Consistency for Cal is key
For many, Cal's performance to date has been mysterious at best, frustrating at worst. At times both the offense and defense have looked unbeatably strong, with sparkling touchdowns by veterans like DeSean Jackson to newcomers like Jahvid Best. At other times, the same units have looked distressingly vulnerable.
Against Arizona, those frustrations reemerged when Cal blew most of a late 3rd quarter 38-10 lead, allowing 17 consecutive points to what had seemed to be an overmatched Arizona team. Does Cal have a consistency problem or do they merely struggle when young replacements have been put in the game?
It's a question worth asking. Cal has outscored their opponents 166-98 through their first 4 games - a quality margin to be sure. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as impressive as the 152-57 margin the Bears have when they have stumbled in the late 3rd and 4th quarter. Said another way, 42 percent of Cal's opponents' scoring has come late in the game, with Cal over-powering, and sometimes simply out-willing their foes.
Focusing in on the Arizona game, Arizona's 17 unanswered points came from three drives consisting of two touchdowns and a field goal, in that order, with one punt in between the two touchdowns. Those series all occurred in a 12 minute span during the final two quarters. Erasing those 12 minutes of the game, which would only make up 20 percent of the contest, Arizona would have had 62 percent fewer points (10 versus 27), 30 percent fewer passing yards (214 versus 309), 61 percent fewer rushing yards (8 versus 21), and 32 percent fewer total yards (222 versus 330). Outside of those four possessions, Arizona only scored on two of their remaining nine possessions averaging a impotent 21 yards a possession, including penalty yards.
While the defense was struggling during those 12 minutes of game time, the offense faired no better. In that same 12 minute span, Cal netted just 15 yards in three possessions. All three drives were 3 plays or less, two punts and the third possession ending on a fumble by redshirt freshman running back James Montgomery on the second play of the drive. California head coach Jeff Tedford commented on Cal's 3rd quarter offense.
"I called a couple of bad plays, no question about it," Coach Tedford said. "We had a couple of tough three-and-outs to begin that third quarter. That screen to Jahvid (Best), Arizona sniffed it out pretty easily."
As a comparison, excluding the first possession of the game, the drive shortened by Longshore's interception in the 2nd quarter and the game ending 27 yard drive, Cal's shortest drive was a 37 yard touchdown drive. In those seven possessions of 37 yards or longer, Cal scored on 6 of them, averaging 55 yards on each possession. The lone possession that ended without a score was a missed 38 yard field goal attempt by Jordan Kay. So while Coach Tedford criticized some of his play calling, the large percentage was his standard genius.
What are we to make of these numbers and could some of them be a direct result of playing a lot of backups?
There's definitely merit to this argument. For starters, the Pac-10's top rusher and scorer, Bears senior running back Justin Forsett was essentially handcuffed to the sideline. Additionally, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory stated that despite the fact that Cal's total yardage allowed might increase, he's committed to playing some of the young players on the Bears roster. Therefore, it is important to take a look at the personnel on the field when these breakdowns occur. For this there is no question that in every game except the Tennessee game, a number of substitutions happened during the downtime. Looking specifically at the Arizona game, a number of players were substituted in for one reason or another.
On offensive, James Montgomery was the most notable because of his fumble in the redzone, but he was not alone. Chris Conte was seeing significant playing time at cornerback. Add in plenty of playing time for linebacker Michael Mohamed and versatile second-string defensive backs Darian Hagan and Robert Peele, who were both partially called in for service because of defensive injuries, and it is clear that the coaching staff was anxious to get a fair amount of experience for their depth chart.
At the same time, a number of the struggles can not be attributed to backups getting playing time. Longshore was never replaced at quarterback and he went 0-4 during that 12 minute stretch. The offensive line was kept intact, yet the running game was not as potent as it had been. When asked at half-time about finding a challenge for his team in the second half, Coach Tedford quickly remarked, "Putting another 31 points on the board". The Bears were not able to quite make that mark, and settled on just half that amount.
Whether it was a slight rut, conservative play-calling, or the inability to smell blood and put their opponent away, it seems safe to say that it is important that it be avoided in this week's match up against Oregon if the Bears are to come away from Eugene with their first victory of the Tedford era in his old stomping grounds. In just 4 games this season (totaling 16 quarters), the explosive Ducks have put up 21 or more points in 5 of them. So this is a team that requires four rock-solid quarters to beat, especially when they are at home.
Ken Crawford is a sportswriter for BearTerritory.net. A lifelong Cal football observer, Crawford covered the Bears during the 2006 season, and will continue to handle both Cal football and basketball assignments during the 2007-08 season.