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Thought on Oregon and USC

Sorry for the lack of writing recently. But I haven’t felt like complaining lately. It’s not reached the point for me where it would be cathartic. Nevertheless, here’s my analysis of the current state of affairs:

The wheels are coming off the bus. There’s no way to sugar coat it. Don’t be deluded about another game (USC) that if you look at it from just the right angle “the Bears made a game of it”.




You tell me a scenario where that game turns out the Bears way? That it was close was a sign of USC not putting the Bears away like they should have, like a mouse cat playing with a half-dead mouse.

The thing not enough people are talking about his how bad the defense is. Two teams in a row have put up over 40 points and it makes the 3rd team in a row (after UW woke up from their 1st half stupor) that could march down the field at will.

That the offense is showing *minor* signs of life is of little comfort when the backbone of the team (the defense) is remarkably quickly collapsing.

I firmly believe the only possible win left is the Big Game. It’s starting to feel like 1999 again.

Washington game thoughts

Here are my thoughts on the game:

  • Washington is not very good. They had a good start to the season, but they’re going to lose a lot more games before this season is over.
  • That’s a quick way of saying the fact the Bears kept it close into the 2nd half is less a positive for the Bears and more a negative for UW. As soon as the Bears took the lead in the 2nd half, it awoke the sleeping “giant” on the UW sideline and from there it was never close (even if it kinda seemed like the Bears had a shot).
  • A fascinating (and troubling) transition for the Bears is their evolution from aggressive and disrupting on defense to bend but don’t break. In the first half it kinda worked. They gave up a lot of yards but only 6 points. It completely fell apart in the 2nd half and those long drives were all touchdowns.
  • Speaking of which, UW only punted once until the mid-4th quarter when they were up 28-21. I was remarking with horror how just about every play went for 5+ yards, even the supposed failures. (Incompletes aside.) Admittedly, not many of them went for much longer, but it’s still an unmitigated disaster.
  • On the other side of the ball… things are getting worse.
  • Plummer is getting more uncomfortable
  • The offensive line is regressing after a couple weeks of getting a bit better
  • I will accept nothing less than the entire offensive staff being replaced in the off-season.

Don’t expect to see things get better this weekend against Oregon who after early season jitters seems to be firing on all cylinders. (The WSU game for them was the wake-up call they needed to get serious and put the Georgia hangover behind them.)

Heck, I think the only game to hope for a win left is Stanford. We’ve played all the weak teams in the conference (based on their current conference records) and what remains are the best ones.

Colorado game thoughts

  • No excuses for the last two losses other than that the Bears are a sub-mediocre team.
  • Although it doesn’t help that we caught Colorado at exactly the wrong time: First game with interim coach and on their turf, which has the additional complication of being at altitude (under discussed by the game commentators).
  • Don’t forget: The Bears gave up 3 easy points to go for it on 4th down deep in Colorado territory in the 1st half. That means the Bears could have easily won this without overtime.
  • Combined with the two other missed field goals… the Bears easily could have won this game.
  • But that’s the thing, how many “oh so close” games before we realize it isn’t as close as it appears?
  • 1st half play calling was not good, but neither was Plummer’s arm.
  • 2nd half play calling much improved as was Plummer’s arm, but the overall execution got worse (too many dropped balls and offensive line broke down more).
  • Speaking of dropped balls, that one in overtime was atrocious. Starling (#18) completely blew it. He thought he had an easy catch for a game tying touchdown and wasn’t ready for or expecting the hit.
  • An under appreciated factor for the Bear defense is tackling. While it hasn’t been bad, it’s not what it used to be and is a big part of the reason the Bear defense has gone from awesome to just reasonably good. The number of 2 yard plays (or even losses) that end up escaping the first tackle and end up being significant positive plays is really troubling if we expect elite defense from the Bears.
  • No way the Bears get to a bowl after that loss. It might be time to look beyond Wilcox and staff. I was optimistic before the pandemic. But it feels like the pandemic is to Wilcox what Kevin Riley getting tackled against OSU in 2007 was to Tedford. The mojo just ain’t there anymore.

Arizona game thoughts

I still feel like I’m trying to catch back up with my life after that Notre Dame trip (which was at the tail end of a series of trips). But late is better than never, so here are my Arizona game thoughts:

