The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

ASU preview

(Written by kencraw)

I re-watched last year’s ASU game to help give me some better perspective on tomorrow’s game.  For those who don’t remember, Cal started off last years game very cold.  I mean that both metaphorically and physically.  It was freezing at last year’s game!

But in addition to us all freezing in the stands and on the field, the Bears spotted ASU a 24-3 lead in the mid-2nd quarter.  Nothing went right for the Bears early, including a botched punt reception that resulted in an easy TD for ASU.  Goff was uncharacteristically inaccurate, particularly on his long passes and the ASU blitz heavy defense kept the offense otherwise off balance.  It was ugly!

Luckily, almost the entire rest of the game went like this: Cal TD, ASU field-goal…  Cal TD, ASU field-goal… over and over and over.  Cal just didn’t have the man-power to stop the ASU running game without committing too many men to the box.  And when the committed too many men to the box, ASU beat them with the deep pass.  So Cal just kept everything in front of them until they got into the redzone and then forced ASU to settle for field goals.  On the other side of the ball, Goff got his accuracy back, and Cal torched ASU again and again and again for 6 TD drives in 7 possessions to finish the game (minus the field goal to win it as time expired).

So does that tell us about this year’s game?

ASU has their run game working just as well as last year, perhaps even better.  The difference is that Bercovici is no longer under center and Manny Wilkins is pretty inexperienced.  His stats thus far suggest he’s accurate with his short passes (66% completion percentage) but doesn’t rack up the yards (795 yards per game against pretty weak opponents).  This will allow the Cal defense to press a lot more and keep their men up in the box to defend against the run.

So here’s the question… how does ASU’s run game compare to Texas and SDSU?  There’s no doubt that Cal gave up a lot of rushing yards against those teams, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel like it was the run game that was the deal breaker for Cal.  SDSU got enough mistakes out of Cal that they could play out their rushing game hand and win the game, but if Cal doesn’t make the plethora of mistakes it made, Cal wins that one too.  And of course Texas put up a lot of yards too, but they couldn’t keep up with the Bears.

Is ASU’s rushing game that much more dominant?

I don’t think so, and that’s why I think the Bears are going to win this one.  ASU’s defense is pretty weak and Webb and company should be able to do their usual ‘Drop 50′ that they do when they face a susceptible defense.  But I don’t think we’re going to see the ASU offense dominate THAT much with the run game.

Cal wins by more than people would think: Bear 52, ASU 38

Texas 2nd watch thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Here are my (yet again delayed) thoughts on watching the video of the game over the last few nights:

