Cal-Ohio State: Six observations

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By Ted Lee
Posted Sep 15, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Brendan Bigelow -Bear Insider
Six observations from Cal's 35-28 loss to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.

1. Cal's still capable of being a very good football team.

Following sloppy efforts against Nevada and Southern Utah, Cal wasn't given too much of a chance against Ohio State; but on Saturday the Bears gave the Buckeyes all they could handle for four quarters. Although it was far from a flawless performance, the Bears went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes, and a breakout performance by tailback Brendan Bigelow, plus a solid performance by Zach Maynard herald good things for the Bears if they can play more consistently.

The Bears were able to cut down their penalties, the defense played a solid game but were unfortunately torched by a handful of big plays, and despite not being able to use any of their two tight ends sets very much, they outgained Ohio State 512-412.

While the Bears will have their hands full against USC next week, one has to feel a lot better about their chances against the Trojans based on their effort against Ohio State; and one has to be hopeful that the team everyone saw on Saturday is much more reflective about this year's team, than the one that showed up in the first two games.

If that turns out to be the case, the Bears still could end up as one of the more pleasant surprises in Pac-12 play.

2. The Bears didn't get any favors from the officials.

While the losing team generally always has some reason to have beef with the officials, the Bears have a bigger reason than any. The onesidedness of the officiating was such that even ESPN's announcing crew took issue with it. There was the dubious holding call on Cal tight end Jacob Wark that nullified a 47-yard touchdown pass from Maynard to C.J. Anderson that would have cut the deficit down to six, at 20-14. That possession ended up in a missed 40-yard field goal attempt by Vincenzo D'Amato.

Earlier on a 3rd-and-10 from the Cal 45, Braxton Miller threw a 35-yard pass to Devin Smith that Smith appeared to still be bringing in when he was tackled and the ball hit the ground before he was able to secure possession. The play was reviewed and was surprisingly ruled a catch. Had it been ruled an incomplete pass, Ohio State would have had to punt. Instead, Ohio State scored a touchdown two plays later to go up by two scores.

At the end of a 30-yard pass from Maynard to Anderson, Anderson was brought down by a clear horse collar tackle. A 15-yard penalty would have given the Bears the ball on the Ohio State 33 and put them on the outside end of field goal range. Instead the Bears were forced to punt four plays later..

There were several other calls that were either made or not made, including a late hit on Maynard that should have warranted a personal foul penalty on Ohio State.

Neither the coaches nor players can comment on the officiating without running the risk of some sort of censure from the conference or various officials whose job it is to make sure that nobody comments on the officials, but we'll say it for them.

The officiating on Saturday was atrocious.

3. Brendan Bigelow brought back memories of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson

If you're a fan of impressive box scores, print out the Cal-Ohio State game and highlight Brendan Bigelow's line of four carries, 160 yards, and two touchdowns.

With touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards, Bigelow gives the Bears now have an offensive weapon that puts them in scoring position from any place on the field. His first run, where he spun out of a defender's grasp, kept his balance and then outran the entire Buckeye defense will be a staple of Saturday night highlight packages.

While Bear fans were spoiled with fast running backs when Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen were in Berkeley, Bigelow gives the team something similar, a back with enough speed that the defenders only get one chance to make a tackle on him, and one mistake can be the difference between a four-yard gain and the marching band playing the fight song.

As talented as Anderson and Isi Sofele are, Bigelow's speed is something that can completely catch an defense off-guard. And if an offense is struggling, all it takes is one play to break things wide open.

Down 13 early in the second quarter, the Bears went through five consecutive scoreless possessions until Bigelow broke off his long touchdown run. The next five possessions resulted in a punt, two touchdowns and two missed field goal attempts.

Those who remember Bigelow's high school highlight film will recall a player who seemed to be playing at an entirely different speed than anyone else. Upon first view, one might have thought that the video was sped up to make Bigelow look like he was running faster, but closer examination showed that he was the only person on the tape who appeared to a lot faster than everyone else on the field.

