Avinash: I'd say the most encouraging development is the defense looking like an entirely different unit than the one that caused us so much pain the last few seasons. When you have a coach who treasures defense, it's amazing to see the turnaround in team morale on that side of the football. I'm going up and down this defensive unit and am having trouble identifying a player who DIDN'T play well. This was a team effort, top to bottom.
On the other side, Cal being able to hold their own offensively with their line was huge. Cal does not have a ton of offensive line depth--seeing the Bears block effectively and capably against a solid UNC front is a welcome development.
ragnarok: Competent defense? I almost didn't recognize it, after so long watching Sonny Dykes-led teams. They didn't shut down everything, but they tackled well and didn't give up the big play, making UNC earn what offense it did generate.
Nik Jam: I think the defense showed a lot of grit! Now... the schedule gets harder and I also remember the D looking promising when Cal beat Northwestern in 2014... but we could all see the progress. Gives promise to the future of the team...
And Ross Bowers looks like he can be a winner.
Piotr Le: Devante Downs showed that he can be a reliable LB that patrols the middle of the field. He showed up on every column of the defensive stat sheet, and had 5 more tackles than the next player. We waited for years and I think this game was the sign that we finally get to see what #1 on defense can do. I am excited for him and how he played and can't wait to see more from him.
Nick Kranz: It's hard to not focus on the defense considering the last 4 years of football we've all watched. But UNC's offense was hamstrung enough by their quarterback play that I'm still withholding final judgments. So put me down for offensive line play. Pass protection was generally excellent and while the line wasn't getting a ton of push on running plays, neither were they getting blown back or missing assignments.
boomtho: I'll list a couple of encouraging developments, in no particular order:
- Ross Bowers had as good a debut as you could ever ask for. True road game (and a very early start time), first college start and meaningful experience... and he bounced back from two picks, and a malicious targeting hit, to make explosive plays, close out the game, and generally looked like a pretty solid starter.
- The defense performed very well, albeit against a limited team without much of a passing game. The tackling looked much improved (especially in the second half!), and we generated pressure in some creative ways (Bynum's sack)
-Special teams coverage and punt distance was reasonably solid, even if the rest of the ledger (missed kick, no large returns) was a bit lacking.
In terms of the most important players, I'll go with Ross Bowers, Vic Wharton, Cam Bynum, Devante Downs and Tony Mekari.