Bears punt away another one, this time to USC, 62-28

USC-CalBy Morris Phillips

Coach Sonny Dykes turned 44 Saturday, but admitted during this time of the year, football coaches don’t celebrate anniversaries, holidays or birthdays.  So when asked, Cal’s coach said his team’s dismal showing on the field didn’t add to or subtract from the occasion.

Jackson Bouza played his last game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and despite the 62-28 loss to USC and his Bears’ 1-9 record, he remained resolute: he wouldn’t change anything about his four years at Cal.

And Jared Goff—as best as he can—is moving on after throwing for the least impactful 255 yards and three touchdowns one can imagine.  With equally-hapless Colorado up next on the schedule, Goff said he’ll be ready, regardless of what transpired with the Trojans.

What normally is a big game with USC was anything but on Saturday for Cal.  Instead, it was hard to watch, hard to play in, and even harder to explain afterwards.  The Bears snuck back into the game briefly at 21-14 in the second quarter, only to experience an avalanche of USC points that left them trailing 55-14 midway through the third quarter and well on their way to an eighth straight loss.

Given that backdrop, Dykes, Bouza and Goff deserve all the credit for attempting to put a hopeful spin on their dire situation.  But that they did in the postgame interview room with all three steadfastly maintaining that better days are ahead for Cal football.

“In a weird sort of way, the experience they have gotten this year and the hard luck will help our team respond faster,” Dykes said.  “We are going to get this thing right, I don’t have a doubt in my mind.  I feel more strongly about that right now than I did December 5th when I was hired.”

But before the Bears can prepare for a feast, they might have to—even privately–come to grips with how they got so hungry in the first place.

The Bears haven’t won a game against a Divison I opponent in over a year.  They’ve lost all but one game this season by at least 14 points, and have routinely fallen behind from the start.  On Saturday, USC’s Javorius Allen blew through the Cal defense for 43-yard touchdown run, and the Trojans had a 21-0 lead over Cal before the first quarter had expired.

Injuries and inexperience are hurting Cal more than anything.  That continued on Saturday when middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson was felled by a foot injury.  Nickerson, himself just a redshirt freshmen, had been counted on to call the defensive signals and get the Cal defenders in the right alignment pre-snap.  Without him, that job fell to true freshman Chad Whitener, and the Bears’ defense suffered as USC averaged nearly nine yards per carry, and saw maligned quarterback Cody Kessler have an error-free game.

“We missed a lot of checks, and rolled the coverage the wrong way several times,” Dykes said when asked about Nickerson’s early exit. “We got out of position as a result, and when you get out of position, you are trying to recover, and when you are trying to recover, you are diving a people’s legs and it looks bad.”

For Cal, with injuries and inexperience commonplace—Dykes reminded everyone that only three seniors have places among Cal’s top 44 players—capable special teams are still supposed to be a given.  That’s one of Dykes’ hallmarks along with his high-octane pass attack.  Dykes explained that his Louisiana Tech teams always excelled on punt and kickoff coverage, and here at Cal, he starts several practices each week with special teams’ drills.

Ah, special teams can save the day.   Just not on Saturday.

First the Bears allowed Nelson Agholor to return a punt 75 yards for a score less than two minutes into the game.  Then USC’s Soma Vainuku blocked a punt in the second quarter that teammate Josh Shaw returned 14 yards for a 35-14 Trojans’ lead.  Just a couple minutes after that, Agholor struck again, this time with a 93-yard punt return.

Goff gamely attempted to keep his team in the game, and got a big assist from emerging freshman receiver Kenny Lawler, who has caught five touchdown passes in two games.  But Goff plays in a high risk, high reward system that so far hasn’t reaped many rewards.  Once again, the Bears couldn’t strike deep, and Goff had to look short.  So while Goff chucked it downfield 52 times, he only had 255 yards passing.   When the turnovers and sacks are factored in (and on Saturday the Bears had just one sack, and no interceptions) Goff’s five-yard average per pass attempt just isn’t high rewards enough for a major college team to have success.

With the loss, the Bears haven’t beaten USC since the epic triple-overtime win in 2003.  The Bears hadn’t surrendered as many as 62 points to the Trojans since the 1930’s.  And yes, three punt return touchdowns for USC ties an NCAA record and equals a Pac-12 conference record that stood unmatched since 1954.

Next week, the Bears travel to Boulder to face Colorado, which probably will be Cal’s last opportunity for a win this season with No. 4 Stanford after that in the season finale.

Cal mistake prone again, falls to Washington State


Cal’s offensive numbers are eye-popping, but they don’t obscure the fact that the Bears are rapidly losing ground in the otherwise upwardly-mobile Pac-12.

The Bears fell prey to early miscues and turnovers again, and fell to Washington State on Saturday, 44-22.  With only one win over Portland State in the previous 12 months, Cal has dropped nine straight games to FBS competition and fell to 1-4 on the season.

Daniel Lasco’s fumble at WSU’s 3-yard line on Cal’s first possession and a bushel of penalties on the second poisoned Cal’s first quarter that ended with WSU leading 14-0.  In the previous two games, Cal trailed Oregon 27-0 and Ohio State 21-0 establishing a disturbing pattern that has Coach Sonny Dykes looking for answers.

