For much of Saturday’s 59-17 loss to Oregon, the Bears held their own. But their performance raises more questions than answers.
“We could have won that game,” linebacker Chris McCain said.
How does the same team that went toe-to-toe with the best offensive team in the country for 32 minutes get embarrassed at home by Nevada? How does a squad hold Heisman candidate Kenjon Barner to just 65 rushing yards yet let Utah’s John White rack up 108 yards and two scores?
How does that team let a competitive game at halftime turn into a blowout for the second straight year?
“At halftime, we felt like we were going to win the game,” quarterback Allan Bridgford said.
One coaching staff made adjustments. The other didn’t.
There wasn’t much of a talent disparity on the field on Saturday. Despite Oregon’s flashy offensive numbers — scoring more than 54 points per game — the squad doesn’t beat teams on raw talent alone.
Freshmen quarterback Marcus Mariota was hardly recruited out of high school. As a running quarterback out of a small high school in Honolulu, Mariota only received two scholarship offers — one from Oregon, one from Memphis.
Yet he threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns, thoroughly outplaying his counterpart in Cal’s Allan Bridgford, who was ranked as the 10th best quarterback out of high school and turned down offers from Tennessee and Nebraska to come to Cal.
Running back Kenjon Barner is no different. Besides Oregon, only UTEP and Arizona State showed any interest in the 3-star recruit from Riverside, Calif. Yet his 1,360 rushing yards this season in a crowded backfield illustrate what a good coach can do for a team.
The Oregon offense doesn’t win due to its talent. They currently have 24 players in the NFL. Compare that to 47 from USC or 32 from Cal, which produced prominent names like Thomas Decoud, Marshawn Lynch and Aaron Rodgers.
Above all else, a football coach’s job is to first, get the most out of your players put them in a position to be successful and second, make sure your best players are the ones who make the biggest impact on the game. Oregon coach Chip Kelly does those two things better than anyone else in college football. Jeff Tedford? Not so much.
Oregon’s offense really has no business being No. 1 in the nation in the scoring. And Cal has no business being ranked No. 88 in that same category.
Kelly sees he has a pretty athletic quarterback, a slew of talented running backs and a below average offensive line. So he employs the zone read offense, which minimizes his weaknesses and plays to his strengths.
Tedford has a decently athletic quarterback that struggles with his accuracy and decision making and pairs him with what is statistically the worst offensive line in football. Then he sticks them into a pro-style offense that only works with a quarterback who is accurate, has a strong arm and makes sound decision. In case you were wondering, Zach Maynard — or Bridgford — doesn’t fill any of those requirements.
The result is an offense that ranks ninth in the Pac-12 and scores just five more points a game than Washington State’s.
Cal has made a disturbing habit of doing less with more. Oregon has made a habit of doing more with less. Assuming the Ducks make it to a national championship game, they’ll play a team with more talent, and they’ll at worst hold their own.
Not Cal. All of its four and five star recruits will be sitting at home watching the bowl games on television.
The Oregon game showed that the talent was there for Cal this year. It just needed some coaching to go along with it.
Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at [email protected]