Cal Football: How Should We Judge the Bears' Offense?
How do you measure Cal’s offense?
But – and it’s a big but – the Cal offense scored just six points, its lowest scoring output of the season.
Was that a good offensive performance? Was it better than the Oregon game, when the Bears recorded 25 first downs and 427 yards and put up 24 points on offense, but committed five turnovers in a 42-24 loss? Was it better than the Arizona game, when Cal’s offense produced 25 first downs, 476 yards and 17 points but also had four turnovers in a 24-17 defeat.
Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin asserted that the Bears’ best offensive showing this season came against Oregon State, when Cal chalked up 27 first downs, 529 yards and 49 points while committing one turnover in a 49-7 victory two weeks ago. But that was against one of the worst defenses in the country, a squad that ranks 128th of 129 FBS teams in total defense and 127th in scoring defense.
Washington’s defense gives up little, ranking eighth in the country in scoring defense. Take that into consideration.
“It’s funny because we’ve had games where we scored more points but would rank them lower than what we did Saturday,” Baldwin said.
You could make a case – albeit with considerable debate -- that Cal had its best offensive game of the season against the Huskies, even though it failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time this season.
“You have to understand what you need to do to win the game,” Baldwin said.
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What Cal’s offense needed to do against Washington was not lose the game. It succeeded in that regard, making it possible for its defense win the game.
Certainly Cal is not going to win many games when its offense scores just six points. But it will win even fewer when it commits four or five turnovers and fails to finish off a game. And no one was more impressed with what Cal did on its final drive against Washington than head coach Justin Wilcox, who called that game-ending possession “awesome.”
Presumably six points won’t get it done on Saturday against No. 8 Washington State, which leads the Pac-12 in total offense and scoring offense (40.8 points per game) and leads the nation in passing offense.
So how many points would Cal’s offense, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring, need to put on the board to upset the Cougars?
“I don’t think it’s worthwhile to think you need a certain amount of points,” Cal running back Patrick Laird said.
Indeed, no one would have guessed that six points would have been enough to beat eighth-ranked Washington State last year, when Cal held the Cougars to a season-low three points in a 37-3 victory.
“Every game becomes a little bit different,” Baldwin said, “and you just have to feel it out: ‘What’s this type of game? How are they playing us? What’s happening on the other side of the ball?’”
It’s clear Cal does not have an explosive offense this season, the 49 points against Oregon State not withstanding.
This Cal team is not built like the Sonny Dykes Cal teams, which finished in the top three in scoring in the Pac-12 in each of his final three seasons (2014-2016) but had a winning conference record in none of them.
Defense is Cal’s strength. The Bears have scored three defensive touchdowns this season, and their special teams accounted for another.
Maybe someday quarterback Chase Garbers will lead Cal up and down the field, but not this year. The main thing Cal’s offense must do this season to win a game is to not lose it.