The 2011 California Golden Bears won their season opener vs. Fresno State this past Saturday, by a score of 36-21. While the Bears’ performance was by no means perfect – many mistakes, including 2 turnovers & 11 penalties, but all correctable – they responded well to an early 1st quarter deficit and closed out with a win against a respectable FSU team. Before we get into our game notes, our good friends at California Golden Blogs have several great post-game review/detailed analysis posts here:
Also, check out PRD74′s awesome highlight videos:
Now to our observations:
1. Maynard might be a work in progress, but he has the potential to be the best Cal QB since Rodgers
Zach Maynard had his ups and downs in his first start as a Golden Bear, but he led his team to an encouraging opening day victory. He shook off an ill-timed 1st-series interception, as well as overall first-game jitters, to lead his team on 3 first-quarter touchdown drives, as well as another TD score in the 3rd quarter. His final stat line was 16/35 for 266 yards with 2 TDs & 1 INT. Although Maynard’s completion percentage was fairly low (46%), he had a very respectable 7.6 YPA. More importantly, he led the offense to convert on several critical 3rd downs, including on key scoring drives: Cal’s 3rd down conversion stat for the game was a decent 7 for 16 (44%).
What was most impressive about Maynard was his poise and ability to lead the team back from the early 7-point deficit resulting from his pick. Many Cal observers have noted since the game that Zach seems to have the “it” factor. He did not panic after the first series, remained cool and confident in the huddle, and started throwing the ball with authority once he settled into the game. He hit several long passes to both Marvin Jones and his brother Keenan Allen. He also showed good awareness when rolling out of the pocket – either looking downfield to make a play, or throwing it out of bounds when flushed. Also, his mobility was as good as advertised – he was very good in executing zone read plays (except for a couple flubbed meshes/exchanges with Sofele) knowing when to pull the ball out and run, especially in critical 3rd down situations. He also escaped the rush several times from an aggressive FSU defense (was only sacked twice), and he finished with 53 yards rushing on 5 carries.
Maynard does need to work on his accuracy, however, and also in refining his reads/progressions. Although the windy conditions at Candlestick were a noticeable factor (especially in the 2nd half, when gusts of 20-30mph seemed to pull/hang passes in mid-flight), Zach displayed happy feet on some throws, which affected his mechanics and led to him being off-target on passes. Even some of his completed passes were slightly behind his receiver, or on the wrong shoulder, which may be due to him “pulling the string” (aiming the ball/not stepping through) or rushing throws. Also, when pressured, he sometimes locked onto his primary receiver (usually Jones or Allen), instead of hitting his hot read or going thru his progressions.
What is encouraging though, is that most (if not all) of these mistakes are correctable and coachable. Zach should improve with his reads and accuracy, especially as he becomes more comfortable in JT’s “updated” offense (more details below). While we should be careful to avoid hyperbole, Maynard definitely has a lot of potential, especially considering that this is his first year in JT’s system. Not only that, Zach showed maturity and poise in his post-game comments, noting that he graded himself “4.5 out of 10″ – with room for improvement – and also promising Coach Tedford that he can and will play better. Thus, with continued improvement in accuracy, combined with his mobility & leadership and play-making qualities, he could develop into the best Cal QB since Aaron Rodgers. Remember, even the defending Super Bowl MVP didn’t light the world on fire right away as a new Golden Bear in 2003.
2. The running game also needs work, but the passing game has improved since late last year
Starting tailback Isi Sofele had a career high in carries, yards, and TDs – 24 for 83 (3.5 YPC) & 2 scores. However, he was often tackled in the backfield (particularly in the 2nd half), and several times was slow to hit the hole. His low YPC average was not only the result of inconsistent run blocking, but also due in part to Fresno State’s aggressive schemes – Pat Hill often had his DL & LBs shooting gaps and clogging lanes on run blitzes. On the bright side, this meant that Cal’s WRs were often left wide open downfield. Case in point: both Marvin Jones (5-118 / 2 TDs) and Keenan Allen (8-112) had 100+ yard receiving games, which was the first time a Cal WR tandem both topped the century mark since Desean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins did in 2006.
While the problems in the running game are troubling – missed blocks and low YPC from Sofele, as well as Anderson (2 carries) & Deboskie (1 carry) – Maynard’s mobility and his ability to execute read option plays should help keep defenses honest in upcoming games. Hopefully Coach M will be able to correct the mistakes up front, not only in blocking, but also fixing the inconsistent shotgun snaps and cutting down on untimely penalties – such as the ugly sequence of drive-killing flags at the end of the 2nd quarter. Also, Coach Gould no doubt understands the need to develop a reliable 2nd (and possibly 3rd) back – a total of 3 carries from the backup TBs is not enough production.
