BERKELEY -- When asked about quarterback Jared Goff's proximity to the Cal career passing yards record after Saturday’s 35-7 win over visiting San Diego State (he finished with 321 yards on Saturday to give him 8,111 for his career -- 15 away from Troy Taylor), Bears head coach Sonny Dykes said, simply, he wouldn’t want anyone else.
“He’s certainly going to be one of the great ones to ever play here, if he’s not right now,” Dykes said. “It’s hard to compare numbers. It’s a different game now. We’re a different offense than some guys have played in the past, but I can tell you this: I wouldn’t trade him for any other quarterback in college football. I wouldn’t even consider it. Even if they threw in a kicker, I probably wouldn’t consider it, either.”
The Bears did have several special teams gaffes on Saturday that may make Dykes reconsider – including burning two time outs before punts – but overall, the effort against the Aztecs was another step forward for Cal (2-0) as they head into a week of preparation for Texas.
After San Diego State (1-1) opened the game with a 3:46, 71-yard scoring drive, the Bears' defense held strong -- with some help from timely Aztecs penalties, in the early goings -- and shut San Diego State out over the next 13 drives.
“That was, that was the first look at the new and improved Cal defense, I think, is the best way to put it, and I look forward to a lot more of that, coming up," Goff said. "It just shows our character, for them to go down and score on the first drive, and that was it for the rest of the game. They had, I don’t know, 15 more drives, and they couldn’t score. When you have a defense that can do that, that helps so much. I’m just ecstatic for how well they played.”
While Goff didn’t quite set the record he was gunning for, wide receiver Trevor Davis stole the show on offense, hauling in passes of 59 and 75 yards to finish the day with a school-record 46.1 yards per catch and a personal-best 138 total receiving yards. His 75-yarder to start off the second half put the Bears comfortably in the lead, 21-7, on a 10-second drive that followed a two-minute-drill drive to end the half that ended in a 13-yard Maurice Harris inside screen for a touchdown.
"It's fun, when those guys get into a rhythm, it's fun to watch," Dykes said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get into it maybe as much as we would like today, and you've got to give San Diego State credit for that, but when we get into a rhythm, and our guys are flowing, and playing fast, we can move the football and score some points pretty quickly. We didn't want to call a time out, because we didn't want to let them get settled. We felt like we had them a little bit on their heels. We had two time outs left, and so, we had talked about it -- Tony said we were going to run a screen, so I assumed we were going to have to call a time out right there, and then Maurice Harris did a great job getting the ball in the end zone."
That touchdown was set up by a crucial interception by cornerback Darius White, the second of his career and the first of two on the game for the Bears.
"That kind of perked [us] up a little bit," said White. "The D-line just happened to get there and put that pressure on them, and the linebackers were there to make the QB throw the ball and put a little air on it, and I was there to make a play on it, and it went up from there."
Cal has now had at least two picks in back-to-back games for the first time since 2012 -- Oct. 6 (UCLA, 4) and Oct. 13 (Washington State, 2).
"We had a lot of interceptions, and that always helps," Goff said. "When we can get turnovers, and they make plays like that, we can get the momentum going. Darius has been playing really well for us."
Tailback Daniel Lasco ran for 123 yards on 19 carries, but exited midway through the fourth quarter with what Dykes called a hip injury. His status is uncertain.
"I don't know what happened," Dykes said. "It's something with his hip, but I don't think it's anything major."
Now, on to the analysis.
The Big Takeaway
Here's the bottom line: Cal's defense has faced an FCS team, and a team that scored one offensive touchdown against an FCS team. How will the Bears fare against the likes of Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah (assuming Travis Wilson is indeed back by next week)? That's hard to assess given the two opponents the Bears have played. We will know far more a week from now.
But, Cal has held an opponent to less than 30 points just once in the entire Sonny Dykes era, before this year. They've now done it in two straight games. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If this defense is average, we're talking replacement-level player average, that's all this team needs to be successful at this point. We know Goff is going to put up numbers. It's a pretty solid bet that, if healthy, Lasco will put up over 1,000 yards, and another back or two will put up 300 or so. The offense has never really been a problem. Look at last year: Cal lost four games by eight points or less.
