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Is a strong run game a good thing?

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody who’s watched a fair amount of football knows how important the run game is.  You generally can count me among its strongest proponents.  So I was happy to read this BearTalk post about how the Bears intend to run better this year.  That is until I got to this perplexing line:

they ran for just 103 yards per game against their first six FBS foes, then hiked that to an average of nearly 184 yards over the final five games.

That sounds good to the untrained observer.  How can improvement over the course of the year be bad, right?  But for those of us who actually remember how last season went, the Bears went 3-3 in their first 6 FBS games but only 1-4 in their last 5.  Sure seems like running more resulted in more losing.

So then I dug into it on a per-game basis.  Perhaps hiding in the above numbers was some clarity:

Wins:

  • Northwestern: 114
  • Colorado: 127
  • Washington State: 62
  • Oregon State: 269

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 193
  • UCLA: 56
  • BYU: 173

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 64
  • Oregon: 193
  • USC: 105
  • Stanford: 179

Uh, not really.  The Bears won and lost close running for 62 and 56 yards, their lowest two totals of the season and lost big with their 2nd highest total of 193 (Oregon).  They also lost close with the exact same number of yards (Arizona).

There’s not much way around it statistically.  The Bears ability to win last year had very little to do with their ability to run (at least statistically).  It’s far more tied to whether they could pass:

Wins:

  • Northwestern: 300
  • Colorado: 458
  • Washington State: 527
  • Oregon State: 277

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 380
  • UCLA: 310
  • BYU: 393

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 304
  • Oregon: 367
  • USC: 279
  • Stanford: 231

If the Bears passed for more than 310 or so, they gave themselves a good shot to win (OSU being the outlier).  However in the 4 large loses, they only got over that number once and 2 or their 3 worst passing performances were in that bucket.

So maybe for this offense, it’s just not keyed on the run game.

Thoughts?

Thoughts from practice

(Written by kencraw)

I was able to make it to the open practice last Sunday.  Here are my various thoughts:

  • The Bears appear to be making use of Maxwell field these days during practice.  It used to be EVERYTHING happened inside Memorial Stadium.  While I don’t know what they were doing over at Maxwell, the fact that the defense was missing for the 1st 45 minutes or so and then the kickers were missing for most of the rest of practice (despite having been in the stadium for the 1st hour) suggests they were over there when absent.
  • Much has been made of Malik McMorris as a former DE who, in part because he is short, is being tried out as a 310 lbs. fullback.  Perhaps I just didn’t catch him on a good day, but what I saw was unimpressive.  He was very easily winded, constantly with his hands on his hips.  He didn’t run very crisp routes when going into formation.  He dropped a very easy catch.  In fairness, he seemed to do well blocking during running plays.  In other words, he looked exactly what I’d expect a converted DE to look like.
  • In man-on-man drills, the D-line was making the O-line look pretty bad.  It was hard to tell if it was because the defense has gotten better or if it’s a sign of weak O-line play, but whatever it was, it was a pretty uneven matchup.
  • However, when the O-Line was playing as a unit they appeared a lot better.  I would call it a stalemate, which was plenty for the passing game of Cal which gets the ball out pretty quick.
  • As reported elsewhere, the coronation of Rigsbee as the center seems to have been premature.  Granado had the 1st string center spot for nearly the whole practice and Rigsbee was back at right guard.
  • On the defensive side of the ball I was very gladdened to see much, much, much more press coverage out of the DB’s.  It’s clear the defensive staff has a lot more confidence in their backs than last year.  Now, as to how they performed… well… it wasn’t horrible.  Nevertheless, expect some long plays on broken coverage this year.  I’ll still take that over what we had last year.
  • True freshman safety Billy McCrary impressed me with his speed and his aggressiveness.  He’ll have to learn how to be more subtle as his current technique will flagged for pass interference too often, but I see a big future for him.
  • In other defensive back news, can someone tell Darius White to shut his yap and just play football?  I forgot how much that guy likes to mouth off.  Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh as it seemed to fire up his teammates and be a positive influence.  I’ve just never been a big fan of that sort of yapping.
  • For the quarterbacks, it is quite obviously Goff 1st and then Forrest 2nd.  Forrest impressed me.  I think he’ll do well when he comes in for relief of Goff.  He had good touch and his decisions suggest he has command of the playbook.
  • There are two freshman QB’s, Ross Bowers and David Maaghul.  Bowers was clearly the better thought of by the staff and got the 3rd string reps.  The game hasn’t “slowed down” for him yet and he was having timing issues with the WRs.  I do like his delivery and seems to throw a good ball.
  • Lasco is looking better than ever.  He looked REALLY fast to me.  He’s way too fast to be called a “power back” at this point, which is what he was perceived as in the past (with Muhammad at the “speed back”).
  • Finally, the kickers.  Both of the place kickers, Matt Anderson and Noah Beito have the leg to kick 50+ yard field goals, but both left something to be desired in their accuracy even with 35 yard field goals (BTW, everything inside the redzone is 37 yards or less).  Their accuracy did seem to go up once it was inside 30 yards.

Overall what I saw was a team that seems to have a lot of potential but also has enough holes that we shouldn’t expect miracles.  One thing I will say is the quality of play out of the 2nd and 3rd strings was a lot higher than in years past.  It should mean that we shouldn’t need to hold our breath for the rest of the season once a couple of guys get injured.  This team is a LOT deeper than in the past.

GO BEARS!

Are you ready for some football?

(Written by kencraw)

Fall practice is upon us so it is time to bring the blog out of hibernation!

It looks like expectations in Berkeley are pretty high.  I was surprised to see the Pac-12 media poll put Cal in 3rd, ahead of Washington (surprising), Washington State and Oregon State (not so surprising).  That would suggest they’re anticipating about a 5-4 conference record and one would expect that they would see us going 2-1 in non-conference play (losing to Texas).  So a 7-5 season.

I guess that jives with what my expectations are, although I have hopes that Cal can beat Texas.  I’d be surprised to see the team go 6-3 or better in conference.  There’s an outside chance Cal finally gets the Ax back, but loses to Oregon and USC seem likely and ASU/Utah is the harder of the two cross-division options we have (the other being Colorado/Arizona).  When you add in UCLA and even Washington (in Seattle), hard to imagine there’s only 3 losses there.

But, maybe the team takes another big step forward this year.

Speaking of which, so far at fall practice the general feel is that the defense is significantly improved.  That would be great news if true.  The defensive line is providing good pressure and the secondary has found a nose for the ball, with Evan Rambo alone picking off the ball 4 times in 3 days.  Of course, there’s plenty of reason to wonder about all of that.  Is the offense regressing?  Or perhaps the offense just isn’t in rhythm yet?  Or is it all talk and “significantly improved” means they’re not unbelievably horrible (125th in nation), but just really, really bad (100th in nation)?  Frankly, I don’t think we’ll really know until they line up against Texas in the 3rd week.

As for the blog, here’s what you can expect this year:

  • OTRH podcasts for home games
  • OTRH podcast for the Texas game (yes, I’m going!)
  • Weekly game preview posts with predictions
  • Weekly post-game celebratory posts (or wailing and gnashing of teeth when necessary)
  • Occasional mid-week posts as interesting topics come up
  • A handful of fall practice posts, including one after the 8/16 practice which I will see in person

So kinda the same as the last couple years.

Here’s hoping for a great season in Berkeley!

I’m glad I’m not the only one

(Written by kencraw)

(Coming out of hybernation for one post… don’t expect much until August)

I went to the Spring “Game” on Saturday in Berkeley and left half way through.  It was a weird experience and frankly, pretty boring.  I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but I guess not:

The Cal Spring Football Experience on Saturday was a little tough to define.

“It wasn’t practice, it wasn’t a game, it was a little weird,” quarterback Jared Goff said.

“It’s very weird,” said senior running back Daniel Lasco, an 1,100-yard rusher last season who did not carry the ball once in the often scripted format. “The schedule was weird. I wish we would have knew what was going on.

Yeah, that about sums it up as far as how it went.

As for what I saw from the team in the hour I was there:

  • If this is the level of effort we can expect from the team now that they’ve clawed their way back to mediocrity, it’s going to be a LONG fall.  The energy level was horrible.
  • Missed field-goals galore, particularly when outside the redzone.  This offense better put the ball in the endzone.
  • On the positive side, the wide receivers have incredible hands.  They were good last year, but they look even more comfortable now making ridiculously difficult catches look easy.
  • The backup QB, Chase Forrest, looks like he has potential.
  • Goff on the other hand didn’t have his best day.
  • The defensive line looks marginally better.
  • The secondary looks a LOT better.  It was nice to see them actually picking up the ball in the air and making moves on it.  We might actually intercept a few balls next year.  However, don’t get too excited.  This is still a mediocre unit.
  • Watching Rubenzer on defense was a bit odd, but there’s no doubt the kid has athleticism and I could see him being serviceable back there.

And finally, Kate Scott should never live down her ridiculous staged endzone dance.  What was she thinking?

Small rules quirk that drives me nuts

(Written by kencraw)

At the BYU game, a small rules quirk that only comes up a few times a season for each team reared its ugly head.  It’s the after the play personal foul, when the team just got a 1st down.

The penalty is assessed after determining if the team got the yardage for 1st down (so it will be 1st down), but before the next 1st down marker is set (so it will be 1st and 10, not 1st and 25).  It’s always bugged me.  The penalty should either be assessed before the 1st down is determined or after the new marker is set.  Doing it in between just doesn’t make any sense.

And of course, like all reffing issues this year, it burned the Bears.  When BYU gets an after the play personal foul, they had just got 1st down, so it doesn’t meaningfully hurt their offensive rhythm.  When it happens to the Bears, we were just a yard short of the 1st down marker, so it’s 2nd and 16 instead of 1st and 10.

It doesn’t make any sense and the rule should be changed.

