The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

USC Preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’m back!!! Sorry for the lack of posts the last few weeks. After the Oregon State game I needed a few weeks away from Cal football. That loss was SOOOO demoralizing. It was very taxing on my soul. I knew that what I needed was to get Cal football out of my mind to get some emotional distance.

Of course, having a win over WSU makes it easier to come back, but I think it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have been ready either way at this point. In fact, I might have been ready before the WSU game, but I had other commitments that kept me away. I had a critical project associated to the transit of Mercury last Monday. So despite the fact I had my season tickets, and was theoretically available to go to the WSU game, I didn’t go merely because I had a ton of work to do before the transit.

In either case, I’m back now. 🙂

Onto the preview… It’s so hard to know what to make of both the Bears and of USC. USC has been very inconsistent. Cal has been mostly horrible through all of the injuries, particularly those at QB.

So, are we going to see the USC team that beat Utah or the team that got manhandled and throttled by Oregon? The one thing you can say about USC is they’ve only lost to good teams. Oregon, Notre Dame, Washington, and BYU (OK, they’re the weakest of the 4 by far). So USC isn’t laying any eggs in the Win-Loss department, unlike our beloved Bears. So my gut says USC is going to be a much tougher win this year than last.

And then there is the fact that Chase Garbers is back for the Bears as well as a number of other injuries are clearing themselves up. Chase hasn’t lost a game all season and was looking pretty darned good before he got injured. So are we going to get a ‘where-he-left-off’ Chase or will there be some rust to shake off? And what about the rest of the returning talent that started to look reasonably good/back last week?

It all leaves a lot of question marks.

My crystal ball sees that this game will come down to the Cal defense. They have to give the offense a lot of chances to score and not need that many scores to win. I think Chase is going to be somewhat inconsistent as he shakes off the rust. He’ll have some good drives and some bad drives. I’m guessing 2 TD’s and 2 FG’s worth of good drives… but only if the defense keeps getting the offense the ball back.

But if USC did a good job watching Utah and Oregon State film, and can expose the Bear’s defensive weaknesses, which they theoretically have the talent to do, then this game could be long and frustrating. USC can play keep-away and not give the Cal offense many chances.

But I’m going to be the optimist today (cautiously so) and predict that the defense comes out fired up and wins the game for the Bears.

Cal 20, USC 16

OSU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I was *NOT* a happy camper after the game yesterday. I was hoping that recording a podcast despite the fact I forgot my audio gear would be cathartic.

I was wrong.

It just got me all worked up. I was thinking about not posting it at all. It’s a bit harsh. But in the end, for full disclosure and transparency, this is what I sound like when I’m very much not a happy camper.

OSU prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Ran out of time to do a full preview. Cal offense is better against OSU, but not as good as last year. Cal defense is stifling.

Prediction: Cal 23, OSU 6

Oregon Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Well, I need to eat some humble pie after last week’s HORRIBLY off prediction. I got just about everything wrong. Sure, I wrote that it was possible things could go the other way, but what I actually predicted was a clicking Cal and a fading ASU. We saw exactly the opposite.

So here’s hoping my crystal ball is still broken, because what it sees today is UGLY. I’m sure Modster will be better than what he showed us against ASU, but there’s just no getting around how big of a loss Garbers is. Garbers would have won the ASU game, I have no doubt. And he would have been the key to a functional Cal offense versus Oregon.

But things are even worse than that. Oregon is the team built to beat Cal: Physical on the offensive line. Their stats may not show it, but I still think they are a run-first team. The fact that they have a QB who can make the opposition pay for loading up against the run only makes things worse. They’re going to push around Cal’s defensive line and control the game.

On defense, they’re also stronger against the run than the pass. This would be interesting if Cal had a serviceable quarterback… sadly all signs suggest the opposite.

And then add on the intangibles: Game in Eugene. Oregon is well rested after a bye. Oregon is in the pole position in the north now and ready to prove they deserve to win the north. It feels like a statement game for Oregon.

I just can’t imagine this game going well for the Bears: Cal 10, Oregon 31

ASU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I wasn’t pleased Friday night. I was in the middle of a marathon set of commitments, speaking at a Catholic conference both Friday and Saturday. I really needed a game to uplift, not to remind me how exhausted I was.

So please use that filter when you hear my not so optimistic words:

ASU Prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Sadly, I won’t have time to do a full preview post for this one. But I will say that ASU on the one hand scares me, but on the other hand feels much more manageable than our two tough games thus far.

The Cal injury situation with both the linebackers and the offensive line is troubling as well.

But I’m going to go the complete other way with this one. Something tells me tonight is going to be one of those games where the opponent comes in flat (demoralizing loss last week plus early Friday night game) and everything is clicking for the home team.

Cal is going to get 2 to 3 scores early and then ASU will meaningfully attempt to battle back, but will be too mistake prone against the Cal defense to get any closer.

