BERKELEY-It wasn't the Cal football team's aerial assault that crushed Colorado. Nor was it the Bears' punishing running game. No, what most contributed to the Buffaloes' 13th straight road loss was their own lack of discipline, as Cal (2-0) capitalized on 75 penalty yards incurred by Colorado to come away with a 52-7 win.
"We got off to a bad start," said Buffaloes head coach Dan Hawkins. "I got worse from there."
In the first half alone, Colorado (1-1) were tagged with eight penalties-almost all on offense-and lost 68 yards, but by the time they shored things up, the ferocious Bears defense had already smelled the blood in the water.
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Linebacker Mychal Kendricks led the way with his first sack of the season, and was followed by two straight QB hits from linebacker Jarred Price.
The defense kept hammering away in the second quarter, when senior linebacker Mike Mohamed returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown.
"After Mikey Mo took that pick back, I saw the offensive linemen shaking their heads, like, 'Let's go home,' and after that happened, we knew we had them," said Price. "We didn't want to take our foot off their throat, and we didn't."
Mohamed's interception was one of three that Cal tallied on Saturday against Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen, the Bears' highest interception total since Sept. 19, 2009 at Minnesota.
"The guys executed this plan well; we had a lot of concern about this quarterback," said Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "He has the ability to get out of the pocket and make a lot of yards scrambling-scrambling to run, scrambling to throw-so that was probably the biggest concern going into the game."
And coming out on the other side, the Bears completely suffocated Hansen, as he rushed 11 times for a net of -9 yards.
"Other than a couple times, I think we kept him in the pocket for the most part," Pendergast said. "We changed it up between three down (linemen) and four down, particularly in third-down type situations, and most of those incorporated some form of a spy on the quarterback, so we wouldn't allow him to have the ability to run out of there when we were just rushing four and playing coverage in most of those situations."
Pendergast was particularly pleased with the pressure that his linebackers put on both the passing game and the rush.
"They're a team that was going to do a lot in terms of spreading you out with a lot of plays outside the numbers," Pendergast said of the Buffaloes. "It was imperative for our linebackers and our secondary to take good angles to the ball on the run and the pass, and I thought, for the most part, we did that. That's what we preached all week, was taking good angles to attack the line of scrimmage and also attack the passing game."
The Bears did just that: attack. Hansen was under near-constant pressure from a blitzing Cal defense that sacked him six times.
"With Mychal Kendricks, Jared Price, they're a little different body types on the perimeter," Pendergast said. "Keith Browner is obviously his own body type, in terms of having some length and a big wingspan, so the combination of those three guys on the edges should allow us to be fairly multiple, weekly, in terms of things we like to do."
Price got both of his sacks from the left side, burning 6-foot-9, 315-pound senior left tackle Nate Solder.
"He's a hard guy to block, especially with tall tackles, and their left tackle is a big guy," said head coach Jeff Tedford, referring to the match-up between Price and Solder. "(Price) plays so low and bends the edge so well that he gets leverage on them, because he can get underneath them. No matter how big they are, they have a hard time blocking him, because he's underneath their numbers and they have a hard time reaching him. He gives our tackles a lot of trouble as well."
Price was a holy terror throughout the game, utilizing his speed against the Buffaloes' size up front.
"I think it was more of a team effort," Price said of his sacks. "We preached it all week, as far as getting to the quarterback and bringing him down. They were hyping No. 78 (Solder), saying he was a first-round draft pick, and I wanted to put him to the test and see if he was really worthy, and I came out on top. Overall, we had a good day, as far as the defense.
"My thing is, I like going up against dudes that are tall, because they can't come down and block. If I can set my shoulders, there's really nothing they can do. I really don't look at the height difference as a big factor. I look at it as an advantage, as far as I'm concerned."
Senior defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, however, seized upon the height difference between the 5-foot-11 Price and the 6-foot-9 Solder.
"Price is a little speed demon on the edge. Size doesn't matter when the guy is 6-foot-8 and Price is, what, 5-foot-1? Just kidding," the big defensive end chuckled. "The tackle has to go way out of his comfort zone to block him, so it's an advantage to him."
The defensive line, in particular, had a stellar day, with three sacks coming from up front. Jordan notched his first sack of the season, and Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu also got in on the act with sacks of their own.
