In his first career start, Derek Carr was impressive, making a couple of throws that Fresno State fans haven't seen from their QBs in years, if ever. More impressive than anything was how calm and poised Carr remained in the pocket throughout the game, despite pressure, dropped passes and at least one costly missed hot read by his receiver, who ran an in instead of an out. Carr had a high completion percentage (21 of 33) but didn't get to throw downfield as often as the coaches probably should have allowed. The one bad throw he made was the interception, where the indented target had no chance at the ball over top. But overall, Carr should have fans stoked that he's the new QB because he showed plenty of flashes of what's to come.
Running Backs: B+
Make no mistake about it, cal could not stop Robbie Rouse from running the football. He ate up chunks of yards en route to 86 yards on 17 carries (5.1 yards per attempt). Of course you still have the fans who complain about Pat Hill running too much, but this is one instance where he didn't run nearly enough. Because there's no argument the run was working better than the screen passes the offense kept calling. Fresno State never established a consistent running game, and all signs suggest they easily could have. It might have cost them the game, preventing the team from keeping its defense off the field and controlling time of possession to create sustained drives.
Part of the reason the receivers weren't successful was the coaches not putting them in position to win their matchups. But no matter how well Carr played, the Bulldogs were hurt by the lack of playmaking from their playmakers. TE Ryan Boschma dropped a wide open pass in his chest for a would-be first down. Rashad Evans got two hands on a low-thrown ball and dropped what would have been another first down. And Isaiah Burse dropped a hot read thrown right at the point where cal blitzed from that very well could have resulted in a long TD. Those plays were all drive killers, and kept the 'Dogs from taking control and building confidcence in their offense. The two bright spots were Devon Wylie's 56-yard catch and run and R-Fr Josh Harper's first career TD.
Offensive Line: C-
The offensive line looked very strong in the running game, but had more trouble pass protecting (as was predicted). When center Richard Helepiko left the game with injury, R-Fr Cody Wichmann got his first-ever game action at right tackle. Wichmann missed the block that led to Carr being stripped and cal picking up the fumble for a defensive TD. This unit gave up four sacks, continuing last year's downward trend of the offensive line. But keep in mind, two of those sacks were a slide by Carr on a bad spot where he could have run for the gain and risk being hit, and another was a play where Carr tripped over his center's foot and fell backward.
Defensive Line: C
While the unit got stronger as the game went on, and put more hurries on cal QB Zach Maynard, this group can do a better job finishing plays and applying pressure with the front four. Star DT Logan Harrell had a sack and two tackles for loss, and true freshman Donavon Lewis (Clovis West High) had a sack in his first college game. But there weren't many other bright spots. DE Matt Akers didn't have the same burst getting to the backfield as he showed in fall camp and Donavaughn Pritchett was less effective containing the QB than he was last season. DE Tristan Okpalaugo and redshirt freshman DT Tyeler Davison both got their first significant reps as Bulldogs -- expect good things from them before the year's over. DE Nat Harrison, who was supposed to have a breakout year, had virtually no impact on the game.
Travis Brown tied for the team lead with 8 tackles and the entire unit was very active all over the field and in blitz packages. Sophomore Jeremiah Toma, in his first career start as Ben Jacobs' replacement, was uber impressive. He displayed better ball instincts and much more quickness than the Bulldogs previously had at the position. Toma finished with five tackles and Kyle Knox had four, including one for a loss, after an blindsided hit forced him to the sideline for a few plays. This group was a big reason why cal RB Isi Sofele averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt.
Defensive Backs: D-
There were two positives that can be taken away by this group. Sophomore L.J. Jones intercepted cal's first pass of the game and it led to a quick Bulldogs TD. And junior Terrance Dennis, who entered the game as the third-string strong safety behind Cristin Wilson and Zak Hill, broke out and left no doubt he deserves to start in place of the injured Phillip Thomas. Dennis, the son of former Bulldogs player Terry Dennis (1983-84) and cousin of former usc star Hershell Dennis, had five tackles and at least four big hits. Standout CB Jermaine Thomas gave up a couple big passes, including a long TD in blown coverage, raising concern he's still not fully recovered from last season's injury. The 'Dogs don't seem to have much to lose by playing tighter man coverage and getting physical with opposing receivers, because the cushion coverage wasn't working either.
Special Teams: C
Any time you miss a clutch 35-yard field goal, it can't be a great special teams performance, but the Bulldogs' Cody Wichmann blocked cal's first two PATs. Chalk up the missed field goal to that insane Candlestick wind, and expect a better performance vs. nebraska.
Typically the fans who whine about playcalling make educated fans want to pull their hair out, but this time the criticism is fair. The Bulldogs seemingly pounded their collective heads into a wall the entire game. The screen pass never proved effective, yet, even on the final possession of the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs were still throwing to receivers behind scrimmage and still getting nowhere. That, coupled with the lack of recognition by coaches that cal was susceptible to Fresno State's running game, is beyond frustrating.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011