This week, it wasn’t the good, the bad and the ugly. It was more like, the ugly, the uglier and the ugliest — with just enough good thrown in to make everyone tune in again next week.
Here’s how things break down for the Bears in their 42-24 loss to the Ducks.
Despite the 42-24 final score and the ghastly turnover margin (5-0 in favor of the Ducks), there were some things the Bears can walk away from Memorial Stadium pleased with. For one, running back Patrick Laird had his best game of the season, rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown and breaking away once for 18 yards. In the previous three games, Laird had 22 yards on 11 carries (against Idaho State), 30 yards on 10 carries (against BYU) and 95 yards on 29 carries (against UNC). Saturday was absolutely a step in the right direction for Laird, who is one of the conference’s top running backs, despite what his projection up to this point might show. It looked like he was more decisive and had more push and lean and was falling forward. If Laird can build on this performance, it helps balance the Bears’ offense and makes Cal a whole heck of a lot more threatening.
Another good thing for the Bears was their continued success on special teams. Steven Coutts was brilliant, punting a ball 73 yards to pin the Ducks inside their own 5-yard line, and his lone other punt was inside the 20-yard line, as well. Ashtyn Davis and Jeremiah Hawkins both looked good in the kick return game, with Davis averaging 23 yards per return (and looking impressive on a 34-yard return), and Hawkins returning a kick for 54 yards. Vic Wharton (after a dismal and fumble-filled performance against Idaho State) had a solid outing, returning one punt for 35 yards.
And linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver continue to be absolute beasts inside for the Bears. Kunaszyk finished with 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble, while Weaver recorded a game-high (and career-high) 14 tackles. Those two can seriously ball.
See: the ugly.
Ooof. There was a whole heck of a lot of ugly for Cal in Saturday’s game.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Chase Garbers, who started the game for the Bears, only completed four of his nine attempted passes, and he threw two interceptions. And Brandon McIlwain completed a hair over 50 percent of his passes (he was 11 of 21) and also threw two picks. Both quarterbacks also fumbled — Garbers fumbled early in the game, but he recovered, and McIlwain fumbled twice, one of which he recovered and one of which was taken 61 yards to the house. The inexperience of the two was clear (Garbers is a redshirt freshman and McIlwain is a redshirt sophomore). They were inaccurate with their passes, often throwing high, and sometimes just didn’t seem to make very good decisions, like when Garbers threw into triple coverage in the endzone and was picked off.
Cal got gashed on big plays. The Bears gave up runs of 74 and 45 yards and passes of 36, 33 and 30 yards. Yikes. The Bears’ front seven never seemed to be able to get much in the way of pressure on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, and Cal’s run defense was pretty well decimated; two Ducks rushed for over 100 yards (Travis Dye for 115 yards and CJ Verdell for 106 yards). The Bears’ secondary didn’t fare much better, giving up 225 passing yards, with cornerback Cam Bynum looking totally human for really the first time this season. And the group, which had forced six turnovers coming into the game, got nowhere close to picking off Herbert.
The play-calling was head-scratching. On offense, there were times that, with how the Bears were lined up, I knew immediately what Cal was going to do. And if I could tell, I’m pretty dang sure Oregon’s defense could tell, too. The Bears’ quarterbacks occasionally looked deep to their wideouts, but there was never really much of a threat there. As a result, the Ducks’ defensive backs didn’t have to respect the deep threat and could break quickly to the ball on underneath routes. On defense, the Bears kept giving the middle to Oregon and didn’t dial up much pressure on Herbert. The three-man pass rush the Bears brought frequently was never going to cut it, and Cal didn’t really dial up a safety blitz, something the Ducks’ offensive line struggled with in Oregon’s loss to Stanford.
This article originally appeared here.