FIFTH QUARTER: Spring Game
SPRING GAME STATS
Getting Some Run
Until Daniel Lasco's runs for 13 and 9 yards on the fifth drive of the day, the run game was incredibly stagnant (14 carries for 34 yards), and the offense sputtered because of it. Once Cal got the run game going thanks to Lasco, the offense finally was able to work with speed and rhythm, as the Bears scored on that drive with an eight-yard back-shoulder pass from Jared Goff to Kenny Lawler.
That fifth drive, though, was set up on the opposing 30, giving the offense a short field.
The second score for the offense came on a two-play drive starting at the seven-yard line, where Lasco rumbled to the half-yard line on first-and-goal, grinding through in good second- and third-effort pushes to get into the end zone, though he was called back and had to get his TD on a one-yard push.
"The thing we've really got to do at that position, in general, is we've got to improve, getting three or four yards," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "I think we're still doing too much lateral running, at times, and we've got to hit it a little bit more downhill and be a little more physical. I thought Lasco really did that this spring. There were a couple yards where we ended up getting a yard or two, but we should have gotten four or five. We've got to get it going downhill and be a little bit more physical and run behind our pads."
Lasco finished the day with a game-high 35 yards on six rushing attempts, with one touchdown.
The quarterbacking was spotty, especially in the first half, when the three QBs combined to go 10-for-21 for just 58 yards, one touchdown and one interception, with Goff going 5-for-11 for just 27 yards and one touchdown. It was only when the run game got get going that the offense showed any kind of tempo.
"We started off really slow, me in particular," Goff said. "I started off slow. I think as soon as we started getting into a rhythm, we started to roll."
On the first drive of the second half, the Bears went pass-run-pass-run to start, and after a 37-yard bomb from Goff to Bryce Treggs (who caught two balls for 47 yards on the drive), Cal used two Jeffrey Coprich runs to get into the end zone.
"I think any offense is going to be more productive when they have a great running game, so when we are actually out there, the offensive line is driving the defense off the ball, the running backs are out there making their cuts and things like that and reading the right holes, it gives everybody a juice," Lasco said. "It gets the defense on their toes, thinking that we're going to run it, and like you saw on Kenny Lawler's touchdown, everybody thought that we were about to run it, and all we did was throw a little fade out to Kenny. We have to have a running game. We have to."
"I think we've kind of found our identity now," said Goff. "What we really wanted to do was find our identity, as far as plays and personnel and everything like that. Everyone got on the same page. We kind of did that this spring, and that was something we really wanted to do."
Yes, the Cal defense. It exists, and it sure looks promising.
"I thought we made huge strides," Dykes said. "Lots of pleasant surprises, and some guys that got settled into some positions. It was very encouraging. I like this coaching staff, I like what we're doing, and I like the way the guys work together. The biggest takeaway is, defensively, we're starting to come together, getting on the same page, starting to see guys produce and get better on a day-to-day and a week-to-week basis, which is encouraging."
Trevellous Cheek came up with two pass break-ups. Darius Allensworth looks every bit a Pac-12 starter. Avery Sebastian didn't see a whole lot of action, but he was efficient, netting four tackles, including a late leg hook on Coprich to choke off what was shaping up to be a long run.
"Trey Cheek, I thought, made some plays today at the corner spot," Dykes said. "I thought he really competed hard, and made a couple plays. It's good to see those guys do that. That's probably the group that's shown the most improvement. That's a young group, there's some talent in that group, in Cheek and Allensworth, and [Caleb] Coleman and Walker. Those are four, young, talented football players that have got to develop for us, and I thought they did some good things this spring, along with Cedric Dozier."
The defense, finally wrapping up and tackling, and not just tackling, but really laying the wood. The biggest hitters were cornerback Cameron Walker (three tackles) and linebacker Jalen Jefferson (six tackles, one interception), with Jefferson and redshirt junior defensive end Brennan Scarlett teaming up for an early sack on the second drive on quarterback Kyle Boehm.
"Jay cleaned it up," smiled Scarlett, who had his first full, healthy spring in two seasons. "It felt good. We've gone live a lot this spring, so it wasn't the first time, but it's good that I kept it going into today. It feels great. It's definitely a relief to gain some confidence back in my body and playing football. It was a good experience this spring, and I'm looking forward to getting into it in the fall. I'm ready to go."
The Bears had nine tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks on the day, including two from redshirt freshman Tony Mekari. Some of the defensive dominance was due to bad snaps, either on the center's end, or on the quarterback. Austin Hinder and Boehm each had trouble with snaps from J.D. Hinnant, but there were at least two that they should have easily had. "Snaps have been something that have plagued us at times this spring," Dykes said. "The good thing is, we've got four months to really get better at that, and those guys will work every day to improve their snaps. That's got to become something they spend every day of the next four months doing."
