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What was Wilcox thinking!?!

(Written by kencraw)

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

HUGE mistake!

Anyone want free tickets to the Arizona game?

(Written by kencraw)

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

And it’s not even a 7:30 PM game.

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

Arizona Preview

(Written by kencraw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXACTLY 10 years later

(Written by kencraw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

WSU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

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

WSU game re-watch

(Written by kencraw)

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

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

WSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Another quick one this week…

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

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

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

Bears 17, Wougs 38

Washington game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Scott’s PR campaign is complete BS

(Written by kencraw)

Obviously Larry Scott and Co. have realized that the entire conference fan base is ready to revolt over the ridiculous number of late night games (starting at 7:45 PM… are you FREAKING kidding me!?1).  They’ve got the game announcers constantly repeating talking points and then he even comes on live for an interview to repeat those talking points.  Here are some rebuttal points:

  • There’s more to visibility than the TV rating numbers.  People flip between games.  People watch halftime highlights.  People watch the ESPN recap shows in the evening.  All of these things are happening before our late games kick off.
  • It’s not just that there are *some* late night games, it is that the MAJORITY of Pac-12 games are late night games.  All us fans want is balance.  Don’t tell me in an interview “it’s a delicate balance’ when there is ZERO balance.
  • It’s not just TV that matters.  Attendance matters too.  There’s no doubt it hurts alumni support for the program as well.
  • All of the above affects recruiting as well, so there are other long term effects as well.

Give it up Scott.  It was a money grab from the get go and your conference’s fans hate it.

Quick UW game preview

(Written by kencraw)

Wanted to make sure I had a prediction on record.

I think the Bears do better tonight than last week, but just don’t have the horses to keep up, particularly in Seattle.  However, I think we’ll be heartened by the effort and likely feel the Bears will likely be competitive in all their remaining games (things get much easier from here).

Bears lose 24-38

Speed kills – Oregon game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Well…. THAT didn’t go as expected!?!

I find myself flipping back and forth between being disgusted with both the teams performance and the coaching staff’s plan and then a dispassionate understanding of what went wrong strategy wise.

Strategy failures:

The game plan the Bears put together clearly assumed the Bears would win in the trenches.  I think they looked at the Oregon game film and saw a dangerously fast but not particularly big team and assumed they’d out muscle them in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  What they didn’t seem to anticipate was that Oregon would be so fast, they’d win in the trenches with speed.  Never in my life have I seen an offensive line abused so thoroughly with speed on the inside.  The Ducks were able to beat Cal to blocking positions and get underneath the blockers using speed.  Once they had a positional advantage, they were able to leverage their way to success even when they had a size disadvantage.  Trying to be a dispassionate fan, it was pretty impressive.

But as a highly biased Cal fan it was disgusting.  The team to me seemed flat and uninterested for the entire 1st half, on both sides of the ball.  They looked demoralized by the USC loss and intimidated by Autzen stadium.  By the time they decided they actually were interested in winning the game, they had put themselves in a nearly impossible situation.  Even though they clawed back within 7, they had to work so hard to do it, they just couldn’t summon the energy needed to finish the comeback and played like the exhausted team they were for the final quarter.  Watching Oregon run their way to *THREE* fourth quarter touchdowns using backup running backs and a 3rd string QB (so the Bear *KNEW* it was going to be a run-heavy offense) was so massively discouraging, I wanted to burn my Cal gear.  Oregon could run at will and there was nothing the Bears could do about it.

The defensive execution was horrific.  They were out of position.  They didn’t know how to play the read option (did they practice defending it?!?).  They couldn’t get pressure on the QB.  They blitzing schemes didn’t confuse and as the Bears got more desperate trying to confuse, they got horrifically out of position and exposed.  They were indecisive when they needed to be flying to the ball, yet they were also jumping to the wrong places when they needed to just hold their position.  (One of the late/long running TD’s, there was a linebacker perfectly positioned in the running lane, but he jumped to the wrong side of the line for some inexplicable reason and opened a golden highway for the Oregon RB to the endzone.)

And on offense, it all fell apart on the offensive line.  The rest of the team was helpless because the offensive line was getting abused in the trenches.  The RB’s couldn’t run.  Bowers couldn’t find time to pass.  And ideas like rolling out were only making it worse.

