Cal buries Arizona curses behind rising superstar Jaydn Ott
The Bears finally have the player who can fill up Memorial Stadium.
A lot changes for a college football program when you have an offensive star on your team, an extreme talent who can carry your offense to another level. Suddenly the playbook opens up, defenses soften, and you can start getting very creative with what types of plays you run.
Multiple stars puts you on the path to a title. This is why college football nuts still obsess over recruiting more than they should, because one additional five-star defensive lineman is the difference between coming close to Alabama and earning the crown.
Cal is not in those discussions, and won’t be without consistent success. But they have that star now, which is the first of many, many steps.
Jahvid Best was the last playmaker at Cal who could swing games with his mere presence. In 2008-09, when Cal was at the ebb of their last great run, Best swung multiple games (Miami, Minnesota, Stanford, UCLA) with just one or two electric carries. His breakaway speed was something defenses could not simulate in practice, and once he found one hole he unleashed.
Jaydn Ott is that type of talent. He brings a speed that can remind us of Jahvid at his best (pun intended) on his first and third touchdowns against Arizona. And he has the strength of a Marshawn Lynch to break through a host of Wildcat defenders for his second touchdown.
When attending multiple spring and fall practices, it was clear Ott was special. In one-on-one drills against three-year Cal defensive starters, Ott was zooming past them. He is built different, and Cal has to use him differently than most freshman.
You usually have rules for freshmen about reps and playing time to make sure you’re not overstretching them. But it’s getting harder and harder to find reasons to keep Ott off the field. The Cal offense is simply different when he’s out there because of the gravity of his explosiveness. He tilts the defense in ways that makes life easier for everyone else, and greatly elevates our ceiling.
And he might also know witchcraft. Who else could have expunged the curses of Wildcat voodoo?
For weeks, we have discussed how California Memorial Stadium under Justin Wilcox has not been an appealing attraction to get any random to just come out and watch Cal football. The offense is lacking week-to-week and no one is interested in sticking around to watch their team go through one-hour scoring droughts.
That formula is now different. With a breakout star on offense in Ott, a capable Power 5 quarterback, great weapons around him, a defense that is very good but not great, and a rising Pac-12, Cal has to score a lot more than 24 points a game to win football games this year.
Behind Ott, that is more than possible.
Time to tell your casual friends that going to Cal games will be fun again. See you all in Memorial in four weeks!
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Cal offensive line finds a better formula for success
True freshman guard Sioape Vatikani isn’t going to get any of the pub Ott did, but his insertion into the starting lineup changed the entire complexion of the offensive line. Brian Driscoll shifted from left guard to center. Matthew Cindric shifted over from center to right guard. And it paid dividends on the second play of the game.
Also note RT TJ Session making it to the second level and trucking the Arizona ILB.
Ott’s second touchdown was spectacular, but Vatikani deserves a lot of love for hugging his way for Ott to find his space. Literally.
The final Ott touchdown, everyone worked in concert up front to get Ott all the space he needed to explode.
The shuffling seemed to do wonders for pass protection as well: The Cal offensive line also gave up zero sacks to Jack Plummer after weeks of struggling to keep him upright in the pocket. It was much needed breathing room for a unit in need of good tidings before the meat of Pac-12 play gets underway.
Other Golden Bears who shined
Jack Plummer has been a gamer all year, and he threw some gorgeous balls up for grabs that only Jeremiah Hunter and J. Michael Sturdivant would have been able to make a play on. Plummer is a master at stretching to the outside.
Cal’s third quarter playcalling was stellar. The Bears went heavy on two tight end sets to matchup against a very small Arizona backend, and Elijah Mojarro and Keleki Latu feasted, combining for four catches and 56 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
To relieve pressure on Plummer and a struggling Cal pass protection units, Cal went to more half-rollouts to shrink the field and get the ball out faster.
After one of the worst halves by a Cal defense in sometime, Cal adjusted back to base in the second half and mostly held an explosive Arizona offense in check. After giving up 15 plays of ten yards or more in the first half, Arizona had only eight in the second despite trailing most of the way.
The biggest adjustment by the defense was on the ground—the Wildcats had 105 rushing yards in the first quarter, and 30 for the rest of the game. Craig Woodson and Daniel Scott came up with huge stops on the backend.
Orin Patu had himself a game in the pass rush department, causing terror in the second half against Jayden de Laura, causing the forced fumble that took some of the stress off the Bears.
Another true freshman Nate Burrell got to start upfront at defensive end. While Burrell still has a lot of development to go, he held up well and graded out as one of the best defenders by PFF.
Cal rotated linebackers around, with Jackson Sirmon and Femi Oladejo seeing time at OLB, and Ryan Puskas also got to start! The Bears are still trying to figure out their linebacking rotation for the rest of the year, and based on the Arizona pass attack, there’s definitely a lot of kinks.
Additional Cal fun facts
Cal rushed for 353 yards against Arizona, the best running total since Cal rushed for 431 yards against Washington in 2008. Jahvid Best set the single game Cal rush record with 311 yards and 4 TDs on 19 carries. Jaydn Ott today is now third all-time (274 yards, 3 TDs, 19 carries) as he also set freshman records for California.
Cal averaged 9.1 yards per play against Arizona and amassed 599 total yards. This is the second best ypp and total yards statlines in the Justin Wilcox era. (Cal put up 10.1 yards per play and 636 yards in the 2021 Big Game.)
Cal has won six straight games at home for the first time since 2009-10. That’s the good news! The bad news is the Bears are currently sitting on an eight-game losing streak in games outside the Bay Area. Although hapless Colorado likely should end that streak, the Bears really, really, really would like to beat Washington State to ease stresses about bowl eligibility. Then Cal can start dreaming bigger.
Cal beat an opponent that reached 21 first today for the first time since Texas 2016. Texas took a 24-14 lead with 13:31 in the second quarter and lost 50-43.
This is the first time Justin Wilcox has won his Pac-12 home season opener in Berkeley. 2017—loss to USC, 2018—loss to Oregon, 2019—loss to ASU, 2020—loss to Stanford, 2021—loss to Wazzu. They were all very deflating losses that depressed fan momentum. This is the opposite!
This is the first time in the Justin Wilcox era Cal has started 3-0 at home (last time: 2016). Cal hasn't started 4-0 at home since 2010.
With Cal ending the cursed streak to Arizona, Cal's longest losing streak against a Pac-12 team is now 2 (ASU, UCLA). Cal's longest period without a win against a Pac-12 opponent are ASU (2015) and Utah (2016).
Cal gameday things
Memorial Stadium might currently have one of the worst audio setups in college football. It is impossible to hear what anyone is saying on the videoboards on the east side. Maybe it’s better elsewhere but lord if I can tell you what’s happening.
Cal installed new videoboards that seem to only broadcast in standard definition, and on video replays the screen quality degenerates to 144p.
Cal has one Mic Woman who seems capable. They also had one Mic Men yell “Block that punt” on an extra point attempt.
Cal Rally Comm also has an inflatable.
Cal made a dude attempt the punt, pass and kick contest…while wearing a Bear. Just another day in Berkeley.