The receiving line pic.twitter.com/4fl7nNSbif— Ryan Gorcey (@RGBearTerritory) August 30, 2014
• After tallying his first career interception with just under 10 minutes left in the first half, California sophomore safety Griffin Piatt went down in the third quarter, with what head coach Sonny Dykes described as cramping. Cormac Craigie was in on “critical situations” when Piatt was out, Dykes said.
“We played a lot of different guys,” Dykes said of his defensive backfield.
Piatt did not suffer any lasting injury, nor did Bryce Treggs, who had his calf cleated while trying to save an errant throw from quarterback Jared Goff from turning into a safety.
• The Bears rarely use a tight end attached to the line, last doing it in the Big Game last season with Richard Rodgers and Stephen Anderson. On Saturday, on the first play Cal used an attached tight end, Ray Hudson turned in his first career catch on the final play of the third quarter, a 17-yard grab from his roommate Goff.
• Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Tony Mekari nearly notched his first sack of his career, when he used pressure from the outside by Puka Lopa to come up on Trevor Siemian’s front side to push him out of bounds, but a defensive holding was called on linebacker Jalen Jefferson, negating the sack, and allowing the Northwestern drive to continue, resulting in a field goal.
On the Wildcats’ next possession, though, Mekari and Trevor Kelly blew open a hole on the interior, allowing Jefferson to notch a sack, which was followed by his game-saving pick.
• Cal’s 24-7 halftime lead was its largest halftime lead since the Bears led Washington State, 23-0, in 2011, and it is the largest halftime lead under Dykes.
• Cal had not had a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter since leading Presbyterian on Sept. 17, 2011.
• To go along with his third career sack and second career interception, Jefferson tallied a game-high 16 tackles – the most in his career, and the most by any Bear since 2010.
• Freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer was in for 16 snaps, and got first downs on five of them, including four rushes and one pass. They break down as follows: rush 11 (1st and 10), rush 7 (3rd and 4), rush 1 (3/1), pass 9 (3/1), rush 8 (2/7).
“The thing that the quarterback run game gives you is it give you an extra guy,” Dykes said on Sunday. “In other words, you’ve got five offensive linemen in there. They’re going to going to try to get six people in the box. So you have five to block six. Well, if your quarterback’s running, now you’re running back’s a blocker and you’ve got six people to block six. That’s why the quarterback run game gives people fits is because it give you an extra blocker. We felt going into the game we could catch them off guard a little bit because they haven’t seen that from us.
“We elected to use that more as our downhill stuff. Most of Luke’s runs were between the tackles and downhill. I think that’s because we had a numerical advantage with our back blocking a linebacker or a safety. That gave us some good running lanes … The quarterback run game was an equalizer for us.”
Can Rubenzer be effective if he’s not a surprise to the opposition, as Pat Fitzgerald made a point of saying?
“He’s a quarterback. He’s not some running back we’re putting back there,” Dykes said. “It’s not a wildcat deal. We can run our offense with Luke back there and our run-pass combos. It gives us a little bit different dimension. That’s why everybody in college football wants a quarterback who can run. It just makes it hard on defenses. The element of surprise might have played some part, but I don’t know that there’s a lot of easy answers to that kind of stuff.
“There’s only a certain number of ways that you can play that stuff. You’ve got to be able to cover the pass, and you’ve got to figure out now if you want to get six in the box, how are you going to get seven in the box? That’s hard to do. That creates a lot of opportunities to throw the football, and that’s why the quarterback run game is so hard.”
• Rubenzer was one of 16 freshmen, and nine true freshmen, to play on Saturday.
“We’ve got to continue to develop those guys,” Dykes said.
Dykes said on Sunday that those freshmen who didn’t play on Saturday were the focus of Sunday’s practice, going about 30 plays of live-tackle scrimmage.
“Sunday nights, for us, are going to really be an opportunity to bring along our younger guys,” Dykes said. “I thought overall, they were focused and prepared, and I thought they handled it well. We’ve got to learn how to have a killer instinct when we get a lead on somebody. We don’t have a lot of experience with that.”
• Rubenzer ran for more than twice as many yards as any single running back on Saturday, and that’s not what the Bears want out of the running game, at all.
“There was some east-west stuff by design,” Dykes said. “That’s kind of an adjustment to the way Northwestern plays defense. Their front seven is their strength and we felt our best matchup was getting the ball on the perimeter.”
There were several notable times where the tired tackles couldn’t get to the edge quickly enough – one run in the fourth quarter by Tre Watson stands out – and the running backs had to wait too long for blocks to develop, unable to turn the corner.
“We ran it downhill some. We didn’t run it as cleanly as we would have liked to,” Dykes said. “The thing we did quite a bit was blocked up front pretty good, then the one guy who was unblocked – a safety or a linebacker – made the tackle. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get our backs to make people miss. It’s just a work in progress. I thought guys made better decisions when they were running the ball. They probably weren’t as dynamic as I’d like for them to be. You’ve got to give Northwestern some credit for that.”
• BearTerritory predicted that the Bears would spend 60% of the game on defense in nickel. They spent 55.6% of the time in nickel.
• As predicted, Cal’s MIKE linebacker for the majority of the time they did have three linebackers in was Michael Barton. Hardy Nickerson was in for a little over 10 plays.
“It’s just a big relief off our backs to get that win,” Barton said. “It’s been a while. We’ve been working really hard, and I feel like we deserved it for all the work we put in. Now, we’ve just got to carry on with that, work on our mistakes and continue to get better.”
With Art Kaufman in charge of the defense, and the experience Barton and others gained last year, Barton said the defense now has a different mindset and attitude.
“It carried over, and we were able to play well on defense,” Barton said. “We made some mistakes, but we’re going to get those addressed, and we’re just going to continue to get better.”
That starts this weekend against FCS opponent Sacramento State.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Barton said. “If we’re playing Northwestern, if we’re playing Sacramento State, we’re going to have the same approach every week, and it’s going to be, ‘How can we improve as a defense?’ Of course, we’re going to prepare for Sacramento State, and we’re going to watch film and we’re going to prepare for their scheme and what they’re trying to do, but we’re looking to improve ourselves every week, and we can’t take any steps back. We have to continue to improve on our mistakes and get better. There’s no type of over-confidence. There’s no type of, ‘We’ve got this game.’ It’s all business here, and we’re ready to go.”
• The starting five offensive linemen – right tackle Jordan Rigsbee, right guard Alex Crosthwaite, center Chris Adcock, left guard Chris Borrayo and left tackle Steven Moore -- played every snap on offense.
“Quite frankly, it’s not ideal,” said Dykes. “Sometimes what happens early in the season is you’re not quite there with some other guys yet in terms of getting them out there and getting them experience. We’ve just got to force ourselves to do that. Because I think we have enough good players and guys that can help us win. It’s better for your morale. It’s just better when you can have more guys that can play, especially with Chris Adcock coming off that knee injury. We need to take him out and rest him a bit more at times.”
Both Adock and Rigsbee got “a little fatigued,” with Dykes saying Rigsbee “has a tendency to get a little sloppy when he gets tired,” which showed late in the game. Dykes is planning playing more linemen going forward.
“I think we’ll do that, hopefully the rest of the season,” Dykes said. Hopefully those guys will play well enough where we’ve got confidence in them, and particularly in critical situations.”
Borrayo noted the weather, specifically the 80-percent humidity and 79-degree temperature.
“On Friday, when we were on the field, it was pretty hot, and we thought it was going to be pretty difficult to be playing in that kind of weather, but, come Saturday, it felt like we were playing in Berkeley,” he said. “The weather was nice, it was pretty fresh, it wasn’t that humid. It was pretty good. As far as reps go, we were kind of prepared for that. We had no idea if our twos were coming in that much, or at all. We thought we were going to have some rotation, but we all had our minds set, thinking that we were going to play all the snaps, anyways.”
• Borrayo gave the offensive line a barely-passing grade from Saturday.