Keeping my Old Blue in a cage for this one: Cal 38, ASU 17

My Ole Miss replay rant

(Written by kencraw)

OK, it has been a while since I’ve gone full rant-mode… and this whole “controversy” with the Pac-12 refs has grown into something ridiculous. When the ESPN recap during later game half-time shows is mostly them bashing the refs, it’s ridiculous. This is particularly true because THE REFS GOT IT RIGHT!

It’s extremely frustrating to me how little so many people know about the rules of football and particularly the rules for replay. College football reply was specifically designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. (Side note: whether they’ve accomplished that goal is a separate issue) The rules gods decided they didn’t want what the NFL had with red flags and challenges and all the machinations that go along with that. The specifically wanted to create something that as little as possible affected the game.

That’s why “every play is reviewed” automatically. But we have to understand what that means. It means that there’s a separate ref from the refs on the field who after every play (key word: AFTER) reviews the replays to see if there’s something that looks like it was likely called wrong on the field. If so he ‘buzzes’ down to the field to stop play so that a more thorough review can be done.

The on the field refs are not supposed to in any way change the flow of the game until the replay-ref buzzes down. They’re supposed to continue on as if everything is correct until they get notified by the replay ref.

And that’s exact what happened. The on the field refs made the best call they could on the field. (For a moment, you can ignore whether the ref made the correct call, I’ll get to that later.) That call indicated the receiver was just short of the endzone. As such, the clock continues to roll and it’s 4th down. The refs rushed to get the ball set so that Ole Miss could run a play as soon as they were ready. They did it exactly right.

As for the replay ref, since he doesn’t start looking at a play until after the play is over, it’s not reasonable to expect him to reasonably make a decision to review a play in a handful of seconds. He needs at least 10 maybe 15 to be able to watch a replay and properly judge whether a full review is justified. So there’s no reason to complain that he wasn’t able to do it before Ole Miss had to snap the ball before the clock expired.

To get even further to the point: Ole Miss doesn’t deserve an extra free timeout just because the play was a close one. I don’t know why people seem to think they do. The clock was running. Reviewing the play without specific justification (something that takes 10 to 15 seconds to come up with) would be unfair to the defense. Why should Ole Miss be given extra time to think through what they want to do on 4th down? That’s not fair either. If they wanted that time, they should have picked a play that wasn’t going to result in the player being tackled in-bounds, or had better timeout management earlier in the half so they still had one at this point in the game. It’s not Cal’s fault nor the refs fault that Ole Miss didn’t have that timeout and called a play that risked being down in-bounds.

And here’s what makes all of the above even more important: It appears the refs not only made the correct procedural call, but likely made the correct call on the field:

Here’s what I see in that bottom video by Emily Van Buskirk:

  • When the receiver reaches out to catch the ball, his feet and lower body are in the endzone but his upper body and hands (including the ball) are in the field of play
  • As he falls to the ground, the majority of his body drifts back into the field of play
  • But amidst that, the receiver transfers the ball to his left arm, bringing it very close to being in the endzone just as his first knee hits the ground. Whether it is in the endzone is nearly impossible to tell as the angle is not straight down the line (but it’s apparently the closest to down the line that exists). But I’ll admit it is very close and could possibly be a few inches over the line. No one can say for sure.
  • Then as he falls to the ground, the majority of the remainder of his body drifts into the field of play, including the ball now clearly being back in the field of play.
  • Finally, well after his knee is down, the receiver rolls back into the endzone and the ball at this point clearly breaks the plane. But of course, his knee has been down for a while now and it doesn’t matter if the ball crosses at this point.

So to summerize, the ball is caught outside the endzone, is transferred to his left arm where PERHAPS for just a moment it gets into the endzone, and then clearly returns back to the field of play as his knee is hitting the ground.

I’ve seen a lot of plays that more or less meet that criteria (ball perhaps crossing momentarily before returning to the field of play) and almost universally, unless it is VERY clear, refs generally don’t call it a touchdown. And for sure, if it is marginal as that one, the review booth would leave the play as called on the field. They for sure wouldn’t overturn that call based on the evidence we have.

So, to summarize:

  • The ref on the field likely made the correct call live.
  • The refs on the field did the right thing and didn’t assume a replay would be done. They continued as they are supposed to and properly spotted the ball quickly so Ole Miss could run a 4th down play as quickly (or slowly) as they desired.
  • The replay ref just didn’t have enough time to review the play to decide whether a full review was warranted and thus it is very reasonable that no replay was done.
  • But even if he had called for a full review, it appears the result would have been a “play stands as called on the field” result.
  • As such, it would have been unfair to the Bear’s defense to give Ole Miss the benefit of the doubt and do the replay and thus effectively give Old Miss a free and undeserved timeout to review a play that wouldn’t have been overturned.

Thus this “controversy” is a complete joke. Anyone who’s read all my content and particularly listened to my podcast knows I’m no defender of Pac-12 refs. But just because the conference’s refs have made plenty of mistakes in the past, doesn’t mean they made a mistake here. Best I can tell, they did everything right on this one.

