I keep waiting for the Cal Bears and Colorado Buffaloes to score another touchdown. Hard to say which was more memorable, the record-setting performance by both teams (first time in NCAA history each team had thrown at least seven TD passes), or Cal’s defensive goal-line stand in the second overtime to win 59-56.
When it was 21-7 Colorado I pretty much wrote this game off. The same ol’ Bears. Get people’s hopes up to start the season, get a fluke loss, and then sink back into mediocrity or worse the rest of the season. Losing to Colorado would not only have set the fan base back, it would have put Sonny Dykes squarely in the crosshairs. The Buffs are, without argument, the worst team in the Pac-12. End of discussion. That they looked as good as they did against the Bears is more of an indictment against Cal than it is Colorado. That the Bears didn’t roll over after being down 21-7 and instead came back to win (however many points it took to do it) is certainly an improvement.
After the game a few of the talking heads said that Cal’s offense is “too fast” and that’s why the defense allows teams to come back and challenge the Bears, whether that’s Northwestern or Arizona or Colorado. In an old-timey word, that’s malarkey. Many teams score quickly (notably Oregon, who gets upset if their scoring drives last longer than two minutes) and their defenses don’t get as tired — but that’s because they shuttle guys in and out almost as fast as they do on offense. Nowhere is it written that the offense can change more players than the defense. The issue for the defense becomes conditioning and preparation. Guys don’t mind being a third-string defensive player at Oregon because they know they’re going to play almost as much as the first-string guys due to the speed of the offense. As Cal improves, that same Oregon recruiting pitch will also be given to potential future Bears. It’s a growing pains year for the defense, that much is obvious and has been since the start.
But they did come up huge in that second overtime when everybody was dog tired, stuffing four straight run plays at the goal-line. Colorado head coach and former San Jose head man Mike MacIntyre later said that the final fourth down play, a scramble by QB Sefo Liufau stopped by Jafen Jefferson, was a mistake, but he had already used his only overtime timeout to set up a previous fourth down in the drive. For everything that the Cal defense didn’t do Saturday, that goal-line stand makes up for it. Almost.
Completely lost in the shuffle because of the tremendous finish is the longest touchdown pass in Cal history, although the pass itself went about six yards sideways and only slightly forward. Daniel Lasco did the rest of the heavy lifting himself for 92 yards. Five Colorado defenders surrounding Lasco and somehow being unable to tackle him certainly helped out as far as the record books are concerned.
And I am so glad that Luke Rubenzer barely got into the game. In the early weeks of the season, the Bears have intentionally pulled their best offensive player on the field, Jared Goff, and replaced him with Rubenzer, who will then not fool anybody by running up the middle. Even though he did fool Colorado with a 30-yard gain that was negated by a personal foul. He only subbed for Goff twice, which I hope is two times more than we see him this week at Wazzu.
But if Colorado and Cal re-wrote the NCAA passing record book, what are the Bears and Cougars going to do Saturday night in Pullman (7:30 pm, Pac-12 Network)? This game might last five hours because the Cougs never run the ball. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday far and away leads the nation with 2,318 passing yards and 299 attempts. (Colorado’s Liufau is second in attempts with 239.)
The best stat about Halliday is that he has more completions (201) than all but five QB’s in the country have attempts. Cal’s Goff is nowhere near those numbers. What’s great about Goff’s stat line is while he has 1,328 yards passing, good for 15th nationally, he has attempted only 128 passes (tied for 57th). Halliday has the staggering numbers, but Goff is getting more done by throwing less. Which means that seven passing touchdowns by both teams might be only second-best after Saturday night. As long as the Bears emerge with their second conference win, they’ll take it. And so will Bear Backers everywhere.