Prior to Cal’s first conference matchup with No. 2 Oregon, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin offered up a prayer to the rain gods.
“We hope it pours — we hope it has sheets of rain, monsoons of rain,” he said Thursday. “We think it helps our offense tremendously.”
As Sonny Dykes readily admitted following Cal’s sloppy 55-16 whipping at the hands of the Ducks, the coaching staff was wildly wrong in that prediction. The offense never found any rhythm Saturday night, and early turnovers killed the Bears before the first quarter expired.
If a team blames anything other than poor performance when discussing a loss, it can feel misplaced. I’m not sure what the Saturday night tilt looked like on TV or through constant stat updates, but in person it was ugly.
Extreme weather, like the storm that swept through the Pacific Northwest this weekend, doesn’t care about top-25 rankings. From the opening drive, the rain manhandled the Ducks and the Bears indiscriminately.
Star running back De’Anthony Thomas went down on the opening kickoff return with an injured ankle; though Oregon doesn’t discuss injuries, it looked like the slippery field was just as much to blame as a rough Cal hit.
Mariota, a Hawaii native, said after the game that he’s used to playing in stormy weather, and his team obviously fared much better than Cal. He passed for two touchdowns and ran in one more. But he also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes Saturday night.
Jared Goff, on the other hand, barely got a chance to adjust to the rain. According to Sonny Dykes, Goff was having such a hard time getting any kind of grip on the wet ball that the team switched in backup quarterback Zach Kline after five possessions.
“Throwing a wet ball is going to be something I need to work at,” Goff said, adding that maybe this coming week after practice, he would take a wet ball and throw it around a bit.
It’s a noble goal, but it begs the question: How could Cal really have prepared for that? Everyone was at the mercy of Mother Nature on Saturday night.
Goff stated that the “disappointing” start was largely his responsibility. But it’s harder to blame Goff — and, later, Kline — for the final margin when you take a look at how the stormy weather affected Mariota. The rain, it seemed, offered a more level playing field.
Even if the weather is to blame for the 10 total fumbles that occurred throughout the game — four from Cal, six from Oregon — the buck stops there. Yes, it was next to impossible to get a grip on the ball. Where the Ducks proved to be the superior team was in the direct aftermath of a fumble.
Cal ended its first four drives on fumbles, two of which were sacks on Goff. Oregon pounced on the ball each time and twice used the prime location in Bear territory to score a touchdown.
In the first half the Ducks also fumbled four times, two of which came in the first drive. The team put the ball on the ground six times by game’s end, compared to the Bears’ four. Yet Oregon saved four of those mis-steps from becoming mistakes.
Rain-induced fumbles weren’t the only reason the Bears lost the game. There was all-around sloppy play punctuated by the most penalty yards per game this season — including an unsportsmanlike conduct call in the second half.
There was the swift puncture of the bubble that was Goff’s miracle stats. Really, this had to happen sometime — he wasn’t going to be the nation’s leader in total yards all season. The fact that it happened this week just added insult to injury.
The rain gods certainly heeded Franklin’s call on Saturday in Eugene. Unfortunately for the Bears, the football gods didn’t follow suit.
Annie Gerlach covers football. Contact her at [email protected]