Oregon State's 2016 season was bumbling along like the theme song to Friends before Saturday night. It just never seemed to be the Beavers' day, week, month or even their year since Gary Andersen came to town, through no fault of their new head coach.
Since Anderson arrived, six of 17 scholarship offensive linemen had gone down for reasons ranging from bereavement to cancer (twice) and injury, and converting a pro-style team built on power into a speedy spread team was a ground-up rebuilding project.
Averaging just 17.7 points per game against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and scoring just a pair of field goals against Colorado last week, it was more likely that the Beavers wouldn't score 47 points throughout the rest of the year than do it in a single game, especially against a California defense that had allowed an average of 3.26 yards per rushing attempt against Arizona State and then-No. 18 Utah.
But, here we stand. 47-44, Beavers over the Bears, who were firmly stuck in second gear.
Nice Camouflage. For a Minute, I Almost Didn't See You
On Thursday, Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said, while discussing the Beavers: "I'm telling you, the bye week couldn't come at a greater time right now. We're a little dinged up right now, just got to fight through it all right now, but I think these guys are excited to get on the road. We've been stressing the importance of trying to get a road victory in the Pac-12, and I think they want to go in there and try to have some success and come back and go into the bye week. It's always when you come on to the bye week after a victory, so that's what they're shooting for."
While he did turn to discussing the aggressive Oregon State defense, and their shifting coverages, the first thought, about the bye week, perhaps betrays something of the Bears' psyche headed up to Corvallis. Asked if Cal took the Beavers lightly, Davison answered in the affirmative.
"I would say so, yeah. I wouldn't say we came here feeling ourselves, but we should have just come with more energy," he said.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1715246-wrecking-nall-crus... Against a team that ranks 100th or worse in the FBS in nine defensive statistical categories, and 19 offensive categories, without a win against a FBS team since Sept. 19, 2015, and without a Pac-12 win since Nov. 15, 2014, it was easy to overlook the Beavers.
They allowed a 47.62% conversion rate on third down (114th), allowed 20.5 completions per game (89th), 227.75 passing yards per game (66th) and 9.21 yards per passing completion, dead last in the FBS.
Cal's offense, going in, looking very much the Joey of the proceedings -- the smooth, mischievous and devilishly hansom cad that averaged 428.6 yards per game (second in the nation only to Texas Tech), with quarterback Davis Webb leading the world in passing yards (2,143) through five games -- was as stiff and awkward as Pat the Dog.
"That's something we talked to them about all week, the importance of being excited to play," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "For us to play well, we're not a team that can just show up. We've said that over and over and over again. We have to play with an edge. We're not good enough to sleepwalk. We have to play very hard, we have to play very well, we have to be very focused to give ourselves a chance to win. We just weren't there, emotionally, today, and again, that's my fault. My job's getting them ready to play."
On Saturday, Webb went 23-for-44 for 165 yards and one interception in the worst outing of his short Bears career. Cal went 6-for-19 on third downs (31.6%, down from season-long 45.78%, 36th in the nation), and looked listless during a first half where the Bears only put up 103 yards of total offense, while allowing 233 to Oregon State.
"You can't come out that flat against any team," said linebacker Ray Davison, who was tied for the team lead with seven tackles. "Any given day, anybody can be beaten, and we came out too flat. That was the bottom line."
I Just Realized, I Can Sleep With My Eyes Open
Webb didn't complete a pass of over 12 yards until the final drive of regulation, when he hit Vic Wharton for 25 yards with less than a minute left. He averaged just 4.9 yards per completion, and 2.6 yards per attempt.
His downfield throws were high, wide, or underthrown. He had one pass deflected at the line. Unofficially, Webb was 2-for-17 on balls past 15 yards (0-for-5 in the first half), with two would-be touchdown pass to Chad Hansen defended by Treston Decoud, and another two shots down field to Hansen closely and physically defended by Decoud. A would-be 41-yard touchdown from Webb to Singleton on the final drive of regulation was also high, off the fingertips of Brandon Singleton.
Even the screen game -- to which Oregon State had appeared susceptible through the first four games -- wasn't there.
On Cal's second drive, Xavier Crawford quickly sniffed out a quick pass left to Jordan Veasy, and he did it again on a screen to Bug Rivera in the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, a Hansen screen was easily picked up and stuffed for a loss of seven by Decoud.
