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Ridiculously early thoughts on 2019

(Written by kencraw)

I posted a condensed version of this on CGB and thought I’d expand on my thoughts here:

Looking forward to 2019, even though it is ridiculously early to think about it (we haven’t seen the bowl game and whether of month of extra practice can help the offense see some rhythm, nor who gets injured in Spring ball or transfers or what sort of transfers the Bears get), here’s my best shot at a prediction.

I see a year of slight regression, at least on the win/loss ledger.

Let’s start with the non-conference games.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team lose at least 1 non-conference game. I think people underestimate how good UC Davis has gotten and N. Texas is no slouch, plus Ole Miss on the road won’t be easy.  All of those games will be winnable, but at the same time, tougher non-conference games have a way of causing an unexpected loss among them.  Particularly when Cal has to play UW in the middle of their non-conference schedule, it’s not hard to think the Bears may lose 1 of the 3.

Next up, in conference Cal switches from Arizona and Colorado to ASU and Utah.  If we had stayed with UA and CU, I’d be optimistic the Bears would gain a win from 2018.  Cal would have Arizona at home against a team they should have beat last year.  Add to this that Colorado is in rebuilding mode after letting their head coach gone and it’s reasonable to hope the Bears would go 2-0 where they only went 1-1 against this pair in 2018.  But ASU and Utah is entirely different.  ASU made great strides in 2018 and year 2 under their new head coach will likely be another step in the right direction.  Luckily that game is at home, so the Bears have a good shot at a win, but it’s not exactly going to be easy.  As for Utah, that’s a *REALLY* tough game and one has to fear a loss.  So that suggests at best the Bears repeat their 1-1 record against this pair, but going 0-2 is far too likely.

The remainder of the schedule are teams the Bears play every year.  I’ll start with the 3 teams Cal lost by more than one score:  Oregon, UCLA and Stanford.  All 3 games were at home in 2018 and thus all 3 are on the road in 2019.  Oregon is the one I think might be most likely to see a regression in 2019, with Herbert gone at QB, but going to Eugene is always very tough.  It’s hard for a realistic person to hope for a win from that one.  UCLA is on the rise and will be much better next year.  Stanford might be the best hope for a win from the 3 as Stanford stadium isn’t exactly a tough road environment.  But since Cal isn’t going to have a realistic chance to win against Stanford until it wins in the trenches, I don’t have a lot of hope for a win here.  (More on this later.)  So the Bears stay 0-3 against these teams in 2019 from my way of thinking.

Next up, Oregon State… that was an easy win in 2018 and there’s every reason to expect that stays the same with the game in Berkeley in 2019.  But since they won in 2018, it won’t gain the Bears anything win/loss wise, by winning again.

Probably the best hope for a flip to the win column is WSU, the last loss from 2018 left to be considered.  With Minshew gone and the game in Berkeley, that game could be a win.  I tell you what, let’s assume that for now and move on to the big problem spots, even though The Pirate seems to have WSU in a place where they can recover from losing a good QB very quickly.

Cal beat both UW and USC in 2018.  Who think’s they’re going to repeat that?  There is some good news on this front as UW losses their 4-year QB, as well as a number of other notable seniors.  And since the Bears get them in the 2nd week of the season, UW won’t have had much time to break in their replacements.  However, the Bears *barely* beat UW at home and now have to go to the very tough Husky stadium to play the game.  Again, that’s not as tough in September as November, but still, I’d feel much better about that game in Berkeley.

Then there’s USC.  USC has so much talent.  Cal caught them at a pretty good time in 2018.  The good news is that the Bears play USC in Berkeley, but if history is any guide, that’s of little comfort.  USC always brings their big annoying band and lots of alum show up.  The game often feels pretty 50/50 crowd wise.  So while there’s a chance the Bears win this one, it’s not going to be easy.  So again, winnable, but not easy.

So with two winnable but not easy games, the safe assumption is they split them.  Just for simplicity, let’s say the Bears beat USC at home and lose to UW on the road.

So, adding that all up based on just schedule and trajectory of the other programs, I’m predicting an extra non-conference loss, an extra loss from the AZ/mountain pair, and an extra loss from USC/UW, with one new win to offset that from WSU.  The result is the 7-5 of 2018 will become 5-7 in 2019 unless the Bears can find a way to win the Big Game.

But all of that analysis, I didn’t much consider how the Bears would change.  That was all based on how I see the opponents changing.  So how do I see the Bears progressing next year?

If there’s good news, the losses to graduation are mostly replaceable with one huge exception.  The toughest losses are Kunaszyk and Laird.  But behind them are a number of underclassmen who have gotten enough playing time in 2018 to show their potential.  I’m optimistic that the Bears have enough talent behind them to not cause a notable effect.  Losing Wharton and Ways at WR is troublesome, but again, there’s a lot of young WR’s who have potential, plus Noa back from injury.  One could be concerned about the the 3 seniors lost at TE, but that would only be true if those 3 guys were of much help in 2018.  Hudson never returned to his former glory after a year off from injury and Bunting, while the best TE, wasn’t exactly lighting up the field.  If anything, perhaps the younger guys waiting in the wings have the opportunity to give us a positive surprise.

But then there’s the offensive line.  OUCH!  The losses of Bennett, Ooms and Mekari are going to be hard to replace. It was immediately obvious how much the O-line is going to miss Mekari based on the O-Line play against Colorado and Stanford after his ankle injury.  And it’s not like Cal can assist a weaker O-Line with TE’s and our FB.  We already talked about the TE’s.  As for FB, McMorris did a great job of filling the gaps in the offensive line and he’s gone next year.  So summing that all up, I’m very concerned about the O-line next year.

