Before kickoff last night, it was really hard to determine just how good or what kind of team the Bears will be this season. Obviously, there are still a lot of questions to be answered, but I thought we started to get a gauge on some key issues against the Spartans, and it resulted in good news for Cal.
–Probably the most positive development was how the Bears defended the run. That was the biggest concern about the switch to the 3-4 defense. Michigan State is believed to have one of the most potent running attacks in the Big Ten with NFL draft prospect Javon Ringer in its backfield. The Bears held the Spartans to just 81 yards on the ground on a 2.6 average.
Obviously, the Bears allowed some yards in the passing game, and that will have to improve. Michigan State came up with some big plays through the air, especially late in the game. Spartans receiver Mark Dell had nine catches for 202 yards, the first opposing receiver to have over 200 yards against Cal since 2005.
–Tailback Jahvid Best looked exhausted at the end of the game and took a long time to come into the interview room afterward as he received treatment from the training staff. Best said he was slightly cramping late in the game.
It certainly looks as though Best is going to be able to handle the heavy workload the Bears have planned for him. He had 24 carries, five catches and four kick returns and amassed 277 total yards. His explosiveness was on display, especially on his 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter in which he made a quick cut to the outside and easily outran the Spartans defense to the corner of the end zone.
“They kind of blocked up the middle,” Best said. “I just saw the pylon and ran for it.”
–The game also confirmed what we knew already. The Bears’ receiving corps is a work in progress. Sean Young played well, but other than that no receiver made an impact. Young had four catches for 81 yards but there was only one other reception by a wide receiver (LaReylle Cunningham for six yards).
Nyan Boateng had a couple of drops and Marvin Jones wasn’t a factor. Michael Calvin played sparingly because of a sprained toe. The Bears are going to need their receivers to do a better job of getting open because they won’t be able to always depend on tight end Cameron Morrah or their running backs catching passes out of the backfield.
–You got to hand it to Kevin Riley for answering Michigan State scores by leading Cal on scoring drives. AFter Otis Wiley’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown cut the Bears lead to 10-7 in the second quarter, Riley immediately threw a 42-yard screen pass to Best followed by a 24-yard completion to Young. Best ended up scoring on a 2-yard run on a drive that took just 48 seconds.
After the Spartans cut it to 17-14 on Ringer’s 1-yard run, Riley again forged a drive, leading the Bears 76 yards on eight plays and ending on a 4-yard TD pass to Morrah. Then after Ringer’s 10-yard run made it 24-21, Riley and the Bears answered immediately again, going 59 yards on nine plays and ending on fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou’s first career touchdown catch, a 5-yarder to push it back to 31-21
–Speaking of that drive, it probably included the play of the game when Riley found Morrah on 3rd-and-13 for a 26-yard gain. Riley was being pulled down by MSU nose tackle Ryan Wheat but still managed to get the ball downfield to Morrah despite having safety Dan Fortener draped all over him.
–I guess cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson’s shoulder is OK. Thompson, who didn’t practice in a full capacity at practice last week until Thursday after missing a lot of time with a sprained shoulder, had a terrific game. It wasn’t only his interception near the end of the first half, but MSU receivers simply struggled to get open against him. He broke up three passes and also had five tackles. That may have been a better game than any Thompson played all of last season.