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UCLA mid-game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

End of 1st Quarter:

Jeez, what a bunch of wasted opportunities.  The Bears are getting worse and worse and worse as the season progresses at finishing drives.  It’s unacceptable to have the ball inside the 30 twice and only get 3 points.  It should be at *LEAST* 10 points so far against this *VERY* uninspired UCLA team.  (The Bears aren’t looking particularly inspired either (on offense anyway))

Update early in 2nd quarter:  Yet another trip to the redzone, and only 3 more points to show for it.  *COMPLETELY* unacceptable.

Half time:

I’m so ticked off with Cal’s effort right now.  It’s unbelievable that Cal has been inside the 30 4 times but only has 9 points.  I’m starting to lose confidence in Bowers.  He’s had plenty of time back there.  Don’t tell me there’s no one open.

The defense is doing better, but still seem to have inconsistent effort,  On some downs their dominating, but then they’re giving up too many long pass plays even after getting UCLA substantially behind the sticks.  One of the touchdowns came when the Bears had the punt, but then had a running into the kicker (for no good reason) give UCLA a 2nd chance on the field.  The score should be 20-10 Bears.

(Side note, I’m also sick of these UCLA biased announcers who don’t know an obvious targeting foul (against Cal) when one happens, among other idiotic commentary.)

Beginning of 4th quarter:

Wanted to wait to see how the end of quarter drive ended up.  Cal has now had SIX trips inside the 30 and only scored 17 and it required going for it on 4th down to get the touchdown.  Unbelievably bad short field offensive performance.  Bowers looks confused and overwhelmed.

Mid 4th quarter:

We’re up to SEVEN!?! short possessions and only 20 points.  The play calling from first and goal from the 5 was ridiculous.  UCLA was loading the box, and obviously so.  You don’t just stuff it into the middle twice and then have one shot at the pass.  If you’re going to run, you have to do some sort of mis-direction.  I’m getting more and more and more disappointed with the way this is going.  The Bears should be KILLING and I mean DESTROYING UCLA right now, particularly with Rosen out in the 2nd half.  Instead their down seven and are just now starting to show some urgency.

Urgency that should have been there from the opening snap.

End of game:

I’m so stinking ticked off.  There’s no excuse for losing this game.  UCLA played uninspired crummy football and Cal handed the game to them with horrible play of their own, starting with the coaching staff’s hyper conservative play calling and complete lack of urgency until mid-way through the 4th quarter.  It’s like they didn’t realize they were behind.  And guess what, tying it with 2 minutes left is a great way to lose the game (as what happened).

And don’t get me started on the over-aggressive play calling by the defense that left them open to big plays on the final drive.  There’s no reason to continue the strong blitzing game when the result can be 10 and 15 yard gains.  No, you let your 4 rusher try to get pressure and you keep the plays short and in front of you.

GAH!?!   What a ridiculous end to a season, that in many ways mimics it.  There was promise, but between bad execution at poorly timed moments and poor leadership from the coaching staff at critical moments, the team just couldn’t win enough of the close ones.  There’s no reason this team couldn’t have been 8-4 with just a little bit better play, game planning and coaching.

And someone, for the love of Pete, please tell Wilcox that ON THE ROAD YOU MUST, and I repeat *MUST* START THE GAME WITH A SENSE OF URGENCY!?!  STOP PLAYING SO TENTATIVE ON THE STINKING ROAD!?!

(and yet somehow, amidst my teeth grinding frustration, I’m optimistic about the future.)

UCLA preview

(Written by kencraw)

Well, it comes down to this: One game for one shot at bowl eligibility.  At this point, all of the missed opportunities (Arizona, USC, Colorado, Stanford and heck even Oregon (the Bears were only down by 7 early in the 4th quarter)), stick out like sore thumbs.  If just *one* of those went the Bear’s way, we’d already be looking forward to a bowl game, looking at today’s game as a can’t lose opportunity to improve our bowl situation.

Instead, the Bears have to go on the road to a place that has been the death of Cal fan’s dreams for generations.  From 1973 to 1989, the Bears did not win at all, much less in Pasadena.  Then their were the disasters in 2005, 2007 and 2011, all games in which the Bears were favored, but somehow laid an egg in Pasadena.  And don’t forget the 20th ranked Bears in 2015 (hard to remember that, huh?) lost in Pasadena as well.  Point being, the Rose Bowl has not been kind to the Bears.  Frankly, this is probably the opponent where home-field advantage has meant the most (UCLA fans have their long list of “I can’t believe we lost that one” games in Berkeley as well).  Add to this that UCLA is in the same boat: one win away from bowl eligibility in their final regular season game.  And while we’re piling on, the Bears have *STUNK* on the road this year (most notably Oregon and Colorado, but Washington wasn’t exactly stellar either).  Add it all up and it makes me very nervous about this game.

On paper it seems like these teams are similarly matched.  UCLA lost to Arizona and Stanford worse than the Bears, although not meaningfully so.  They lost to USC about the same.  They beat Oregon, but without Herbert at QB, so it’s hard to compare.  They beat Colorado, but did it at home.  They got throttled by Washington just like Cal did.  Put together, these results suggest fairly equal playing results.  Their strength is their passing game and Rosen is considered a pretty good QB.  But there’s reason to believe he can be confused the way Cal’s defense can do , particularly when the running game is easy enough to contain that the defense can be more aggressive in it’s swapping schemes.  So, while it’s not a slam dunk, I don’t think in a neutral field game versus UCLA, it would be unreasonable to think Cal would win.

Sadly, all other things being equal, I don’t think I could make the same argument with the game in Pasadena.

But then comes the *HUGE*(!?!) wildcard that UCLA just fired their head coach, Jim Mora, and are playing with an interim head coach (the offensive coordinator).

Now, many would think this to be a good thing, but history doesn’t back that theory.  Lots of teams have done better in this situation.  Often it is a burden lifted, particularly when the head coach wasn’t well liked.  Sometimes players feel like their jobs are on the line and they want to show up well on film in the last game, when the new staff arrives.  But on the other side, for well liked coaches there is the depression factor.  There’s the chaos on the sideline.  There’s the distraction factor of wondering what is to come.

So, which is it?  I’m going to go with disappointing distraction.  All of the various UCLA webpages are full of articles about whether Chip Kelly is headed to Brentwood (my prediction: No stinking way) and other coaching change related headlines.  You’d have to think that on a short week (with Thanksgiving in the middle) with all the reporters full of questions about Mora’s dismissal and his possible replacements are taking a notable toll on the teams preparation and focus right now.

And so I’m going to face the Rose Bowl demon straight in the eye and say “Not this year!”  I think Wilcox has learned from the troubles the Bears have had in previous road games and will have the team ready to play tonight.  He’ll have clearly put in their heads what’s at stake: Either go home and empty out your locker or get to play 4 more weeks of football.  I also think he’s going to have a good game plan to confuse Rosen (who won’t have been spending a lot of time preparing).

Bears win a cathartic one: 41-24

Big Game Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Stanford has been a bit of a baffling team this season.  They looked *very* beatable early in the season when they lost to San Diego State.  But they looked like the best team in the conference when they beat Washington last week.  Their other losses are a beatdown by USC in the 2nd week of the season and a nailbiter loss to WSU two weeks ago.  The other surprising game was a nailbiter victory over Oregon State 3 weeks ago.

But one piece of data dramatically clarifies their more recent struggles: Star RB Bryce Love was injured half way through the Oregon game.  He missed the following game versus Oregon State game and it’s reasonable to project that he wasn’t back to 100% for the WSU game.  Indeed he had his lowest number of carries since the loss to San Diego State and by far his lowest number of yards (69 vs. a previous pre-injury low of 152).

So my feeling is the narrative for Stanford be that they’ve improved dramatically over the course of the season, in part realizing how much they should build their offense around Love, but then struggled without him at 100%.  And if that’s accurate, Cal is in real trouble with Love back at full strength.

Cal’s only hope is to sell out to stopping Love and hope that the secondary can sufficiently stifle young QB K.J. Costello (and hopefully confuse into some interceptions) who has taken over for the mediocre veteran QB Chryst.  Costello has not really been an improvement throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception while completing just over 50% of his passes in his last two games as starter.  So if the Bears can actually stop Love while not leaving receivers dramatically open, they’ll have a shot of slowing Stanford to a degree to make the game competitive.

But that is not the Bears only problem.  Stanford continues to win with defense.  Indeed, the most points the team has given up outside of a head scratcher versus UCLA, is 24 points.  Cal is going to have to focus on a quick passing game, as it is hard to believe the offensive line is going to hold up to the Stanford rush.  It’s also going to have to find balance with the running game.  Cal will have to maximize their possessions, because this will likely be a game with fewer possessions than most (particularly those against spread/quick snap teams).

Is it possible that Cal wins?  Yes, it is.  In fact, far stranger things have happened in Big Game history.  I could see Cal holding Stanford to 16 points (3 FG’s and a touchdown) if they really are able to contain Love.  I could also see Cal putting up 24 points on Stanford if everything is clicking, perhaps even as high as 31 if a few turnovers help them.  But at the end of the day, that’s just not what I expect to happen.

Cal loses in frustrating form: 13-31

End of the season games setting up nicely

(Written by kencraw)

Cal is headed into its bye week, and while it probably would have been better overall for the bye to come a couple/few weeks ago to give Cal a better shot at Arizona and Colorado, being well rested before the Big Game will be nice.

Let’s take a quick look at how the last two games are looking, schedule wise:

Stanford has two tough games with Cal in the middle.  They’ve got UW, then Cal, then Notre Dame (all at home).  Beating UW will be tough for Stanford.  If they win, they could be exhausted, over confident or looking forward to their chance to beat #3 Notre Dame (and massively improve their ranking).  If they lose to UW, they’ll 6-4 and looking at another disappointing season.  Plus, as we all know, Stanford is always a bit thrown off by how many Cal fans are in their home stadium.

Plus, this team is vulnerable.  The only victory on their win list that makes it look unlikely that Cal could beat them is their beat down of Oregon.  But it’s worth noting that Oregon has been horrible ever since Cal knocked out their 1st and 2nd string QBs.  Other than that, Cal beat OSU better than Stanford did, lost closer to USC than Stanford did, and schlacked WSU whereas Stanford lost to them.  While a subjective analysis suggests Stanford is the better team, nevertheless, Cal can compete with them.  If Stanford doesn’t come with their best game, Cal can easily beat them.

Then there’s UCLA…

UCLA is having yet another disappointing season and things aren’t looking to get any better.  The odds makers would suggest that UCLA will lose its next two games and come into the Cal game 4-7 and out of bowl game contention.  That’s a great place to catch a team at the end of the season, after Thanksgiving.  While going to the Rose Bowl always worries me (the list of Cal flops down there is long and distinguished), this might be one of the best times to catch UCLA in quite a while.