"It's definitely a confidence booster," said linebacker Michael Barton, who had his first interception of his career. "There's been so many times last year, where the offense had to carry us through games. We executed our game plan, the defensive line put pressure, it was a front-seven game. We knew it was going to be a physical game. The DBs knew that they had to stay over the top of deep balls, and we just did our job. It was good to finally have our defense carry us through the game, and have the offense feed off of our energy, rather than the other way."
If the two Dariuses (Darii?) are, as they've looked so far, the best cornerback combo Cal has had in the last three seasons, if Nathan Broussard (a career-high seven tackles) keeps on knocking the rust off, and plays as stoutly against the run as he did today, if Cameron Walker (who had his second career sack, and second in as many games) has truly found a spot at nickel, and if the defensive line continues to be effective all the way through to the third string, it's entirely possible that they're going to halt that extra scoring drive.
"We're on a mission to be greater than our former selves every day," White said.
"Just having the system for the second year in a row, having veteran leadership and having that confidence, we're confident in our game plan every week," Barton said. "We feel like we can compete with anybody now, just because we know what we're doing and playing so well together."
"We've got a lot of work ahead. We get it. We're going to play against a lot of better offenses, but it's great to see them have success." -- Sonny Dykes on Cal defense
Last year, the offense would score, see the defense crumble, and have to trudge back onto the field to make up for it. The Aztecs scored first on Saturday, but that "here we go again" feeling wasn't there. The offense did struggle to find its footing early, but once it got settled, it was off to the races.
"It's definitely a rush, seeing so many turnovers on defense," Davis said. "It definitely pumps up the offense, seeing the interceptions happen."
The Bears now have six interceptions over two games. Last year, they had 12, total.
"It's a total change of mood," Davis said. "Knowing that there's no punt, you can go straight into offense, the momentum turns up for the offense, and that helps us."
"We made big plays when we needed to," said Barton. "I think that carried us through the game, and gave us a lot of confidence going into next week at Texas."
Maturity, maturity, maturity, and winning ugly.
After San Diego State rolled down the field, with quarterback Maxwell Smith zinging short- to medium-range passes and marching the Aztecs into the end zone on their first drive, Memorial Stadium fell silent.
“When somebody does that, I always try to look around the sideline to see how the players are responding, how those guys react, and our guys were fine -- they were very steadfast, and never panicked,” Dykes said. “There was no sense of panic, which is encouraging. We never got into a great flow, offensively, and you’ve got to give San Diego State a little bit of credit for that, with what they do up front. You're never quite sure what you’re going to see up front, and it's hard to predict exactly what you're going to get."
The Bear Raid sputtered, taken aback by the stunting, blitzing, stand-up-get-down movement up front from the San Diego State defense.
“They do a lot of things to confuse you, so it took a couple drives,” said Goff. “After we scored probably 21 -- our third touchdown -- I felt pretty comfortable, sometime in the second quarter. They've got guys out there moving around out there, so it was tough. Hat's off to their defense. They've got a bunch of studs over there.”
It wasn’t until an interception by White with just over one minute left in the first half that the Bears really began to turn.
“Darius White’s interception completely pumped us up,” said Davis. “We went down and scored on three plays.”
The Bear Raid stepped up its tempo, and even with two timeouts left, Goff hit the gas, finding Bryce Treggs for 28 yards up the seam, then found Kenny Lawler for 24 yards, before polishing off the drive with a 13-yard catch-and-run to Maurice Harris for a touchdown to cap a 52-second drive, putting Cal up, 14-7, and sending the Bears well on their way to a 35-7 win.
“That was probably coach [Tony] Franklin's and coach Dykes’s decision to keep going,” Goff said. “I just get the play call and run it. On that drive, I mean, we scored in 30 [sic] seconds, so that was pretty good. The big play was the comeback I threw to Kenny, the come-back. He recognized that pre-snap, and he called that, and made a good play after that, and then Maurice got it in.”
“That was really critical,” Dykes said. “Scoring with 11 seconds left was pretty substantial, and starting the third quarter with a big play was good, as well.”
The first play of that third period was a 75-yard scoring strike from Goff to Davis, who set a school record for highest average yards per catch (46.0), and a personal best with 138 receiving yards.
