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September 4, 2011
Despite mistakes, Bears handle Bulldogs
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SAN FRANCISCO -- For the first time since 2005, two California wide outs tallied more than 100 receiving yards. Junior quarterback Zach Maynard threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and added 53 yards on the ground for good measure.
The Bears did come out on top of Fresno State, 36-21, in the Battle By the Bay, but it was far from a complete win.
"Obviously, there was a lot of rust," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "Pregame jitters or whatever. We turned the football over down deep. We need to gel. We need to be more consistent."
The Bears largely dominated the stat sheet, picking up 18 first downs to the Bulldogs' 11, piling up 413 yards of total offense to Fresno State's 210 and converting seven of 16 third downs, but mental errors seemed to be the order of the day for Cal, and when they did slip up, the Bulldogs were there to capitalize.
After senior Coleman Edmond returned the opening kickoff from Andrew Shapiro 16 yards, Maynard took his place as one of 14 players making their Cal debut, settling into the shotgun formation.
On an incompletion to junior tailback Isi Sofele, the Bears were called for illegal formation, backing Maynard up to his own 11. In just the second play of his Cal career, Maynard threw a pass to the wrong Jones, hitting Fresno State defender L.J. Jones instead of senior Bears wide out Marvin Jones. The Bulldogs turned that unfortunate faux pas into a 16-yard score, jumping out to a 7-0 lead within the first two minutes of play.
"I didn't really think about it," Maynard said. "I just shook it off, and got read for the next series I was going in."
Immediately after throwing the pick, Maynard sidled up next to Tedford and apologized.
"It's something I'm more conscious of as a quarterback," said Maynard, who threw 15 interceptions to 18 touchdowns in 2009 starting for Buffalo. "You always feel like you can do better. I guess it takes a lot out of you when you throw an interception the second pass of the game -- of the season really -- so as a unit we can all do better. Just got to make better decisions."
True to his word, the junior transfer from Buffalo came right back and drove Cal 67 yards in 12 plays to answer back with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Sofele, but the cheers turned to jeers quickly, as junior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio saw his PAT blocked -- the first of two such miscues.
"Special teams played fairly well, except for the extra points early in the game," Tedford said. "That was a -- kind of a combination of two things; we had one protection issue, and the other one we didn't get the ball in the air as far as the kick went right in the back of him."
Tavecchio was far from sharp on kickoffs, averaging 58.7 yards per drive, almost 10 yards less than his 2010 average. Punter Bryan Anger also had a less-than-average night in the punt game, averaging 35.5 yards on mostly roll-out rugby kicks, designed to combat the Bulldogs' punt rush.
"These guys come after you pretty hard, and they had everybody up there coming at you," Tedford said. "So, you just -- we didn't do it all day, but we did it most of the day and that was mainly to move the pocket and get the ball off, and not let them have a chance to block one.
The strategy appeared to have worked, as Fresno State failed to block a single one of Anger's punts, and as a bonus, the Bulldogs' dangerous return game was limited to three punt returns for a total of 14 yards, and seven kickoff returns for 129 total yards.
Tavecchio would come up short again on the next touchdown, which capped off a four-play, 65-yard drive.
After firing an incomplete pass to Bryce McGovern -- one of 10 true freshman to play for the Bears on Saturday -- Maynard threaded a pass to Marvin Jones at the Cal 41. Jones -- who, along with Keenan Allen, became the first Bears tandem to record 100 receiver yards or more in a single game since Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson turned the trick on Sept. 16, 2006 -- was hit in the hip by Deron Smith. The senior wide out spun towards the sideline and scampered 10 more yards before being forced out of bounds by L.J. Jones.
Sofele then gained 10 yards, and, on second-and-five at the Fresno State 39, received a key block from Allen, which allowed the spry, 5-foot-8, 190-pounder to spring loose for a career-long 39-yard touchdown.
Tavecchio again saw his PAT blocked by the same defender as before -- Cody Wichmann -- the backup right tackle.
Four minutes later, Maynard scrambled left on a Fresno State blitz. With the Bulldogs sending the house, Marvin Jones was left wide open deep, and Maynard - who went 16-for-35 through the air -- delivered a strike off his back foot to put the Bears up 12-7.
"He missed a couple balls, but also made a great play down the middle of the field to Marvin," Tedford said. "He slid to his left and threw it right on the money."
"I was feeling pressure to my right side, and I tried to get outside the pocket a little bit and give him a ball that he could catch, and I got the ball to him," Maynard said. "He made a great catch, after the catch, really. He pushed the guy off of him and scored. That was magnificent."
On Cal's first possession of the second quarter, Sofele put the ball on the ground at his own 28-yard line, but Maynard quickly jumped on the loose ball for a gain of one. It was the first of three times that Sofele put the ball on the ground -- one of which was negated because he was already ruled down on the Bears' next series.
"It's absolutely a concern," said Tedford of Sofele's ball security issues. "That's a concern. The ball was on the ground a couple times, but we got one back even, when Zach fell on it, but we have to do better with that. We cannot afford to turn the football over and put the ball on the ground."
After that Sofele stumble, Maynard lined up in the pistol formation -- the same scheme that Nevada used to such great effect in handing the Bears a defeat in Reno last season -- and scampered for a gain of 19 yards.
"[The pistol] is something that we have in our offense," Tedford said. "You can see that he brings an added dimension to the offense because he can move around. He ran the ball on a couple of designed runs today, which was nice to see. Those are big plays, got us out of some bad field position."
Maynard rushed five times for a gain of 70 yards, but took two sacks for a loss of 17.
"It's definitely in the package," Tedford said of utilizing Maynard's legs. "The ones that he ran for big yards were designed runs."