It was just ugly, ugly, ugly, *UGLY*.

The only good news is that I don’t think Cal will see another team like Oregon for the rest of the season.  The key for the coaching staff will be preventing discouragement, particularly after a likely Washington loss next week.  But the rest of the way, the teams are pretty beatable if the team can get their confidence back and completely forget about this disaster in every way except as a reminder of how important it is to bring a strong effort every week.

Oregon preview

(Written by kencraw)

We’re finally starting to get to the point in the season where there are some (although not a lot) of meaningful results to look at.

A lot of people were high on Oregon after they beat Nebraska.  But then Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois the following week.  Then Oregon lost to Arizona State, who is now 2-2, confirming that Oregon is not an elite team.

But before we get too excited, Cal’s opponents are losing their luster every week.  North Carolina is 1-3, losing to Duke and Louisville.  Ole Miss had a bye last week, but has yet to beat a Power 5 teams.  And USC lost to WSU last night (although WSU is better than history would suggest IMHO).

The overall point of the above is that we’ve got two flawed teams coming together tonight.  From that perspective, either team could pull out the win with a good effort.  Who’s hungrier?  That might be the key question.  And to answer it, I’d suggest that both teams are VERY hungry.  Both teams have new coaches and both teams are looking to put the past behind them.  Both just came off disappointing losses where the game was very much in reach in the 4th quarter.

I think this game is going to come down to defense, although in asymmetrical ways.  Oregon hasn’t been held to less than 35 all season.  Cal will have a formidable task in front of them.  But who can think after watching the last few games that the Cal defense isn’t up to the challenge?  They’ve exceeded every expectation and I have to believe that they will confuse Oregon just like they have everyone else.

Oregon’s defense is supposedly improved, but they’ve given up at least 35 to all of the Power 5 teams they’ve played.  I don’t know that Cal’s offense is good enough to put up 35, particularly on the road in one of the loudest stadiums in the country, but one has to think they’ll find at least moderate success.

And so I’m going to go against the Old Blue in me that wants to call this one a loss, thinking about all the times Cal has gone to Eugene and lost a winnable game; the Old Blue that just can’t believe this defense can keep it up; the Old Blue who fears the offense will fall to pieces in Autzen stadium.  Nope!  I’m locking the Old Blue in the basement for this one.  The Cal offense will find its rhythm.  The run game will work enough to keep drives alive and keep the Oregon offense off the field.  And the defense will frustrate and confuse the Oregon offense.

Bears win: 31-23

USC game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Well, I finally had a prediction that wasn’t too horribly wrong.  I got the margin of loss correct, but was off by one TD for both teams.  However, what I didn’t predict was that the Cal offense would out perform the USC offense minus turnovers.  Cal definitely could have won this game.  It was very much in reach right up until the ball slipped out of Bowers hands for the easy interception/fumble (it was called a fumble) at the Cal 3 yard line.  At that point, Bower’s youth caught up with him and he made a few too many mistakes.  It’s worth running down each of the interceptions after that point:

  • 13 minutes left in 4th quarter:  Bowers tries to split the safeties on a deep pass and completely misjudges their ability to close the gap.  This was the very definition of a youthful desperate throw.  If he had time to think it through and wasn’t giving in to desperation, there’s no way he would have made this throw.  In other words, it was all a mental error on Bowers part.
  • 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter: Bowers throws a weak lob downfield to nobody and into USC’s hands.  The key to understanding this one is seeing the receiver on the sideline and the rusher in Bower’s face that prevented him from setting his feet.  I believe Bowers was trying to loft one between the corner and the safety (who appear to be in a cover-2) to the sideline to Wharton.  His goal was to put it where only Wharton could catch it.  However, he couldn’t step into the throw and perhaps at the last second realized that even what he was intending to do was a bad idea.  The result was that he didn’t throw it anywhere near where he intended and it just looked stupid.  So, this one was less of a mental error (call it 40%) and more of a throwing error (60%).
  • 5 1/2 minutes left in the 4th quarter:  It’s worth noting that it was 4th and 5 at the opponent 30 yard line.  The QB is allowed to make a low percentage throw if that’s all that’s left to him.  An interception is no different than an incompletion.  However, it looks like the intended pass was a fade to the corner of the endzone but Bowers arm was hit as he threw the ball.  (This is unclear because they never showed a close-up/replay of the throw.)

