Failed conversions by the offense in the first half and increasingly shoddy tackling in the second half were Cal coach Justin Wilcox’s two big takeaways after watching game tape of the Bears’ 34-32 loss at TCU on Saturday.
The Bears led 19-7 when they were unable to convert a third-and-2 pass play and were forced to punt. The Horned Frogs took over at their own 35 with 28 seconds left in the half and needed just 17 of those seconds to pull within 19-14.
Zach Evans, who carved up the Bears for 193 rushing yards, dashed 51 yards for the touchdown with 11 seconds left in the half.
“A the end of half we have to play better on both sides,” Wilcox said. “Offensively, keeping the ball and giving ourselves a score at the end of the half. And defensively, getting a stop.”
There was an early missed opportunity that also gnaws at Wilcox. Cal couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 run from the TCU 7 on the game’s first possession, squandering the chance to take a quick lead.
“One of our staple plays and we didn’t quite get off on the second level like we should have and the guy ran through and tackled us,” Wilcox said, referring to linebacker Wyatt Harris making the stop on Christopher Brooks.
On the flip side, tackling was an issue that grew worse as the game unfolded. By one count, the Bears missed 17 tackles.
“It takes effort, want-to, technique, angles. It takes all that to get the guy to the ground,” Wilcox said. “We’ve got to do a better job of that because there were some routine plays.”
TROY TAYLOR’S RETURN: Wilcox said Troy Taylor should get big cheers from the crowd Saturday when the former quarterback leads his Sacramento State team into Memorial Stadium.
“I hope they give him a rousing reception,” Wilcox said. “I know Troy and have got a ton of respect for him. He had an unbelievable career here. He’s a fantastic coach — known that for a long time, even when he was up at Folsom (High).”
In his second season as coach of the FCS-level Hornets, Taylor played at Cal from 1986 through ’89, departing as the school’s career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. After a brief NFL stint, he began, which included five seasons (1996-2000) as an offensive assistant for the Bears.
At Folsom High, his teams dominated the Sacramento area and set state passing records.
Taylor’s current team is 1-1. The Hornets were 9-4 and reached the FCS playoffs in Taylor’s debut season of 2019, then opted out of playing a spring schedule earlier this year.
PROGRESS FROM GARBERS: Wilcox noted Cal’s improved vertical passing game (three plays of at last 40 yards), said the Bears got a strong pass-blocking performance from its offensive line, and noted a more efficient run game in the second half (8.5 yards per rush) after the passing game loosened the TCU defense.
He said the Bears’ inability to extend a couple drives led to a deficiency in time of possession, with TCU keeping the ball for 20:45, compared to 9:15 for Cal.
But he also saw a lot he liked from quarterback Chase Garbers, who passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought he looked very much in control, knew where to go with the ball,” Wilcox said. “Made some good throws — had three big throws down the field. Had a really good, accurate throw on the first third own of the game to Nikko. He had some good scrambles.
“Chase definitely took a step forward from Week 1 to Week 2.”
ENCOURAGING START FOR A FRESHMAN: Cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns III, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound freshmen who grew up in the East Bay community of Pittsburg and played at De La Salle High, got extended play off the bench against TCU.
“Lu has shown the ability to stay attached to people in coverage. He’s a smart guy and for a young guy he’s got a really good feel for what we’re doing,” Wilcox said. “Still very in experienced.
“He’s got quick feet and he’s got pretty good instincts playing the position. Ultimately, you want the DBs to be close to the receivers when the ball arrives. That way, they can make a play on it. He’s not the biggest guy but he’s competitive. You have to have that at that position to be successful.”
WASHINGTON GAME KICKOFF/TV ANNOUNCED: The Bears’ Pac-12 opener at Washington a week from Saturday will kick off at 6:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.
Cal has beaten UW their past two meetings, including a 20-19 victory at Seattle in 2019 in a game which started 2 hours 39 minutes late because of a lightning storm and didn’t end until 1:22 a.m.
The Bears also beat the Huskies 12-10 in 201, sparked by linebacker Evan Weaver’s 37-yard pick-six in the third quarter.
Washington, like Cal, closes out its nonconference schedule this Saturday, hoping for its first win over the season. The Huskies, who have started 0-2 after losses to Montana and Michigan, host Arkansas State this week.
Cover photo of Justin Wilcox leading his team into Memorial Stadium by Neville E. Guard, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo