Just minutes after Cal football’s double-overtime win over Colorado on Saturday, the Bears gathered around head coach Sonny Dykes in the locker room. At the end of the scene, the team — Dykes included — launched into a rousing rendition of “Tell the whole damn world, this is Bear territory.” After a draining seesaw affair, Cal walked away from its 59-56 win riding an emotional high — the celebration was on at Memorial Stadium.
And with good reason. For the first time in the Sonny Dykes era, Cal won a Pac-12 game. After just four games played this season, Cal has already won three games. A week after falling short against Arizona because of a Hail Mary, the Bears didn’t crack when Colorado forced overtime in the waning minutes. When the Buffs were at the one-yard line in the second overtime period, the defense somehow, someway forced a stop on consecutive plays. And when James Langford needed to make a kick, he nailed it.
Cal deserves plenty of credit for how it played yesterday. But now that some time has passed since Langford’s game-winning field goal sliced through the uprights, now that the emotions have somewhat flatlined, it’s time to revisit the game and evaluate the Bears.
Let’s start with the offense. After throwing a pick on his very first pass attempt, Jared Goff ended up gashing Colorado for 449 yards and seven touchdowns. More impressively, he threw for that many scores despite maybe playing his worst game of the season. In the first half, the Bears were out of sync, and Goff was missing by a large mark on the majority of his deep balls. Something changed in the second half though, and Cal was able to score on all but three of its drives after halftime.
Perhaps more importantly — because, let’s face it, no one should be very concerned with Goff and the passing game — the run game looked competent. This was mainly due to Daniel Lasco, whose aggressive running style always allows him to pick up extra yards after contact. It was Lasco who turned a short swing pass into the longest passing touchdown in Cal history. In addition to that 92-yard touchdown reception, Lasco also averaged six yards per carry on his 18 rushing attempts.
While the offense shouldn’t concern Cal fans, the defense should. For all the talk of how much the Bears have improved under the direction of defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, on Saturday they looked eerily similar to the Andy Buh defense from a season ago. The Bears were lucky to only give up 56 points as Colorado kicker Will Oliver missed three field goals.
Tackling, pass coverage, quarterback pressure — all of that was nonexistent on Saturday. Nelson Spruce, the Buffs’ star wideout, caught 19 passes. Through four quarters and two possessions in overtime, the defense failed to register a sack.
In its first two games against Pac-12 competition, the Bears are giving up 52.5 points per game. To put that number into perspective, Cal’s nightmare 2013 defense gave up 47.2 points per Pac-12 game.
My point in all of this isn’t to kill the buzz of every Cal fan still riding an emotional high. My point is that the Bears, while incredibly improved from last season, are still a highly flawed football team.
To steal a line from a very emotional former-NFL coach, the Bears are who we thought they are. They’re no longer the joke they were last season. Sonny Dykes appears to be moving the program in the right direction. Jared Goff is the quarterback Cal fans have desired for years. But the defense still needs fixing.