When one adds that the 1st quarter interception was a deflection at the line, all of a sudden the hard stats of 4 interceptions doesn’t seem so bad as it was really just one huge mental error and one really bad throw combined with two justifiable ones.

Which brings me to my next point: Cal didn’t get any favors from the bounce of the ball.  One could have easily seen this game “bouncing” in favor of the Bears with just a few different outcomes one “luck” plays.  Great teams find ways to overcome that sort of thing, but the Bears are still young and learning, and were playing a reasonably good USC team.  Between the bounces and the mistakes, it was just too much against a team of USC’s caliber.

One thing that is not luck, but isn’t helping the Bears, is Matt Anderson.  What has happened to this guy?!?  I was a little hesitant to be too harsh on him because most of his misses this season have been from outside 40 yards and if Anderson had a flaw last year it was that his kicks aren’t very long and he loses accuracy on the long ones.  But Saturday he missed a sub 30 yard kick.  That’s close to inexcusable.  And he misses them all the same direction: To the left.

And think about the difference in how the game would have felt down 7 as opposed to 10 after the interception/fumble and touchdown by USC?  The game might have played out very differently and Bowers wouldn’t have been so likely to throw up that ill-advised decision only down one score.

But here’s the point I want to finish with: The Bears proved Saturday that they can beat any team in the conference.  They can run and pass against big/tough defenses.  They can defend against just about every kind of offense.  There’s not a game left on the schedule we should count the Bears out of.  This team is for real and they proved it by hanging with USC until youth got the best of Bowers.  But he’s going to learn a lot from that game and the rest of the conference better watch out.  Anyone who circled Cal as an easy game on the schedule better re-think that.

Call me disappointed but optimistic about the future.

USC prediction post

(Written by kencraw)

The problem with predictions after a few games is you don’t really know how good the teams both you and your opponent played.  North Carolina is 1-2 having lost a not very close affair to Louisville before blowing out a FCS team.  Not the most impressive resume.  Ole Miss beat two pathetic teams before playing us, what does that mean?  As for USC, they’ve got a dominating win over Stanford under their belt (but the trees lost to SDSU as well) and a tight win over a supposedly mediocre Texas team, plus Western Michigan.

One can go in all sorts of circular logic loops with that data.  Out of all of them, I only have one thought I feel reasonably confident about:  Texas and Ole Miss would probably play a reasonably close game.  Thus, I think that the Bears are likely to at least be capable of beating USC.  But at the same time, I think Texas played up to USC as part of those two team’s mythical battle from the BCS title game over a decade ago.  So my gut says that USC would have beat them more soundly on average.

Here’s what it will come down to on Saturday… the trenches.  Can Cal’s young offensive line open enough holes and protect Bowers enough to score some points.  I think the Cal defense is maturing rapidly enough to keep USC in check.  But USC will score *some* points.  What I fear is that the Bears won’t be able to score many.

So, despite calling for a bunch of losses and having been wrong, I still think this massively improved team isn’t quite good enough to get it done.  But, compared to my pre-season prediction, I think it’s going to be a lot tighter.  Bears lose an offensively frustrating game that through late in the 3rd quarter the feeling is “if the Bears could just get some offense going”.

Bears lose: 13-23

USC tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

My USC tickets, all 7 of them, are for sale on ebay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/-/253165542196?

You could likely get them for a steal.  Starting bid $50, Buy It Now $135 (which is half of face value)

Re-watch of Ole Miss game

(Written by kencraw)

Had a ton of fun at the Ole Miss game last Saturday night.  But these late games kill me.  I was up for 7:30 AM Mass on Sunday and felt like I didn’t get my feet back underneath me until this morning.  In any case, here are my notes based on re-watching the game this evening:

  • As much as the coverage wasn’t all that good on the 1st long pass for Ole Miss, that was an exceptionally well thrown ball.
  • One of the things I don’t like about watching games on TV is you don’t get a good sense of what is happening downfield, so you can’t see this on TV, but that long pass the Bears only had one safety on that 1st long pass play and left the corner on an island.  Not a good schematic choice.
  • The 2nd down run on the goal line stand was very indicative of how the Bear defense has changed.  There must have been 8 defenders around the runner when they finally brought him down.  While that particular play wasn’t the best tackling, the swarming defense prevented any meaningful damage being done.
  • Bears got a little lucky on that diving missed catch on 3rd down.  A good receiver would have caught that ball.  But, who can argue with forcing a field goal after the long pass play.
  • (Ole Miss FG: 0-3, early 1st quarter)
  • I wasn’t particularly pleased with the play calling and execution on the Bears 1st drive that resulted in a 3 and out, particularly Bowers pass on 3rd down.  He picked the wrong receiver.
  • Why was it Ole Miss was struggling with false starts so much?  It’s not like it was loud at the game.  (Frankly, attendance was pathetic.)
  • The early interception was much needed after the 3 and out.  It really helped the Bears to have those turnovers in the 1st half while they were still figuring out the right pass protections.
  • Our new TE Reinwald had a great game.  He has great hands and runs great routes.  His difficult catch on 2nd and 10 that setup 3rd and 2 for the touchdown run was a critical catch.
  • As for the touchdown, what a good play call (the option) and great execution.  Bowers played it perfectly.  He forced the LB to cover him before tossing it.  And then Laird turned on the jets and bowled himself into the endzone.
  • (Cal TD: 7-3, 8 mins left 1st quarter)
  • And if false starts aren’t bad enough, delay of game penalties too for Ole Miss.  That was the sort of stuff that scares me into fearing Ole Miss isn’t very good and we’re over rating this win.
  • The coverage on the long TD catch for Ole Miss was H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E!!!  And yet again, only one safety back and he took a *very* bad route to the WR.
  • (Ole Miss TD: 7-10, 8 mins left 1st quarter)
  • Ole Miss had a pretty good kicker for kickoffs.  The ball hung up there for a long time and generally was pretty deep.  That was why the Bears returns were so short.
  • The Bears clearly thought the swingout passes to Laird would work in their game planning.  They were clearly wrong.  But the good news is they only ran it a few times and abandoned it as part of mid-game adjustments.  How long has it been since we’ve said that for the coaching staff?
  • Noa had the best hands of the WR’s in this game.  3rd and 20 and he hauls in a tough one fit in a tight window for a 1st down.
  • I didn’t see it live nor did they really show it on TV, but what did Wilcox do to get a personal foul after that no-call on the pass interference?  Doesn’t really seem his style.  Perhaps it was something inadvertent like touching the ref.
  • After the punt with 4:30 remaining in the 1st quarter is when the Bears changed to a 2 safety scheme.  It was also when Ole Miss started running the ball more.
  • And the Bears get another interception.  In fairness, Ole Miss would have had to punt had it just been an incomplete.  But again, the Bears really needed every chance to get off the field as the defense was finding their legs.  That one was just a great coverage by the corner and a heads up play by the safety.
  • Another key catch by Reinwald!  I’m telling you, this guy is going to be good.  Also, good play calling there.  Even though it was 3rd and 2, the Bears knew running up the middle was dicey the way Ole Miss had been playing on the line.  So fake the run and to a quick out to the TE.  That’s good play calling.
  • The Ole Miss defense was pretty disciplined.  The few times Cal ran a play counting on them over pursuing, they didn’t go well.
  • I still have no idea what has happened to Matt Anderson.  That guy was money last year.  And even before Saturday you could tell he wasn’t himself.  But how many did he miss Saturday, three?
  • OK, so the last Ole Miss TD, Cal had 2-deep safeties, I think the scheme was right, but the execution was horrible.  The safety bit on the run fake and that meant disaster.
  • (Ole Miss TD (missed extra point): 7-16 with 13 minutes left in 2nd quarter)
  • Also, it is worth saying that the Cal defense didn’t just hold Ole Miss scoreless in the 2nd half, it basically did it for the 2nd quarter as well.  43 minutes to be accurate.
  • I have to admit, after Cal had a 3 and out at this point, I thought it was going to be a very long night.  The offense was dying and the defense couldn’t stop the big play to save their lives.
  • Both of the next two Ole Miss offensive sequences the Bears played really good defense, particularly in coverage.  There was no meaningful pressure, but Patterson just had no where to go with the ball.
  • I think the TV commentators were too hung up on not having Demetris Robertson.  He hasn’t exactly had a banner season thus far.  Yes, he’s fast and yes, he helps Cal stretch the field.  But he’s not indispensable to this offense.
  • Wharton and Bowers were in good rhythm in the 1st two games, but on Saturday, they just weren’t in sync, particularly in the 1st half.  Wharton let one go through his hands.  Bowers over threw him.  They just weren’t clicking.
  • It obviously was the right decision to take the field goal off the board and take the 1st down, but I remember thinking at the time (particularly with how poorly the offense had been executing) that an interception would suck when they had taken 3 points off the board.