  • I really liked the play-calling on the 1st drive.  On 3rd and  the fly sweep was brilliant.  Overall they were varying the plays a lot and keeping Texas guessing and on their heels.  And that final play for a TD, tons of brilliance… the designed deep drop by Webb to give him extra time to throw and then a wonderful throw and a great catch.  Everything clicking on that one.
  • Both teams did a pretty good job of tipping balls at the line of scrimmage in this one.  It didn’t have a big impact on the game, but it’s a good sign for our defense.
  • Although as an overall factor, penalties against Cal didn’t hurt much, but that roughing the penalty against Cal on Texas’ first drive hurt.  Cost the Bears 4 points.
  • While I’ve got no problem with the confidence Dykes had in his offense on that 4th in inches, I don’t particularly like the play-call.  Perhaps it was a busted play, but any run play that has the runner going sideways between the tackles is a bad idea on run play.
  • The refs were pretty lax on pass interference.  I bet a Pac-12 crew would have called a number of them that were marginal.  You would have thought that would have hurt the Bears, but Texas wasn’t playing aggressive enough to take advantage of it.
  • Speaking of free points, since the defense stopped Texas 3 and out after the turnover on downs and they took the “free” field goal, we’re up to 7 points gifted to the Horns.
  • I didn’t really appreciate how many miscues there were in the 1st quarter for the Bears offense.  3 possessions, only one score.  It didn’t feel that way live.
  • For those of you who don’t go to games, the lack of injury updates has a notable impact on how one views the game.  We didn’t know why Texas was swapping in and out QB’s.  We assumed it was strategic.
  • Cal’s tackling early was not very good.  It got better as the game wore on, but I’d still recommend more tackling drills at practice.
  • Man, when that inside WR screen pass works for Cal, boy does it work!
  • The run game is definitely not good enough to carry the Bears, but as a change of pace or keep the defense honest perspective, it is doing reasonably well.  The runs in the 1st quarter were pretty effective.
  • That false-fumble that Texas ran back was ridiculous.  I’m sorry, it was immediately visible from the position of both the close refs that the ball came out after he hit the ground.
  • One thing that was not working for the Bears ALL NIGHT was run plays outside the tackles.  Any sweep play was just not going to happen.  Texas had linebackers who were fast enough and read the plays pretty well.
  • Wow, that early 2nd quarter pass to Hansen had about the worst camera work I’ve seen in a LOOONG time.
  • How critical was that early 2nd quarter touchdown?  Texas was looking on a roll and was already up 10.  The difference between down 3 and down 17 at that juncture couldn’t be understated.
  • Gotta give Buechele credit on his long 2nd quarter TD.  That pass was a thing of beauty.  It looked impressive both in the stands and on video.
  • One thing I think the Texas defense struggled with was the sheer number of Cal weapons.  When you lose our #2 receiver, the only reason can be that there are just too many threats to keep track of them all.
  • The Cal defensive line actually got a fair amount of pressure on the Texas QB when they were in traditional passing plays. A couple of sacks in the 1st half against an offensive line like Texas’ is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Although at the game (and thus in my podcast) it sure looked like the blocked punt was doomed from the start, the real answer was quite different.  The back-blockers didn’t pick up their 3 guys, the left most guy and the middle guy picked the same rusher.  Otherwise Cal would have been OK.
  • But how lucky was it the ball went through the endzone and it was only a safety.  I said at the game, “I highly doubt those two points are going to be the difference.”  And sure enough that was the case.
  • You know, I had thought the 2nd interception has been massive pass interference, but it was actually the Texas guy pushing off.  What a stupid move… he should have been coming back to the ball and taking the contact on the body to get the pass interference (or catching the ball).  Great job by Rubenzer getting all the way across the field to get that ball.
  • That end of the half field goal attempt by Texas was REALLY close.  From the stands I thought it was good until I saw the refs.
  • I was really happy with the Bears run defense on the 1st series of downs after halftime… until Cal let Texas bowl them over on 3rd and 8 for 20+ yards.  Ugh.
  • Cal did a lot better in the 2nd half with containing the outside WR screen game of Texas in the 2nd half, but without dedicating more players to it.  That had a meaningful impact on the game as it allowed the defense to focus on Texas’ strength: the inside running game.
  • There’s two ways to look at Cal’s play-calling in the 3rd quarter: They were dedicated to running the ball, or they were putz’ing around trying to run out the clock WAAAAY too early.
  • Cochran was abused a few times on the outside rush.  Pretty much all of the sacks came from that.
  • An under-appreciated part of the game was how strong Cal punted the ball.  Klumph had a LOT of great punts and made Texas drive the whole field a lot of times.  Particularly in the 2nd half, that meant that the Cal defense only needed to get it right (or get lucky with a holding penalty or something) once in about  series of downs.
  • All of Texas’ drives  in the 3rd quarter were ended by offensive line penalties (holding and 2 false starts).
  • I really liked what the announcers said about transferring seniors: What a great way to incentivize players to graduate in 4 years… that they can transfer where-ever they want without penalty.
  • Tre Watson showed some glimpses of potential last year, but thus far hasn’t shown much of anything this year.  I’m about a game away from saying he deserves to be dropped from the regular rotation.
  • There’s been a number of delay of game penalties on punting downs (by both teams) across all 3 games this season.  There’s something about the cadence of things this year and the 40 second clock that has shortened the “felt” time to get the punt team on the field.
  • Until the long touchdown run early in the 4th quarter, one thing you could say about the Cal run defense is they kept everything in front of them.  They never let Texas break a long run.  That means more than people think, particularly when the opposing team is a bit inconsistent or prone to penalties.
  • Here’s what I’m talking about with the putz’ing around in the 3rd quarter:  As soon as Texas takes the lead, all of a sudden the Cal offense comes alive.    On all three of their remaining drives, Cal scored a TD (well, minus dropping the ball on the 1-yard line on the last drive).  Coincidence?
  • I really like the Webb keepers on the goal-line.  Enwere is a capable enough goal-line runner that the defense has to commit a number of guys to stopping the inside run and it makes it pretty easy for Webb (who’s big enough to have a shot at getting in even if he’s contested) to run around the corner.
  • I also really like the 2-point conversion play-call.  Misdirection generally works well on 2-pont conversions, particularly when the team did well on their goal-line plays that preceded it.
  • Boy, I had forgotten how poorly the Bears tackled on the series after their go-ahead 43-40 touchdown.  More than half the yards on the drive were after 1st contact.  Luckily for the Bears, another holding penalty had Texas playing from behind the sticks, something that team was not built for, and Cal was able to hold them to a field-goal.
  • And it bears repeating after all the stalled drives due to penalty in the 3rd quarter, that Texas was stalled again due to a penalty (holding this time).
  • Texas took a lot of time off the clock on that field-goal drive: over 5 minutes.  That’s trouble when the drive only gets you a tie and your defense is having trouble stopping the opposition.
  • Do the Bears know how to score on a drive that takes more than 2 minutes?
  • What was with Buechele giving up on the pass so quickly on their last drive?  ‘The coverage downfield must have been pretty good or Buechele didn’t handle the pressure well and his internal clock ran off too quickly.  Ironically, it worked out the worst it could have for Texas because on both 2nd and 3rd down he went down in bounds and thus the clock kept running.
  • Dykes have been talking about how the offensive line and the running backs needed to get to the place where they could run the ball when everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball.  Well, on that last drive, 3 run play for a 1st down won the game.  Texas knew it; Cal knew it; the crowd knew it; and guess what, they got a 1st down (and more).
  • I won’t say much about that last play and the dropped ball at the 1, other than to say I think the refs called it right.

Any thoughts from the rest of you?

Want some free money?

(Written by kencraw)

If so, go online to a betting website and put some money on the over for this weekend’s Cal@ASU game.  It’s only 82.5.  This game might approach that in the 1st half.  (now watch, it will be a defensive struggle.)