Thus endth a disappointing season

(Written by kencraw)

Two things for me defined both the BYU game and the season:

  1. The defense is H.O.R.R.I.B.L.E…  Early and mid-season, while complaining occasionally about scheme issues, I frequently held out hope of improvement throughout the season.  There were things I saw early in the Arizona game, the Washington game, even the Oregon game, that gave me reason to hope.  But when the team is getting repeatedly burned for long touchdowns in the 4th quarter of the final game of the season it is time to face facts.  The defense is horrible.
  2. Dykes in game management and halftime adjustments leave something to be desired.  The Bears came out the tunnel in the 2nd half acting like they had a big lead and were trying to run out the clock.  Even after BYU evened the score, they continued to run the offense as if running out the clock with the running game was the order of the day.  Only when the Bears trailed did they revert to 1st half form.  Add to that mistakes like misuse of timeouts on the final drive and I find myself more and more frustrated with the coaching staffs in-game decisions.

I could rehash the entire season at this point to prove how the above two trends are what turned this team from somewhere around 8-4 into 5-7 (Arizona, UCLA, BYU on the top of the flopping list), but I think it is pretty obvious to all who have been watching.

Instead, here’s the big question for us “lifers” as we head into the off-season:  Will any of this change in the years to come?

I’ll take them one at a time:

Defense:

There are 3 things that affect defensive performance: The scheme, the coaching, and the talent of the players.  There’s been some valid concern that the talent on the defensive side of the ball has been lacking.  And while I won’t completely dismiss that as an issue, the longer the season has wore on, the less I think that’s the fundamental issue here.  It’s not like the guys aren’t fast enough, or strong enough, or big enough on the lines.  While they may not be the biggest and fastest and the strongest, they’re enough of those things not to be the worst defense in the country.  Talent wise they should be a middle of the conference defense.

However, sometimes when people talk about “not having the players” they mean something else.  “They’re young” can mean two things: they haven’t physically developed yet and they haven’t been “coached up” to be good at the collegiate level.  Thus really, to some degree not  having the players is about coaching over multiple seasons.

And here’s the rub: If the coaching staff doesn’t know how to develop the talent, they’ll never improve.  It’s not like it’s some osmosis process that has them develop.  It’s coaching.  And I’m beginning to have my doubts about the quality of the defensive coaching.  By this point in the season, I don’t care HOW young they all are, I don’t expect them to have the massive errors on defense we saw yesterday.

(However, I’m willing to admit that these things are difficult to read and what we saw Saturday may be indicative of something other than poor coaching)

Which brings us to the thing I’ve been complaining about all season: The defensive scheme.  Frankly, it stinks on ice.  The players were put in positions where they were downright guaranteed to fail.  However, I must say that the schemes I saw Saturday were the best I’ve seen all season.  They did a much better combination of press coverage and soft coverage.  They did a better job of using the outside linebackers to both provide passing protection, particularly just off the line of scrimmage, while keeping them in a place where they could help with run support.  And while I still think Cal would be better suited with a 3-4, what I saw yesterday was a vast improvement.

And of course that’s the game where the Bears got torched down the field worse than they have all season.

That’s all a long way of saying perhaps the crummy scheme they’ve been using was necessary to cover up some pretty glaring holes.  Perhaps the coaching staff had no choice but to play a scheme that gave up too much underneath and left the defense vulnerable in a myriad of small ways, while preventing them from being vulnerable in too many big ways.

So in the end, I’ve got reasons for concern and reasons for hope on defense.  They are young, and perhaps with another year to be coached up, if indeed this staff is capable of it, they’ll be a lot better.  Perhaps the scheme will improve as the defense matures.  But I’m not willing to go too much further than “perhaps”.

In-game management:

One of the disadvantages of coaching a rebuilding team is that you don’t have a lot of time to work on the little things.  They’ve got so many big things to work on that there’s just not much time for little things like on-side kicks, scenario planning like what to do with no-time outs and 1st and goal with less than 30 seconds left.  So to some degree, I have hope that some of the boneheaded things that hurt the team this year will be worked out as the team moves further up the rebuilding curve.

That also applies to things like timeout management where the coach burns timeouts that he otherwise wouldn’t because he’s doing coaching during the game that a mature team wouldn’t need.  Actually, it applies very broadly because mid-game the coaching staff is distracted on the sideline, working on things on the sideline, that take their attention away from the field.

So I’ve got more reason for hope here than most do.  I think Dykes will get better as time goes on.  I think he’s learning (at least I hope so).  The in-game mistakes he’s made have been very inconsistent.  In this case, that’s a good thing.  If he was making the same mistakes over and over, then we’d know he wasn’t learning from his mistakes.

Conclusion:

So overall my thought is that while I sure wish the team was further along the growth curve, the analytical side of me realizes that just because progress is going slower than I’d hoped, doesn’t mean the team isn’t going to continue to grow.  It may stall at some point, perhaps even next season, but I’m not ready to sound the alarm that this is the best we’re going to be.

At this point my biggest concern is how it affects recruiting.  You only have so long you can sell the story that this is a new staff and the team will be getting better.  It really would have helped for this team to be 7-5.  It would have made a much more compelling case to our potential recruits.  Because if Dykes can’t improve recruiting, it won’t matter how good of a coach he is, he just won’t have the players to get it done.

