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
After a brutal three-game stretch, the California Golden Bears reshuffled their offensive line and it worked wonders.
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.
And major kudos to Rob and Christopher for their fearless predictive accuracy. Both were raked over the coals at the AZ site, Rob for predicting a 45-28 Cal win, and Christopher for suggesting a gunslinger like Da Laura was prone to interceptions. 49-31 and two interceptions later, W4C analysts prove right on the mark. Well done! Any crow come your way from AZ fans? 😎
I just watched the film. Here are my thoughts.
Sometimes it takes new players a little time to figure things out. Sometimes it takes coaches a little time to figure personnel groupings out. The Arizona game was a breakthrough game for us in both departments. The O-Line personnel finally fit and it showed. Plummer finally figured out he doesn't have to throw the ball deep on every play, he has great receivers and if he makes his reads and checks down to the right receiver, he will have more success, the receivers will make plays resulting in good YAC, and the passing game will open up our run game and vice versa. It all came together at the start of the 2nd quarter against AZ.
What most people don't see is the chess game that goes on with play calling on both sides of the ball. The team that adjusts to the other's play call better, whether on offense or defense will succeed more and usually win the game. From an offensive perspective we did a hell of a job. The only time AZ really was able to hold us for no gain was when he had a run play called and they brought 6 to 7 of their players to the LOS. But by doing this they ended up burning themselves, because when you have no 2nd level and backers are up tight to the LOS, if Jayden Ott breaks through, he is gone and there is no looking back. This happened twice, but we also had great blocking to spring him.
With respect to our blocking, it wasn't perfect, but it was night and day better than any game we have played this season. Our O-line got off the snaps quick, engaged the defensive players and played (most of the time) until the whistle. That third quarter touchdown by Ott where it looked like he was down after about 9 yards was a great example. A couple of linemen got into the scrum and Vatikani literally pulled Ott out of the tackle and released him to bolt the last 10 yards. It was a beautiful moment and the type of play that Big Uglies smile about while falling asleep, dreaming of a dominant performance. Our O-Line got on run blocks, stayed on blocks, played nasty, and moved the scrums every chance they could. On pass protection they finally put it together. And having Cindric at RG was key. He is our best O-Liner, and where Lovell played poorly, Cindo excelled. Cindo taking over at RG was a huge difference maker. Driscoll, as the only other starting O-lineman who has played center for us. He took over that job and fit in perfectly. I actually think he he better at C than at LG because while he is big, he's not 335 pounds big and doesn't bench 400#+. While the Center's face huge 1 techs, the C usually gets assistance from one of the G's on double teams, so the C is rarely on an island. Wirth respect to pass pro, the C does have to deal with a monster at 1 tech, but usually those guys aren't mobile as a 3 tech which the G or weakside T end up playing against. So the moved suited Driscoll and allowed us to move Vatikani to LG. His mammoth size, quickness, strength and nasty allowed him to overcome his lack of experience and technique. I think when he has his technique down he has the makings of an NFL quality G. Coleman was fairly solid as was Sessions and Rhome. Sessions and Rhome split quarters although I think Sessions actually had more plays. Rhome showed his knowledge of the play calling and making the right assignment choices, and his technique was good. Sessions is the better athlete of the two. They are both about the same IMHO but I think Sessions may have a bit more upside because of his athleticism.
In our pass protection we appeared to stop with the vertical sets and instead engaged at the point of contact and fought there, rather than giving up a lot of ground. It was brutal inside and our Pachyderms did us proud, winning the battles over and over. From my standpoint as an old O-liner, I just loved watching our guys get after it and it made me so proud. Also, our T's were finally patient and waited for the outside rush to come to them, and it made a big difference that provided that additional second or two for Plummer to make his reads and throw the ball.
The TE's blocked marvelously as well. Germain Terry was much improved from last week to this week. He was physical and did a fairly good job, but he needs to learn to stay with his block until the whistle. Mojarro did a solid job as well. The guy who really impressed me was Latu. He never got beat, ever. He is physical and his long arms and wide base allow him to establish position on his opposing player and once he did that, he controlled the block throughout the play. We had a number of plays where the TE's actually pull and run across the back of the O-line with a G or T to throw a block for a runner. These are physical blocks, there is no other way to say it. Latu excelled at these blocks. I was really impressed with his play on the line.
Because I'm not an expert at these positions I won't comment on our receivers or RB's other than to say, we have a lot of talent and Ott is amazing.
AZ came in with a Defensive game plan similar to UNR, TCU, WASU and UCLA last year and all the teams we have faced this year. Stop the run, pressure our QB and press the receivers and force us to throw low percentage long balls. Because of our revamped o-line, this strategy did not work. Hopefully this change is one that will provide us similar outcomes in future games this season. Other teams on our schedule will now need to figure out new ways to defend against us. This is great news.
As to Musgrave's play calling, it was subtle brilliance. If you watch the game film he ran multiple running and pass plays out of similar sets. The finest example was the 4th and 2 where Plummer threw the ball to Latu. Until Brooks made a slight motion to the right everyone in the game, in the stadium and on TV thought we were going to pound the rock. Latu was in the same position he had been all game where he had beed very effective in our run blocking game. When Brooks went in motion there was a momentary brain fart on the AZ side. Two defenders slid out to match him and the receivers we had, thus opening a gap between their DE and DB's. Latu blocked down and quickly released and nobody even saw him sneak out until after he caught the ball. Checkmate. This is the kind of stuff that won't happen in the 1st or 2nd quarter, but evolves as the game goes on. Musgrave must have been smiling after that one. Again, while this is one example of Musgrave's abilities, as long as we continue to execute, I expect fans will grow more accustomed to his real brilliance as an OC. For sure we will have tougher games and perhaps lose a few, but remember the big picture.
Lastly and this is a part I love writing about because it goes to the heart of the game; it's the psychology of respect. Any good lineman will tell you when they owned someone and when they got owned. But when your line plays strong and nasty then they get some swagger. And here's the other part: every player on the team knows that they can run a 40 faster than O-linemen, they can catch a a ball better, but they all know that in a fucking riot that the five starting lineman are the guys that are going to protect them by kicking some big time ass in a nasty way. When your O-line gets this mindset, its contagious. Swagger comes with it, but I will tell you, while receivers and RB's might get some swagger, they will never have more than a successful o-line, and they know it. When everyone on offense knows that those five big fuckers up front are nasty and good and win their battles, the confidence will flow to the rest of the team. And its a good type of confidence cause o-liners are by nature humble. Our team got some swagger this game. They can build on it and they will, but they learned on Saturday that when we play hard and to the whistle, we're a pretty damn good team.
Now let's start getting better at the little things, pad height, ass position, outside knee to crotch relationship in pass pro, intersection locations (don't over run your blocks), etc.
We have work ahead of us and a lot of tough games ahead, but this game gave us and the team a glimpse of what they are capable of, and I am excited for the future of CAL Football! Go Bears!!