Quick post Ole Miss game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

  • It seems pretty clear at this point, by the end of this season we’ll all know whether there’s anything wrong with our hearts. They’re going to be stress tested every week.
  • There’s no doubt the defensive injuries are having a pretty big effect on the defense. Let’s hope what the announcers said is accurate and the team will likely to get Paul and Goode back next week. The team really needs them.
  • The offensive line, while not great, seems to be surviving its injuries at this point. They looked reasonable in the 2nd half, even opening a few more running lanes against what was clearly a stacked box. (It’s part of why Garbers had so much room to throw.)
  • It’s been a long time since I’ve seen cornerback Cameron Bynum get beat over the top. Although that late throw that got the Rebels down to the 10 yard line was a well placed ball and a very good catch, making it very hard to defend, Bynum was not his usual lock-down self on that one.
  • Seeing Modster on the field as QB (admittedly just while Garbers was injured) clears up that he’s finally now eligible to play. Perhaps that’s just what Garbers needed to open up his passing game: Someone who might challenge him for the starting spot who is actually eligible to play.
  • By the way, great play call choice for Modster’s first pass (A jailbreak screen). Not a run like Ole Miss was assuming, but also something pretty safe with little downside and a lot of upside.
  • I’m still getting used to the idea that punting on 4th and 1 at mid-field with 2 minutes left and up by only 1 score, is the right call. With Dykes it was the absolute wrong call. While it was tighter than anyone would have liked, punting worked out. Woohoo defense!
  • That 3rd down play, no matter what announcer Ryan Leaf said, was most likely not a touchdown. The WR’s nearly entire body landed on the field side of the endzone line. My guess is if they review it (which they didn’t have time for), it would have been a “stands” if not “confirmed” call. Give credit to the line judge for being in exactly the right spot and being decisive about making the call as he saw it.
  • How just is it that Weaver made the final stop on 4th down?
  • And as a reminder, remember the Bears don’t lose if that TD is scored. Not only do the Rebels need to convert the 2-point conversion, even then it just goes to overtime. And I like the Bears chances in OT.

More later…

Ole Miss halftime thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

  • Starting with the positive: Way to go Garbers! Finally throwing the ball with some authority and picking some good reads.
  • Although I don’t think Garbers reads have all been right. There’s clearly been some missed reads (including the interception). But I’ll take what we’ve been getting this week every time over the past.
  • Last offensive thought: The offensive line is getting man-handled on run plays. Really need to turn that around. Too many injuries is making it too hard for them to hold up.
  • The defense is in a tough spot themselves with injuries. Missing both Tevin Paul and Cameron Goode at linebacker? OUCH! That hurts a LOT, LOT, LOT!
  • And that might be part of the reason the Bears are really struggling at reading the read-option. Nobody seems to be assigned (or at least that’s how it looks) to the QB keep option.
  • And when they manage to cover the QB keep, they’re not ready for the RPO option of passing over the top of the linebacker who’s going to make the QB tackle to an open reciever.
  • Those two plays have been the backbone of Ole Miss’s offensive success. The hope is they figure out a way to schematically clean that up in the 2nd half.
  • Happy to see the Bears leading (albeit by 1) at half-time, particularly getting the ball to start the 2nd half.

Ole Miss Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Are you ready for some football!?!

Well, you’d better be ready with some starbucks… because it’s another 9 AM West Coast kickoff for the Bears. For us Old Blues, this will no doubt bring back flashbacks of the 2008 game versus Maryland that started at noon EDT (which is the same as 9 AM PDT) and the 25th ranked Bears didn’t seem to wake up until the 4th quarter, thus losing to what we all felt was an inferior team. (And with the subsequent beat-down of Maryland at home the following year adding credence to that line of thinking.)

But this is Wilcox’s Bears, not Tedford’s or Dyke’s version. As much as I have very positive feelings about the Tedford era, there’s no doubt that those teams would occasionally have a stinker of a game and that there was a strong correlation between those and being on the road. Dykes was even worse for inconsistency.

Not Wilcox’s Bears. If anything they’ve excelled on the road. And every week, win or lose, I always feel that the Bears come to play. Thus, I don’t think 9 AM is going to have an effect on the outcome.

As for Ole Miss, for those who don’t remember, Cal played them 2 years ago and after trailing 7 to 16 at halftime scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead. Then with 3 minutes left, the desperate Rebel QB threw a pick-6 to give Cal some breathing room (and a 27-16 victory).

I recently re-watched that game and generally what I saw was two physically equally matched teams: both Power 5 teams without elite talent pretty much across the board. There was no meaningful difference in size between the teams on the line, despite what you hear about how big SEC teams are in the trenches.

And frankly, talent wise, I don’t think much has changed from 2 years ago for either team.

But there have been some pretty significant changes based on coaching and scheme. I think we’re all familiar with what’s changed for the Bears, so I’ll focus on Ole Miss

The big change for Ole Miss is that they have a new defensive coordinator, one who is very familiar to Bears fan: Former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. After being fired by CU just before the Cal game last year, he got picked up by Ole Miss in the off-season. He’s changed from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4 scheme. And thus far it is having pretty good results. So much so that their defense is ranked 16th, just behind the 15th ranked Bears, in the S&P+ defensive rankings.

