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Cal football loses everything at Colorado
Changes have to be made. The Bears can't keep doing this.
How does Cal always do it?
Sure, there's always the bizarro Cal loss where everything goes wrong, like losing three times in one minute to Notre Dame. Those have become so routine they've become episodes in a comedy. And they are the type of losses every college football program experiences.
Then there's the reality check loss, like two weeks ago in Washington State. These are the ones you start feeling a little too good after an impressive win, thinking that this is a sign of things to come, and then you play a team with more talent and better coaching and you get properly waxed. Again, it’s a thing that happens to us and to everyone else.
But then with Cal, we always find one hole deeper.
Cal always seem to find a game that combines the two type of losses above, then produce a loss so inexplicable and befuddling, you can't even really believe it just happened. It's the type of game that has barely any positives, other than the heart and energy the players put out there.
This is the one that basically shakes a program to its core, and leaves us pondering existential questions, like "Why am I doing this and why do I keep dragging others to care about this?".
All the fleeting hopes, all the excuses, all the rationalizations for the Justin Wilcox era came crashing down in Boulder, in one of the worst football games you’ll ever witness.
A close, infuriating win? Sure, we could've forecasted that. Cal has played down to the level of their competition constantly. That was in many ways the likelist result?
But a loss? With a mostly healthy offense? A still top 40 defense? To a Colorado team that gave up 38+ points to every opponent this year? How?
The program cannot stand pat. It just can't.
The theory behind bringing in Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave seems good on paper. Having an experienced mind who can couple with the pro-style defenses of Justin Wilcox provides the Bears all the necessary flexibility to defend and play low variance football.
Here's the problem. The old-school West Coast offense that Musgrave lives in is a college football dinosaur.
Jeff Tedford saw the tide rising against it midway through his tenure, trying to modify his offense to run more spread concepts and modern CFB looks that were revitalizing college offenses.
That was nearly a decade and a half ago. Bill Musgrave is stuck in 2002.
It is painfully easy to gameplan against at this point. Cal looks to throw the football to certain spots. They throw a lot of short passes to soften up the defense, then after enough success aim out deep to get the explosive plays.
Colorado's corners cushioned off plenty, then pounced on the points in the flats where Cal receiver sat, allowing plenty of 2-4 yard gains not much else. They then benefitted from a wildly inaccurate Jack Plummer for most of the first half, who could not seem to complete anything beyond the sticks. And they played tight defensively.
With the WCO, you can't really adjust tempo either to anything other than a traditional–the plays and concepts take too long to convey to the players outside of scripts and two minute offense.
It is no coincidence Cal generated their offense when the Bears moved to an event slightly faster tempo that Colorado could not match, alleviating pressure on an exhausted line. Cal played that way until they got to the red zone, where they infuriatingly slowed down again and let Colorado dig in.
Colorado interim defensive coordinator Gerald Chatman has never been a DC for a game at any level of college football until Saturday. By midway through the first quarter he had figured Musgrave's looks out. He basically replicated much of Washington State's gameplan, and Cal took nearly a half to generate any sort of offense.
The biggest reason the traditional WCO fails in college? You need a really good offensive line. Because everything is predicated on timing and precision and flawless execution.
And Cal does not have a good offensive line, and Angus McClure just seems like he can’t get his players to perform up to the standard of Musgrave’s schemes and plays.
Cal saved their worst offensive line performance of the season for Boulder. The Bears simply were slow at every point, allowing one, two, sometimes three Buffs into the backfield on nearly every play. Colorado stuffed Jaydn Ott at the point of attack on nearly every run play.
But the offensive playcalling did them no favors. Nearly every play was between the tackles. No outside stretch. No movement outside the hashes. No RB screens. No two tight end sets and limited max protect schemes. Nothing really seemed geared to soften up the Colorado defense when it was clear Cal wasn't going to win the battle upfront in a conventional scheme.
Cal ran the football 18 times for 52 yards against the worst run defense in college football. But we didn’t actually try anything beyond convention.
Cal threw short of the sticks over and over with a Buff defender right in the vicinity. Cal averaged five yards per pass attempt, which would be fourth-worst in FBS.
Cal ran a quarterback sneak on 4th and 2. With empty set and Plummer under center. Why.
Cal had first and goal with under a minute left and went to three straight dropbacks, culminating in a nonsensical play action fake sack on 3rd and goal.
Cal had Decarlos Brooks in for overtime after not playing nearly the entire game. Yes, just put your best running back on the sideline for the most crucial drive of the game.
It was a stunning lack of offensive creativity and even sensibility, exacerbating Cal’s existing issues. Bill Musgrave basically did the Goofy “I’ll do it again” meme after Washington State. He changed disturbingly little and got dressed down by a defensive coordinator in his first ever stint on the job.
This iteration of the Cal program as we know it has to be done.
Cal now holds the painful distinction of having lost to the bottom-dwellers of the Pac-12, two years running. It is the THIRD TIME in the Wilcox era Cal has lost to a team that started 0-5, averaging a grand 7.7 points a game.
Cal is also 1-4 the last two seasons against programs that fired their head coach that season. That is not good or normal behavior.
Losing to the worst program in Power 5 college football should demand consequences of the people most responsible. You simply cannot come out after your worst performance of this season and follow it with one of the worst performances in program history.
And frankly, the fans are sick of it. Cal would be willing to tolerate mediocrity if it meant some bowl games and beating Stanford. But not even beating the Trees can offset this type of nonsense. The standard has to be higher to provide an engaged and active football fanbase.
I’ve already heard enough Bears saying they are spending the second half of their season investing time elsewhere. It’s hard to blame them. What promise does this coaching give us to change up and fix things?
So Cal needs to make changes, starting with what’s practical to salvage what’s left of this year. The offense needs a reboot.
There is no path for the team we just watched running the offense we just saw to make a bowl game, so the only sensible thing to do is to reboot with someone else to mitigate damage. There are a lot of talented Cal underclassmen who now have the transfer portal open to them, and more results like this one push them closer to the door.
Cal is facing three top-25 teams and likely five bowl eligible teams to finish 2022. If that Cal we saw on Saturday comes out and shows up again this season, the Bears will be embarrassed, week after week after week. Fan interest will nosedive, ticket renewals will sink, and Cal will have to make much tougher decisions with a much harder hole to crawl out of.
It is time for Justin Wilcox to show he is serious about winning long-term at Cal and make his moves ASAP to salvage what’s left of 2022. Otherwise expect everyone else–players, fans, donors–to start looking for the escape hatch for this version of the Bears.