While two games on the road against talented opponents should never be looked at in too rosy a light, I can’t imagine too many scenarios that setup better than these do.

Oregon State Sunday evening watch

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s my thoughts on watching the game Sunday evening:

  • OSU sideline looks pretty pumped up to start the game.  They know this is one of their few shots at a win this season.
  • Bears sure looked fooled on OSU’s first play.  I haven’t done a detailed look, but it sure feels like for at least the last few games, Cal has not been well defensively prepared for the 1st few plays/possession.
  • It sure seems like the linebackers have been playing further back the last few games.  They’re playing a good 7-8 yards behind the line on this 1st possession.  Generally that’s good for underneath pass coverage but not so good for run defense nor for their “come from anywhere” blitzing scheme.
  • Wow, the Bears were sure fooled by the 2-pass touchdown play.  Not a very good defensive possession.  The Bears are going to need to start stronger defensively in their last two games if they want to win.  Bears down early: 0-7 with 11 minutes left in 1st quarter.
  • Bears offense in good rhythm early.  I liked Bowers reading of the pass coverage on 3rd and 7.  That looked like his 3rd read and the right decision to Wharton.
  • The Bears have been using the inside WR screen a lot in the redzone, generally with good results.  (Although in this case it was negated by a personal foul.)
  • Lots of penalties on this 1st Cal offensive drive.
  • Boy, Oregon State is sure leading with their helmet a lot on their tackles.  Have they not learned about the targeting rules?
  • Nice run by Laird for a TD with pretty good zone blocking by the O-Line.  Score tied 7-7 with 8 minutes left in the 1st quarter.
  • The Bears have sure been “lucky” with kick off returns against them being called back by penalties.
  • Overall good pressure by Cal D-Line on OSU pass plays.  If Cal can slow the running game and force OSU to pass, they’ll be in good shape.
  • Cal O-Line is opening nice holes and getting a good push against OSU.  So far very different than last year when OSU dominated the trenches on both sides.
  • Laird has good patience, which does him well most of the time, but he needs to learn in the redzone that holes close quicker and negative plays are more troublesome.  Down there, you need to pound it and do it quicker.
  • We haven’t seen as much of Enwere lately.  Even on some ‘pound it’ downs.  (although here he comes in now on 2nd and goal)
  • Holy smokes did 2nd and goal go bad!  12 yard loss.  But then Bowers throws a brilliant fade (his touch is getting better) to Wharton on 3rd and goal from the 14.  Great recovery after a disaster of a play.  Bears up 14-7 near the end of the 1st quarter.
  • Lots of drops by OSU receivers today.  They’re kinda shooting themselves in the foot the last couple drives.  This game could easily be a shootout if OSU could execute.
  • Another couple big Laird runs.  The way this is going, there is no reason to ever throw the ball.
  • Matt Anderson has been back to his old form after a tough few games to start the season.  Bears up 17-7 with 12 minutes left in 2nd quarter.
  • Bad decision by OSU to go for it on 4th down, even though they got lucky and got a good spot.  But they’re only down 10 in the early 2nd quarter and it’s on their side of the field.  I wonder why Wilcox didn’t challenge?  It seemed the evidence was pretty good to overturn it.  Probably just didn’t think it was important enough.  If the game got tighter later, you’d hate not to have that in your pocket anymore.
  • OSU doing a good job with their option running game on this next drive.  Cal’s doing a good job of assignment football, making sure all the options are covered, but it means there’s not as many guys to cover the main run threat.  Bears lead down to 17-10 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
  • Wharton has been getting a lot more attention from Bowers now that Noa is being double covered a lot by defenses.  That’s maturity by a QB to hit other WRs when his favorite isn’t open.  Bowers is still young, but is maturing nicely this year.  I’m hopeful that he could be really good in the future.
  • Cal is mostly dominating this game, but OSU is within 4 with 1 minute left in the half.  As a general statement, I feel like Cal hasn’t been very efficient the last few games.  Also, yet another game where the defense gives up end of 1st half points.  Bears only up 17-13 wit one minute left in the half.
  • Wow, great catch by Wharton.  That was an interesting scenario.  Did Bowers mis-throw it, or did he throw it to the hole in the zone coverage and force Wharton to come back to that hole?
  • And Cal steals back 3 points with another good Anderson kick.  Bears lead 20-13 at the half.
  • Bears again going back to the run game with success to start the 2nd half.  But again, the Bears are only up 7 despite statistically and visually dominating the 1st half.  Ever since the Arizona game I feel Cal has been “inefficient” on both sides of the ball.  Somehow the points just aren’t coming for the offense and somehow the defense is giving up more points than they feel like they are (the big play was a big part of that for Arizona and Colorado).
  • OSU really was putting their helmet down on defense.  It’s like they didn’t know about the targeting rules.  2 players out of the game, but there could have been a couple more.
  • Bears fumble in the redzone and give up the ball.  More signs of that inefficiency.
  • Bears force a 3 and out on the next possession, with a good job of corralling the underneath stuff to not go for many yards (although gets lucky with a missed catch on 3rd down).
  • Bowers has been doing a good job hitting the quick slants when the defense has been giving them with a soft safety coverage.
  • The offensive line is doing a good job picking up blitzes today.
  • But then Bowers makes the absolute wrong decision on a read-option for a “sack” (statistically).
  • And again, Cal not being efficient.  They get the ball well on the OSU side of the 50 yet just get a handful of yards and kick the field goal.  For how much the ball has been on the OSU side of the field, the score should at least be 30, if not more.  Instead the Cal lead is only 23-13 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • The OSU QB did a pretty good job finding the deep hole in the Cal zone and dropping a pass in exactly the right spot on their next possession.  That’s the first big play the Bears have given up all game, which is a nice change from the last couple weeks.
  • OSU uses the run game to get in the endzone.  I suspect Cal’s defensive redzone numbers aren’t that good either.  Cal lead down to THREE!  Considering the nature of the game, there’s no excuse for the score to be this close: 23-20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd.
  • The Bears have been running the ball surprisingly little in the 2nd half.  It sure doesn’t seem like OSU is loading the box and forcing Cal to throw.  Seems like the Bears have abandoned it a bit considering how well it has been working.
  • Bowers hits another deep fade to the endzone and Cal is back up by 10: 30-20 at the end of the 3rd.
  • I know it’s hard to be an announcer, a lot harder than it seems, but some times… how can the color guy be saying “that’s tough” for an obvious PI call.
  • The Cal offense is showing good balance right now.  They’re leading with the run and Laird, and then going to the pass when OSU starts to bite on it.
  • Cal finishes off a drive built on the run (with just enough passing to keep the OSU defense honest) with Enwere pounding it into the endzone.  Bears up 37-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.
  • It feels like the Bears have been able to extend so quickly because they’ve won the conditioning battle.  OSU can no longer give 120%, particularly on defense, and Cal is having their way with them.
  • Ahhhhh… it sure feels good to hear Nall only had 35 yards at this point in the game (and that’s all he got).  If you needed a reason to still feel good about getting rid of Dykes… (last year he had 221 against Cal)
  • OSU has been quietly building up a number of big plays, particularly as the game wears on.  A few of them have been because the Cal defense is playing soft to contain OSU, but still, it’s worrisome to see the big-play trend continuing into a 3rd game.
  • OSU kicks a field goal to close it to 37-23 with 6 minutes left in the game.
  • I’d have Laird out of the game at this point.  He’s carried the ball 30 times.  Give him some rest and save him from injury.  It’s not like we don’t have a senior in his final home game nor a couple of young guys who could use some more experience.
  • Cal never punted in the entire game.  One failed 4th down conversion at the Cal 40 and one fumble in the redzone were the only two drives that didn’t end in points.  Yet at the same time, 3 field goals and a missed redzone opportunity.  Games with no punts generally shouldn’t only have 37 points.
  • Overall, it feels like the score should have been 45 to 13 based on how the teams played and the stats.  Cal is going to have to be more efficient in their last two games to get that crucial 6th win.