“Right now we are having a very difficult time running the football, which is putting a lot of pressure on our offensive line,” Dykes said.  “We are not good enough up front to pass protect.  Jared (Goff) had pressure on him all day and got a little rattled because of it.”

Goff may have been rattled, but in Dykes’ system the pass plays just keep coming.  The true freshman signal caller again threw for 400 yards, attempting 58 passes that produced two lengthy touchdown plays.  But the Bears never got closer than 14-12 in the second quarter as Washington State’s Connor Halliday attempted 67 passes, completing 41 for a total of 521 yards and three touchdowns.

Ultimately, the 44,000 that attended saw another lengthy football game, filled with big plays but lacking in competitiveness.   The mistake-plagued Bears committed 11 penalties and five turnovers to rob the afternoon of any drama.

And while the Bears fluctuated between the mistakes and the home runs like Chris Harper’s 89-yard touchdown catch and run, Washington State was remarkably steady in moving the ball via the pass as Halliday was sacked just once.

“The offensive line played unreal,” Halliday said of his protectors.  “That was huge.  Those guys really got in a rhythm up front and dominated the game.  I think I got hit twice.  That’s a lot of fun back there when you have all that time to get rid of the ball.”

The Bears had beaten Washington State eight straight times prior to Saturday, but the slow start and mounting injuries put a stop to that streak.  Prior to the game, Dykes announced that center Chris Adcock will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.  Also, this week safety Alex Logan retired due to recurring injuries and prominent pass rusher Chris McCain was dismissed due to repeated personal conduct issues.

During the game, the Bears lost linebacker Jalen Jefferson, safety Joel Willis and corners Stefan McClure and Kameron Jackson to injury, more bad news for a defense that has surrendered a whopping 45 points per game.

As for the rest of the challenging schedule and Cal’s mounting losing streak against conference competition, they will see three currently-ranked teams (Washington, Stanford and UCLA) as well as Oregon State, currently 4-1 and 2-0 in the conference in the final seven weeks.   On the positive side, the Bears could be healthier once the schedule eases in November with home games against USC and Arizona and a road trip to Colorado.

Next Saturday, the Bears face 12th-ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Ducks, driving rain storm ruin Cal’s Saturday night

By Morris Phillips

If the Cal Bears were prepared for the challenge of taking on the second-ranked Oregon Ducks, they didn’t get a chance to see their hard work reach fruition in the vicious, driving rains at Autzen Stadium.

The intense storms led to 10 fumbles in the game, including four by the Bears on each of their first four possessions.  The result was Oregon’s quick-twitch offense moved even faster as the Ducks grabbed a 27-0 first quarter lead on the way to a 55-16 dismantling of Cal.

Oregon’s eight touchdown-scoring drives averaged less than two minutes each as Cal made it easy for the Ducks, especially on a pair of Bralon Addison’s punt returns for scores.

“You’ve got to give Oregon credit,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said.  “They’re a good football team and they executed well despite the rain.  We had some major struggles with the rain.  That’s pretty much how it went down.”

While the point-total wasn’t surprising, Oregon’s swift run to 55 points was.  The Ducks led 41-3 at the half, and added two more touchdowns less than five minutes into the second half.   At that point the Ducks brought in the subs, slowed down the tempo and seemed more concerned with getting hot showers after the game than blowing the doors of Cal’s fumbling machine. 

Last season, the Ducks came to Berkeley and struggled into the third quarter before scoring five touchdowns in the final 21 minutes to blow past Cal, 59-17.  Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota triggered the Oregon attack in both games, amassing 90 points in less than 60 minutes of action, starting with the second half surge in 2012.  Mariota’s combined numbers for both games could wake up a Heisman voting block from a group slumber in a heartbeat: 491 yards passing and eight touchdowns completed.

Meanwhile, Jared Goff didn’t survive the first quarter on Saturday night.  After turnovers on the first four possessions, Dykes wasn’t confident that his freshman signal caller could hold on to the football and replaced him with second-stringer Zach Kline.  

“I didn’t have much confidence that he was going to be able to hold onto it,” Dykes said of Goff.  “I made a change with Zach and he gave us a little bit of pop when we first put him in there.  We dropped balls all night long.  Pretty much everything you can do poorly as a football team we did tonight.”

Kline saw his first game action as a collegian, and getting that opportunity down four touchdowns in a hostile environment doesn’t qualify as a plan for success.  But it did allow journalists and media information people to put the blowout in context.  Kline entered trailing 27-0 and needed 37 pass attempts (he completed 18) to find James Grisom on a 7-yard touchdown pass with just three minutes remaining in the game.

How could the scoring futility be with Cal’s equally frenetic offensive attack expected to at least put points on the board against the Ducks?  Such predictions failed in the face of Oregon’s excellent pass rush that gave Goff and Kline fits throughout.  The Bears ran 95 plays on the night, but committed 11 penalties, five turnovers and failed on 13 third-down conversions.

It was if the Bear Raid offense got to the campground and found all the food and goodies had been washed away by the rainstorm.  But the Ducks—with their superior speed and quality trigger man Mariota can do that to all but the best of Division I competition.

Next Saturday, the Bears (1-3,0-1) return to Berkeley to face Washington State, who had an equally challenging weekend in losing to Stanford, 55-17.