  • Does anyone else feel like we’re allowing the fact that the offense came alive to ignore the fact that the defense looked troublesomely bad in the 1st half?
  • Obviously the big offensive revelation is the re-built offensive line. And the big news there is true Freshman Sioape Vatikani, who looks to be a rock around which future offensive lines can be built. But also important was moving Driscoll (who is one of our better linemen) to guard. With those two doing lots of pulling on run plays the line looks a lot better. I think they also give the Bears more flexibility on pass protection to pick up the various rush patterns.
  • The hiding bad news is that one injury at O-Line and the team could be in real trouble. Although mid-week news (an updated depth chart) suggests that a couple more younger players might be ready to come in and make a difference, moving up to 2nd team.
  • What I had previously said about competent QB’s shredding the Bears definitely appeared to be true in the 1st half of the Arizona game. In particular, there are lots of gaps for crossing routes behind the line-backers as they have to be so focused on run support.
  • I haven’t had a chance to re-watch the game to figure out what the Bears changed in the 2nd half defensively, but I have to give the defensive coaching staff credit for their drastically improved performance. Frankly, that’s what won the game.
  • I do have to say that Arizona is significantly improved on both sides of the ball. Mark my words, they’re going to upset a couple of teams this year.
  • Continuing down that aside, the Pac-12 south looks to have the weaker teams than the North this year. In the North, only Stanford looks weak, with both WSU and OSU looking somewhat strong. In the South Arizona, ASU and Colorado are all on the weaker side. Good news: We get Colorado, not Utah.
  • Back to the game, Plummer seems to be settling in. Of course it helps when he’s not constantly getting pummeled, but even without that I feel like his confidence in his progressions including when there’s a blitz is improving.
  • And of course then there’s Ott, who is looking great and if it’s possible even greater every week. But don’t under-estimate either of his backups. Moore and Brooks are both capable. Brooks particularly impressed me in that he seemed to have more tackle breaking skills and power than I previously saw out of him.
  • Back to the concerns, the inability of the defensive line to get pressure on passing plays is really mind-boggling. This might be the worst the pass rush has been in a decade, even going back to the Dykes era (where while overall having issues, their defensive line pressure wasn’t the worst of it).
  • I find it interesting how much the Bears increase their blitzing late in the game. There’s a notable increase of “bringing the house” in the 4th quarter. I suspect part of that is they’re waiting until they know the offense is in a ‘must-pass’ situation. But even when it’s 3rd and 17 in the 2nd quarter, we’re not seeing the sort of blitz packages we see in the last 5 minutes of the game.
  • Looking forward, WSU is going to be *really* tough. At least the weather looks to be nice. (There’s nothing worse than a November trip to the frozen potato patch. (I was there last January taking my son on a potential college tour… 100’s of miles of frozen “tundra”).) But WSU is looking pretty good and they let Oregon off the hook by losing that game last week.
  • Looking backwards, Notre Dame seems to have come to life so Cal’s ability to go toe-to-toe with them is looking more and more like a “moral victory” and UNLV is dong quite well. The Bears might be better tested than we thought.

Notre Dame game thoughts

OK, with the major trip stuff done, finally onto the game commentary:

  • Fundamentally this team has 3 problems: Offensive line. Defensive line. Plummer keeping his cool when under duress. Let’s take those one at a time…
  • The offensive line might just be the weakest part of the team. They’re mediocre for opening up running lanes, but their pass protection is just atrocious. Plummer is never able to get comfortable in the pocket because the offensive line is just not holding up consistently.
  • The defensive line is OK when it comes to pass rush, but not good enough that they’re often going to get sacks without a blitz package behind them. Yet I can live with that. And their run defense is not horrific… they’re not giving up huge runs. But they giving up lots of all-too-easy 4-6 yard runs. As the game wore on against Notre Dame, I was noticing that even when the Bears stopped the run at what appears to be the line of scrimmage, it was still a 3 or 4 yard run. They’re giving up that many yards just from the offensive line push. Not good. It means the Bears had to dedicate a lot of linebacker and safety support to the run game.
  • Speaking of which (and putting off my Plummer comments), thankfully Notre Dame didn’t have a very good QB. This Bears team is going to get torched by a team with a strong run game and a competent QB. If the Bears play pass protection, the opponents will just march down the field running the ball 4+ yards at a time. If they play the run game, they’ll be very vulnerable in the passing game. Both against UNLV and ND they counted on lots of errant throws bailing them out.
  • Back to Plummer, while I’m sympathetic to his plight, he and the offensive coordinator *HAVE* to find a way to keep the passing game alive despite the shortcomings of the offensive line in pass protection. Roll out more. Make sure there is always a dump off option. Do more quick passes. Something! We can not just accept the status quo of him desperately hoping something opens up while he’s about to get crushed.
  • I felt like the game plan overall was not a bad one. It’s hard to win a game when you’re losing on both sides of the ball in the trenches. The fact they came as close as they did was remarkable.
  • We got *ROBBED* on that phantom offsides call on the ND missed field goal. But frankly, I don’t know that it changes the outcome of the game.
  • Long story short, the Wilcox era adage “First team to 21 wins” is still intact and it feels like it will remain true for much of the season. As such, this season will come down to finding some offensive production.

