Welcome back pain.
At some point the last two seasons, as a fanbase, we shut it down. I think it was around the 2012 Big Game that I checked out, and the 2013 Washington State game was a similar breaking point. I knew we weren’t going to be good, we had very little chance to be good, and we were likely going to see some awful fat-free version of Cal football take the field and puncture our guts for four hours. The football team probably felt the same way, because they didn’t win a single game after that and didn’t look particularly good getting to the end either time.
So yesterday was like a revisiting of old times. Ah yes, we can feel again. We don’t have to be numb inside and feel like we need to sell souls to watch this team. We can cheer because we feel like our team can finish the job, we can get upset because something meaningful hangs in the balance, we can rage at officials who are turning the game on its head...so on and so forth.
Losing a game after practically winning it the entire game is somewhere near the bottom of the ways I want to lose a sporting event. Ask Kings fans how they feel about Robert Horry, or Rangers fans how they feel about Allen Craig, or Inter Milan fans how they feel about Istanbul…the list goes on. But I have to admit, after the madness of that final hour fades away, this doesn’t really feel bad at all. At least we were playing a football game rather than engaging in ritual sacrifice. We're all wounded today, which means we're expecting things of these Bears far far more quickly than we thought we might be after last year's Benny Hill act.
Of course there are plenty of concerns. Good football teams probably shouldn’t give up 36 points in a quarter, especially when they have the game in hand. But that's the thing: We had no idea this team could potentially be this good this quickly!
This was always going to be part of coming back from 1-11. Losing by a lot was always going to be followed up by losing close, and often painfully. These are not the 2012-13 Bears, but they still have enough of the 2012-13 Bears in them that these games can happen. A virus doesn't just get eradicated overnight. No 2012-13 Bears team ever gave up 36 points in a quarter. Will you ever say the 2014 Bears are worse because they did?
Let’s look on the flip side of this game and examine the good things we can build on for the rest of the season.
First half 2014 Cal is a really good football team. Compare this to first half 2013 Cal, which was a shit sandwich wrapped in a ball of Fat Slice anchovies injected with People’s Park syringes. Cal has now destroyed their opposition in the first half three straight games, meaning the Bears are much improved on both sides of the football and are coming out ready to play each and every game.
The coaching staff is putting together great gameplans to open things up and put us in position to win. It's up to them to start coming up with the necessary adjustments to start closing them.
(And I assure you, if Cal starts like this against Colorado, we will be 3-1 at this time next week. The Buffs are improved, but not by that much.)
Cal has not trailed for a single second of this entire season through three games. Yes, they’re 2-1, which will make you think things like "Most Cal stat ever", but compare this to last season, when Cal led for all of 5-10 minutes last year. It's a much better feeling to be out in front than to stare up at 21-0 deficits, so yes I would rather see us give up points late than early.
It’s all about frames of reference. If you thought your Bears were going to come out and gang bust their way through the season after starting 2-0, think again. We all knew this was going to be a flawed team that would have its series of hiccups.
We scored 45 points! On the road! In a Pac-12 game! We haven’t done that in five years, and back then we had Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen running over people. I don’t even think that’s the last time we can do that on the road this season either. Get ready for fireworks in Pullman and Corvallis.
The defense was very good for three quarters! They gave up 13 points to a Rich Rod team that puts up five touchdowns on everyone! Contrast that to last year, where the defense played maybe three great minutes before deciding giving up another 50 yard play was in their programming. They’d finish the game giving up just about 32, but that would have been a winning effort by quite a bit.
We ran the football! Well! Now Arizona’s 3-3-5 isn’t a great marker of anything, and it’s still a bit boom or bust as to whether we can pick up yards, but Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad both broke off for long touchdown runs and were getting crucial first downs. That’s a long way from where we were at this point last season. The offensive line is looking like a viable unit that can help us finish games. It wasn't quite enough tonight, but the promise is there.
Bear Raid is Bear Raiding. Jared Goff, what a rock star. Goff was scorching earth every chance he got to throw the football. Goff nearly hit 400 yards on 18 completions! That's over 20 yards a completion! Seven wide receivers had a catch for more than ten yards. Five had catches over 20 yards. That offense is starting to stretch the field more and more, and we will beat Pac-12 teams with an offense that can be that explosive.
The 36 points given up in the 4th quarter would seem to indicate a collapse of sorts. Honestly the Bears gifted them 24 points on four crucial mistakes that generally happen in individual games, and not all at once and definitely not all in one quarter). That was some black swan nonsense right there.
Let’s examine where the 36 points were given up.
- There was a Trevor Davis punt return fumble. That’s 3 points.
- There was a pretty fluky interception by Goff that set up a 17 yard drive. There’s 7 points.
- There was an onside kick gaffe of massive proportions. There’s another 7 points.
- There was that ridiculous Hail Mary that no one tried to play the ball on. Okay, that was a defensive issue, but it’s not like any of them have to size to matchup with Austin Hill’s vertical.
So basically the Cal defense (which was on the field for a crazy 105 plays in the Tucson desert) conceded 12 points on long-sustained drives, and the Hail Mary was one of those crazy one-and-a-million things that had to be set up by a questionable Luke Rubenzer 3rd down call and a somewhat questionable field goal attempt and an offensive PI that should have run ten seconds off the clock and some weird Hail Mary coaching and whatever at that point it just wasn't our night. The offense gave up another 7 and the special teams unit gifted Arizona an easy ten. If we don’t commit one random and a series of consequentially staggering stupid mistakes, we win.
Those are the sadistic breaks in college football. Sometimes sheer randommness can beat you.
We actually punched back when Arizona scored! People treat the 36 points as if Cal just collapsed. The Bears put up 14 points of their own and even grounded and pounded to get those scores. This was not a team that folded the tent in the 4th quarter. They were battling.
So many crazy things had to happen for Arizona to beat Cal. Many of them can be chalked up to the fact that (a) we still have a lot of growing to do, (b) Arizona is plenty good and it’s hard to hold that offense down for four quarters, (c) we still have a lot of growing to do, (d) dumb fucking luck, which just happened to REALLY swing Arizona’s way in that 4th quarter after swinging our way in the 1st half (Anu Solomon 1st half was worlds apart from Anu Solomon 2nd half), and (e) we still have a lot of growing to do.
Coaches, players, they all have to learn how to not just win, but win tight. That 4th quarter performance looked very much like a team that just went 1-11 and had no idea how to handle the situation. There were collective failures by everyone down the line.
What we just wanted to see at the beginning of the season was an improved product, and that’s what we’re getting. There will be growing pains, with an emphasis on growing.
Finally, remember this: We care again.
Being a college football fan is the dumbest thing you can do for your psyche. Rooting for man-children will inevitably lead you to watch your team lose in the stupidest ways imaginable and and win in absolutely improbable fashion. For every Austin Hill Hail Mary, there’s a Nick Foles double pass. For every 1982 Big Game, there’s a 1990 Big Game. There always seems to be a karmic balance in play when it comes to being a fan, so expect comeuppance somewhere down the road.
These Bears are not a great football team. This might not even be a good football team yet. But they are a better football team, they have the potential to be good, and one day they might even be great. Games like tonight will go a long way down that path.
Part of getting better means losing games like this. And the fact that we're all very, very upset about what happened yesterday? Well, that's a good thing too. We need you all to start caring again, and remembering what it feels like to hurt helps us realize what it feels like when joy returns.
The Bears are back from the dead now, and they’re bleeding blue and gold today. It hurts for you and especially for the team, but at least that means we’re all living again.