The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

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.

Worst loss since…

(Written by kencraw)

Fill in the blank.  Last nights loss to UCLA was the worst loss since ___________

(I’ll add my thoughts in the comments after I get a few replies)

Looks like I was right to be afraid

(Written by kencraw)

UCLA just kicked Cal’s butt up and down the field.  While on the one hand, UCLA is better than people think, I’m starting to lose confidence in the Cal coaching staff.  There’s more talent on this team than what they’re showing.  The defense is starting to look disinterested in giving a full effort if the offense isn’t going to carry its share of the load.

That was a horrible performance.

If they don’t turn a HUGE corner this week, they’re going to lose in Corvallis and the wheels are going to come off the bus.  Then we’ll be dreaming of last year’s success as the Bears end up going 0-9 in conference or at best 1-8 with that odd upset that can’t be explained (like last year’s WSU performance).

UCLA preview

(Written by kencraw)

This will be a bit of a shorter preview as I’m a bit short on time.  UCLA might just be the scariest 0-5 team in the country.  First of all, the talent is there, at least when judged by recruiting stars.  Second of all, they’ve played a really hard schedule: Two top 10 ranked teams.  The only undefeated team in the Pac-12.  Heck, the worst record team they’ve played is 4-1 Fresno State.  Does anyone think Cal would be 3-2 against that schedule?  I guess it’s possible the Bears could have pulled that off with wins over Cincinnati, Fresno State and Colorado, but considering the disaster in the desert last week, it’s hard to argue the Bears would be better than 2-3 if they played UCLA’s schedule.  It’s also not hard to imagine they’d be 1-4.

Now admittedly, UCLA has not only lost, they’ve lost by sizable margins.  Only one was a single score loss.  But that’s where point #1 comes in… there’s talent on this team.  When one combines that with the fact they’re learning a whole new system with new head coach Chip Kelly, it’s not the most irrational fear to have that they’re starting to play to their potential, or will be by tomorrow in Berkeley.  Indeed, their best game was their most recent, a 24-31 loss to Washington.  And you know they’re looking at this game against Cal as one of their few remaining possibilities of a win.  They’ll bring everything they have to win this one.

At the same time, Cal has been under performing their potential the last two games.  Something tells me that this week they play a lot closer to it.  I’ve talked a lot about the history of matchups in my predictions this year: Struggling at altitude.  Struggling in the desert.  If I’m going to be fair, the history of the UCLA @ Cal matchups is *REALLY* favorable.  Since the turn of the century, the Bears are 7-1 against UCLA.  And that includes some really surprising wins: 2000, 2012 and 2016 in particular.  Those were some pretty crummy Cal teams, yet they seemed to be able to beat UCLA in Berkeley anyway.

So, while I’m really scared UCLA is better than their record indicates, getting better every week and I greatly fear this is the week UCLA puts all the pieces together, in the end I’m going to go with the Bears.  I think they also clean up the mistakes of the last two weeks.

Bears win: 34-20

UCLA tickets for sale on eBay

(Written by kencraw)

As previously noted, I have an all-day commitment on 10/13 and I can’t make it to the game.  You can get my 7 tickets (2 adult and 5 youth (they have never checked if adults use youth tickets)) for as little as $40 ($100 buy-it-now) on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253923640430

Auction ends Thursday morning and I’ll mail you my parking pass for Lower Hearst if you’re interested.

The optimist’s way to look at stupid mistakes

(Written by kencraw)

Probably the easiest thing to improve on is the number of stupid mistakes.  It comes with caveats (the additional thinking robs the team of a little execution speed), but overall, the school of hard knocks is pretty efficient at teaching things.

So when you’ve got a team that played a pretty even game against an upper-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes and significantly outplayed a lower-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes, then you’ve got a team that’s not as far as one tends to think from success.  Although UCLA scares me as they seem to finally be turning a corner and the road scares me even when it is Oregon State, I think Cal has proven they not only have the talent to beat both those teams, they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the better teams.  I’d say both WSU and Colorado are games that I’d have optimism about a win if Cal can clean up the mistakes.  I’d also argue that wins over USC and Stanford are not out of the question, again assuming Cal can clean up the mistakes.  USC would be even more true if it weren’t for the difficulty of going into the Coliseum, in my opinion the toughest place to go play.

So hope is not lost, the team just needs to clean up its stupid mistakes.

Post Arizona Rant

(Written by kencraw)

I couldn’t be more livid right now.  Wilcox… KICK THE STINKING FIELD GOAL!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Everything that went wrong with the end of that game started with the failed 4th down conversion when they *SHOULD* have kicked the easy field goal to tie the game.  The Bears were dominating on both sides of the ball.  The Arizona offense didn’t score a point after the 1st quarter.  The Cal offense was moving the ball.  Why would you take the high-risk path like that?