  • Bowers mistake on the interception was that he didn’t put any air under it.  You have to loft that up so no one at the front of the endzone can make a play on it.  Bowers had his struggles in this game with slinging it in there a few times when some touch would have been wiser.
  • Both teams had stupid penalties, but the stupidest of the game may have been Downs shove of the QB after he was out of bounds.  Why in the world did he do that?  It wasn’t even remotely close or justifiable.  Good thing it didn’t burn the Bears.
  • I wasn’t too pleased with the clock management on the last drive before halftime.  But, seeing as how the offense was struggling all half, perhaps playing it a little conservative and going into the locker room without a terrible mistake was the right choice.
  • And not that it generally matters much, but the execution on that Hail Mary pass was pretty pathetic.  No Cal receiver was in the area.
  • In contrast to the good play calling on the previous 3rd and short, on the 1st drive of the 2nd half, the Bears tried to run up the middle into the expected blitz and failed miserably.  Luckily the Bears converted on 4th down to prevent the drive from stalling
  • Gotta give Bowers credit for knowing his offense and the play when Ole Miss does an all-out blitz on 3rd and 7 just outside the red zone.  That said, it showed that Ole Miss didn’t have much respect for Bowers.  One should expect a good QB to read that one right and take the easy TD pass on the slant.
  • (Bears score TD: 14-16 with 11 minutes left in the 3rd quarter)
  • Downs again on the late hit on the QB.  I didn’t catch that it was the same guy both times.  This one wasn’t nearly as stupid/bad, but still, with the way the game is played today, he should have known to back off.
  • Another drive killing false start for Ole Miss and they almost had another drive killing delay of game had the coach not called a timeout.
  • The mid-3rd quarter drive the Bears had was the point when I thought the Bears had the advantage.  The balance of the offense between run and pass was good and one had to think they’d keep going.  I was a bit frustrated that the play calling from 1st and 10 from the 11 was so boring (3 inside runs) and resulted in a stalled drive/field goal.
  • (Bears score FG: 17-16 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd)
  • By this point in the game, it was clear just how much the Cal defense confused the Ole Miss QB Patterson.  He was very hesitant.  One wonders if he was coached to play it conservative under the thought that the Cal offense was stagnant and they had to believe they’d get a couple more long passes at some point.  Both were of course mis-calculations (had they even thought that).
  • One of the things that is harder to sense at the stadium is less-prominent player changes, like the kicker.  I though the Ole Miss kicker who shanked the extra point was the same guy who shanked the 4th quarter field goal attempt.  Turns out it was an entirely different guy and the 1st one was due to an injury mid-play.
  • Gotta love the heart of Bowers to leap to try and get the 1st down.  I’m not sure it was advisable, we need him after all, but great heart and the sort of thing a young team needs from its leader.  It speaks to the coaches motivation of the players as well.
  • Ole Miss gave Cal another free 1st down with 12 men on the field for a punt.  I think the Bears would have won anyway, but Ole Miss could have made it a lot tighter if they had played a cleaner game, penalty wise.
  • Have the Bears failed to convert on a 4th down try yet?  The Bears have gone for a number (and all of them in appropriate times) and it has been working for them.  But it was now 2 4th downs on this drive (the penalty and the run) and they’re still going.
  • But then of course Matt Anderson pushes it again for another miss.
  • The refs blew it on an intentional grounding for Ole Miss.  The penalty is 5 yards from the spot of the throw plus loss of down.  The ball was thrown from the 12 and they spotted it at the 12.  It should have been at the 7.
  • The composure of the offense in the 4th quarter is impressive.  Their execution isn’t great, but they’re battling and they have confidence they can get the job done.  They didn’t make any meaningful mistakes.
  • And this time Anderson rewards the offense’s persistence.
  • (Bears score FG: 20-16 with 3 minutes left)
  • OK, I told my son at the beginning of the Ole Miss drive that on their 4th pass attempt of the drive, they’d throw an interception.  I just had a feeling that now that they were down by more than a field goal, the QB would start pressing and he couldn’t play it conservative anymore.  I didn’t call it quite right, it was the 3rd play and only the 2nd pass, but I had the dynamics right.  That was a QB who could no longer afford to be careful, but he was still confused by the coverage schemes Cal was showing him.  Result: Pick-6!
  • (Bears score TD: 27-16 with 3 minutes left)
  • Bynum (#24) played an incredible last drive at cornerback.  He was challenged twice on a long pass play and both times he knocked the ball away.
  • These announcers were *waaay* too obsessed with the idea of kicking a field goal first and then doing the onside kick.  They were down by 11.  If you kick the field goal, you need both an onside kick and a two-point conversion.  Both are low percentage plays.  And it just gets a tie to go to overtime.  No, you go for the win with 2 touchdowns.  Ole Miss played it right (minus the execution to get it done).
  • Although the announcers might have been right on 4th and 8.  That’s a pretty low percentage play in the redzone.  But they still don’t seem to be recognizing the two-point conversion issue.
  • It was very appropriate that Cal gets a sack with a middle linebacker blitz on 4th and 8 to effectively end the game.  The defensive blitzing scheme the Bears used in this game was top notch and considering it also came with a pass coverage scheme that confused Patterson as well, it was a very impressive game plan once they solved the deep pass problem.
  • Final score 27-16.  Go Bears!