“I saw a squat corner around seven or eight yards, and the safety comes down, as well, and because the safety comes down, on the blindside receiver routes, it was wide open, seeing as those safeties were rolling and not looking at me while I ran the post,” Davis said. “We saw that, and it opened up both times and it was a wide open shot.”
Goff, who pump faked, then turned around, had Davis as wide open as a receiver can be.
"I did the fake, I turned around, and I was expecting him to run by the cornerback, like he did earlier," Goff said. "I turned, and I was looking for somebody to be out there, and there was no one. It was weird, so I just put it on him, and he did the rest."
In contrast to last year, the offense didn't need to do all that much. The Cal defense held San Diego State scoreless for 13 straight drives. The Bears didn't hold an opponent to under 30 points all season in 2014, much less under 10.
"I think it means we're better," Dykes said. "The competition's going to keep getting better and better, week-in and week-out, we know that. But, the guys are playing with confidence."
After two scoreless drives, Cal scored on five of the next 9 drives, before salting things away by running out the clock.
"It wasn’t a flashy performance," Dykes said. "It was more workmanlike, and that’s a fun way to win. It looked like almost old-fashioned football out there, you know? I kept waiting for somebody to pinch me.”
Saturday’s game marked the first time since Oregon State in 2011 when Cal allowed its opponent to score fewer than 10 points, as the Bears won, 35-7.
"It's great to see our defense play this way," Dykes said. "I'm really proud of those guys, really proud of the coaches, players, everybody."
Towards the end of the game, San Diego State committed three penalties for 40 yards, and finished the afternoon with 12 infractions for 136 total penalty yards. Four of those penalties were personal fouls. Jordan Rigsbee said two weeks ago that he knew he had to "dial down" the emotion and aggression that spurred several personal fouls against him in the past. It certainly looked like the Bears have done that, as a whole.
"Our guys are just more focused. Our guys are just more mature, more unselfish. When you get a penalty like that, it's kind of a selfish penalty, and nobody wants to hurt our team, because they really care about each other. They like each other. Nobody wants to hurt the team." -- Sonny Dykes
On first-and-10 at the Cal 27 midway through the fourth quarter, Malik McMorris drew a personal foul from an opposing defensive linemen, without himself getting into any extracurriculars. It was a small play, to be sure, but it was emblematic of the new, more measured approach that pervades the team.
One of San Diego State's personal fouls derailed a first-quarter drive, and another in the second quarter got Cal from the Aztecs' 49 to their 34, paving the way for Goff's touchdown pass to Powe. An illegal block by San Diego State on its first drive of the third quarter pulled the Aztecs back to their own 31, giving them second-and-14. The ensuing five-yard run and five-yard pass weren't enough to move the sticks. A holding call on a Pumphrey one-yard loss midway through the third quarter and then an illegal formation call (five men in the backfield) stifled that drive.
"I just think we're mature," Dykes said. "I think we're maturing as a program. There were a lot of personal foul penalties out there, and I don't think we committed any. I was proud of our players for just playing between the whistles. I thought some of those personal fouls early in the ballgame really kept us in the ballgame, quite frankly, because we were having a hard time getting them stopped and moving the football. A couple of those personal fouls were big momentum swings for us, and really helped us."
When Everybody Knows
“We want to be able to run the ball when everybody in the stadium knows we’re going to run the ball.” That’s what Dykes and offensive coordinator Franklin said all throughout fall camp. On Saturday, the Golden Bears did just that.
Goff didn't pass Taylor, but he did finish the day 17-for-24 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also saw his receivers drop two balls. Cal ran 35 times for 163 yards on the whole, while dropping back to pass 27 times.
For Goff, though, the numbers don’t quite matter.
"Yeah," he said, stretching, and taking a deep breath during the postgame. “I was told on the sideline that I was 15 yards short of it, and hopefully I get it next game, pretty early. Again, that’s not something I’m thinking about. I’m going to prepare for Texas, try to beat Texas and let all that happens like it does.”
The passing game didn’t need to be big – though it certainly was – because the running game was so productive. Daniel Lasco – before seemingly getting his bell rung after gaining a long nine on Cal’s first complete drive of the fourth quarter (Dykes said he had a hip injury) – finished with 123 yards on 19 carries – the fourth time in his last six games that he’s broken the century mark.
