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Cal football beats themselves on Homecoming weekend

This is your press box report.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn't really all that bad a loss.

Oh yeah, we got rocked. But it didn't really feel like your usual rout, like one team didn't deserve to be on the field. Washington was clearly the better team, but I imagine if these two teams played each other, a plurality of them would end in about a one or two score game.

No, this was a classic "beat yourself" game. The Bears took themselves out of the game with three ghastly mistakes.

Shaq Thompson fumble recovery

Shaq Thompson (Photo credit: Stephen Lam, Getty Images)

  • The Jared Gaffe at the end zone that swung the game 14 points and put Washington in control for the rest of the contest. That didn't end the game...
  • The second Goff fumble kind of did, as it gave Washington a short field with which to capitalize. Here you have a 21 point turnover swing points.
  • The poor defense on John Ross on his 80 yard touchdown scamper. Honestly, I thought there would be way more breakdowns like this one, so I'm kind of pleased that this was really the only one through the game. But there's your 28 point swing right there.

Turnovers decided the outcome of this game long before either team could really settle down, and Washington could settle down and tee off for the rest of the game. Washington converted 17 points off turnovers and Cal lost a sure 7 on one of theirs. That's a 24 point swing.

Hey, look what the final score of the game was!

Don't get me wrong, the Huskies probably would win this game most of the time--their defense was the best unit on the field, and turned Cal's offensive production into mud by midway through the second quarter. But our mistakes ended this game before we could even blink, and we can't afford to make many mistakes.

Let's go back to the first play. Let's say Goff scores on what could have been a gimmee touchdown. The Bears settle down and are probably way more confident in their ability to score on the Huskies. Cal's defense is probably a bit more aggressive now that they have the lead and tries to make Cyler Miles pay instead of playing back. For a team with so little depth and plenty of weaknesses with to exploit, that massive play is the biggest football swing you can hope for, and it doesn't help that it's Shaq Thompson either.

Jared Goff fumbled

Jared Goff fumbles (Photo credit: Ed Szczepanski, USA Today)

We're all big fans of Jared Goff, but he had a poor game on Saturday. Before the fumble, he was 5 for 7 for 68 yards (over 9 yards per pass attempt). After, he was 30 for 44 for 236 yards (just around 5 yards per pass attempt), plus three more fumbles including that second one lost. Goff didn't feel comfortable going down the field and couldn't stretch the field after that first near scoring drive.

And honestly, Goff never looked the same after that first turnover. It's as if he was still internalizing that fumble and how much it cost his team. That, plus the line failures, made it impossible for him to have any real impact on the game. It's hard for Cal to come back from a turnover like that. They're not that type of team yet.

That's why Goff still has plenty of questions to answer before we anoint him the next chosen Cal quarterback. He has to prove he can improvise when the pocket breaks down. He has to be able to scramble for yardage when someone gets rushed. He has to have the confidence to release downfield when the pressure is coming and not worry about getting picked. He has to be more aware when a rusher is about to get on him and secure that football--his grip has always been questionable. He can't make those mistakes. It's frustrating to hold him to that type of standard, but he's made that big a leap in his play that quickly.

Goff will be fine. He will get better. This was one of those "learning experience" games, and he will learn. You have to fail before you succeed, yada yada yada. He will do better.

Jared Goff sacked

Jared Goff sacked (Photo credit: Ed Szczepanski, USA Today)

Goff wasn't great on Saturday. His offensive line was worse. I'm trying to think of a positive thing they did all day, but after the first quarter they made sure we did absolutely nothing. They gave us no chance of achieving victory on Saturday.

It all started in the interior, where Alejandro Crosthwaite was straight up undressed and was eventually benched. Crosthwaite has been struggling even against average defensive linemen, and of course he had all sorts of trouble teeing up against the second best interior line in the Pac-12. Steven Moore was even worse, allowing Goff to get blindsided at least twice and nearly forced him running for his lives at least a few times. Hau'oli Kikaha had a career game, mostly due to Moore's lapses.

Chris Adcock was sending plenty of low snaps to Goff, seemingly in a rush to help out Crosthwaite defend Danny Shelton or Evan Hudson, but neither he nor Chris Borrayo did a good job. Jordan Rigsbee was often beaten on the other side by Andrew Hudson or whatever blitz Washington sent his way too.

The result? Goff had no pocket with which to throw passes, and he had to escape the pocket to have the vision to find anyone downfield.

This game is the danger of having your offensive linemen in the two point stance. If they face superior linemen, they will get driven back because they don't have enough leverage to keep their men in the dirt. This is exactly what happened yesterday, where everyone up front got embarrassed for three hours.

The offensive line has been much improved through five weeks. This was a huge step back. Zach Yenser needs to get them ready to handle elite competition in a hurry. Four of the conference's best defenses are on the way, with the Furd waiting at the end.

Cal defense!

Cal defense! (Photo credit: Stephen Lam, Getty Images)

I come away more impressed with Art Kaufman each and every week. No Michael Lowe, no Stefan McClure, no Brennan Scarlett, injured Griffin Piatt, and the Bears give up only two real long-sustained scoring drives. The Cal defense recovered from a pretty ghastly performance in Pullman and held the fort at home. (That, or the Washington offense is Stanford-levels of underachieving. Maybe a little of both.).

Walk-on wide receiver Patrick Worstell was getting safety snaps in the second half. Tony Mekari (a defensive tackle) had to slide over to defensive end and start most of the game. David Garner (son of famous Dwight) also got himself in the action. Cal has burned the redshirt of just about every member of the 2014 recruiting class, and they're all playing and making tackles: Hamilton Anoa'i, Arthur Wainwright, Noah Westerfield, Aisea Tongilava, Darius White, David Davis.

Cameron Walker had two near interceptions. Jake Kearney had his best game as a Golden Bear. The return of Hardy Nickerson to full health gives the Bears much needed linebacker depth. We have really no safeties left, but we're making do for the most part.

Washington averaged a grand total of 2.9 yards per rush. Take away the two long Cyler Miles touchdown passes and he averaged six yards a pass attempt. The Washington offense was pretty average aside from the Ross touchdown run, and the Bears could have kept pace if they had gotten anything on offense.

Cal actually won the time of possession battle, running 84 plays in comparison to 67 for Washington. Turnovers!

The Cal special teams had their best game in a long time. Cole Leninger was booming punts, averaging 44.7 yards per punt, sent three kicks inside the 20, and Washington didn't return a single punt.

Trevor Davis

Trevor Davis can't hang on (Photo Credit: Ed Sczepanski, USA Today)

I'm not shocked the Cal players let their success of the past month get into their heads a little. They're kids and they've had nothing to celebrate for nearly three years. They've gone 4-20 in the past two seasons and been miserably embarrassed week-after-week, especially at home. They haven't had a good stretch in forever.

So of course when positive attention came their way and they started receiving national looks, they basked in it. It's natural to want love after receiving none during your college careers.

(Don't think this is just the players too--some of the coaching performances were a bit flat. Notice how the defense got chewed out all weekend and came back with their best performance since Northwestern. Notice how the offense got praised all week by the national media and came out and just died. This was a bottom-five Tony Franklin performance at Cal.)

Well, now they've been humbled. Time to see how they respond when they've been knocked down a bit.

And remember this. Cal has yet to play a complete game in any of their wins, losses, anything. So far we're getting bits and pieces of the teams the Bears can be.

  • Northwestern & Arizona: Cal puts together complete 1st half performances on both offense and defense
  • Colorado & WSU: Cal offense dominates the 2nd half
  • Washington: Cal defense and special teams put together complete games.

Is a complete performance on the way? Is it possible that this team is just what it's going to be this year (flashes, but no storm)? And what will this team looks like when the rejuvenation project is complete?

Those are a lot of exciting things to contemplate on what was otherwise a pretty gloomy Saturday.

Other notes

  • There weren't many things that went right, but one thing that was good was seeing Cal bring the alumni back. Getting greats like Andre Carter and Cameron Jordan (on a bye week) to show up was big-time. Kudos to Cal Athletics for finally doing something that should have been done a long time ago.


After experiencing tailgating a Cal football game for the first time it's time to get back to work #gobears #whodat

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  • Announced attendance was around 44,449, but I think there were a bit more than that. I imagine a lot of tickets were bought second-hand to try and avoid paying full price. In fact, the West Side was surprisingly loud. I'd venture it was louder than the East Side!
  • Student section was sparse, as was QQ (which was painfully empty). I imagine a lot of young alumni and students stayed home so they could channel surf between Cal-Washington State and Giants-Cardinals (which started about two hours after the Cal-Washington game), headed out to Fleet Week, or did other things. We have a long way to go to win back the 20-somethings of Cal. The UCLA game will be telling, especially since I'm not sure if the Bruins turn out in the numbers I thought they would two weeks ago.
  • Crowd noise was fairly good through the 3rd quarter, even when the Bears were down 28-0.  It's nice to know that we can still bring it even when things aren't looking so good. I venture to say fans were pretty supportive of their team, especially considering how good the defense looked in the second half.
  • Gameday experience positives: I will say there were only a few commercial ads compared to recent years, although there were still plenty of Cal Athletics internal promotions that didn't feel all that important. I want to hear the band play.
  • New annoying feature: Piped-in music on 3rd downs that drowns out the crowd. Stop with this NFL nonsense.
  • Cal alumni band was the highlight of the game. The Cal band still doesn't play enough (the Washington visiting band got far more music time in and was bland as Wonder Bread), and it was a good move to put them in the end zone so they could get more run.