After his 19-yard scamper, things fell apart a bit for the offense, as senior guard Justin Cheadle was called for a false start on a snap over Maynard's head and a pass bounced right off the back of left tackle Mitchell Schwartz's head. After completing a high-risk high-reward thread-the-needle pass to senior tight end Anthony Miller for 24 yards on second-and-15 at the Cal 21, Maynard looked to little brother Allen again, only to see the star sophomore deliver a rare whiff.
"Keenan played pretty well. He dropped the ball, which you don't really see with Keenan," Tedford said of Allen, who hauled in a game-high eight passes for 112 yards. "Normally, if a guy drops the ball, you shrug it off, but with Keenan, he never drops the ball."
The defense stoned the Bulldogs on their next drive, but Fresno State then got a gift score thanks to a Sofele fumble in the end zone on first-and-10 at the Bears' six-yard line.
"That's just ball security," Maynard said. "I've got to give him a better handoff. It was a little low on the handoff, and we just have to communicate that better. It's the first game. We're just getting all of the miscommunication out of the way.
"We talked a lot. All our guys talk a lot. Whatever I see, I try to let him know, so we can be on the same page out there."
Sofele finished the game with 83 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, his second and third career rushing scores.
The next series saw a frightening preponderance of offensive line miscues, including a leg whip call on junior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin which negated a 48-yard catch-and-run by Allen underneath, a holding call on center Dominic Galas that erased a first-down catch by Michael Calvin and two straight false starts by Summers-Gavin and guard Brian Schwenke. Summers-Gavin's foul took 10 seconds off the clock, as it occurred in the final minute of the half.
"We definitely need to clean that up next week," Summers-Gavin said. "[They were] just mental errors. Basically, any time we had any kind of adversity in this game, I felt like it was on ourselves. We've just got to clean that up next week, for sure."
Of the Bears' 11 penalties for 86 yards, five were on the offensive line, costing Cal 27 yards.
"We could have put twice as much as we put up, if we cleaned up our mental mistakes and played the football we know how to play," Summers-Gavin said.
Maynard went 11-for-22 in the first half for 217 yards, but slowed down after starting out going 7-for-11.
"I think he would say he wishes he would play better," Tedford said. "It was good for him seeing game speed; this was his first live play. He didn't have any delay of game calls -- he handled the clock well. He made good decisions, except the first ball. After that, he threw the ball when he needed to.
"Early in the game, he was playing a little fast, but as the game progressed, he calmed down."
As the second half dawned, Maynard got into a groove, springing loose over the right side on third-and-one at his own 18 for a gain of 48, setting up Marvin Jones' second score of the day.
On third-and-nine at the Fresno State 23, Maynard hit Jones low at the right sideline with former Cal commit Davon Dunn on his back.
"I had a short comeback [route] and the leverage that the cornerback was playing was inside leverage, so I kind of faked him inside and I came back," Jones said. "It was a low ball, so I got the low ball, and I knew he was going to be on my back hip, so I avoided him. I knew there was going to be inside pressure coming, so I stopped and made that play."
For the second time on the evening, Jones spun away and danced into the end zone. Jones hauled in five catches for 118 yards and two scores on the day. It was Jones' second multi-TD game of his career, and his fifth 100-yard game.
With the Bears up 26-14, the defense began to turn over, with youngsters Chris McCain and Mustafa Jalil coming in along with Brennan Scarlett.
Redshirt sophomore Steve Williams came up with his first pick of the year on a first-and-10 toss from Bulldogs' signal-caller Derek Carr on his own 45, picking off a pass intended for the dynamic Jalen Saunders.
"I feed off of the team," Williams said. "I don't really need the crowd. Whether it's 70,000 or 50,000 or 20,000, it doesn't matter. The team is there, and that's all I needed to feed off their energy."
Carr -- who completed 21 of 33 passes for 142 yards with one interception and a touchdown in his first collegiate start -- got dinged again on his next series by Cal's aggressive, blitzing defense. On third-and-four from his own 30, Carr's protection - weakened by a first-half injury to starting center Richard Helepiko -- broke down, allowing true freshman outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside to break through and cause a fumble on just his third collegiate snap.
"It was just a contain rush, the quarterback clutched it and I just stuck my hand out on his second pump and knocked it out," Whiteside said.
Coming in to clean up the garbage was starting defensive end Trevor Guyton, who scooped the ball up and ran in for his first ever touchdown.
"I didn't play youth ball, so that was my first touchdown," Guyton smiled. "Basically, I was just doing my job and people get excited when you do your job, so all props to Cecil for making that play happen. That was my first one ever, and it was nice. Best feeling in the world. That's why we practice scooping and scoring, so you just apply technique."
A fourth-quarter, 40-yard field goal by Tavecchio with 8:16 left on the clock made it 36-14 in favor of the Bears, and Tedford began to put in some new faces on both sides of the ball.
It didn't take long, though, for the Bulldogs to start marching down the field, as Carr -- with older brother David in the stands -- led Fresno State on a 10-play, 64-yard scoring drive, finding another former Cal commit -- Josh Harper -- for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
The Bears recovered Shaprio's on-side kick on the Bulldogs' 41, and ran a short series before Fresno State took over for a final, unproductive drive.
"We didn't have a series, really, late. We were thinking about making a substitution with about five minutes to go, but then they took the ball down and scored a touchdown, so then, they kicked an onside kick and we put the guys back in," Tedford said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't give them the ball back. We put the defense back in, as well. We may have substituted too early -- I think we substituted with six minutes to play -- and it's still a football game. They get that onside kick, and that's a whole different thing. That's why we kept them in."