Cal is bad and boring, the deadly sin of college football

When Cal was picking up ugly win after ugly win after nasty win in Justin Wilcox’s early years, there was a sense of hope that the Bears would be able to use him to take it to the next level of excellence. Repairing the psychic damage of the defensively absent Sonny Dykes era would take time. Adapting to this new brand of football seemed like the right strategy to win over Cal in the short term to build up the long.

But there was another disturbing train of thought – that this style of play, however unique, wouldn’t appeal to most players. And if Cal didn’t improve in terms of talent or training, the regression would reverse not only the results, but our feelings about the program.

Three years later, here we are.

Bad wins are now bad losses. Talent has not improved significantly. Coaching has regressed.

And the Bears just got boring on Saturday.

You could say Cal played well against a top ten team, considering the Bears finished just 18 points behind Oregon, but Cal was leading 35-10 before reinforcements arrived from both sides, and could have been much later. Oregon missed three red-zone opportunities — credit to Cal’s defense for the saves — that could have boosted that final 42-point total from 51 to 63.

The final score reflects much closer play than what we actually watched. The Ducks were in complete control after Jack Plummer threw his second interception to set up Oregon’s third touchdown, and the Bears did nothing meaningful for the remainder of the significant portion of the game.

And it’s become a model for the Bears this season. Cal simply does NOTHING for long periods of play.

Cal was scoreless for 35 minutes and 30 seconds against Oregon, between taking a 10-7 lead with 13:08 left in the 2nd quarter and 7:38 left in the 4th quarter after the Ducks went up 35 -10. The stadium emptied steadily after Oregon went up 28-10, one painful drive at a time.

This is Cal’s 8th roughly 20-minute drought this season, and it’s now 46% of Cal’s season spent in roughly 20-minute droughts.

Cal actually scored in the first half against Oregon, a big improvement from the status quo. Cal’s three first-quarter points were their first and only first-quarter points in October. Cal’s ten points in the first half took their October first half totals from three to a grand 13.

Often, Cal will also train his opponent to do nothing. Leading to fun scores such as:

It’s eons of football inside Cal games this season where NOTHING is happening.

Doing this once in a while is fine. Doing this week after week after week is boring, and it’s where even the most diehard of diehards bend over, if not sit on it.

The Bay Area is not a market where you can afford to be boring and bad. There’s way too much for Cal students and alumni to do. You can find many other sporting or non-sporting options to spend a Saturday to entertain you more. Hell, any entertainment.

Losing four games in a row where Cal spends an entire half of the game chasing points is neither exciting, nor convincing, nor interesting. For the first time in a long time, after Cal’s stalled third or fourth straight practice, even I pretty much stopped paying much attention to what was happening on the field, because the Bears weren’t going into have enough to keep up. Ducks.

If Cal was still picking up wins, that would be okay. But Cal hasn’t won a game against a Power 5 team in front of football fans since the Big Game 2019. We can’t point to the goal line standing against mediocre UNLV as the mark of a resilient team. .

Cal is just bad and boring now, and no competitiveness or combat that players show will attract attention. In the third quarter, the majority of remaining Cal fans were on their phones, deciding to spend time on more interesting things than the game they were spending watching. It’s a bad place.

Perhaps an attacking restart in coaching is all it takes to change the fate of this program. Cal opts to run the clock on experience Bill Musgrave and Angus McClure, then changes will likely come after the season is over, as Cal apparently never fires assistants mid-season for poor performance on the field, it seems.

But it’s hard not to look at Justin Wilcox’s overall decision-making and shake your head.

With Cal in the red zone early, the Bears opted to throw a field goal. Knowing that Oregon has scored 40 points in every game and Cal is struggling to reach 20, why not go for the touchdown? You are outsiders! Your defense is good, but that doesn’t stop the Ducks from doing their job.

