Instant analysis/reaction: Cal comes up short, fumbles on final play

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Al Sermeno, KLC Fotos/Courtesy

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Brief summary

Simple run-pass option plays seemed foreign to the Bears in the first half of the game, and the Huskies pulled away early. But Cal’s second-half effort kept the Bears within striking distance, and they found themselves tied with the Huskies 24-24 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter. Cal placekicker Dario Longhetto’s 55-yard field goal attempt came up well short, and Washington scored a touchdown on its first possession of overtime. Cal running back Damien Moore fumbled the football within the 5-yard line on a pitch play to end the game. 

Key takeaways

Cal’s secondary is still second-rate but has slightly improved

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox was understandably frustrated with how the secondary played in the Bears’ unconvincing 42-30 win over Sacramento State last week. After giving up 408 passing yards to a Football Championship Subdivision school, there was little hope that defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon and the DB room would turn things around in a week, and they didn’t. But while the run-pass option was way too much for Cal’s secondary to handle in the first half, the Bears found their footing in the second. 

Chase Garbers played well, but not well enough to win

Garbers’ 319 passing yards conceal the fact that he failed to execute on some key plays. On Cal’s second drive of the fourth quarter, the redshirt senior quarterback missed a wide-open Kekoa Crawford in the end zone on a long ball. His two interceptions threw off the offense’s rhythm, and, for the most part, he failed to maneuver well in the pocket. He also had a chance to lead Cal to victory on the offense’s final drive in regulation, or at least get into a comfortable field goal position, but came up just short. 

Cal’s offensive play-calling was questionable 

On fourth-and-2, down 24-17 four minutes into the fourth quarter, Garbers threw a swing pass to running back Moore on the right sideline. Moore was just short of the line to gain, and the Bears turned the ball over on downs. That play was just the tip of the iceberg: The Bears threw the ball on six of seven 3rd-and-short situations, two of which resulted in interceptions. For a team that has been so successful running the ball all season, calling passing plays in short down situations is baffling. 

Cal’s game MVP

Though he was far from perfect, Garbers is still Cal’s game MVP. His ability to extend plays with his legs kept the Bears competitive throughout the night. Garbers is now averaging 273 passing yards per game through four games.

Eye-opening stats

Washington targeted Cal freshman cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns III four times for four completions and 47 yards, including 15 penalty yards on a pass interference call.

The Bears averaged 6.1 yards per carry entering Saturday night’s game, the 10th-best average in the country, but averaged just 3.7 yards per carry against the Huskies.  

Cal had just two first-down conversions to Washington’s seven.

Looking forward

On Saturday, Cal will welcome Washington State to Berkeley for its homecoming.  The Cougars are 1-3, including an opening-game loss to Utah State and a 13-24 loss to Utah this weekend. A date with WSU is exactly what Cal needs right now after also  starting 1-3, especially considering that the Cougars have given up an average of nearly 30 points per game this season. Cal could do with a bye week, but a home game against the Cougs is the next best thing.

William Cooke covers football. Contact him at [email protected].