Quick thought on late night games

(Written by kencraw)

I was reading Jon Wilner’s conference recap post and this got me to thinking:

Night court: Cal

Outcome of Cal games have been in doubt at 11:30 p.m. on back-to-back Saturdays. I’d guess that’s a first in conference history.

Yeah, probably a first, but also without a doubt ridiculous.  These 7:30 PM starts (which really was closer to 7:40 kickoff on Saturday) are just unacceptable.  Even 7 PM is used WAAY to much, but to add another half hour is unacceptable.

Texas OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Back for another season of On The Road Home podcasts.  I’m sad I couldn’t do on for the Hawaii game.  But here’s the Texas game one:

Rankings are BS

(Written by kencraw)

I don’t particularly think the Bears deserve to be ranked yet, but (as is always the case) these rankings just don’t make sense:

  • Notre Dame (virtual) 33, despite being 1-2, including losing to Texas
  • Texas 21, despite losing to Cal
  • SDSU 22, who beat Cal who beat Texas
  • Cal (virtual) 31, who beat #21 Texas

And there are no meaningful “circles” or other things that make it so these teams shouldn’t be ranked in order something like SDSU ~21, Cal ~28, Texas ~30, Notre Dame ~35 (or lower).

Texas preview

(Written by kencraw)

The nice thing about a home-and-away game with a non-conference opponent that is in successive years is it is much easier to compare the teams going into year two.  You have the baseline of the previous year and all you have to do is apply a delta based on what’s changed in the last year.

Let’s go through those one by one, starting with the positives in Cal’s favor:

  • (minor positive) The game is in Berkeley
  • (under appreciated positive) Cal was dominating the game last year, particularly by the early 2nd half and it only got tight because the Bears got to complacent and prevent minded in the 4th quarter.
  • (moderate positive) What burned the Bears last year was the Texas running quarterback and Texas’s new QB is not nearly the same running threat
  • (moderate positive) Texas defense still looks to be susceptible to a good offense (gave up 37 to Notre Dame in regulation)

I point those out because it’s a more substantial list than one would think.  If Texas didn’t have any new positives or Cal didn’t have any new negatives, one could reasonably argue Cal could win on Saturday by a sizeable margin.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case:

  • (very worrisome negative) The Cal pass defense has regressed significantly
  • (moderate negative) The Cal run defense is suspect
  • (strong negative) The Texas passing game is vastly improved
  • (minor negative) Webb is not quite as good as Goff and the offense is not clicking as well as it was last year

Those are enough to overwhelm any of the positives and turn this from a tight to moderate Cal win into a game that looks like real trouble.  If the Bears made mistakes like they did against SDSU, particularly early, expect this game to get ugly (like 55-7 ugly).  If everything goes perfectly, Cal could be within striking distance all game if they could slow Texas down, but never really be in a position to make it happen.

Cal falls to 1-2: Cal 27, Texas 45

Re-watch SDSU thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Here are my thoughts on re-watching the game:

  • Because how the game starts can heavily affect the flow and thus outcome of the game, one has to really shake one’s head at the inability of Cal to deliver on the long ball on their 1st two possessions.  Overthrow by Webb and a holding penalty cost the Bears a potential 14-0 lead.
  • I don’t have any data to back this up, but it sure feels to me like the Bears are more susceptible to the post-turnover big play than most teams.  It just feels like there’s a long history turnover followed by easy TD.  The Bears had the same thing happen after their fumble and immediate TD.
  • I don’t think I can watch that kickoff return for a TD again without throwing up.  How many missed tackles and bad angles can a team make in one play?  Apparently at least 10 or so.
  • To highlight some positives, it was nice to see Cal and Webb recognize how much they could abuse SDSU deep there late in the 1st quarter.  Really kept the Bears in the game.  But again, you put those two TD’s together with the two missed TD opportunities early, minus the horrible kickoff return and the free fumble TD, and this game could have been 28-0 in the 1st quarter and effectively over.
  • In other words, starting fast can make a HUGE difference.
  • Watching the Cal linebackers and safeties over-pursue Pumphrey and allowing him to cut back and abuse the defense was very disappointing.  There were not many plays where he went long by speeding around the outside.  Also note, Pumphrey only had 15 yards on his 1st 9 carries.  It wasn’t his consistency that got him 10 yards a rush (at least not in the 1st half), it was the big plays.
  • A bit of an aside, but the announcers for this game were pretty mediocre.  Most announcers give some notion of where on the field a penalty flag was thrown and some indication of what sort of foul it might be.  Not these bozos.
  • And then there’s the pathetic tackling.  If I was Dykes or Kaufman I’d ensure that the next 2 to 3 weeks of practice HEAVILY emphasized tackling drills and improved technique.
  • Then there’s the interception.  I went through a similar process as some other commentators of thinking it was really egregious and as I watched it more, it became more understandable.  SDSU really did a good job of sniffing out the play and making life hard on Webb.  Also, Webb was in the endzone when he threw the ball.  That’s bad play-calling.  A screen is a relatively high-risk play and one where it’s nice to be able to just take a sack and/or risk a grounding penalty when you have to abort when it gets sniffed out.  Well, that’s a lot harder when you’re in the endzone making the throw.  The offensive line deserves some of the blame too for not disguising it well.
  • I join the announcers in being exacerbated by Cal’s inability to execute the induced offside play.  I can’t think of anytime I’ve ever seen a team try to do that, GET the defense to bite, but someone can’t snap the ball to get the penalty.  WTH?
  • I’m also worried about conditioning a bit.  The team seemed to be weakest at the end of both halves.  Didn’t feel that way as much with the Hawaii game.
  • I’m pretty disappointed in Webb’s sense of urgency during the 2 minute drill.  You’ve got to be ready to snap the ball when the clock starts again.  Webb has been blowing 5 to 10 seconds scanning the defense after the clock starts.  At the end of the 1st half, the Bears get the ball with 0:34 remaining.  The 1st play is a completion in bounds for a 1st down.  The clock stopped with 28 seconds to set the chains.  It’s not snapped until there are 23 seconds remaining.  That’s just too long!  Particularly with that few seconds remaining.  Then Dykes calls a timeout at 16 seconds when it’s clear Webb is not going to be able to snap the ball right away.  From 34 to 16 with only two plays, both of which were 1st downs?  That’s just not going to cut it.
  • Then there’s the weak sack and the two poorly thrown balls that suggest Webb doesn’t have that competitive edge that a great QB has… that ability to deliver great throws when it matters most.
  • And then I really don’t get why they don’t throw the Hail Mary at the end of the half as opposed to the punt.  Seriously?  Dykes, you do realize you’re down 10.
  • One of the things I most noticed on the re-watch was how many times the SDSU DB’s tried to jump the out patterns.  They were only successful on the final play of the game, but it was not the 1st time they had tried.
  • 3 turn overs, 4 plays, 3 touchdowns… is it that the defense wasn’t prepared to go back on the field?  Is it that they’re demoralized?  I don’t know, but if they could instead of folding, have stiffened, the game would have turned out very differently.
  • I have to admit that my favorite RB in the rotation, Mohammad, did not have a very good game.  It was Enwere who looked best out there today.  But even he was hit and miss.  The run game only worked when SDSU was expecting pass.  Whenever we’d try to run it more than a couple times in a series, it would stop working.
  • Webb is a couple beats too slow when checking down in the pass game.  He also hasn’t been doing a good job of putting it in a place where the backfield receiver (usually the RB) is well positioned to get some yards after the catch.
  • Something that didn’t get enough attention was how the Bears were unable to get in the endzone late in the 3rd quarter and most of the 4th.  Field goal after driving the field then get an INT at midfield… another field goal.   Another turnover on the SDSU side of the field… goes 4 and out (including one of those dangerous out-throws that the SDSU bit on and nearly intercepted).  Scoring a TD on any one of those would have made a huge difference down the stretch.  And they SHOULD have, after having been gifted two short fields on turnovers.
  • As much as overall the breaks didn’t go the way of Cal, it wasn’t as unbalanced as I remembered.  The 13 penalties on SDSU hurt them a lot.  They had 2 turnovers to blunt part of Cal’s 4.
  • I mentioned this in my other post, but I definitely saw it again on the re-watch, Webb’s accuracy went down late in the 4th quarter.  Perhaps it is unfair to blame that on the game situation, but instead perhaps he was getting tired 70+ throws into the game.
  • Since it wasn’t relevant to the outcome (although one should be careful, would SDSU have had to play more aggressive if they had to keep Cal out of field goal range and thus allowing Cal more opportunities down the field?), I had forgotten the ridiculous 2-point conversion play call.  I can’t imagine a scenario that play works.
  • Cal got a great bounce on the onside kick.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a textbook onside kick bounce.

Let’s see if Cal can improve!

SDSU post-game 1st thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Cal’s execution on offense is sporadic, troublingly so for a team that isn’t going to win games with its defense.  Webb, although a reasonably good QB, is too “flingy” and it affects the consistency of his accuracy.  There were WAAAY too many open receivers for game-winning catches in that game.

In the end, too many gifted points, too many turnovers (even though SDSU gave some back to help Cal crawl back in it) and a bit weak on the redzone (or near it) execution cost the Bears a win.  There’s no getting around it, the Bears should have won this one.  One could go the opposite way and say that if the Bears had a defense that could stop a run-only team, none of that would of mattered.  But I think we just have to accept the defense for what it is and for what it is, it did its part.  It was the offense that didn’t execute to the level we expect of it.

Is there even a remote possibility this team beats Texas?  I can’t imagine it.

(More to come tomorrow)

SDSU halftime thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Cal trails 21-31, but of the 31 points they’ve given up, 21 of them have been free gifts (fumble, kickoff return, pick-6).  Cal should be leading right now.  The defense is doing OK, barely.  If they could actually tackle, they’d be doing on the good side of fine.

That sequence before halftime was pathetic.  Webb gets “sacked” because someone is within a couple feet of him, then he throws two out patterns of little use.  Then, and this is the one that baffles me, the punt.  Even if you’re not going to throw the Hail Mary, why would you risk a punt?  Just run around for 3 seconds and let the clock expire.

Cal needs to do two things to have a shot at winning:

  1. No more turnovers/free points
  2. Not let the SDSU defensive line cause havoc that disrupts Webb.

SDSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

I must admit, I was pretty surprised this week when I saw just how many of the pundits believe that Cal is rightfully the underdog and is likely to lose the game this evening.  The betting line favors SDSU by 7 and there are pundits that are picking SDSU to win by more than the spread.

Are you kidding me!?!  Are people really saying that Cal has gotten so much worse and/or SDSU has gotten so much better than there will be MORE than a 35 point swing (the Bears won by 28 last year).   So I decided to re-watch last year’s game to see if there were some major things I missed from a relatively easy win for the Bears.  Here’s what I discovered:

  • The Bears won last year’s game based on the big play.  The Bears were somewhat inconsistent at establishing drives, but they had a number of big plays that broke the game open.
  • SDSU shot themselves in the foot in two ways:  Personal fouls that stalled drives.  And turnovers.
  • Outside of the above, SDSU had pretty good success running the football against Cal, much better than I remember.
  • That said, there was nothing overly explosive about the run game.
  • SDSU’s QB was nothing to be afraid of.

So the scenario that would allow for an SDSU victory would be one where SDSU cleans up their act, they continue to run the ball well and keep the ball away from Cal, particularly if their QB has matured enough to keep the Bears defense honest.  Is that possible?  I must admit, it’s more possible than I would have thought before I watched last year’s game.

But I still think the sentiment is too skewed one way.  I’m not buying the 11 game win streak (uh, guess who’s a couple games on the other side of the streak… oh yeah, the BEARS!?!) as a sign of how things have changed.  You have to look at the quality of the competition and SDSU has not beat a power-5 team during those 11 games.  And we shouldn’t forget the big play ability of the Bears that will still be a threat while the Cal running game behind the more experienced offensive line should be able to do more damage than last year.

Cal struggles early but eventually has enough big plays to win: 42-31

Thoughts on last week’s games

(Written by kencraw)

I had meant to get to this on Tuesday or Wednesday, but the week has got away from me…

The most scary result from last weekend has to be Michigan 63, Hawaii 3.  Ouch!  That doesn’t speak well for Cal’s 51-31 victory over Hawaii.  Now, of course, Hawaii had a very hard week, having to travel from Australia to Hawaii to Michigan and somewhere in there they had to prepare for Michigan.  If you’re looking for a sliver lining, that’s about all you’ve got, and it’s not a lot to hold onto.

If that’s scary as for what it says about the whole upcoming season, two other results are at least somewhat scary for the upcoming couple of games.  In the somewhat troubling category is the 31-0 victory SDSU had over New Hampshire.  While the ’31’ doesn’t say much considering the opponent, the ‘0’ almost always says something.  SDSU’s defense is no slouch, even if the shutout only comes against a weak FCS team.

But the truly terrifying result is the 50-47 Texas victory over Notre Dame.  There’s no doubt that Texas is markedly improved on offense.  The only way the Bears will win that game is if they can win a shootout, as there’s no way Cal’s defense is as good as Notre Dame’s.  The good news is that perhaps the Texas defense is susceptible to giving up a lot of points themselves.

Looking forward to the conference games, the Pac-12 doesn’t look all that formidable and suggests there will be room for Cal to win a number of games:

  • ASU didn’t look bad in their victory over Northern Arizona, but who wouldn’t?
  • Utah looks very formidable on defense, shutting out Southern Utah.  One must fear that this year’s Utah game will be a bit like last years game, but if Cal can get the offense rolling, it’s a winnable game.
  • Oregon State actually handled themselves well against Minnesota in a loss.  They probably won’t be as much as a pushover as we’d hope but still very beatable
  • Oregon looked almost as mediocre as Cal did in their 53-28 victory over UC Davis.  This could be the year against them.
  • USC had the conferences largest faceplant, but it was against Alabama.  Nevertheless, this team is very beatable.
  • It’s hard to know if Washington is the real deal, but their victory over Rutgers probably helps their resume enough to propose that they might be pretty good.  Let’s wait a couple more games before we write that in stone though.
  • WSU showed they are just as beatable as last year in losing a shootout to Eastern Washington.  Somebody needs to tell them they’re allowed to practice before their 1st game.
  • Stanford looked like their old self.  Frustratingly hard to beat for such a vanilla offense.  The defense gives them so many opportunities to win the game.
  • UCLA played a suspect, but still upper-half power-5 conference team (Texas A&M) pretty close, but again, demonstrated they’re vulnerable to a good team.

So to sum that all up, lots of vulnerable teams if Cal can get its act together and play some defense.  If Cal can show me something more inspiring on Saturday than they did in Australia, I might be willing to be pretty optimistic about our chances in the conference.

Cordcutting Pac-12 fans rejoice!

(Written by kencraw)

One of the ONLY hard parts of dumping the Cable/Satellite package is the difficulty watching sports, particularly (for me) Cal football games.  For a year or two now, the Sling service has been a good alternative, providing a number of popular cable channels including ESPN at a cheap price (as little as $20/month), but of little use to us Cal fans as it didn’t have the Pac-12 network.

Until now: Press release – Sling to add Pac-12 network

The minimum cost to get it is $25 a month (with the “Orange package” for $20 plus the “Sports Extra” add-on package for $5 more), with no long term contract, so you can join for just a few months each fall if that’s what you want.  That will get you ESPN, ESPN2 and all 6 regional Pac-12 networks.  If one then has an antenna to pickup local channels to get ABC and FOX, you’ll be covered for almost every Pac-12 game.

There are unfortunately 2 exceptions:

  1. The Pac-12 TV contract allows for Pac-12 home games on all of the above stations (ESPN, ESPN2, Pac-12Nets, ABC and FOX) but also allows for FOX to downgrade their games to FS1 (Fox Sports 1).  To get that channel, you’ll need to switch to the “Blue” package from Sling.  Unfortunately, that will cost you the ESPN channels.  So to get ALL of the channels a Pac-12 home game could be on, you’ll need the “Orange” plus “Blue” plus “Sports Extra” add on, which will double your cost to $50 a month.
  2. The other problem is non-conference road games where it will be based on the TV contract of the home team.  So in the case of THIS Saturday’s Cal game at San Diego State, that game will be on CBS Sports Network, which is not available on Sling.

#1 above begs an interesting question: Since it’s a rare case a Cal game will be on FS1, can one stick with the cheaper “Orange” + “Sports Extra” and upgrade just when the needed Cal game comes up?  I contacted Sling to find out and the answer is yes, you can upgrade mid-billing-cycle and it will be pro-rated until the end of the billing cycle.  What was unclear was whether you could downgrade back to the lower package when the billing cycle renews or whether you were stuck with it for a whole month after that.  Still, to cut the price in half for even a portion of the season would be preferable.

Additional post-Hawaii thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Additional thoughts that were hiding in the recesses of my mind until now:

  • ANZ Stadium didn’t look like a very good football stadium.  Obviously it’s just a fact of life that if you’re going to play a game in a country where they don’t play football, you’re going to have to set a football field on a stadium not designed for one, but that stadium had A LOT of open space between the field and the stands.  It looked worse than USC’s Coliseum.
  • Special teams looked pretty good.  How long has it been since we had multiple kickoffs in a game result in touch-backs?  Plus, there sure seemed like there was a lot of running room on our kickoff returns and not a lot for our opponent’s kick returns.  Additionally, 3 for 3 on field goals and 100% on extra points.  About the only thing that was suspect was the punter didn’t seem to have a lot of leg (although caveat that there we’re many chances for him to just boom the ball kicking from our side of the field).
  • I didn’t much comment on how clean the team’s play was.  It didn’t feel like there were a lot of penalties  (although upon looking it up, it was 6 for 80 yards, with most of them being personal fouls).  But no turnovers and the team never put the ball on the turf at any point.  All the snaps were clean.  Overall a pretty clean game.
  • Another concerning statistic on the defensive side: Hawaii had a 100% TD success rate in the redzone.  (2 for 2)
  • It was interesting to hear that Davis Webb has no history of running with the ball because the two times he ran, I was pretty impressed.  Most QB’s don’t score on that designed run play.  And his one scramble looked pretty good too.  If I was the offensive coordinator, I’d be drawing up a few run plays for him to use in unique situations that merit it.  (Don’t get me wrong: We shouldn’t be using him regularly as a running QB.)

Hawaii game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

In no particular order:

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the program on ESPN I was watching was the Cal vs. Hawaii football game.  Why then did the commentators seem to think it was the ESPN pre-season preview program?  They must have missed calling half of the game with all of their non-game related commentary about all the great match-ups in week 1 and then who was going to win each division in each conference.
  • Along the same lines, I suspect they had a lot fewer cameras than your average US based game.  They never seemed to have very good angles on replays, when they showed them, which wasn’t very often.  Although in part they weren’t showing them because of the quick pace of play, but I also think it was because they didn’t have many good angles to show.
  • Basically what I’m saying is that I found the production quality of the game pretty darned weak.  Perhaps they were using Australia based crews and that affected things as well?  Whatever the case, I felt like I was watching a game from the late 90’s FSN-BA.
  • As for the game… David Webb will be serviceable, but he’s no reincarnation of Goff.  As others have said, he does have a pretty long motion and that’s affecting his ability to make quick and correct decisions.  His accuracy was OK on many throws, but whenever he had to go over the top with touch, I wasn’t impressed.  He also seemed to commit to throwing long over the top balls fairly early and then would really lob them over the top (and it didn’t work well).  I also didn’t see a ton of arm strength there, although again, it was acceptable.  Overall my thought is he’ll be OK.  I doubt there will be more than a game all year where we’ll be aching to put the loss on his shoulders (and remember we did that with Goff against Utah) but at the same time, I’m not expecting to see him pull a couple wins out of thin air with impressive performances.
  • As for the RBs, put me back on the Muhammad bandwagon.  Although it was pretty disappointing to see him drop that easy touchdown pass (is that perhaps why he can’t separate himself from the other two, his pass catching?) he’s the guy I most trust in to make forward progress and to fight for yards.  And yes, I’m aware Enwere is better suited to be a short yardage back.  If I need a back to get two yards, I want Enwere back there.  But on your average down, I trust Mohammad to fight for the extra two yards harder and be more slippery to get them.  Add to that, if there’s a guy who is most capable of breaking a big run, it’s Mohammad.  So why isn’t he getting more carries?   True to form, he had the fewest carries and yet got the most yards.  I really hope the coaching staff gives him more carries moving forward.
  • The receivers look capable, but only Chad Hansen seems to look refined.  There’s obviously some explosive talent, Stovall in particular.  but expect to see Hansen be the go-to guy for a while.  And please, please, please, let some team over-focus on Hansen so Stovall and others are given free reign to exploit the lack of attention.
  • The offensive line looked like last year: Mediocre and serviceable.  But they’re not going to be taking over a game and winning it in the trenches.  They also probably will get abused in at least one game this year, against someone like USC or Utah.
  • On defense… uh-oh.  I’m really feeling like it’s going to be 2014 all over again.  They probably won’t get burned for the big long pass plays as much as in 2014, but I’m pretty concerned overall that the team is going to need to score a lot of points to win games.
  • No sacks… seriously?  There was NO meaningful rushing pressure.
  • The rush defense was OK.  I think perhaps the commentary I’m seeing elsewhere is a bit too much looking at the final stats and not taking into account the way those yards were gained.  There was one long 1st half run that was pretty troubling and a couple times where I felt like they were giving up yards on the ground too easily, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like it was the rushing game that allowed Hawaii to score 14 1st quarter points.
  • The passing defense situation was hit and miss.  With a better QB, Hawaii could have won that game.  There was PLENTY of missed passes and a number of open guys who never got the ball thrown to them.  At the same time, Cal was doing reasonably well at contesting passes on the perimeter.  Over the middle was a different story.  There was way too much passing room.  That would suggest that our problem is not the corners or even the safeties, but the linebackers and the nickel-back.

