The narrative of California's 2013 season remained consistent: Horrific defensive schemes and execution lead to many big plays and big losses.
That would be no different in the 116th edition of the Big Game. Stanford relied on big play after big play to get out to a huge first half lead, only to cruise the rest of the way to a 63-13 crushing of the Bears – the most points ever scored by a single team and surrendered by a single team in the Big Game. The blowout loss for Cal meant the fourth straight season in which the Bears would not control the prized Stanford Axe.
The usually physical Stanford offense simply outran Cal in the first half. Of the Cardinal's 31 plays in the first half, nine resulted in gains of 15 or more yards. 8 of those 9 plays were passes, and 3 of those 8 plays came from playmaker Ty Montgomery.
Again, all this came during the first half.
"I mean, we had a hard time covering him," said Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. "When they threw him the ball, he was open. We had somebody that was supposed to cover him."
The result of big play after big play was a 42-13 halftime lead for Stanford. Like many other contests in 2013, the game had already been decided at that point.
A receiver's big-play success against Cal is nothing new. The Bears have notoriously struggled defending big-play wide receivers all season. Portland State's Kasey Closs went for 160 yards receiving and a touchdown against Cal earlier this year. Ohio State's Devin Smith went for 149 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Oregon State's Brandin Cooks had 232 yards and a touchdown. Washington's Jaydon Mickens had 180 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Colorado's Paul Richardson had 140 yards receiving just last week. Montgomery just added his name to that.
Rarely has defensive coordinator Andy Buh changed up his defense to provide his depleted secondary with some help on these speed receivers. The plethora of injuries and resulting youth of the unit has forced Buh to stick with the standard 4-3 base as a result, with barely any variation. Thus, receivers have made big play after big play against man-coverage and finding soft spots against the zone defense, and Cal's defense has labored as a result.
Stanford utilized Montgomery no differently, putting him on islands early to provide opportunities for big plays. The Cardinal took full advantage.
Montgomery wound up going for 191 all-purpose yards and 5 touchdowns – a single-game school record -- in the first half, alone. Stanford head coach David Shaw and staff got Montgomery the football on reverses, go routes, screens, fades and play action. Cal's defense could not stop Montgomery, oftentimes with just a single defender unable to make a play. The Bears stuck with their base defense instead of jamming Montgomery at the line of scrimmage or putting double coverage on him, and they paid the price.
"Trying to stop the run, we wanted to make them execute the passing game, complete passes," Dykes said. "To their credit, that's what they did."
On the third play from scrimmage, Stanford ran a reverse on a handoff to Montgomery, resulting an easy 31-yard touchdown where Montgomery wasn't even touched. The Bears defense understandably keyed in on stopping the physical Cardinal rushing attack – and the fake handoff to Tyler Gaffney -- but seemingly paid no attention to Montgomery running the opposite way.
Linebacker Dan Camporeale was untouched running into the backfield, but crashed hard on Gaffney and did not react in time to Montgomery running his way. A disciplined and prepared defense would key in on Stanford's big playmaker, but Cal felt that Montgomery could not beat them straight up -- despite a mountain of the evidence to the contrary -- and immediately paid the price for it.
Montgomery's second touchdown was no different. With Stanford running a mix of deep post and go routes toward the middle of the field, Cal employed a passive zone with only freshman safety Cameron Walker playing alone deep down the middle of the field. With two receivers in his area, Walker was forced to go after the post and just could not recover in time to get back to Montgomery streaking down the field for a wide-open reception. Playing cover-1 is fine as a defense, but playing physical at the line of scrimmage to throw off timing with the routes would not be a poor idea given a true freshman is your only line of defense. Instead, the Cardinal ran free, and Montgomery recorded his 2nd touchdown.
Montgomery's fourth touchdown went 72 yards on a screen pass, in which Stanford had numbers matched up on that side of the field. Cal's defenders took bad, undisciplined angles to open up the middle, and Montgomery ran the length of the field untouched again. Poor scheme resulted in the play call, and poor defensive execution on top of that allowed for a big play to go the distance. Just more poor play all around by the defense.
Montgomery's fifth touchdown in the first half was again an issue of leaving an undersized defender on an island, again. What made this most maddening was that the play came on 3rd-and-8, meaning that the Bears knew that the Cardinal were throwing the football, but still elected to go with the base defense as opposed to providing extra help on that side of the field. Montgomery ran a fade, simply beat the defender, and recorded his fifth touchdown of the first half.
With the Cardinal up by 29 at halftime and with the Bears not coming close to threatening in the second half, Montgomery did not need to make another play the rest of the way. However, his play in the first half continued a trend of the Bears repeatedly getting burned on defense by a single wide receiver, yet making no real adjustment to stop or slow down said receiver.
With the end of 2013 ending in further disappointment, the Bears figure to see some major changes to the defense in the offseason. The unit gets to start anew in 2014, with a plethora of injured players figuring to be healthy and more experienced in 2014.
They will have to make changes, if the narrative in 2014 is to change. As for what those changes will be?
"Blocking. Well, no, actually, we're going to learn how to pick up our locker room," Dykes said. "We're going to learn how to go to class. We're going to fix our graduation rates, graduate. We are going to appreciate being a Cal student, be supportive of other Cal students.
"We're going to get faster, stronger in the weight room. We're going to get bigger and improve our diet. We're going to be more committed to getting sleep, rest, recovery. We're going to learn how to play on offense and defense. Our coaches are allowed to start meeting with our players for two hours a week. We're going to meet for two hours a week starting next week. We're going to recruit better. We're going to recruit kids that deserve to be at Cal and want to be at Cal. We're going to learn how to tackle, line up, play hard. We're going to block. We're going to learn how to execute on offense. I mean, there's a lot of things we're going to get better at. I've got three notebooks full of stuff."
ANALYSIS: Ty, Ty Again
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