Five observations - Cal vs. Texas


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By Ted Lee
Posted Sep 19, 2015
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2015

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Five observations from Cal's 45-44 win over Texas.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 five-yard line.

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 succeeded.

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.

  1. 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.

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