UNLV Game thoughts

Sorry for the lateness of this… it’s been a crazy busy few weeks and I’m heading out to the Notre Dame game on Friday, so I have a lot of stuff I can’t just push off…

Here are my UNLV game thoughts:

  • One thing I haven’t much seen in other commentary is the theory that “the Bears got complacent and let UNLV get back into the game”. I felt that the Bears had the game well in hand until halftime. Then they came out of the tunnel, got the ball to start the 2nd half, marched down the field and scored. It felt like at that point, the Bears really let off the gas, particularly on offense, particularly Plummer at QB.
  • Or said another way, the only thing about this game that is frustrating is that the Bears offense sputtered in the 2nd half. I put a lot of it on Plummer. Here are his pass plays after that last field goal: incomplete (here forward: inc), inc, sack, (punt), 7-yard completion (here forward: comp), inc, sack, (punt), 4-yard comp, 16-yard comp, 3-yard comp, inc, 5-yard comp (but short of 1st down), (FG miss). To sum up, he played horrible for 2 drives, then seemed to refocus himself enough to get the ball down the field for a missed field goal, then after that, it was just the last drive attempting to run out the clock. Imagine if he plays the way he did his first few drives and puts up another 10ish points on those two drives… I think we’re a lot more satisfied.
  • All of that is a long way of saying two things: 1. Offensive performance will be heavily dependent on Plummer performing well. 2. In the first two games he’s shown signs of being better than competent and then other moments where he’s lost his mojo. We’ll see if he can improve his consistency.
  • Another point of concern is play-calling and offensive efficiency in the redzone. It’s harder for me to put into words precisely what is wrong, but in both cases where the Bears settled for a field-goal my gut feeling was that the execution was poor in those moments and that the plays chosen weren’t wise for the personnel we have. It’s particularly concerning because every point is going to matter later in the season. The Bears need to have pretty good redzone efficiency numbers if they’re going to be much better than 6-6 and could even have a losing season if those numbers are poor.
  • The other weak point on offense is the line, particularly in pass protection. They’re not horrible, but I fear they’re going to get beat up pretty badly against ND and at least a few of the Pac-12 opponents. Run/pass balance (to keep the defensive line from being able to be focus on sacks) and mostly keeping the pass plays on the quick side will be key.
  • My biggest bone to pick with the coaching staff against UNLV is the refusal to use Ott on that last run out the clock drive. How can you put in Brooks? He’s the least capable of the three in getting the “hard yards”. Perhaps I could have made my peace with Moore… he was playing better than week 1 (although not as good as Ott). But Ott was the right choice. When we need 10 yards in 3 plays… a healthy Ott is the only logical choice.
  • Defensively I was pretty happy with the Bears. Both of UNLV’s touchdown’s were “scrappy”. One required a lucky break on what was principally an interception but probably correctly called on the field as a shared possession by the technicalities of the rules. The other was a momentary but repeated exploit of a weakness in the Bears scheme that was promptly cleaned up on subsequent drives.
  • If I have a concern on defense it is the defensive line. They seem to give up a few too many 4 yards in a cloud of dust type runs where what it indicates is the offensive line is winning in the trenches. That was true against UCD as well. Additionally, they’re not getting very good pressure on passing plays without bringing risky blitzes.
  • Back to that non-interception… here’s both sides of it as I see it. From the “technical rules” perspective, the WR had his arm in-between the ball and the defender as soon as the defender grasped the ball. You can then technically suggest that he had enough of a grasp on it at that point to be shared possession and the WR then further enhanced his grip on it without ever letting go. So that’s why it probably was technically called correctly. But from a principled perspective, if the defender isn’t there, that ball falls incomplete. If the WR isn’t there, it’s an easy interception. Thus it’s principally clear that it was the defender who caught the ball and the WR who was the lesser party as far as possession is concerned. But when it comes to principle versus the technicality of the rules, unfortunately (in this case) the right thing to do is going with the rules.
  • Overall, I both have some hope moving forward but at the same time, there’s a lot of things to be concerned about. If this team can clean up its act and get more consistent on offense, things could go pretty well. But I fear we’re in for another season of inconsistency.

Go Bears!

UC Davis game thoughts

Nice to start off the season with an easy win. Here are my thoughts:

  • The Bears were definitely low energy to start the game. I’m not sure if they were told to pace themselves or whether the slightly warm weather had them taking a ‘take it slow’ attitude, but it was definitely true right up until the stop on 4th down in the redzone after the interception.
  • I said to my son (who is currently attending UC Davis) just before the failed 4th down conversion that it was a high risk decision and for their sake they should kick the field goal. The risk of handing the momentum back to Cal was just too high and it was an admission by UC Davis that they had little hope to win without high risk decisions like that. Sure enough, that’s precisely what happened.
  • Speaking of UC Davis touchdowns, I have *ZERO* idea what happened on that long run for a touchdown. I thought I was watching the play, but I guess not as it went from pre-snap to flying down the sideline. I need to get the video of the game and analyze it.
  • As for our new QB… call me nervous yet not without hope. I’m willing to ignore the slow start in the 1st quarter, but he still had a number of errant passes later in the game. I worry about his consistency. There are very few QB’s who make big strides when it comes to consistency, particularly within a season. (Occasionally one sees big jumps in the off-season.)
  • He also seemed to still be indecisive at times, although that’s more normal for a 1st game and one can be more optimistic that will get better with time. He’s still learning this offense and his team-mates strengths/weaknesses.
  • It was nice to see the backup RB Ott come in and do well. The starter (Moore) looked horrible. That surprised me frankly. But Ott looks to be the real deal. Nobody seems to know if Moore was yanked or injured. (at least that I can tell)
  • The offensive line is most definitely a work in progress. They are going to need to improve. If UC Davis gives them that much trouble, it’s going to get much worse unless they improve.
  • I was overall happy with the defensive effort, although UC Davis getting a consistent 4 yards on 1st down rushes was a bit bothersome. I’m not feeling like there are a lot of power running schools on the schedule, but the teams that could bias that way could be a lot of trouble for the Bears defense.
  • I was happy with the ball hawking ability of the secondary. Nice to see that tradition continue.
  • Overall, this was not the UC Davis team that beat Stanford a decade ago and we shouldn’t get too excited about an easy win over them.