For anybody who remembers the old Nintendo game Tecmo Bowl, there was always a debate on who was able to play with the Raiders – the Raiders having a running back wearing number 34 (who wasn't officially Bo Jackson, but everybody knew) who was impossible to catch anytime he was in the open field.

4. The offensive line still has a way to go

Although it might seem like quibbling to take issue with an offensive line that played a role in an offense putting up 500 yards and putting a considerable scare into the Buckeyes, Saturday's game showed that there's still considerable room for improvement.

Center Brian Schwenke had so many low snaps to Maynard in the shotgun that it was unusual when one arrived where it was supposed to be. This undoubtedly affected the timing on some of the shorter passing play. Both tackles on the left and right side had issues against Ohio State's pass rush. Maynard was sacked six times and was under pressure on several other occasions.

Cal committed only four penalties that were accepted on Saturday, three were from the offensive line. One holding penalty by Jordan Rigsbee, one false start by Tyler Rigsbee, and one unneccesary roughness penalty on Chris Adcock.

4. Zach Maynard showed major cojones

Before any game there's always the question about which Maynard will show up, the good Maynard who can zip passes into receivers who are tightly covered or the bad Maynard who can be all over the place. He was very good during the second half of 2011, but had a rough Holiday Bowl game against Texas, and with the Bears going into a hostile environment in Columbus against a nationally-ranked team it was hard for anyone to be overly optimistic about his chances of having a strong game on Saturday.

But he bounced back from a hard (and late) hit that caused him to leave the game for a play, kept fighting through the numerous low snaps from the center, endured hits throughout the afternoon, and had the Bears in scoring position on three different possessions that on another day could have resulted in a win for the Bears.

When it was evident that the pass blocking wasn't going to hold up well enough for the Bears to attempt many medium and deep routes, the Bears went to a quicker passing game relying on short routes that Maynard was able to complete.

For the day, he was 26-of-37 for 280 yards , and while it may not have been the greatest game of his Cal career, it was certainly his most courageous.

5. Vince D'Amato has to put Saturday behind him

Kicker Vincenzo D'Amato has given the Bears a big boost in the kickoff game. Where the Bears had short kickoffs under Giorgio Tavecchio, D'Amato's shown that he can reach the end zone regularly, which is important for a team that's kickoff return unit has had its struggles over the years.

D'Amato's story of how he ended up getting to this stage of his Cal career is inspiring and will be addressed in detail in a feature later this season.

But while he has plenty of leg, harnessing it can be another issue. The three makable missed field goals of 42, 42, and 40 can easily be forgotten. But when those three field goals add up to nine points and the Bears lose by seven in a game that could've marked a big turnaround for Cal football, it's hard for players, coaches and fans to not get caught up in “what if?” thinking.

With nine, and possibly 10 games left in the season, there will be a lot of opportunities for D'Amato to atone for it and leave a better impression than he did on Saturday. Games like Saturday are ones that can stay with a player for awhile, but he'll need to be able to put it behind him.

Yet in the end, a good week of practice isn't going to matter. The measure of how much this ends up affecting him will be reflected by how he kicks the next time he has to try a field goal in a game.

6. The secondary has to get it figured out soon

Did the defense play well or not? On one hand, 412 yards and 35 points would seem to suggest not, but the Bears did an effective job of limiting Ohio State's offense, only allowing one extended drive and forced the Buckeyes into seven three-and-outs – by comparison Ohio State's defense only forced Cal into three.

The defense's big failing were the number of long plays they surrendered, the game-winning 72-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Smith, a 55-yard touchdown run by Miller, a 40-yard pass from Miller to Jake Stoneburner, a 35-yard pass from Miller to Smith, and a 25-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Smith. That's five plays for 227 yards.

That means on the other 58 plays, the Bears allowed 185 yards.

On the long plays, it was often a case of a player in the secondary missing a tackle, getting an assignment wrong, or not making a play.

Steve Williams was in good coverage on two long pass plays, it was just a matter of the quarterback making a good throw and the reciever making big plays.

Still, allowing five big plays out of 63 isn't going to be good enough to beat good teams.

 

 

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