This is what Ole Miss fans are hanging their hats on for their chances for a win. They, like Cal fans, don’t have a lot of confidence in their offense.

But is their defense really that good? My thought is: not really. Their best result is a 10 to 15 loss to Memphis. Memphis is a pretty good Group of 5 team (and currently undefeated), so it is something that the Rebels held them to 15. But they also gave up 29 to an FCS team and 17 to the (as of last year) pretty terrible Razorbacks (they do seem to be improving this year). Overall, Ole Miss’s defense is petty untested thus far.

Also, new schemes, on either side of the ball, have a real advantage for the 1st few weeks of the season. The opponents don’t have any significant game film to work with. The element of surprise is very important in college football, thus new schemes have a short term advantage. But now it’s week 4 and Cal has 3 weeks of footage to work with.

Nevertheless, I think it’s right to think of this game as a defensive struggle. And what that means is the team that can break a few big plays will win. I’m going to go with my gut and say that team is Cal, in part because of big defensive plays.

Garbers and the offense is playing it really safe and not turning the ball over. I see that as continuing. Ole Miss is far more likely to fall victim to Cal’s confusing defense and throw a pick-6 or do something similarly as disheartening. Also, Cal’s defense is less likely to have a blown play. Ole Miss may be better with their new defensive scheme, but it’s only their 4th week of it. Mistakes are bound to happen.

So, my call is for a low scoring game where 2 extra big plays for the Bears make the difference: Cal 20, Ole Miss 13.

N. Texas Preview

(Written by kencraw)

One of the biggest temptations after a game like last Saturday is to presume the team will always play every bit as good as they did last week in the upcoming week. To disabuse us of that temptation, here’s some recent Cal Bear post-upset history (going backwards in time):

  • 2018 – USC win in LA Coliseum: Beat Colorado, starting out fast but almost letting them back in the game.
  • 2018 – UW win at home: Lost to WSU in a close one that hinged on an interception thrown by McIllwain as the Bears were driving for the hopeful go-ahead score.
  • 2017 – Destroyed WSU 37 – 3 at home: Lost at home in double overtime to a struggling Arizona squad
  • 2016 – Won a defensive struggle over Utah at home: Lost to Oregon State (OSU!?!) on the road in OT.
  • 2015 – Won at Texas (turns out they weren’t very good, but we thought so at the time): Beat a rebuilding UW in Seattle

Big wins get harder to come by before that for quite a while, so we’ll stop there.

But here’s what that list says to me… that the 2018 did pretty darned well by itself. UW and WSU were very equally matched teams. To lose by one score on the road and win the other by one score at home seems about right. And there was no post USC hangover, despite having reached bowl eligibility.

Before that, things get a bit more dicey. Yet what those years says to me is that when you have a mediocre team, while occasionally they over-achieve, one should expect them to return to form the following week.

So is this a mediocre team?

Hard to say at this point. But I think what they are the ‘Earn It’ team they claim to be. They come prepared the best they can every week and try their best to win every week. There may be a few teams that they don’t beat either because the bounces don’t go their way or they’re just over-matched (either that day or in general), but overall, you can expect these Bears to live up to their potential… sometimes even more.

And if that’s the case, I don’t think the North Texas fighting oil fields (OK, that’s not actually right, they’re the “Mean Green”) will stand between the Bears and victory. They just don’t have the talent to compete. They have a good Quarterback, but that’s about it. They’re particularly weak on defense.

Now, perhaps that’s the recipe for a Cal disaster. Perhaps the Cal offense can even struggle against a weak defense if they’re not bringing their A-game. Perhaps some quality QB is finally going to break through and play just about every play perfectly. But the way I see it, even if we look at the realistic worst case scenario there (minus a large turnover margin) it results in something a mid-20’s close victory for the Bears.

More likely, the Cal offensive line will just grind away at the barely-mediocre (and that’s for a group of 5 team) run defense. It may take a quarter or two, but the Bears will eventually wear them down. Plus, the Mean Green like to play man coverage, and I suspect Garbers will have more confidence picking the right receivers in that situation.

On the other side of the ball, I just don’t see them being able to beat this defense. Even in the most troubling scenario, they will dink and dunk their way down the field as Cal plays conservative. But again, I doubt they go big. And if they try to play aggressive, the confusion of the secondary will result in multiple painful turnovers for the Mean Green.

And that’s what I’m going to predict. UNT comes in and plays VERY aggressive on both sides of the ball. They sell out to try and stop the Cal run game, and while they’re somewhat successful for a couple drives, eventually exhaustion takes over and the Bears open up some big holes for some big runs and scores. On the other side, multiple interceptions from an over aggressive UNT QB gives Cal lots of short fields and maybe even some pick-6’s.

Half time score may be within a TD or two, but by the end this is a laugher: Cal 45, UNT 13

Free tickets to N. Texas game?

(Written by kencraw)

For whatever reason, nobody wants to buy my tickets. Any of my loyal readers want them for free? Leave me a comment if you do.

UW game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

My boys were surprisingly joyful yesterday in reminding me how wrong my prediction was. I’ll give you guys the same answer I gave them: I couldn’t be more happy to be wrong.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s my thoughts on the game:

  • It was quite clear that Garbers was told to be VERY conservative with passing the ball. Did he throw a single ball over the middle? He looked there a lot, but just about every time he either went to an outlet receiver or ran the ball. I’m convinced he’s been told to not lose the game by turning it over.
  • Speaking of which, Garbers numbers were ho-hum (only 111 yards), but exactly what this team needs him to be: 60% completion percentage, over 6 yards an attempt, no interceptions and 40+ yards of scrambling runs. (Although it would be nice to see more downfield throws and fewer than 3 sacks.)
  • Garbers also had a key block on Cal’s 2nd TD. Dancy doesn’t get in without Garbers block.
  • The two headed monster of Brown and Dancy is looking really good. Neither one of them is too one dimensional they can’t be used in most situations nor tip the team’s hand to the defense for what they should expect.
  • My biggest concern is the defensive line. They got pushed around quite a bit by the UW offensive line. It’s the reason every time UW ran the ball, they always fell forward for what seemed to be at least 3 yards. The defense as a whole was able to be effective because the d-line took just enough attention from the o-line so that the linebackers and secondary could wreck havoc and create enough negative plays to stop UW from grinding out TD’s all game long.
  • Another concern: Punting. Not only did Longhetto and Coutts (who might be still hampered by injury) not kick the ball very well (avg 30 yards per punt) the coverage team has been very suspect. They’re suspect on kickoffs too, but luckily Cal has a place kicker with a strong enough leg to force a touch-back most of the time.
  • Returning to the positive, I continue to be more optimistic about the wide receivers, particularly Kekoa Crawford. For one thing, he’s got an awesome last name. But even if you ignore that, he’s fast, runs good routes and also has a penchant for yards after the catch.
  • The last drive of the game still has me wowed. It was exactly what it needed to be. The WR screen that got the ball deep in the redzone was a great call. How long has it been since Cal won on a last minute drive? (answer – excluding OT – 11/28/15 over ASU)
  • I will say, I was a bit surprised by the 3rd down play call on the final series. Why would you waste a play on 2nd down to center the ball and then on 3rd down go for the TD, and thus de-center the ball? I can see both decisions (going for the TD vs. centering and kicking the extra-point like FG) as being reasonable, but the odd combination of both seemed a bit odd.
  • I said to my eldest son as the weather delay was wrapping up, looking at that mostly empty stadium, that the game was going to be won by the team that wanted it most. When I said it, I felt pretty good about what that might mean. This Cal team has shown time and again to hit above their weight class by shear will, and sure enough, they did it again Saturday night/Sunday morning.
  • That said, unlike last year, I feel that if this game was played multiple times, the Bears would come out on top the majority of the time. I’m not quite as confident that would be true without the weather delay, but I still likely think it is true, and here’s why: The breaks didn’t exactly go the Bears way. Neither turnover resulted in points nor really kept points off the board. The penalties slightly helped the Bears, but they were valid/clear cut penalties. This game was pretty straight up and the Bears won it that way too.
  • And the most important part: This was a good UW team, make no mistake. Beating them on the road means that Cal can compete with any team in the conference, even in their house.

N. Texas tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve posted them over on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/254354981752

Starting bid: $40 for a total of 7 tickets

1:15 PM kickoff… isn’t this the one you want to take the family to?

UW Preview

(Written by kencraw)

(Posting note: This was written around noon. For some reason it wasn’t posted. So, don’t take the 8 PM posting time as accurate.)

As my pre-season predictions showed, I wasn’t sitting on a lot of confidence about the UW game before last week’s results. From the beginning I thought that if last year’s game had been replayed numerous times, Cal would have only won the game about a quarter of the time. A lot of things went right for the Bears that afternoon and a number of things didn’t go all that well for the Huskies.

And once I think that, it’s hard to imagine that Cal has a better shot in Seattle… a VERY tough place to play. The only hope would be that the Cal offense learned a lot between last October and now and/or the UW offense is even further hampered by the loss of their long-time starting QB (Browning).

Then we all watched both teams play last weekend, against remarkably similarly leveled FCS teams. While one game can be misleading, there’s no doubt that what we saw last weekend suggests UW is the better team. UW’s new QB (transfer Jacob Eason) looks *really* good. The Husky offense was firing on all cylinders.

As for the Bears offense? They looked rusty all the way around. Garbers showed a bit more ability to read defenses, but looked slow in his evaluations. Thankfully the offensive line gave him plenty of time to make his reads. But before we get too excited about that, his passing motion looked unrefined (to be charitable) and the number of errant balls was really troubling.

Then there were the drops by the WR’s and TE. Luckily there is some hope in that the route running and separation looked better than in the past. Perhaps it just takes a week for the rust to come off.

