Last week’s loss to San Diego State hurt, bad. While the Aztecs looked like one of the best “group of five” teams in the nation, the fact of the matter is that this was a win that Cal needed - for bowl eligibility, to prove the defense could stop the run, to build the young team’s confidence - and they fell flat. What hurts more is that even with the defensive nightmare of allowing over 300 yards on the ground and giving up three turnovers, the Bears were still in a position to win this one at the end - mounting a late game rally capped off by an onside kick recovery, only to have a fourth turnover seal their fate.
This week we’ll revisit the theme of the bears defensive woes, examine the turnover issues and discuss the Bear’s chances in the home opener against Texas.
Rush Defense - They are who we thought they were… and they ran all over us.
While the week one matchup agains Hawaii had many schematic question marks, the Bears knew what they would face in Qualcomm last week.The offense was run heavy, and the rush offense centered around Heisman dark horse Donnel Pumphrey. Despite this knowledge, the Bears failed to key in on Pumphrey, and allowed him to pick up 281 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
In order to control games, the Bears have to be able to stop the run. Two weeks have shown that the rush defense is the weak spot of this team and opponents will undoubtedly gameplan to expose that weakness. It has been said it before and I’ll say it again - the Bears must adjust, scheme and plan to stop their opponents from running wild on them. Hopefully the coaching staff makes this top priority going forward.
Turnovers - A direct result of living only on the passing game.
Four turnovers in the passing game sounds like damning evidence against the competency of Davis Webb and his receiving corps. The four giveaways were as follows:
1.Fumble - Jordan Veasy 1st Qtr. 6:19: This was a bad start to the night as the Bears tried to get the quick screen game going and instead set up he Aztec’s first score.
2. Int. - Davis Webb 2nd Qtr. 6:26: Another issue in the screen game as Webb makes an errant throw right to an unseen SDSU defender for a pick six.
3. Int. - Davis Webb 3rd Qtr. 9:51: A forced throw to the end zone robbed Cal of points and set up another touchdown drive for the Aztecs.
4. Int. - Davis Webb 4th Qtr. 0:56: After everything the Bears did to get back in this game, a poorly thrown ball to the near sideline ends the game.
While the stats are alarming, they have to be examined in context. Davis Webb had 72 passing attempts in last weeks contest - due largely to the fact that the Bears could not establish a consistent running game and played from behind most of the game. Sonny Dykes has consistently said that he wants the offense to rush more than it passes. However with games against both Hawaii and SDSU in the books, its starting to look like Cal is one dimensional. Both the backs and line have had difficulty dominating lesser competition, which doesn't bode well if the trend continues going forward. If the identity of this offense is a gunslinging pass attack, then the Bears can expect a slate of coin flip shootouts against equal talent and some frustrating losses to some of the more elite defenses they face.
Looking Ahead - Texas.
The Bears open at home this week against a formidable Texas squad. The Longhorns are much improved and are flying high after upsetting Notre Dame in their season opener and handling UTEP last week. Vegas favors Texas on the road in Berkeley as well - the Bears open as 6 point underdogs at home.
The Longhorns come in with a balanced attack, averaging over 200 yards rushing and over 250 passing per contest. While this looks problematic, the injury bug may be the Bear’s saving grace this Saturday - Texas has a banged up offensive line and backfield. Although head coach Charlie Strong says he expects most of his starters back this week, we’ll see on Saturday if their offensive front is 100%. If the Bears take advantage of a dinged up Texas front, they may be able to get enough from the defense to bring this game down to the wire. Even though Cal fans probably cant stomach another barn burner, this game will be close if the Bears can stand tall in the trenches and limit their turnovers - fasten your seatbelt for another close one this Saturday.