Running Game: CJ Anderson vs ASU Photo: GloldenBearSports.com
The Bears stumbled at the outset, then couldn't find their form as they fell for the second consecutive week to an FBS opponent in Memorial Stadium.
The numbers were not pretty for Zach Maynard, 9 of 28 passing (32%) for 126 yards and one touchdown, but are an accurate gauge of how the passing game faired. So how did they manage to post such modest totals? A mix of long yardage situations (15 of Maynard's 28 passing attempts were on 2nd or 3rd down with 10 or more yards to go), Maynard was sacked 7 of the 35 times he dropped back to pass, and when he wasn't actually being sacked he was usually having to avoid the rush and throw quickly.
After figuring out they couldn't provide adequate pass protection the Bears went to short routes, slants and bubble screens, but Arizona State countered by pressing the receivers and were effective in taking away that option.
Maynard's individual performance was similar to the USC game in that due to the intense pressure from the defense he never looked comfortable or gained a rhythm throwing the ball, so on the few occasions when he had time and an open receiver his delivery was inconsistent, throwing high - a sign of not stepping into the throw - possibly an effect of facing so much pressure from the rush all game.
The game was not entirely without positives for Maynard, the touchdown throw to Keenan Allen was nicely placed, though it took good footwork by Allen to come down in bounds. Also Maynard's running was effective again as he has been keeping the ball on the Quarterback Option play more often and was very effective running five times for 34 yards (excluding sacks).
By the numbers the running game seemed effective, even prolific, with a rushing total of 213 yards (excluding sacks) where the top two running backs combined for 190 yards on 23 carries. However the rushing yardage was picked up in chunks and was inconsistent, folding in too many negative yardage plays. The first two offensive plays of the game for the Bears perfectly captured this pattern as Isi Sofele ran for 32 yards to dig the Bears out of their own end and then ran for a loss of three yards. Overall Sofele ran for zero or negative yards four times (27% of his carries), three or less yards another four times, and fumbled the ball away on another carry, meaning 60% of the time he carried the ball there was a less than welcome outcome.
Not to pick on Sofele, C.J. Anderson had a similar ratio of 50% for carries of three yards or less, though he did not fumble and his burst carry of 44 yards was the best run of the game. Anderson is the bigger back and doesn't tend to get caught behind the line as often, running a bit squarer that Sofele to the line of scrimmage.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
This was not a banner day for the receiving unit, with only seven receptions for 112 yards - added to a couple of late game drops by Keenan Allen and Chris Harper that helped kill off the last remaining vestiges of hope. Allen did have the nice foot dragging touchdown reception and drew a pass interference penalty to help set up a score for the Bears.
The limited production by the unit was primarily a result of the overall passing game malaise, poor pass protection, inconsistent accuracy by Maynard, but was also a result of Arizona State taking away the short routes with press coverage and the receivers not being able to break free from the line. Arizona State no doubt studied the Bears game film and saw that a large portion of their plays are slip screens, bubble screens, and other short throws designed to maximize after the catch yardage. With these opportunities challenged and an inability to pass protect long enough to run downfield routes, the Bears' passing game was rendered largely ineffective.
Offensive line play has been the sore point all season and an aggressive Arizona State defense looked to exploit this, attacking the line of scrimmage from the game's beginning. There was no one type of mistake the Bears made, the tackles were beat off the edge, the guards were beat inside, the only player not to have a glaringly bad play was Center Brian Schwenke who has been steady all season.
Matt Summers-Gavin returned from injury to start at right tackle and looked a bit rusty, allowing a sack on the first offensive series.
Tyler Rigsbee has had a difficult season so far and this game was more of the same as he continued to struggle holding the edge in pass protection. Younger brother Jordan Rigsbee didn't fare much better, giving up a clean sack on an inside move.
Brian Schwenke has been the only consistent blocker in the unit as he is the only truly physical player among them. The overriding theme this year has been a unit that is manhandled due to lack of physicality. The return of Summers-Gavin may help some but the real missing element has been Dominic Galas who has in the past set the tone for the group.
Not many have realized what a vital cog Galas actually has been for a unit that lacks toughness. Galas is undersized for an offensive guard but his balance and drive are excellent, and he never backs down from the bullies on the field.
Deandre Coleman continues his emergence as the one consistently dominant defensive lineman in the unit. Coleman made plays all over the field and looks to be the only one of the starting trio that consistently draws a double team.