Ray Davison led the defense with seven tackles, followed by Jefferson's six and six from hard-hitting safety Damariay Drew.
"It was good to see Damariay out there," Dykes said. "He was playing physical. Avery, as well, today. I was encouraged by what I saw from them. Griffin Piatt was a pleasant surprise this spring. Ray Davison picked some things up at linebacker a lot quicker than I think we could have imagined."
Scarlett said he expects a lot of improvement in the defense as a whole.
"You guys can already see today, I would say we were dominating, in my opinion," Scarlett said. "We were doing pretty well, and it's been all spring. My man Cameron Walker over there, Darius Allensworth, doing their thing. We're doing well. Those two guys, Griffin Piatt, Mike Lowe, Damariay Drew, all this spring, it's looking good for the secondary, for sure."
Some Good-Looking Big Uglies
Universally, the offensive line was praised for its performance on Saturday, and for good reason. Those four sacks? Three of them happened on a single drive – the 12th of 15 drives, in fact. Apart from that, Goff was more than comfortable all afternoon, completing 9 of his last 12 passes for 143 yards en route to a 14-for-23 day, passing for 170 yards and a TD.
"Today was one of the best days I've seen from them so far," Goff said. "Today was one of the best days I've seen them since I've been here. They did great. I had almost no pressure on me at all times, and it was just fantastic how well they did today."
There was one blemish on the offensive line's day, though, and that was the injury to center Jordan Rigsbee's left ankle. Rigsbee went down while blocking on a nine-yard run by Coprich, and had to be helped off of the field.
"We don't know; it's an ankle," Dykes said. "He walked off the field, so I'm encouraged by that. I haven't gotten a report."
Goff spoke with Rigsbee after he came off the field, and said that he thinks Rigsbee will be alright.
"I don't think it's as serious as we thought it was," Goff said.
Among those praising the line? The tailbacks who ran behind it.
"Everybody just stepped up to the plate," Lasco said. "It's a whole group effort, not just the offensive line. The running backs have stepped up. We haven't had Khalfani [Muhammad] out here, so other people had to step up to the plate, so it just ties together with all of us doing the same thing and working together just to get comfortable with one another, because once we're comfortable, with the running backs and the offensive line, I feel like we're going to be unstoppable. We've corrected some stuff from last fall in how we align, how we run and how we work, and it's just gotten us that much better."
With Hardy Nickerson, Nathan Broussard and Michael Barton unavailable on Saturday, the MIKE responsibilities were shared by Jefferson and sophomore Edward Tandy, who tallied four ferocious tackles on the day.
"I made a couple mistakes, but no one's perfect; we've still got a lot to work on," said Tandy. "I'm still improving, myself, playing MIKE and WILL linebacker. You've got to know different rules, and it flip-flops, so you've got to know everything. It's still a learning process for me."
The stick-em hit was a fixture of the defense, with more secure – and more consistently sound -- tackling than Cal fans have seen in years
"I feel like it's not only me; it's a lot of people on our defense," Tandy said. "Tackling is very important, and we work on that a lot. I feel like our tackling is more physical, and we make more secure tackles. I feel like that's really improved."
Compared to last year's defense, Tandy gave the current iteration of the unit an A+.
Jefferson was all over the field, and came up big with a juggling interception in the back of the end zone that showed off just how nimble Art Kaufman's defensive scheme really is.
"Our offense likes to throw it to the middle of the field a lot in the red zone, so I just decided to go to the middle of the field when the ball was snapped, and I was at the right place at the right time," Jefferson said. "We can freelance, as long as we do it within the system, so that's what's so great about Kaufman's system. You can just play and be loose out there and make plays, instead of just being all tense and thinking about assignments only. He just lets you play, which is great for this defense, because we're really young."
Jefferson was an absolute force on defense, and was as aggressive as we've seen him over the past three years. With Broussard, Barton and Nickerson out in the middle, Jefferson proved why he's been the most stable force on the Cal defense over the past three seasons. Yes, the MIKE is generally the captain of the defense, but even with those three back, it's hard to think that that title doesn't belong to Jefferson until he graduates.
How ‘Bout Those Receivers?
We didn't see much of Trevor Davis on Saturday, despite his excellent spring to date, but Goff did go to seven different pass catchers at least twice, finding Lawler the most, with four receptions for 30 yards and one touchdown.
"They're freaking good, aren't they?" Goff said. "We've got two or three deep at every position, and every one of them has NFL potential, honestly. I'm just so fortunate to have them and have that receiving corps out there, willing to make plays. They all want the ball, they all want to make plays, and that's really, really lucky for me."
As he did during spring ball as a whole, Goff struggled early, going 4-for-10 before the half, with four straight incompletions on the ninth drive of the day, missing Lawler and Davis two times apiece.
"I didn't think he played great in the first half today," Dykes said. "The timing wasn't there, but I thought he played much better in the second half. There were some pretty positive takeaways."
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