This is two Arizona games in a row where Wilcox took the “win it now” philosophy (last year it was going for 2 in the 2nd overtime) and both times it has cost the Bears the game.

All of this is particularly true with McIlwain under center.  You think he throws those two interceptions, forcing the ball where it shouldn’t have been thrown, if the game was tied?  No, he plays smarter if the game is tied.  Instead he plays desperate and makes two stupid decisions because he knows it is drive and score or lose.

And then to add insult to injury, none of the breaks went Cal’s way.  That 1st INT for a TD with the fumble was blind luck from start to finish.  And then the Bears got a horrible call on the sack turned fumble where McIlwain’s hand was clearly moving forward and clearly in a throwing motion.  The key is to look how his hand releases the ball.  It releases it in a spiral motion as if he was throwing.  For a moment I was upset Wilcox didn’t challenge that, but with only one TO left and the marginal nature of that booth review, I can make my peace with that one.

But I absolutely *CAN NOT* make my peace with Wilcox’s ridiculous decisions to take the “win it now” attitude in games when the Bears have the upper hand.  Last year, it was ignoring how much overtime games tend to go in favor of the home team, particularly the longer they go.  This year it’s not recognizing the Bears are dominating on both sides of the ball.

It is completely inexcusable to lose a game that you’re leading by 4, dominate statistically in the 2nd half, but somehow manage to lose by 7.  There’s no excuse for it and it completely came down to poor game management by the coaches, putting the team in a bad situation.

Final gripe: I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate these 7 PM or later games.  I’m supposed to go to sleep now!?!  And I’ve got to be up early for 7:30 AM Mass. ARG!?!

And to add insult to injury on that front, next Saturday I’ve got an all-day commitment where I could have barely got to Berkeley for a 7 PM game.  So it was the one game I was hoping for a late start.  Do I get it? Of course not.  No, it’s just all the other games.  The one time I want it to be late, it’s at 4 PM. GAH!

(mid-morning addendum: Sure enough, I didn’t get to sleep until around 1 AM and then when my alarm went off, I slept through it for over an hour (admittedly I set a quiet alarm), and then woke up with *barely* enough time to shower and make it to mass.  Phew!)

Arizona preview

(Written by kencraw)

The first thing one needs to do when predicting a game like this is figure out what to make of the last game.  Even though Cal lost by about the amount I expected, they lost in a very different fashion than I expected.  I can’t think of the last game a Wilcox Bears team was that mistake prone.  And part of why that was so disappointing was that the Bears mostly seemed to play an even game against Oregon… except for the big mistakes.

There was one exception to that… the pass rush.  Cal couldn’t get a pass rush on Justin Herbert to save their life.  The few times they did, they did it by letting themselves be very exposed in the secondary and Herbert took advantage of it.  So at a minimum it suggests that Cal’s D-Line is a bit suspect against a good O-Line.

Of course it’s tempting to go to Cal and Arizona’s one common opponent thus far.  Arizona was manhandled by BYU at home in their 1st game of the season.  One week later, Cal went to BYU and won, fairing pretty well in the trenches (I won’t go so far as to say they dominated at the line, but I think Cal  got the better end of it).  That would suggest a Cal win, yes?

Well… maybe.  Arizona had a really slow start to the season.  They seem to be improving.  The embarrassing loss to Houston seems to have been a turning point for their team.  So on one level, I tend to discount their BYU performance at this point.  On the other hand, the one part of a team that seems to be less likely to see big changes over the course of the season is the lines.  Linemen win with size and power.  Size and power doesn’t change much from week to week.  Thus there’s reason to believe that Cal’s ability to win against the BYU lines that manhandled Arizona suggests Cal will win in the trenches.

That’s a very good place to be.

If the game was in Berkeley, that would be enough for me.  But Cal dreams go to die in the desert.  At first I was thinking, “Well, maybe the trip to BYU suggests the Bears have gotten over their road woes.”  But then I remembered last season the Bears beat North Carolina on the road early and then proceeded to lose every single conference road game, including two embarrassing ones (Colorado and UCLA).

So ultimately, I don’t have faith in this Bears team to win on the road in conference yet.  I think Arizona and Cal are overall equally matched, as demonstrated by last years double overtime heart breaker in Berkeley.  I think Cal may have a slight advantage on the lines, although I’m concerned the D-Line’s performance against Oregon is a sign of things to come.  I think Arizona is improving.  But I’m also optimistic about the level of play Cal demonstrated against Oregon if they could just clean up those mistakes.  Speaking of which and repeating myself, I’m terrified of a game in Tucson.

