cal defenders. A few plays later, Cal adjusted again, bringing a backside safety blitz at the Ole Miss QB in another read option formation. The backside safety blitz put a defender right in the running lane of any potential QB keep on the read option, and on this particular play the safety blitz cut off any backside run. It was a great game with lots of back and forth strategy and adjustments by both teams.
thedozen: I expected that the Bears would be able to get their share of defensive stops coming into this season, but now there is real hope surrounding the program. Everyone plays different schedules, but it feels great to be the last undefeated Pac-12 team standing.
Henry Keenan: I completely disagree, I do not think the defense finished strong. We looked very tired at the end, and were extremely fortunate not to have to play in overtime, which judging by our condition towards the end likely would not have ended in our favor. I think we dodged a bullet there and hopefully we’ll learn from it.
Rob Hwang: The younger guys got tons of experience through this and will improve. The starters are not out to season long injuries and were suited up on the sideline. This type of game bodes well for the defense has a whole as it enters the gauntlet of the schedule.