The Cal Bears handled the overmatched Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, winning 51-31 last Saturday in the first ever American football game held in Sydney, Australia. The Bear Raid wowed curious Aussies and Cal’s offense created enough fireworks to bring home the inaugural Sydney Cup. Along with their hardware, the Bears come back to Berkeley with some lingering defensive questions to address before their September 10th matchup with San Diego state.
We’ll take a quick look at the Bears performance on both sides of the ball this week, followed by some parting thoughts on the team’s outlook moving forward.
Any doubts about the firepower of the Bear Raid under new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital were put to rest on Saturday. The offense found its rhythm after some early setbacks, accumulating 630 yards while hanging 51 points on the Rainbow Warrior defense.
Graduate transfer quarterback Davis Webb proved consistent, going 38 - 54 for 441 yards with 4 passing touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Webb also showed grit on a hard-nosed 4 yard touchdown run, squaring up with the Hawaii defense to reach the end zone. Junior Chad Hansen emerged early as Webb’s favorite receiving target, pulling in 14 receptions for 160 yards and 2 TD’s to lead all Cal wideouts. The receiving corps behind Hansen also looked good, with 11 other Bears logging receptions on the day. Freshman Melquise Stovall and Junior Jordan Veasy were both productive and found the end zone - look for them to break out as the season progresses. Heralded 5-star freshman Demetrius Robertson had an unexpectedly quiet game, with just two receptions for 12 yards.
While the Bear’s air attack looked crisp, the ground game was inconsistent. Senior Khalfani Muhammad had a strong game, running tough for 94 yards and a touchdown. Juniors Vic Enwere and Tre Watson underwhelmed, combining for 106 yards on 21 carries with no scores. Statistics aside, it was painfully obvious that the offensive line had trouble creating running lanes. The Bears weren’t able to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense, and the run game suffered. Look for a surge from the Bears when injured Aaron Cochran returns to shore up the line at left tackle.
The Bears defense, particularly the front seven, looked anemic early on. They eventually settled in, yet still gave up 482 yards to an unremarkable Hawaii offense. Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has some serious work ahead to prepare the Bears for the offensive talent they will face going forward.
The main concern for the Bears is undoubtedly the rush defense – Hawaii gained 248 yards on the ground, averaging 6.5 yards per touch. The Bears face a quality slate of running teams this year and these stats are troubling if they are predictive of the Bears future performance against the rush. Hawaii’s offensive line opened massive running lanes for running back Diocemy Saint Juste and his backfield counterparts, thanks largely to a Cal defensive line that couldn’t win battles up front and a linebacker corps which couldn’t shed blocks to make tackles. Simply put, this defensive unit needs some major adjustments to avoid a long season for the Golden Bears.
On the other hand, the defensive backfield impressed and looks like it should be serviceable in defending the pass. Starting corner Darius Allensworth’s play was solid and junior transfer Marloshawn Franklin did not disappoint in his first outing. Cam Walker hauled in the team’s first interception of the year and the secondary logged 5 pass breakups while holding Hawaii Quarterback Akaika Woolsey to 234 passing yards. Look for this unit to have a major impact as the season goes on, especially if Cal finds itself in late game shootouts.
The Bears ride a wave of momentum home with this season opening win in Australia. If Cal uses their bye week to improve the run defense and pass rush, they will be formidable this season. The offense has shown it has the talent to put up points, but the defense will have to match their execution or the momentum gained down under will evaporate quickly.
Following their bye, Cal heads down to San Diego State to take on the Aztecs, led by preseason all-Mountain West running back Donnel Pumphrey. The Bears should have ample opportunity to prove they can stop the run at Qualcomm next Saturday – expect that matchup to truly test how the Bears can expect to fare against the strong rushing offenses they’ll face in Pac 12 play this year.