Another bright spot was that FBs Will Kapp and John Tyndall were mostly effective in their blocking assignments. And as noted above, the passing game showed signs of rejuvenation compared to the struggles of late 2010. Jones and Allen were dominant, while Miller and Calvin also caught a few nice passes. Marv in particular, is noticeably stronger, shiftier, and faster than before – his 2 sweet spin-moves are an indication – while Keenan proved that he has an uncanny chemistry with his older brother. As Zach gains more and more experience with the offense, he should be able to get more receivers involved and spread the ball around. As a result, the passing game should continue to get better and more explosive.
3. The defense is close to mid-season form, and features several playmakers at all 3 levels
The reigning #1 defense in the Pac-12 picked up where it left off in 2010. Cal held FSU to only 210 total yards: 68 rushing (2.7 YPC) and 142 passing (4.3 YPA). And while the D gave up 2 TDs, the first arguably was not their fault, and the second was basically a garbage-time score given up in the 4th quarter, while many 2nd & 3rd team guys were on the field. As seen in the photo above, the D also scored a touchdown of its own: LB Cecil Whiteside stripped FSU QB David Carr of the ball, and DE Trevor Guyton picked it up and returned it to the house, with Sean Cattouse trailing right behind him.
Cal’s swarming defense – now in its 2nd year under Coach P’s tutelage – stuffed Fresno State’s running game for the most part, and it often pressured Carr into quick/short throws and an interception. Cal also collected 4 sacks and multiple TFLs – including 2.5 from Mychal Kendricks and 2 from Josh Hill, who both had very solid, if not spectacular performances. D.J. Holt made several great plays alongside his battery-mate Kendricks, while the 3 young OLBs (Wilkerson, McCain, Whiteside) all flashed ability off the edge, despite over-pursuing some plays early in the game.
Coach Tosh got efficient production out of his D-line, including valuable minutes from true freshmen Moose Jalil, Vei Moala, and Brennan Scarlett (Scarlett came in as a rush end/LB, mainly in the 2nd half). FS Sean Cattouse was steady, directing traffic in the secondary, while CB Steve Williams proved to be a playmaker by picking off a pass. CB Marc Anthony was solid in coverage and run support as well. Lastly, SS D.J. Campbell perhaps made the play of the game on defense, running down FSU WR Devon Wylie (who supposedly runs a 4.25) and catching him from behind, preventing a score. All in all, the Cal D showed promising signs that it could be even better than last year.
4. JT has [re-]installed creativity, plus new wrinkles, to his now updated offense
CGB’s Kodiak (3rd post linked above) did a very nice job describing many of the new wrinkles that Coach Tedford has incorporated into this year’s offensive playbook. Without rehashing too much of what he and another Cal observers have noted, what was most noticeable is that the creativity and multiple looks of the early Tedford years is back. The “creative” elements in the offense we saw on Saturday weren’t limited to just the zone read plays (both out of the pistol and offset shotgun), new formations (e.g. shotgun 2-back set, with either a 2nd TB or an H-back on the wing, plus the TE or TB flexed out wide), or quick Oklahoma-style check-downs at the line.
The most welcoming sight was the return of dynamic play-calling, a hallmark of the classic JT offense. More often than not, Coach Tedford (along with Coach M and Coach Kiesau – who was up in the box, as the “eyes” and “voice” of the 3-headed play-calling monster) would call certain plays early on in the game out of specific formations, only to set up the defense for a counter or play-action later on in the game. One noticeable example, as Kodiak aptly described in his post, is the just-missed wheel route to CDJ in the 4th quarter.
5. Special Teams needs improvement, but gets a pass considering the rough conditions at the ‘Stick
The score above probably should have read 38-21, at the very least. Senior K Giorgio Tavecchio inexplicably had his first 2 PATs blocked – the first arguably due to a protection breakdown, and the second because of a low trajectory. In addition, fellow senior P Bryan Anger had an uncharacteristically low 35.5 yard average on 6 punts – most of them rugby style. As noted above, the windy conditions at the ‘Stick contributed to the woes in the kicking game. Perhaps the swirling gusts affected Tavecchio mentally as well as physically, but to his credit, he made his one FG attempt. And although his kickoffs were short of the goal line, 4 out of 6 of them were into the wind. As for Anger, Coach Tedford noted in post-game interviews that he was instructed to roll out and punt rugby style, in order to neutralize Fresno State’s aggressive punt rushes.
On the other hand, coverage units were generally solid. FSU averaged less than 20 yards (18.4) per KR, and only 4.7 per PR – both very respectable numbers. Unfortunately, this didn’t cancel out the poor relative field position that Cal often started off with due to short punts, and also FSU’s good field position resulting from short kickoffs. Coach Genyk will definitely have his hands full this week in not only fixing the blocking miscues in the kicking game, but also making sure that both of our kickers are more consistent overall this Saturday in Colorado.