End of Season Thoughts

Just some random thoughts after last night’s win over USC:

  • That stinking Arizona-COVID game. Obviously the Bears win that game if they get to bring the whole roster… and then we’re bowl bound.
  • But once you get into the coulda-shoulda-woulda… what about all the close losses that shouldn’t have been. Nevada, TCU, UW are all games the Bears could have won. And even Oregon was in reach.
  • While we’re on a negative kick, I think one of the biggest late season disappointments was to see how susceptible the offense was to blitzes. Both USC and UCLA brought the house often and Garbers never seemed to know where to go with the ball. The frustrating thing about TV games (I didn’t go to USC as I-80 for the trip home was going to be closed for maintenance) is that I can’t see what is happening in the secondary. And thus unfortunately I can’t see why Garbers is so paralyzed in those situations.
  • On the positive front, it was good to see the Bear defense back to its ball hawking ways. What was interesting is how much more balanced it was this year. It wasn’t just interceptions. It was both forced fumbles and interceptions.
  • As for next season, the big question is: “Who is coming back?” So many seniors are eligible due to the COVID exemptions. If they all decide to come back, this team gets most of its starters back. But at the same time, I wouldn’t assume that’s true. We’ll have to wait and see.
  • The biggest next-season questions sitting out there is Garbers. On the one hand, I’d like to have him back and not breaking in a new starter. But on the other hand, I’d kinda like to see if the coaching staff can actually prep a starter from scratch. What we saw at the Arizona game was pretty distressing and I’d like to know if that was just a mid-season backup issue, not the issue of finding a competent replacement starter in the off-season.
  • I have confidence that the defense will be fine next year. There ability to success with a next-man-up strategy this year shows the defense isn’t dependent on any particular player.
  • Also looking forward, next season has a pretty favorable schedule. Two easy non-conference games (UC Davis and UNLV) and we still have Arizona and Colorado on the cross-division schedule. Plus Oregon, UCLA, UW and Stanford at home.
  • Final thought: It feels like had the Bears been lucky, this could have been an 8-4 season. Here’s hoping the breaks go the Bears way next year.

What a Big Game!

Wow, what a joyful evening Saturday was. After the rust of 2 weeks off and lacking practice due to COVID in the 1st quarter, the Bears laid the wood to Stanford again and again and again.

If I was a furd fan (and could somehow rise above my ideocracy 🙂 ), I’d have been very angry with Shaw deciding to go for it on 4th and goal twice. The halftime score could have been 14-9 otherwise. But by the mid-3rd quarter one could actually see the wisdom in Shaw’s decision. He knew this game was a long-shot. He needed to get out in front and try to get the Bears to be one-dimensional.

Stanford is really terrible right now. While the records might be similar, the details make it clear that Cal is a much better team. Stanford keeps losing by much larger margins.

Now the question is: Can the Bears make it to bowl eligibility? And I have to say, that’s a tall order. That stinking Arizona game!?!

USC looks pretty vulnerable, so that game is for sure winnable. It’ll be even better if BYU can go into the coliseum this weekend and put an end to USC’s hope for bowl eligibility.

UCLA looks to be the tougher task. On the road. Thanksgiving weekend. Against a surging UCLA. That’s not going to be easy. Although when one does the common opponent analysis the teams look pretty even.

All the more reason to say: That stinking Arizona game!?!

Arizona – initial revulson

Obviously my preview post didn’t know the extent of the COVID losses for this game. 10 starters, including Garbers?!?!? How can one expect to win that one?

But somehow, despite all the personnel losses, the Bears still had a shot. And I guess a certain type of person would have an optimistic view of still having a shot with that many players lost.

Not me.

How can that be our backup QB? He’s not just bad, not just horrible, but unacceptably incompetently ATTROCIOUS! The number of completely mis-thrown balls. The bad reads. The slowness of execution… and it’s not like he had some running skills to offset that.

I’m sorry, I don’t care if the entire starting offense is out, that sort of offensive performance is unacceptable. And the lack of good play-calling. If you know your QB is crap and can’t throw a long ball, why are they calling a pass-heavy game? (29 passes, 24 runs). They should have been pounding the ball from the opening drive. Sure, it might not have bore fruit for a while, but run games take time to get moving sometimes and their lack of commitment to it was ridiculous.

And now the Bears have to do the near impossible… win their final 3 games where they’ll be the underdogs in at least 2 and 2 on the road. And that’s particularly true if the COVID issue affects their personnel next week.

Program turning win

(Apologies for the delay… I wrote most of this on Tuesday but forgot to post it)

The Bears had some program turning wins in 2018 and 2019. The road UW win. The road USC win. The home UW win. These all told the world that the Bears needed to be taken seriously. They told the Bears that if they played to their potential, they could beat almost anyone.

Last Saturday’s win says to the conference: That Bears team is back.

They may have taken a COVID hiatus that lasted well into this season… but they’ve righted the ship. This OSU team is no slouch. They remind me of the Mike Riley led OSU teams that constantly tortured the Jeff Tedford led Bears.

In fact, since Tedford is on the mind (and was at the game), let’s do a quick Wilcox vs. Tedford comparison:


  • Brought the team back from the dead
  • Raised them to be the 2nd or 3rd best team in the conference for the bulk of his reign
  • But struggled with those important head to heads (vs. USC in particular)
  • And struggled with a couple of particular weaker teams (OSU and Arizona)
  • Dominated the Big Game


  • Brought the team back from sub-mediocrity
  • Raised them to be competitive
  • Proved they could beat the best teams in the conference
  • But also more inconsistent
  • Unlike Tedford, it doesn’t feel like any team is his kryptonite
  • Finally got a Big Game win

It’s the bold one that I think had Cal fans so optimistic before the COVID downturn. Tedford’s struggles against the best left a bad taste. It felt like with Tedford the team could be very good, but never the best. That ‘Rose bowl before I die’ would be elusive. But Wilcox’s big wins said that while the team wasn’t quite there yet, there could be that magical season where we all get to spend too much money in Pasadena on January 1st.

I know I’m on a bit of a tangent, as OSU isn’t USC or Oregon or UW in a conference dominating position. But I think it confirmed that bold point… Oregon State is currently one of the best teams in the conference and Cal beat them.

And they beat them straight up, just like those 2018 and 2019 wins. It didn’t take any trickery or lucky bounces. Cal lined up, played hard nose football with a defense that kept getting the ball in the offense’s hands.

Last Saturday’s game had that same feeling.

Will the real Bears stand up?

I left the WSU game utterly despondent. That WSU team was sub-mediocre and the Bears looked downright pathetic. What has happened to Garbers? (His accuracy and decision making were horrible.) Why can’t this defense tackle? (a big on-going problem.) Why is it the offense always seems good the first few drives but stinks after that?

But then Cal put up a pretty good fight against a pretty good Oregon team. Sure it was still a loss, but at least it was a step in the right direction, right? So I turned off the TV last Saturday with some optimism.

But now I’m thinking maybe the real Bears are a team with more potential than they show, but they “play to their opponent”. What’s worse, is they play just below their opponent.

So who is the real team?

Another winnable game lost

How many times are we going to do this before the season is over? It’s not hard to imagine that this Cal team with a few less mistakes could be 4-0, not 1-3. I might add that my prediction (27-20) would have been darned near right had the field goal at the end of regulation went through (27-24 would have been the score).

In any case, I’ll do this the bullet-point way as per usual:

  • Yet again the mistakes were killer. The fumble in over-time. The botched snap on the early missed field goal. The stupid penalties. This team is just not nearly as refined as early Wilcox teams. It still feels like the chaos of the pandemic still has some rust that has yet to be eradicated.
  • On the positive front, it feels like the defense really turned a corner in the 2nd half. Something must have clicked in their half-time adjustments. In the first half, they were OK, but just enough mistake prone and just a little too slow to be disruptive. In the 2nd half, they finally broke through on what it meant to be confusing to the QB and disruptive so that UW only scored 3 points before overtime.
  • Tackling is still a bit of a weak point throughout though. While it wasn’t as obvious in the 2nd half, it reared its ugly head in overtime again.
  • Speaking of overtime, I’m 100% convinced that UW didn’t get in on 3rd and goal… the refs just didn’t have a *single* angle to prove it. But if you put together how early his knee was down from the rear angle (before the RB made his final lurch forward which included him raising his shoulders/head as a time reference) and how late the ball crossed the plane from the front and side angles (long after the lurch as his body was falling to the ground and long after raising his shoulders/head), then it was clearly not a TD. It made me wonder if the replay booth has the ability to do two synced angles. It appears not.
  • Garbers was not very accurate in this game. His first interception was most definitely not where he intended to throw the ball. (The 2nd might have been, but the receiver didn’t come back to it.) And there were a number of balls thrown behind.
  • At the same time, Garbers was starting to get back to being himself: A throw-first QB who can extend plays and pick up gains with his legs when the planned play doesn’t work out.
  • While the first one didn’t work out, the few well QB-run plays were a nice addition to see.
  • Another improvement area… I’ve been complaining about the QB under center plays for the entire season. They were always obvious run plays. Well, that changed. I didn’t keep careful track, but about half of them were passes in this game. And sure enough, once balance was established, even the run plays under center were more successful.
  • One wonders if this was a “long haul” deception plan. Was it the plan to always run from under center in the non-conference games so that the film our conference foes would study early in conference play give the Bears a counter-tendency strategy?
  • Not really a pro or con, but the end of regulation clock management cracked me up. It’s funny how one converted 3rd down changed everything. First Cal was trying to make the most of the clock, but then a poor 1st down and a penalty had them trying to run out the clock and UW angry the clock ran after the penalty. Then Cal converts on 3rd down and is back to trying to preserve clock. In each moment I agreed with both coaches desires, but at the same time, taking a step back it seems like silliness.