Add that all up and I expect another close loss that comes down to the last couple possessions: Cal 27 – Arizona 30.

Oregon preview

(Written by kencraw)

This is a very dangerous time of year to do predictions, that time when the team is undefeated after a few games of questionable quality opponents, but before the team gets into the heart of its schedule.  It’s a time when one’s fandom may inject unwarranted optimism into a prediction that isn’t merited.  But hold on a second… as an Old Blue, I think the other possibility is likely as well.  I’ve seen too many seasons start like this yet fall apart.  Might I be too tempted to assume the Bears can’t meet the challenge in front of them?

So as I said, it’s a dangerous time to do a prediction… but we’ll soldier on anyway.

Oregon played 3 powder-puffs that proved nothing and then played a home game against a Stanford team that is a little hard to pin down.  At times Stanford has looked to be its old powerful self:  Big, physical, with a smart QB who’s just good enough to make the throws he needs to keep their opponents defense honest.  But at other times, it has looked somewhat mediocre, not nearly as physical and powerful as one expects from a good Stanford team.  As for the Stanford defense, it’s pretty good.  It gave up 10, 3 and 10 respectively in the 1st 3 games.

Oregon’s offense handled itself fairly well against Stanford.  It was pretty physical and held its own in the trenches.  But I think it had an advantage in that Oregon’s game plan was more complex than during the 3 powder-puffs.  They were able to save their ‘new coach’ advantage for Stanford.  To some degree I think that brings a notable caveat to the 24 1st half points that Oregon was able to score on Stanford.  At the same time, the 2nd half Oregon moved the ball pretty well, yet shot itself in the foot with turnovers.  Oregon could have scored 21+ 2nd half points if they hadn’t turned the ball over twice.

The long and short of it is that I think Cal’s defense is going to have its hands full on Saturday.  Oregon is fast and big enough in the trenches, as well is back to their old self in spreading the defense out enough to make it tough to defend them.  This is not to say that I think Cal is doomed, but I also think Cal won’t be able to shut down Oregon.  If Cal wants to win, it’s going to need some points of its own.

So it all comes down to which offense Cal is able to muster.  Will it be the one lacking in creativity that has drove me nuts at times this season?  Or will it be the very diverse, surprisingly explosive one that we’ve seen glimpses of in key moments?  My guess is that it will be a little of both and the key will be whether we see it early.  If Cal can have a couple scoring drives in their first 3 or 4 drives, Cal might have a shot at the upset.  If they wait until the mid-2nd quarter to find their rhythm, the defense will get too tired too early and even if the score is close through the 3rd quarter, by the end of the game, Oregon will pull away.

Ultimately, that’s what I think will happen.  It will be a low scoring 1st half, Cal will be in reach (say down 7 to 13 at the half), but the 2nd half will be their undoing.

Bears lose: 20 – 34

(Here’s hoping I’m wrong)

Think beyond current politics on this one…

(Written by kencraw)

I just had an odd thought that while political, I don’t intend it to be a liberal/conservative thing… it’s a theoretical process thing:

Fact: Party A wins popular vote and party B wins electoral college in presidential election

Conclusions one should be able to make:

  1. Because electoral college biases towards statehood, we must conclude that in the presidential election large populous states go to party A, but a bunch of smaller states go to party B. (actually true)
  2. Because the senate biases towards statehood, we must also conclude senate will have more members of party B. (actually true)
  3. Because the house of representatives biases towards population, we must also conclude house will have more members of party A. (*NOT* true)

The question for my readers: Why is #3 not true?

(Warning: All comments that are some form of “because party B is full of jerkwads” will be deleted.  I’m not looking to start a political flame-war.  I’m trying to better understand the dynamics of our political system at a theoretical level.)

Bye-week games to watch

(Written by kencraw)

One of the few fan benefits of a bye week, is it is a good chance to watch other games one might otherwise not have time for.  Unfortunately, a couple of the teams I was interested in watching are themselves either on bye or play a meaningless game:

  • BYU is playing an FCS team
  • UCLA is on bye

But there’s still 4 I would suggest considering.  Here’s what I would suggest (in order of importance):

