I’ll be the first to admit how much of a Justin Wilcox apologist I’ve been in his first year as head coach of the Cal football team. I like the guy.
Huge upset wins against North Carolina and Ole Miss early in the season may have made my view of the following three losses, which came by a combined 62 points, slightly more rosy. His team’s huge blowout of the then-No.8 team in the country, Washington State, didn’t hurt, either.
Through it didn’t work, I respected his decision to go for a two-point conversion in double overtime against Arizona, and I have to admire the work he’s done with Ross Bowers, who had never taken a meaningful collegiate snap before this season, and has looked passable in most of the games he’s played in. The Bears usually play hard for their coach, and Wilcox seems to be the right guy for the job, as much as nine games can show.
But Wilcox came in to Berkeley as a touted “defensive guru,” yet his team continues to lose games because of huge lapses in defensive coverages and schemes that I have no choice but to begin putting on his shoulders. A lot of his defense is experienced, and at a certain point it becomes less about the bad decisions they’re making on the field, and more about the worse ones that are putting them into those positions in the first place.
I mean seriously, can someone please give Cam Bynum some help over the top?
The drastic ebb and flow of this team’s performance is somewhat to be expected out of a rookie skipper. But in this conference, it shouldn’t be tolerated in the long-term. Against one of the best offenses in the country in Washington State, I’ve perhaps never seen a defensive unit so well-prepared to face an opposition. The gameplan was airtight, and they forced a Heisman-candidate quarterback into five interceptions.
Against Colorado, a quarterback who was on the verge of being benched ripped the Bears up for 347 yards and three touchdowns, completing 77 percent of his passes (13.3 yards per pass!). That sort of performance is unacceptable.
I don’t even think the bull-headed coaching styles are exclusive to defense. The Bears are second to last in the conference in sacks allowed, and have had issues with protection from opening weekend, yet Cal rarely ever keeps extra blockers back to protect Bowers, whose jersey is filthy after every game from being torn to the ground so many times. And while his routinely running for his life has resulted in some highlight level-plays over the course of the season, the ghosts Bowers sees in the pocket have no doubt contributed to him throwing the most interceptions in the conference thus far with 11.
There was no Buffalo defender near Bowers when he threw his fatal interception with less than three minutes to go against Colorado, that got returned 100 yards for a touchdown. But he rushed the throw nonetheless, and threw a pass for the wrong route. He had been sacked four times to that point and hurried another five.
There needs to be a higher emphasis placed on the consistency of both the offense and defense moving forward, and it’s on the coaching staff to implement that mentality from top to bottom. To this point, they’ve underwhelmed in that respect.
The season’s first few weeks gave a glimpse of the Cal team that Wilcox hopes to build in the future — a dynamic offense reinforced by an opportunistic defense — but, with a gimme game against Oregon State coming up that really feels like it won’t be a gimme, followed by two road games against Stanford and UCLA, who will also be pursuing bowl berths, it appears we may have to wait another summer to see the rosy images I’ve personally tried so hard to maintain.