I am optimistic about better QB play. Garbers will improve and Bowers will hopefully be back and in the mix. And McIlwain, while it may not be at QB, will probably find some way to contribute.  So the question becomes, can improved QB play be enough to offset the O-Line losses?  I”m having a hard time believing that.

Now, the defense looks like it’s going to be every bit as good as 2018.  The losses to graduation are minimal outside of Kunaszyk and Funches, and there’s a lot of talent behind them waiting to prove themselves.  Plus the existing starters are only going to get better.  So even if the offense stinks as much as I fear, the defense will keep the Bears in a lot of games.

Nevertheless, it feels more like a 5-7 season, with upside to 6-6.  Yes, if the offense can find some magic it didn’t have in 2018, the team could take that next step forward.  ASU, UCLA, Stanford and a sweep of UW and USC are all possible with a good offense.  That would be 9-3.  Yet I just don’t see that happening.  Frankly, I much more fear that teams realize what Stanford did… the key to beat the Bears is just not to let the Cal defense win the game.  Be conservative and win the game 10-6.  And if that happens, we could see the Bears losing to both USC and UW, as well as not flipping WSU to the positive side of the ledger.  That would be a terrifying 3-9 scenario.

So there you have it, somewhere between 9-3 and 3-9 with 5-7 being my best guess.  Here it is game by game:

  • UC Davis – Win
  • @UW – Loss
  • N. Texas – Win
  • @Ole Miss – Loss
  • ASU – Loss
  • @Oregon – Loss
  • Bye
  • OSU – Win
  • @Utah – Loss
  • Bye (too close to the prior one, frankly)
  • WSU – Win
  • USC – Win
  • @Stanford – Loss
  • @UCLA – Loss (thinking about it, I have the Bears in the same situation as 2017, 5-6 going into a road game vs. UCLA in the Rose Bowl stadium.  We’ll see how much better UCLA is by then, but if they don’t take as big of a leap as I’m expecting, the Bears will be very motivated to pick up that win and might just pull off the upset and get to 6-6 that way.)

End of season thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

A handful of random thoughts now that the season was over:

  • Cheez-it bowl?  I liked the name a lot better when it was the Copper bowl or the Insight Bowl.  Nevertheless, I’m happy to see the Bears in a bowl game.  I think the outcome will be pretty important for the trajectory of the program.  8-5 looks a lot better than 7-6 and beating another Power 5 school in a year where the Pac-12 was pretty lowly regarded (not without cause) will be to Cal’s benefit.
  • When I look back at the season, I see a combination of both missed opportunities and a lot of good luck.  The missed opportunities start with Arizona.  I’m still not sure how the Bears lost that game, although I think it starts with the Bears forcing a turnover that somehow became a forward pass to Arizona’s benefit.  Add in the McIlwain experiment gone wrong, and it’s so disappointing Cal lost that game.  Then of course there is WSU, the other most obvious case of the McIlwain experiment sinking the Bears.  That’s two games that it would have been REALLY nice to have in the win column and there’s every reason to think that a couple of bounces/mistakes goes the Bears way.
  • At the same time, don’t forget how many times the Bears got just enough bounces to their benefit.  The USC win had a few.  What if Weaver ends up 3 yards short of the endzone against UW?  What if Colorado doesn’t spot Cal 14 points?  (Admittedly those interceptions are a combination of good defense and opponent mistakes.)  The season was a lot closer to being a big failure than we want to admit.  Cal lost 2 games (Arizona and UCLA) that based on how they finished, Cal can’t afford to lose to if they want to be a bowl eligible team on a regular basis.
  • Then there is the big question: Should Cal fire Baldwin and find a new OC.  I’ve thought about this a lot and my final conclusion is ‘no’.  I don’t feel very confident about that ‘no’, because Cal hides a lot of player information (most notably injury information).  But if we assume that Bowers was injured in week 1 and it really was the plan for him to be the 2018 starter, then it’s hard to look at Baldwin and say he should be fired.  As much as I was frustrated with the offense, there were enough things that broke the wrong way injury wise that one can be sure that Baldwin needs to be fired.  He deserves a chance at redemption next year.  He has enough history of HUGE offensive success at EWU as head coach that he deserves another shot.  Plus, one of the things that this team is building is a good culture.  I think having a former head coach as a coordinator is part of what is making that work.
  • But it is important to finish with the positives, because overall this season was a good one.  Wins over both USC and the eventual conference champion (UW) are hard to argue with.  The only think that kept it from far exceeding our expectations was the Big Game loss.  But a trip to a bowl game was the goal, and the team cleared that hurdle with a game to spare.