All of that offensive hand-wringing is a long way of saying, if Cal is going to win this game, they’re going to have to win it the exact same way as last year: An incredible defensive performance with a couple of “bounces” that go the Bears way.

And between what I saw from UW’s offense and the minor troubling issues I saw on defense (lack of a D-Line push, tackling was not at the same level as last year, more open receivers than last year, etc.) I have a very hard time believing Cal shuts UW down the way it did last year.

Bears lose a frustrating one: Bears 10, UW 23.

UC Davis OTRH podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I’m going to try this year to be much more prompt in posting my On The Road Home podcasts. To that end, here’s the one I recorded last night on the way home from the UC Davis game:

UC Davis preview

(Written by kencraw)

Watch out! This is not your father’s UC Davis. This isn’t even the team that beat Stanford in 2005. This is a top-tier FCS team, currently ranked #5 in the FCS, with a very experienced quarterback (2018 Big Sky offensive player of the year Jake Maier). Ever since Dan Hawkins (former Colorado and Boise St. Head coach) took over from Ron Gould (of Cal running back coaching fame), UC Davis has been getting better and better.

Cal could actually lose this game. *REALLY*. Not, “if the Bears don’t bring their A-game” lose, actually lose the game straight up. All it would take is a sub-par game plan and last years offensive struggles.

The good news for the Bears is I don’t think Maier has ever played a defense as good as Cal’s and most definitely never played one that so effectively uses deception. He has a pretty common weakness in that he’s mistake prone when under pressure. That bodes really well for the Cal defense.

When the Bears have the ball, I think the most important question is whether they can dominate in the trenches. If they can, I expect the Bears to play it pretty conservative and pound the ball. That might be difficult as UC Davis has a pretty good defensive line (for FCS) and it’s their most experienced unit.

But if that doesn’t work, the secondary is pretty young, so the Bears hopefully can exploit that if UC Davis commits too heavily to stopping the run.

My expectation is that we’re going to see a surprisingly good UC Davis team, but one that tries a bit too hard on offense and makes enough mistakes to turn what in principle a pretty even-handed game into somewhat easy victory.

But if Cal loses the turnover and field position battle… watch out!

Hoping that doesn’t happen: Bears 31, Aggies 17/

2019 game-by-game prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Before we get into 2019, it seems worth looking back on my 2018 pre-season predictions:

  • N. Carolina: Predicted 2 score win; got a 1 TD win
  • @BYU: Predicted close loss; got close win
  • ID St.: Predicted big win; got big win
  • OU: Predicted 1 score loss; got 3 score loss
  • @UA: Predicted 2 TD loss; got 1 TD loss
  • UCLA: Predicted close win; got blowout loss
  • @OSU: Predicted close win; got blowout win
  • UW: predicted 1 score loss; got 1 score win
  • @WSU: predicted 2 score win; got 1 score loss
  • @USC: Predicted blowout loss; got 1 score win
  • Stanford: Predicted 1 score win; got 2 score loss
  • Colorado: Predicted 2 score win; got 2 score win

(Colors are where I predicted wrong, green when it was a win instead of a loss, red for the opposite.)

So I got half the games right (with only a couple where the magnitude was meaningfully off) and half the games wrong, but the number of wins overall was as expected. I wouldn’t call that stellar, but it’s also not horrible for a middle of the pack team.

On to 2019…

  • Cal 31 vs. UC Davis 17 – I’ll do a separate post for this one
  • Cal 13 @ UW 17 – The only thing that gives me pause on this prediction is that UW is doing a fair amount of rebuilding this season, most notably at QB, but I don’t think UW let’s Cal win this game on their turf. They’ll be careful. They’ll try to wear our defense down. And ultimately, UW will grind out a win. Here’s hoping Garbers and the offense surprises me.
  • Cal 38 vs. N. Texas 13 – Cal starts clicking a bit more on offense and N. Texas is overwhelmed by the Cal defense. Desperation leads to a couple of “ill advised passes” that help pad the score for Cal.
  • Cal 27 @ Ole Miss 10 – Cal shuts down Ole Miss’ new offense from Rich Rodriguez (which isn’t yet up to full speed) and the offense takes advantage of a number of short fields.
  • Cal 24 vs. ASU 20 – In a game that keeps our nerves frazzled, Cal squeaks out a win when ASU can’t convert in the redzone at the end of the game (needing a TD). This game gives Cal fans more worries about the quality of the defense than it should.
  • Cal 13 @ Oregon 28 – The defense improves on it’s 2018 effort, but the inability of the Cal offense to get things going is just too much for the defense to handle
  • Cal 45 vs. OSU 17 – Garbage time scores give OSU more points than they deserve, but this is the cathartic game us fans needed after a couple of troubling weeks.
  • Cal 20 @ Utah 23 – The most painful game of the season (think last year’s WSU game) where Cal fans spend the next few days moaning about what could have been. Close the entire 2nd half, Cal can never get through and score the points it needs to win.
  • Cal 38 vs. WSU 6 – Without the Minshew magic of 2018 and yet again unable to beat the Cal defense, this time the Cal offense does it’s job and puts WSU in a hole early. Desperation only increases the margin of victory.
  • Cal 12 vs. USC 14 – Cal gets a bit too cocky and gives up a couple big scores. On the other side, the USC defense keeps Cal out of the endzone.
  • Cal 27 @ Stanford 17 – I’m getting tired of predicting “this is our year” with the Big Game… so this year the Bears are not going to let me down when I say “THIS IS OUR YEAR!!!” Stanford continues to regress as a team and is pretty disheartened (and thus under-performs) when Stanford stadium is yet again Bear Territory in the stands.
  • Cal 24 @ UCLA 31 – I’m sticking to my planned prediction despite what happened to UCLA last night. They’ll find just enough mojo at the end of the year to beat the Bears.