Oregon State Preview

(Written by kencraw)

We’ve reached the part of the season where “the loops” start to appear.  Cal has a head-scratcher with WSU and Colorado (in chronological order):

  1. Cal destroyed WSU 37-3
  2. WSU destroyed Colorado 28-0
  3. Colorado handled Cal 44-28

Obviously there is at least one game in there that one or both of the teams didn’t perform as expected (either bad or good).  I think the answer to understanding where Cal sits is to accurately determining what those unexpected performances are.  Here’s my stab at it:

  • WSU had a bad game against Cal (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a great game against WSU (but would have won anyway)
  • Colorado had a bad game against WSU (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a bad game against Colorado (outcome unclear, particularly on a neutral field)

In other words, these three teams are relatively equally matched if they all brought a strong performance and in my opinion the ordering is Cal over WSU over Colorado (but it’s all very close).

I know that is a pretty rosy picture, but now that Arizona beat WSU by a stronger margin than its victory over Cal (as well as beating Colorado), it’s showing that Arizona wasn’t one of the two easy games on Cal’s schedule like we thought it was.  Thus everything on Cal’s schedule makes sense if Colorado is the outlier.  And it makes particular sense when you look at last week’s preview where I talked about the Colorado X-Factor.

That’s just a really, really, REALLY tough place to play, particularly for a young team.

And then add this, with the above assumptions, the games where one would say Cal didn’t quite measure up to their capabilities, they’re *ALL* road games.  Oregon might have been a loss anyway, but Cal should have played them closer.  Washington would *definitely* have been a loss anyway, but Cal could have kept it closer.  And then there’s Colorado that had us nashing our teeth.

So, all of that is a long way of saying that I think Cal bounces back today against a more dangerous than we think Oregon State team.

Oregon State lost a close one to Colorado at home as well as a close one against Stanford at home.  This is a team that is playing above their potential with nothing to lose since their head coach quit mid-season.  If Cal had to make the trip to Corvallis, I’d be pretty worried right now.  Not that Cal couldn’t win that game on the road.  It just would be very dangerous.

As it is, I think Oregon State is in for a surprise.  They’re going to face a Cal team that is tired of losing games it could win and will take out their frustrations on Oregon State at home on Senior Day.

Cal wins 38-20.

 

Free Oregon State tickets

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody want my effectively worthless Oregon State tickets?

If so, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll contact you about transferring them to you digitally.

(OSU preview coming by tomorrow morning)

eBay auction ends this afternoon

(Written by kencraw)

The eBay auction for my Oregon State tickets ends today at 3:22 PM PDT:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253232833908

Starting bid is $30.  Buy It now for $65.  For SEVEN tickets (2 adults, 5 youth)

 

Advice: After a loss like that, do something unrelated

(Written by kencraw)

After cursing all that I could think of throughout that debacle of a game I took a deep breath, went into the other room and proceeded to have a great afternoon with the family playing board games and cooking some burgers and dogs on the grill.