Todd Barr is a bit undersized but plays with good energy and has a knack for getting off blocks. On this sack he is able to separate himself from the offensive tackle.
Chris McCain is talented but his height and slight stature limit his tackling ability. This weakness was on display as McCain tried to take down Arizona State running back Marion Grice who he met well short of the first down marker, but Grice pushed through McCain who was able to wrestle him down but not until after he had the necessary yardage.
McCain is being used as a pass rusher but wasn't terribly effective in this game, being easily locked up by the Arizona State Left Tackle.
Brennan Scarlett has found a niche rushing the passer, has been improving his all around game, and made some nice plays
[insert Scarlett 1st quarter 3rd and 4 play TFL, first ASU drive]
Avery Sebastian had been relegated to special teams duty but seems now to have taken over the starting safety role. He had a truly prolific debut with a team-leading 14 tackles, 9 of them solo. While Sebastian's contributions were valuable it isn't a good sign for the defense when a safety is the leading tackler as more often than not these are downfield tackles.
In Sebastian's case only three of his tackles were within five yards of the line of scrimmage, one for no gain. In total the safeties made 28 tackles as Michael Lowe picked up eight and Josh Hill added another six.
Marc Anthony continues to have the best season of all the defensive backs, collecting nine tackles, including two TFLs, and a pass breakup from his cornerback spot.
The ball wasn't thrown Steve Williams' way very often, a total of three times all game, but that's not a bad thing for a cornerback who is often faring better when his name is never called. The cornerback play has been the highlight of the year for the team as the duo of Williams and Anthony has severely limited opposing wideouts.
It would have been a quiet day for the special teams, with no returns of note. Vinny D'Amato made his lone field goal attempt from 35 yards, and the punting was solid. Only Lucas King did something of note, unfortunately the Berkeley High School product was called for kick catch interference for standing in front of the returner as he made a fair catch.
The Bears have fallen short of expectations and many fans are looking to assign blame.
As the Head Coach, Jeff Tedford is responsible for the success or failure of the program and rightly deserves criticism for how the team has performed, resulting in the worst start for Cal Football since Tom Holmoe's final season. Some of the performance issues are injury related but the degree of drop-off, especially on the offensive line, is due to the lack of depth on the roster, an issue rooted in recruiting and player development. There are also issues of inconsistent execution (beyond the issues of available talent) not before seen under Tedford which have many asking whether he is still the best leader for this program.
The specific sources of the frustration are well documented: a weak offensive line, inconsistent quarterback play, and a linebacker unit that fails to stop the run.
With 24 sacks allowed the offensive line's failures have reached epic proportions (though this is also an indictment of poor blocking by the tight ends and some miscues by the running backs) which ranks 12th in the Pac-12 and 124th (out of 124) nationally. And while some point to Zach Maynard as a source of their frustrations, there is simply no way for Maynard or any other quarterback to operate effectively with the worst pass blocking in college football.
There is some hope for the offensive line if Matt Summers-Gavin can regain form and Dominic Galas can regain health though the latter is not imminent. If the line improves it will have a domino effect on the rest of the offense but given the hole the Bears already find themselves in the season may already be lost by the time things start to come around.
The linebacker unit lost its two best players from last season (DJ Holt and Mychael Kendricks) and then lost two projected starters and/or rotation players in David Wilkerson and Jason Gibson which has forced Jalen Jefferson into playing early in his career as well as a green Nick Forbes. It has also pushed Chris McCain into being an every down outside linebacker when he is best suited as a situational player. The unit may improve with the growing experience of Jefferson and Forbes but there is no short term help on the horizon as Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt seems likely to use his redshirt.
In professional sports a franchise might change course after a poor half of the season and look to playing those players who are young or need development, but college teams aren't blessed with draft picks for poor seasons, they are punished for them with poor recruiting results, and the players themselves only have four years of eligibility. So it's not fair to shortchange youngsters for sake of a future in which they won't be participants. In any case the Bears are already playing many of the younger players due to injuries and just due to the need for their talent.
While the Arizona State loss was a turning point for many, leaving the possibility of a winning season more remote, there is still much to play for with UCLA coming to Berkeley this weekend and the knowledge that this team can execute at a high level if the focus is there. Hopefully beating the Bruins can be part of a much-needed turnaround.