Here’s hoping that 5-7 after a 1-11 season is just enough to keep that train moving in the right direction.

BYU preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’m running late, so this will be a quick one:

It’s very hard to get a read on this BYU team.  They clearly stunk after they lost both their starting QB and RB.  But the last few games one (or both) of two things have happened:

  1. The replacements have found their groove
  2. The competition they’ve played has been VERY subpar

I honestly don’t know which one it is.

What I do know is that BYU is very big on both lines for a mid-major (ish) team and the Bears better be ready to be physical today to win on this wet, windy day where passing is not going to be as easy.  More than on a fair weather day, rainy days are won on the line of scrimmage.

Frankly, that scares the crud out of me.

Let’s hope the lines that showed up versus Oregon State show up and BYU is not as up for the challenge as their beating up on weak opponents the last few weeks suggest.

Cal wins an ugly one: Cal 27, BYU 23

Thoughts on Big Game officiating

(Written by kencraw)

Now that I’ve been able to see video of all of the controversial plays at the Big Game, including the ones that occurred after I had left the game, it’s time for a post on the officiating…

One of the benefits of being the Cal Bears longest standing blogger is that I have a plethora of documented evidence of how I’ve reacted to various events over the years.  So I can say with confidence and have evidence to back it up, that I’m fairly charitable to the refs, knowing how difficult a job it is.  You won’t find many posts in my 10 seasons of Cal of blogging (My first post was 8/19/2005, albeit two years before I separated my personal/Catholic blog from my Cal blog) where I berate the refs.

Yes, there has been the occasional call that I disagree with, or even the game where I thought they did a worse than usual job, but overall I’ve held my tongue when I’ve disliked their calls and have supported them.

But this year is different.  They have been HORRIBLE!

I’ve never had a SINGLE game before where I have booed and yelled at them like I have at them at MULTIPLE games this year.  There have been so many really, really, really bad calls, it’s just not excusable.

And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not just a Cal thing.  They’ve been horrible in general.  While it sure feels like Cal is getting the worst end of it, I’ve seen plenty of pretty ridiculous calls against other teams.  USC got a couple of pretty bad ones when Cal played them two weeks ago.

But the Big Game takes the cake and it was ALL one-sided.  I’ll admit that when watching the slow motion replay of the play that got Lowe ejected, it was worse than it appeared from the stands.  Definitely a penalty.  And maybe by the strict interpretation of the rules, it should have been an ejection (in which case my objection transfers from the refs to the rule makers… there’s nothing about that play that deserves an ejection).  But the other plays that I saw live, that had me coming unglued, were just as bad if not worse than they appeared live and at speed.

Here are the categories where I find the officiating horrible:

  • It’s ridiculous the penalties Cal has been getting for late hits out of bounds.  Defenses can not assume that players are going to run out of bounds.  They HAVE to play as if the player will try to stay in bounds and get more yards.  Thus a defensive player shouldn’t have to pull up/slow down until the offensive player has ACTUALLY stepped out of bounds.  (Of course, once that moment has occurred, they need to do everything in their power to minimize/avoid contact.)  And that’s not been what’s happening.  The refs have been calling it like the defense should assume they’re going out of bounds.  And BTW, it should NOT matter if the player is the QB.  Once they’re out of the pocket and running with the ball, I don’t care if it’s Mariota, Hogan or concrete for shoes Nate Longshore, if they don’t want to risk getting hit, get out of bounds sooner or slide feet first.
  • The inconsistency of what the criteria are for instant replay to overturn a call has been baffling.  In fairness to the Big Game replay ref, he was willing to overturn everything on the slimmest of evidence.  He gave Stanford a TD that was called down on pretty marginal evidence.  And he took THREE touchdowns away from Cal on not only marginal evidence, at least two of them there was clear evidence to the support the ruling on the field.  I’m OK with hearing a lot of “the play stands as called” after reviews.  Really I am.  But it better be CONSISTENT!  I don’t want to see some calls overturned on marginal evidence and others let stand because there’s not enough evidence for their hobbled eyes.
  • Also an inconsistency issues, the “completed catch” stuff has been atrocious.  Part of this I blame on the rules and interpretation committees.  They keep mucking with it and adding interpretations on top of interpretations to the degree it is a muddled mess of confusion.  And for whatever reason, there’s been a ton of it in Cal games.  Fumbles called incomplete.  Incompletions called fumbles. Interceptions that don’t seem to have completed the catch that stand.  Touchdowns taken back.  It’s been all over the map and VERY inconsistent.  And for some reason, Cal has been on the losing end of all but a couple of them.
  • Holding penalties.  This has gotten less attention, but I think there has been REAL inconsistency in calling holding.  What appears to be happening is the refs are trying to keep the flag in their pocket when the holds don’t affect the outcome of the play.  They also appear to be giving warnings on marginal calls.  However, the result of those two things combined have been a scenario where holds away from the play are being called at times (because they’ve been warned) and holds that affect the play are not (because the player in question has been pretty clean up to that point).  It’s just creating a big mess.  Here’s a radical idea: A hold is a hold is a hold.  I don’t care where it happens or who did it or whether there have been warnings.  Call it consistently every play.  Yes, at first you’ll get more flags.  But over time, the players will adjust and play the game cleaning knowing exactly what will and will not be called.  Said another way, consistency, even if it is a strict consistency, will eventually result in fewer penalties being called.
  • Protecting the QB seems like a great thing to do.  But I get the strong feeling that how protected they are is directly related to how prominent a QB they are (and to a lesser degree upper class men).  Goff hasn’t been getting much in the way of protection, whereas Mariota and Hundley are getting quite a bit of protection, despite the fact that they’re running QB’s.  To a lesser degree I think this same thing is happening with receivers.
  • The interruption of the flow of the game has been bad.  They’ve been conferencing and talking to coaches and going back and forth WAY too much.  It would be one thing if these extra discussions were resulting it well called games, but obviously this is not the case.  I harken back to a much better day in officiating when Dan Fouts was besides himself at the end of the 2007 Cal Oregon game as the refs were conferencing (“How can we have a review if the refs haven’t made a decision!?!” he said).  But in that case, they talked for ~20 seconds and then made the right call.  The review booth took an extraordinary amount of time to review the call, but again, they made the right call.  So I guess my message is, I’m OK with taking time to make the right call, but if you’re making a bunch of horrible calls, at least keep the game moving.

