Cal has talent.
If I have one take away from tonight’s game, it’s that my suspicions that Cal has talent are legitimate. And that’s good news.
The bad news is: that talent is a year or two away from being a challenger in the Pac-12. That isn’t to say they’d be a winner or not, but being a challenger in the Pac-12 is the first step on the way to being elite. They have a world class quarterback, a lot of really good skill players and a solid run game. They just need to figure out the defense.
The other big take away I have is that the Pac-12 is at worst the second best conference in all of football. I’ll explain in detail why I believe that in the “Runnin’ with the Pac” article later on this weekend, but the fact that Cal (a team that is considered to be one of the three worst in conference by us at FanSided) was able to make the best team in the Big Ten sweat it at for certain periods of the game makes me realize that. There may be some people who read this in disgust, arguing that the only reason Ohio State looked so bad is because they had their backup quarterback as the starter, but I’d argue that Kenny Guiton was the best Ohio State player on the field and he couldn’t hold a candle to freshman Jared Goff.
As for this game, it really started off in the worst possible way for the Golden Bears, as the Buckeyes scored 21 points in the first six minutes of the game, including a 90-yard Devin Smith touchdown reception to start off the game. I thought that it was game only six minutes into the game. I had written that a key to the game for Cal was for them to hold onto the ball, keeping Ohio State from scoring in bursts, and giving Cal an advantage in the time of possession battle. Instead, the offense seemed to be incapable of playing mistake free. Jared Goff, who looked bad on the first drive, looked comfortable, but looked to be the only one playing with poise. It led to bad play after bad play, including a 3rd and 1 play from the Cal 46, where Cal was rushed by the Ohio State front. The play ended up with Cal fumbling and recovering the ball, but losing seven yards. If Cal had converted, the would have been at midfield with a fresh set of downs. Instead, a punt came, and a 47-yard touchdown reception for Devin Smith.
Then, something happened. Cal calmed down. Cal began to string together a nice couple of plays, and then finally Goff connected with James Grisom for this 61-yard touchdown that put Cal in the game. This pass was a thing of beauty, indefensible, and perfectly lofted to the receiver. Cal would give up a field goal after having a chance to pull to within a touchdown, but on their next drive, Goff would toss a 41-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. This play changed the complexion of the game, putting momentum in Cal’s corner.
For all the national championship aspirations and hype that Ohio State has, for them to put Cal’s defense through a 21-point romp and not put them away looks horrible for Ohio State. Cal just looked faster, hungrier and more willing to put in the work that needed to be done in order to make the game an upset. The problem was Cal made mistakes that young teams make. The most egregious one was the two touchdown opportunities they had late in the first half that ended up in stalled drives that only amounted to three points each. Those six points could have been 14, and at half Cal could have been down three rather than 11. At half it was 31-20.
In the second half, the defense reverted back to its first quarter form. They began playing sloppy, Ohio State made enough adjustments to start outclassing Cal, and the game got out of hand. The final score, 52-34, may look lopsided to some, but considering the massive amounts of people who were unable to play for Cal tonight, the career night Guiton had (going 21-for-32 with 276 yards and four touchdowns along with 92 rushing yards), and the big plays the defense gave up (plays of 90, 47, 36, 33 and 32), the score is pretty respectable.
Cal also hung 34 points (and should have had more) with a freshman quarterback and a young offense. This team is supposed to play for the national title, remember? Freshman quarterbacks playing in their third game are not supposed to go 31-for-53 with 371 yards and a touchdown. He also was a great distributer, passing to twelve different receivers.
A big problem tonight was that Ohio State keyed in on the run game. Cal ran for 132 yards as a team, leaning heavily on the returning Daniel Lasco, who ran for 64 yards on 10 rushes. But Brendan Bigelow only rushed 11 times, picking up just 39 yards, and not getting a gain over more than 9 yards. Bigelow was supposed to be a key cog to the team’s offense, instead he didn’t get too many opportunities, and when he did, he fell flat. The best rusher on the team, at least based on looks, was Khaifani Muhammad, who ran for 21 yards on five carries.
All in all, the loss tonight isn’t tragic or heartbreaking or even disappointing. This team was supposed to lose to Ohio State, this team was not supposed to be much of a threat. What we as was that Cal can be very good in the nearish future. We also didn’t have Cal embarrass themselves they way they could have. They played a decent enough game.
The only disappointing part of the game was that Cal had chances to make this game even more competitive, and they didn’t take those chances. This team, which I was so down on after a win last weekend against Portland State, is a team I am so high on after that loss (an 18-point loss) to Ohio State.
This team is odd, frustrating and beat-up. But damn if they aren’t entertaining.