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College Hotline - Cal football: Grading the Week

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    Look out, beloooooooooow!

    In this space last week, we wondered if Cal had the answers … if it had the resolve, the leadership and the tactical acumen to stop what was a two-game skid, remain a player in the North and distance itself from the 2013-14 teams.

    The resolve was there, and the defense played well – well enough to win.

    The Bears allowed just three touchdowns and were stout on third/fourth down, at last until the final drive, when the Trojans made two critical conversions.

    But we’re still waiting for answers from the Cal offense, from HC Sonny Dykes and OC Tony Franklin, and those answers had better come quickly as frustration increases and the Bear Raid transforms into yet another Bear Fade.

    Yes, we’ve seen this before:

    Last year, Cal started 4-1, then went 1-6 against the meat of the schedule.

    This year, the Bears started 5-0, but are 0-3 since and have fallen out of contention in the North.

    The missed extra point by Texas looms larger by the week: Had that been a loss, the Bears would need two more wins to get bowl-eligible.

    Instead, they need just one and have bottom-feeder Oregon State in town next week for the victory that should ensure a 6-6 finish.

    And if that’s how it plays out, especially if it includes another beat down by Stanford, athletic director Mike Williams could be left with a difficult decision.


    Result: Lost to USC 27-21

    Grade: C+

    Comment: The defense played like the Cal defense we’ve seen every week with the exception of the no-show in the Rose Bowl.

    In fact, this felt a lot like the Utah game, when the Bears were in the game until the end despite a minus-3 turnover margin. The margin Saturday: minus-3.

    USC rushed for 185 yards, and it could have been more if interim coach Clay Helton weren’t fixated on the aerial game.

    But the Trojans can move the ball on anybody. If Cal plays like that down the stretch defensively, it will have a chance to win a few more.

    *** Our focus here, however, is the offense, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pose this simple and yet significant question:

    Does it work?

    Sure, the Bear Raid is fun to watch when everything clicks, which happens frequently against second-rate and non-conference opponents.

    But as we’ve note before: Everything changes when you’re deep into the season and facing top-tier conference opponents. The opposing talent is better, the scouting is better, the preparation is better and the adjustments are better.

    Cal has yet to prove that it can consistently function at a high level against the best teams in the conference (that was true last year, as well).

    Is the Bear Raid too predictable, too easy to defend? USC sure looked like it knew what was coming on several key plays.

    The Bears are averaging 26.6 points in league play, which is worse than it looks – it’s xx in the conference.

    Cal is averaging fewer points than

    And if Cal doesn’t have a dominant offense in Dykes’ third year – the year it was all supposed to click – with a quarterback of Jared Goff’s caliber … well, will it ever click?

    *** Quick thoughts:

    The running game looked sharp early but sputtered late and the Bears finished with an average of 3.9 yards per rush. Removed Daniel Lasco’s 22-yarder from the calculation, and the per-carry number drops to 3.3

    The decision to go for it on fourth-and-10 from USC’s 37 was a what-are-they-thinking?!?!? moment — not after the fact but as the play unfolded.

    Goff’s first interception (the Adoree Jackson Pick 6) was an awful throw. But the second INT was not: Goff threw to a spot; it’s just that Kenny Lawler was not at that spot when the ball arrived; Kevon Seymour was. Yes, there was contact, but that’s what happens in league games against good teams: There’s contact — not egregious contact, but standard contact — and you don’t always get the calls.

    The Trojans didn’t turn the interception into points, but their drive more than three minutes – three minutes the Bears could have used.

    Goff’s reaction on the sideline was telling. He’s frustrated; he’s not wholly comfortable in the pocket; he needs answers. (Might his midseason woes nudge him to coming back next season? Who knows.)

    As WR Bryce Treggs said: “As an offense, we believe we’re underachieving tremendously.”

    *** Cal in situational football:

    Turnover margin: -3
    Third down: 2 of 9
    Red zone TDs: 3 of 3

    *** Dykes is now 0-10 against USC, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon, with the Ducks …

    Next up: at Oregon

    The matchup: Speaking of well-prepared and talented defenses … err, sorry, we’re discussing the Ducks instead.

    They’re woeful defensively: Soft, unsound, a turnstile for any competent quarterback.

    Utah scored 62 on ‘em.

    Washington State posted 45.

    Arizona State just rang up 55 and 742 yards. (Only 41 of ASU’s points were in regulation.)

    The Ducks struggle in coverage, and their tackling alternates between so-so and bad. They can, however, generate a decent pass rush, and that will be the priority for Cal: Protecting Goff so that he can settle into a rhythm.

    Establishing a running game, of course, is central element in that equation. Without it, the Ducks will make life difficult for Goff.

    *** On the other side of the ball …

    I don’t expect Oregon to score 50+ on the Bears, as has been the case for the past three years (59, 55, 59). Cal is better; the Ducks aren’t as good.

    But they have plenty of playmakers, starting with QB Vernon Adams.

    *** Oregon opened as a 7.5-point favorite. That feels high: This isn’t a terrible matchup for the Bears, not by any stretch.

    If they’re as tough and sound defensively as they were against Utah and USC … if they keep turnovers to a minimum … and if they get Goff into a rhythm … this should be close.

    Feels like: Oregon 38, Cal 34.

    xxxxxxx

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