“Against a team that’s hard to run it against," to boot, Dykes said. "This is a tough, physical football team. These guys are built that way. I thought our backs ran hard. I thought they all ran hard."
While Lasco certainly showed why he's on the Doak Walker Award Watch List for the second time in two years -- with two high-vaulting hurdles and other chest-clinching aerial maneuvers, as well as an improved carriage with the ball in his hands -- sophomore Vic Enwere had most of the big runs late in the game.
On fourth-and-two at the San Diego State 14 early in the fourth quarter, Enwere was hit twice behind the line of scrimmage, and managed to drag four defenders and bully his way to a first down, inside the 10, no less. He then went head-up on linebacker Calvin Munson for a gain of five, giving Lasco a relatively easy three-yard touchdown jaunt.
Two drives later, the Bears rushed five straight times -- with several big blocks from freshman fullback Malik McMorris -- and finished with Enwere's fourth career rushing touchdown.
"Vic converted that fourth down, and it was a great effort on that," Dykes said. "They had him stopped short and he just kept grinding his feet, and converted, which was big for us. I thought our offensive line played physical. I thought those guys did a good job most of the day in pass protection, as well, against a front that’s tough to block. I thought they did a good job picking up blitzes."
Spanning from the latter moments of the third quarter, to five minutes left in the fourth, Cal ran the ball 14 straight times, including nine times to start the final stanza.
Everybody Knows Part 2
San Diego State loaded up the left tackle side of the line early and often, and it paid off, with Goff taking two sacks, and seeing again, more pressure than the Bears were comfortable with. They saw a weakness and started to exploit it, in left tackle Brian Farley. While last week, it was due to the relentless blitzing and the sheer numbers game in the box that made the tackles look a bit worn, and while San Diego State did employ some of the same techniques, it was clear on video that Farley was bull-rushed several times that led to pressure or an outright hit.
On three separate occasions, not counting the times that San Diego State overloaded the left side, Farley was bullied. On one play, it didn’t matter, though, and it was probably one of the best plays of Goff’s career.
On second-and-10 at the San Diego State 34, the Aztecs once again showed a lot of pre-snap movement, particularly with the linebackers. Goff checked off the outside receiver to his left, and, with Farley being pushed back into the pocket, Goff stepped up and found former roommate Ray Hudson on a back-shoulder ball over the defender for a 32-yard completion.
Frankly, that was one of the best throws I've seen Goff make, and not just the throw, but the entire progression. He saw a receiver open on the left wheel, but saw a defender near enough that it wouldn't be a great idea. He'd get yards, but not many. So, he checked up to Hudson on the corner route, and knew he could hit him with the back-shoulder touch ball. The thing is, it wasn't all Goff. It was his relationship with Hudson, and all his receivers, frankly, that made that possible.
"About two drives before that, Ray came to me, and said, 'If we have a corner to the field, it's going to be there,'" Goff said. "He said he could beat his guy. I got the call in, we had a corner on it, and he had just told me he could beat that guy, so I trusted him, and the pocket came in a little bit, and I moved to the left, and threw it out there for him, and he won like he said he would, and made a play."
Save for those few plays on Farley, though, the offensive line held fairly firm, and there were plenty of plays where Goff had plenty of time to throw. The interior was particularly stout, opening up holes for the run game.
"I thought they did a great job," Goff said of the offensive line. "For all the different looks that San Diego State brings, and all the different types of blitzes and all the different types of pressure, for me to only have two sacks, that's pretty impressive. They were very prepared coming into this week."
Run defense is a team sport.
The Bears got plenty of pressure up front from the defensive line, which pressured and hurried San Diego State quarterbacks Smith and Christian Chapman.
The defense forced four drives in the first half (in reality, three, as the final drive lasted just one kneel-down) of four plays or fewer. But, they allowed San Diego State to convert on 5-of-10 third-down attempts before the break. After the first two third-down conversions came on short-to-medium passes by Smith on the first drive, Chase Price rushed for first downs on three consecutive third downs on SDSU’s third drive.
The linebackers had problems finishing tackles, and getting off of blocks. On the first drive of the second half, Pumphrey spun off of not one, not two, but three linebackers, until he was downed after five yards. A pair of chop blocks negated the run, and Nickerson and Jefferson stopped Pumphrey for a short gain on the next play, but the problems persisted.