Ole Miss OTRH podcast

(Written by kencraw)

A little late this week, but here is the podcast I recorded on the drive home:

Ole Miss Tickets still for sale

(Written by kencraw)

1st auction didn’t get any bids.  They’re a steal at $30 for 3 tickets:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/253155426373

Auction ends tomorrow morning and I’ll have the tickets sent to you digitally before noon.

Ole Miss Preview

(Written by kencraw)

How does one judge a team that has only played South Alabama and Tenn-Martin?  How does one judge a team that has an interim coach and self-imposed sanctions?  It’s a really difficult task.

Thus I’m going to end up making a lot of assumptions that I’d rather not make, particularly based on last year.  Ole Miss was a middle of the conference SEC team last year.  But even in the SEC, middle of the pack means big lines and relatively good speed.  Their QB, Shea Patterson is touted as being pretty good, having destroyed his 1st two opponents.  However, it is worth noting that his stats last year were not all that impressive,.  But for the 1st two games of the season about all they did is pass the ball, which is strange considering the competition (most schools stick to a conservative run game when playing weaker opponents) and shows they have a lot of confidence in Patterson.

As for the Ole Miss defense, they are a lot like Cal: A work in progress but with reasons to fear them.  From where I sit, I think this defense will be vulnerable if the Bears can hold their own on the line of scrimmage.  If Cal can find a respectable run game, that will open up the passing game and slow down the Ole Miss pass rush.  However, what we saw with Weber State gives me great pause in that department.  The offensive line that looked so good against North Carolina was exposed to have lots of gaps.

So as much as I won’t be shocked to see the Bears pull out a win, my prediction is going to have to be a loss because of two things:

  1. The youth of the Cal secondary against a talented QB.
  2. The Cal offensive line struggling against a big SEC-sized defensive line.

I expect the game to feel like the Bears could win if they could just get some consistency on offense, and every time it looks like the Bears are getting close, they’ll give up a big pass play that opens it back up for the Rebels.

Bears lose a frustrating, missed opportunity game: 24-35

Portion of Ole Miss tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

I’m only bringing a few people to the Ole Miss game, so I’m selling the back row of my tickets on eBay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/253149624300

So if you’ve ever wanted to hear my “brilliant” commentary live and in person at a game, now is your chance.

Auction ends Friday morning and I send the tickets digitally after that.