  1. Stanford @ Oregon (5 PM PDT, ABC): Duh!  Cal plays Oregon in one week, so it’ll be good to get a glimpse of them as they face their first meaningful opponent (it’s been all cupcakes for them thus far).
  2. Arizona @ Oregon State (1:00 PM, Pac-12 Net): If this overlapped with the higher priority game, I wouldn’t have included it.  But, since the afternoon is devoid of other Pac-12 games (great scheduling again Pac-12!), might as well make it a quadruple-header.  Cal plays both teams in the next month and it will be good to know if either team has anything to be feared.
  3. ASU @ UW (7:30 PM, ESPN) I expect UW to kick the tar out of ASU, despite ASU having over-achieved thus far.  However, if I’m wrong, when that Oregon game wraps up and if this is a close one, switch on over.  However, if it’s a snoozer as expected, perhaps 3 games was enough and it’s time for bed.  That way you’ve got no excuse Sunday morning and hopefully will make it to Church. 🙂
  4. Pittsburgh @ North Carolina (9:20 AM, ACC-NE): UNC missed their game with UCF due to the hurricane.  It will be interesting to see if they bounce back from their loss to ECU and show some backbone.  Again, since there is no conflict, why not?

So there you have it… get up early and watch 4 games with no more than an hour break in between and hopefully only about an hour of over-lap on the late games.  Enjoy!

(Oh, don’t forget the WSU @ USC game tonight as well)

Idaho State OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Sorry again for the late posting.  I wish I had a good excuse. 🙂

Grrrr…. stinking 7:30 PM start

(Written by kencraw)

It’s been announced that the Cal vs. Oregon game on Saturday 9/29 will be at 7:30 PM.  Which of course really means it will kick off at 7:42 or something ridiculous like that.

I guess I could grudgingly accept the 7:00 PM starts, and I know that we’ve had the 7:30 PM starts for a few years now, but it just feels like they keep pushing more games, even supposedly pretty good games, back to 7:30 PM and it’s only going to get later and later, no matter how good the match-up is.  I mean, the Bears will be undefeated, having beaten ranked BYU and Oregon will at worst be 3-1 with their only loss potentially being to a top-10 Stanford team.  Or even better, the Ducks will be undefeated having just knocked off a top-10 team.

That’s a game that belongs at the end of the day after the East Coast is in bed?  Feels to me like it should be a 4 PM game.

Idaho State Preview

(Written by kencraw)

I don’t have a lot to say about Idaho State.  Cal has never lost a game against an FCS opponent, nor against a Big Sky opponent.  That includes the year that the Bears only won 1 game (2013: Portland St.).  And when one adds in that Idaho St. isn’t even a particularly good FCS team (last year they were 2-6 in the Big Sky) and it’s not hard to predict a win.

But here’s what I think is worth predicting:

  • The Bears will be doing a lot of personnel experimenting on both sides of the ball.  We’ll see a lot more backups playing and they’ll be playing early in the game.  The result will be that while the Bears will cruise to victory, it will feel a bit more bumpy than it should.
  • This will include Bowers getting his last shot at impressing the coaches that he deserves to be the starting QB.
  • The Bears will call very vanilla plays on both sides of the ball.  They won’t do a lot to reveal to their conference foes what they intend to do later in the season.
  • We will see a lot of over-the-top passing attempts, trying to evaluate how good each QB is at them in a game.

But overall it will be the expected yawner and the Bears will cruise to victory on a pleasant and brisk/windy (although not unusually so) afternoon in Berkeley.  If you want to make watching it interesting, spend a lot of time reading jersey numbers looking for which backups are in and then key on them during the plays to see how they’re doing.

Bears win 48-10.

Sunday morning thoughts post BYU

(Written by kencraw)

Some various random thoughts the day after…

  • Still feeling pretty good about the potential of this team after last night.  The offensive play calling, when it was good, which was that one 1st half drive and most of the 2nd half, was very promising.  And of course the defense, lights out.
  • On the “let’s not get ahead of ourselves” front.  BYU’s win over Arizona looks pretty unimpressive after Arizona got throttled by Houston of all teams.  That might mean that BYU’s narrow victory over them wasn’t nearly all that good and thus mean Cal’s win was not that impressive either.  The same goes for UNC which got destroyed by East Carolina.  If we only beat them by 7 and ENC beat them by 22 (41-19), isn’t that a bit worrisome?
  • And while we’re worrying, I’ve got to believe that if the Bears keep letting the opposition claw their way back close enough where an onside kick could doom the Bears, one has to think that eventually the Bears are going to lose one they shouldn’t.
  • But of course, wins are wins and these teams have P5 size and competency.  Even if they’re mighty flawed, we’re still looking at a Cal team that can beat at least mediocre to weak P5 teams.
  • Oregon, who is very untested themselves, will be Cal’s first test.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Bowers, sans injury.  Heck, even then, McIlwain might be our full time QB should Garbers get injured.
  • Heck, I won’t count out McIlwain being our primary starter.  His throwing ability was much better than I thought.  He didn’t show us that much because he was only asked to throw a little bit, but what we saw had promise.
  • Winning all 3 non-conference games will be a great start to this season.  With the parity and weakness in the conference, only having to go 3-6 in conference to get to a bowl should be very doable.  Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State should all be games the Bears should win if they play to their potential.  Add in WSU and Colorado as games the Bears should be competitive, and one should expect at least 3 conference wins.  And I’m not even going to count out an upset against Oregon, USC, UW or Stanford (who, sad to say, is looking pretty good right now).