Big Game OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Maybe I need to re-title this podcast something like “The extremely late podcast” or something.  I’m sorry this year I was so late in posting so many of them.  In any case, here it is:

Big Game preview

(Written by kencraw)

I didn’t publish my first pass at the Big Game preview before the game was delayed, but I had mostly finished it.   So, what you see below is that version with the changes I’ve decided to make marked up (deleted in strike-through, new in bold blue)

One of the first things I do when thinking about an upcoming opponent is look at previous common opponents.  By the time the Big Game rolls around, there are generally a lot, although the way our cross-division scheduling goes, there are fewer than one would think as Stanford explicitly and purposely always plays the opposite of the two Arizona and Mountain schools that Cal does each year.  (in other words, if we play Arizona, they play ASU and vice versa.  Same goes for Utah and Colorado.)  Nevertheless, there are 5 common opponents at this point (in order that Stanford played them):

  • USC: Both Cal and Stanford won defensive struggles, with Stanford’s defensive performance being dominant in both halves.
  • Oregon: Stanford squeaked out a win they didn’t deserve (they were down 24 – 7 at half and 21 – 31 with 4 minutes left in the game) and Oregon blundered away, whereas Cal was never really competitive.
  • WSU: Both lost a one-score game, Stanford in a high scoring affair and Cal in a low scoring affair
  • UW: Stanford lost a one-score game whereas Cal won a one-score game
  • OSU: Both teams kicked the crud out of OSU
  • UCLA: Stanford won a shootout on the road, Cal got blown out at home

That’s a pretty even set of results, if one ignores UCLA.  But the UCLA games are so far apart, both in regards to how Cal and Stanford have evolved as well as how UCLA came to life but then also was more predictable.  As for the rest, UW goes in Cal’s favor, Oregon goes in Stanford’s favor.  The other three were pretty similar.

Both teams are also similar in that they generally win games through a strong defensive performance.  Both teams have “opportune” offenses that count on the defense giving them plenty of chances and shortening the game.

So how do you predict a game when the teams are as even as this when one thinks the teams are even?  You go to the emotional components… who wants the win more?  And so I ask you, who is more motivated:

  • The team that is excited about being bowl eligible or the team that team that has underwhelmed expectations
  • The team that just ended a losing streak or the team is losing to teams they are used to beating (UW and WSU in particular)
  • The team that is sick and tired of losing their rivalry game for 8 years now or the team that is a bit too comfortable with how easy it has been beating their cross town rivals
  • The home team or the away team

All signs suggest Cal is going to be the team that comes out of the tunnel ready to impose their will and Stanford will be the team that underwhelms.

Add to this, I think this is the week the Cal offense breaks out.  For weeks they were hampered by the McIlwain experiment.  Last week, none of the breaks went their way.  The fundamentals of this offense are better than we think (not that they’re great, just better than we think).  I say this is the week where the long Garbers runs don’t get called back by marginal holding calls or bogus fumble calls.  I say this is the week Garbers connects on a couple of long passes that have been just out of reach in previous weeks.  I say this is the week we realize that the future is bright behind Laird and and where Chris Brown breaks a couple of long runs (he is due).

But then the last two weeks the Stanford offense has found new life.  They’re going all-in on out-jumping defenses for big pass gains.  Bryce Love has (somewhat) returned to health.  As for the Bears, the offense seems to have regressed with Garbers having his weakest game of the season against Colorado.  On paper, all of a sudden, it feels like Stanford is in the drivers seat.  Stanford has just a good enough offense to suggest the Bear defense will struggle to keep them in the low teens and the Bear offense is not good enough that it’s reasonable to expect they get into the 20’s.  All of a sudden, on paper, it seems like the Bears are the underdogs.

So what does one go with… the emotional aspects that suggest the Bears have the advantage or the physical advantages of Stanford? 

I say this is the Big Game that most feels like 2002… a cathartic, joyful changing of the guard.

Bears win big: 31 to 10.

Unfortunately, as much as my heart wants to tell me otherwise, Shaw has proven season after season to have his team ready to play every week and a game plan that is pretty well suited for most every type of opponent.  The Bears put up a noble effort, but Stanford won’t make enough mistakes to let the Cal defense win the game.

Bears lose a close one: 10-16

(Here’s hoping I’m wrong.  To that end, if you want to hear what my heart wants to believe, read Mike Silver over at GGB: https://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2018/11/30/18119325/big-game-chat-with-cal-fan-extraordinaire-mike-silver)

Colorado re-watch thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Decided to re-watch, or more accurately watch the TV converage for the 1st time, the Colorado game.  Here are my thoughts as I watched.