"I had no complaints about that one," smiled the always-jovial Jordan in the post-game presser. "The whole D-line had fun, the linebackers got in on it. Shoot, I think we came in with two D-line sacks, and that's always fun."
Jordan was happy with how much the defense was able to unsettle Hansen in the pocket, and pursue him out of it.
"I think we did our job today. Just guessing," Jordan joked. "I'm thinking we did a good job back there."
The defense held the Buffaloes to just 86 total yards in the first half, and the Bears started four of their seven drives in Colorado territory.
"In the first half, our defense set up our offense to score some points, and I thought we should have scored two more touchdowns," senior quarterback Kevin Riley said. "We won 52-7, so you can't be mad about it, but we're going to come in tomorrow, watch some film and get ready to play a better game, offensively, next week."
Cal opened up the scoring in much the same fashion as it had against UC Davis, with a Shane Vereen touchdown reception halfway through the first quarter to cap off a three-play, 19-yard drive set up by a 23-yard punt return from Jeremy Ross.
After largely being a non-factor for the first quarter, true freshman Keenan Allen started off the Bears' next scoring drive in exciting fashion, taking an end-around for six yards to set up an 11-yard pass from Riley to Marvin Jones in the right flats. Four plays later, Riley again hooked up with Jones for a four-yard TD pass in the back of the end zone, with the defense largely focused on Allen.
"It was basically a play-action, so I just evaded the defenders," Jones said. "I was open all the way, and Riley saw me early and hooked up with me."
Cal struck again for two more touchdowns and a 31-yard field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio in the second quarter.
After Tavecchio's boot, it was again Allen's turn to help the cause, as he took a pass over the middle from Riley on a third-and-eight for 29 yards to the Colorado 41, before being de-helmeted by Ray Polk, which earned a personal foul penalty, bringing the Bears to the Buffs' 26.
Vereen ran for 12, Riley hit Allen for 11, and then the junior tailback finished it all off with a three-yard TD scamper over the right tackle to make it 24-0 Bears.
The Bears closed out the first half with Mohamed's 41-yard pick six, his seventh career interception and second returned for a touchdown.
"The ball was up there in the air, and I just grabbed it," said Mohamed, who had a game-high 14 tackles. "Then, I just looked for daylight and took off."
The second half started out quite a bit differently than the first, with Cal stalling out both times it held the ball, and with Riley feeling more and more pressure thanks to a shaky offensive line.
"We always want to have that focus, and when we're up by that many points, we want to have the same focus as we did when we started the game," Jones said. "There are going to be gray areas, but I felt like we overcame. I felt like there was kind of … we were kind of in a little slump, but we overcame that and finished off very well."
It didn't help that Colorado was able to tally six first downs in the third stanza to the Bears' zero. After starting off 8-for-14, Riley only threw the ball three times in the third.
"In the third quarter, we only ran six plays, and that's putting a lot on your defense," Riley said. "That game would have been a shutout if we would have sustained a drive in the third quarter and gave our defense a rest."
Riley wasn't given a whole lot of time to throw overall on the day, the failure of the Bears' offensive line to get sufficient push up front also affected the running game.
"It was a little tough," Vereen said. "They did a few things on defense where they put an extra defender into the box and made it tough for us, but I think that, as an offense, and as a running back, we need to get a lot better."
Cal ran for just 159 yards on 36 plays, with Vereen gaining just 59 yards on 16 touches, though he did score a touchdown.
"As a whole, I think we'll look back on the game, see some good things, see some bad things," Vereen said. "But, there's definitely room for improvement."
Tedford felt the line performed satisfactorily, but that there were some causes for concern.
"We missed some things," Tedford said. "We got hit in the backfield a couple times, but you have to look and see where and why that occurred. It was solid for the most part."
The Bears spent most of the first half on the ground, rushing 19 times for 69 yards and electing to pass just 14 times. Though Cal led handily, 31-0, going into halftime, the offense hadn't really shown much to get excited about, and continued to meander along through the third quarter.
"We didn't even take any shots in the first half. Everything was pretty controlled and we didn't throw the ball deep, I think, at all in the first half," said Tedford.
After the third quarter ended, the Bears opened up the playbook. On Cal's first possession, Riley uncorked a huge pass down the right sideline to Jones, who hauled it in and kept running, despite having a defender hanging on him.