Looking forward, while the frustration of the missed opportunities makes it hard to think this way, I see a lot of positives. UW was better than their early losses make it seem and Cal nearly went on the road and beat them. They showed a lot of heart to battle back from 14 points down in the 2nd half.

If Cal can play like the 2nd half of Saturday’s game, it’s reasonable to think the Bears still have a real shot at bowl eligibility. Home wins over WSU, Colorado and OSU all are very doable, as are road wins over Stanford, USC and Arizona. (The road games against Oregon and UCLA are far less likely.)

Let’s see if they have it in them…

2nd winnable game lost

(Admin note… I wrote most of this on Sunday, but got sidetracked and forgot to publish it.)

Another disheartening loss, ugh! However (and before I get into the details) I think it’s important to remember there are different types of disheartening losses. There’s the “lost opportunity” loss… a game we expected a loss but the game was distressing close. There’s the blowout loss… a game where it was never competitive. There’s the “never should have lost to X” game… any loss to a team well below Cal. And finally, there’s the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” loss… a loss where victory seemed achievable minus a few mistakes/problems. Note that this is different than the “lost opportunity” in that it was a game where a win was far more likely to begin with.

And of those 4 types, the “lost opportunity” and the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” games, while just as disheartening in the immediate, shouldn’t be as discouraging for the rest of the season. The pieces are there. The team just hasn’t put them together yet. Of course the fear is that they never will, but one doesn’t have to be perpetual optimist to have reasonable hope that things could improve.

Big picture that’s where I see this Cal team right now. Onto the specific thoughts for the game:

  • If one wants the simplest explanation of why the Bears lost it was their refusal to just take the points given them. Both teams scored 5 touchdowns and nothing else. But going for 2 so early in the game was a *HUGE* mistake, as was not taking the field goal on the first drive. It’s a simple rule: No 2 point conversion attempts before the 4th quarter. Why is that so hard for Wilcox?
  • But just to make it blazingly clear, assuming everything else goes the same (a risky thing to do), the Bears would have been up 9-0 when they missed the extra point, if they had kicked the field goal to start the game. Then the next time they’re not tempted to go for 2, and are up 16-0 after the pick-6, and 23-7 after the teams traded TDs. The halftime score would have been 23-14. The Bears would have still been ahead, 23-21 after the TCU TD to start the 2nd half and up 30-21 after their early 4th quarter score. After TCU scores again in the 4th, TCU probably kicks the extra point to be down 30-28 and again when TCU does ahead 30-35 later in the final quarter. But the Bears go back up somewhere between 38 and 36 to 35 with their final score depending on whether they go for 2 on that last one to try to extend to a field-goal lead. Thus they’d win the game (minus a final FG attempt by TCU that should be considered as a possibility). But long story short, the game would have been so much easier to win with that early field goal.
  • A subject I’m not hearing discussed in many quarters is poor tackling, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the biggest problems on the field. The defense is being saved from themselves on that front by their exceptional rallying to the ball. When the first guy doesn’t get the ball carrier, they usually slow him down enough for guys 2, 3 and 4 to finish him off. Luckily guys 2, 3 and 4 are quick to arrive. But it’s leaving lots of extra yards on the field.
  • To get specific, the final 1st down by TCU was a result of poor tackling. The Bears might have had one last shot at a go-ahead field-goal if they could have made that stop. Additionally one of the two long TD runs, there was a tackle opportunity missed both early and late. Even the late one might have been enough to turn a TD into a field goal.
  • All of this is a long way of saying, I think more tackling drills are in order.
  • Some good news: Our punter is delivering. In the prior game against Nevada, I was pretty impressed with their punter who had really high punts (reminded me of Bryan Anger), so I wasn’t watching our punter all that carefully. But watching on TV against TCU (where unfortunately one can’t watch the height of the kick), it was clear how much hangtime Sheahan was getting.
  • Of course like everyone I was very happy with the deep-ball passing, particularly in the 1st half. But I will say this… in the first half it felt like the Bears chose to go deep at tactically wise times, but in the 2nd half, it felt more random and often poorly chosen moments. In particular, there was far too much of it on 3rd and not all that long. While I’m not against it to keep the defense honest, it is just too low percentage of a play to do over and over.
  • Back on the bad news side, what was with those two long runs by TCU? Never in my life have I seen a guy with so many defenders in their proximity somehow never manage to get a hand on them. And then the same thing happened TWICE! And because we had the 6th string TV crew who’s ability to get us multiple angle replays with any consistency was lacking, I never felt like I had a good understanding of what happened. Why couldn’t the Bears get a hand on them?
  • Speaking of which, I’m a little concerned about defensive team speed. There’s been just a few too many plays that didn’t go well because the defense couldn’t keep up. In particular, the cornerback Gamble has been exposed a number of times on 1-on-1 deep balls (although thankfully not all of them have been completions). And then the above mentioned long runs could have been secondary team speed issues. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As for the general situation… I kinda feel like there’s talent on this team, that the pieces are there, but the plan for staying sharp and succeeding through the pandemic was weak. While other teams had a year and a half of good practice, the Bears didn’t quite know what to do with their usual week-to-week routines so discombobulated. Having to make such massive adjustments in week 2 is not a sign of a well prepared for the season team.