Those are the big categorical problems that have been bugging me this year.  It’s been a horrible year for officiating, worse than I’ve ever seen.  And Larry Scott, it’s time to do something about it.

Big Game OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I was not a happy camper on the drive home.  Have a listen:

1st Big Game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

I was PROFOUNDLY disappointed in yesterday afternoon’s game.  It appears my prediction that Cal could be competitive with any Pac-12 team was complete BS.  I won’t go game by game through all my predictions in pre-game posts, but I can’t think of one I so poorly predicted as yesterdays… EVER!

I put most of yesterday’s loss on the coaches:

  • Horrible game plan
  • Poorly prepared players for emotions of a rivalry game
  • Zero meaningful in-game adjustments
  • Bad play-calling

Frankly, my doubts about the ability of the Dyke regime to take us anywhere beyond mediocrity are as high, if not higher than the end of last year.  Said another way, who that we lost to this year, based on the lack of progress we’ve seen as the season progresses, would we have hopes of beating next year:

  • UW is in year one of a new coaching staff.  They’re going to be better, enough so that even if Cal played a better game we still lose, particularly with the game in Husky stadium
  • UCLA has clearly improved since we played them… and the game will be on the road.
  • Oregon game was never REALLY in doubt… and the game will be on the road (catching a theme here?).
  • Stanford needs no comment… and the game will be on the road (OK, Cal seems to do great in Palo Alto for the most part, the size of the Cal contingent really rattling Stanford, but still, the crowd ain’t going to turn the tide here.)
  • USC ended up close, but how much of that was prevent defense letting us get closer than we really were, plus their depth problems will be slowly going away.
  • Arizona, OK, that’s a team we might beat next year.  IF they don’t get better themselves.

Then you have to add that it took overtime to beat CU, and we’ll have to travel on the road to Boulder, with the trouble the elevation gives us, it’s very reasonable to suggest a regression there.

So maybe we trade Arizona for CU or maybe we get lucky and beat both.  Maybe we beat USC because they’ll still be thin next year and they’ll be in Berkeley.  Or maybe we’re built to beat UCLA.  But as it stands right now, I’ve got no hope that ALL of those maybe’s come true.

Let’s just hope this team can rebound, beat BYU, so we get to that bowl game and the all important extra practice time that comes with it.

(they need it)

Big Game Preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve been pounding the drum ever since Cal played UCLA close that Cal could beat anyone on their remaining schedule.  Not that they would beat them all, but Cal is good enough now to have a shot at anyone in the conference.  And thus far it has proved out.  Cal hung with Oregon longer than most.  Then the team left us wondering what would have been if they hadn’t spotted USC a 31-2 lead.  Plus watching the same Oregon State team Cal beat the prior weekend shock the Pac-12 south by upsetting ASU, really showed the parity in this conference.

It all makes me wish Cal had another shot at UW, the only team that beat Cal by a large margin and there was never any meaningful hope the Bears might win.

Which brings us to Stanford.  While it’s not uninteresting, doing a common opponent break down, which is coming shortly, probably misses the key “any given Saturday” point.  This year’s Big Game, more than any in recent memory comes down not to who’s the better team, but who plays the better game.  Stanford is right in the middle of the conference parity along with the Bears.

Nevertheless, here’s the common opponent analysis:

  • Versus Washington: Cal lost 7-31, Stanford won 20-13
  • Versus Oregon: Cal lost 41-59, Stanford lost 16-45
  • Versus OSU: Cal won 45-31, Stanford won 38-14
  • Versus USC: Cal lost 30-38, Stanford lost 10-13
  • Versus WSU: Cal won 60-59, Stanford won 34-17

So Stanford won one that Cal lost big time, but otherwise the two teams did similarly.  One can argue Cal did better against Oregon and Stanford did better against WSU and maybe OSU, but to some degree it’s over analyzing to get too much into the details.