“In all honesty, a C+ or a B-,” Borrayo said. “Coming into the first game, we all thought the biggest thing we had to work on were our pass sets, and pass blocking in general, so that was our biggest focus all throughout summer, and when we got to the game, we were almost perfect on all of our pass sets and pass schemes. The thing we thought we were going to be at least pretty good at during the game was our run game and screens, but honestly, that was probably the thing we needed the most help on, or needed the most work on. That’s what we’re going to fix this coming week.”
• On the defensive side of the ball, Mustafa Jalil was one of 10 different players to see time on the defensive line, and though he registered only one tackle, he had a huge impact on the inability of the Wildcats to run the ball. Northwestern finished with 108 total rushing yards on 36 carries.
“We expect him to be a good player,” Dykes said. “He made a fourth-down stop, a critical play in the game. He knocked the guard back in the backfield and we were able to get them stopped on fourth down early in the ballgame. He’s capable of doing those things. For someone who hadn’t played football in a long time, he was rusty I thought overall he played pretty well. He played probably more plays than we thought he could play and felt good today, so that was encouraging.”
Jalil was even triple-teamed at various points.
“Especially when he can get some push. He’s a good run-stopper in the middle. He might have gotten a little fatigued at times, but he played hard,” Dykes said. “I think he’s going to be somebody who people notice for sure. Heck, I hope everybody puts three guys on him because it means some other dudes don’t have anybody on them, so that’ll be good for us if that happens.”
• Todd Barr and Kelly combined for seven total tackles, with Barr notching 1.5 tackles for loss for 18 yards (including one sack).
“I was encouraged. We played 10 different guys, a lot of guy who’d never played at this level. It had been a long time since Brennan Scarlett played. Todd Barr played probably his best game since I’ve been here,” Dykes said. “Moose hadn’t played in a very long time, either. I thought overall they played well. They were able to play well over an extended period of time because we rotated a lot of guys and kept them fresh.”
• David Davis didn’t play on the line, but did play on special teams. Dykes said he will get in on defense soon.
• There were several blown coverages at critical moments for the Bears, including one that allowed a 54-yard touchdown pass. There were also three balls that Northwestern receivers dropped at critical points in drives, which, if completed, may have meant a loss for the Bears. Those issues are at the forefront this week, as Cal prepares for Sacramento State.
“I thought OK,” Dykes said of the play of his defensive backfield. “There were some times they had some guys open. They got us a couple times.”
There were several communication issues that were addressed in Sunday meetings.
“We’ll get that fixed. I thought overall, they played pretty good. I thought we tackled well,” said Dykes. “We had issues tackling last year and I thought our tackling was much better. So much of that is we ran to the ball better than we have.”
• Though both safety Avery Sebastian and cornerback Darius White traveled, neither played a single down.
“We’re going to have the same mindset this week as we had last week in terms of if they practice and look good and are healthy, they’re going to play,” Dykes said. “We’ll see how it goes as the week progresses. They’ve got to practice.”
• Chris Harper wasn’t nearly the force he was last year against Northwestern, and frankly, neither was Bryce Treggs, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Goff threw just over half of the passes he threw a year ago – 34 to 64 – and completed 21 to nine different players (seven wide receivers). Harper caught two balls for 33 yards, while Kenny Lawler caught five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Three different receivers caught scoring strikes, including Treggs and Trevor Davis, who started over Harper at the X and hauled in three passes for 93 yards.
“The good thing is we’ve got two good players at that X spot,” Dykes said. “Chris Harper is a guy that’s been around and performed at a high level. Trevor’s very consistent. He’s got good size. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him, and that’s important. When a quarterback believes in a receiver and trusts him, he’s going to be more inclined to throw it to him. I think Jared as a lot of confidence in him. We expect him to have a good year, he and Chris both. The good thing is, we feel like we’ve got pretty good options across the board, when you look at our wide receiver corps, so I’m excited about that group. We dropped more balls in that game than we’re accustomed to dropping. Darius [Powe] had a big drop, Bryce had a big drop, [Daniel] Lasco kind of knocked that ball up in the air that got intercepted, but we think that’s got a chance to be a pretty good group for us.”