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Everything's falling apart

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NOVEMBER 10, 2016

Another week, another 7:30 p.m. start.

This is starting to get ridiculous. Of the nine games Cal football has played this year, only one game has not started at night — a 3 p.m. start Oct. 1 against Utah. There was a 6 p.m. start at Oregon State and a 7 p.m. start at Arizona State. Other than that, it’s been all 7:30 p.m. starts for Cal (the season opener was in Australia, so I’m not going to factor the game against Hawaii in).

And this week’s game at Washington State is, once again, going to kick off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It’s become routine for Cal fans to stay up past midnight this season just to see if their team wins or not. And up until two weeks ago, every game was close. The Bears have probably lost some fans this season to people who value sleep and are fed up with staying up all night.

But another reason Cal may lose some fans is because of its play on the field. While there may have been many bright spots early on this season highlighted by dramatic home wins, it looks like reality’s starting to hit the Bears.

Entering this year, the two major concerns were if Davis Webb and his young receivers could perform like the 2015 offense and if the new look defense could replace the many big names that departed after last year. In the beginning of the season, it didn’t seem like there was going to be much of a drop off.

Webb had lots of targets to throw to such as Chad Hansen, Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall. While the offense may not have always been consistent in the first half of the season, it proved to be capable of producing big plays at any time, just like last year when Jared Goff ran the offense.

And the defense did enough to win in most of the first-half games. While there were still holes in the defense, the Bears found a shutdown corner in Darius Allensworth and sometimes stopped the run. Even though the defense gave up big numbers, Cal was usually in position to win.

But two-thirds into the season, it seems like the Bears are regressing back to the mean, and the results are starting to reflect what most preseason predictions said — four wins.

Cal’s not a bad team. But the main problem this year has been depth and fatigue. There’s talent and they have proven capable of playing competitively. The problem is that after the starters get off the field, there’s not much experience, and teams begin to exploit the Bears’ thin roster.

Hansen had a great start and was on track to posting up some of the best numbers in the country. But after a leg injury against Oregon State, Hansen had to take some time off and couldn’t get back on the field until last week. As a result, defenses no longer had to worry about his presence or shift the secondary for extra help. While deep-threat Robertson has been available this whole year, his impact is diminished significantly without an equally dangerous threat on the other side.

On defense, Allensworth’s absence might be the most costly. Last week, Washington quarterback Jake Browning threw six touchdowns, three to John Ross and three to Dante Pettis. It hurts a team so much when it is playing without its No. 1 corner. Ask Carolina.

When on the field, Allensworth can take one receiver by himself and the team can be confident he’ll be OK with minimal safety help. A No. 1 corner is meant to come on the field to neutralize the other team’s No. 1 receiver.

Because of Allensworth’s hamstring issues, Cal has been forced to keep working down its depth chart and put less experienced players on elite Pac-12 receivers. Now, because of the weakness in the secondary, the Bears have to try to put extra attention to protect their corners. But if they do that, teams can run.

Football’s all about cause and effect. If one thing goes wrong, it can lead to another, and all of a sudden, everything is falling apart. And that’s where the Bears seem to be right now. While they were good to start off, it seems like fatigue is starting to catch up with them.

Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact Ritchie Lee at [email protected].

NOVEMBER 10, 2016

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