One thing that is beyond obvious is that Cal both scores and gives up more points.  Against those common opponents Cal scored 183 and gave up 218 whereas Stanford scored 118 and gave up 102.

Of particular note is that outside of Oregon, Stanford didn’t give up more than 20 points in regulation all season.  A similar, but in the reverse stat is that outside of Washington the Bears haven’t scored less than 30 points all season.

So, the two-fold question is, does the Cal offense share something in common with the Oregon offense that suggests Cal can put up numbers against Stanford or, in the inverse, does the Stanford defense share something in common with the UW defense that suggests Stanford can stop the Cal offense.

My gut says that the UW game, if played again, particularly after the experience at USC, Cal would put up 30 points. So whether or not Stanford shares something in common with them, it’s irrelevant.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Stanford has a good chance of frustrating the Cal offense, but it won’t be just because they follow the UW blueprint.  They’re going to have to be far more disruptive at the line of scrimmage without allowing too many open receivers for Goff to quickly zip the ball to than either UW or USC did.  It’s a tall order for the Stanford defense.

And yes, I do think Cal’s offense, while different in lots of ways, exposes Stanford in similar ways that Oregon did.  Cal is the most balanced of the “raid” offenses in the conference.  Oregon is the only team with the balanced running spread offense in the conference.

So I guess that’s a long way of saying I expect Cal to score a significant amount of points tomorrow.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the other side of the ball.  Stanford has put up some points against weaker defenses and there is a reason to believe Stanford will do it against Cal.  The two conference games they did it, WSU and OSU, they really did it in the air.  Not the way Cal does, it was only high 200’s and low 300’s passing, but for Stanford, it was a strong passing game.  And there was nothing spectacular about the running game for the Cardinal in those two games.

So does Hogan channel himself from last year and throw with his hair on fire, or does Cal contain it enough to allow their offense to chip away at the stout Stanford defense?  My gut says Cal will contain it this year, and will have learned enough from UW and USC to keep the offense productive.  The Bears are all heart this year and I have my strong doubts about the resolve of Stanford this year.

This is the year the drought ends: Cal 37 – Furd 23 (but it will feel closer than that)

Late starting liveblog

(Written by kencraw)

OK, I’ve got a connection… Seeing how it is already 2-21, we can make it a moan-fest liveblog.

(remember to click on the title to go to the single post page to view the liveblog updates.)

USC Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Tonight has the potential to be a VERY important night for Cal football.  Think USC 2003 important.  That win was the signature win that propelled the program to where it was for the peak of the Tedford years.  And actually, at the other end of the spectrum, imagine if Cal had beat USC in 2004, how much further that would have propelled the Bears.

USC is USC, even when they’re not playing like USC.

So the big question is can Cal win tonight.  My answer is that I’m 100% confident they CAN.  They don’t even need a bad performance by USC.  Cal can beat this team outright.  Cal has the offense to score enough points to win and the defense is slowly learning how to contain the opposition.  USC doesn’t have the depth to win a fast paced, shootout against any team with the offense firepower that Cal has.

And let’s linger on that firepower a bit.  Here’s a stat for you.  5 of the 8 FBS teams Cal has played, Cal put up the highest score against that team.  Oregon, Oregon State, WSU, Colorado, and Arizona all gave up more points to Cal than they gave up to anyone else.  Two of the remaining 3 (UCLA and NW) Cal was just a handful of points from the highest opponent score.  Now THAT’s firepower.

But just because that’s one storyline for how the game will play out, it’s not the only one.  As just mentioned, the Cal offense has put up points against everyone, with one exception: Washington.  What is scary to me is if you asked me to pick which team that Cal has played that most closely resembles USC’s defense, it is without question Washington.  So if you’re looking for my fears and worries, it is that the Cal offense is disrupted by the USC front seven the way they were against UW.

Thus I think what this evening’s game will come down to is whether Franklin has come up with schemes and changes to defuse what killed Cal against UW.

One final thought… There’s a part of me that won’t be surprised to see the Cal defense have a good game tonight.  USC’s new offensive scheme is one that generically speaking is one that Cal is well suited to defend.  And USC isn’t executing it at a particularly high level.  They’re a very high talent team, but they’re new to this scheme.  So it’s not unreasonable to think the Bears at least keep the totals on the lower side of their average.  (the counter thought is that the old UW coaching staff has had Cal’s number and now that they’re at USC, there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again)

When I sum it all up, my gut says that the Bears will be competitive, but there’s just a few too many reasons that USC might be a tad bit too much defensively for the Bears to put up their 40+ points and the defense, while it might do better than normal, won’t be good enough to win a defensive battle.

Cal loses out on an opportunity to re-assert the program: Cal 27 – USC 31.

ASU v. Notre Dame

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody else think ASU was going to pull a Cal (shades of Arizona earlier this year) and let Notre Dame win that game?

