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Rating the Bears: Cal vs. Auburn Football
Oh, we're back to this again...
When you think of the Wilcox era at Cal, what kind of team do you envison? Suffocating defense? Check. Mediocre offense that is consistently stifled in the red zone? Check. Abysmal special teams? Check. After a pleasant surprise last week when the offense dominated the game, this weekend’s game was back to the old Wilcox teams we know and…barely tolerate.
Rating the Bears
This is the seventh season under Justin Wilcox and I cannot remember how many times we have seen a table where our weekly ratings look like this:
Considering the strength of the Auburn ground game, this was one of the best defensive performances over the last several seasons. The ratings reward the defense accordingly…and that’s about it for positive ratings. All the rest hovered around that disheartening 35-45 range. All except for special teams which somehow managed to earn the second-lowest rating of the Wilcox era (more on that in a moment). Despite the gut-punch of a loss, we remain optimistic about a win over Idaho, who is fresh off a 33-6 win over a Nevada team that will be a serious contender for the worst college football team of all time.
In the boxplots below I have highlighted Saturday’s ratings in comparison to all our previous ratings for OOC Power 5 opponents. Keep in mind that the box captures the middle 50% of the data, so anything outside that box is starting to border on unusual. Speaking of unusual, does anything catch your eye in the plot below?
Other than overall, every single point falls outside the box. Ratings were either much better or much worse than usual, depending on the category. Defense fared much better than usual while everything else was much worse than usual. The biggest standout is special teams, which earned the lowest rating we have every given to the Bears in an OOC game against a Power 5 team.
Next we compare the ratings to all other games during the Wilcox Era.
The pattern is similar to the P5 plot—nearly everything falls outside interquartile range: the only exceptions are pass offense and run defense, both of which barely fall in that range. Special teams earned the second-lowest ratings of the Wilcox Era, behind only that 2020 Big Game where a pair of blocked PATs decided the game. A week after offense, coaching and overall earned some of their highest scores of the Wilcox Era last week, this week’s regression is deeply disappointing.
Time for our trusty triumvirate of awards: best, worst, and most reasonable.
First, the lowest scores of the week. This season I am tracking previous award recipients, and the numbers of parentheses reflect the number of times that person has earned that award previously.
Vincent S leads the way for the second week in a row, while 2nd through 5th are all new recipients. The disappointment has found four new victims this week!
Next, the highest grades of the week.
The top two were both award recipients last week (of course, Calamo has been earning this award every week since 2018), while the remainder all gave the Bears fairly respectable ratings.
The Voice of Reason
Next we have those whose ratings were closest to the community average scores.
SGBear leads the way today, followed by sacman701, our only repeat winner (and a regular winner of this award in previous seasons). While last week’s recipients earned scores in the 3s, this week’s winners were in the 7s, 8s, and 9s, a reflection of how much variation there was in the ratings this week.
Next, let’s have a look at this week’s comments. I know that Mr. Reasonable, SGBear had several insightful comments reflecting his VoR award this week.
Any comments on the gameday experience?
Bent Pawn: Auburn did not beat Cal. The refs did not beat Cal. Cal beat Cal.
HaasBear: My couch was comfy.
Bluehenbear: F—- the SEC
LiffeyBear: I hate how ESPN stacks games. Well at least next year we will be in the ACC…. Wait, that is a decade more of ESPN?!?
BearsWillEndMyLife: Beautiful weather, nice crowd, fun halftime drone light show; but the stadium audio was messed up all game so we couldn't hear the refs choking on themselves
HelloBowlesHall: Messed up the speakers - super terrible echo through the game, couldn’t understand a dang word. Drones were awesome.
Calboy1976: Great crowd. Auburn fans weren't too bad.
Goldenone: Started out awesome but ended up thoroughly disappointing.
1988goldenbear: The night and venue was beautiful. The game was a flashback to 2022, not in a good way.
Oaklandishbear: Way too much orange in the stadium. Wish we had a product on the field that could sell out our stadium and not give visiting team an opportunity to have more than their allocation.
Auburn fans behind us bought through the Cal ticket office. They were fun to chat with though and gave some insight. Was hilarious to hear them complain about the cold. The drone show was pretty cool, especially the 3-D Campanile.
Tangtpt: Good turnout. Lots of Auburn people, though. Halftime drone show was cool. Still need more Cal Band.
What are your thoughts on Cal's passing game?
LiffeyBear: I like how SJV finds open receivers. I was disappointed by how few open receivers there were to find.
