Always finding ways to improve: The frustration of a win

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You’d think that a scoreline in which the Bears nearly doubled the points of their opponent would be cause for ecstatic joy. But after Cal’s 45-23 bludgeoning of Idaho State on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere of the postgame press conference was distinctly un-joyful.

The mood was perhaps best captured by linebacker Evan Weaver.

“We made a lot of mistakes today, myself included,” Weaver said. “We really did not have a great game. It’s a team sport, and when you get individual stats, sure it’s cool, but if we were to play better as a unit they wouldn’t have 23 points.”

Therein lies the source of the unhappiness: The Bears allowed an FCS opponent to score 23 points on them — the most they’ve allowed in their first three games this season. And it’s not just the volume of points that the Bengals were able to rack up; it’s the spread of them. Cal held Idaho State to just three points in the first half but surrendered 14 in the fourth quarter. That’s worrisome — especially with Pac-12 play fast approaching.

The Bengals’ two late-game touchdowns can be attributed not to offensive chops but to defensive lapses. In the course of the game, the Bears collected 11 penalties for 111 yards — that’s nearly as many rushing yards as Idaho State was able to generate in that same time span.

And on the two drives that resulted in late touchdowns, penalties on Cal’s defense were integral in allowing Idaho State to move down the field. On the first one, a personal foul on second down gave the Bengals a first down on their own 44.

Seven quick plays later, and Idaho State was in the end zone. On their second touchdown of the fourth quarter, back-to-back pass interference penalties gave the Bengals a first down at the Bears’ 1-yard line, where yet another score was inevitable.

It’s not that Cal’s defense is bad. In fact, the defense is undeniably the most impressive facet of this Bears squad — and has been the driving force behind all three of its wins.

But with high-caliber play come even higher expectations. Late-game defensive lapses become unacceptable after a team has proven that it has the wherewithal to shut down opponents. With that in mind, Weaver’s frustration is patently understandable.

“We’ve really got to pick up ourselves, because this has been a horrible first three games towards the end of the game,” Weaver said. “We can’t close out a game, we can’t finish it, and for some reason, I don’t know if it’s our mindset or what we’re doing, or if we’re just not focusing, but we really need to crack down on whatever it is and figure it out right now.”

While Weaver’s frustration is an indication that there’s still room for the defense to grow, it’s also emblematic of another trend — this one more positive. His anger after a win shows just how hungry this new Bears team is. The players aren’t simply settling for wins — they’re only going to be pleased if those wins are well-earned.

That trend is something common among the highest-level programs, and it’s important that it has permeated this Cal squad. With a team that has the potential to be one of the best that the Berkeley faithful has seen in years, this drive for perfection in every facet is one that could push it just far enough.

The exasperation after a win, at its core, is a positive sign. And with guys like Weaver leading the way, there’s no doubt that the Bears’ ship is being steered in the right direction.

“I mean, they got 23 points,” Weaver said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Sophie Goethals covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @sophiegoethalss.