ND plagued by amateur offensive errors in the first half
A series of three-and-outs gave way to a mutual slow start on Saturday afternoon in South Bend. With a rowdy sea of green surrounding, Cal’s defensive unit entered the gridiron energized, rattling second-string quarterback Drew Pyne into making fatal errors. From LB Jackson Sirmon with the third down sack on ND’s first possession to LB Femi Oladejo’s fumble recovery following Pyne’s dropped snap in the second quarter, it is safe to say Notre Dame’s coaching staff was frustrated. In fact, the television broadcast routinely panned an upset offensive coordinator scolding a tense Pyne on the sideline. Although it took a period to warm up, the Bears eventually took advantage of Notre Dame’s nerves as Plummer came alive to produce a 6-play touchdown scoring drive in the second quarter. A questionable offsides penalty that heeded blown coverage presented the lone offensive spark for Notre Dame in the first half — far better than Cal fans could have imagined.
Adjustments were made for ND at half
The Irish entered the locker room at half looking to remedy its defective offense, steered by Pyne’s inability to complete passes, garner yardage or convert on third downs. Its solution: exploit in the rushing game. Patterned gap runs sent green jerseys pounding down the sidelines and up the middle, wearing down the Bears’ defense throughout the second half. A 14 yard gain off running back Audric Estime’s rush up the middle, shifted momentum towards the Irish and even saw Pyne play calling with escalating confidence. Just as the ND offense found its groove, its defense asserted control in the second half as well, churning out five sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
Bears don’t quit
Ahead of this final nonconference match-up, the Irish were favored for victory by over 90%, yet the Bears kept Cal fans on the edge of their seats with hope and excitement until the very last play. A wild ride in the final two minutes, Plummer and his offensive weapons put up a respectable fight, heaving up a Hail Mary hurl to a clump of receivers in the endzone. Whilst the football could not be secured on the final play, the animation of the final minutes could reveal a high ceiling of potential for impending Pac-12 play.
Cal’s game MVP
An explosive third quarter rushing performance earns running back DeCarlos Brooks game MVP honors. Although fellow RB standout Jadyn Ott has been the talk of Berkeley in his first two collegiate statings, Brooks was not to be outdone — rushing for 43 yards in an exceptional running performance. Two carries of 11 yards and one 24 yard rush up the right sideline ignited Cal’s offense in the second half, imperative to the Bears’ second endzone punch of the afternoon.
40 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, Plummer flaunted his crafty, multi-faceted toolkit. Scrambling down the left sideline for a 24 yard gain, followed by a 16 yard sprint to another first down, Plummer unveiled his ability to rush under pressure. Although, his overall performance did not mold a remarkable statline — completing just 12 of 29 throws while simultaneously being sacked five times for a loss of 41 yards — his creative instinct and composed leadership manifested in multiple explosive plays.
Next Saturday, Cal football will embark on the onset of Pac-12 play, hosting a 1-1 Arizona program for Homecoming weekend. Cal fans recall a haunting memory of the 2021 season — the Bears, on the road with a roster depleted by a COVID-19 outbreak, were dissevered into shambles by the winless Wildcats. Thus, although Arizona is slated at the bottom of the Pac-12 in 2022 preseason predictions, the blue and gold should enter the matchup in search of something beyond a momentous conference start: redemption. As Cal fans and families fill Memorial Stadium, Jack Plummer and Cal’s offensive core must step up to equate the energy and productivity of its reliable defensive unit. If the Bears can take advantage of every sum of yardage, not taking anything for granted, the talent in their catalog can outshine the Wildcats.