James Snook / USA TODAY Sports

Three takeaways from Cal's 56-21 loss to Washington State, starting with third down struggles

Three main takeaways from Cal's Saturday loss to Washington State, including third down struggles, injuries and Chad Hansen.

Third Down Remains an Enigma 

California faced its first third down challenge as quickly as they possibly could -- on its third offensive snap of the game. The eight yards that they needed to keep their stalling offense from pulling over was a tall order that the Bears grew accustomed to quickly, facing 14 third down attempts throughout the game and needing an average of 7.8 yards to move the chains.

 

The first attempt was a failure, as the only third down pass of the night intended for Chad Hansen whizzed by his shoelaces, falling incomplete short of the first down marker.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1727805-why-no-backup-quar... The tragedy of the play was that Hansen, matched up against Washington State's Darrien Molton, exploded off the snap into fantastic up-field separation that was immediately negated by an obligatory out-route that gave time for Molton to catch up and pin Hansen on the far sideline to make for the non-play. An option route inviting Hansen to build on his up field separation would have turned a three-and-out into a three play scoring drive. 

The Bears’ most improbable third down conversion of the night, a third-and-23 play-action bullseye to a streaking Demetris Robertson good for 57 yards, demonstrated that limiting the blistering north-south speed of the Bears’ receiving ranks with short routes on critical plays could be costing the team big gains. 

California was flummoxed at short range as well, going 0-for-5 on conversions of four yards or less and 0-for-3 on third-and-one plays. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Khalfani Muhammad was stuffed on both of his one-yard looks, while a tough-luck fumble on a would be Tre Watson conversion took a Cougar bounce and kept Cal on the wrong end of the marker after the recovery. 

Cal is literally running out of players 

 

Each passing week of bumps and bruises appears to bring the Bears ever closer to hosting an Invincible-esque open tryout to fill their battered backfield. New to the infirmary is cornerback Marloshawn Franklin, who sustained an arm injury in the second quarter. The Detroit native leads the team with six pass breakups and was kept in Pullman overnight to undergo medical treatment. The vacancy at cornerback was filled by freshman Traveon Beck.

MESSAGE BOARDS: The Latest Injury Updates (members)

The stress on the Bears defensive depth was further compounded by the ejection of safety Jaylinn Hawkins -- himself a fill-in for an ailing Luke Rubenzer -- following the flagrant targeting of a defenseless Gabe Marks. The next man up was JuCo transfer and walk-on Jacob Anderson.

"We're playing sometimes three, four walk-ons in the secondary," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "It's certainly not an ideal situation. We've just been decimated by injuries back there, and those kids are playing as hard as they can play. When we're playing against good people, it's not great match-ups."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1727505-washington-state-d... The Cougars identified Beck and Anderson's lack of experience, as well as walk-on De'Zhon Grace, and routed their plays accordingly. Washington State regularly ran outside tackle into Grace's domain, criss-crossed receivers on intermediate routes to befuddle coverage as a sneaky River Cracraft lurked and leaped around the Cal end zone for three virtually unopposed touchdown grabs. 

"They kind of went on the perimeter around us a lot, because if they're running towards the interior guys -- me, [James] Looney, Tony [Mekari] -- they're pretty much not getting anywhere," said defensive tackle Marcus Manley. "They tried to run around to the perimeter, because we have younger guys out there, so they were trying to attack us on that front."

Chad Hansen: A triumphant return and disconcerting departure

For the first time since the left ankle injury that sidelined him against Oregon and USC, Hansen was the focal point of the Cal offense, posting double-digit receptions (11) and triple-digit yardage (139) for the fifth time this season. Hansen’s jolting, one-cut bursts off the snap prompted Molton to respectfully grant the Bears’ resurgent receiver a seven yard cushion for the duration of the ballgame, opening the door for quick passes and receiver screens.

A rekindled Webb-Hansen connection was the main contributor to the Bears’ longest drive (83 yards, with three Hansen catches good for 67 of them) of the game. Both the play-calling and Davis Webb’s decision-making in the sequence indicated earnest faith in Hansen’s continued progress. The Fillmore, Calif., native was dispatched on a corner (21 yards), streak (45 yards) and bubble screen (6 yards) in rapid succession and made clinical, composed catches in the face of tight coverage – all hands, no bobbles. 

Just as the hypnotic pendulum of carefree fourth-quarter garbage time lobs began to beckon the weary viewer to sleep, disaster struck. The junior wideout took himself out of the game with six minutes remaining in regulation after appearing to re-aggravate his left ankle in the depths of a post-play scrum. After the game, Hansen said, "I feel fine. Ankles are a tough thing to come back from, because you tweak them all the time, but it's not something I can't come back from. I'll be fine."

We'll see how true that is during practice this week.


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