SCORING CHANGE NOTE: The most significant change was that Jared Goff should have been credited with a nine-yard completion to Luke Rubenzer on the game's final play of regulation to give Goff totals of 24-of-42 for 458 yards (rather than 23-of-41 for 439 yards) and also given Rubenzer one reception for nine yards. The other significant change is that on Cal's second-quarter kickoff after Cal scored to cut Colorado's 21-14 lead the fumble should have been recovered by D.D. Goodson rather than team. Another change to the final game stats is that Sefo Liufau is credited with 455 passing yards from 449.
BERKELEY -- California kicker James Langford didn't even know what hit him. Literally. After he booted the 32-yard game-winning field goal in double overtime to ice a 59-56 win over visiting Colorado – marking head coach Sonny Dykes’s first Pac-12 win – he was hammered to the ground, and only knew that his field goal attempt was good when he heard Memorial Stadium explode.
“That was a blur,” Langford said. “I got hit to the ground, so I didn’t get to see it go through the uprights.”
Langford doesn’t even know who hit him – friend or foe – but, “all the noise confirmed that it was good for me. I didn’t need to see it.”
In a game that featured 1,205 yards of combined total offense – including matching 449-yard passing days from Jared Goff and Sefo Liufau -- and a game that lasted four hours and five minutes, the game came down to a kicker. Langford had missed earlier on a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter, and Will Oliver went 0-for-3 before the first and only field goal went through the uprights.
“Just a huge rush of happiness,” Langford said. “Your best friends and your teammates are there for one of the best moments of your life, it’s totally priceless. My cheeks hurt from smiling for so long.”
While Langford was all smiles, the shootout in Berkeley aged Dykes even more, particularly after last week’s last-second stunner in Tucson, and the second game that was saved by the heady play of linebacker Jalen Jefferson, who, along with Michael Lowe, dropped Liufau on a play-action roll-out on fourth-and-one at the one-yard line in overtime, just as he picked off a pass in the end zone to ice the win against Northwestern in the opener.
“I think I’ve aged about 100 years in the past two weeks,” he said.
And, with that, let’s take a look at some of Dykes’s most recent grey hairs in today’s … uh … Seventh (?) Quarter.
1. Just a little Goff. It’s an old baseball axiom, which Goff – given his prep history on the diamond, and his father’s Major League career – should know well: The greatest pitchers can still win, even without their best stuff. On Saturday, Goff, admittedly, had less than his best stuff. That said, he still completed 23 of his 41 passing attempts while throwing for 449 yards and just one pick – on the first play -- in the Golden Bears’ third win of the season.
"Any time you give up 56 points, you’re concerned. But, the good thing is, we scored 59, so we’ll enjoy it tonight and get to work tomorrow." – Sonny Dykes
“It’s probably up there with last week, honestly, for the craziest game I’ve been a part of. Obviously, it feels much better this time,” Goff said. “I’m just so proud of the guys. I was so confident going into overtime. We knew what we were going to do
Goff threw for seven touchdowns – one short of the all-time single-game (non-regulation) record, and tied the regulation record with six before the Bears moved to extra periods.
But, in between those throws, Goff looked as out-of-sorts as he has all season. His back-shoulder fades, his long-ball accuracy, his deep middle throws – all of them were off-line, and not consistently off-line (i.e. not all high, not all outside, but one high, one wide, one short, etc.), and while he had a 167 passer rating in the first half -- largely thanks to a 92-yard bubble screen to Daniel Lasco that was more due to the junior back’s toughness and angry running style than anything – he was never in any kind of a rhythm.
“There were some passes where I had open guys, and I was missing high a little bit today,” Goff said. “It just happens sometimes. I try not to let it happen, obviously. But, sometimes, you just aren’t as sharp as you want to be, but I couldn’t care less, because we won. It really comes down to that. If I would have thrown for zero yards and 20 picks, and we won, it doesn’t really matter.”
It was fairly apparent early that Goff was out-of-sync, as his first pass – a play-action look with a great block from Lasco – was thrown short to Chris Harper down the middle – a throw Goff has made time and time again this year, right on the money – and was picked off easily by Tedric Thompson. Colorado subsequently scored on the ensuing drive, marking the first time that the Bears have trailed during a game this season (the Arizona Hail Mary was thrown with time expiring). It was also the first time the Bears have allowed a first-quarter touchdown. Instead of coming out firing, ready to erase the debacle in the desert from the minds of fans, Cal fired straight at its own feet.
BearTerritory counted 13 balls that Goff threw either wide, short, behind or just over a receiver – throws that he has made time and time again both in games and in practice – with only one of those balls being caught.
Goff cut his finger on the first drive, but said that wasn’t what unsettled his throwing motion.
“I just cut it on the first drive, got a little cut on the tip of my finger, and it was just bleeding,” Goff said. “I had to try to stop it bleeding, because if it kept bleeding, it was going to get all over my jersey, and I’d have to come out, so I had to try to keep it from bleeding. There was nothing wrong with it.”