Perception problems

(Written by kencraw)

Have you noticed that in certain corners of the Pac-12 commentator world, every team that loses to Cal “is in real trouble” or “a mess” or “under performing”?  It seems there are certain people who assume the Bears are bad and when they win, it can’t mean they might be good, but that the team they beat must be even worse.

1st Oregon State thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

What an important victory for the Bears!  It sure feels like the sort of game where a loss would have been a real setback for the program and the victory is a corner turned in the turn around.  Here are some more detailed thoughts:

  • Can someone explain to me how a team can for 48 minutes of the game only give up 10 points, but in 12 minutes can give up 21 and look pretty pathetic doing it?  I think it was even more disconcerting to me because it was 27-10 when I was first able to watch the game (up until then I was only able to keep my eye on the box score).  And what I saw was a team that couldn’t move the ball to save their life but was getting bowled over by OSU at the line of scrimmage with guys WIDE open when OSU decided to throw the ball.  Yet then everything switched again and the Bears dominated in similar fashion the rest of the way out.
  • It was nice to see the Bears winning at the end of the 1st half.  I had that “here we go again” feel when OSU got the ball back with 3:24 left in the half and the bears only up 17-10.  But the Bears forced a punt and drove the field for a field goal.
  • Really nice to see the running game pick up the slack when Goff had an off night.  My gut has been that with the exception of the UW game, the Bears have had a competent run game, but it hasn’t been used in the right ways.  We seem just a tad bit predictable or formulaic in how we go about it.  But if you look at most Cal running plays the linemen are getting a strong push and there are fair running lanes.  This game, against a mediocre team they really delivered a strong performance.
  • Of course the next step is to deliver a strong running performance against USC or Stanford.  I think this team has it in them particularly if they force them to defend an accurate passing game.  Stanford’s linebackers don’t have the range that their linebacking groups of the past have had.  Cal could really run them ragged.
  • Yes, I do think the Bears can beat USC and/or Stanford.  The road apparently doesn’t scare this team.  They have played great on the road.  And minus the game being in the Coliseum, is there anything really scary about USC this year?  As for Stanford, I think the wheels are starting to come off the bus.  Think about this… With Utah (who beat them last year and is looking pretty strong right now), @Cal and @UCLA left, and Stanford needing one more game to get bowl eligible, it’s possible Stanford will have plenty of time to study for finals in December.  Can we do it Bears?!?  (and Baby Bears)
  • Getting to things that worry me, the penalties still bother me.  There have been some borderline and worse calls from the refs, but there’s also been some pretty stupid penalties.  One of the things Cal is going to need to do is clean that up, particularly on defense.  When they’re having trouble getting off the field, it always seems an ill-timed penalty is part of the problem.
  • I know the headline is Lasco, but Enwere ran pretty well.  With a healthy Mohammad that’s 3 backs who can be every down backs.  Lasco deserves the lead spot, without a doubt, but it is REALLY nice to have guys who can come in and keep pounding away.
  • Going back to the balance the running game gave the Bears, there’s another way to show it:  47 rushing attempts, 47 passing attempts.  269 yards rushing, 277 yards passing.  It’s pretty hard to get any more balance than that (statistically).
  • But going back to how important this win is for the Bears, I find it hard to overstate it.  Bears lose and they’ve got to find at least one win against two teams they won’t be favored against.  The team will be under a lot of pressure to deliver an upset.  Instead the Bears can look at these two games very opportunistically.  They don’t have to win, but they’ve got an opportunity to make a statement.  A BIG statement.  Don’t forget this team can still reach 8-4 and 2nd in the Pac-12 north.

I hope to comment more tonight after a re-watch of the full game sequentially.

Oregon State Preview

(Written by kencraw)

This week’s preview is going to be a short one.  I am short on time, but I wanted to make sure I got it in.

Today’s game will come down to the Cal defense.  The offense will be able to put up points, of that I have little doubt.

Considering how much the Beaver offense has been struggling, that should be the start and end of the post.  However, the Cal defense has been the cure to more than one team’s offensive struggles and I fear that the OSU offense will find its rhythm tonight under similar circumstances.

Here is to hoping that the Cal defense turns a bit of a corner tonight.

Cal 45, OSU 24

Thoughts on new admission policy

(Written by kencraw)

It was announced Wednesday that by 2017-2018 80% of the Cal recruiting class must have a 3.0 high school GPA.

At the outset my opinion is one of gratitude.  Cal needs to set a high standard for its student athletes.  And a 3.0 GPA is a pretty good measuring stick point for students.

However, upon further thought, I fear a too arbitrary a system that prevents us from going after the right recruits.  The ultimate goal should be to recruit players who will succeed academically at Cal.  Obviously grades and test scores are a factor in predicting that, but they’re not the only metric.  80% means a class of 24 must have only 4 guys with less than a 3.0.  In a group of that size it’s not hard to find 5 or 6 guys who when you take a more qualitative approach give you reasonable belief they can exceed at Cal.  What do you do with guys who were getting mostly C’s in their freshman and sophomore years but at some point they turned a corner and are getting solid B’s and even a few A’s once they’re being recruited?  Or kids who have a 2.9 GPA but scored 1100’s on their SATs?