"The back is really good, and he can do a lot of different things, coming out of the backfield, catching the ball, and he did a good job of that, tonight," Dykes said of Pumphrey, who rushed for 19 yards on the first two drives. "Our guys had to fight through it, especially early in the ballgame."
However, midway through the third quarter, the light went on, and Cal’s linebackers got into the swing of things. From the start of the second half, San Diego State rushed 13 times for just 36 yards. Whatever adjustments were made at halftime, they worked, at least on Pumphrey.
"He's a hard guy to prepare for," Dykes said. "They come off the ball, and they're going to play physical football, try to knock you off the ball, and he's elusive. He hits the hole downhill and is as quick as any running back that you'll see. He really does a nice job getting his pads square to the line of scrimmage and attacking the line of scrimmage, and finishes runs well for a smaller running back. He's a powerful, strong guy. I was really impressed with him. He was a little bit better in person than he was on film, and he was good on film. He had a little more quickness than I thought he did, and it took our guys a series or two to get adjusted."
Pumphrey rushed 21 times for just 85 yards, and after halftime, rushed nine times for 36 yards. On the game, the Aztecs averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
“Pumphrey is a great running back, a great player, and they have an experienced offensive line, so they’re going to break plays," said Barton. "We stay calm, make sure we execute our game plan. Once we were able to settle down a little bit, once we were able to make some adjustments, we were able to make some plays. I think we did a good job adjusting to what they did. They came out with different gadgets, here and there, different stuff than we were prepared for, but we were able to make our adjustments and adapt to what they did, and I think we adjusted well."
The first touchdown -- a 29-yard pass to Daniel Brunskill -- ended a drive that had Cal back on its heels.
"They came out really quick on that," Barton said. "We just didn't adjust in time, but once we came back from the sideline, we made our adjustments. We were able to contain that, and make sure we were right, and next time they came out in that exact look. Nobody panicked. We came out, and we just kept doing what we’re doing, and we continued to play well, after that.”
After halftime, the Aztecs rushed 17 times for 76 yards -- a higher yards per carry than the first half (76 yards on 26 carries), but they also forced San Diego State away from the run because of the score. Cal's been on that side of the coin plenty over the last two years.
The rest of the defense?
Yeah, they weren’t bad, either. Cal’s leading tackler was Darius Allensworth Allensworth. Generally, when a defensive back is your leading tackler, it’s a bad sign, but in this case, it’s a good thing for the Bears. Because Darius White was so lock-down unsolvable on his side of the field that San Diego State kept going at Allensworth, and he kept making them pay. He tallied 10 total tackles, including 6 solo, and added a breakup.
Looking up front, the Bears had three tackles from James Looney, two (including his first career sack) from DeVante Wilson, , two from Puka Lopa, two from Jonathan Johnson (who was just a hair away from his first sack, having to settle for a no-gain tackle of the quarterback), two tackles from Todd Barr (who also had two quarterback pressures, including one that led to a pick by Barton), two tackles from Mustafa Jalil (a one-tiem San Diego State commit), and one each from Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley.
"We have depth," Dykes said. "That's the thing that we can do. We can roll a lot of different players in there, and the more they play, the better they get. I'm encouraged by what I'm seeing out of that group, I really am. We can keep our guys fresh, especially in the defensive front, we can roll 10 or 12 guys in there, and stay fresh. When you can do that, it gives you a chance."
Cal burned two time outs before punts. Punts. After one of those time outs, Cal committed two penalties.
“We had an issue. Before the first punt of the game, Darius Powe dropped a pass, and was distraught about it and didn’t go out on the punt team, and that’s something he’d never done," Dykes said. "He's played a lot of snaps for us. I thought we were unsettled early in the ballgame, and it took us a while to settle in, but we’ve got to get stuff cleaned up. We get it. We know. We will.”
The Bears allowed 122 return yards on four kickoffs (30.5 ypr), with a long of 38, and kicker Matt Anderson missed a 35-yard field goal. With a leg as big as his, there's no excuse for missing that. Cal has been worried about special teams since the start of fall camp, and it continues to be an area where the Bears need improvement.