You can’t say we weren’t warned. All week, Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox preached that Weber State was a well-coached team and that it would be another tough game to win. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin was similarly effusive about the Wildcats and their aggressive defense.
It’s not like there weren’t ominous signs against UNC, either. I said at the time that quarterback Ross Bowers performed poorly over the whole body of his work; his highlights, which were admittedly damn good, were essentially the only good throws he made. The defense looked a little lost in defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 scheme — they struggled to set the edge and outside linebackers Cameron Saffle and Alex Funches looked a bit lost after both switching positions from defensive end.
But to have to come back at home against an FCS program? To give up 400-plus yards in the air because of meltdowns in the secondary? Relying on almost 200 yards from your third-string running back with no other part of the offense showing any cohesion? No, I didn’t see that coming.
I guess the Bears deserve some credit for coming out better in the second half and shutting out the Wildcats, but once you’re lowering the bar to that level, it’s almost an insult in and of itself.
In the long run, I don’t think anyone should be concerned about Wilcox and DeRuyter’s defensive scheme, but it may be worth asking if they have the personnel to make a significant leap on that side of the ball this year. The late change in coaching staff put this administration behind the clock in terms of bringing in players for this scheme and getting guys to work on position and responsibility changes.
Safety Derron Brown’s interception against UNC has taken the heat off of him, but he’s been poor in coverage, and without Jaylinn Hawkins, they didn’t have anyone who could hold up in the deep passing game. I expected that we’d see cornerback Darius Allensworth moving around the field after losing out his starting spot, but his snaps have been few and far between. Wilcox himself made the jump from safety to cornerback as a player in college, and I would not be surprised at all to see the reverse switch happen at some point this season with Allensworth or Elijah Hicks.
Demetris Robertson’s track speed has left opposing cornerbacks far behind a number of times already this season, but Bowers’ tosses his way have been way off target. The threat of Robertson going over the top can help in creating opportunities for other receivers, but if his quarterback continues to be so far off page with him, there’s no reason for defenses to keep respecting those plays. A spread offense can’t work unless defenses are concerned about covering every part of the field, and if Bowers can’t make throws down the sideline, we’ll see more passing woes like there were against Weber State.
Ole Miss doesn’t have much of a defense, so they should give the Bears a chance to at least get their offense back on track. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Rebels put up 40 or more points in a throwback to the Dykes era, and with No. 4 USC coming to town next week with Heisman candidate Sam Darnold at quarterback, the coaching staff doesn’t have that much time to fix the defense before things start to get ugly.
Before the season, I was willing to chalk whatever happened up to a rebuilding year. It’s probably not the fairest thing to now completely reconfigure expectations because of a week-one win, but with victories come expectations. The Bears don’t necessarily need wins in the next two games (it is, after all, an incredibly brutal way to schedule the start of the season), but if the team continues to look discombobulated, then it might be time to flip the calendar and start scouting bowls for the 2018 season.