So, yet another 7-5 season with some new wins but also some regressions and losing to teams we beat last year (UW and USC in particular).

2019 Reasons to be concerned

(Written by kencraw)

It’s all well and good to focus on the positives before the season starts. God knows that we’ll have plenty of time to focus on the negatives starting tomorrow afternoon. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to properly set expectations so that when things start to not look as good as our most wildly optimistic thoughts, we’re not so surprised (or is the right word angry?).

Here are my thoughts about things to be concerned about:

  • Pick-6’s may not come so easy this year: Of the Bears 7 wins, 3 can pretty directly be attributed to pick-6’s or INTs: UW, Colorado (got a 14 point head start on 2 pick 6’s), and USC. As much as the defense deserves a lot of credit for those points, there’s an element of chance and randomness there. It wouldn’t have taken much for Cal to lose a couple of those games last year and end a disappointing 5-7. It’s not hard to imagine the team doesn’t have such good luck in that department this year.
  • Garbers improvement may not be as advertised: While there’s definitely reason for hope here, the last couple games of the season aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the idea that Garbers was getting better. And if he wasn’t improving over the course of the season, why are we so confident he got better over the off-season?
  • The tough games are on the road: This is the inverse of the optimistic ‘Most of the most winnable games are at home’ point. If we’re hoping for a Cal team that gets to 8-4 or better, they’re going to need to beat some pretty good teams. And most of those games are on the road: Oregon, Washington, Utah and Stanford top that list. And depending on what you think of UCLA after their loss last night, add UCLA to that list (remember that one is at the end of the season). Plus, I’d feel a lot better about Ole Miss at home and more confident about ASU if they weren’t coming home from a road trip to Ole Miss before the short week for that Friday night game.
  • The nose guard position: On the surface, it seems in good shape… Luc Bequette was one of our best defensive linemen last year. But he’s been moved from outside at end to the nose guard. The pre-fall camp hopeful starter Maldonado is injured and Fuimaono has been missing for unclear reasons. When the team’s only depth behind a player who had to be moved to that position is guys who’ve never played a snap of college football, it’s a little concerning.
  • Depth in general is a bit weak: There are some positions the team seem to have a lot of options: QB (ironically), RB, and DE are the most likely to survive injuries. But after that it gets a bit more troubling… ILB and OLB may not be too bad if you account for moving people around based on injuries, but if you just look at the depth chart, it gets thin pretty quick. The same could be said about CB and Safety. Past that, it gets pretty dicey. The offensive line, the wide receivers, and tight end as well as the previously mentioned nose guard position, could all be one injury away from being a real problem.
  • Weak offenses lead to thin margins of error: Perhaps this is a more general way to say my first point. But as we saw last year against Arizona, WSU and could imagine for UW and USC, it only takes a couple of pretty minor mistakes to turn the game the wrong way when the offense doesn’t score a lot of points. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a defense.
  • ASU and Utah are much better than UA and CU: Odd years are when Cal switches which pair of Pac-12 south teams it plays in addition to USC and UCLA. Without a doubt, both ASU and Utah are better than both UA and Colorado. And the Bears only went 1-1 against UA and CU last year. It’s going to be pretty challenging for the team to beat ASU and Utah this year.
  • Year 2 for break-out units tend to be tough: When a team has an offense that explodes, it takes a while for opponents to figure out how to defend it. But make no mistake, one of the coaching staff’s biggest jobs in the off-season is to analyze last year’s game film for ways to improve the following year. That’s why in year 2 of a newly improved unit, there’s often a step back. In our case, the unit in question in the defense. I’m sure every Pac-12 offensive coach spent a fair amount of their time pouring over Cal game film for weaknesses they might be able to exploit. Opposing QB’s now have a season’s worth of game film to review so they won’t be as surprised by the team’s creative coverage schemes. All of this brings up the very real possibility that the exact same defensive performance as last year, might not go quite as well the 2nd time around.

Do I have you sufficiently scared yet? Just in case I haven’t done my job yet, let’s walk through the season with a pessimistic outlook:

I won’t go completely doomsday and predict a UC Davis upset, but as you’ll see when I get to my game preview, they’re a lot more dangerous than many think. The same goes for N. Texas. But for sure, losing to UW is a very real possibility. So let’s say the Bears start out 2-1.

From here there’s a bunch of trouble. On the road into SEC territory, potentially early in the day? (game time is not yet set) That could easily be a loss even though it is a weaker Ole Miss. And if that happens, it’s not hard to imagine a loss to ASU after the short week for the Friday night game. And things don’t get better the following week headed to Eugene to lose to Oregon.

Thus the Bears would stumble into their bye week on a 3-game losing streak and 2-4 overall. The Bears should pick up a win against Oregon State at home after the bye.

Yet after that, there’s not a single game the Bears should feel safe about. Heading to Utah is always trouble. WSU is always a tough game and the same goes for USC. (Don’t let winning one game after 14 years of futility get to your head.) Let’s be nice and suggest the Bears win 1 of those 3.

That brings the team’s record to 4-6, needing to win both games against Stanford and UCLA. And if we were being optimists, we could hope for 2 wins to get to bowl eligibility. Sadly, this is the pessimists view and that suggests we lose to Stanford (who continues to have Cal’s numbers, year after year) and at that point, now eliminated from bowl eligibility, Cal has a tough time bringing the needed intensity to UCLA on the road on Thanksgiving weekend and drops the final game.

Final record 4-8 for the pessimistic view, with 3-9 not being completely out of the realm of possibility of you’re embracing the ‘Old Blue’ inside you.

2019 Reasons for Optimism

(Written by kencraw)

Another Cal season is upon us. And if you read the various Cal sites, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic. In fact, I think a couple of weeks ago it officially crossed the threshold from optimism to delusion. But, that doesn’t mean that hiding inside the delusion aren’t some real reasons for optimism. Here’s what they are as I see them:

  • The defense should be good again: …perhaps even great. While there are a couple more concerning points (but I’ll get to those in another post) it is not unreasonable to think that the 2019 defense has the potential to match or even exceed the 2018 version.
  • Good defense leads to close games: Last year Cal gave up more than 24 points only twice: Oregon and UCLA. And wouldn’t you know it, those were the only two games Cal fans walked away dejected. Why? Because even if you’re offense is inept (there, I said it, OK?) it doesn’t take but a couple of lucky breaks to score a couple touchdowns. And once the team has done that, you’re always in striking distance of a last second win.
  • The QB situation should be better: There’s no getting around that last year was rough at QB. The presumptive 2nd year starter (Bowers) for whatever reason was quickly on the sideline leaving us with two untested QB’s fighting it out. One was potentially explosive, but as it turned out, also frequently disastrous. The other was steady but a bit uninspiring at times. Mr. Steady is back for season #2. Now he’s got 2/3rds of a season of experience under his belt plus a full off-season as the presumptive starter. One has to expect Garbers to be better in 2019.
  • There’s a lot more talent at WR: (Note the word “more”… particularly when compared to the late season injury plagued unit that is most fresh in our minds). There’s a lot of youth in this group, but youth has rarely been a huge problem at WR. It’s more about talent and work ethic. Between the set of backups from last year who might be ready to contribute and the freshmen and transfers, there should be enough speed and talent here to keep opposing defenses more honest than 2018. That’ll help the run game too.
  • Most of the most winnable games are at home: This can be a tough one because it can be said in both a positive and negative way, but I’ll save the negative way for another post. The positive way to say it that if you have the easy games at home, the floor for the team is higher. In other words, if all the supposed easy games are on the road, the team (in the worst case scenario) is a lot more likely to be at risk of a 2-win season. Said another way, it’s much easier to lose teams that the team shouldn’t lose to on the road. By having those teams at home, the floor is higher. There’s 3 nearly guaranteed wins at home (UC-Davis, N. Texas and Oregon State) and another 3 that are very winnable (WSU, USC and ASU). Win those games and Cal goes bowling even if they strike out on the road.
  • Year 3 of programs tend to be the break out year: If you look at most programs that are on a building trend, year 3 is where it most frequently comes together. Last year the defense got there a bit ahead of schedule. But we’ve reached the point where Wilcox and staff have a team that is mostly of their making and they’ve had a chance to fully put in place what they want to do.

So what does my optimistic scenario look like? I think this team could open the season 5-0. UC Davis, a rebuilding UW, N. Texas, a weaker than normal Ole Miss, and ASU at home. There’s no reason to think (when being optimistic) that the Bears couldn’t win all those games.

At that point, yet again we’ll get ESPN GameDay, but yet again it will be on the road, for the Oregon game. I think we’re in delusion mode if we think Cal wins that game. Sure, crazy things happen, but I’d like my optimism to have at least some semblance of reality.

The final 6 games have 3 that really concern me (@Utah, @Stanford and @UCLA) and 2 that I think are reasonably winnable (WSU and USC) and one that should be a win (OSU). Because things are never as ‘by the book’ as we’d think, my realistic optimistic prediction is they win one of those 3 scary ones, but also lose 1 of the pretty winnable ones.

The result is optimism points to an 8-4 team, with an upside to 9-3 and if you squint just the right way, 10-2 isn’t inconceivable. Anything beyond that (well probably even the 10-2 should be included) is pretty delusional.