BOULDER, Colo. -- Folsom Field was lost amid a swirl of detritus, trash and assorted debris, whipped and spun and twirled by 25-mph wind gusts, and no, none of it was actually the California defense, though it may as well have been.
The Bears fell, 41-24 to Colorado on Saturday, giving the Buffaloes their first conference win this season, first in their past 15 conference games and second in two years, as Cal officially became the worst team in the Pac-12, dropping to 1-10 – a mark not seen since Tom Holmoe's final season.
The Buffs now own two wins over Football Bowl Subdivision teams – two more than the Bears. The win served as Mike MacIntyre's second in a row against Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. The pair are now even in their coaching careers, both having won two games against the other.
The Golden Bears (1-10, 0-8) allowed 324 yards of offense in the first half alone, with 105 of those coming on eight passes to Paul Richardson, who caught 11 balls for 284 yards two years ago in a 36-33 overtime win for Cal.
The Bears offense was anemic, going 4-for-17 on third down, 1-for-7 on third-down and five or less yards to go.
As if the sputtering Bear Raid wasn't enough, Cal once again had issues on special teams, with one short, line-drive kickoff taken by Nelson Spruce, 46 yards, untouched, for a touchdown, and Darius Powe fumbling an onside kick right up the middle, allowing for a Colorado recovery and an eventual touchdown on the ensuing drive.
With that, we enter the Fifth Quarter.
1. The Rich Get Richardson
The Bears played Kameron Jackson on Richardson early, but played him a good five to 10 yards off of the speedy playmaker, trying to keep him in front of the defense. That didn't work, particularly because of weak safety support and two old friends: Bad tackling and overmatched, inexperienced secondary.
Jackson was able to keep Richardson in front of him for the most part during the first drive, but Richardson was matched up against Cedric Dozier next, and shredded the redshirt freshman on a 63-yard reception – with roughly 58 yards coming after the catch.
Richardson finished with 11 catches – tying his own school single-game record – for 140 yards, while Z receiver Spruce benefitted from extra attention paid to Richardson, catching eight passes of his own for 140 yards -– just his second career 100-yard game.
It was the 15th time in school history that two players had 100 yards receiving for Colorado, the last time in 2009. Richardson and Spruce were the second pair to do it each at 140-plus yards.
Before Saturday, Spruce had 37 catches for 392 yards all season. And, that leads us to …
2. De-fence, Bears, De- …. Aw, screw it.
The poor tackling, uneven coverage (playing three different cornerbacks on Richardson, not rolling coverage to Richardson's side when he was the only possible receiver on a play action) and not being physical enough to stop Christian Powell and a middling ground game (128.6 ypg, ninth in the Pac-12), the defense looked perhaps as bad as it has all year, considering the opponent.
The Buffaloes came into Saturday with the worst offense in the entire Pac-12, and that's even with playing Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern.
"We felt like they were going to have to blitz," said MacIntyre. "I saw today that Stanford has the most three-to-four-man blitzes where they sack the quarterback more than any team in the country over the last two, three years; that's why they're so good on defense. So, if you have to blitz to get to the quarterback all the time you might say, ‘well, the defensive coordinator, he gurued that thing up.' It's feast or famine if you have to do that all the time. We felt like our line could protect against them. We felt like they would have to blitz us some, and when they did, we could take advantage of it; and we were able to do that."
The difference in the game, said SAM linebacker Jalen Jefferson, came down to one single thing.
"Effort," Jefferson said. "Guys out there not giving their full effort and stuff, it definitely shows out there."
The Bears let Colorado average 6.55 yards per play, and gain 485 yards total, with true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau going 23-for-36 for 364 yards and three touchdowns, without getting sacked once.
"It was definitely a struggle," said Jefferson. "We were in the right position. We just couldn't tackle. There were short, intermediate passes, and every time we reacted to the ball, we just couldn't take them down. That's when they busted for the long runs."
One play in particular seemed to encapsulate Cal's first season under the new coaching staff. On second-and-six on the Buffs 37, Liufau threw a screen pass right to Michael Adkins, who evaded a shoulder tackle by Todd Barr, and then proceeded to slip Jefferson and Michael Lowe, among others, for a 63-yard fourth-quarter touchdown.
"I think we just think too much out there instead of just playing," Jefferson said. "I think that's what it is: We're just thinking too much out there and we're not playing to our potential."
MacIntyre said after the game that the Buffaloes were able to hit that play to Adkins because of a Bears blitz.
"We saw we could make a guy miss, and he was gone," MacIntyre said. "That's just an example of this; it doesn't always have to be a deep throw. That's what we were able to work on."
Jefferson detailed postgame exchange between himself and defensive coordinator Andy Buh that tells the story:
"He just said, ‘Sorry about the loss,' and I told him, ‘You have nothing to be sorry about. It's all on us. We're out there playing and you're coaching. We've got to get the job done out there.'"
But, this game isn't on the defense.
3. Bass Ackwards
In the first half, the Bears averaged a season-best 8.69 yards per carry, rushing the ball 13 times and passing it 21 times. While Cal was down by two touchdowns, the running game seemed to finally show a real, honest-to-goodness pulse. Both Brendan Bigelow and Khalfani Muhammad were on-pace for 100-yard games, with 51 and 54 yards, respectively. Only Bigelow finished above the century mark, with Muhammad gaining just 24 more yards after the half.
When the second half dawned, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin dialed up seven passes on nine plays.