BYU live blog

(Written by kencraw)

Since i didn’t pre-announce this, I don’t know if anyone will follow along, but I’ll do it anyway.  (click on the blog title or here to see the full commentary from last night.)

BYU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Sometimes you just have to embrace who you are… and for me, that means embracing being an Old Blue.  I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1999.  That’s 20 seasons.  I’m running the longest standing Cal Football blog, dating back to 2007 on this site and 2004 overall.  I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve seen the incompetence of head coach who was a great guy (Holmoe) and learn that it’s really hard to keep that in perspective.  “Way to go, HOLMOE!”  That was the chant of 2000.  I saw the rise and fall of the Tedford era.  I watched the Dykes experiment never quite materialize.  I’ve seen year after year of promise mostly evaporate into mediocrity.

But more importantly than anything else, at least for this upcoming week, I’ve seen (often in person) the horrible debacle of what happens when the Bears go to the high desert of Nevada, Utah and Colorado.  Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, shall we?:

That’s *every* game during the time of this blog in the high desert.  Before that, the games get pretty few and far between anyway, being before Colorado and Utah joined the conference.

So let’s review those 7 games.  I predicted a win in 6 of the 7.  Cal won 2 of them.  And both of them were against pretty darned weak teams.  Colorado State is never that good and early 2007 was the pinnacle of the Tedford era.  Cal would a few weeks later head to Oregon and beat the highly ranked Ducks in Autzen.  That was a *really* good Cal team before Longshore was injured.  So it’s hard to get too excited about beating CSU at altitude that year.  And then in 2011, Colorado would end up going 3-9 in their first season in the conference (although oddly, the game versus Cal was a non-conference game).  So again, not exactly a great team the Bears beat.

But for the rest of them, time and time again the Bears looked like the better team (one game aside), sometimes significantly so.  Then the Bears go there and not just lose, but get throttled.  If I were to write down the top-10 losses in Cal history that got me most upset, 4 of the above 5 losses would most definitely be on the list.  Those 4 games were maddening, heart-breaking affairs.

Ironically, of the 7 games, the only one where one can argue the Bears played well was one of the losses: the 2015 loss to Utah.

So why am I beating this dead horse so viciously?  Because we need to get it through our thick skulls, that’s why.  Time and again we forget how hard it is to go play at altitude.  It’s *REALLY* hard.  The other team has been conditioning at altitude and is at a significant cardiovascular advantage.  In addition, their passing game has been practicing throwing and catching balls in the thin air.  Our beloved Bears?  Not so much.

So here’s the generic game plan that a high-altitude opponent can use against the Bears: Load up the box and force the Bears to throw the ball.  Also, play tight pass coverage on the line.  Don’t give the opposing QB the short passes he can zip in there.  Make him throw over the top with touch.  They know from years of experience that it is hard to get that touch in the heat of a game with only a day to adjust.

Now, if the Bears had the sort of run game that they could power their way through that, one might have reason to hope.  If the team could find a way to make the defense respect runs both inside and outside, thus forcing the defense to cover at least the whole line well, maybe the Bears could spread the field somewhat.  But last Saturday’s results do not bode well.  The run game was not working with UNC loading the box.  That included the sweeps where Cal had real trouble sealing the edges.

And to make matters worse, it looks like BYU has bulked up quite a bit from recent seasons and has big, tough linemen on both sides of the ball.  I watched the BYU @ Arizona game and I saw a BYU team that over-powered Arizona.  For some reason many people like to blame that on Arizona being exceptionally weak, but that’s not what I saw.  I saw a mediocre Pac-12 team get man-handled on the line.

What is Cal?  A mediocre Pac-12 team with delusions of making it to the upper tier.

Sorry, tomorrow the Bears are going to get man-handled at the line.  They’re going to be unable to do the one thing that would give them a shot: Pass the ball over the top.  The defense will keep the score low to give us some hope.  But in the end, what looks like a close game going into the 2nd half will be a grind it out soul-crushing loss that gets worse every minute of the 2nd half.