The Bears' offense -- again, much like Joey -- is built on taking big swings. Going into Saturday, Cal was the 22nd most explosive offense in the nation, with 41 plays of 20 yards or more. On Saturday, the Bears had just one passing play of over 20 yards, and nine rushing plays of over 10. Nine of those 10 explosive plays happened after halftime.
Over the previous five games, Cal had averaged 11 explosive plays per game, so the overall number is in line with the Bears' season numbers. However, the balance of those plays on Saturday was almost completely reversed, in part because Webb hurt his hand in the first half, on the second possession, necessitating a shift towards the run in the second.
Cal had notched at least six passing plays of over 20 yards in each contest, and averaged 7.6 such plays per game, while the Bears have had at least two rushing plays of 10 yards or more in each of the previous five games, averaging 3.4 such plays per game. While it's certainly a plus to see more run game involvement, the fact that's Cal's explosive passing game was held in check by Oregon State -- again, one of the worst passing defenses in the nation -- should be of great concern.
"We struggled to throw the ball," Dykes said. "We certainly weren't ourselves. We throw it pretty well, and we just couldn't get our passing game going."
The thought heading in was that the Beavers would play quarters or cover-2 most of the time, unable to field a dime package because of lack of personnel. That would leave the middle open for the likes of Melquise Stovall, Wharton and Rivera. That didn't happen. Stovall, Wharton and Rivera combined for seven catches and 35 yards.
Spavital did, however, correctly predict that Oregon State would mix up its coverages. This week, Beavers defensive coordinator Kevin Clune cautioned about the explosiveness of the Bears' receivers, in particular Hansen and Demetris Robertson.
"Their quarterback's got a great arm," Clune said. "Unbelievable arm ... It's pretty remarkable. He's got an incredible arm and can flick the ball all over the field. He can start on one hash and launch it into the other end. It's amazing. [We need to] stay on top of him, and don't let the verticals happen."
Instead of playing that deep zone prevent defense, or having his secondary play off, Clune had his defensive backs -- Crawford and Decoud in particular -- press hard at the line, something the Bears hadn't dealt with much this season.
"Corners have to have a heck of a ballgame," Clune said on Wednesday, and they did.
Robertson has feasted on zone coverage, using his speed to simply outrace defenders to the seams in zones, particularly deep. On Saturday, Crawford was all over Robertson within the first five yards, and Decoud stayed in Hansen's hip pocket all night, holding him to a season-low four catches for 16 yards on 10 targets.
"He finds a way to get open, finds a way to get past people," Clune said of Hansen this week. "The way that they do things, there's a lot of times when those guys are going to be singled up, and Hansen keeps winning those battles. We've got to win our battles."
By the fourth quarter, Oregon State wasn't only mixing coverages from play to play, but within each play, with two defensive backs playing press, and one playing off, and the single-high safety rolling to help.
"You've got to cover, you've got to create pressure, try to throw off his timing, try to throw off the rhythm of the receivers," Clune said Wednesday. "We're trying to stop the things that they do."
That, combined with Webb's hand injury, did in the Bears.
"We're going to turn the tape on and see some throws that are there, and some receivers that are open," Dykes said. "There are times when it didn't bother him, and other times it did, so you've got to give Oregon State tremendous credit."
I'm Not 'Blah,' I Am a Hoot!
The Bears running game was very much Ross. On paper, it had plenty of good qualities -- a veteran line and two Doak Walker Award Watch List members, with a returning Khalfani Muhammad, much like Rachel, adding a bit of intrigue -- but it couldn't get out of its own way, averaging just 119.4 yards per game on the ground, 116th in the nation.
In the first half, the Bears rushed 13 times for 56 yards, compared to 19 passing attempts, but after halftime, Cal dedicated itself to the ground game, rushing 31 times for 261 yards. Muhammad rushed for 123 yards after the break on 14 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run. Tre Watson rushed 16 times on the night for 134 yards.
Not surprisingly, Cal scored 20 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"Those guys [Watson and Muhammad] gave us a chance," Dykes said. "Khalfani, I thought, ran the ball very well. Tre ran it well. That gave us a chance during the fourth quarter, to get back in the ballgame and have a chance to win it."
By the time the final horn sounded, the Bears had rushed for a season-high 317 yards.
