Post-Game Thoughts: Oregon State Football
Cal falls behind quickly and never recovers in a quiet loss to the Beavers
What I can’t quite figure out is why this week? Sure, Cal’s offensive performance was bad, but was it meaningfully worse than Colorado or Wazzu? Was it because bowl eligibility was officially lost? Does it have something to do with helping Cal beat Stanford?
Regardless, this was the end of the run for Bill Musgrave and Angus McClure. And to the extent that anybody will remember this game, it will be remembered as the game that finally led to a decision that all assumed to be fait accompli four weeks ago.
10 drives: 0 touchdowns, 2 FGA (1-2), 6 punts, 2 turnovers (1 interception, 1 downs), 0.3 points/drive.
A doomed offense
There is only one relevant question to ask when previewing a Cal game: Does the opponent have sufficient defensive line talent to overwhelm Cal’s line on most plays?
Against Washington, Oregon, Washington State, and now Oregon State, the answer was an emphatic yes, and the offense did nothing of note.
Against Arizona (and, shockingly, USC) the answer was no, and so Cal could give their skill position players some modicum of time and space.
There is nothing interesting to analyze, nothing new to say. Oregon State came out knowing that they could easily overwhelm Cal offensive line, and so they stacked up their defense on the line to take away anything short. Their CBs were in press coverage, their safeties often played high, and they were easily positioned to snuff out the short passing patterns that Cal has to rely on when Plummer faces a defense that forces him to get the ball out in two seconds.
When a defense can do that to you, play calling is irrelevant. There are no plays that can account for a line that cannot regularly protect on pass patterns that go 10 yards downfield.
We’re all left hoping that Stanford’s defensive line is much more Arizona and USC, and much less Oregon State or Wazzu.
Should it be this bad?
Cal’s starting offensive line against OSU:
LT Brayden Rohme, 4th year in the program (3 star, unranked nationally)
LG: Everett Johnson, 3rd year in the program (3 star, 945th nationally)
C: Brian Driscoll, 4th year in the program (3 star, unranked nationally)
RG: Sioape Vatikani, 1st year in the program (3 star, 678th nationally)
RT: Ender Aguilar, 3rd year in the program (3 star, unranked nationally)
This was without the following presumed/potential starters:
Matt Cindric, 5th year in the program (3 star, unranked nationally)
Ben Coleman, 4th year in the program (3 star, 638 nationally)
T.J. Session, 1st year in the program (unranked as a high school recruit)
Spencer Lovell, 1st year in the program (3 star, unranked nationally)
Is it a major challenge that four of the six offensive linemen who played major snaps in the first game of the season are out? Absolutely. But four of the five linemen that started against Oregon State are juniors or seniors based on time on campus. Ultimately the failure that defines this season is a failure of the current coaching staff to successfully develop and prepare the offensive linemen who have been on the roster for 3-4 seasons to play.
9 drives: 4 touchdowns, 2 FGA (1-2), 2 punts, 1 turnover (fumble), 2 points/drive, 3.4 points/drive
So honestly I don’t really know how to go about grading this defensive performance. The defense allowed an early touchdown on a drive that required two 4th down conversions, then gave up a short field touchdown, then OSU scored on a punt return, and the game was over. Everybody knew the Cal offense wasn’t going to score anywhere near 21 points, so OSU could sit on the ball and that’s more or less what they did.
The simple power of being able to run the ball
Oregon State had two explosive pass plays - one was a wildcat fake, and the other was a short throw that turned into a freak game after OSU advanced a fumble. The Beavers don’t have a QB who can reliably throw deep.
They don’t need to. They can consistently churn out 4 yards on the ground, and then pop up for a short pass to gain the necessary yardage. Combine that with a willingness to go for it on 4th and short, and you have a team that can wring points out of relatively limited offensive production.
A play Cal can’t afford to give up
Cal simply isn’t good enough to win games when they allow big plays on special teams, and OSU’s punt return touchdown functionally ended the game as a potentially competitive contest. What happened?
I suppose one could argue Frankly, Cal’s coverage just looked fundamentally unbalanced. OSU’s returner juked a guy in the open field right in the middle . . . and there was nobody in a white jersey to that entire side of the field. After making one guy miss, it wasn’t very hard and he went in untouched.
Maybe we should have a special teams coordinator?
A change at kicker?
It’s been something of an unlucky season for Dario Longhetto, who has continued to be largely reliable inside 40 yards, but has had a few near misses from 40+. He missed a 48 yarder midway through the 3rd quarter, and when Cal attempted another in the 4th quarter it was instead true freshman Michael Luckhurst, who has already taken over kickoff duty. This may have just been rotation in a blowout game, but something to watch going forward.
This time they got away with pointless risk
Wilcox and his staff truly do believe that Jack Plummer gives them the best chance to win, and they’re probably right, but that didn’t stop them from trotting Plummer onto the field with Cal down 28 points midway through the 4th quarter.
Cal was evidently still trying to win, because they dropped their best quarterback back to pass five times, but they weren’t really trying to win THAT hard, because they punted on 4th down.
Whatever, this season became ‘win Big Game or bust’ somewhere around the time that Jack Plummer got hurt playing in garbage time against Wazzu. Which, to be clear, is not remotely close to an acceptable result for a sixth year coach who received a four year contract extension less than a year ago, but it’s the reality we live in.
Since it is now Big Game week, an exercise in record book perusal:
Cal and Stanford enter Big Game with identical 3-7 records. One team will presumably win on Saturday. Cal will almost certainly lose to UCLA the week after. Stanford will play a coin flip with BYU. These two teams will likely finish with a combined 7-8 wins.
I took a quick glance at Cal/Stanford history in an attempt to identify seasons in which both teams ended a season with fewer than 7 combined wins. This is perhaps giving the 2022 Bears and Cardinal more credit than they deserve, since modern football includes a 12 game schedule and an annual FCS game, whereas older Cal/Stanford seasons featured 11 games and less frequent games against lower division competition. For comparisons to the past, it is probably more fair to say that Cal and Stanford enter Big Game with identical records of 2-7 (apologies to UC Davis and Colgate).
There have been seasons in which one team is abjectly bad and the other is merely average, for example:
1962: 5-5 Stanford vs. 1-9 Cal
1983: 5-5-1 Cal beats 1-10 Stanford, 27-18
But we’re looking for simultaneous badness. Crapple Cup level misery, ideally. Thus, it’s my subjective opinion that this is the worst Big Game in 62 years, since 1960. In that season, Cal tied Wazzu (4-5-1 against a bad schedule) and upset Oregon State (6-3-1) by 8, and of course beat winless Stanford. But Cal’s seven losses came by an average of 17 points, in a much lower scoring era. Stanford’s 0-10 season saw them lose by an average of 14 points/game.
Other contenders, depending on your POV:
1981: 4-7 Stanford beats 2-9 Cal, 42-21
1961: 4-6 Stanford beats 1-8-1 Cal, 20-7
1959: 2-8 Cal beats 3-7 Stanford, 20-17 (1959-1967 were ROUGH years for both programs)
1939: 3-7 Cal beats 1-7-1 Stanford, 32-14
I’d put 1959 and 1960 as worse than 2022, but we’re talking about one of the top 5 worst Big Games of all time this coming Saturday, and the worst Big Game in the living memory of most fans.
Beating Stanford is always a joy. This particular year, it may be more about avoiding ignominy than anything else.