The Bears defense – which, frankly, hadn’t stopped anything or anyone for the previous 59:41 – finally stood up and halted a goal-line rush by the Cougars.
“I talked to our defense there in the fourth quarter and just told them, ‘Hey, look. We need one stop.’ If we get one stop in this ball game, we will win the thing and we got a stop right at the end,” said head coach Sonny Dykes.
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Cal needed a miracle. It got one. Quentin Breshears, from the right hash, couldn’t bend a 29-yard field goal inside the right upright, and the Bears scored their second road win of the season, 60-59.
“We always wanted to score 60 points, and we did that,” said Bryce Treggs, whose Bears have now had three straight games go down to the final play.
Dykes said that, “even when they were lining up for the field goal, there was a good feeling on our sideline.”
“We told our guys all week, it’s going to come down to the last play of the game,” Dykes continued. “We expected it.”
“Two weeks ago, we played so well, we just didn’t finish it,” said quarterback Jared Goff, who set a career-high with 527 passing yards. “Then, last week we caught a bunch of breaks. This week, same thing, we caught a bunch of breaks. It’s kind of like the football gods are on our side right now, and we’re winning games. It’s the best thing.”
Before we get into the Fifth Quarter proper, let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Though perhaps the most important stat from California’s 60-59 win over Washington State was the one missed 19-yard field goal with time expiring, in a game with over 1,400 yards of total offense, there’s no shortage of other figures.
Cal "gained" more yards in Washington State penalties than in rushing (121-62).
A year after finishing 1-11, the Bears are now 4-1 overall (for the first time since 2008), 2-1 in the Pac-12, and in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North – the same Pac-12 North that features Oregon and Stanford.
There were 123 passes attempted, and not a single interception between the two quarterbacks -- Goff (37-for-54, 527 yards, 5 TDs) and Connor Halliday (49-for-70, a FBS record 734 yards, 6 TDs). Since 2000, no team has allowed 800+ yards of offense and won until Cal did on Saturday.
“I’d probably say it’s the funnest football game I’ve ever played in in my life,” Goff said. “It has to be. To be able to be out there and direct, lead and command it, it was just so much fun. We’re playing well enough to win right now and there are obviously a lot of things we can do to improve. We didn’t play the best game tonight, but just like last week, whoever scores more points wins and we did that two weeks in a row.”
Trevor Davis tied Deltha O’Neal for the most kickoff return touchdowns in a career – in a single game. It was the first time since Brendan Bigelow took back an 80-yarder against Presbyterian in 2011, and Davis did it twice – once for 100 yards, and once for 98.
"The kickoff returns were big,” Dykes said. “We needed a play and Trevor’s two plays gave us a spark. I've never seen two consecutive returns like that."
For nearly nine minutes in the third quarter, the Cal offense didn’t run a single play, and yet the Bears scored two touchdowns (thanks to Davis), but when Cal finally did get the ball back for a proper drive, with 1:37 left in the stanza, they rolled off an eight-play, 63-yard drive that featured a rhythm attack, starting with a two-yard rumble from Daniel Lasco, then a quick out to Treggs for eight yards, a screen to Chris Harper for two and a 43-yard laser from Goff to Kenny Lawler, who dragged his opponent for three yards down to the one.
After an incomplete pass and a loss of three on a Lasco run, Goff hit the back-shoulder fade that he’s hit hundreds of time in practice to Treggs in the back of the end zone to give the Bears a 52-48 lead to start off the fourth quarter.
Then, another drive, this one 10 plays for 95 yards and including seven rushing attempts, highlighted by a Luke Rubenzer reverse to Harper for a first down on fourth-and-one to set up yet another fade to Treggs for a touchdown – giving Cal the lead.
Momentum was the name of the game, when it wasn’t ‘scoring.’
There were 56 points scored in the third quarter alone. Each team scored a total of eight touchdowns. You want offense? Try 1,406 yards of it. There was only one solitary sack on 123 dropbacks.
In a game where it would have seemed a robust Bears running game would benefit the passing game, Cal ran the ball just 18 times, 11 of those from Lasco, who ran for 61 yards and one touchdown.
Make no mistake: This was a pure Air Raid game, and that’s where we start our Fifth Quarter.
1. They may not be able to stop anyone, but can anyone stop them? Last season, execution and details prevented Tony Franklin’s offense from being anything other than a sputtering shadow of itself. With the playmakers a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger, it’s hard to argue that Goff and his corps of wide receivers aren’t the best QB-WR combo in the league.
Seven different players caught at least two passes. Five of those players had more than 80 yards receiving, led by a season-high nine catches for 120 yards for Treggs – his second 100-yard game of the season and the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
Harper caught six balls for 92 yards, and Lawler six for 83.
The less said about the Cal defense, the better, but this offense is finally performing like it needs to, in order to win.
Lasco may not have had 100 yards for the third straight game, but he did have 103 all-purpose yards.
Davis had three catches for 82 yards, with two of those catches being touchdowns, giving him four all-purpose touchdowns for the game.
Cal, at this point, is like an alcoholic: It scores whenever it wants to, and it doesn’t understand moderation or pacing. As a quick-strike attack, if the Bears need to score in a hurry, that’s great. When it’s a game like Saturday’s, where it needs to grind things out and keep its defense rested, it’s proven to be mediocre. It was able to do it after finally getting back on the field following Davis’s touchdown returns, but its last possession took just 1:01 on the clock and lasted just four plays.
Despite going scoreless in the first three drives, the Bears scored at least a field goal on 10 of its last 11 possessions. It seems the only thing that can stop the Cal offense is Cal itself.
