Well, it was another wild addition to the Arizona-Cal series. The ‘Cats were able to lean on their defense on their way to a 24-17 home conference win.
This was the type of game that the defense can take and build upon as there were many, many positives. The offense definitely had its issues and has plenty to work on.
Let’s take a look at three positives and three negatives from the wacky epitomy of a #Pac12AfterDark game.
Up: Defensive aggressiveness leads to turnovers and points
The defense stepped up in a big, big way in this game. The aggressiveness that the unit showed throughout the game paid off in the second half.
The pass rush slowly, but surely, started to get to Brandon McIlwain. It didn’t always bring him down, but at times made him throw early or scramble for a minimal gain (for the most part). However, J.B. Brown, Lee Anderson and Jalen Harris all got a notch in the sack column. Harris and Anderson’s shared sack came at a critical time in the fourth quarter when Cal was driving, causing the Bears to kick the field goal and attempt a failed on-side kick. Brown’s was a strip-sack as he came from McIlwain’s blindside and knocked him all the way back to Berkeley. Dereck Boles recovered the fumble.
And that wasn’t the only turnovers of the night for the UA defense. Scottie Young Jr. came up with two interceptions, including a crucial pick-six to seal the game for the Wildcats. The craziest play of the night came on Arizona’s first interception.
On an overthrown ball by McIlwain, do-everything badass Colin Schooler picked it off and started making his way down the field. Cal receiver Jeremiah Hawkins came sprinting up behind Schooler and did a good job of punching the ball out, which started bouncing down the field. Arizona corner Azizi Hearn did an even better job of picking the ball up, breaking a tackle, and sprinting to the end zone. One of the craziest plays I have ever seen.
Down: The offense, part one
I have no idea what is happening with Arizona’s offense. Sometimes the playcalling can be head-scratching, but to me it’s the execution that has been killing the offense. There were plenty of times that Khalil Tate missed wide open receivers, or didn’t see them. One instance was in the first quarter. As Arizona was driving down the field on their second drive, Tate overthrew a wide open Cedric Peterson at the 10-yard line. Very next play, Tate was sacked and the ‘Cats had to settle for a field goal.
Another instance was the whole second quarter. After Tate was ripped around violently by his facemask he became what can only be described as timid. Instead of stepping up into the pocket when he could, he would retreat, roll back, and throw it away. There was one instance where he had Shawn Poindexter wide open in the flat and instead threw it into the stands. Tate also forced a throw into triple coverage in the third quarter and threw his fourth pick on the year.
Let’s not forget how the O also couldn’t capitalize on mutliple turnovers by the defense.
I believe the issues stem from the quarterback position and until it gets fixed, the offense will continue to struggle.
Up: Defense’s scrappiness
The defense looked different...but in a good way. They were flying to the ball and absolutely smacking everyone they came into contact with. Schooler absolutely leveled McIlwain on a completed pass. Anthony Pandy came in and laid McIlwain out on a run as well. As mentioned above, J.B. Brown plowed McIlwain into the ground on his sack.
And there is no denying it, the defense kept the ‘Cats in the game and eventually won the game. They played with an immense amount of effort and it showed. There was a reason they forced four turnovers.
Down: The offense, part two
There really isn’t too much else to say. The offense was so bad that it has two downs.
Up: The punting
As much as the offense didn’t help the defense, the same couldn’t be said for Arizona’s punting. Dylan Klumph absolutely destroyed the ball every time he punted. With his four punts, he averaged 43.5 yards per punt and effectively flipped the field. Klumph bounced back nicely from his performance against USC and finished the game as, very much, an unsung hero.
Down: The officiating, Vic Wharton, and the unnecessary hits
There are three officiating calls I want to discuss then we’ll move on to Cal’s diva. The first one I want to discuss is the hit against Arizona safety Isaiah Hayes. I am shocked that it wasn’t called targeting. The Cal player wasn’t even looking at Shun Brown. He made no attempt to even tackle Brown. Instead he decided he wanted to smack Hayes as he was turning around. And smacked him in the head no less. J.J. Taylor was ejected last year for less...a completely legal block against someone who was eight inches taller than him.
The second was the no-call pass interence with Cal safety Ashtyn Davis looking like a backpack on Shun Brown before the ball got to him. Arizona was called for a lot less earlier in the game which leads me to my final bogus call.
Vic Wharton’s big performance came on a punt return. Having no chance to return the punt, Wharton decided to fall down. Interestingly enough he fell down before anyone touched him, and the person who was closest to him was his own teammate. It was a comical attempt to garner another penalty but it did not work this time for the Berkeley Diva.
Finally, probably the most egregious thing that happened Saturday night. After the Bears kicked a field goal near the end of the game they decided to attempt the onside kick. UA was offsides for first attempt so Cal rekicked. On the ensuing play, Shawn Poindexter did a nice job of jumping and coming down with the ball, however, Jaylinn Hawkins for the Bears inexplicably launched and slammed into Poindexter’s head. Hawkins was ejected with under 10 seconds to go in the game. Just no reason for that.