That said, Goff’s release didn’t look nearly as clean as it has in the previous three games, or during practice, and it showed, as he went just 3-for-8 in the second quarter.
After halftime, Goff went 15-for-25, but the Bears scored three touchdowns in a row before Liufau found Nelson Spruce for a 12-yard touchdown – one of Spruce’s career-high 19 catches on the day. What, then, worked so well for the offense, with Goff struggling? Well, that brings us to the next point.
2. The running game. For the second game in a row, Lasco rushed for over 100 yards (108), as the Bears churned out 127 net yards on the ground, but one has to take into account that a 40-yard run by Lasco was called back due to holding, and another 14-yarder was, as well. Lasco set a career high with 200 all-purpose yards, taking a bubble screen for 92 yards and a score to kick off the second quarter – the longest passing play in school history.
Yes, it was technically a pass, but Lasco made five Buffaloes miss, reversing field near the sideline and then pushing a pile of about four players out of the way before he finally had some clear field ahead.
“He is running so physical,” Dykes said. “When he has a run like that [the 92-yarder], it obviously gives us a ton of energy and you could feel the sideline, the excitement, and he’s just really playing well. He’s running so hard and being physical and running with his pads low. He’s just doing so many different things for us, and he’s bringing that physical element in the run game that we need. Two weeks in a row, he’s been over 100 yards. We thought he had really started to develop into a good running back, and I think he had another great ballgame today.”
Khalfani Muhammad only rushed for 31 yards on eight carries, but it was his 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that kept the momentum rolling for the Bears after opening with a 26-yard Goff-to-Kenny Lawler missive with just under two minutes gone in the period.
For the third time in four games season, the Bears averaged over 4.0 yards per carry (4.2). “We just kept doing what we were supposed to do,” Goff said.
The Bears continued to trust the running game in the second half, and that helped keep things open for the pass.
“I’ll say this about Jared: Jared always seems to make the plays when we need him to,” said Dykes. “He certainly did that down the stretch. He probably wasn’t as sharp today as he had been, and I didn’t think we played particularly well up front. We got pressured a little bit more than probably we should have. You’ve got to give Colorado some credit. They really challenged us, played a lot of man coverage and forced us to win on the outside, and their corners are good. We knew that coming in. Those are two of the better corners we’re going to play against this season. That’s why they’re able to do that: They can walk down on you, play man coverage and really force you to be precise, and we probably weren’t as precise as we needed to be, at times, but you’ve got to credit Jared. He’s like the rest of our guys: Incredibly resilient. He believes in those receivers, and he did a great job of giving them opportunities to make plays.”
For all of Goff’s issues – again, returning to the baseball pitching conceit – he still made the big pitch to get the big out, particularly on the first overtime possession, finding Bryce Treggs for a 25-yard touchdown strike down the middle.
“That touchdown to Bryce, they were playing us really well the whole game – I told Colorado players, especially Sefo, after the game, that I’ve got a lot of respect for them; they played very well, especially Sefo, he played great – but on that play, they rolled their safeties and Bryce was wide open up the middle,” Goff said. “I just kind of stuck it on him. We hadn’t had that all day, and he got that on the last play.”
“On the touchdown,” Treggs said, “I had a post route and the safety came down and it was sort of cover-one coverage. The corner was playing outside shade on me, so I stemmed him inside and pressed the vertical and the post was wide open.”
More importantly, Goff learned a valuable lesson from last week’s defeat.
“I think, in that last drive, when they were driving, it was similar to last week, where, for a second, I thought, ‘Alright, we’ve got this,’ and then, I said, ‘No, no, no, no. Remember what happened last week.’ I’m sure everyone was thinking the same thing: ‘Don’t get ahead of ourselves now. We still have to play,’ and, sure enough, they scored with 20 seconds left and we had to go into overtime. We were just so prepared for overtime, and so prepared for that win. I’m just so proud of the guys.”
3. Defensive collapse continued, until it didn’t. In three quarters of football, the Cal defense had allowed 64 points – between the first half of Saturday’s game, and the final quarter of the Arizona loss. Not even Andy Buh’s defense last season was that bad. Compounding the problem for the Bears on Saturday was the fact that they were on the field for 20:22 of the first half. That’s almost two-thirds of the first half. Colorado ran 110 total plays, despite being much slower to the line than the Wildcats were last week.
“Coach played a lot of bodies at linebacker, D-line, everybody was rotating,” said Hardy Nickerson. “We kept fresh the whole game. 110 plays today, 114 plays last week, the coaches are doing a great job of keeping guys in that are fresh, and when somebody needs a blow, they get them a spell. Hats off to the coaches for keeping us fresh.”
Jefferson said that linebackers coach Garret Chachere took him out for a whole series – something Jefferson isn’t used to – just to make sure that he would be fresh and ready to go.
Despite the fatigue, the defense came up with several huge stops inside the five-yard line on the Buffaloes’ second overtime drive.
“To come out with the big stop, that’s great,” Jefferson said. “We had perfect fits during those plays, and we executed right when it mattered.”