Led 28-10 in the 3rd quarter and facing the 4th try in the red zone, Cal once again chose to launch a placement. This one is even more inexcusable, because now you have plenty of evidence that Oregon will keep scoring! You are still six baskets away from victory!

At the end of the first half after Oregon scored, Cal won the ball 21-10, then made a short pass, run, penalty, run! You’re down 11! Oregon recovers the ball to start the second half! You must score!

Wilcox continues to operate in a defensively focused prism – as long as the attack works better, you will be fine as the defense will do the rest.

But Peter Sirmon’s defense is a far cry from the gangbuster unit it was late last year. Cal is giving up 5.9 yards per play, the last 35 in FBS, and the 7.8 yards per play they gave up against Oregon would be the worst in college football. If it hadn’t been for three red-zone turnovers, the Ducks would have easily passed the 50 mark, and that loss would look a whole lot worse than it does now. USC and UCLA probably won’t be so lenient.

Finally, player management. Jack Plummer played injured against Oregon, after injured against Washington State, after injured injured against Colorado, after injured against Oregon. And he was allowed to stay in the game and keep playing!

Plummer’s second game-breaking interception was almost certainly the result of a shoulder thump hitting the ground, and he continued to stay down after several hits conceded by a beleaguered Cal offensive line. It wasn’t until Oregon went up 35-10 that Kai Millner finally came in and made some great runs in the trash.

And yet, Wilcox still seems determined to get his badly injured quarterback debut next week against USC’s top 10 because he gives Cal the best chance of winning. Maybe this conversation will end when Cal is finally knocked out of bowl eligibility.

Cal doesn’t beat USC regardless of the starting quarterback. Cal will beat USC if the Trojans stumble and fumble over themselves, like Oregon did for a quarter and a half before locking up.

All of the above speaks of a program that doesn’t really understand the big stuff or the little stuff. And everyone – fans, rookies, players – can see these things too. What we see is not enough to compel anyone to commit to Cal football full time. It’s just too boring.

In college football, you can be good and exciting. You can be good and stable/boring. You can be bad and exciting.

You can’t be bad and boring. It’s a dead end in fandom. It’s a dead end in recruiting. It’s a dead end for coaches.

Throw out the headless teams and watch the Pac-12.

Good and exciting: Oregon, USC, UCLA. All talented teams reflecting each other, all well-trained teams scoring points.

Good and regular: State of Oregon, Washington. The Beavers had some really fun wins and then total blockades. Ditto the Huskies, digging into the Jimmy Lake mess.

Good and boring: Utah. Overall pound and floor dominance week after week, married with a standout win over USC.

Bad and exciting: Arizona. The Wildcats are content to score and give up runs. There’s a lot going on, although it usually leads to a loss.

Bad and Regular: Washington State. Basically, Cal a few years ago – really good defense married to really random offense.

Bad and boring: Cal, Stanford. Dead zone. You can’t really point to anything interesting or exciting because all of life is crowded out by the overall results. The Big Game has all the ingredients for a very painful experience.

Wilcox just needs to nail his next offensive hires. And maybe he needs to restart even more systematically beyond just attacking, and revamp his whole coaching identity. Cal has had five straight years of a low offense paired with good to great defense, and now that the defense has slipped a notch, it’s not walking on water. He just hasn’t proven himself to be performing past .500 results in a declining Pac-12, and with the rest of the conference moving forward, Cal hasn’t been able to keep up.

Cal can’t afford to keep playing this way and losing this way. A Jaydn Ott blast aside and some fine plays of skill from wides like J.Michael Sturdivant and Jeremiah Hunter, there’s nothing the Bears do that you can show anyone off the program like moving in a positive trajectory.

Wilcox is at a place where he can still potentially right the ship. It doesn’t seem likely, but it can be done. He’ll have to think deeply and strategically about what can make the Bears a better team, or figure out how to make them exciting enough to push them through tough times. This will be difficult and will require a significant level of diligence.

Because Cal fans sure don’t want to think about it. Three hours a week is plenty.

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