Sometimes the best solution to a tough loss is to do something else.

Disgusted

(Written by kencraw)

That was BY FAR the worst half of football under Wilcox thus far.  How do you give up a 3rd and 17 in the redzone!?!  How do you give up *ANOTHER* 3rd and 17 when you have them pinned on their goalline!?!  How do you give up two over the top plays for long yardage when on both 3rd and 17’s the reason you gave them up is you were playing too soft!?!

And the offense, how do you *NOT* know that it is VERY hard to throw over the top at altitude!?!

It’s a miracle the Bears are only down 13.

Colorado preview

(Written by kencraw)

I always hate predicting games against Colorado when the games are in Boulder.  The elevation has proven time and time again to be an X-Factor.  It really stresses the conditioning of the team and both the passing and kicking game are affected by the thinner air.  Nevertheless, I will plod on, hoping the X-Factor doesn’t become too prevalent.

Cal has 3 common opponents with CU at this point:  Both teams were dominated by UW (Cal on the road, CU at home).  Both lost close one’s to Arizona at home (more on this later).  And finally, Cal kicked the crud out of WSU at home and WSU throttled CU at home.  Obviously the WSU result is the lone differentiator, and it is *hugely* different, suggesting Cal is the better team.  But frankly, I think it is a mistake to put too much stock in the WSU game.  At the end of the season, I think it will be clear that it is the outlier in both Cal’s results and WSU’s results.

One could look at the CU vs. Arizona game and think it shows that the X-Factor won’t be that big of a deal.  If Arizona was able to have a similar result despite having to go into the altitude, perhaps it shows that CU isn’t as good in a neutral situation.  Unfortunately there are three caveats:

  1. Tate came in mid-1st quarter and was a complete unknown.  That was a huge disadvantage CU had that Cal didn’t.
  2. Arizona’s offensive game plan is heavily run-biased, which is far less affected by the elevation than the passing game.
  3. Most people don’t know this, but outside of the mountain schools (Utah and Colorado), Arizona and WSU are tied (effectively) for the next highest elevation at ~2300 feet.  All the rest of us are much lower.  I think Arizona has a bit of an advantage (as does WSU) over the other schools when going into the mountains.

All of the above says to me that Cal is either a slightly better team or they are pretty even, with the X-Factor looming as something that might completely overwhelm that analysis.

But I’m going to stick with my pre-season instincts and call this the “upset” game (in quotes because it is no longer an upset).  Colorado has been way over appreciated and unlike Cal is going to be very disappointed with their current situation of 1-4 in conference.  This is a team that barely beat Oregon State and that’s their only conference win.  All of their non-conference games were against real powder puffs (Colorado State, Texas State and University of Northern Colorado).  They have yet to beat a quality team (although they’ve come close). The talent level on this team is mediocre with their best position being WR.  They are a balanced team, which is definitely to their favor, but their statistics are mediocre across the board and are so despite a fairly weak schedule to date.

Cal’s defense will confuse and stifle their offense and get a couple of important interceptions.  The Cal offense will have good drives and bad ones, unable to sustain the rhythm that’s we’d like to see.  There will be at least one disappointing throw from Bowers that results in an interception.  But at the end of the day, the stifling Cal defense will prove to be the difference.

Bears win 23-17.

Oregon State tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve got them posted over on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253224951077

$30 starting bid.  $92.50 (half of face value) Buy It Now

What was Wilcox thinking!?!

(Written by kencraw)

I am sorry, going for 2 was a huge mistake, particularly at home.  Yes, the Arizona offense was rolling, but the Bear defense had some success in the 2nd half and the Cal offense wasn’t exactly struggling.  You kick the extra point and keep plugging away instead of the low percentage 2 point conversion.

HUGE mistake!

Anyone want free tickets to the Arizona game?

(Written by kencraw)

It’s ridiculous how little Cal game tickets are going for.  I couldn’t sell my *SEVEN* tickets for $30 total.  That’s $4 and change a piece.

And it’s not even a 7:30 PM game.

Anyone want them for free?  Leave a comment with your e-mail and I’ll get back to you and send them digitally to you.

Arizona Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Watch out!  We’ve all thought Arizona was going to be one of Cal’s easier games, but they’ve been quietly (and more recently, not so quietly) putting together a much better season than expected.  They’re sitting at 4-2 and tied for 2nd in the south division at 2-1 in conference.  Their big surprise comes from quarterback Khalil Tate, who took over 2 games ago when starter Brandon Dawkins went down on the 1st drive of the game.  But Tate so thorough turned the team around that a 5 minute search couldn’t even turn up whether Dawkins is healthy enough to play versus Cal.  Tate is the starter now and is a “dual threat” QB.

That said, there are a bunch of caveats.  The first is the softness of Arizona’s schedule.  A non-conference slate that “features” Houston, UTEP and N. Arizona… oh, and they lost to Houston (admittedly with Dawkins at the helm).  Their signature win was over a suspect (in my opinion) UCLA squad.  They lost to Utah (again, the Dawkins caveat) who lost to USC in similar fashion to Cal (a close one).  Utah has gotten some ranking hype, but the reality is they haven’t beat anyone of note either.  Utah’s signature win is without a doubt over Arizona (and so the comparison loops go).  Simply stated, their highest ranked opponent Utah, would be the 4th toughest game on Cal’s slate thus far and the non-conference comparison is a joke (obviously in favor of Cal).