"I wanted to score very bad," Jones smiled. "I kind of broke off in the corner, and the corner was trying to break off from my flag route, and Riley did a good job. We were still looking eye-to-eye, and he did a good job changing the throw to where I had to back-pedal and catch it. I felt like I was dragging somebody, but I just smelled the touchdown and I had the ball, kind of awkwardly, up toward my neck. It felt kind of awkward, but it's better to have the long gain than the fumble."
The Bears would cash in soon enough, though, but not before right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin entered the game and was dinged with a false start penalty.
"He didn't really play much," Tedford said. "We put him in on the goal line, he jumped offsides and we took him out. After that, I think he got the last series, and he didn't play very much this game."
Backed up to the eight, Riley found Allen for the TD strike to put the Bears up 38-7.
On the next drive, Cal kept turning pages, with Riley completing a pass to fullback Eric Stevens up the middle, then a 27-yard pass to Ross and finally pulling a double-reverse out of the shotgun that saw Jones gain 23 yards to the Buffaloes' one-yard line.
"It was a relief," Jones said, of opening up on offense. "They were very physical in the first half, and we felt them out and didn't capitalize on all of our opportunities. In the second half, we kind of felt it out and started being successful."
The Bears' final score came from senior cornerback Darian Hagan, who was going up against his father, Darian, Sr., who coaches running backs for Colorado.
On first-and-10 from the Cal 29, Hansen completed a pass to his favorite target of the day, tight end Ryan Deehan, for 11 yards. As soon as he came down with it, Deehan was hit by Robert Mullins, knocking the ball loose. Hagan scooped it up and ran for an 82-yard fumble recovery touchdown.
"I was so surprised, my eyes got big as soon as it popped up," Hagan said. "I just tried to catch it and run as hard as I could to the end zone."
Of course, perhaps tougher than that 82-yard sprint will be the post-game conversation with his father.
"I think he'll congratulate me," Hagan smiled. "For the situation, and for it to end the way that it did, to get the fumble recovery and score in the last minute of the game, he'll probably congratulate me a little bit. I didn't speak with him before, but if I did, it would have been a lot of smack talking going on, but I just tried to refrain from it, to stay focused and try to have a big game."
Apart from that fumble recovery, Hagan had a pass break-up on Colorado's first pass attempt of the day and had four total tackles.
Fellow corners Marc Anthony and redshirt freshman Steve Williams also had big days. Despite leaving the game briefly after a particularly hard hit, Anthony recorded a career-high seven tackles, while Williams notched his first career interception on a long sideline pass to Toney Clemons on the right sideline, blanketing the 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior the whole way.
"I think it's a players' game. We've got to utilize the players that we have," Pendergast said. "I want to put a product out there that's fun for our players, that they enjoy and utilize their skill set, and is also fun for the fans to watch. We don't want to be a defense that stands around and holds bags. We want to be active and we want to be disruptive."
Of course, part of having that defensive unit be disruptive is creating turnovers, and beyond that, scoring off of those turnovers. 31 of Cal's 52 points came off of turnovers, with 14 of those coming directly from the defense.
"Well, it helps the offense's stats," Pendergast laughed. "It was exciting. I'm glad to see the guys get in the end zone. We didn't get an opportunity to have many turnovers last week, so that was something. We are going to be a turnover-oriented defense. That's something that Coach Tedford has preached here throughout the course of his time, with the defenses that he has had here, and that's something that I also preached during my time as a coordinator in the NFL. The turnovers were going to be important for us to get, eventually, and that was one of the biggest things that I talked about this week. We need to start having those come to fruition, and we were able to get a couple of them today."
• Riley's four TD passes shoot him to No. 6 on the all-time list at Cal, moving him past Aaron Rodgers. Riley also threw four TDs in the 2009 opener against Maryland. Riley has thrown for three or more scores on seven occasions in his career.
• Vereen has now caught a pass in 28 straight games-which spans his entire collegiate career.
• Jones' 62-yard catch is a career-long for him, besting his 51-yarder last week.
• The last time Cal recorded six sacks was in 2009 against the Terps.
• Bryant Nnabuife made his first career interception in the second quarter.
• Kendricks recorded his first career sack of the season in the first quarter. On the very next play, he recovered a fumble for the third time in his career, following a sack by Price, who forced the bobble.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more analysis.