Meat on the bone

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On Saturday, Cal football beat Colorado 26-3 for the Bears’ second win over an FBS team in the last two seasons. For Cal fans, it was a relief to finally win a Pac-12 home game and to do it in such convincing fashion. The Buffaloes finished with just 104 total yards of offense and just seven first downs to the Bears’ 23. For the first time this year, the Bears looked like they belonged, while their opponent appeared to be out of its depth.

But without breaking down every play, it’s hard to say whether or not Cal played exceptionally well on Saturday or if they just so happened to play a team with arguably the worst offense in the Power 5. After its abysmal display over the weekend, Colorado dropped to dead last in the FBS rankings in total offense (130th of 130).

The team celebrated wildly in the locker room after the game, the concern that had grown over the past few weeks finally giving way to elation. But for head coach Justin Wilcox, it’s important that his team not rest on its laurels — unimpressive laurels at that.

“This will not be the highlight of the season,” said Wilcox in his post-game speech to the team. “This was the first step. There’s a lot of meat left on the bone.”

Indeed, while Cal’s defense absolutely dominated the least productive offense in the country, the offense did just enough to get by. The Bears scored on all five of their first half drives but punted on five of their six drives in the second half. They also had seven offensive penalties for 70 yards, which put them in far too many 3rd and long situations. Consequently, quarterback Chase Garbers found himself in the shotgun formation and, when his receivers did not get open, scrambling for first down yardage.

All of that scrambling resulted in Garbers leading the team in rushing yards on Saturday, which was in part due to the fact that Colorado failed to keep an eye on him and in part due to Cal’s receivers failing to create separation.

When asked if he planned to scramble so much, Garbers admitted that it wasn’t entirely planned.

“I mean, it just sort of happened,” said Garbers. “We had some broken plays that were scrambled and then obviously some zone read. It was just how their ends were playing, how their defense was playing gave me opportunities to pull the ball in the zone read game and run with it.”

It also signals that the Bears’ running game, which looked so promising during Cal’s first few drives (I’m getting deja vu) did not work like it should. Running backs Christopher Brooks and Damien Moore combined for just 93 yards on the ground, three fewer yards than Garbers managed on his own.

And if Wilcox really wants to avoid making this win Cal’s highlight of the season, a more dynamic and balanced offense is in order. For example, the Bears will head to Los Angeles for their last game of the season at the end of November and the Bruins currently boast the 13th best run defense in the country. Wilcox and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have a month to breathe life into this Cal running game. If they fail to do so, UCLA’s defense will have a field day defending the Bears’ predictable passing game.

Fans should count their blessings first, of course. But while this win is surely Cal’s greatest achievement all season, it’s hardly a highlight.

“We played well enough to win but could be better,” said Garbers postgame. “We came out firing in the first half but we’ve just got to go finish the game early in the second half and put it away.”

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