Next up, the emergence of game film… there’s a long history of a backup QB coming in and looking awesome for a couple games, but then tailing of dramatically.  Why?  Because they’re unexpected and there’s very little game film on them for a couple weeks.  Frankly, Cal benefited from that all the way up through the Ole Miss game as the opponents didn’t have much to look at for Cal.  It’s no surprise Cal didn’t look quite as brilliant starting with the USC game (better opponents obviously played a part as well).  But the point is, Tate was a *COMPLETE* unknown against Colorado and then there was only one game’s worth of film for UCLA, who didn’t know for sure whether Dawkins or Tate would be starting.  Thus UCLA had to prepare for both and do so for Tate with limited film to work with.  Cal is not going to have that problem.  Dawkins is out and Tate is the known starter with nearly two full games of film to look at.

Then there’s the “dual threat” QB thing.  He threw only 13 times against Colorado (but admittedly did very well with 12 completions) and another 13 versus UCLA (admittedly with another respectable 9 completions).  Need I remind my readers that Cal just befuddled and confused one of the best passers in the nation last week?  Arizona has two choices: 1. Continue to heavily bias the play-calling toward the run game or 2. Make the *VERY* risky decision to let a guy with less than 2 games experience try to read Cal’s defense.  Frankly, I hope they pick #2.  I’m pretty confident that dual threat means that he can pass the ball when the defense is forced into difficult coverage scenarios as they attempt to slow down his run game.  If he ever had to be a pocket passer, all bets are off.

So this game will come down to whether Cal can shut down Tate’s running game without having to give up reasonable pass coverage.  In that regard, there’s bad news, Downs is out for the season (the injuries are starting to pile up).  Nevertheless, Cal did pretty well without him in the 2nd half last week.  Downs is good, but there is more depth on the Cal defense than we think.  Cal has been doing a lot of substituting to keep the defense fresh throughout the season.  One of the upsides of that philosophy is that your 2nd and 3rd string guys get a fair amount of playing time before they end up first string guys due to injury.

Thus there are two scenarios I envision.  #1, the Cal defense struggles to contain Tate’s running game.  Everything else opens up from there and Arizona puts up enough points to win (I’ll leave it as an open question whether Cal can score a fair amount of points, but in this scenario, how ever many points Cal can score, it’s not enough as Tate runs all over the Bears).  #2, Cal shuts down Tate’s run game and Arizona is forced to the passing game.  Things will go haywire for Arizona from there and Cal will win BIG, similar to the WSU game.  Frankly, I think it’s a 60%/40% chance on which one will play out as there have been times I’ve been a little worried about the Cal run defense and with Downs out, that may be more trouble against a more formidable run offense than WSU.  I expect Cal to play a lot of zone defense and will allow the safeties to play pretty aggressively to come up and stop the run.

All things considered, I’ll stick with the 60% scenario.  Cal wins big: 38-13.

EXACTLY 10 years later

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody know what happened 10 years to the day before Friday’s upset win over Washington State?

If you guessed the #2 ranked Bears lost to Oregon State on the infamous Kevin Riley scramble that cost the Bears a shot that the game tying field goal… you’re right!

That game was a *HUGE* inflection point in Cal football.  Before that moment, the Tedford era had been one of constant ascendancy.  Every year the team got better, with a slight interlude in 2005.  Going into that game, the Bears were poised not only to go to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years (at the time) but also felt like real national title contenders, not just that year, but into the future.

Yet, after Tedford threw down his play card and his headset, the team was never again the same.  There were moments in 2008 and 2009 that suggested the team might find some of it’s former glory, but they were mirages.  The team continued down and down and down, eventually resulting in a 3-9 effort in 2012 that lost Teford his job and the 2013 season where the Bears were back to a one win season for the first time since 2001, the year before Tedford was hired.  The cupboard was bare and there wasn’t much reason to hope.

But exactly 10 years later the Bears did something remarkable, something they’ve never done before: Beat a top-10 team by 30+ points.

Perhaps it is just false optimism, but why do I feel today that this event, exactly 10 years to the day after that terrible moment, could be another inflection point for the program, but this one in a much more positive direction?

WSU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s my On The Road Home Podcast for the WSU game:

WSU game re-watch

(Written by kencraw)

Here are my thoughts on the game during a re-watch at home:

  • The Bears got really lucky on that opening kickoff return penalty.  It didn’t seem very bad and could easily have been ignored.  How different would the game be if it started that way?
  • Bynum’s interception was a thing of beauty.  Live at the stadium, I was amazed he broke on the ball as it looked like he was in man coverage.  Frankly, I think that’s what Falk thought too.  But it was a very well disguised zone and Bynum was in great position to intercept it.
  • Still not impressed with the Cal offensive line and wide receivers blocking on sweeps and other stretch/outside runs.  They’re getting beaten to their spots.
  • Other than the one pass to Noa, that first sequence was pretty pathetic.  The run plays didn’t work.  False start penalty.  Just ugly.
  • Until the 3rd and goal when the Bears got screwed on a missed pass interference call.  They don’t show it much on TV, but let me tell you, in person, it was obvious and it was blatant.  Noa was physically held and stopped.
  • Cal scores an easy field goal on a missed opportunity of a turnover and short field: 3-0.
  • Kickoffs in this game were very good for Cal.  Nice hang time and into the endzone.
  • The running game of WSU on the 2nd possession was trouble.  Frankly, I don’t know why WSU didn’t use it more as the game wore on.  But that’s what got WSU down into Cal territory.
  • WSU was really shooting itself in the foot early.  There’s a HUGE difference between 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 6 on the opponent 30.  That false start penalty really hurt WSU and ultimately resulted in a good drive stalling and the missed field goal prevented it from netting any points for WSU.
  • After that missed field goal, I was sure WSU wouldn’t go for a field goal over about 45 and would do a lot more 4th down plays in that range.  (Boy was I wrong)
  • Bowers didn’t look good on that next possession.  Two misthrows out of 3 incompletions (the 3rd was a drop by Veasy).
  • And then Hawkins punches the ball out for the 2nd turnover of the game.  It sure felt like the WSU offense was finding its rhythm at that point (the play was a mid-distance pass completion before the punch-out).  I think without those early turnovers, this game could have gone very differently.
  • Another drop by a Cal WR… this is what I meant in my podcast about the fits and starts of the offense early in the game.  Bad passes, dropped balls, poor running outside the tackles.  The team had two turnovers and a number of WSU mistakes and was only up 3-0 and was giving WSU the ball back again.
  • Falk is sacked.  That was definitely a coverage sack, but Beckett just didn’t give up and kept driving.  But at some level, it was a little unfair to just call that a “coverage” sack.  Yes, Falk didn’t know where he could go with the ball, but a big part of that was his confusion in not knowing how to read Cal’s zone coverages and have confidence on who would break on his throws.  Even though there wasn’t a sack on 2nd down, it was the same story of Falk not being sure where he could throw the ball.
  • Wharton returned the punt to the WSU 23.  Hasn’t just about every punt return been a fair catch up until then?
  • Bowers has a good pass to the TE to get down to the 6 on a roll out.  Boy were the roll outs working.  They kept Bowers uniform clean and gave him time to read the defense.
  • Then Enwere bowls his way into the endzone.  That was the type of run we’ve been expecting from him this season that the last few games have been missing.
  • Bears up 10-0.
  • Cal had some tackling issue in this game.  Luckily, the first defender slowed the runner enough to allow the 2nd guy to get there before too long (on average), and the swarming nature of the defense prevented any of them from being disastrous.  But there could have been even *MORE* negative plays had the Bears gotten more guys down right away, particularly in the flat.
  • Cal got another penalty break on that PI call that overturned a 2nd WSU touchdown.  So all of a sudden, between a tackle for loss on a sweep, a 15 yard PI call and a sack, a 2nd and goal from the 3 turned into a 52 yard field goal… which REALLY surprised me.  That kick would have been good from 60+.  Shows his first failed attempt was a mis-kick and not indicative of his potential.
  • Cal lead cut to 10-3.
  • The Bear offense was doing a pretty good job of “taking what it was given”.  Quick outs for 5-10 yards when the corner was playing off, etc..
  • And then Veasy drops a ball when there was pretty blatant pass interference against him on a deep fade.  Disappointing both that he didn’t come up with the catch on a very good pass from Bowers and that Cal didn’t get the very deserved PI call.  (That’s twice!)
  • I think the blocker downfield rules are too tight.  3 yards!?!  It should be 5 and there should be a caveat for “away from the play” issues.
  • In the 1st half, Cal got a number of hits on Falk that were for short gains and I think they had an impact on Falks performance as the game wore on.
  • I have no idea what Falk was thinking on his next interception.  There was coverage both over the top and in front of that receiver.  It’s just more of a sign he was really struggling to read the Cal defensive pass coverages.
  • The TV coverage of the targeting call that was overturned was excellent.  I was really critical of the refs at the game, but in retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It was a hard hit and although I think they let the fact it was the QB push them to call a foul they wouldn’t have called for a running back, I can see why at full speed it looked like targeting.  And that’s why it is good that they’re all reviewed.
  • The pass to Enwere in the redzone was risky.  He almost cut inside and he wouldn’t have made it to the end zone.  But luckily he got to the sideline and stopped the clock.
  • Great playcall on the end of half TD.  Bowers never goes under center and it’s a strong indicator it was going to be a run play.  It’s not a surprise WSU bit on the play-action.  And since it was a tight end, who can of course block, the defense is likely to let him by thinking they’re shedding a blocker.
  • That said, I’m not sure I agree with the call to go for the TD.  If it didn’t work, you give WSU a big momentum piece to build on going into halftime.  Even the 3 points strongly keeps the momentum in Cal’s camp and would have the Bears up by enough to worry WSU.
  • Nevertheless, Bears up 17-3 at the half.
  • I have to admit, I was really bothered when the Cal possession to start the 2nd half resulted in a punt.  I was still really worried that the WSU offense would come to life and a lead of 14 wasn’t going to be nearly enough.
  • And sure enough, before I can eat a few chips, WSU is down in the Cal redzone.
  • But luckily, Cal has its luckiest play of the game, another interception on a botched shovel pass where Cal is lucky enough to have a guy in the area to scoop it up before it hits the ground.  That’s two redzone interceptions that save the Cal defense from an otherwise good WSU drive.
  • It ended up not mattering because of a chop-block foul on Cal, but I sure would have liked to see a replay on that Veasy diving catch in the endzone that was called incomplete.  It’s not clear in full-speed if he got his hand underneath the ball, but he sure may have.
  • WSU’s WR’s did a lot of juking, cutting back inside, that fooled the Cal secondary and resulted in a fair amount of yards after catch.
  • *ANOTHER* Cal interception, this one a great break on a ball behind the receiver.  This was about the point I really started to believe that Cal was going to win this game.
  • And then the refs try to get WSU back into the game with the bogus catch and fumble call on what was obviously a through his hands incompletion.  Thankfully the replay booth got it right.
  • Speaking of which, I’ve felt very good about the centralized replay booth in San Francisco.  We’re getting much better review consistency by a group that doesn’t have the emotional attachment to the referee crew on the field (and thus more likely to overturn a bad call).
  • Matt Anderson kicks a 48 yard field goal.  I sure hope the Anderson we saw on Friday is the Anderson we see for the rest of the season.  He looked solid and didn’t miss a kick, even the 48 yard one.
  • Cal up 20-3
  • Cal was getting more and more pressure on Falk as the game wore on and was doing it with 4 rushers most of the time.  That says the Cal defense was the better conditioned group.
  • I was really happy with the game plan to reduce sacks.  Quick throws.  Rolling Bowers out.  More schemes that kept extra blockers in (but not excessively or consistently to allow WSU to key on it).  It was all well thought out and made Bowers life a lot easier while keeping his uniform a lot cleaner.
  • Although Enwere had one rushing touchdown, the reality is he had more negative plays when trying to run near the goal line.  It wasn’t really his fault, the offensive line wasn’t able to hold the rushing pressure and Enwere was stopped before he could ever get started.
  • And the Bowers somersaults into the endzone. Amazing, but in the name of Jahvid Best, please don’t do that again Bowers.
  • Bears up 27-3
  • Nothing went right for WSU in this one.  Even when Wharton fumbles a punt, WSU can’t seem to come up with it.
  • It was really, really, *REALLY* great to see the Bears able to run the ball effectively in the 4th quarter to help run down the clock.
  • Anderson completes his hat-trick without a miss: Bears up 30-3
  • What was WSU thinking going for it on 4th and 4 in their own territory?  They weren’t going to win the game and they gave Cal a play where they could bring the house.  Result, Sack -> Fumble -> Scoop and score.
  • Bears up 37-3
  • One of the things you can’t tell as well from the stands is when players go out for the rest of the game.  I didn’t realize Downs missed so much time due to injury.  To see how well the defense played without him gives me a lot of hope.  It shows depth and it shows the strength of the scheme.
  • Another interception!  Yet another one Falk should have never thrown, but also the 2nd one Cal was pretty lucky to come down with.  No fewer than 4 Bears touched the ball on that pass.
  • Glad to hear the announcers pick on the over-rated chant.  It does diminish the win.
  • Go Bears!

WSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Another quick one this week…

The Bears and Wougs have two common opponents, USC and Oregon.  Both played USC at home and both played a close game into the 4th quarter.  At that point the Bears fell apart and WSU sealed the deal.  Both played Oregon at Oregon and while Cal got destroyed, WSU cruised to victory.  However, there’s a *HUGE* caveat in that.  The Bears mostly lost that game to the starting QB.  Once he went down, the game actually went in the Bears favor until late in the game.  The starting QB didn’t make it back for the WSU game and so WSU played a pretty compromised team compared to the one that put up a bunch of points on Cal in the 1st half.

Nevertheless, the Wougs have the benefit of the doubt and out performed Cal in both games.  Additionally, while WSU seems to be getting stronger every week, Cals’ offense has regressed and its defense, while holding OK, seems to have a few issues that offensive coordinators are learning to exploit.

So, while I think it is possible, if the ball bounces the right way and the Cal offense gets back on track, for the Bears to win tonight, I don’t think it happens.  The offense is too likely to stall.

Bears 17, Wougs 38

Washington game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Going into the season I thought the offense was going to be a horrible mess with an offensive line that couldn’t open running lanes and couldn’t protect the passer, plus a QB who was not mature enough for that sort of rush pressure.  But for the first few games, I was *very* pleasantly surprised.  But how true does my original assumption sound now?  It sounds all too accurate after the last two weeks.

This is my biggest concern after the UW game.  The offensive performance was *HORRIBLE*.  Even though the defense gave up 38, and didn’t look particularly good doing it, I’m not that worried about them.  They got absolutely no support from the offense and found themselves back on the field after 3 and outs over and over and over, yet still managed to look respectable.  They got pretty tired in the 2nd half, and it showed, but somehow they still managed to not get embarrassed.

But the offensive line… oy-vey!  And sure enough, Bowers doesn’t have the maturity as a young QB to deal with the rush pressure he’s getting.  He’s making all the wrong decisions as when to try and escape, which way to try and escape, when to run for it, when to throw it away, when to try and squeeze in a tight window (seems like the USC game made him too shy in this regard), etc..  He’s just too inexperienced to be put in that sort of situation.  (Quick aside, I saw nothing from Chase Forrest that impresses me other than a really strong arm.  It’s clear why he lost the starting QB battle.)

The Bears are going to need to figure out the offensive line problems ASAP, otherwise, a bowl game isn’t likely.

But if for some reason they can improve significantly in this regard, I still see a strong possibility.  Arizona and Oregon State are both at home and very winnable.  And with that, Cal only has to pick off one of WSU (feeling less likely now, but still 40%), Colorado (50+%), Stanford (45%) and UCLA (45%).  If Cal can actually win the two games it is supposed to (UA and OSU), one has to believe they’ll get at least one of those other four.

As long as they fix the problems on the offensive line…