Bears lose in a big way: Cal 13, BYU 38 (but only 24 at the end of the 3rd quarter)

UNC game re-watch

(Written by kencraw)

I watched the game on TV today after having gone to the game on Saturday.  So “re-watch” is not entirely accurate.  It was my first time watching the TV broadcast… but the 2nd time watching the game.  In any case, here is my as-it-happened commentary:

  • Coming out in the first defensive possession, the Bears looked pretty good. Bynum’s defense on the 3rd down throw was textbook.
  • Boy, it speaks to how many QBs graduated in the Pac-12 that Bowers has the most passing yards per game of any returning QB.
  • Both of the 1st two plays were outside runs to the right. It felt a little predictable.  Now, admittedly, what caused the drive to stall was a weak throw and unimpressive grab by Hudson on what should have been an easy 3rd and 3 conversion.
  • Goode was a strong X-factor all day. What looked like a pretty good wide receiver screen got blown up by him on UNC’s 2nd possession, putting an end to the drive.
  • Boy did the offensive line not look good on that first sack. Live I thought that Bowers should have known he didn’t have time to pass that ball, but on watching it again, if the line had done their job, he would have had a lot more time than he did.
  • All 3 of Bowers throws thus far haven’t been very good. The WR made the adjustment on the 3rd one, but it still wasn’t quite in the right place.
  • Another 1st down, another run.
  • Another pass to Hudson, another drop. Both have been contested passes (bad reads by Bowers?) but TEs need to be able to make those sorts of catches.
  • Another deep pass attempt in Bynum’s direction and yet again he’s on his WR like glue and forces the breakup.  He had a great day.
  • But hiding amongst the good plays is a lot of incompetence by UNC’s offense. Receivers falling down.  Screens where the intended target doesn’t turn around.  Lot’s of mistakes.  Don’t think UNC’s offense is any good.
  • Another Cal 1st down, another run up the middle.
  • It feels like the old Holmoe, run-run-3rd and long. Just not good play calling.  Too much predictable stuff.
  • Best Cal play thus far: interception of UNC and the Bears get the ball inside the UNC 25.
  • Another Cal first down, another Laird run up the middle.
  • Garbers is now in at QB. As much as Bowers didn’t do anything positive, he also didn’t do anything worthy of being pulled.  Clearly the plan was to have Garbers come in.
  • Garber’s 1st pass is overthrown. As is his 2nd pass, but he gets bailed out by a (deserved) PI call.
  • Now that’s a good 1st down play call. Play action when McMorris as a fullback ends up as a pass to McMorris in the flat.
  • And that sets up the touchdown run as the UNC defense is more hesitant on 2nd down to not bite too hard on the run in case it’s another play action. Gotta give the OC props on that sequence for doing a good job.
  • I’m loving our new kickoff guy!  It’s been a while since I’ve been so satisfied with kickoff depth and positioning.
  • Great play by Goode again. Getting up to bat down the pass when it was clear he wasn’t going to get there on the blitz.
  • Wharton was trying too hard to break the big punt return. Sometimes you just have to take the yards the defense gives you.
  • UNC was not fooled by any of Cal’s screen plays.
  • Bad throw on another Garbers throw. This time not finding the right spot on a quick WR comeback.
  • Interesting to see the number of designed run plays (or option plays) with Garbers here on this drive.
  • Garbers also looked to be having a little bit of a difficult time progressing through his reads. He looked a little confused by UNC’s coverage.
  • Goode continues his dominance with his interception and runback for a touchdown.
  • So the score is 14-0, but 10 of those 14 points come from the INT’s. All the offense did was make sure they got those few yards on the short field to turn the FG into a TD.
  • Bowers is back in and throws a reasonably good ball on 1st (and notice, the defense was not well prepared for throwing on 1st down.)
  • Another Bowers completion. This one a bit low, particularly for short over the middle pass that needs to be the type that makes it easy for the WR to run after the catch.
  • And then, because Bowers had thrown 2 in a row, it’s no surprise that Laird has his biggest run of the day. UNC was clearly playing run first and it was very disappointing that Cal didn’t pass more early to loosen up the defense.
  • OK, it was the right call that Laird stepped out at the 14 yard line, yet it was frustrating to me because late in the game UNC did the same thing pretty much at the exact same spot on the field but it didn’t get reviewed.
  • Bowers had a shot at picking up a key 3rd down conversion, but puts it too far outside for Hudson to get a toe down in bounds. Hudson, for all his early poor catches, did a great job on that one and almost pulled it off.
  • OK, I forgot something I used to do… and I’ll pick it up from here. At what point we’re at in the game for each comment.  Sorry about that.
