After a loss that was labeled a surefire win by many, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered by the Cal football team. Far and away the most confusing thing to see in the Bears’ 47-44 loss to Oregon State was an embarrassing showing by Cal’s usually explosive passing game.
Although the Bears put up 44 points Saturday, quarterback Davis Webb completed just 23 of his 44 passes for 113 yards and an interception. That translates to just more than 2 1/2 yards per attempt. Yikes.
What was the most disappointing passing performance in the Sonny Dykes era may have been the result of an injury Webb suffered early in the game.
“Davis hurt his hand in the first half and had a hard time gripping the ball,” Dykes said after the game. “We felt like he still gave us the best opportunity to win. He clearly didn’t throw the ball like he normally throws it.”
But how is it possible that a clearly diminished Webb gave Cal its best shot to win? Again, 2 1/2 yards per attempt speaks for itself.
It was time to act when Webb had 36 yards and an interception on 18 pass attempts at halftime.
Instead, Dykes stuck with Webb. Sure, the quarterback has a reputation for his toughness and competitive streak but, as head coach, it’s Dykes’ responsibility to do what’s best for the team. Leaving an injured Webb out there to try to tough it out was incredibly costly.
With a backup that was expected to win the job for much of spring in Chase Forrest, the Bears had a viable replacement for Webb. But they didn’t turn to him. Not only did they keep Webb in, but the Bears ran their offense as if their quarterback wasn’t nursing an injury.
An offense dependent on its passing game’s verticality cannot function at its best with a quarterback so short of 100 percent. Webb had only one pass go for more than 20 yards and often overthrew receivers even five yards away. He clearly was nowhere near his best.
Newsflash: Throwing the ball 44 times against a lackluster run defense — the Beavers’ defense ranks 115th in the nation in yards allowed per carry — and with an injured quarterback is probably not the best plan.
And though Cal’s offense came alive after the break, it was in no part because of its passing game. The Bears turned to their running backs and unsurprisingly dominated the Beavers’ defense from that point on. Webb made a crucial throw on Cal’s game-tying drive at the end of the fourth quarter, and to his credit, probably did as well as could have been expected given his injury.
But, again, Dykes’ decision to keep Webb on the field was questionable. His continued presence in the backfield was a hindrance once the game went to overtime, as the Beavers began to anticipate the run and forced Webb to make a pass to win the game.
On the game’s most important throw, he missed a wide open Demetris Robertson on third down, forcing Cal to settle for a field goal. The Beavers scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win the game and hand Dykes his biggest upset as Cal’s head coach.
Now, Dykes has certainly accomplished some things as the captain of the Bears’ ship — the fact that the team fought even to take the game to overtime after being down 17 points is rare to see. But Saturday’s game, which very well may have pushed Cal out of bowl contention this season, is damning.
Giving up 47 points to a typically dormant offense lends more credence to the concerns surrounding Dykes’ handling of Cal’s defense, but the offensive gameplan and choice to stick with Webb may have been the head coach’s most troubling decision yet.