1. Not so excellent execution …
At halftime, California was 5-for-14 on third downs. The Bears only converted two third-down chances the rest of the game (7-for-22).
"Third-down execution is always a big deal, and if you do a good job with that, most of the time, it ends in a lot of points," said Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
What makes that number even worse is the fact that the Bears seemingly executed fairly well on first and second downs. On first and second downs in the first half, Goff went 13-for-23 for 119 yards and one touchdown, while the running game produced 34 yards on 11 attempts – not great, but not anemic. That means, on an average first- or second-down play, Cal gained 4.5 yards.
Three of the Bears' seven third-down conversions came on a single drive, when Goff led Cal on a 75-yard, 13-play march down the field to cut Washington's lead to 17-7 at the start of the second quarter. On that drive, Goff went 8-for-9 for 39 yards.
"His composure, I don't think, was an issue tonight, at all," head coach Sonny Dykes said of Goff. "He seemed calm, he seemed more confident, probably, than he has been, at times, the last several weeks. I think he's on the verge of getting it all together, and I think the offense is on the verge of getting it together and playing at a higher level. We need to. I think he's got a chance to be something special."
In the second half, Goff went 9-for-13 on first and second down, for a total of 108 yards (redshirt junior Austin Hinder went 1-for-2 for 16 yards in mop-up duty on first and second downs), and the Bears rushed 11 times for 87 yards (including Khalfani Muhammad's garbage-time 73-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter).
On the game, Cal averaged 6.07 yards on first- and second-down plays, the Bears didn't turn the ball over and they had just three penalties (the team's smallest load of laundry this season), yet, Cal faced an average third-down distance of 7.86 yards. Why the disconnect?
Well, one of those penalties – an illegal block by Steven Moore – came on a second-quarter reverse-to-lateral that landed in the hands of Bryce Treggs, that would have gotten Cal down to inside the Huskies' 10-yard line. Instead, the ball was reeled all the way back to the Bears' 40.
After the defense forced a punt, the Bears went 1-for-2 on third-downs in their next drive, with Goff taking a sack on third-and-10. Again, the defense forced a three-and-out, only to see the next drive feature a fumbled snap on second-and-10 and another Cole Leininger punt after just four plays (Leininger finished the day with 10 punts, with two inside the 20, for an average of 42.8 yards). With opportunity after opportunity missed, and momentum left out in the ether, the Huskies capitalized, as Bishop Sankey popped a 59-yard run to put the Huskies up, 24-7, going into the half.
"It changed a lot. It was 17-7, and we had the reverse, really had the ball inside the 10-yard line, and had the illegal block, so that moved it back and we ended up stalling and having to punt and they popped a big run. It was kind of a 14-point swing right there for us, and instead of going in at halftime down 17-14, we go in, down 24-7," Dykes said. "[The flag on Moore] was a good call. It was the right call. He can't block him low in that situation. It's a new rule, and he knew it when he made the mistake."
The easiest answer for the third down conundrum, though, is the running game. Take out Muhammad's 73-yard run at the end of the game, and the Bears rushed for 58 yards on 28 attempts, with a staggering 10 plays for negative yardage, including five sacks.
"The thing we've got to be able to do, is we've got to be able to run the ball earlier," Dykes said. "It takes a lot of heat off [the offensive line]. Our inability to get much of a run game going has continued to bite us.
"There's a lot of missing pieces. We're starting a lot of young kids, so there's development when you start a lot of young guys – I think, five or six freshmen on the offense – and offensive football is about execution, and execution is about repetition, and when you've got young guys, they're behind, in terms of repetition, so we've got to continue to get them reps and hopefully they'll execute at a higher level."
The reason the average yards gained on first and second downs are so high, is because Goff completed seven passes for 15 yards or more, and that's what our Ken Clampett goes into in his statistical analysis.
"I thought our whole team battled," Dykes said. "I told our guys after that I was really proud of the way they played, and how hard they played. Obviously, we have to play better. We've got to coach better, but there's no quit in this team, at all. None. And, I'm incredibly proud of them for that, because that's the sign of a program starting to come together, is when guys, regardless of the circumstances, go out there and play incredibly hard for each other and play for Cal, and we're starting to get that sense that that's happening. I wish the outcome was better, but our kids care about each other and I'm really proud of them for the kind of people they are and the way they keep battling.
"I'm ready to start winning football games, and they are too. We're all frustrated. We're all ready to play better, and start winning games, but until then, I'm proud of what they're giving us in terms of their effort and their work ethic."
