BERKELEY -- With Javorious Allen's third touchdown on Saturday, the 2013 California defense officially became the worst defense in the history of Golden Bears football, having surpassed the 2001 unit with 433 points given up. Cal ended the day by giving up 14 more points to visiting USC, falling 62-28 on Senior Day.
1. Three's a Crowd
Cal gave up three touchdowns to seldom-used Javorious ‘Buck' Allen on Saturday. Allen was barely a factor with Lane Kiffin in charge, but Ed Orgeron has seen fit to make him a primary weapon, particularly in the absence of Silas Redd, who exited the first half with a right knee injury and did not return.
Buck's second touchdown was perhaps the most important for the Trojans, as it halted a Bears comeback-in-the-making.
Up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, USC saw Cal score touchdowns on two straight drives, the second a four-play sprint that finished with a flea-flicker back from Daniel Lasco to Jared Goff, who found Darius Powe in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard strike.
USC looked to have its back against the wall after an eight-yard sack by Michael Barton halfway into the second quarter, but then, Allen had his say, catching a short screen pass, making one defender miss and then rumbling 57 yards to pay dirt. The Bears would score just one more time after that.
Allen finished the game with six carries for 135 yards and one catch for 57 yards.
2. Well, isn't that (not) special …
Cal special teams were eye-gougingly, pants-rippingly, dropped-your-phone-in-a-oilet, unconscionably, fantastically bad on Saturday. After the Bears' first series ended on a dropped third-down pass over the middle by Darius Powe, Nelson Agholor returned a Cole Leininger punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
"I was really just happy to see the guys make plays," said Orgeron. "We have some explosive athletes on this team, and we have some good game plans. It's just exciting to see some explosive plays out there. That's part of our football team. That's what makes us who we are at USC. We have some great athletes on this team who can score at any time."
After the screen TD to Allen was enabled by a missed linebacker tackle, the Bears ran just two plays before Goff tried to find electric Chris Harper on a slant, only to have Harper, staring right at the ball, see it bounce right off his facemask without touching it with his hands. The ensuing Leininger punt off an unusual low snap from John Sheperdson was blocked by Soma Vainuku and returned 14 yards for a touchdown by Josh Shaw.
"We had a bad check on the blocked punt. We had a young player that made the wrong call and got us in a bad protection and gave up the blocked punt, and the other one, we hit a line drive punt, didn't cover very well, and then the next one, we tried to punt the ball out of bounds," Dykes said. "We asked him to punt the ball out of bounds, and he had a hard time getting that done, so that was 21 points at a pretty critical time in the ballgame. We had some confidence, we had some momentum and felt like we had an opportunity to be in the game, and that killed us."
The pain wasn't nearly done, though, as after the Bears' very next series late in the second quarter – which ended with a dropped pass on the part of Stephen Anderson on third down -- Agholor made four Cal players miss en route to a 93-yard punt return touchdown, becoming the first opposing player to score twice on punt returns since the Trojans' own Mike Garrett accomplished the feat.
"Mark Tommerdahl's been coaching special teams a long time. He's a really, really good special teams coach," Dykes said. "Probably as good as anybody in the country. Incredibly, highly respected. In 18 years of coaching, he's had one freshman play a half of football on the punt team. Our punt team right now has six freshmen on it. That's kind of where we are. In 18 years, he's had one freshman play a half on the punt team. It's a little bit tough, right now. We're making too many mistakes, and again, it's our job as coaches to make sure we don't make those mistakes, so we'll get it corrected in time for Colorado, and we'll do better next week."
3. Offense wasted (like Ken Clampett at a podcast)
Statistically, Goff had his best game of the season. The freshman quarterback had to contend with four dropped passes, but still went 34-for-48 for 255 yards and three touchdowns with not a single turnover for a 136.1 quarterback rating. Goff has now thrown seven touchdowns over his last two games.
Goff finished the game having taken over second on school's single-season passing list with 3,136 yards. Pat Barnes is first with 3,499 yards in 1996.
The Cal running game was the best it's been since the start of the season, ripping off 195 yards on 44 carries (both season-highs) – the third straight game the Bears have rushed for an average of at least 4.5 yards per carry.
Khalfani Muhammad rushed 10 times for 61 yards, and Jeffrey Coprich toted the rock 10 times for 55 yards. Even Jonah Hodges got into the mix late with three carries for 27 yards, while Brendan Bigelow got three early carries in his first chance back at the tailback spot, going 22 yards net.
The threat of Daniel Lasco turned out to be more powerful than his actual performance, as on the Powe touchdown off the flea-flicker, the USC defense sold out to stop Lasco running up the middle, making them vulnerable on the seam, which is where Goff found Powe. Lasco only had three carries for 11 yards, and did not have a catch as he continues to nurse a sore shoulder.
Cal ran 45 more plays and had 10 more first downs than USC.
An equal mix of throwing and passing – despite the deficit – and an ability to get first downs are both small things, to be sure, and the Bears still had major issues on third down (going 6-for-17 while the Trojans went 5-for-9), but there certainly were reasons to hope on offense, as Cal didn't turn the ball over once.
4. Run out of the building
While the Bears rushed for a season-high 195 yards, the Trojans – in large part thanks to Allen – manhandled the Cal defensive front. USC piled up 238 rushing yards on just 26 attempts, with four touchdowns – three of at least 37 yards.
