Cal Football: Golden Bears' Special Teams Were Anything But That at Oregon State
Cal coach Justin Wilcox, ever the step-by-step pragmatist, declined to identify his football team’s season so far as nightmare.
He used word “frustrating” when asked to share his thoughts after the Bears’ 31-27 loss at Oregon State.
Certainly it’s been the kind of season that could cause a coach to sleep poorly, if at all.
Three more players have been sidelined by COVID-19 issues — three starting offensive linemen, no loss. A fourth O-lineman, center Michael Saffell, was injured during the game and did not return.
Three other starting players, including running back Christopher Brown Jr., were held out for reasons the team did not share.
And then there were Cal’s special teams, which certainly delivered a nightmarish performance.
The offense showed signs of progress, with more points (20) and yards (317) in the first half than it generated in a full game at UCLA. The defense gave up big plays, but also made some.
And it wasn’t all bad on special teams. First-year placekicker Dario Longhetto made a 52-yard field goal to end the first half, the longest by the Bears since Matt Anderson connected from 52 yards against Arizona in 2017.
Otherwise, the kicking game was a multi-vehicle collision during rush hour. A total mess that halted all progress in other lanes.
Here's the carnage in a nutshell: Three of OSU's four touchdowns were aided by Cal's punt team and the Bears almost certainly lost two touchdowns when long returns were nullified by penalties.
That's a five-touchdown swing. Nothing to sneeze at.
“The critical errors in each phase of the game were too much to overcome,” Wilcox said. “You can go through offense, defense and certainly the special teams . . . you’ve got to execute at a high level to win the game.”
What follows are not examples of executing at a high level:
— Penalties wiped out what should have been an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown by Nikko Remigio and then a 94-yard kickoff return by Remigio that would have set Cal up at the 3-yard line.
— A blocked punt with 5:26 left gave OSU the ball at the Cal 14-yard line and led to quarterback Tristan Gebbia’s 1-yard sneak for the go-ahead touchdown a minute later.
— Jamieson Sheahan had a 24-yard punt that set the Beavers at Cal’s 35-yard, and Gebbia threw a touchdown pass from there for a 14-6 lead late in the first quarter. And Travon Bradford returned a Cal punt 36 yards to the Bears’ 39, setting up a touchdown that put OSU in front 24-20 early in the fourth.
There was also a delay of game on a punt play and a muffed punt return that Wilcox knew the Bears were lucky to recover.
“Those are critical, critical errors,” he reiterated. “It’s hard to overcome one of those, let alone six or seven. We’ve got to be a lot better on those.”