  • (5:41 2nd) UNC gives Cal another gift of an interception. All they had to do was play center field on a pass that never should have been thrown, but made all the easier by overthrowing the WR so he can’t even make a play on it or break it up.
  • (5:02 2nd) Good throw by Bowers on 2nd and 9. A nicely timed out and right on the WR’s numbers.
  • (4:20 2nd) Although another completion by Bowers, it was a bit behind Noa and slowed his progress. The play after that, a good out pattern by Bowers.  3 completions in a row, 2 of which were right where they should be.
  • (2:33 2nd) A wise TO by UNC. Waited until it was clear what Cal was going to run (a dive by McMorris) and then called the TO.  Although Cal picked up the 4th down conversion after the timeout, they were forced to change the play call because of the TO.
  • Bowers makes a bad throw (perhaps even the wrong read) and Noa can’t get to the ball.
  • Another bad throw by Bowers. After a good sequence, he’s now off his mark.
  • (1:05 2nd) I’ve been very impressed by the secondary’s ability to get off their blocks and get to the runner.
  • (1:00 2nd) Why was Cal trying to get one more possession at the end of the 1st half? Why not just go to the locker room and talk it over?
  • (0:41 2nd) Bowers next throw was low, but I’m inclined to thing that was intentional to put it in the only place that it was safe from an INT. But it was probably a bad read.  His next pass was also a bad read and a much more dangerous one with 3 defenders in the area.
  • (end of the half) So a dominating, in every sense of the word, performance by the Bears.  Only gave up one 1st down and 38 total yards. But the offense was pretty inconsistent.  Just one meaningful drive that netted 3 points.  Otherwise it was mostly the defense that got Cal the points.  Bowers didn’t do much in the last couple of possessions to make his case to play in the 2nd half.  Bad reads, bad throws.
  • (13:54 3rd) Garbers throw on 3rd down was overthrown and lacked the touch needed for an over the top throw.  My guess is it was also the wrong read, but on 3rd and long, sometimes  you don’t have a lot of options.  That one would have at least been long enough for a 1st down, even though it was low percentage.
  • (12:59 3rd) UNC definitely hurt themselves with penalties. Finally they’re ahead of the sticks and they get a false start.
  • (11:22 3rd) Good play call by UNC, a reverse. The Cal defense did slightly over pursue to help make that play work.  (But that’s how the play is supposed to work from an offensive perspective.)
  • (10:10 3rd) Jeez, a whole sequence of penalties here.  Again, nobody should be thinking the dominant Cal defensive performance is all about the Bears.  It helped that UNC was pretty weak offensively.
  • (9:55 3rd) Now is when the Bears go back to being too conservative on offense. Another run-run-3rd and long.  This time Garbers makes a nice throw on 3rd and 7 on a slant to get a 1st down, but it’s not the type of play calling I want to see.
  • (9:43 3rd) Nice sideline fade by Garbers to his tallest receiver.
  • (5:47 3rd) UNC completes their 1st long pass of the game. It was a good pass, but contested by 2 defenders.  Every once and while that is going to work, but not often the way the defense was playing.
  • (4;39 3rd) UNC converts the FG based solely on the long pass. Cal 17, UNC 3.
  • (3:38 3rd) Garbers significantly under throws his receiver on a fade down the outside. Luckily the DB clobbered the WR and Cal got the PI call.  But it should have been a big pass reception if Garbers had hurled it far enough.
  • (2:12 3rd) Cal hurt themselves with a couple too many false start penalties throughout the game.  When the offense is mediocre, there just can’t be any stupid penalties.
  • (1:43 3rd) Garbers definitely has better wheels than Bowers. He’s had a few nice scrambles and a couple reasonably good designed run plays.
  • (0:22 3rd) Garbers throws a nice out to Laird on a pass out of the backfield and then a nice cut up field to score a TD. This was the only legitimate drive of the field by the Bears, and I guess it is notable that Garbers led it, not Bowers.  Cal 24, UNC 3
  • Now, who would have thought at this point the game was going to end up being close?
  • (0:03 3rd) UNC has their first inside run of any merit. A 9-yard QB keeper where it didn’t look like it would go for much, but ended up being a significant pickup.  A sign of things to come…
  • (14:55 4th) Another Cal INT on another poor throw by UNC. One of the upsides of Cal playing so much zone is that they’re looking back towards the ball more often to make these sorts of plays.  In man coverage, that’s less likely.
  • (13:27 4th) Overthrow by Garbers on fade down the sideline. Cover-2 defense and a bit late to squeeze it in the window.
  • (13:18 4th) Garbers sacked on one you’d think he would have seen the blitz coming as his head was turned that way. Would have been nice to see him recognize the blitz and throw it away.
  • (11:43 4th) Another sizeable run for UNC. I think the Bear defense was starting to show its tiredness at this point.  Also notable was that UNC was running at a much faster tempo than earlier in the game.