The Trojans didn't even really need to pass the ball, as they averaged a staggering 9.2 yards per carry against an overmatched defense that even saw safety Cameron Walker slipping and sliding off USC tailbacks.
Hardy Nickerson looked particularly lost against the strong and multi-faceted Trojans running game, and left the contest after injuring a foot on a dump-off underneath pass to Silas Redd slipped by the redshirt freshman defender for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Ty Isaac -- who only came in for the second half -- rushed 11 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns, and was just 13 yards shy of being the ninth USC tailback to run for more than 100 yards this season.
"A couple of times, I know on two of them, Hardy Nickerson went down early in the game, and Hardy makes all our checks. He calls all the strengths, so Chad Whitener came in, and Chad's a true freshman –a good kid – and we were down to one MIKE linebacker," Dykes said. "We were trying to make contingency plans on the sidelines – what we were going to do if Chad got hurt. We didn't have anybody else. We didn't have another linebacker. We tried to talk about maybe playing a safety at linebacker or a running back at linebacker. But, we missed a lot of checks, rolled coverages the wrong way several times and got out of position, as a result. When you're out of position on a ball, then a lot of times, you're trying to recover, you're diving at people's legs, you don't have good entry angles in your run fits, and it looks bad. That's what happened at times today. We didn't tackle well, at times, and other times, I thought we tackled pretty well."
5. Just what are they building?
"Experienced, tough, grown men win football games in a conference like the Pac-12," Dykes said after the game. "That's not who we are right now. That's who we're going to be, but that's not who we are right now."
Dykes admitted that he could have done many things differently during his first rocky season at the helm.
"It always starts with me. That's the thing that I have to do every day is I have to wake up and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘What we can do to make it better?' When you go back and you look at things, there's a lot of things I would do differently, from the start of the season to this point," Dykes said. "I've got three notebooks full of notes, and things that we'll do differently and ways that we'll adjust our program and improve and we'll get it right. The good thing is, from the coaching staff's standpoint, this will be good for us, going through the Pac-12, for Cal, learning the kind of kids we need to bring in to be successful here at Cal, from a recruiting standpoint, from a team development standpoint, things we have to do in strength in conditioning, all the things we have to do. All those things are things that we can improve on, and we will improve on, and there are going to be things that, as I said, we'll go to work on that the Monday after Stanford. The next two weeks, we're going to try and figure out how to win two ballgames, and after that, we'll sit down, make the necessary adjustments that we can make and we'll start working for next year. Our guys will be excited about fielding a hell of a football team next season."
The Bears had two official visitors in the house on Saturday – athlete Devante Downs and wide receiver Erik Brown, a Washington commit, along with running back commit Tre Watson and local five-star Joe Mixon making unofficial trips, plus a host of others. Losing by the second-widest margin they have all season, giving up the most points they have all season should be reasons for concern, as Cal dropped to 1-9 and 0-7 in the Pac-12.
"We had two kids on official visits, and I think that they'll see the same thing that we all see: We're a very young football team," Dykes said. "All they've got to do is pick up the flip card and look at it. When you do that, you see freshmen and sophomores everywhere. I think they'll see that we play hard. I think they'll see that we're capable of playing against good football teams and giving ourselves opportunities to win and be successful. I think the University sells itself. That's one good thing about me: I don't have to sell Cal and the education and experience they can get by attending this great University. As I said, that sells itself. All we've got to do is convince them that we'll get it right – get the football part of it right. You can say, ‘Look, you know, we had a rough first year here, had a rough first year there, had a rough first year here. Had a better second year there, had a better second year there. Won a conference championship our second year another place. Third year, we're in the top 15,' and that's been a steady, consistent thing that's happened, quite frankly, everywhere I've been.
"I knew, when I took this job, this wasn't going to be all rainbows and puppy dogs. It's just now. I think you look around and you look at the coaching changes in programs where they were forced to make those changes, everybody's struggling. You go right down the list, and college football's tough. We knew that when we got in. I feel better about being at Cal today than I felt on Dec. 5, when I took the job."
On the occasion of Senior Day, Dykes was asked about the seniors who wouldn't be around if and when the program gets turned around.
"It's just hard for those guys. It's hard for them to invest as much time and effort as they have in the football program here, and not get rewarded on the field with wins," Dykes said. "The funny thing about coaching is that it's good for you to win. It's good for the head coach. You don't have to get eggs thrown at you and ‘For Sale' signs in your front yard and your kids beat up at school and that kind of stuff, but it's really good for the kids, and especially the kids that haven't seen the payoff of really working hard. What you want to do is, when we get this thing flipped, you want those guys to come back and you want them to stand up in front of the players who are being successful and say, ‘Look, these are the reasons these guys busted their rear ends, and that's how we got this thing turned,' because they worked hard, the believed, they provided leadership, they held the team together when it was difficult to hold together and I really take my hat off to those guys.
"They've been incredible. They've done everything we've asked them to do, and I'll remember them forever. Hopefully, they'll come back and be a part of Cal football for years to come. That's one thing we want to do more than anything in the world is get our former players back around the current players and involved in our program. Those guys have paid a lot of blood, sweat and tears for Cal football, and to end on a sour note is a hard thing for those guys. It hurts you, as a coach."
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