The Beavers running attack, though, turned in a Chandler Bing outing of their own, throwing down the wild card by more than doubling their season average. Coming in, Oregon State was sitting at 100th in the nation in rushing, averaging 139.3 yards per game on the ground, but on Saturday, the Beavers exploded for 474 rushing yards, with Ryan Nall's 221 yards on 14 carries more than doubling his output for the year.
Oregon State averaged 36.0 rushing attempts per gam on the season (90th in the nation), but on Saturday, rushed 50 times.
"Clearly, we've got to stop the run," said Dykes. "We can't win a football game and let people run on you like these guys ran on us. We tried to do everything we could do to get it fixed. We tried to move the front, we tried to run backers through, we played zero coverage, we tried to run blitz, we tried to go to an eight-man front -- anything we could do to give ourselves a chance, we tried it. We just couldn't get it done."
Nall -- who, just last year, was a potential convert to defense -- piled up 72 yards rushing in the first half, and then, on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, bowled up the middle, with right tackle Blake Brandel pulling to block left, cut back against Luke Rubenzer, stiff-armed Franklin and rumbled to the end zone to give the Beavers a 24-10 lead. Through his first 11 carries, Nall broke 13 tackles.
"He just made the plays," Davison said. "We weren't in our gaps. We weren't fitting correctly. There wasn't a lot of energy out there, and that was the biggest thing. He made his plays, but we gave them up a lot. It was our mistakes."
One of the biggest issues up front for the Bears was the fact that, with 20 tackles in the last three games, James Looney became a target, and Oregon State game planned for him.
Looney saw double teams on almost all of his first-half snaps, leaving Tony Mekari alone in the middle. Putting dynamic Victor Bolden into motion cleared out the safety and linebacker help, leaving huge swaths of open field for embattled quarterback Darell Garretson, who, with 6:11 left in the second half, followed a double team by his center and left guard on Looney for a 25-yard touchdown on a QB draw.
With 8:30 left in the third quarter, Garretson again found room, this time around the left edge to the Bears' 12 on the fake handoff to Nall. Instead of right tackle Brandel, it was left tackle Sean Harlow -- who was planning on redshirting this season due to an ankle injury -- who led the way, pulling right to suck in freshman defensive end Evan Weaver. That opened up an 18-yard run on the left side that led to an Oregon State field goal, putting the Beavers up 27-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter.
Garretson ran for 110 yards on the night, and his use of the zone read, plus motioning Bolden, kept the Cal linebackers and defensive line flowing away from the play side.
"We can't come out that flat," Davison said. "We can't be a good defense here and a good defense there. We always have to do our assignments, we have to be physical and we didn't do that today."
I've Had a Very Long, Hard Day
After several big runs by Muhammad to start the second half for Cal, the same execution issues that plagued the Bears in the first half -- 6 penalties for 48 yards were the tip of the iceberg -- cropped up again. On a zone read look from the Bears, left tackle Aaron Cochran was flagged as an ineligible receiver downfield, wiping out a third-and-six first-down swing to Melquise Stovall, and leading to a Cal punt.
Cal struck back with 4:06 left in the stanza, when, after a momentum-sapping reversal on a potential targeting call on a Devin Chappell hit to Robertson, Tre Watson -- who had one carry for six yards at that point -- ripped off a 32-yard draw up the middle, setting up a one-yard Webb touchdown run, cutting the lead to 27-17.
That was short-lived, as Nall, carrying three Bears on his back for the final 20 yards of a 62-yard steamrolling run, delivered the dagger. A five-yard touchdown plunge by Nall -- his third of the night -- put the Beavers up, 34-17, with 2:44 to go in the third quarter.
As if that wasn't enough, a fumbled kickoff by Robertson, a would-be 30-yard grab by Singlton wiped out by him stepping out of bounds early in the route, and a holding call on Cochran delivered yet another buck shot blast to Cal's feet.
In total, the Bears committed 10 penalties for 85 yards, though the Beavers weren't much better, committing 10 infractions for 81 yards.
Cal was the beneficiary of five first downs via penalty, to Oregon State's two.
"Coming out there flat cost us the game," Muhammad said. "Making a lot of minor mistakes that really cost us on the end, we dug ourselves in a hole. We've got to correct those mistakes going forward."null