Winning with defense, turnovers and field position is becoming a pattern for this team. It's not something we're used to under Tedford, and it makes a lot of fans feel like we "won ugly" or "got lucky," but they shouldn't. A lot of good teams build their team around this concept in recruiting, practice and game planning, and win a lot of games that way. Tedford doesn't, and I don't necessarily think the coaches went into the season expecting to win so many games this way, but they seem to have adopted that mindset in several games this season. I think it is really a testament to how well-coached this team is in all three phases, that it can be an offensive-oriented team, but rely on its defense and special teams in a tight, rainy game with a bunch of injuries to its o-line and starting QB, against an explosive offense.
Will it be enough to beat USC? Um...no. Will it be enough to win 8 or 9 games this season? Yes, if they can stay healthy and take care of the ball.
GOOD THINGS I SAW
1. D-line blowing up running plays.
I said before the game Cal had to disrupt Oregon's zone-read scheme at the moment of the QB's read, so the runners couldn't pick up any speed. Cal's front three did a bang up job of that against a very, very good offensive line. Cameron Jordan looked unblockable at times. Alualu, though clearly a bit hampered by his leg injury, played a heck of a game too. These guys played like animals Saturday, and it kept the Oregon run game from ever really getting into a rhythm.
2. Darian Hagan holding down his side of the field.
Oregon stayed away from Syd and went at Hagan a few times, and he held is own against some really good receivers. Not only did he stay with his man, but he continues to make plays on the ball. I really like the player he is becoming. His first true test though comes this weekend.
3. Special teams.
I thought this was really the difference in the game. Yes they had the bobbled FG snap and the missed FG, but Oregon's ST mistakes were much worse: missed XP, bad snap for a safety and muffed punt. Syd never dropped a punt, the long snapper never misfired, Anger nailed every kick, and Cal covered the punts and kicks well. These are things that easily can, and typically do go wrong in these rainy, tight games. Again, this is a testament to the coaching. Cal leaned heavily on its punt team in the second half, and it played flawlessly.
The other thing is that Cal never really gave Oregon any gifts on special teams, whereas Oregon gave Cal 9 points plus a missed XP = 10 points. That was the point differential in the game.
4. Nate Longshore on 4th and 14.
It was the right call by the coaches to go for it there, but still, not every coach would have. It showed a lot of confidence in Longshore, and he handled his business. For an offense that is still struggling, that was a big, big play.
THINGS THAT STILL NEED WORK
1. Tackling lapses in the third quarter.
Cal seems to sort of go into a lull on defense in the third quarter this season, particularly with the lead. We saw it versus Maryland (where Cal needed to set the tone out of the locker room), versus Arizona and now Oregon (where Cal needed to slam the door). On the first series out of the locker room, Cal had two run plays blown up behind the LOS, and both ended up going for big gains because of poor tackling. This is maybe a bit picky since the defense played well, but this is a chance to put teams away. Cal needs to do better at this.
2. Conservative play calling the third quarter.
This isn't going to cut it versus USC. Cal was totally incapable of driving the field with its vanilla run game, especially in the second half (some of it due to weather affecting the pass). Had Oregon not muffed that punt, Cal wouldn't have scored then, plus Oregon would have had another chance to score. In that scenario, the game might well have ended badly - in that event, we would surely be complaining about predictable and conservative playcalling in the second half.
Obviously you don't go to the air in the 3rd quarter in the rain, but I thought we could have shown more variety of blocking schemes and different looks out of the same formation. Part of it is that this o-line just isn't good enough to dominate in the second half and put the game on ice. But the coaches need to recognize this and dial up a few plays that keep the defense off balance when they are aggressively playing run the way Oregon was.
THOUGHTS ON THE QUARTERBACK SITUATION
I think this game, more than any other, lent some vindication of Tedford's handling of the QB situation this year. By keeping both guys in the thick of things, there has been very little dropoff when they've rotated. Tedford has always been very careful with a QB's ego and confidence, and I think this game showed why that is so important. Longshore didn't look like the senior who lost his job and came in cold off the bench to play second fiddle in relief. He looked like a starter out there, but so did Riley. Very rarely do you see that demeanor with two different QBs on the same team, one senior and one sophomore.
That said, I think Riley gives us the better chance to win Saturday (if he's healthy), simply because things never go perfectly against USC, and Riley's edge is his ability to make things happen when the play breaks down. However, USC under Carroll is a head-hunting defense (some have said maliciously so), and if Riley plays, somebody needs to teach him to slide, because I guarantee you they will try to take him out of the game, especially knowing he's coming off a concussion.
Overall, great win for the Bears to set up the game of the year against the Trojans. All you can ask for is to be in the hunt when you play the champs, and despite its youth and struggles on offense, Cal is right there. Anybody else jacked up for this game?
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