  • (10:35 4th) UNC converts a 4th down on a traditional option play. I shouldn’t be too judgmental as Cal doesn’t see a lot of it.  But I still have the feeling that earlier in the game Cal would have stopped that.  It sure feels like Cal was getting tired.
  • This was also the play that Goode went out with his foot injury. So point being, the run game was already softening up before he went out.  Of course, losing him doesn’t help.
  • (8:43 4th) Definitely the tempo of UNC was neutralizing the defense. They couldn’t attack as much.  They were much more vanilla on defense.  Perhaps it was because they didn’t gameplan for fast tempo, but they’ll need to fix that.
  • (7:19 4th) OK, one of the most overlooked plays of the game.  4th down just outside the Cal redzone.  The UNC QB scrambles with the ball.  He definitely steps out at the 17 yard line when I freeze on the right frame, although admittedly close.  He needed to get to the 15.  His next step is at the 15 and a half, just short of a first down and he’s *CLEARLY* out.  His foot is in the middle of the white line.  With none of it on the green.  It’s horribly bad out of bounds from a marking it perspective.  Yet the ball is placed at the 12 yard line.  Now, admittedly, they get to the line quick to prevent the review, but it was a horribly bad call.  And remember, it was 4th down, so the Bears should have gotten the ball.
  • Plus, and this is less clear on video, but the Bears were quite surprised at the spot and the lack of a replay, so they were not very prepared for that next play, which was an easy 5 yard run for 2nd and 5 from the 7. That’s a great place to be when it should have been a turnover on downs.
  • And are the announcers even remotely aware of all of this? Nope!  Even after they go to a commercial break, no mention of the missed call.
  • And imagine how different this game is with 7 minutes left, UNC down 24-3 and the Bears have the ball.
  • (6:31 4th) UNC punches it in for a touchdown and the Bear defense all of a sudden is getting beaten on the line and the inside runs are working. Cal 24, UNC 10.
  • (6:26 4th) The first onside kick, although a Cal recovery, was not played particularly well by the Bears.  A sign of things to come.
  • (4:45 4th) Disappointed by the play calling on 2nd and 3rd and short for the Bears. If you can’t get a 1st down from 2nd and 3, you’ve got a problem.  And it’s not right to do a sweep run on 3rd and 1.  There’s just too many people close to the line on a play like that.  Better to play it straight up in the middle and trust your offensive line to get the push they need to.
  • (3:50 4th) UNC back with the ball.  On their first play (although the play was called back due to penalty) there were a lot of missed tackles. This defense was tired.
  • (2:50 4th) It may be a bit unfair to criticize the run defense excessively at this point. They were playing 2 deep safeties, which means there’s just not enough guys close to the line in a 3-4 defense, particularly when one of your LB’s is out wide on a WR.  It’s a prevent defense forcing UNC to use up a lot of clock to score.  Not a horrible idea when Cal is up by 2 TDs.  But perhaps I’m being too harsh on how they couldn’t stop the run.  To some degree that was by design.
  • But they still look tired to me.
  • (1:20 4th) I really loath announcers when it comes to PI. They have no idea what they’re talking about (a few exceptions aside).  Bynum did indeed commit a PI, but it wasn’t the contact, it was the holding of the shoulder and preventing the WR from turning to the ball.
  • (1:13 4th) A great pass and WR battle by UNC to get a TD.  They deserved that one.  Bynum did his best to make a play on a perfect throw, but it wasn’t enough.  Cal 24, UNC 17
  • (1:10 4th) The 2nd onside kick… I have to admit that I was not aware of the illegal block rules for an onside kick. While probably technically a foul, the Bears got lucky on that one.  It seems to me that the offense should be engaging the kicking team well before 10 yards to force them to evade their players or risk a foul.
  • And it just seems like Cal didn’t have enough players on that side. Why 2 guys in the middle?  Put one there to protect the middle kick, but put 5 on each side… or even when you know which way they want to go, go 6 and 4 to the “strong” side.
  • Final score: Cal 24, UNC 17

Overall my impression is about the same as it was in my OTRH podcast.  The Bears are pretty annemic on offense and not as well conditioned on defense as I’d like.  I’m worried.  Bowers played worse than I had realized but Garbers played about as bad as I thought.  In other words, we’re pretty mediocre at QB.  I’m pretty worried this is going to be a long season, that UNC is a pretty bad team and the fact that the Bears had such a hard time putting them away is really troublesome.

BYU will be a much stiffer test.

North Carolina OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Sorry for the delay in posting this.  It was recorded on the drive home as always, it just took me a few days to get to it, what with the holiday weekend and work and stuff.