Cal plays low-scoring and close matches, but can’t win them

Cal has beaten opponents 163-158 this season, but the Bears are losing at 3-4. Since the start of the 2021 season, the Bears have outscored opponents 448-425; however, they are 8-11 in that span.

Which give?

Well, the Bears have had a strong defense and poor offense throughout this stretch, while Cal keeps the opponent’s score up, his offense also keeps the Bears score up. So you have a lot of tight, low-scoring matches.

It was OK in 2019, when the Bears went 3-2 in games decided by seven points or less and finished 8-5.

But last year, Cal was 0-5 in such games and finished 5-7 overall. This season, the Bears are 1-3 in games where the final margin was seven points or less, and in that win – 20-14 over UNLV – the Rebels were lucky enough to score a touchdown after hitting the Cal Line from 8 yards in the final three minutes.

That makes Cal 1-8 in one-scored games since the start of the 2021 season, the worst in the Pac-12. Washington is the only conference team to play more games decided by seven runs or fewer since the start of last season, and the Huskies are 4-6 in those 10 games. Washington State is 4-4 in its eight one-scored games over that span, and no other Pac-12 team has played more than six close games since the start of the 2021 season. .

Cal’s only loss this season that was decided by more than a touchdown was the 28-9 loss to Washington State, and it was a 14-9 game three minutes into the fourth quarter.

So Cal can stay close, but he hasn’t been able to win those games. If the Bears had been, say, 5-4 in those games instead of 1-8, we would be singing a very different song about the state of California football.

“That’s been the big thing for us all season – finishing games,” Cal nose tackle Ricky Correia said this week.

Losing close games, Scott Frost was sent back to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers went 0-9 in games decided by seven points or less from the start of last season until Frost was fired three games this season.

So what is the explanation? What does it take to win close matches?

“I think it comes down to courage and belief and knowing you can do it,” Cal quarterback Jack Plummer said.

Is it just a matter of getting over that hump? Once a team wins a close game, they feel better about their chances of doing it again. And, as Plummer says, belief is a big part of that. That’s why teams with a lot of inexperienced players often run out of close games.

“You build confidence through demonstrative performances,” Wilcox said in the story-top video.

Cal started four true freshmen in the overtime loss to Colorado two weeks ago, and only five players who started for the Bears late last season were starters in Saturday’s seven-point loss. against Washington. That’s a lot of new faces. Plummer, a transfer from Purdue, isn’t new to college football, but he’s new to Cal’s offensive system.

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According to Wilcox, there is no shortage of “wants”. But he notes that a few plays here and there make a difference in close games, and Cal hasn’t done enough of that.

“It’s a process,” Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said this week. “I think you learn to win. Young teams learn to win. The more experience you gain, the more lessons you can apply.

Yes, experience is an important factor. But having an offense that can score points, especially late in games, is also a factor in a team’s ability to win those close games.

Four key games this season provided examples of this:

— USC ran for 84 yards to score the game-winning touchdown with 1:13 left in a 17-14 win over Oregon State.

— Oregon scored on 75 and 69 yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the second TD with 1:21 remaining, to overcome a 12-point deficit and beat Washington State 44-41.

— UCLA went 61 yards on a possession that started with 2:52 left and ended with a 24-yard field goal winner on the final play in the Bruins’ 32-31 win over the South Alabama.

— Utah drove 75 yards to score a touchdown with a two-point conversion with 48 seconds left to beat USC 43-42.

These four winning teams average more than 39 points per game and rank among the top 15 teams in the country. This scoring threat is a great weapon to have in your back pocket when it’s time to win. Cal ranks 11e in the Pac-12 and 101st in the nation by scoring at 23.3 points per game.

It’s worth noting that Cal has often been able to stay close in games against heavily favored opponents, and the Bears could draw favorable reviews if they stay close in Saturday’s home game against eighth-placed Oregon. ranking.

But as Wilcox has often said, this is a basic profession.

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Justin Wilcox cover photo by Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports

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