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10 by 10: The California Golden Bears Unable to Connect Against the Washington State Cougars
My ten thoughts by 10pm
My bye week came early this season as I wasn’t able to watch the game last week and publish my ten thoughts by 10pm. Did I deserve it? Probably not, but I sure as heck enjoyed not having to deal with the heartbreak of watching Damien Moore fumble in overtime. But, in the wise words of Coach Ted Lasso, “be a goldfish.” We might have three losses thus far this season, but there’s still a ton of football left to play and I’m excited.
So, despite a tough start to the season, here I am with my ten thoughts as I watch the California Golden Bears take on the Washington State Cougars:
Washington State’s 1st Touchdown Drive The Cougars got the ball first after Cal won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. I generally prefer that choice, but there’s some baseline assumption that the defense is ready to go. Based on the fact that Washington State scored on the first drive with no incompletions and negative plays, it’s pretty safe to say the defense was not ready. Jayden de Laura was completing passes to wide open receivers both in the middle and in the flats and their receivers were amassing many more yards after the catch with a number of missed tackles by the Cal defense. Under Wilcox, it always felt like the fundamentals were sound, but right now, I find it hard to believe that this is the same team.
2 Early Special Teams Plays After an impressive 44-yard connection between Chase Garbers and Kekoa Crawford and a physical 11-yard touchdown run by Christopher Brooks, we barely had an opportunity to celebrate. A bad snap on the extra point attempt cost the Bears a point, which immediately makes me think Cal will go for two at some point in this game and botch it. The Cal defense forced a quick three-and-out, but found themselves back on the field a play later with a blocked punt recovered by Washington State for a first down. Obviously a certain amount of luck factors into a play like that, but I generally believe that good teams manufacture luck that benefits themselves. Instead, de Laura guided the Cougars back into the redzone for another touchdown albeit on an impressive catch by Calvin Jackson Jr.
3 Pass Attempts Thus far in the game (11:17 left in the 2nd quarter), the Cal offense hasn’t done much. Other than the aforementioned completion to Crawford and touchdown run by Brooks, Garbers has had two additional pass attempts (both incompletions) and the Bears have rushed for 19 yards. There’s no rhythm. The Washington State defense looks to be getting whatever pressure they want against the Cal offensive line. For what it’s worth, Garbers generally looks more poised and improved as a quarterback this year, but it was fun to watch him improvise. I just want the inner-competitive fire to be on display more.
4th & 14?????? I’m speechless…. Did I think Cal was going to convert 4th-and-14? No. Did I think Cal could convert a field goal? Definitely not. Did I think they could pin with a punt? Probably not. But, on 4th-and-14, Garbers threw an interception. I would have much rather watch those Jared Goff or Davis Webb punts because at least that’s entertaining. I’ve already had to re-adjust my expectations for this Cal team, but I’m on the edge of turning off my TV and enjoying my fall without football.
5 First-Half First Downs I’m getting a bit repetitive, but it’s clear that this is not a good Cal team. The Cal offense has averaged 440 yards thus far this season—good for 2nd in the Pac-12 and also the highest under Wilcox. For the most part, the Bears have done it mostly in the first-half against teams. With 2 interceptions and a turnover on downs, Cal still closes the first half with just 6 points and just 5 first downs. I’ve tossed my phone in frustration too many times this afternoon. The Bears get the ball back to start the second half, but I’m not optimistic that we will find any sort of offensive bursts.
More of the Same It’s getting increasingly difficult to have new and interesting thoughts as we watch this Cal game. There has been a general inability to execute and consequently, there’s almost no positives that you would be able to point to for this contest. Even the two interceptions are hard to feel excited about because the Cal offense weren’t able to capitalize on it at all.
Chris Street I’ve always heard Chris Street as a name to be excited for, but thus far, he hasn’t really seen much of the field. With Damien Moore perhaps benched after his ball security troubles and a relatively ineffective Marcel Dancy, Street was injected into the offense in the second half. The sophomore in his first couple carries had an interesting mix of burst and elusiveness that certainly was intriguing, but it was not nearly enough to mask the ineffectiveness thus far in the game. At the very least, his performance in the second half indicates he deserves a few more looks the rest of the season.
Dejected As a Cal fan, this has been as dejected as I felt (watching football at least, basketball is another topic that I’m not willing to write about or discuss). I haven’t been a fan for long, but we haven’t really hit extreme low points. Sure, we’ve had several fairly demoralizing losses over the last 7 seasons including a 35-0 loss to Utah in 2019. But, despite the final score, Washington State has been in control the entire game and that just shouldn’t happen. Perhaps that’s why this loss hits harder than the other 24 losses during the Wilcox era. This certainly feels like the time of the season where quotes like this one from Ted Lasso, “for me, success is not about the wins and loss. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”
Depth You almost wonder if Cal had more depth whether the coaching staff would have benched Garbers in the second half. It’s obvious that the offense just couldn’t do much of anything against Washington State’s defense, but the wrinkles that Cal tried throwing in the second half were just as ineffective. I don’t think it’s the play being called so much as this lack of rhythm (mostly caused by the offensive line being pushed) on the offensive side of the ball. Just as we saw with Chris Street being just enough of a change-up for the Washington State defense, I would at least like to know what our back-up quarterbacks could do even if it wouldn’t have been much better than Garbers. I get that technically the game was within reach and a quarterback change could wreck a player’s confidence, but it was clear to basically anyone watching that the offense couldn’t connect on anything.
What’s Next Cal has a bye before facing Oregon in 13 days. Oregon, who lost to Stanford earlier this afternoon, will also have a bye. I don’t think we will correct all the bad habits this team has seemingly displayed this season, but it’s clear that the Bears need a mental reset. I started this installment of my series with Ted Lasso’s reminder to be a goldfish, but I’ll leave you all with Dani Rojas’ joy and excitement when chanting “football is life,” which I’m very much aware is not about the kind of football Cal was playing today.
As Ted Lasso says, “heck, you can fill two Internets with what I don’t know about football.” Again, I realize he’s referring to a different sport entirely, but I agree with that sentiment that I don’t know a ton about football. There’s a lot of tape for anyone to break down the X’s and O’s of this game, but my attention is entirely on unforced errors such as the untimely flags that Cal seems to have every game. Perfection is certainly a high standard for any team, but it’s abundantly clear the Bears need to be executing cleanly and at a high-level to give themselves every opportunity to win a ball game.