At halftime, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory modified the Bear defensive alignments and Cal totally shut down Air Force, holding the Falcons to 66 yards and no scores in the second half as the Bears cruised to a 56-14 season-opening win.
Meanwhile, no adjustments were necessary on offense. Cal started strongly and never let up. They simply overwhelmed the outmanned Falcons. Keyed by the play of the offensive line, the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage, opening huge holes for the backs. The Bear running back corps took full advantage and broke the line unscathed on numerous occasions. Granted, the Bears averaged 54 pounds a man more than Air Force across the front line. However, to take full advantage of this mismatch, the Bears still had to execute. The offensive line play was nearly flawless as the Bears rolled up 342 yards rushing.
J.J. Arrington rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. This was the best Cal rushing effort by a Golden Bear since, well, J.J. Arrington's 185-yard effort against Washington last season. Also, Arrington's 89-yard run in the second quarter was the eighth-longest in Cal history.
Marshawn Lynch had a stellar college debut by tallying 100 yards in total offense (92 rushing and 8 receiving). Included in the rushing total were two long runs that were reminiscent of his touchdown run against Skyline in the Oakland Athletic League title game last fall. Yesterday, he appeared to be stopped on both occasions only to break clear and make one big gain ( a 28-yard run) and a score a touchdown on the other (the 43-yard run).
Justin Forsett also was solid in his college debut. After dropping a pass out of the backfield, he rebounded by rushing for 34 yards on 7 carries, including a 13 yard TD run.
Think about this for a moment. The offensive line starters hail from the following cities: Redding, Los Banos, Cameron Park, Wasco and Healdsburg. These are not exactly the Meccas of high school football. In addition, none of the interior starters achieved All-American status in high school. Contrast this with the accolades that some members of far less effective Pac-10 units received coming out of high school. What is the difference? Heart, competitive spirit and, yes, ability. Package these traits with the coaching of Jim Michalczik and you have the makings of a great unit.
Sid Slater played an outstanding second half. After a difficult first half in which he seemed a step out of position, he rebounded in the second half and was consistently in the right spot to make the play. Slater wound up leading the team with 14 tackles. Overall, he played a fine game in the absence of Wendell Hunter.
The free safety tandem of Matt Giordano and Ryan Gutierrez combined for 24 tackles and one interception. Both of the "G-Men" did a fine job of positioning themselves to make plays against the triple option.
The play of defensive ends Steve Kelly and Phillip Mbakogu deserves notice. Both saw action from the line of scrimmage for the first time in their Cal careers. Kelly, a former walk-on linebacker who received Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors last season, started in place of Ray Tago and had a nice game. Mbakogu, a true freshman, got off to an inauspicious start by committing an offside penalty early-on but quickly settled down and played well.
The highlight was the punting of David Lonie. He averaged 45 yards on three kicks and pinned the Falcons inside their 10-yard line twice in the first half.
After a rough start, Anthony Binswanger found his stride in the second half and boomed his kickoffs deep (5 of 7 were touchbacks).
Tom Schneider also exhibited some nerves as he came on the field for the first time in his career. His first PAT attempt was a wobbly effort that barely made it over the crossbar. After that, it was smooth sailing as Schneider easily knocked the next seven through the uprights.
The only downer was a blocked punt that was called back due to a penalty. Andy Briner was offside nullifying a fine effort by Byron Storer.
It was a good opening game against an outmatched opponent. While some may suggest that Air Force doesn't belong on the same field with Cal, the Bears have struggled in the recent past against Mountain West opponents. No matter how unheralded, no opponent should be taken lightly. It was nice to see Cal make adjustments and thoroughly dominate an opponent with lesser talent. The road will get much more difficult later this month. Savor this one for a moment and then begin focusing on New Mexico State.
Defensive Coordinator Bob Gregory. He silenced the critics. ‘nuff said.
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