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College Hotline - Cal football: Grading the Week

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    (USA Today)

    Right about now, that missed extra point by Texas looms pretty darn large. If the Longhorns make the kick to force overtime and then win the game, the Bears would be 4-3 and in need of not one but two more victories to get bowl eligible.

    Right about now, winning two more games seems a tad daunting. The Bears will get one, for sure (Oregon State). But USC? … Oregon? … Stanford? … Arizona State? Hmmmmm.

    Right about now, are there any Old Blues not feeling a little déjà vu? Last year, Cal started 4-1, then went 1-5. This year, the Bears started 5-0, and are now 0-2.

    Which brings us to the central issue …

    Does Cal have the answers?

    Does it have the leadership, the maturity and the mental resolve to climb out of this funk, ignore recent history and figure out a way to beat the Trojans, Ducks, Cardinal and Sun Devils?

    And can Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin and Art Kaufman make the necessary adjustments?

    It only gets tougher, not only because of the talent on the opposing sideline, but because we’re in the crucible of league play and there’s more tape available, the scouting is better, tendencies are established … and Dykes and Co. must adjust appropriately to what opponents are doing on both sides of the ball.

    The Bears were outplayed and outcoached by a wide margin in the Rose Bowl, and that happens.

    But good teams and good staffs are able to contain the damage.

    Result: Lost at UCLA 40-24

    Grade: F

    Comment: The one scenario I did not expect: A blowout loss by the Bears — an all-systems failure: 17-3 early in the second quarter, 26-10 at halftime, 40-16 until a garbage time TD.

    They simply weren’t competitive in a key game against a reeling opponent. (The Bruins were coming off 38-23 and 56-35 losses.)

    We can hash out the details — the complete lack of resistance defensively, the meager offense — but the bottom line can be summed up in four words:

    Not. Ready. To. Play.

    The outcome was as alarming as the narrow loss at Utah was encouraging, which leaves us not knowing exactly what to make of Cal’s prospects down the stretch.

    Skepticism is understandable. It’s hard not to be shaped by the 2013-14 seasons.

    *** Dykes against the four opponents that matter most (UCLA, USC, Oregon and Stanford):

    Record: 0-9

    Average margin of defeat: 23.9 points.

    *** Spent much of the game thinking I was watching the Bears of 2014.

    They weren’t physical on either line, couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t protect Jared Goff, couldn’t stop the Bruins’ ground game and did not make plays in the secondary.

    One-dimensional on offense and a turnstile on defense is a recipe for repeating recent history.

    *** Goff lost his rhythm in Salt Lake City and hasn’t rediscovered it. Everything is a half-beat off.

    The line’s inability to protect him consistently is part of the problem. The erratic running game is part of the problem. But Goff doesn’t look right – he looks like he’s pressing.

    Past two games: only 57 percent completions.

    *** For all of Cal’s dependency on Goff and the aerial game, its inability to run effectively (3.7 per carry against the Bruins) is a gigantic issue. Pac-12 defenses are too talented, and the defensive coordinators too smart, to get beat regularly by a one-dimensional offense.

    The line isn’t nearly good enough to protect Goff when everyone in the stadium knows the Bears have to throw. (Few lines are.)

    *** Kenny Lawler hasn’t been Kenny Lawler in recent weeks for a variety of reasons (drops, better scouting, more talented DBs), and that has to be affecting Goff, as well.

    Stephen Anderson is a fine second option, but everyone else has been too quiet for stretches that last too long.

    Where in the world is Bryce Treggs?

    *** Cal in situational football:

    Turnover margin: +1
    Third-down conversions: 8 of 19
    Red zone TDs: 3 of 4

    With those numbers, you would expect a close game. But the Bruins converted 56% of their third downs, averaged 6.4 yards per play, generated five sacks and made Cal one dimensional.

    Next up: vs. USC

    The matchup: More manageable for Cal than it has been in nearly a decade … but not nearly as manageable as it appear a week ago.

    Early last week, the Bears were resting up from an encouraging performance at Utah and the Trojans were regrouping from yet another loss.

    Then Cal get wiped out, the Trojans look like the Trojans and here we are, wondering if this is the year the Bears finally break through.

    The final score last year (38-30) was deceiving: USC led 38-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Not since 2007 have the Bears held their own and not since 2003 have they held on and beaten the Trojans.

    *** USC’s turmoil has been well documented. More relevant to this space are the style and personnel matchups.

    USC’s defensive line isn’t as stout as it has been, and the secondary isn’t stocked with its usual array of playmakers. Yes, the unit played well against Utah, but Travis Wilson isn’t Goff.

    If the Bears are physical up front — a major if, based on how Cal played last week — they should move the ball effectively.

    But can Cal contain one of the most dynamic offenses in the conference? After watching the Bears get sliced and diced by UCLA, and watching the Trojans move the ball (via ground and air) against Utah’s top-tier defense, that’s difficult to imagine.

    *** As noted above, this is a supreme test of Cal’s leadership, its resolve and its coaching staff’s ability to produce answers.

    The Bears opened as a 3.5-point underdog, but the line quickly popped to 5.5.

    The betting public has little faith in the Bears and loves to jump on the Trojans, and it’s easy to see why when they play as they did Saturday.

    USC’s offensive line is entering the patchwork phase because of multiple season-ending injuries. But there are so many playmakers available for one of the league’s top QBs (Cody Kessler) that you’re left to wonder if the Trojans will score 30 … 40 … 45+ points.

    Cal has played well at home — that must be taken into account. I expect the Bears to muster more than the 24 points they have scored in each of the past two games.

    But this is a case of being influenced by past performance, not only the past two games but the past 2+ seasons when the Bears face the conference’s most talented teams.

    Cal plays better than it has lately, but not quite good enough. USC 42, Cal 34, or thereabouts.

    xxxxxxx

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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