Head coach Jeff Tedford made a commitment to stick with Nate Longshore after last weeks sub-par performance, and Longshore responded with the best game of his short career. Having time to throw made all the difference as Longshore was able to find the holes in Minnesotas coverage and spread the ball around to virtually every receiver running a variety of routes. Longshore also responded very well to intermittent pressure applied by the Minnesota blitz stepping up between two rushers in the first quarter to throw a key first down pass to DeSean Jackson on a 3rd-and-11 and displayed some mobility running for a pair of first downs. Longshores 300 yards passing performance is the best for a Cal QB since Aaron Rodgers threw for 394 yards in the 2003 Insight Bowl. There is room for improvement as a couple balls were short-armed leading to incompletions - which Longshore blamed on bad grip due to sweaty hands - but it was substantially more than a reasonable fan could expect. By contrast Aaron Rodgers didnt throw for 300 yards until his 6th career start.
RATING: 9 (1-10 scale)
It is difficult to fault the performance of Marshawn Lynch as he once again displayed the moves and toughness that makes him a Heisman Trophy contender. Lynch often made yardage on sheer will and determination with little running room available. At times his never say die attitude did lead to lost opportunities as he gave back 13 yards on 2 carries while trying to reverse field and lost another 10 on a kick return doing the same. He also turned the ball over on a non-contact fumble.
Justin Forsett rebounded from the worst performance of his career at Tennessee to post
78 yards on 12 carries and notably picked up a key first down in a 3rd-and-13 from the Cal
7. Forsett had the space he needed to make the initial tackler miss as he is very
difficult to corral in the open field.
The wide receivers rebounded along with their quarterback, catching virtually every ball thrown their way. Lavelle Hawkins showed great concentration to haul in a tipped pass for a 42 yard gain in the first quarter and led all receivers with 9 catches for 125 yards. DeSean Jackson also broke the 100 yard mark and showed excellent hands hauling in three touchdowns. Overall the receivers made some excellent adjustments on balls and dropped only one ball all game (Sam DeSa).
The tight ends were a non-factor in the passing game, the only reception being a 9-yard
completion to Eric Beegun in the first quarter. A drop by Beegun on an easy toss to open
the first series resulted in a stalled drive and a blown block on Minnesota LB Mario Reese
resulted in the only sack allowed. Craig Stevens who was knocked out of the Tennessee game
on the very first play with a concussion was able to participate and had a couple nice
blocks to free up the running game. His return to full-time duty will aid the running game
as he is by far the best blocking tight end.
Another unit rebounding well after a dismal opening day performance was the offensive line. The unit did an excellent job in pass protection allowing no sacks, the only notable errors being a pair of holding calls on Andrew Cameron. The line still needs some work in picking up the blitz as Longshore was pressured up the middle with the linebacker blitz on a couple occasions but read it well enough to rid himself of the ball instead of taking the likely sack. Run blocking was not quite as proficient as both Lynch and Forsett had to work hard finding holes until the second half when the Minnesota defensive line was softened by consistent running between the tackles.
The ankle injury to Andrew Cameron allowed Mike Tepper his first substantial playing
time during which he showed good push for the running game. Only one pass was thrown
following Camerons departure. Mike Gibson was worked into the game more at right
tackle and fared well in run blocking though he did pick-up his second false start penalty
of the season.
The defensive line made it first contact with the opposing quarterback in the first quarter with a couple knockdowns but it took until the fourth quarter for the Bears to record the first sack of the season. The pressure applied to Minnesota QB Bryan Cupito came mostly from the defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Matt Malele who forced him into several poor passes and recorded one sack. Pressure from defensive ends Nuu Tafisi and Abu MaAfala was minimal and neither has recorded a sack so far this season. Minnesota typically provides excellent pass protection, not having allowed a sack in eight consecutive games, so it was a solid effort to break up this streak.
The run defense was solid but unspectacular as the d-line recorded only three tackles
but did manage to occupy the blockers enough to allow the linebackers to make plays a
strategy that seemed to work as the LB group recorded 26 tackles.
The linebackers substantially improved on their week one performance consistently filling holes and rarely being caught out of position. The tackle for loss total went from zero in the first game to three against Minnesota. Desmond Bishop led all players with 10 tackles (one for a loss) and Worrell Williams improved from being fairly ineffectual against Tennessee to a solid performance recording 4 tackles (0.5 for a loss).
Cornerback Daymeion Hughes showed off his All-American form with two interceptions and great coverage, particularly on deep pass routes. After a pair of missed tackles that led directly to touchdowns last week, cornerback SydQuan Thompson rallied with an excellent game allowing no touchdowns and making some excellent tackles including one on 255 lb Minnesota running back Alex Daniels where he displayed great form reminiscent of injured cornerback Tim Mixon. Free safety Thomas DeCoud had a solid game with six tackles but his misread of a play-action pass on Minnesotas first offensive play of the game allowed a 48 yard completion by Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth who he left uncovered down the left seam. Strong safety/rover Bernard Hicks made two tackles and was not often tested in pass coverage.
The punting game was solid but unspectacular with Andrew Larson averaging 37 yards on only three punts, only one of which was returned for nine yards. Likewise, placekicking only came into play on extra points. The major glitch of the game came on a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Minnesota DB/KR Dominic Jones who followed a seam up the right side and outran all pursuit. The Bear coverage was successfully walled off and Jones route was straight enough that backside pursuit by Justin Forsett came too late.
Virtually every unit improved on their week one performance. The areas of most concern (QB, OL, and CB) had the most significant improvements led by Nate Longshore and the best QB performance since Aaron Rodgers emerged as a star late in 2003. This was made possible by great pass protection and a substantial running threat that kept Minnesota from teeing off a la Tennessee. The errors of the first game by SydQuan Thompson were not repeated and he showed the ability to be a solid cornerback this season and likely much better in future seasons. While this performance was a substantial improvement on the first game further progress will be needed by the offensive line if they are to control the line of scrimmage against more powerful defensive teams such as USC.
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