Overtime win marks satisfying start to fall

BOULDER, Colo. — I’ve always been a summerboy at heart. Until about the fourth grade, I cried for hours the day before school started. I sure relish watching the “World Champion” Giants plummet into their usual irrelevance — so in that regard I wish the summer would never end.

But hey, soon the leaves will turn that pretty purple-y orange whether I like it or not. And when Keenan Allen hit the turf to clinch Saturday’s Bonanza in Boulder, I could finally embrace the departure of summer and the oncoming fall. And boy, what an exciting way to usher in the changing of the season.

No, Cal did not turn out its best performance. Yes, you could label the shootout an “ugly” victory. But hey, for a conference game that counts as a non-conference win (the game was scheduled before Colorado was officially a member of the Pac-12), Cal fans were treated to the first overtime game since 2006 and the type of thriller that Bears’ fans haven’t seen since DeSean Jackson streaked down the Memorial Stadium sidelines.

To the casual Cal fan, Saturday’s victory was exhilarating. To the cynical supporter, the win was a warning sign.

Sorry, skeptics. A W is a W. And it’s not often that you get a W like that. A walk-off TD on the road? That’s pretty sexy stuff we’re talkin’ here.

Call me Pollyanna. Call me coach Tedford. All that matters is that the Bears survived a demanding road test and as good of a game as Colorado could give. Colorado is no easy place to play — especially on a home opener. The 49,532 at Folsom Field sounded like Folsom Prison after Johnny and June hit the final notes of “Jackson” and Cal still left on top.

Just calm yourself, cynics. Last year, I was right with you. But there was plenty about that game to enjoy  on the stat sheet. Just read up a little bit.

We’ll start with the defense. Allowing 582 yards is a disappointment. The cynics throw their hands in the air — just wait and see what happens when we play Oregon, they say.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and defensive back Marc Anthony admitted the struggles after the game. Allowing three touchdowns of more than 35 yards should get you beat; two of more than 65 should guarantee the loss. Surrendering two single-game school records means the coverage was just plain bad.

It really wouldn’t have mattered who Colorado was playing on Saturday, the Buffs would have put up numbers. Rookie head coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy clearly did their homework and picked up on Cal’s defensive tendencies. 

When the Bears blitzed, quarterback Tyler Hansen delivered screen passes to elusive running back Rodney Stewart for big gains. In zone defenses, receiver Paul Richardson found the seams in Cal’s coverage. And man-to-man, Hansen would hit Richardson deep – — twice for touchdowns. 

But what happened when the Buffs reached the red zone? Colorado got there four times and managed nine points and no touchdowns in those trips. The Bears got inside the 20 six times and scored all 36 of their points. Five of those six times, Cal found the end zone. You can stretch a defense out, but you’ve got to execute.

When Colorado was first-and-goal from the four in overtime, Trevor Guyton twice penetrated the offensive line and stopped Stewart from finding pay dirt. When the Bears were second-and-goal from the five, Zach Maynard made sure the ball nestled nicely against his brother’s number 21.

Colorado did the stretching. Cal did the executing.

This isn’t to say this win was necessarily encouraging. For a defense that was supposed to be one of the Pac-12’s top units, the Buffs exposed Cal in a way that they couldn’t do to Hawaii. Conference foe Washington hung an easy 40 points on the Warriors on Saturday. I’m not one for the transitive property, but it’s hardly encouraging especially after how the Bears terrorized the Buffs last year.  

But don’t get too cynical yet. The record still stands 2-0. And don’t lie to me and say you weren’t excited with that win. After all, it’s football season.