But, for those who want to see the good news in that, teams that start the year underwhelming often have some of the biggest improvements as they figure out what’s wrong. That’s my hope moving forward despite how disappointed I am with this 0-2 start that should have been 2-0 based on the talent of this team.

Ouch! So painful I had to wait a few days…

Well that was not a good football game. I knew I had two choices for my recap post:

  1. Immediate raw rant
  2. Give it a few days for some perspective

I decided to do the latter. In any case, here are my thoughts:

  • Why does Cal ever schedule Nevada? They’ve been a thorn in our side for decades now. We only seem to play them when they’re at their best and it’s an all-downside affair. If the Bears miraculously were to ever win, the team wouldn’t get much credit for the victory. But Nevada is good enough the downside of losing to a “lower” team is ever present. Let’s not do this anymore… OK?
  • Nevada’s QB was exceptionally smart. Every blitz the Bears ran was easily defeated by his quick recognition of it and his strong knowledge of where to go with the ball due to the particulars of the blitz. Gotta give him credit.
  • At the same time, I think the Bears should have recognized this earlier and gone with ‘drop 8’ more often. The front 3 were getting good enough penetration that it would have been better to make the QB hold the ball waiting for an open receiver due to 8 in coverage. Instead they’d bring 5, who wouldn’t get there all that quickly all things considered, and give the QB plenty of throwing options.
  • I think this is particularly true because Nevada had a couple of WRs who were faster than the assigned DBs. When that’s the case you have to switch to a scheme were safeties are responsible for deep coverage and that generally means having more guys in coverage.
  • As for offense, I have to disagree with the consensus that the problem was the Bears didn’t run enough. Yes, it was more successful than the pass. However, we needed the variety for the run game to be successful. I think too much more running wouldn’t have been successful.
  • More concerning was the choice of pass plays. Not nearly enough that stretched the field and *WAY* too many that were trying to be “cute”. This seemed particularly true in the redzone.
  • I feel like Garbers is not really comfortable with this offense yet. He held the ball a long time quite often. He was staring down a lot of receivers. He took too long to get through his progression.
  • What’s with the plays were Garbers wasn’t in the shotgun? Was there some reason to tip off the defense it was a run play? (I don’t think they ever passed from under center.)
  • Tackling was a real problem. The Bears were good at flowing to the ball and making sure there was more than one guy there to make the tackle… but at the same time it was depressing how often it was the 2nd or 3rd guy who actually brought the Nevada player to the ground. The result was a number of plays that had a few too many “free” yards.
  • The last two offensive sequences were so atrocious that I think this might be part of the reason why so many of us are so upset. What was with that interception? Garbers way under threw it and the receiver made very little effort to come back to the ball, nor to do anything to prevent the interception. It was so bad that it was hard to believe that it could get any worse. But those last 4 plays did their best. Did nobody know they needed to get out of bounds, including Garbers who threw underneath on 2nd down? And it was the perfect cap that on 4th down the WR dropped the ball. Ugh!
  • But perhaps what was most concerning was the lack of energy. I’m concerned that the team is really missing Evan Weaver and other emotional leaders that help this team have such heart in years past. Last year they felt low-energy as well, but I was content to blame that on the pandemic. Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s something more fundamental to the team.
  • But to be fair… it could be that we’re still seeing some sort of “covid hangover”.
  • For another perspective on this, I think it’s important to remember that this team is nearly entirely made of players who weren’t around for the end of the Dykes era. We might be starting to lose the hunger of knowing what it’s like to be a losing team with little upside.
  • As much as the game was a real let down, I don’t think all is lost. There’s talent on this team. While the execution of the offensive scheme wasn’t great, I don’t think the scheme itself is without merit. The defense is still reasonably strong (particularly if they clean up the tackling) and I saw hints of their ball hawking ability of the past. Perhaps this will be the wake-up call they need.

OSU game thoughts

Well that was… ummm… interesting. Here are my thoughts:

  • This game was so very winnable. And I’m not just talking about the final failed drive. The simple fact is that minus 3 plays, well 4 if you include the final long run after it was already over, the Bears dominated this game both on the score board and statistically.
  • But what was also clear, and those above 4 plays are evidence of this, is that the Bears are still quite rusty. They seemed to have faired worse for the time off and the delays in playing than other teams on both sides of the ball. One would think that a team that was installing a new offense would have been helped by extra time to prepare, but it appears that there’s no substitute for in-game experience.
  • Speaking of the offense, can someone find the playbook and rip out all the pages with these rollout passes? They were a disaster every time they ran them. Garbers was constantly under pressure and the receivers were thoroughly covered. And to make matters worse, his options were few as he only had one side of the field available to throw to.
  • What I’m most pleased with is the growing depth of this team. The failures didn’t seem to be related to missing players, just rust. The make-shift offensive line (do the Bears have any other kind of offensive line… that’s the question) was awesome and opened great running lanes. The RB depth is good. Same for the defense as a whole.
  • Back to rust, the worst unit, and this is no surprise all things considered, is the defensive line. Those few plays that they gave up huge runs were atrocious. But even some of the lesser plays, the defense line would get moved around a lot. I’ve never seen QB sneaks that go for 4+ yard before.
  • The other rusty area of note was the punting unit. Boy that was a rough day for them. 2 of the 3 easy scores were due to extremely short fields due to the block and short punt. And one of the other scores was a short field due to a long punt return.
  • While on special teams, Cal didn’t get the best breaks on the penalties on their own returns. One was marginal, but probably technically a foul. The other wasn’t a foul at all (and too far away from the play to matter), but the refs fell for the flop.
  • Cal did get a few makeup calls on pass interference though, some at critical times.