I’d be more in favor of an average GPA approach.  With the minimum threshold approach coaches don’t have any incentive to after those really special kids, with 4.0+ GPA’s and good athletic skills to boot.  In an average GPA approach, those kids are pure gold.  Aren’t those the kids Cal should most want?

So I applaud the University for being committed to academics, but I also think they should rethink their metrics and work to find ones that really meet the goals of finding student athletes who will succeed both academically and on the field.

What do others think?

Pac-12 review (9th week edition)

(Written by kencraw)

Clarity in the north is pretty strong at this point.  In the South, there are a lot of question marks with three 1-loss teams.

  1. Oregon 59 – Cal 41: (Oregon entry) Oregon’s defense leaves something to be desired, but at the same time, they’re still winning all their games by big margins, so it’s hard not to put them on top.
  2. Arizona State 24 – Washington 10: (ASU entry) ASU is asserting itself pretty strongly right now.  One has to be pretty impressed with how solidly they dispatched both Stanford and UW.  All of a sudden their blowout loss to UCLA is looking more and more like an anomaly brought on by having to start the backup QB in his 1st meaningful action.
  3. Arizona 59 – Washington State 37: (UA entry) If I was taking the overall schedule view of things, it would be tempting to put Utah above Arizona, but two things prevent that: Arizona beat Oregon and Utah lost to WSU.
  4. Utah 24 – USC 21: (Utah entry) Call me surprised.  I really didn’t think Utah had it in them.  USC fans are even admitting that Utah is pretty good.  They’ve still got a lot more games against top opponents to go, so I’m a long way from jumping on their bandwagon.  Nevertheless knocking off both USC and UCLA is impressive.
  5. Stanford 38 – Oregon State 14: (Stanford entry) Stanford seems to have FINALLY figured out they needed to do something radical to inject some life into their offense.  What they did really caught the Beavers off guard.  When combined with their stout defense, Stanford was able to fiddle around with lots of creative schemes and ideas.  However, don’t get too high on the Stanford offense.  The next opponent won’t be so caught off guard.
  6. Utah 24 – USC 21: (USC entry) Was their loss to Utah because USC continues to be erratic or was it because Utah is pretty good?  Hard to say, but my best guess is it is more about Utah than USC pulling a Boston College.
  7. UCLA 40 – Colorado 37: (UCLA entry) Seriously, is this the team that was a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 and go to the playoff?  That all looks pretty stupid now.  They could only beat Colorado by 3!?!  When you’re Cal, you’re happy with that.  Not when you’re hoping to win the division.
  8. Arizona State 24 – Washington 10: (UW entry) It ticks me off to no end that the Bears put up such a bad effort against such a weak team.  How could this be the only game this year that the Bears were blown out?  Washington is looking pretty weak.  If they don’t win on their trip to Colorado, they could seriously go into a tailspin and not get bowl eligible.  At the same time, it’s not impossible to think this team could win every one of their remaining games.  Such is life in the middle of the Pac-12 when all your remaining opponents are in the middle of the muck with you.
  9. Stanford 38 – Oregon State 14: (OSU entry) I keep OSU above the Bears because their path to bowl eligibility is a lot more friendly than the Bears.  They can lose Saturday and still have 3 reasonable shots to win two.  (Eh, maybe ASU is out of reach, so maybe it’s only 2 reasonable shots.)
  10. Oregon 59 – Cal 41 (Cal entry) You can have one of the top 3 offenses in the conference, but if you’ve got the worst defense, you don’t end up in the middle.  You end up closer to the bottom.  The Bears better be hungry this weekend, particularly on defense, because they need to stop the slide both for bowl eligibility reasons and to gain some confidence back.
  11. UCLA 40 – Colorado 37: (CU entry) Congrats CU, you’re out of the basement.  WSU’s freefall continues, but you guys gave yet another team a scare.  It’s been longer since WSU did that, thus you guys get the nod.  It feels like you’re hungry and might just deliver at some point on my recently abandoned prediction you’d upset someone.
  12. Arizona 59 – Washington State 37: I feel sorry for WSU.  This team is better than their record.  But the ball just keeps bouncing the wrong way.  But at this point the losses are piling up and the margin of losing is getting worse as the games continue.  The upset of Utah is looking more and more like an anomaly (for both teams) and must be feeling very distant to the Cougars.  Has this team lost hope?

Another full slate of 6 conference games this weekend and ALL of them are on Saturday.  No wonder the Bears don’t start until 7:30 PM.

Changing servers

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve finally had it with my web hosting company, so I’m switching to a new one. It’s a spectacularly painful process to do in a way that has the minimum impact to my users/viewers.

Today is the big day for moving ExcuseMeForMyVoice to the new server. It should be mostly invisible minus just one thing:

If you’re pointed to the old server, comments will be disabled. I’ve already imported all the content to the new server, so I don’t want any additional content on the old server. Your local DNS server should get the address for the new server in about a day.

If you’re still being pointed at the old server as of Friday 10/31, please e-mail me at blog AT excusemeformyvoice DOT com. If you are seeing problems on the new server, leave a comment in this post.