"They had six in the box all night," Dykes said. "It was going to be tough to run it. We knew coming in that's what they were going to do: Play a lot of quarters and man free, cheat the linebacker to the field and roll the safety down. Later in the game, we were able to run because they played five in the box, got the safety back out and we didn't have any run fits."
Freshman quarterback Jared Goff struggled mightily to find receivers downfield, both with the altitude and the 25-mph winds.
"He had a hard time; the ball was sailing on him," said Dykes. "We felt like we had guys open all night. They didn't do anything different than they did all year. We knew what to expect from the game plan; we just didn't execute."
In fact, Goff overthrew five receivers, 15 yards or more downfield in the first half, alone, as Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs combined for just four receptions for 11 yards. Treggs and Harper finished with a combined nine catches for 42 total yards. Treggs ran a 10.7-second 100 in high school, and he's spent much of this season catching screens or five-yard hitches, where he's been left out to dry, as he was several times on Saturday, with the line not being able to get out quick enough to block for him.
"It played a little bit of a role," Goff said of the winds. "[Colorado] was playing in it, too. It really shouldn't affect us as much as it probably did. It probably pushed my ball out of bounds a couple of times, but at the same time, I need to keep the ball in bounds."
By the end of the game, the Bears had run the ball 32 times and passed the ball 46 times, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 4.11 yards per passing attempt.
When Cal had the chance to narrow the game to one score after a Jefferson pick at the Colorado 38, instead of running the ball – which had been a strength for much of the game for the Bears – Franklin called for four straight passes from Goff, who completed just a three-yarder to Treggs, and even that was a gift, as Tregs was able to hold on to a high ball from Goff.
The Bears went for it on fourth down, and Goff underthrew Richard Rodgers, finishing a 27-second drive after a pick.
Let this number sink in: Colorado had allowed an average of 50.5 points per game in conference play. The Bear Raid scored 24.
"We never want to score [only] 10 points in the first three quarters of a game," Goff said. "But, it happens. It's something we need to work on. We need to work on a lot of things. [The problem] is not just from one side of the ball; it's a collection of things that needs to get better."
Goff was 15-for-30 for 100 yards before he was pulled in the third quarter for Zach Kline, who promptly went 3-for-7 for 41 yards before being lifted for Goff, who finished the game 23-for-45 for 173 yards.
"I came in seeing if we could win the game, and that's the back-up's job," Kline said. "We fought hard, and we gave it our best. Coach just wanted to try something new after a couple of my series. I do what the coach says; I go out and do my best. I wish I could have stayed in there longer, but [Goff] fought hard. The whole team fought hard. We have to try to make a dollar out of a nickel sometimes and fight hard."
The final nail in the coffin for Goff was a 40-yard heave into the end zone that wound up as an interception with less than a minute left in the game. On that play, center Jordan Rigsbee went down and had to be helped off the field. He was alright, though, said Dykes, and after showering up in the locker room, he seemed to not favor either leg coming out of the locker room.
"It was disappointing," Goff said. "This whole season has been filled with a bunch of games that we could have won. It's something that we will need to change, and we know that. It's not one person or one side of the ball or one collective group of people – it's the whole team. We need to change our mentality about stuff, the way we practice. We need to change a lot of things to be successful next year."
And, on that note …
4. Winds of change …
Dykes said after the game that he has "to change a lot of things about our program."
After the game, Dykes was not his usual upbeat self. He wasn't nearly as downcast or as dour as Jeff Tedford was (even on his best days), but it was clear that this season has taken quite a toll.
"We think we know what we need to do, and the changes we need to make," Dykes said. "We're going to get a lot of good players back healthy, which will certainly make a difference for us, and our young guys are going to grow up a year. We're going to have a good football team next year."
As for preparing for next week's Big Game – where tackling and physicality will be paramount against Stanford, Dykes said, "We'll try. We're going to take every opportunity we can to get better."
As for making whole-program changes, Jefferson was certainly on-board.
"That definitely has to be one of our main things next year," said the starting linebacker. "We have to get leaders to step up. That includes me; I'm a silent leader out there, and I need to be more vocal. That's going to be one of the things that we emphasize next season."
5. Signs of life
Bigelow was on-pace for a 100-yard game, and by gum, he got it, becoming the first Bear tailback to rush for over 100 yards in a single game this season, and on top of that, he scored his first two touchdowns of the season.
"I was just patient," Bigelow said. "I was reading my blocks. I couldn't have done it without my line. It really helped me get a tug and everything. I owe it to those guys."
Bigelow ran 15 times for 107 yards, with just one negative carry, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
"I've struggled during the season, and I've been constantly just working every week and trying to get better at the things that we need to get better at. It's great that I'm able to finally click, contribute to the team and try to help them."
Muhammad -- while not as effective in the second half, still averaged 7.8 yards per carry, in large part thanks to a 55-yard scamper to tie things up at 10-10 with 7:11 left in the first half, where he kicked out to the left outside the tackle and made strong safety Tedric Thompson miss before escaping free safety Jared Bell at the five-yard line for the score.
"There at the end, they gained some yards on us; we were playing our ‘backers a little deeper, which hurts you on the run, and Bigelow is really quick," said MacIntyre. "We wanted to get on him quick, as you saw earlier in the game, we got on him quick, but when they play-actioned, we kind of gave up a few yards."
FIFTH QUARTER: Falls Apart, Might as Well
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