Once again the Bears started slowly but eventually outran and overpowered the FCS school in route to a 50-31 victory.
Zach Maynard's performance against Southern Utah can be viewed through two distinct lenses. Through one he was inaccurate, couldn't complete seemingly simple pass plays and made bad decisions leading to turnovers. Through the other lens he was an efficient passer with a couple of excellent plays, and converted some key third downs with his legs. So which of these views was reality?
By the numbers Maynard's performance was among the most efficient of his Cal career (163.2 PER, second to ASU 2011 PER of 163.3) and a 73.9% completion percentage (ranked 1st in his Cal career). Maynard also ran for 46 yards (39 yards after sack yardage has been deducted) which ranks second in his Cal career. The total net yardage of 268 yards ranks a more middling seventh but this was largely due to Cal's emphasis on the running game as Maynard's yardage per pass attempt of 9.96 was the highest of his Cal career.
There was one negative in the numbers: Maynard threw an interception to Southern Utah defensive end James Cowser which gave the Thunderbirds possession at the Bears 28 yard line (they did not score on that drive). As the video shows, the play was probably more a result of the missed block by right tackle Bill Tyndall who tried to cut block Cowser who easily jumped over the weak attempt and into the passing lane before Maynard - who was looking the play off to the left - turned right and fired right at him.
As for the plays drawing gripes from the fans (apart from the aforementioned interception), Maynard missed a short third down pass attempt to Eric Stevens in the left flat at the goal line - leading Jeff Tedford to call for a fan displeasing field goal on fourth and goal at the one yard line.
While the two videos above rightly drew the ire of those watching, fans should not overlook the great plays - such as the scramble right and quick strike to Chris Harper.
Or the touchdown pass to Keenan Allen where Maynard delivered a perfect ball on the move despite having a defender in his face and taking a late hit.
In sum, Maynard had a solid game that could have been great with a couple tweaks (such as hitting Eric Stevens for the touchdown or not tossing the interception) or perhaps with just a bit of luck with the penalties. The good news with Maynard is that he is more poised, is not forcing the ball where no play exists, and is generally making good decisions. The real test will be the next two weeks where the Bears will be under fire from very good teams on the road and need to execute at a very high level to stay in the game.
The running game had yet to get going, totaling only 110 yards against Nevada with C.J. Anderson leading the team at 66 yards. Given the matchup advantages along the line one would expect easier sledding against Southern Utah and that certainly was the case as the Bears ran up 289 yards including a breakaway 74 yard touchdown run by Daniel Lasco. Isi Sofele led the Bears with 104 yards rushing, the first 100 yard performance of the year for the Bears. Sofele did not have an easy time of it though, as the running lanes were mostly closed early and the gaps didn't start to consistently appear until late in the first half. Eric Stevens saw his first carries of the season and looked good on the fullback dive play. Hopefully the Bears continue to use him a few times per game as that play can serve to soften up the defense and keep the linebackers from over pursuing the running back.
C.J. Anderson continues to run well had the best run of the day, a six yard run off tackle that he cut back inside Bill Tyndall to put the Bears into the lead.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
Keenan Allen is unquestionably the Bears most dangerous scoring weapon but he had two major execution errors that cost a chance at a first down in Southern Utah territory (a penalty for spiking the ball after the play) and a long touchdown catch by Chris Harper where he illegally blocked below the waist while outside the tackle box (see video below) on a play where Richard Rodgers was also guilty of holding.
If someone had told you that a freshman would be leading the Bears in receiving you probably would have thought of Bryce Treggs but it has been the surprising Chris Harper who now leads in both receptions (12) and yards (151). Unfortunately he also leads the team in fumbles with three as he laid another one on the turf in the first quarter, stifling a Bears drive.
While the rushing yardage ultimately looked good, the offensive line really struggled to establish itself, missing too many blocks (see the Maynard interception video) and generally did not dominate the point of attack until late in the game. The line definitely missed Matt Summers-Gavin as Bill Tyndall was inconsistent in his first ever start for the Bears. The Rigsbee side of the line is still finding its way, more effective in pass blocking than dominating for the running game, though Jordan Rigsbee will likely become a dominant run blocker with more experience.
Deandre Coleman continues his strong start of the season, registering six tackles including one sack. Coleman's size and strength is difficult to match and he often just overpowers the blocker. Aaron Tipoti had a less active game, finding the ball only once though he did recover a fumble. Kendrick Payne found the ball a couple of times but never on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Viliami Moala saw action later in the game and had a nice TFL on the ball carrier - followed right up by a well-defensed pass.
The linebackers had a lot of work to do coming off the Nevada game where they were gashed for a couple long quarterback runs and then pounded up the middle. Southern Utah didn't provide nearly the same level of running threat so absolute progress is difficult to measure, but the unit did appear somewhat more comfortable against the running game.
The coverage issues for the unit persist as the inside linebackers were not consistent in blanketing the flat, and as was the case with Nevada, Southern Utah was able to exploit the underneath routes. Nick Forbes did have some nice plays in coverage including a well-defended pass; the surprise leader in tackles was freshman Jalen Jefferson who has been thrust into the rotation after Jason Gibson and David Wilkerson went down with injuries.
Robert Mullins had a better game, playing with more aggression as you can see him shoot the gap for the TFL on the video clip below.
Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain look promising as pass rushers, unfortunately the latter had to leave the game with an injury.
J.P. Hurrell now leads the team in sacks (3) and was very effective blitzing from the inside. His delayed blitz and sack in the second quarter helped drive Southern Utah out of scoring position after a Bears turnover.
Marc Anthony had the play of the game for the defense, intercepting a pass and taking it back 61 yards for a touchdown. Anthony was playing his man to the outside and took advantage of a poorly aimed pass to easily grab the ball and barely avoid stumbling to the ground on the return.
Steve Williams had the tougher day of the two cornerbacks covering Southern Utah's leading receiver Fatu Moala, allowing significant receptions and yardage, mainly on shorter patterns. He did not allow any long plays. Josh Hill had an active day, leading the unit with eight tackles, and was generally in better position than against Nevada to provide better run support.
The special teams units were good for some excitement as Vinny D'Amato bounced a 47 yard field goal on and over the crossbar and Keenan Allen's punt return for a touchdown followed his fumbling of the ball - which may have actually have frozen the coverage enough to create room for the return. On the negative side Daniel Lasco fumbled the opening kickoff return though he was able to fall back on the ball.
The goal for a game against an FCS opponent is not merely to win, as that should be assured, but to execute well and develop depth that can be used later in the season. Unfortunately the execution was inconsistent, in the form of penalties (12 for 106 yards), turnovers (two) and simple play execution. These issues led to a game where the Bears failed to put away an FCS opponent until the fourth quarter - when the time should have been available to develop reserves and even walk-on players. Given it is still early in the season some execution issues might be expected but perhaps more troubling are the penalties that hamper drives and kill good plays. This is a continuation of a trend from last season where the Bears ranked last in the conference in penalty yards and one must wonder what role the coaching staff has in this disturbing trend.