Overall, the offense better plan on scoring at least 40 points in every game they hope to win, starting in two weeks when the Bears travel to SDSU for game #2.

Hawaii game prediction

(Written by kencraw)

We’re less than 36 hours away from the start of another exciting season of Cal Football!

First up is the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (boy does that strike fear in their opponents…  Rainbows!?! Run for your life!) in a unique neutral site location: Sydney, Australia.

There are very few people who are giving Hawaii a chance to win the game, the Bears have to give 20 points on the betting line, and you won’t find me taking the ultra-pessimistic route.  Quite the opposite, I’m probably more optimistic than most about the outcome.  I expect Cal to win this one easily.

In these sorts of games, the way the smaller school from a lesser conference wins against a power-5 conference school is by having some combination of a weakness to exploit and/or a means to blunt the strength of their opponent.  Cal’s biggest weakness is its passing defense, with a decimated secondary and linebacker corps.  Hawaii will be starting a QB with limited experience and is generally a stronger running team than passing team.  So they don’t really have the means to exploit Cal’s weakness.

As for Cal’s strength, it will be its passing game.  Hawaii is switching to a high-risk attacking defense.  While that *may* result in blowing up the Cal offense on occasion, I suspect it will also mean that Cal will have a fair number of big plays as well.  I can’t imagine that Hawaii will be able to blunt Cal’s offensive onslaught.  And I’d think that even if Cal was starting one of their inexperienced QBs.  But with Webb behind center, a man who’s picked up more than a few blitz packages in his collegiate career, I doubly can’t imagine this working out well for Hawaii.

So expect to see Cal win big.

That said, within these sorts of games, there can still be a lot of interesting things to watch, that will give insight into how the season will unfold.  Here’s a list of things to watch:

  1. Is Webb as advertised?  I generally tend to believe Webb was a key off-season acquisition and will make a sizeable difference in the outcome of this season.  But sometimes these things take a life of their own and they’re not nearly as true as the consensus believes (just look at the ridiculous expectations for UW this year…).  It will be very comforting if we see Webb come out of the gate strong.
  2. Can Cal force Hawaii to be one-dimensional, relying on their throwing game?  If Cal can shut down Hawaii’s rushing attack, that will bode well for the future.
  3. How well does Cal pick up Hawaii’s blitz packages?  Call me crazy, but I’m not buying the hype around the Cal offensive line.  They were moving from weak towards mediocre last year, but a great deal of that was having a QB who was exceptional at operating behind inconsistent line play.  That hid a LOT of their weaknesses.  It will be interesting to see how clean Webb’s jersey is at the end of the game.
  4. How well can Cal grind out the clock as the game wears on using its running game?  Last year, the inconsistency of the running game was a significant liability.  (BTW, to bolster point #2, I think the running game inconsistency was far more indicative of the quality of the offensive line than Goff’s ability to make them look OK.)  This year Cal is going to need to take some pressure off the defense by holding on to the ball and grinding out the clock when appropriate.  I think this factor alone could result in a 2 to 3 game swing in the final record of the team.  While Hawaii isn’t the most daunting test, it might show us something.  If Cal struggles with consistent running against Hawaii, be very, very worried about the rest of the season.
  5. Just how bad is the secondary?  This can be a tougher one to judge.  Dykes has been claiming the defense has much better depth than in the past and he expects far more consistent play this season even with the troubling number of starters lost.  Friday night will be the teams first chance to prove to us that the depth argument holds water.

No matter what happens with the above items, expect Cal to win big, with a few big Hawaii plays being their only glimmer of hope.  Final score: Cal 48, Hawaii 23.

Random Monday morning thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

New Memorial Stadium bag policy

(Written by kencraw)

Have you guys seen this:

http://events.calbears.com/nl/jsp/m.jsp?c=4049bf4658f4402714

(Cal has gone the way of the NFL and will now only allow clear bags in the stadium)

I’m getting really sick of these ever increasing “security” measures.  If they’re looking for a way to get me to stop being a season ticket holder, this is their best path.  I can take losing (I sat through the Holmoe years), but what I can’t take is being treated like a criminal.

So I decided to write a letter to the athletic director.  Here it is in full:

I was recently called about my season tickets and during that conversation was told about the new bag policy at Memorial Stadium. I was also sent an e-mail about the policy as well.  I have a number of objections:

1. First and foremost, every time we get one of these announcements they are made LOOONNG after we’ve purchased our season tickets.  I find it cowardly that the athletic department does not announce these changes when we’re buying our tickets, when we actually have an opportunity to push back with the one thing that matters: our dollars.  To that end, it is not surprising that no refunds were being offered on my tickets when they called me.  As I’m sure the athletic department well knows, part of what compels people to buy tickets is a certain level of comfort.  That is why padded seats or bench backs and the like cost more than the bleachers.  Refusing to disclose ways in which you plan to reduce our comfort at games when we buy our tickets is deceptive and lacks integrity.

2. More importantly, shame on whoever decided to advertise this as a necessary security measure.  All bags are checked as we enter the stadium and have been for years.  How will making the bag clear meaningfully change anything?  Can someone not roll a sweatshirt or some other acceptable item around something they’re trying to conceal?  Unless everything in the bag must be clear, that the outer layer of fabric must be clear is of little security value. Inspection and/or pass-through detectors remain the only meaningful way to screen bags.

3.  It is further coercive to tie this policy change to “recent world events” as if what has happened in Europe sporadically over the course of the year has any connection to what might happen in Memorial Stadium.  It is a manipulative ploy to pretend that this policy change is justified on the basis of these events, none of which have happened in a stadium.  It is disgraceful that this University that prides itself on critical thinking and innovation would stoop to such a poorly thought out policy that does little to increase security while causing meaningful discomfort to the fans who fund the stadium and the team, and then use a smoke screen of unrelated events to justify it.

4. Make no mistake, it is a significant reduction in comfort for us fans.  I’ve always brought a small soft-walled insulated cooler with soda and water.  That’s always been allowed up until now.  It brings me great comfort to have cold beverage of my choice throughout the game that I don’t have to pay $5 for.  This new policy effectively bans me from doing that.  Also, preventing me from keeping my camera and binoculars in a protective bag could cost me hundreds of dollars if they were accidentally dropped without the above mentioned bag’s padding.    Additionally, although you allow seat pads, if someone wants one with a back, they must rent them (even MORE cost to us fans who like to be comfortable) as it is no longer acceptable to bring them in.  Then there’s the inconvenience to my wife to dump out her purse every other Saturday and put only a few of those items in a “clutch bag”.  Not to mention that it seems every year I must buy a couple new bags to meet whatever new arcane requirements have been implemented.  Let there be no mistake.  The cumulative effect of the new restrictions every year has notably and significantly reduced my family’s comfort and increased our cost of being Cal football season ticket holders.  And for what?  As points 2 and 3 make clear.  The security benefits are trivial.

5. In fact, it is even worse than that, as the bag policy actually makes my family less safe.  Although it’s not a further reduction in bag size from last year, the continued reduction in bag size over the years means it is a lot harder for me to carry sweatshirts and snacks for the whole family in a sizeable backpack that leaves both my hands free for my four kids so they don’t wander off.  Now I must split that up into multiple small bags leaving me far more encumbered and unable to protect my children on the busy streets of Berkeley.  I ask you: what is more statistically likely, that my young child will get hit by a car or my family will be harmed in a terrorist event?  Anyone with even a elementary understanding of mortality statistics knows how infrequent terrorist attacks are.

6. Finally, any comparison to the NFL is anecdotal and a complete misunderstanding of the fans.  Many of us come to Cal football because we enjoy the traditionally more relaxed, less restrictive, more family friendly (and bringing bags with stuff for the kids is a significant portion of that) environment that has separated college football from pro football.  It is notable that there is no mention of the far more lax policies of Major League Baseball as compared to the NFL.

To summarize, this announcement is cowardly timed, shamefully advertised, disgracefully justified and costly to my family’s comfort, while actually putting them more in harms way than in the past.  All things considered it will take a lot more than “The NFL is just as bad” to convince me of the wisdom of this ridiculous policy.

I respectfully request that this policy be reversed immediately.

Ken Crawford
Season ticket holder since 1999

I encourage all of you to do likewise and e-mail the athletic director at: athletic.director@berkeley.edu

Back for another year

(Written by kencraw)

Fall practice started yesterday.  From the off-season news and the reports from yesterday, it’s looking a lot like 2015: Offense should be productive with an experienced QB (David Webb) and young WR’s but defense may struggle mightily unless they can fill the holes among their young talent.  There’s reason to hope the Bears could be much better than 2015 (better O-Line, reasons to believe defense will not be as susceptible to the big momentum-deflating plays), but there’s also reason to fear it will be a season with lots of promise, yet too much of a  frustrating inability to put all the pieces together consistently, game after game.

In any case, I’ll be doing my usual thing: Game predictions, post-game posts, podcasts for games I go to, and random musings.  Any particular requests for content this year?

Go Bears!

It’s official: Goff to turn pro

(Written by kencraw)

Well, the Goff era is officially over.  He will be missed.

This will be an interesting test for the Cal coaching staff.  How well will the system work without someone of Goff’s caliber?