Notre Dame Football 2022: The most Cal loss to ever Cal
Why lose once a week when you can lose more?
Being a Cal fan is to learn tragedy is comedy.
After seven straight three and outs to start the game, I knew.
Cal lost this football game a half-dozen times yesterday, and three times in the final 60 seconds.
Cal throws an interception on the first play of the final drive.
But no, not Cal. That’s not funny enough for the scriptwriters.
Here’s JD Bertrand losing his mind and targeting Jaydn Ott, giving Cal the ball back after hundreds of fans had streamed for the exit.
Suddenly Jack Plummer, who had not thrown a completion in nearly an hour, throws up three picture perfect throws in succession to Jeremiah Hunter, Mavin Anderson and Jaydn Ott. Then pressure from the Irish forced a bizarre Plummer heave and a scoop and score by Notre Dame.
NOW the game is over, right?
You fools. You filthy casuals to Cal football. Knee down.
I present to you, the three-loss drive. Poor Jeremiah Hunter.
Cal loses on a Hail Mary. On offense. In Notre Dame. With Touchdown Jesus watching over us all.
The most Cal game ever.
Before all that, Cal lost via atrocious officiating.
The immediate disclaimer that Cal should never put itself in the position to have refs decide football games, because that’s what you get.
Regardless, Cal lost on one of the worst offside penalties in college football history.
This flag was apparently on Lu-Magia Hearns, who is not offside in any universe.
Cal lost on a touchdown celebration penalty for J.Michael Sturdivant that was so tame Touchdown Jesus raised an eyebrow, setting up the aforementioned short Irish field, and the subsequent Notre Dame touchdown.
Cal lost on a targeting penalty where 6-1 Blake Antzoulatos had the misfortune of making a football play against a shorter QB (5-11 Drew Pine, which is being generous), which was not really bad officiating but just Cal luck. The Irish score their second touchdown on this drive.
Cal lost when a clear defensive pass interference in the third quarter on Mavin Anderson that was thrown by the official staring RIGHT AT Anderson and the entangled Irish defender was then redirected as an offensive pass interference on Jeremiah Hunter for getting…pushed by an Irish defender?
Cal’s drive died, the Bears had to punt deep in their own territory, and Notre Dame took the lead for good.
Look, we can get into conspiracy theories about TV executives can’t really afford an 0-3 Notre Dame as they close in on their largest television deal in college football team history. Or tell some not-so-nice jokes about how part of the Notre Dame experience is recognizing the inherent corruption rampant within our privileged Catholic communities.
Let’s just realize that offside call was a momentum-swinging play that made this one a rockfight yet again, and that the Internet is already meming this game into “Cal ties Notre Dame, 17-17”.
But that gets us into our last way in which Cal lost…
Cal lost by just being exactly who they are.
The Bears played the usual brand of Justin Wilcox football that gets us into these heartburn inducing scenarios—a low-scoring rockfight that gives us a puncher’s chance to beat anybody more talented than us, while also being capable of losing to anyone we shouldn’t lose to. So with the downs of UNLV, you get the ups of Notre Dame.
And this one had all the marks.
Cal’s offensive line progressively fell apart in the face of a top 10 Notre Dame defense, with guards barely able to generate run holes and tackle play becoming a glaring issue. Cal gave up six sacks and six more quarterback hurries.
Cal is in a tough situation where they’re basically starting four offensive linemen with guard skills…but they need two tackles and they’re not getting that play. It is very hard to win when your quarterback doesn’t feel safe on one-third of your passing plays.
That wasn’t helped by Cal’s offensive playcalling not trying in any way to make Plummer’s life easier, as Bill Musgrave abandoned the run for large stretches of the game, forcing Plummer back into conventional five-step drops against a merciless Notre Dame attack. There were an appalling lack of screen passes or short plays to soften the defense, to the point that former Cal assistant Gerald Alexander wasn’t holding back.
Plummer eventually clearly got hurt on his wrist on one of those relentless Irish pressures. He gutted through, but the results were rough—Plummer threw nine straight incompletions in the second half.
There was a move to a quicker tempo offense on Cal’s only second half scoring drive and the last one-minute drill, where the Bears got the ball moving a little. Ultimately Cal needs to adapt their offense to be far less dependent on explosive plays and work on consistency—I’ve argued the Bears should move toward max protect schemes or extra linemen to be a bit more power focused, because right now our weapons are not being given enough time to be great at this point.
(By contrast, Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator Tommy Rees actually had a solid second half—he realized Pyne could not throw past 10 yards, so they just ran most of the game against a tiring Cal defensive front, and occasionally threw a change up when the Cal defense was boxing in, leading to the go-ahead Irish touchdowns).
In lieu of uninspiring offensive changeups, Cal’s best play yet again became “quarterback fleeing for his life”. Plummer, who is not known for his downfield leg movement, had scrambles of 10, 16 and 21 yards. This was pleasant to see, but this cannot be our offensive strategy going forward.
Cal lost in a new way, but lost in the same way. And I somehow have the feeling that formula is going to be a familiar one in 2022.
Some Cal wins and losses
Plummer’s health is easily the most worrisome development from this game. Cal does not want to go deep into their bench at quarterback at this point. Any change in “healthy Jack Plummer” as our starter sends our win expectancy tumbling into the Bay.
The Cal defense did their job most of the game, with Jackson Sirmon (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Oluwafemi Oladejo (12 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) doing a good job upfront. Oladejo is probably my lean for Cal player of the game, as Sirmon did give up the early Notre Dame touchdown by letting his man slip by him.
Cal played mostly in their base 3-4 set on defense with the Irish not being able to pass the ball too far. The linebackers graded out well, but the defensive line still needs to work on push and winning their line assignments as they adapt without BRETT JOHNSON. The Irish obviously have one of the more talented lines out there.
Jaydn Ott, who has passed the eye test in every way, started the entire first half against Notre Dame. He’s looking like he could finish the season as the starter, although he was mostly bottled by the second half. DeCarlos Brooks had an impressive game in limited reps as well. The running back battle will be fascinating to watch all year.
Damien Moore, after starting against UNLV but did seem to leave early, did not appear to play today. Something to keep an eye on.
Cal’s top three wideouts all secured their positions for the next few years. Sturdivant, Hunter, Anderson all showed out with the chances they were given.
Cal’s third quarter drive with Brooks provided a nice preview of what Cal should do more of—bringing the tight end and block-heavy wide receivers upfront to provide outside run lanes for Brooks to make some of his big third quarter runs. It’d be nice if Cal could mix and match between our conventional sets so we can generate more unique looks, rather than switching entirely between the two. Notre Dame had us mostly figured out in the second half.
Odua Isibor did not dress after suffering an injury last week. Xavier Carlton and Trey Paster also appeared to get injured late.
A final note: Having seen how cheerful Notre Dame fans are, clearly Cal fandom has surpassed Catholicism as our greatest religion of suffering, and we need to build churches to spread the word. Hail Oski, lord of pathos.
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Who needs Football Jesus when you have the refs in your pocket?
Cannot be overstated how good a write-up this is in terms of capturing the game itself and the experience of being a Cal football fan. The football team will likely struggle this year but at least WFC will provide some solace through the musings of its talented scribes.