  • What was Montez thinking on that 1st INT?  There were two guys who could have made that interception.  That had to be a case of having a pre-determined throw because he didn’t seem to have any thought behind that throw.
  • Now, that 2nd INT, I was a bit more sympathetic to Colorado’s plight when I saw it live, but on re-watch, that one was just as egregious.  Montez should have seen the safety.
  • You have to feel sorry for CU on the 3rd possession.  Could they possibly throw the ball again?  No.  So everyone knew it was going to be run heavy.  So it’s no surprise they had no success.
  • There was a targetting no-call on Cal’s 1st offensive play, but there was no notice of it on the TV coverage.
  • Penalties didn’t help the Cal offense much this game.
  • Jeez, I had forgotten that it was the very 1st Cal punt where CU fumbled it. They just couldn’t get out of their own way, could they?
  • Colorado was very committed to stopping the run through the whole game.
  • Garbers did a great job of getting off the pass to McMorris on that 4th and 1.  That was pretty impressive.
  • Why did CU take the holding penalty to replay 3rd and goal when Cal only got to the 5?  It’s not like a field goal from the 18 is particularly tough.  Instead, Cal gets 16 on a scramble on the re-try and then Cal converts on 4th and 2.
  • Nixon, the WR for CU, was *really* fast.  A few times he got behind Cal’s DBs and it was only because Montez didn’t have the right touch that they didn’t convert.
  • I was really impressed with Wharton’s after catch effort.  There’s a couple other receivers who could learn from him.  He doesn’t dance.  He doesn’t back-track.  He just runs hard and then when all that is left it to try and bowl over the DB, that’s exactly what he tries to do.
  • Cal had 2 defensive offsides early in the 2nd quarter on back to back plays.  I don’t have trouble admitting that I was livid in the stands.  And sure enough, 3rd and 12 ended up being a 1st down and from there CU drove the rest of the field to get their lone 1st half touchdown.  Small things like that can make a huge difference.
  • Boy have our TE’s been a disappointment this year.  Lot’s of dropped passes and not very good routes run.
  • That 2nd muffed punt return was a hugh momentum saver.
  • That Garbers slide wasn’t even close to a 1st down was it?  I take back what I said in the podcast.  There was no reason for Garbers to push it.  He wasn’t going to get it no matter what.
  • I’m disappointed there was no TV coverage of the hold the killed the 3rd interception return that cost the Bears 40 or so yards.  I sure as heck didn’t see it.
  • Ha!  I didn’t realize Cal’s only 3rd down conversion was a Garbers scramble.  It shows just how ineffective Cal’s offense was.
  • Can someone explain to me why Wilcox was calling timeouts on CU’s last 1st half possession?  Cal wasn’t going to get the ball back with much time left.  It’s not like the Bears had been very aggressive on offense.  Why?
  • On one of Montez’s 3rd down scrambles, Weaver looked like he had the positioning to get to him, but he held up like he had some zone assignment that he didn’t want to risk giving up a pass over the middle.  The next play CU scored their 2nd TD.
  • Cal’s 2nd field goal is yet again the result of an unforced error by CU, in this case a stupid personal foul after the play was over.
  • If I were Stanford, I’d spend a lot of time watching CU’s last touchdown drive.  They seemed to find the key to beating the Cal defense.  Perhaps it wasn’t Cal’s best effort, but CU marched right down the field on that one.
  • Why wasn’t CU given a penalty for “inadvertantly” snapping the ball?  That seems like illegal procedure to me.
  • Hicks made a big mistake on CU’s last touchdown.  He needed to protect the inside, not the sideline, but instead got caught outside of the WR making Montez’s life easy to complete the throw.
  • Wharton was the offensive MVP of the game for sure.  After that 4td down conversion, he got two big pickups by being really physical after the catch.
  • I was so ticked when Cal kept going backwards after 1st and goal.  3rd from the 18?  OUCH!
  • But bailed out by a REALLY stupid personal foul that gave Cal a re-do… a 2nd shot at first and goal from the 7.
  • And then both Garbers and Ways play the fade perfectly for the touchdown.
  • The two point conversion was a pretty good play if it hadn’t been tipped at the line.
  • Jeez, how many false starts were there on 3rd and short?  At least 2.
  • Oh that offensive pass interference was garbage.  Yet another 3rd down conversion lost to penalty.  (In this case not fair)
  • I can’t believe Mo Ways didn’t catch the ball on that 3rd down that would have just about ended the game.  That was a pretty risky call, a deep fade on 3rd and short.
  • Another bogus penalty on Cal on 4th and 17 with a PI call.  There was no way that WR was coming back to the ball and Bynum even got his head around and his hand up.
  • That lateral on the Montez scramble was somthing else, wasn’t it?
  • And Davis as a single high safety… gotta love how he plays.

Final thoughts:  The offensive performance wasn’t quite as bad as I thought.  Just some random stupid mistakes that need to be cleaned up.  I’ll admit the lack of O-Line push was troublesome, but other than that, what was wrong was very fixable.

Colorado OTRH podcast

(Written by kencraw)

OK, still not exactly on time, but a heck of a lot better than last week:

Sunday morning ‘what idiot?’ thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Some random post-Colorado victory thoughts, not so much about the game itself, but tangential:

  • What idiot is it who thought that spotting the ball where the QB initiates the slide will increase safety?  It’s going to decrease safety.  Garbers (and others) will eventually figure out they have to push things much further to get the first down.  They’re going to have to risk a major collision, perhaps going head first, to get that extra yard or two they used to get by leaping into their slide.
  • Who was the idiot who started playing ‘4th quarter blowout songs’ in the 2nd quarter over the stadium PA system?  Sweet Caroline in the 2nd quarter?  Are you freaking kidding me!?!  I think a significant part of the reason Cal played so soft in the 3rd quarter was because the environment around them was telling them the game was already over.
  • How can Berkeley still be so idiotic that Scenic Avenue has never been repaved?  That road is an absolute disaster and has been for as long as I can remember.  The patches have their own patches and the the potholes are developing their own potholes.  I can’t think of a worse street in Berkeley, and that’s saying something.
  • What idiot hasn’t figured out that it is time for Lee Grosscup to retire from the radio post-game show?  I’m generally pretty tolerant of former Cal greats being announcers, but Grosscup needs to figure out where John Madden has retired to and go join him.  He’s staining his otherwise great legacy.

Not sure why I’m full of ‘what idiot?’ thoughts this morning… perhaps it’s because that game was an odd combination of joyful and highly disconcerting.  (That performance is *NOT* going to cut it against Stanford.)

Colorado preview

(Written by kencraw)

I felt a lot more confident about my Colorado prediction before they fired their head coach, Coach Mike MacIntyre.  Although it’s not nearly as intense, I feel similarly about MacIntyre as I did when Tedford was fired.  While one might quibble with the timing, it was a reasonable decision to let him go.  But MacIntyre is a man of integrity and it’s disappointing to see such a good guy let go.

