Instant analysis/reaction: Cal aims for great but settles for good, overcomes Sac State

Photo of a Cal football player scoring a touchdown
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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Key takeaways

Good offense is possible but only against not-so-good teams

With 10 minutes left in the first quarter, Damien Moore managed the first of his two touchdowns of the afternoon, with Dario Longhetto clearing a PAT. While special teams were a point of contention throughout the past few games, Longhetto proved that with failure comes an opportunity for success. While Cal breezed into the end zone, it was difficult to rejoice, as the opposition did little to stop Cal’s attack. In the second quarter, after receiving a pass from Chase Garbers, Jeremiah Hunter covered a 45-yard sprint, weaving in and out of the Hornets’ defense. This gave Cal fans a reason to celebrate — at the expense, of course, of Sacramento State’s abominable attempt to defend its side of the field. The Bears were quick to cheer, seeing this light at the end of their losing-streak tunnel.

Defense needs to add “tackle” to its vocabulary 

A first-quarter Sac State touchdown is just what the doctor ordered. After an embarrassing lack of pressure on the opposition’s attempt at rushing for a 6-pointer, Cal managed to foil its chances for a point conversion. While the defensive line managed to get its act together, the lack of tackles and overall effort from the back line is something that the Bears must address. Small touches that resulted in incomplete passes were frequent, while actual takedowns that managed to stop attempts at gaining yards were only seen once in a blue and gold moon. If Cal wants any chance at redemption in the eyes of its Pac-12 competitors and fans — many of whom are still astonished by two consecutive losses at the beginning of the season — it must strengthen its defensive foundation, or everything else is bound to crumble. 

It’s good, not great

Last week’s PAT tragedy against TCU most likely cost Cal the win and exemplified a Longhetto-centric special teams disaster. One- and 2-point conversions — which should be easy points that get the scoreboard back on a team’s side — were the Bears’ kryptonite. The opportunity presented itself again against Sacramento State, however, and the blue and gold managed to convert every point and make every field goal. The PAT situation has the potential to be great. But, for now, Cal fans will have to settle for “good.” 

Cal’s game MVP

With redshirt senior offensive linebacker Kuony Deng and redshirt senior wide receiver Kekoa Crawford nursing injuries, Cal’s roster had some empty space between the lines. Moore showed his skills, completing two touchdowns via handoff in the first half. Daniel Scott showed prowess as he prevented the opponent’s touchdown attempt. Garbers also silenced naysayers as he completed a touchdown, putting Cal up 42-20 at the end of the third quarter. However, Nikko Remigio put himself on top as this match’s most valuable player by completing a 99-yard touchdown mere seconds into the second half.

Eye-opening stats

At game’s end, it would be expected that the Bears’ numbers would tower over those of the Hornets. However, they didn’t look as different as those of the Nevada game — yet Cal managed to lose that one. Against Nevada, Cal held possession time and still managed to give up the score, yet the possession time between the Hornets and the Bears remained fairly equal. The reality lies in the rush: Cal made a total of 231 yards rushing, while Sacramento State stayed at a mere 59 yards. 

Looking forward

Cal will head on a short stint away from the Bay as it prepares for its upcoming faceoff against the University of Washington on Sept. 25. The Bears could be in for a surprise; as they grace the field against the Huskies, they might find themselves playing against a reflection of their own team. UW, currently under fire for its less-than-satisfactory offensive strategy, might be taking some plays from Cal’s beginning-of-season book. 

Fans have been guilty of putting their hope into UW quarterback Dylan Morris, who threw 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions last season. Not fast but effective, Morris was supposed to be a star player among the Huskies. However, UW’s rushing attack has gotten off to a sluggish start, with only 115 yards under its belt. Five returning starters on the line attempted to tie down the Huskies in offensive terms, yet offensive linemen have shown no ability to live up to fan expectations. 

UW’s shortcomings notwithstanding, the Bears must try to recreate a semblance of what it displayed Saturday. After an unimpressive start to the season, fans can only hope that this victory gave Cal a second wind. One question remains: Will the Bears blow it?

Maria Khan covers football. Contact her at [email protected].