Anatomy of a Play: Makai Polk's 52 Yard TD vs. Washington State
It may not be an exaggeration to say that Makai Polk revitalized Cal's hopes moving toward the end of the season. Cal hadn't scored a fourth quarter touchdown all year, and up one score, they'd failed to land a true finishing blow on any of their opponents. With 3rd and 9 at their own 48, offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin turned to a play meant to counter a Washington State tendency.
"They had blitzed us a couple times on 3rd and 8, 3rd and 9, 3rd and 10 earlier, definitely on one where Mod(ster) took a sack on 3rd and 11," Baldwin said. "It's something we talked about that I had in my mind for the next time we had a 3rd and 9, 3rd and 10."
So it went, the right situation with the right call against the right defense. Washington State brought five, dropping a linebacker into coverage off the edge while looping an end toward the field side. Cal came out with 11 personnel, with Polk the sole wideout on his side, though Jake Tonges lined up on the same side as an H-back.
The ball is snapped, and due to Wazzu's blitz, the Bears have numbers on that side. Polk runs the screen, Tonges gets enough of the corner, and he has two linemen upfield who he can get vertical behind in Matt Cindric and Mike Saffell. Neither lineman blocks a guy, but they're in the way, and it's enough to make a Washington State safety dive at the feet of Polk.
"At the end of the day, the player's still got to make the play," Baldwin noted,"if Makai doesn't step out of the first tackle it's a four yard gain and we're punting. It still takes guys making that play, making guys miss. He did a tremendous job and guys were hustling downfield blocking, to turn what could have been a solid play into a chunk play."
Polk juked out a couple more defensive backs, as Trevon Clark held onto his downfield block on the right side just long enough, as the Cal freshman ran to open space. The Richmond native averaged 30 yards per reception in his final year at El Cerrito High School, so the run after catch aspect wasn't new to him.
"Just nice blocking by the linemen, the tight ends," Polk said postgame, "I saw a crease and went with it."
Polk was recruited by the Bears for that run after catch ability, something the Cal coaching staff saw from him not long after offering at their 7 on 7 tournament in June of 2018. Polk intercepted a pass and juked his way back to the pseudo-endzone in the middle of Maxwell Field, running untouched in and out of defenders.
The Bears' true freshman finished the play, cutting back against the Washington State defenders pursuing him to the right, and completing Ted Robinson's call, of a 'Freshman's dream.'
"I saw they were in cover 0, and I knew it was going to be a big gain," QB Devon Modster said postgame, "but I didn't know it was going to be a touchdown or not. Right when I threw it, I saw there was a huge hole and Makai just did all the rest."
For a receiving group that needed a win in the wake of injury and an offense needing a break from their struggles, Polk's explosive play may provide a bit more confidence for an offense that needs it against USC. If they hope to gain bowl eligibility, creating more explosives is going to help do it.