2. So, let’s talk about that defense. Put. The. Bottle. Down. I know. It’s rough, but it’s for your own good. Like eating that broccoli your parents told you about. Cal spent much of the night in a two-high safety look, making sure to keep the Cougars passing attack in front of them, and that was by necessity, as not only did veterans Stefan McClure (calf) and Avery Sebastian not play, but Sebastian didn’t even make the trip.
5-foot-9 David Garner -- son of The Play participant Dwight Garner -- who had yet to play a single collegiate game, saw his first action in the defensive backfield. JuCo transfer Darius White was abused in the first half in his first defensive action with the Bears. Cedric Dozier continued to run hot and cold, with perhaps the most distressing play being a second-and-10 pass from the Washington State 30 which floated a bit to Vince Mayle, and was ripe for the picking. Dozier didn’t turn his head to play the ball, and instead Mayle hauled it in for a 21-yard reception on the final drive of the game. That drive didn’t turn into any points because of the missed field goal, but it should be troubling.
Here’s a rundown of the players who played in the defensive backfield on Saturday: Darius Allensworth (redshirt freshman), Cameron Walker (true sophomore), White (first game playing defense in D1 football), Caleb Coleman (redshirt freshman), A.J. Greathouse (true freshman), Joel Willis (first game this season, redshirt junior), Trevellous Cheek (redshirt freshman), Dozier (sophomore), Michael Lowe (redshirt senior), Griffin Piatt (redshirt sophomore, first year playing defense full-time) and Garner. That’s a lot of youth, especially missing redshirt juniors Sebastian and McClure.
Once again, the defense got gassed, and it showed during their four straight drives on the field necessitated by Davis’s two special teams touchdowns. Mustafa Jalil went down at one point during that stretch, though he came back. When he did come back, he had Halliday wrapped up in the back field, but could not finish the tackle because of fatigue. After those four straight drives, Brennan Scarlett went down briefly. In all, the defense – this very, very young defense – played 95 plays – that’s well over 300 plays in the past three weeks. That can’t continue if Cal has any whit of a prayer of stopping anyone, especially UCLA in several weeks.
Here’s the kicker – the defense was more varied and more multiple than it has been all year. But no amount of blitz schemes – including having Scarlett come off the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker in one look – can make up for a very young secondary and a defensive line that played no fewer than 10 different players over the course of the evening because of the sheer amount of snaps. There’s a big drop-off between the duo of Scarlett and Jalil, and the next group, and it showed at times.
3. Why hello, Mister Anderson. For the third straight week, Stephen Anderson has been a revelation on the inside. Since taking over as starter for the injured Darius Powe, Anderson has caught 14 balls for 274 yards over the past three games, finishing Saturday with five catches for 95 yards.
It wasn’t just the catches that made Anderson so valuable. After the Bears went down 10-0 in the first quarter, Anderson laid a big block to spring Davis for his first receiving touchdown, picking up a blitzing linebacker as Goff threw a screen to Davis for a 27-yard score.
Anderson also helped on Davis’s first 100-yard kick return, laying an early block to spring Davis out to the middle of the hash marks before he got off to the races and scored with 7:24 left in the third quarter.
Anderson caught two physical passes to set up Cal’s final score of the first half – a 26-yard James Langford field goal – and also set up a 27-yard touchdown run by Lasco, hauling in Goff’s first pass of the second half for 55 yards, stiff-arming a tackler to get deep into Cougar territory. Lasco scored on the very next play.
4. Kings In the North? Not quite … Cal fans, I have three words for you: Slow. Your. Roll. Yes, for now, the Golden Bears are in first place – all by themselves – in the Pac-12 North. Yes, they were 1-11 last season. This week was absolute carnage in college football in general – with No. 6 Texas A&M falling to No. 12 Mississippi State 48-31, No. 11 Ole Miss downing No. 3 Alabama 23-17 and No. 25 TCU shocking No. 4 Oklahoma 37-33 – and even more chaotic in the Pac-12, with unranked Arizona State shocking NO. 16 USC 38-34, No. 2 Oregon falling to unranked Arizona 31-24 and unranked Utah beating No. 8 UCLA 30-28. Yes, anything can and will happen, but the Pac-12 is too good to savor the standings for any more than 24 hours, especially with Washington coming to town next week.
Let’s say the Bears are more Wardens of the North, for now, to keep with the Game of Thrones conceit.
"We will start worrying about who is in what place at the end of the season, right now we are just going to get ready for Washington,” said Dykes. "We've talked about the importance of winning some hard, tough fought games and our guys really believed they could win."
And, that’s what it really comes down to: Belief. Dykes touched on that in the presser before the Arizona game.
“You hope that the guys have enough confidence. Really, that boils down to confidence,” Dykes said at the time. “I can remember one year, coaching at Texas Tech. We were playing TCU. It was kind of a rivalry game, all that stuff. I think TCU goes up on us 21-0 in the first quarter. I remember looking at our players on the sideline, and the guys were just kind of laughing. I think we scored 70 unanswered, and it ended up being 70-35, I think, was the final score. Our guys had confidence. Going down 21-0, that didn’t faze those guys for one second. Every team’s different. I don’t know that we’re there yet. I don’t know if we’re ready to be able to handle that quite yet. That’s where you want to get to. You want to get to the point where your guys believe they can win any game, no matter what happens. If they just believe in themselves and believe in what you’re teaching them and just keep moving forward, good things will happen.”
On Saturday, good things did indeed happen, but for how long can the Bears depend on the hand of fate?
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