It might not have been pretty,
but it was a win
Despite two convincing wins, it wasn't
likely that Cal would go into Austin and roll over Texas. Certainly
the signs were there to suggest it was possible, the Bears appeared
to have the depth and experience for the program to turn a corner,
and by all accounts Texas is headed for another down year. Still,
Texas isn't an easy place to play – not just because of the large
home crowd but also because of the warmer weather. Yet for three
quarters, the Bears gave an excellent account of themselves,
highlighted by 31 unanswered points. For a big stretch of that, the
Bears' offensive line was punishing the Longhorn defensive line as
the running game had lots of success despite the absence of running
back Daniel Lasco. Yet the Bears' proclivity for making games
exciting set in – and whether it was fatigue, dehydration, or maybe
they just couldn't give any more – and Texas staged a fourth
quarter rally with three touchdowns. But for the second straight
year, the Bears were saved blushes by a missed extra point. Still,
there's a world of difference between ekeing out a home win against
Colorado, and saving a road win at Texas.
Just like before, it's
yesterday once more.
After the first two games, there was
reason to think that the Bears were past the point when opposing
quarterbacks could count on having career days against the Cal
defense. Neither Grambling State nor San Diego State had
quarterbacks who were ever likely to put the secondary in great
peril, but even Texas wasn't a team that was expected to give the
pass defense a serious test. While Jerrod Heard is certainly one of
the more talented quarterbacks the Bears will face – especially
with Cal's Achilles' being quarterbacks who can run – he shouldn't
have been able to put 527 yards up against the Bears. Now the Bears
generally did a good job of defending the read option – the biggest
problem was what to do with Heard in passing situations. If they
were too aggressive with the pass rush, it would leave them short of
defenders if Heard broke the pocket. If they tried to have defenders
spy Heard from the secondary, receivers could run into gaps. And at
times they tried to rush two and have the other two linemen act as
containment, but that ended up giving Heard loads of time. And
Heard's fast enough to chew up lots of yards quickly. He was also in
terrific condition – as his 45-yard run came on the 55th
play that he was actively involved in. Now to the Bears' benefit,
it's highly unlikely that any quarterback that Cal faces will pose
nearly the running threat that Heard did.
But there were signs of
encouragement for the defense.
OK, OK, you're probably wondering what
part of 650 yards and 44 points isn't being understood – but with
last year's defense the hope was that it might be able to get a stop
on a possession or two to give the offense just enough chance to pull
out the win. But when the Bears scored their 31 unanswered points,
the defense had a run of five of six possessions where they held
Texas scoreless – and the one possession where Texas scored was
because they ended up with the ball on the Cal 6 following a Jared
Goff fumble. And for what it's worth, while Heard was 11-of-15 for
222 yards in the first half, he was a milder 9-of-16 for 142 yards in
the second half. The leading Texas running back only had 47 yards.
Lost in all the craziness was
the sleight of hand that Cal did with their special teams.
It would have been tempting for the
Bears to challenge their special teams unit, look Texas's special
teams unit right in the eye and dare them to beat them. But other
times it's a good idea to not tempt fate. After all if the opposing
special teams has one player who's capable of doing great damage, and
10 who aren't, it might not be a bad idea to try to shift the odds.
So on 4th down, instead of sending in a punter and
allowing the Longhorns to bring in the punt unit, the Bears would
keep Goff in, make it appear as if they were going to punt, which
forced Texas to keep all of their defenders in. Goff would punt and
the punt would land downfield and would be downed by the Bears. The
punt was shorter than it would have been in Cole Leininger were
punting, but Cal eliminated any chance of a return. Similarly with
kickoffs, the Bears were trying all types of shorter kickoffs which
resulted in returners taking knees or very short returns. At one
point the Bears had a short kickoff that Texas mismanaged so badly
that the Bears recovered it deep in Texas territory, however that
play was offset by a penalty.
But at one point, Cal kicked it deep
and it threw Texas so off-kilter that they only returned it to their
Add everything up and Texas had no punt
return yardage and returned three kickoffs for 26 yards. The Bears
were intent on not letting the Texas return unit beat them and they
It's clear that there's still some
iffiness with Cal's field goal unit. On the first possession, Cal
went for it on 4th-and-1 rather than try a 51-yard field goal, the
Bears then missed a 44-yard field goal, but late in the first half,
Matt Anderson did make a 34-yard field goal.
In Anderson's defense, he made all six
of his extra points.
It would be easy to
underappreciate Goff's performance
During the past three years, anytime
Cal had offensive success it was generally because Jared Goff put
the team on his back. In the second half, it wasn't necessary
because the Bear offensive line was able to boss the Longhorn
defensive line. During a stretch when they could have started to
wear down, the Bears ran for 145 yards in the second half.
Goff's game had some parallels with
Aaron Rodgers' 2004 game against USC, where he didn't throw for a lot
of yardage, but he was very accurate with short passes and very
successful in moving the ball downfield. Unlike last week, where
Goff was successful with long passes, he didn't have a completion of
more than 22 yards.
Texas wanted to try to put pressure on
Goff and they tried rushing five on a number of occasions, but they
couldn't get to him because he was releasing the ball so quickly. On
two occasions when he receivers were covered, he saw gaps in the
defense and had runs of 16 and 12 yards.
His three touchdown passes – two to
Kenny Lawler and one to Maurice Harris were all magnificently thrown
balls where he allowed the receivers to make plays and kept defenders
from having any say-so. The touchdown to Harris was especially
noteworthy because Goff faced a big pass rush, didn't really have any
running options but was able to keep the play alive, keep his eyes
downfield and throw an accurate ball. There are lots of quarterbacks
playing on Sunday who would have a difficult time doing that.
The only thing that slowed Goff down
was conservative play-calling in the fourth and the Bears were trying
to milk the clock and speed the game up and save some wear and tear
on both units. Consequently, Goff finished with 27-of-37 passing and
268 yards, which is mild for him, but in terms of the bigger picture,
the Bears needed to show they could win a game like this.
Now with this game on national TV, Goff
could have taken a big step forward towards the national spotlight
and the Fox announcing crew was more than willing to talk him up.
Yet the big story coming out of the game will be the missed extra
point and the breakthrough game of Jerrod Heard.
But with the Bears at 3-0, Goff will
have plenty of opportunities to have a signature game.