Frisco Bear: What pass offense? Findley was too slow with his passes. Jackson had the one good series, but his pocket presence is too casual and his lack of care for the ball is going to be a problem later in the season (fumbles and picks)
Calboy1976: I heard Auburn has 2 NFL quality DB. They looked it
Bowelsman80: Some good plays, but not the breakthrough we were led to expect. Jackson has an amazing quick release, play fake, and "hook shot" throw, but, apparently, no real deep ball. Finley needs and pocket and the Auburn rush was too much for him.
BTown85: SJ V slings the ball quickly on short routes, but the long ball never materialized
1988goldenbear: Flashes of acceptable passing, decent O-line play, but it wasn't a surprise that Auburn would put up more resistance than North Texas. Overall not a bad showing against what might be a low-to-middling SEC team.
sacman701: Seemed more threatening with Jackson in, but not very effective in any case. The protection continues to have issues, including neglecting to block Auburn's most disruptive player on the sack that basically took us out of field goal range. I don't hold either of the two picks against Jackson, one was an end zone chuck at the end of a half and the other was on 4th and 14.
SG Bear: People are going to bitch about how bad the pass offense was, but I got to give credit where it is due. Auburn's team speed in the secondary and linebacking corps made passing windows really tiny to non-existent.
What are your thoughts on Cal's running game?
HaasBear: I hope Ott is okay.
LiffeyBear: After Jahvid Best got injured I developed a pet peeve against ball carriers attempting to hurdle tacklers. I was horrified when I saw Ott get injured the same way.
BearsWillEndMyLife: What the hell was Spavital's strategy with Ott? Was he thinking we'd wear them down with power football in the fourth quarter? Why didn't we make any attempts to get him in space? Well, that's a moot point now because we had to witness a Jahvid Best 2.0 moment. Hopefully Ott is not out too long and the coaches tell him to stop hurdling people.
Kj1980: Cal had a tough time. Auburn's run D was stout and did not give up big plays.
BTown85: Can we have a Cal rule that our breakout back is n(Ott) allowed to hurdle anyone in that corner of the field? 2nd time, and I hope Ott is better than JBest was….
1988goldenbear: I get that Ott is trying to maximize gain by hurdling defenders, but it's such an idiotic thing to do. If we get one silver lining from him getting injured, please make it that he breaks that habit. And I thought Musgrave was no longer the OC? Weird because are still running into the middle of the line for 2 yards all game long...
Oaklandishbear: Feel like we had a chance using the clock and running the ball, but in the end just never able to break through up the middle and the few times we tried to swing anything to the outside Auburn was just too fast. Can't believe Ott hadn't been told after last week to NEVER hurdle people. Hope he is OK. I think our opportunity to win probably left when he got hurt. Ifanse's unfortunate fumble was obviously CRUSHING.
sacman701: Had some success here and there but couldn't sustain anything. The line is better than last year, but not good enough to generally get the better of competent defenses. We're going to have to mix it up more to move the ball.
What are your thoughts on Cal's pass defense?
HaasBear: Solid but I don’t think it was because we played well so much as Auburn doesn’t have a QB.
Rick50: Excellent and opportunistic. Kept Cal in the game
LiffeyBear: Interceptions, flying around and very little SEC official laundry on the field. Some nice sacks with coverage assist too.
Frisco Bear: The pass defense was the best thing about this game.
Kj1980: Pretty good. But Auburn did not have much of a pass offense.
jakewebs: Pass defense was fantastic. Auburn was able to get virtually nothing going, and one of their two scores came on a short field. A continuation of what we saw apart from two broken plays vs NT last week.
diasfordays: Overall a great job. The refs deciding to call PI only on us sucks, but the defense doesn't owe anyone anything after propping up the O and ST yesterday.
Oaklandishbear: Really really solid. Only two real mistakes - a bad angle by Kaylin Moore may have contributed to the first touchdown, and then the pivotal 28-yd conversion of the 3rd and 17 and PI call late gave up the 2nd TD to seal the game.
SG Bear: TAKERS
What are your thoughts on Cal's run defense?
BearsWillEndMyLife: Bend, bend, bend, break. But, not their fault. Asked to do way too much because our offense was trash.
Old Bear 71: Shut down an SEC outfit.
Auburn fan: Ball hawks. Forced fumbles left and right
Goldenone: Mostly stout until the 8 minute mark in the fourth quarter.
jakewebs: Everything we could've hoped for. Time and time again the defense came up with stops and turnovers. Can't blame them for the result, they looked like the 85 Bears out there.
diasfordays: Phenomenal.Auburn's RB's looked pedestrian trying to run on us.
sacman701: Mostly good enough, but the edge-setting seemed to deteriorate late in the game. Give the team credit for stripping the ball several times, although you can't game plan around that.
