You can't clasify this as a heart-breaker and Cal didn't exactly steal one from the Gophers but this was a game where we had a chance to upset one of the 10 best teams in the country. This also isn't a moral victory, we lost and there was clearly a feeling of missed opportunity from the players and Coach Brewster following the game. But I firmly believe things can be taken from this game that will make this team better and we are much more prepared to face anybody in the Big Ten after hanging tough with Cal.
First of all, Cal won this game. They are clearly a more talented team and over the course of four quarters their talent won out. The 2009 Gophers are more talented than we've seen in a while and this is a really tough team. What they are not is fast and they do not have the talent to be a top 20 team. But Cal is very good. Best is clearly fast and so was the entire defense.
Here are the themes from this afternoon.
1 - This team is loaded with toughness. This is not meant to be grasping at some "intangible" to make us sound better than we are. But there are a number of leaders on this team who are just plain very tough football players. Eric Decker took a shot in the 2nd quarter getting stitches in his chin and getting the wind knocked out of him. But he continued to have an outstanding game even after that moment catching 5 more balls for 77 yards and throwing a TD pass to MarQueis Gray. Adam Weber is also a very tough kid. Defensively Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett, Garrett Brown, Eric Small, Simoni Lawrence, and others are all very tough kids. They lead by example and when the going gets tough, they show resiliency and continue to make plays.
2 - This defense is pretty darn good. 35 points and 415 yards look like really bad numbers. But this defense made some great adjustments and held one of the best rushing attacks to 20 yards in the second half. After being down 14-0 and giving up 6 first downs and 159 yards in the 1st quarter; the defense allowed us to have a chance to win this game into the fourth quarter.
Brewster - "Our guys really do a nice job at halftime. Our team believes taht in the econd half we are going to play better than them."
Kevin Cosgrove has proved (through just three games) that he was a great hire. The defense adjusted to a 3-4 for much of the second half and the recognized that Cal was having trouble picking up their blitzes so they exploited that and really slowed down this offense. They had six three and outs and did I mention they had just 20 yards rushing in the second half?
Cal coach Jeff Tedford - "They're a good football team. I think they're solid on defense. Their secondary is very solid and they're very physical inside. Their linebackers are good players. #21 (Simoni Lawrence), the outside linebacker, is a really good player I thought. They do a nice job with their blitz schemes and a nice job of disguising things. I have a lot of respect for that team."
3 - This game will make us much more prepared to compete and win in the Big Ten. I love, LOVE scheduling a game like this. I have no doubt that once the sting of losing a game they felt they had a chance to win wears off, there will be a lot of confidence gained from this loss. After some adjustments this defense competed with and gave a top 10 team all they could handle. I have no doubt that they'll be much more confident going into Happy Valley and Columbus that they can compete with them from the opening kickoff.
I sincerely believe that facing better competition teaches you how to take your game up a notch. Facing a team as fast, physical and talented as Cal teaches you what it takes from the opening snap to play at that level. Facing a team like SDSU gets you a win (usually), but it doesn't make you better. This game will make us better.
4 - Adam Weber has his best game of the year today. The three picks will stick out on the box score and they killed our chances of making a comeback and really contributed to the 5th TD. We'll get back to the interceptions but he played really, really well today. He completed 21 of 32 passes, 226 yards and two touchdowns but that doesnt' really tell the story of his day. I was watching closely today and there were a number of plays where he looked guys off or hit his second option for a big play. Here are some examples...
- 26 yard TD pass to Decker. Weber rolls out and is looking at Hayo in the back of the end zone (quotes from press conference confirmed this), but then checks to Decker for the huge TD.
- 1st and 10 in the third quarter. Hayo runs a deep post and Weber is looking at him then checks down to Decker again on a crossing pattern underneath Hayo for a 23 yard gain.
- 1st and 10, the next play. Decker is the first option, protection breaks down and he dishes to Stoudermire for a short gain.
- 3rd and 3 inside the 25. Weber audibles, patiently waits for Decker to come across the field, hits him in stride for a 17 yard gain and first and goal.
He wasn't Joe Montanna out there and there were clearly plays he missed. But the ball was distributed much better (3 catches for Green, Stoudermire and Tow-Arnett), he made good decisions (until the 4th quarter) and made some very big plays. The picks came at very bad times and killed our chances of coming back in the 4th. The first and the third were clearly a function of having a guy in his face instantly and the second one he made a bad throw where he didn't see the LB. Clearly he made mistakes but I watched closely Cal's Kevin Riley who looked very similar to Weber. He zeroed in on his first option and forced more throws than Weber. What I think people don't get is that this is waht you get with college QBs. Nobody is saying Weber is Colt McCoy or up for the Heisman, but he is a good D1 quarterback. I've always felt he was underrated by the national media, but I'm starting to get discouraged that he is vastly unappreciated by his own fan base. Decker puts up great numbers, but let's not forget that someone is getting him the ball to make those plays.
Overall, I was impressed with the way we played. We were able to make plays on both sides of the ball that gave us a chance in the 4th quarter against a top 10 team. We are clearly not a top 10 team, but this game demonstrated to me that we are moving in the right direction. This team is much better than it was just a year ago and I am looking forward to the Big Ten season more than I was just a few hours ago.