Colorado reeled off 629 net yards of offense, with Spruce upping his school single-game record to 19 catches, piling up 176 yards and three scores (“Our game plan didn’t work very well,” Dykes said).
“That’s a concern; we’re very concerned,” Dykes said. “Any time you give up 56 points, you’re concerned. But, the good thing is, we scored 59, so we’ll enjoy it tonight and get to work tomorrow.”
Liufau’s 521 yards of total offense also set a Colorado high-water mark.
“They never panicked,” said Dykes. “They just kept hanging in there. The defense gave up a lot of plays, obviously, but they made a play at the end of the ballgame when we needed one. That fourth-down stop was huge, and I had a lot of guys that made some big plays.”
4. Mistakes, mistakes and more mistakes … Oh, and penalties. Lots of penalties. Cal had seven infractions accepted for 72 yards in the first half alone.
“Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong,” Goff said. “We had a million penalties, I started off the game with an interception, it was just, everything was not going right. But, we knew we had a whole second half of football left. We just played our asses off in the second half, and that’s all it comes down to.”
That first half, though, was littered with ill-timed flags. On second-and-five at the Cal 30, left tackle Steven Moore was called for a chop block, putting the Bears in second-and-20. Then there was a late hit call and a pass interference flag on the same Buffaloes drive that resulted in Colorado’s fourth score of the day. A 14-yard run by Lasco was erased late in the third quarter thanks to a holding, and another, 45-yard touchdown run by Lasco two plays later was cut in half by a block in the back from Harper. In all, Cal committed 12 penalties for 113 yards.
“We didn’t play really clean football, offensively,” said Dykes. “We were just out-of-sync at times. We had a lot of penalties. We had seven the first half, and it’s hard to win a football game with seven penalties. We had a couple of personal foul penalties, a couple I didn’t necessarily agree with, where I thought our guys were just playing aggressive football, but when they throw the ball 73 times – it was 73 last week, and what was it this week? 67 times – you’re going to have a pass interference or two, and we had a couple of those today. We’ve got to get that stuff cleaned up. That’s been a problem for us. This is a disciplined football team, and typically penalties equate with a team that’s undisciplined and we’ve just got to get that stuff cleaned up. I think it’s more technique issues more than anything else.”
In the second half, though, as much as the Bears tried to get in their own way, junior Stephen Anderson managed to pull them out.
Following those two Lasco runs that were called back, Goff threw incomplete to Lawler at the goal line on second-and-12, but then found Anderson over the middle for about seven yards, but then he was able to just barely keep his balance with three defenders around him and stretched for a first down.
In the second half, Anderson -- starting in place of an injured Darius Powe -- came alive. After a three-catch, 24-yard first half, Anderson blew up for four more catches and 114 more yards, along with his first career touchdown.
That touchdown play with 2:56 to go in the fourth quarter saw Goff, on second-and-10 at the Cal 25, roll right, with a Buffaloes defensive end in pursuit, and find Anderson on a long slant for a 75-yard touchdown, tying the game at 42.
“That’s big time,” Goff said. “I needed that. He came up big. Stephen played a big game. He had a really big game for us, especially with Darius out. We needed him to play well, and he did. What did he do?”
Goff looked down at the stat sheet in front of him, smiled, widened his eyes, and spoke.
“136 yards. Wow,” he said. “He had a big game, and that touchdown, when he kept going across and I was rolling out, that was big.”
That was just one of the four touchdowns scored in the final 3:23 of regulation, and the second in less than a minute for the Bears, thanks to the first career interception for linebacker Jake Kearney giving Cal the ball back at the Colorado 35. That pick led to a 40-yard play-action hit from Goff to Harper, who made the scoring grab while wearing a defensive back like a cape.
“We look to make plays in the fourth quarter, especially if it’s close like that,” Harper said. “We hope the ball comes our way, because when opportunities are thrown our way, we like to execute.”
5. Mr. Jefferson is moving on up. As clutch as Goff was in the final moments, that’s how clutch Jefferson has been all season. A pick and a sack to save the Northwestern game, and then a heady sack to spark a gutty goal-line stand that had Brennan Scarlett invoking the name of fallen teammate Ted Agu in the postgame celebration.
After a fullback dive converted a fourth-and-one on the Cal 16, Kyle Slavin caught his first pass of the game as Liufau rolled right, with Cameron Walker just missing an interception. On first-and-goal at the two, Michael Barton and Austin Clark teamed up to stop Tony Jones for no gain. Then, Liufau tried to run it himself off the play-action, but Barton was right there. George Frazier then tried his hand, but Kearney and Nickerson were right there to stop him. Finally, on fourth and one, Liufau came out in the Power I with max protect. Instead of just a straight-up snap-and-run, or a quick pass, Liufau waited for a slow-developing bootleg, and that’s when Jefferson jumped.
“I just knew they were up to something,” Jefferson said of the final play. “I knew they weren’t going to run the same play twice, especially when we stuffed it. I stared at the ball and saw that he kept it, and I just chased him down.”