FIFTH QUARTER: It's Good to Be The King
BERKELEY -- When asked which one of two spectacular, one-handed grabs was better, California freshman quarterback Jared Goff demurred in picking either Maurice Harris (Portland State) or Saturday's star Kenny Lawler, and that's where we'll start today's Fifth Quarter.
1. Kenny "The King" Lawler
"Oh, Jeez, I mean, I'd have to see Kenny's on replay, but I mean, Jeez, I don't know, those were both really good," Goff said. "They're different types of catches. I really can't answer that. They're both incredible plays."
Lawler's one-handed stretch grab to his off side in the third quarter of the Bears' 33-28 loss to visiting Arizona was his second grab of the day, and pulled the Bears to within five points – the closest they'd be all afternoon.
"They want to see tangible results," said head coach Sonny Dykes on Cal's closest defeat of the year. "I think the fact that we played better today against a good team shows them that, certainly, they're making progress. They're headed in the right direction. I think they'll take something from that, but our goal is to win the ballgame, always, every Saturday, regardless of who we play, and to our players' credit, they expect to win, and think they can win, and it's a real credit to their character to play as hard as they do and where we are in our season right now."
Lawler caught six balls for 72 yards, and called his catch "routine."
"It was definitely a catch, but I maneuvered myself pretty good," Lawler said of the grab, which was reviewed. "It was a routine play for me."
The redshirt freshman had a second circus grab that was overshadowed by the first, going up the ladder on a deep route to the right side of the field for a 29-yard touchdown to bring the Bears to within five points in the waning moments of the game.
"Kenny is coming along," said Dykes. "I had a good conversation with him in the locker room about how talented he is. His ball skills are pretty special. He can do things catching the football; some of the things he can do as far as making plays on the football are pretty special. He needs to keep working on getting stronger, get a little more mature. When those things happen, he has a chance to be pretty special. If he can continue to develop, that lets us move Chris Harper around a bit more and get some more speed on the field in different spots. We need Kenny to keep developing. He has showed some flashes of really good things, like we saw today, but at times, he is inconsistent."
2. One step forward, two steps back
As good-natured as Goff's hemming and hawing was, it still came in the shadow of a game during which his two interceptions – the first with 1:16 left in the third quarter, with free safety Jourdon Grandon moving over to cover the left side of the field before Goff delivered a strike right to Jonathan McKnight at the Cal 27 on third-and-10 at the Bears' 17.
"The two turnovers hurt us," Dykes said. "We gave our defense a short field to defend against, and that was probably the difference in the ballgame, and our inability to convert short-yardage situations, which has been an issue for us all year."
[READ MORE: Third Down By the Numbers]
That interception led directly to a four-play touchdown drive, finished off with a B.J. Denker run without a defensive back as the quarterback spy and with defensive end Kyle Kragen blowing outside contain.
"I just threw it too far inside," Goff said of his first pick. The second pick was just as costly, as it took a sure touchdown off the board on the very next Cal drive. After starting their next drive with a run despite having all four wide receivers stacked in pairs on the outside, Cal drove all the way down to the Arizona 20, and on fourth-and-two, Goff, desperately looking to make a play, didn't see Chris Harper beat his man on the right side of the field, and instead tried to force the ball to Brendan Bigelow on the left, only to see his throw get picked off by Grandon at the goal line for a touchback.
"It was fourth down, I was trying to make a play and I forced a ball," Goff said. "I just forced it a little bit."
Goff started the game 8-for-10 for 63 yards on the first drive, but then went 0-for-8, including two tipped passes and two receiver drops, but also several long balls that he overthrew by wide margins. In that stretch, though, he saved a safety. After a groundball snap by center Jordan Rigsbee on second-and-10 at the Bears' nine-yard line, Goff recovered the ball, rolled right, and, as he was being taken down, was able to throw the ball into the turf near Bigelow. What was originally ruled intentional grounding was later ruled an incomplete pass.
"I thought he was streaky a little bit," Dykes said of Goff. "I thought he made some big-time throws. I thought he made some throws on a couple of the fade routes – the throw to Kenny at the end and some of the decisions he made today, I thought were really good. We missed a couple of open ones, and we'll go back and look at the film a couple of times and say, ‘Wow, look at how close we were here' … That's again part of the maturation and growth process that a young quarterback goes through, and there's going to be moments where he looks really good and other moments where he doesn't look great. I thought the interception on the fourth down, he was trying to make something happen [and he] kept the play alive. I don't necessarily fault him for that. The other one he was throwing a curl route and was just trying to force the ball and should have checked it down to the back. He started to scramble and probably saw [Bigelow] a little later. Had he seen him sooner, he could have gotten him the ball and he probably could have scored."
Goff's headiness after the bad snap didn't help much, though, as the first play of the next possession resulted in a safety at the expense of tailback Darren Ervin.
"We were running power off the edge. We went to a tight end set in case we got edge blitzed, and we wanted to protect a little bit, they blitzed off the edge and somebody busted an assignment," Dykes said.
3. Cameron "Hitman" Walker
For the third straight game, true freshman Cameron Walker set a career-high in tackles, with 13, and he's now tallied 40 tackles over his last four games, as he quickly takes hold of a position he was not recruited to play.
Walker was stout both in coverage and in run support, where he and the rest of the secondary played a big role against Arizona back Ka'Deem Carey.
Carey came into the game averaging 153.3 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. He was held just under his season average (152 yards) but was held more than a yard short of his season per-carry average.
"I thought, defensively, we did a lot of good things," Dykes said. "I thought Ka'Deem Carey got his yards, but he carried the ball a bunch. He had 32 [sic] carries and they were tough yards. We didn't give him a whole lot of easy runs. He had a couple of easy runs right there at the end of the first half, and they got in field goal range and missed the field goal at the end of the first half, but other than that, he earned every yard he made."
4. Building the foundation
Walker was just part of what was perhaps Cal's best defensive effort to date, though the numbers still aren't exactly rosy. Denker went 24-for-38 (63.2% -- six percent above his season average) for 261 yards and one touchdown, but was sacked three times. Cal came into the game with just 12 sacks in eight games.
Two of those sacks came from the linebackers, and one came from the defensive line – a team-up job by Viliami Moala and Todd Barr, who combined for nine tackles, and a lot of extra pressure in the backfield.
The Bears held the Wildcats to 4-of-16 on third downs, and held Arizona to more than 1.0 yard per offensive play below their season average.
Arizona came into Saturday averaging 288.0 yards per game on the ground, and Cal limited that production to 187.
"We tackled better today, than we have, and that has been a point of emphasis all year for us, and I think they tackled better because they've played more," said Dykes, who saw just 15 players rotate through on defense. "We've had some consistency in some of the players that have played, and I think, as a result, they've played at a higher level, so I thought, defensively, I thought we did some good things."
What was the exact play going against Carey – the nation's leading rusher?
"Stop him, gang tackle, everybody run to the ball," said linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who had his best game of the season, tallying nine tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. "He's a load to tackle, so we wanted everybody to get to him and bring him down."
Carey sure noticed, and though Cal held him for just 33 yards in the first quarter, he wound up breaking the 100-yard mark by the half for his 11th straight 100-yard game.
"Cal did a good job of loading up the box," Carey said. "It seemed like they were really focusing on stopping me, but you come into games expecting that and you adjust. B.J. did a good job of keeping it on some and making some big runs at the end of the game."
One of those big runs was more of an east-to-west proposition that saw Denker escape upwards of four Cal defenders pressuring from Denker's left side, before rolling right and gaining 17 yards across midfield in the fourth quarter.
"The defense really loaded up against Ka'Deem; they didn't want him to have the ball, so I knew I was going to have to carry it some and take some shots," said Denker, who finished with 44 yards on 15 carries. "Yeah, I'm a little banged up, but they geared towards stopping Ka'Deem and I was able to take advantage. Even on plays where I had to hand it to Ka'Deem, I didn't want to because they were so focused on him."
One of the big reasons the Bears were able to slow down Carey was because Moala hit him even when he didn't have the ball on zone reads where Denker kept the ball, ensuring that Carey wouldn't want to go up the middle any time soon against Moala, or Deandre Coleman, who contributed four tackles and 0.5 TFL.
5. Line in the sand
Aside from the one bad snap from Rigsbee, the offensive line arguably had its best performance of the season, by a wide margin.
Not only did the line open up holes on the interior for Daniel Lasco to have a big day running the ball (as part of a 130-yard net day on the ground, with a 5.0 ypc average), but they also gave Goff oodles of time in the pocket and didn't allow a sack for the first time this season. Beyond that, the Bears' big uglies committed just one penalty. Granted, Cal was going against mainly a three-man rush for most of the day, but that's a big step forward for the newly-reformulated offensive front.
"This was probably their best game, so far," Goff said. "They're really starting to come together, and they did a great job today. Arizona was showing different blitz stuff, and they picked it up pretty well."
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