Willis Chong: Stuffed them for the most part, but they clearly wore us down.
SG Bear: Stout, as by design. D-line (especially Correia & Johnson) soaked up a lot of blockers and KEO/Sirmon cleaned up with good reads.
What are your thoughts on Cal's special teams?
Rick50: Just can't miss 4 field goals and expect to win.
LiffeyBear: No comment. Next question.
diasfordays: Nothing left to say that I didn't already impulse-tweet out
SG Bear: Bad performance should be criticized up to a point. But poor Michael Luckhurst has passed beyond that point and fell into a hole that none of us have ever been nor know how tough it is to get out. Up to this point, he's been a Kicking God and has lived-and-breathed football kicking for years and years. We have never had to deal with what he's going through. Fortunately, we've got staff who have been there and done that. Hopefully some talks can help put his mind back on the right path because he is undoubtedly having the worst time in his life.
What are your thoughts on the coaching staff's performance?
Cantwatch: Gutless and predictable play calling.
LiffeyBear: Too many cutsey trick plays on offense. The Air Raid is predicated on being able to run the base offense flawlessly. I’m not certain why we are running trick plays that were probably just installed in the most critical part of the field. We have/had Jayden Ott, put the ball in his hands.
Frisco Bear: Liked that they went for it on 4th down early. Defense did a great job. Offense, not so much. Special Teams, not at all...
Old Bear 71: Will the real Bears’ Offensive coaching staff stand up, Is it the crew that dismantled N Texas, or the clowns who showed up last night?
And while we’re at it what is OC Spav doing on the sidelines instead of in the box where he can see what is happening downfield? There must be a reason the top teams OC’s are shown in the booth with headphones and a desk and assistants and an OPEN playbook and a clear view of the entire field, and, and and…..
Goldenone: We did not make adjustments on offense running again and again up the gut. It was a fail. No real improvement over Musgrave in this contest.
diasfordays: Just do better. We are all so, so tired.
sacman701: The team was focused enough and the defensive game plan was good, but we spent too much time trying to power run on first down. I thought it was reasonable to start Finley and to pull him for Jackson when we did.
SG Bear: This will probably be a hot take, but I thought that Wilcox and team did a fine job. They played a very tough opponent and beat them on most opportunities - but had some BS things go against them when it really mattered. If the Pick 6 hadn't been whistled dead. If the BS holding call against Carlton wasn't called. They put the Bears into a position to win against a favored SEC team and SHOULD have won. But they didn't. And that's what made this loss hurt so much. Rock Fights where we win are awesome. Rock Fights that we lose feel like this.
What are your thoughts on Cal's overall performance?
HaasBear: Abysmal. Yes they got jobbed by the refs but our own mistakes hurt us worse. Good teams win these types of games and bad teams lose by 4 and get shut out in the 2nd half.
LiffeyBear: The defense hung in there with a legit P5 team. The offense and special teams hurt themselves with penalties and a lack of execution. I cannot remember the last game with so many fumbles by both teams. It was a game the team should have been able to win. But I would have rather watched a blowout than have seen Jayden Ott get injured.
Old Bear 71: Totally wasted outstanding Defensive effort.
Auburn fan: As an Auburn fan, I say we feel you. We’ve been there. Trust the process and clean up the mistakes and you can have a good season
Goldenone: Abysmal and boring. Fans were pumped up for the home opener but Auburn gradually squeezed the life out of Cal like a python. A situation, through lack of execution, entirely of our own making.
sacman701: Stupid, frustrating loss. We didn't dominate this game (3.5 yards a play?), but we still should have won given Auburn's inability to hang onto the ball. A close, unlucky loss to an SEC team that will probably make a bowl isn't the end of the world, but it makes it that much harder to get to 6 wins. The defense seems fine, but the offense and special teams have a long way to go.
Willis Chong: Last week, we said the floor was higher than we thought. Turns out, not true. There are maybe 3 more games that are winnable, so another 4-8 season is a likely ceiling again. The pessimist in me is thinking about how Cal will mess up another winnable game later this year to make us even worse than 4-8.
SG Bear: Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. I'll eventually accept us earning this loss, but for now - I'm not going to lie - it hurts.
Thanks to all who participated. If you would like to participate next week, check the insta-recap for a link to the Google Form. Until then, Go Bears!