2. Meet the new line, same as the old line
Much of the run game – and lack of execution in the passing game -- can be laid at the feet of an overhauled offensive line. Former left guard Jordan Rigsbee -- who moved to center for the first time since an abortive effort in the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Game (an outing cut short due to illness) – admitted that there were some issues with tempo because of the lack of experience he and Goff have working together.
"We've been trying to work together in practice and get it going, and I think it was a little slower, because I was trying to make some calls and things like that, and Washington did some different fronts, so it wasn't the easiest game to come in at center," Rigsbee said. "But, I thought we did alright. With the quarterback and me, we have to have better communication between the O-line and quarterback in general, so we had a little bit of problems with that, but we'll get it together and we'll be fine."
Left tackle Christian Okafor allowed pressure over his side all night, and while there was improved push up the middle with Rigsbee at center, overall, Goff was under constant assault.
Even four-man rushes – like the one that Justin Wilcox sent, with just over five minutes left in the third quarter – overwhelmed a line consisting of two redshirt freshmen, a redshirt sophomore, a true freshman and a redshirt junior.
The line allowed five sacks on the night, and, for the eighth straight game, no Cal tailback rushed for over 100 yards.
3. Pew pew pew … Shot by a Ray Gun
Johnny Ragin III got his first real time on defense, and boy, did he make his presence felt. In the third quarter, with Cal hemorrhaging, he turned in a trip-up of quarterback Keith Price to force a punt with the Huskies rolling into the Bears' territory.
Ragin was also responsible for blasting Sankey for a loss of a yard on third-and-four, setting up a 46-yard field goal by Washington (a career-long for kicker Travis Coons) instead of a touchdown, keeping the Huskies within 10 points
Ragin finished the night with two total stops.
Not to be outdone was fellow true freshman Cameron Walker, who led the team with a career-high 10 tackles from the free safety position, setting a personal-best in tackles for the third straight game.
"I think he's a kid that is capable of making a lot of big plays," Dykes said of Ragin. "He's athletic, he can run. He's been a little bit banged up. We were hoping that this was going to happen four weeks ago. He's had an ankle that's been hobbling him a little bit, but it's good to see him do this, because we thought all along that he's capable of making some plays for us and giving us some athleticism at the linebacker spot."
4. Giving ‘er all she's got, Captain
The Cal defense has been the source of many a gray hair this season, but, for one stretch in the second quarter, the Bears were as tough as a defense can be. Cal forced four straight punts, and after allowing 219 yards in the first quarter alone, battened down the hatches and allowed just 63 yards in the second stanza, until Washington's final drive before halftime, which saw Keith Price guide a six-play, 91-yard drive, capped off with Sankey's 59-yard touchdown run, through a gap left open by Hardy Nickerson and Dan Camporeale.
"That's the frustration you go through in the early stages of the program, is that everything gets magnified, and it's tough, because you play good in spurts, and that's not good enough against the people we're playing against, week-in and week-out," Dykes said. "They've got to play consistent for every play of the game, and that's what separates the good teams from the bad teams, and right now, we're not able to play at that level of consistency."
Unfortunately for Cal, during the same stretch that the defense held strong, the offense sputtered miserably, with nine punts in the first half and six three-and-outs before halftime.
"We just couldn't get anything going on offense," Dykes said. "We punted the ball nine times in the first half, and we've got to be able to execute better than that. A lot of it is just little details, making sure we don't get behind the chains – we got behind the chains a little too much tonight – we got in too many third-and-longs, and that's not a good match-up for us, right now."
5. Reading tea leaves
Adrian Lee re-took his spot at left corner after Joel Willis was burned several times, and then Lee was promptly replaced by Isaac Lapite, who was promptly targeted by Price on a perfectly-thrown ball to Jaydon Mickens for a 47-yard touchdown to start the third quarter.
With both Ragin and Chad Whitener seeing time at linebacker, and Nickerson falling victim to both Price and the speedy Sankey several times, what does that mean for the redshirt freshman MIKE backer, or the revolving door at left corner, opposite Kameron Jackson (who had three tackles and two pass break-ups, including one that saw receiver Kasen Williams leave the game with a broken leg)?
"Nothing; It just says we're trying to find the best players," Dykes said. "That's what we'll always do."
Ted Agu came in late in the game for Puka Lopa, who got the start at rush end and tallied just one tackle. Cedric Dozier -- a Washington native – also came on late at corner, and made three tackles.
Willis and Lopa made their first collegiate starts, and redshirt junior quarterback Hinder saw his first game action on Cal's final series of the game.
FIFTH QUARTER: Wouldn't you know
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