So the question is, how does the team respond?  Do they try to ‘win one for the Gipper’?  Or perhaps it is the opposite, and their frustrations of a tough season are released now that MacIntyre is gone?  Yet another factor: Does the interim coaching staff change anything significant making it hard for the Bears to prepare for a team they’ve got no film on?  Never forget that an interim staff sees moments like this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are ready to coach at the next level.

On the other side of the ledger is that this could be a team that lost their heart when MacIntyre was let go.  It’s already been a tough season, how could that makes it better?  Or perhaps the new coaches are just introducing chaos that won’t help.

And to add to all of that is the fact that the Buffs are one game from bowl eligibility with just this game left.  It amplifies all the above possibilities.  They could have a lot more fight or they could be ready for the season to be over.

It’s really hard to tell.

But let’s for a moment pretend that all of this weren’t true and this was just a regular mid-season conference game.  How do I see it playing out?

First off, I see a Cal offense that is ready to have a breakout game against a mediocre Colorado defense (lowest point total given up during their 6 game losing streak: 27 to UW).  Their best performance all year was probably against ASU, who they played at home and beat 28-21.  All 3 of their below 20 points surrendered games were against far lesser teams (remember that the UCLA team they beat was still early in the learning process).

Second, I see a Cal defense that is going to thrive.  Look at this point totals for CU.  7 against WSU.  13 against UW.  20 against USC.  (I’ll even ignore the 7 against Utah since Cal hasn’t played Utah and the game was in the snow.)  This is not a particularly good offense from CU and it’ll make the Bear defense’s job easier.  Plus, I see a team that is going to try and “play loose” and try things they don’t usually try.  That’s got ‘4 interceptions’ written all over it.

Finally, here’s the common opponent analysis (in order of Colorado playing them):

  • UCLA: Colorado won big, Cal lost big (both at home)
  • USC: Colorado lost by 2 scores, Cal won by 1 point (both in LA)
  • UW: Colorado lost by 2 TD’s, Cal won by 2 points (CU on road, Cal at home)
  • OSU: Colorado lost by a TD after a horrific meltdown, Cal won big (CU at home, Cal on road)
  • Arizona: Both teams lost by about a TD (both in AZ)
  • WSU: Colorado lost big, Cal lost close (CU at home, Cal on road)

With the exception of the UCLA game, which comes with the huge caveat of how much UCLA improved between when Cal and Colorado played them, Cal did better in every game (albeit just slightly against Arizona).  And this is true despite the fact that Cal had the worse of the home vs. road matchups in that series.  So it’s hard not to look at that list and conclude that Cal is the better team.

So, if you had me pick this game without the emotional aspects of it, I think Cal wins something like 20-13.  But the more I think about it, the more I think the Bears are going to come into this game ready to make a statement and Colorado is going to come into this game wishing they had gotten more turkey on Thanksgiving.  Add to it the likelihood that what little extra effort they bring is likely to play right into Cal’s ball hawking tendencies and I think this game goes futher in Cal’s favor.

I think it gets ugly by the 4th quarter and getting worse for CU every minute until Cal calls off the dogs.

Bears win 37 – 6

13th man

(Written by kencraw)

(Another ridiculously late post, but this one closes my USC thoughts.  I probably wouldn’t have posted it at all had it not been for wanting to get the podcast published and I figured if I could still do that, there was room for one more ridiculously late post…)

Everyone knows the ’12th man’ on a football team is the crowd in the stands.  But perhaps there should be a ’13th man’ as well: The band.

To this end, USC probably is one of the best bands in this regard.  Their highly repetitive, frustratingly banal set of 3 songs is often a point of snearing by opposing fans (the lady next to me at the game 2 weeks ago was obsessed on the topic).  I must admit, the USC band really gets on my nerves.

But that’s the point.  It can really get inside one’s head.  And if it can get in our heads, don’t you think it affects the players too, just the way the crowd can?  And unlike the Stanford band that is only worth snearing at during their ridiculous halftime performance (their in-game antics although similarly as juvenile are of little consequence and get little attention from either fans or players), the USC band is constantly prattling on throughout the game, doing it’s “magic”.

And in this regard, the Cal band deserves some recognition for their performance at USC.  Not once throughout the entire game (sans pre-game and halftime shows) did the Cal band let the USC band play uninterrupted.  Whenever the USC band would start up, the Cal band would get up and play.  They were fearless.  They were relentless.  They were NOT going to let the USC band dictate the sound environment of the game.

Well done Cal band.  Well done!

USC OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

OK, I realize this is *RIDICULOUSLY* late, but I figured I’d publish it anyway.  I recorded it on the drive home from LA and I had a lot of things that needed to be edited out (kids with questions for their dad, etc.) and so it took me longer than usual to find the time to do it.  In any case, I hope people enjoy it, despite its lateness:

Re-viewing of USC game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

I re-watched the game (or said another way, watched the TV coverage for the 1st time since I was at the game).  Here are some thoughts from that:

  • What a game Beck had!  Tackled the kicker on the fake field-goal attempt.  Had a 3rd down pass breakup.  Had a very nice tackle for loss.  And of course the key interception that setup the go-ahead touchdown.
  • I hadn’t noticed that Wharton was missing in the 1st quarter from the stands.  That’s one of the harder things of being at the game.  Minus the QB and the running back, it is generally tough to see who’s missing.
  • The holding call on the long run play of Garbers was pretty marginal.  Yeah, it was probably technically holding, but only in the ‘if you were to call every hold, there would never be a play without a penalty’ sorta way.  The lineman disengaged pretty quickly and didn’t seem to meaningfully slow the progress of the defender once he had turned away from the legitimate block, particularly from the perspective of the likelihood he gets to Garbers before he gets downfield.
  • While on the topic of long Garbers runs that were for naught, the fumble call was complete BS.  The replay clearly shows his knee was down and his arm is still around the ball.  Was the ball “starting” to come out?  Perhaps.  But his arm is still around the ball.  It makes me want to look up just when the precise moment a fumble has happened.
  • Not that anyone was doubting this besides the TV commentators, but going for 2-points when up 15-14 late in the 3rd was the right call.  If this was Dykes Cal vs. WSU, then I get the “not until the 4th quarter” rule.  But this was a defensive struggle.  It was late enough in the game not a lot of other points were likely to be scored.  (Which turned out to be true)
  • The game had more dropped passes on the Cal side than I remembered.
  • To give one concession to USC, the personal foul that extended Cal’s final drive was pretty harsh.  I know I wouldn’t have been happy if it was the other way around.  No pushing or shoving, just something he said from a few feet away.  Yes, the USC guy should have been smarter and stayed away from the Cal sideline.  But at the same time, unless he said something incredibly egregious, that’s a pretty harsh call on USC.
  • In the podcast (yet to be published) I talked about how the 1st USC touchdown was a really good play call, putting Bynum in a really tough spot to cover the WR.  What was noticeable on the re-watch was that Cal changed from having the DB follow the receiver to doing a “shift” of receiver assignments when USC brought one across the formation (most of the time).  A wise decision.
  • Something I forgot to mention on the podcast… boy was that stadium quiet starting at about 7 minutes left in the game.  The USC fans were stunned!
  • Another forgot to mention in the podcast… another game where the opponent wasting timeouts in the 2nd half came back to bite them.  And both were really stupid.  Why would they go for it on 4th and 2 from that point on the field?  You can’t get in a play call in 40 seconds?
  • USC really did leave a lot of points on the board.  The fake field goal.  The fumble in the redzone.  The score should have been at least 20-0 if not 24-0 at halftime.
  • For some reason it was more obvious to me watching the game on TV how much the field-position game was not in the Bears favor in the 1st half.  They really shot themselves in the foot a couple of times, particularly that horrible kickoff.

More thoughts to come…

Content coming…

(Written by kencraw)

I had a *VERY* enjoyable weekend at the game and at Disneyland, but I’ve got good news and bad news:

The good news is I’ve got a bunch of content to post about the USC game.

The bad news is I’m very much in “recovery mode” right now.

Hopefully I’ll get one or two things posted today and the rest before the weekend/big game.

USC preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’m sick of watching the Bears lose to USC.  I’m sick of watching USC look more and more beatable, just to get their act together just when the Bears come to town.

Part of me thinks that’s exactly what is going to happen tomorrow.  USC has been struggling all season but seems to be figuring out some of their problems and ways to solve them.  Make no mistake, this is a talented team.  They’re the only team that has beaten WSU.  If they play to their potential, it takes a very good team to beat them.  Frankly, if USC plays to their potential, it would take an absolute break out game from the Cal offense for the Bears to have a chance.

But it’s not a given that USC will play to their theoretical potential.  If we assume they play as they have been all season, head to head match-ups suggest the Bears have a real chance:

  • Cal beat OSU by WAAAAY more than USC, both playing in Corvallis
  • USC won a tight game at Arizona whereas the Bears lost a close one in the same stadium
  • USC won a squeaker one over WSU at home whereas the Bears lost a tight one on the road

Perhaps the straight up results suggests that USC is the slightly better team, but when one adds the subjective, particularly the home and away, and the Bears are pretty evenly matched.

For me this game comes down to whether the Bears can win in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  While I’m less concerned about the defense, USC is one of those teams with offensive lines that can make good defenses look mediocre.  They can grind out 4 to 6 yard runs all the way down the field and put together 3+ TD drives where there’s nothing the defense can do to stop it.  And while this isn’t USC’s best offensive line, the talent is there.  Cal can’t let that happen if they want to win.  But as I said, I’m more optimistic about this than the other side of the ball.

On offense, the Bears need to finish what they start and they need to hold onto the ball.  They absolutely can not afford to give USC free points.  They need to be prepared to play a slog of a game and not get desperate.  My fear is they will get desperate and the result will be costly turnovers they can’t afford.

But the thing is, this USC team can be beat.  This is the year.  With the possible exception of Stanford, they haven’t seen a defense as good as Cal’s.  I’m not going down to the LA Coliseum for the first time in a decade to watch the Bears lose.  I’m going there to watch them win!

Bears end the streak: Cal 24 – USC 20

McIlwain sinks the Bears again

(Written by kencraw)

When will Wilcox and staff realize that McIlwain can *NOT* be trusted with the ball for more than a play or two?  I think the Bears would have won that game had Garbers been in on that drive that resulted in an INT in the endzone.  Instead, everything went sideways from that point.

GAH!

(If you’re looking for a silver lining… the Bears continue to show they can compete with anyone in the conference.)

WSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Running late this week, but want to make sure I go on record.  I think the Bears have a real shot at yet another upset today.  Their defense is well suited to defend the Air Raid.  And if the game was in Berkeley, I’d be more tempted to predict a win.  But on the road, late at night on the frozen potato patch (not to be confused with the frozen tundra… in Eastern WA, they grow potatoes), it’s just a bit too much.  And that’s particularly true when one remembers the offense still is only partially functional.

Bears lose 17 to 31.

