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Cal Football: What Has Happened to the Bears' Defense in the Second Half of Defeats?

Cal was outscored 38-13 in the second half vs. Notre Dame and WSU.

On Sundays, we typically provide a first look at Cal’s next opponent.

The Bears have a bye this week on the heels of their 28-9 loss at Washington State on Saturday, so their focus will clearly be on themselves for the next few days.

The first order of business, with seven games remaining, will be to get their heads right.

“Just re-focusing. We need to get healthy, but mentally, too,” senior safety Daniel Scott said. “We have a long stretch ahead of us. This is one game for us. We’ll watch film, we’ll make corrections.

“We’re excited to get back to Colorado in two weeks.”

Before heading to Boulder on Oct. 15, the Bears (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) will endeavor to figure out a few things, starting with what’s happened defensively in the second half of their two defeats.

Cal’s offensive problems have been dissected more than once. Clearly, there are issues on the O-line that haven’t been fully resolved. The tepid run game and four sacks against Jack Plummer on Saturday were testimony to those shortcomings.

The problem is when Cal's offense isn't producing as it did a week ago in a 49-31 win over Arizona, the defense faces a thin margin for error. 

 When it mattered most in their two defeats, the defense faltered in the second half:

— At Notre Dame on Sept. 17, Cal led 10-7 at half, was outscored 17-7 over the final two quarters and lost 24-17.

— On Saturday at WSU, the Bears trailed just 7-3 at intermission, then were outscored 21-6 the rest of the way.

The math is simple: Against the Irish and Cougars the Bears played competitively in the first half, outscored 14-13. But in the second half of those two games, the margin was 38-13.

“Hats off to Wazzu — I think they made some good adjustments,” Scott said. “I think defensively there’s just a few plays here or there we could have been more detailed on, that we missed out on.”

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Cal actually outgained WSU 121 yards to 103 in the first half. The second half flipped dramatically in favor of the Cougars: 312 to 190.

Washington State had zero rushing yards in nine attempts in the first half, then gained 72 yards at a healthy 4.5 per-carry clip in the second half.

The same thing happened at South Bend, where Cal outgained Notre Dame 184-118 in the first half before the Irish forged a 179-112 edge over the final two periods while pulling away.

Speaking after Saturday’s game, Scott said he believes the Bears simply missed tackles in key moments. “I don’t think we necessarily wore down,” he added. Coach Justin Wilcox agreed, citing poor tackling as the key to WSU’s final scoring drive of the afternoon.

The proof will come when the videotape is flipped on.

“You’ve got to wear the loss today and go in the film room with thick skin and get ready to adjust and make corrections,” Scott said.

The Bears continue to be generally solid on defense, although not elite. They rank fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 22.0 points per game, and are fifth in both rushing defense and pass-efficiency defense.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Cal’s two losses so far have been in road games, although the Bears are just 1-9 on the road since the start of the 2020 season.

More likely, Notre Dame and WSU are by far the two best teams the Bears have faced. There are more of those to come.

Winless Colorado won’t fit into that category, but here’s how Cal’s schedule reads the rest of the way: Washington, Oregon, at USC, at Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA.

The Bears better sort out their second-half issues before that gauntlet arrives.

Cover photo of Cal linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo diving to tackle WSU's Nakia Watson by James Snook, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo