How To Salvage The Season

Keenan Allen (US Presswire)

Cal Sports Digest lays out a six-point plan to salvage the Bears' season after a disappointing 1-3 start.

BERKELEY, Calif. – This was supposed to be a treatise reassessing where California stood one-third of the way through the season, having enough evidence to reevaluate where the Golden Bears stood in relation to preseason expectations.

The only problem being, outside of the pop wide receiver Keenan Allen has provided on punt returns, this team has either matched the lackluster predictions offered up not even a month ago or dramatically underachieved. Neither William Shakespeare nor 1,000 monkeys chained to 1,000 typewriters somewhere in C. Montgomery Burns' estate could make that interesting.

So what is Cal doing well, and what can be added moving forward to pull out of this dreadful 1-3 start?

-Get Creative
The Bears have found success when going outside of the norm, be it on Allen's reverse for a touchdown against Nevada, getting running back Brendan Bigelow to the perimeter at Ohio State, or even a well-designed halfback pass at USC that sprung tight end Maximo Espitia free in the back of the end zone only for running back C.J. Anderson to overthrow the freshman. And they need to manufacture explosive plays because this offensive line cannot sustain extended drives, not even with the impending return of senior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, to say nothing of quarterback Zach Maynard's erratic tendencies.

Head coach Jeff Tedford's early success at Cal was characterized by a willingness to gamble. His first offensive play in Berkeley was a 71-yard double pass for a touchdown against Baylor. Tedford must rediscover that managed aggression to overcome the inherent deficiencies of Maynard and the line.

-Copy How USC Uses Lee, Woods
When the running game isn't working, Cal needs to find other ways to create manageable downs and distances to avoid total disaster. The easiest way is to use Allen and freshmen Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper on screens and quick passes where they can pick up some yardage and perhaps break a big play by making defenders miss.

The Trojans will use a variety of screens to get the ball in the hands of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, even pulling up at the snap and giving them a one-on-one matchup against the corner. Cal did a good job of tackling and swarming to prevent them from shaking one man and racing down the sideline, but USC was still able to gain consistent yards.

Allen is as physically gifted as any receiver in the nation, Harper has speed for days, while Treggs hasn't been able to show off the extent of his skills yet. With Maynard unable to find them consistently downfield, Tedford must find other ways to get them involved.

The passing game has been so inept that Allen has only two catches of 20 yards or longer, compared to the eight he had in the first four games last season. If he is the game's most talented possession receiver, Cal cannot win.

-More Carries For Bigelow
If Bigelow gets only four carries for the third straight week, someone needs to be fired. The sophomore has an innate ability to spark the offense when he is in the game, as proven the last two weeks on the road most noticeably. As the only running back without a negative play this season, albeit on only 10 carries, Bigelow has shown the speed to make the most out of what is been there behind the shaky front line.

-Involve Running Backs In The Passing Game
While Bigelow needs more playing time moving forward, it doesn't mean Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson need to be phased out. The seniors are outstanding running routes out of the backfield and have shown great hands.

With the tight ends decimated by injury at the moment, Cal's running backs can be that complimentary piece for Maynard, who is at his best with a low numbers of attempts but high completion percentage.

-Develop A Pass Rush
With only eight sacks on the season, none the last two weeks, Cal's front seven has been utterly abysmal in getting to the quarterback. There is a lot of talent, but that hasn't translated into pressure.

Whether it means more blitzes or simply better execution from what is being called, the Bears will not survive without consistently being able to hit and disrupt opposing signal-callers. Of course, much of the issue comes from the defense's inability to create obvious passing downs by stopping the run.

-Don't Be Afraid To Make Changes
I don't want to pick on safety Alex Logan, but he has been at the center of a lot of big play breakdowns the last two weeks. He whiffed on a tackle of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, resulting in a 55-yard scoring run, then failed to pick up receiver Devin Smith on the 72-yard game-winning touchdown. Against USC, he was undressed by running back Curtis McNeal on a long run to start the game.

When things are going poorly, sometimes coaches have to make a chance. Sometimes that means getting a player like Bigelow more action, sometimes it means benching a player that is performing poorly. Those in-game adjustments have been lacking.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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