Or maybe I’m just saying that to keep the good mojo working.  I keep predicting losses and the Bears keep wining…

Washington OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s the podcast I recorded on the road home. Can you tell I was yelling at lot at the game?

Sunday morning ‘outside the lines’ thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

‘Outside the lines’ meaning not explicitly about last night’s football game:

  • The highlights from last night’s game, both from Pac12Net and from Fox stink!  They just have no idea how to make a highlight reel for a 12-10 game with only 2 turnovers.  The only thing they know how to put in a highlight reel is scoring plays and turnovers.  Really, there were a bunch of great plays that weren’t that, but none of them make the highlights.
  • Seven-FORTY-FIVE!?!  Cal’s next game (@WSU) starts at 7:45!?!  This is past getting ridiculous.  7:30 was the when we reached ridiculous.  We complained when there were too many games at 7 PM.  The solution?  Move more games to 7:30 PM and now SEVEN STINKING FORTY FIVE!?!
  • Berkeley in the fall is a great place to watch a football game in the afternoon.  The temp at kickoff was in the high 60’s and sunny.  It was a glorious day even before Weaver’s interception.
  • Speaking of Weaver, a family favorite movie is UHF and we can’t help but think of this scene when we hear his name:
  • ARE YOU READY WEAVER!
  • FYI, there will be a OTRH podcast posted at some point (i.e. I recorded one on the way home last night)

UW preview

(Written by kencraw)

A quick backwards looking note: Last weeks game was SOOOO cathartic.  And quintessentially Cal.  Just when we’ve given up hope, they deliver a game that was sorely needed to keep us from all out despair.

Onto the Huskies…

Washington has been the class of the conference the last couple years.  But this year they seem to have come back to the pack a bit.  They barely lost to Oregon in overtime in a game they should have won with a last second field goal.  They let UCLA and ASU hang around to only win by one score in each.  The Colorado game was a one score game until mid-way through the 3rd quarter.  In a certain way they’re like Stanford, they focus on playing straight-up, mistake free football.  They have enough talent that they don’t need to get too fancy to win.  But this year the margin of victory playing that way is a bit smaller than the last two years.

It also means they’re more vulnerable to bad bounces of the ball this year, particularly when it’s a lower scoring game, which I think the Cal defense has the talent and scheme to at least potentially accomplish.  With Chase Garbers back as QB, the Cal offense is a lot more balanced and got back a deep-ball threat (admittedly a minor one).

So I see a theoretical possibility of a win here.  The Cal defense exerts their will and keeps giving the ball back to the offense.  Garbers and Co. take a ‘chipping away at it’ attitude combined with the occasional home-run attempt.  They get 3 TD’s on their own and the defense adds one and the Bears pull off a 28-17 shocker.  It could definitely happen.

Alas, I think UW will play just clean enough defense and the Cal offense will have too many hiccups and the Bears are more likely to lose this one in a game where we yet again leave impressed with the Cal defense and frustrated with the lack of offense, and perhaps, livid about a couple of extremely costly turnovers.

Bears lose 16 to 27

OSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Games like this are so hard to predict.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears in full meltdown mode and lose 13 to 38 or something like that.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears clean up their act, play to their potential and win 31 to 13.  It’s all about mental preparation and emotional fortitude.  If it was just about talent levels and X’s and O’s, the Bears should win.  But after last week’s performance, who here thinks the fundamental issue is talent and X’s and O’s?  (OK, perhaps a bit on offense it is.)

And thus it may mean it will come down to those first few odd bounces of the ball and small mistakes that every team has and it’s just blind luck how big the implications of those small mistakes are.  You know, a guard takes just too wide of a stance in pass blocking, the tackle trips on the guards foot, thus the end rusher gets a free blind-side attack on the QB, who fumbles the ball and it’s returned for a touchdown… all because the guard took just a bit too wide of a blocking stance.

Great teams find ways to keep those sorts of mistakes from unduly changing the game.  They also find ways to capitalize on the other team making those small mistakes.  But neither Cal nor OSU are great teams.

So to sum up, if there were no odd bounces of the ball and no odd mistakes, plus Cal puts the past behind them and plays to their potential, then Cal should have a solid win.  But it’s foolish to think that’s how it will play out.

I’m going to take pessimist’s route and hope to be pleasantly surprised.  Bears lose a wild one.  Mistakes early put them in a hole, they claw most of the way back, but late mistakes doom them.

Bears lose 20 – 31.

Worst loss since analysis

(Written by kencraw)

OK, I’ve done my thorough analysis and have the results for you.

Here’s the criteria for the magnitude of a loss (from most important to least):

  1. Disproportion of outcome vs. expectations.  In other words, getting blown out when you were expecting a loss isn’t nearly as bad as getting blown out when one is expecting a big win.
  2. Objective difference in records or ranking.  The lower the team is versus where Cal, is the worse it is.
  3. Implications on bowl eligibility or positioning, or ranking
  4. What it seems to indicate about the program’s state
  5. Actual score differential, with emphasis on low Cal scores
  6. Games one attended are worse (I realize this criteria makes it more subjective, but frankly there’s no avoiding that)
  7. Home games losses are worse

Working backwards in time:

  • 2017 28 – 44 loss @Colorado: This was a hard one to take, and it officially put Cal in doubt of making a bowl.  It also hurt because they had just lost to WSU who Cal had beat 37-3 just a few weeks earlier.  However, Colorado and Cal were both middle of the conference teams and Cal only lost by 16 points on the road.  Bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2017 7 – 38 loss @ Washington: Point differential is similar, but on the road to an undefeated UW squad doesn’t match 0-5 UCLA at home.
  • 2017 24 – 45 loss @ Oregon: This one hurts a lot in part because Oregon was without their starting QB for half the game and the Bears still couldn’t claw back in it.  But objectively, the road game and Oregon’s historical quality make it fall short.  Another bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2016 21 – 56 loss @ WSU: WSU was pretty good that year and the game was on the road.
  • 2016 27 – 66 loss vs. UW: Another good team.  This one really hurt because it was the turning point when we knew the Cal defense was never going to be any good under Dykes.  But still, that UW team was too good to match 0-5 UCLA, despite both games being at home.
  • 2016 24 – 45 loss @ USC: I think we’re all too numb to losses in the LA Coliseum to be too affected by a loss like this anymore.  Side note #1: Anyone as foolish as me and thinking of going to the USC game in LA this year?  #2: That’s 3 games in a row in 2016 that made the list.  Ouch!
  • 2015 28 – 44 loss @ Oregon: This one hurt because Oregon wasn’t very good this year and it was a relatively good year for the Bears.  But a 16 point loss on the road just doesn’t cut it here.
  • 2014 7 – 31 vs. UW: I don’t remember much about this game other than it was a letdown after a few close games that preceded it.  Overall the Bears were on an upward trajectory and it wasn’t hard to accept this loss as part of the growing pains.
  • Ignoring all of 2013: We knew the cupboard was bare and it was going to take Dykes time to rebuild.
  • 2012 14 – 62 @ OSU: This seems like a real contender to be the one.  It ended Tedford’s career at Cal after all.  But OSU was 7-2 going into that game.  If this was the 2018 Beavers, then it probably would be the previous worst loss.
  • 2012 17 – 59 vs. Oregon: The wheels had fallen off the bus on the Tedford era by this game.  Oregon was an exceptionally good team.  It stung, but not like last Saturday.
  • 2012 27 – 49 @Utah: Another real contender.  I had the misfortune of going to this game.  I was so angry after the game I put $137 on a table, took a picture of it and said it was for the Fire Tedford fund.  Cal was 3-5 entering the game against a 2-5 Utah that was relatively new to the conference.  Cal had an outside shot at bowl eligibility with a weak UW team immediately after that game.  It would then just take an upset over either Oregon or OSU to get to bowl eligibility.  Instead Cal didn’t win again in 2012 and Tedford was fired.  This one scores high on criteria 1, 3, 4, and 6 with partial points for 2.  While I think a strong argument could be made for this game, let’s keep going and see what we can find.
  • 2011 14 – 31 @UCLA: I remember how much this game hurt.  Luckily the Bears finished strong down the stretch.  There’s no arguing that UCLA team was worse than the 2018 team and the margin was far closer.
  • 2011 9 – 30 vs. USC: Another game that would have really hurt if we weren’t so used to getting our butts kicked by USC.
  • 2011 15 – 43 @Oregon: Another stinker, and at a time hope was re-building after 2010, but Oregon was the Pac-12 champs that year and thus it doesn’t compare.
  • 2010 13 – 16 vs. UW: Sometimes it’s not just about the score.  Last game in the old Memorial stadium and a win would have made the Bears bowl eligible.  UW was mediocre.  And it all came down to 4th and goal at the 1 and all Cal had to do was stop it.  Somehow the Bears let them run up the middle for a score.  UGH!  But, as much as this one still sticks with me, the score was too close to really be a contender.
  • 2010 14 – 48 @ USC: This was one of those USC games that got Cal fans very used to losing big to USC.
  • 2009 10 – 42 @ UW:  Another real contender.  Cal was 8-3 and lost HUGE to 4-7 UW.  To make matters worse, this was my last game as a Cal reporter and I got food poisoning at the game.  I was throwing up all night.  The flight home was horrible (I went with the don’t eat anything so there’s nothing to throw up on the flight strategy).  Yeah, this was a really bad one.  It came on the back of two really uplifting wins over Arizona and Stanford (the Bears last Big Game win).  It also pushed the Bears WAY down the bowl priority list and they ended up in the Poinsettia as opposed to the Sun or Holiday.  Yup, definitely one worth considering as worse.  Scores high on criteria 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, with partial points on 4.  But a few more games back there’s one that tops it.
  • 2009 3 – 30 vs. USC: USC beat downs are so boring at this point.  However, if the Bears hadn’t lost big at Oregon the week before this game would be a contender.  There were very high hopes entering 2009 and to lose this bad to USC early in the season was very disappointing.
  • 2009 3 – 42 @ Oregon: And this is where it ends for me.  This was the game that was worse that 2018 UCLA.  Oregon had lost to Boise St., and barely beat Purdue and pre-Pac-12 Utah.  They were very weak this year (or so we thought).  Cal was undefeated and back to it’s powerhouse Tedford self (or so we thought).  I was there.  And it was one of the most soul crushing experiences of my football watching life.  The Bears were beat so badly that sites like CGB were in full melt-down mode (like this week).  I remember that Danzig (I think that’s who made it) who was known for making highlight YouTube videos every week made a video that was merely a minute and a half of Oregon cheerleaders.  Not a single play of the game.  This one fits criteria 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and partial points for 2 (OK, Oregon wasn’t considered top end, but they weren’t 0-5 either).

So there you have it, in my opinion, the UCLA game was the worst game since 2009 Oregon, where 2012 Utah and 2009 UW are the possible other contenders.