Overall, I find myself both frustrated by the opportunity lost in what should have been an easy win, but at the same time optimistic about the remainder of the season and beyond. Rust can be cleaned up (as we saw from week 1 to week 2). And the depth this team is building will serve it well in the years to come.

Apparently I wasn’t as ready as I thought

I knew that what I needed was to get Cal football out of my mind to get some emotional distance.

Of course, having a win over WSU makes it easier to come back, but I think it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have been ready either way at this point.

Apparently that wasn’t as true as I thought. The USC Game re-sucked the life out of me. I just wasn’t expecting that sort of loss. I think I would have been ready for a low scoring but close loss. I also think I would have been ready for a low scoring but multi-score loss because the Cal offense could get nothing going. I might have even been ready for Cal losing a multi-score, but high scoring affair loss (at least the offense would have shown some promise).

But I was not ready for the blowout.

Thinking back to the last time I was so disheartened this long, the worst part of the end of the Tedford era was when the team just wasn’t competitive against the best teams. When Cal would go play Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington and just get crushed like an FCS team gets crushed. From first snap to final whistle the team just didn’t have the players or the scheme to compete.

What has been so uplifting about the Wilcox era until last Saturday was we could walk away from the game thinking that with a couple changes, or perhaps a couple of good recruits (like perhaps a 4-star QB recruit who delivers on his hype), or even just a few less injuries, that even the worst losses could have gone the other way.

That is not how I felt after I walked out of the stadium early in the 4th quarter against USC. I felt like Cal was manhandled from start to finish and was in no way competitive. And most troubling, it was the Cal defense that looked overwhelmed… something we haven’t seen until the Utah (and that was just glimpses) and now USC games.

And so yet again, I needed to take a step back. Even though I had the equipment in the car, I didn’t record a OTRH podcast. I couldn’t see any value in ranting, particularly considering that’s what my last podcast (OSU) had been.

But I’m back today. (more to come shortly)

My Ole Miss replay rant

OK, it has been a while since I’ve gone full rant-mode… and this whole “controversy” with the Pac-12 refs has grown into something ridiculous. When the ESPN recap during later game half-time shows is mostly them bashing the refs, it’s ridiculous. This is particularly true because THE REFS GOT IT RIGHT!

It’s extremely frustrating to me how little so many people know about the rules of football and particularly the rules for replay. College football reply was specifically designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. (Side note: whether they’ve accomplished that goal is a separate issue) The rules gods decided they didn’t want what the NFL had with red flags and challenges and all the machinations that go along with that. The specifically wanted to create something that as little as possible affected the game.

That’s why “every play is reviewed” automatically. But we have to understand what that means. It means that there’s a separate ref from the refs on the field who after every play (key word: AFTER) reviews the replays to see if there’s something that looks like it was likely called wrong on the field. If so he ‘buzzes’ down to the field to stop play so that a more thorough review can be done.

The on the field refs are not supposed to in any way change the flow of the game until the replay-ref buzzes down. They’re supposed to continue on as if everything is correct until they get notified by the replay ref.

And that’s exact what happened. The on the field refs made the best call they could on the field. (For a moment, you can ignore whether the ref made the correct call, I’ll get to that later.) That call indicated the receiver was just short of the endzone. As such, the clock continues to roll and it’s 4th down. The refs rushed to get the ball set so that Ole Miss could run a play as soon as they were ready. They did it exactly right.

As for the replay ref, since he doesn’t start looking at a play until after the play is over, it’s not reasonable to expect him to reasonably make a decision to review a play in a handful of seconds. He needs at least 10 maybe 15 to be able to watch a replay and properly judge whether a full review is justified. So there’s no reason to complain that he wasn’t able to do it before Ole Miss had to snap the ball before the clock expired.

To get even further to the point: Ole Miss doesn’t deserve an extra free timeout just because the play was a close one. I don’t know why people seem to think they do. The clock was running. Reviewing the play without specific justification (something that takes 10 to 15 seconds to come up with) would be unfair to the defense. Why should Ole Miss be given extra time to think through what they want to do on 4th down? That’s not fair either. If they wanted that time, they should have picked a play that wasn’t going to result in the player being tackled in-bounds, or had better timeout management earlier in the half so they still had one at this point in the game. It’s not Cal’s fault nor the refs fault that Ole Miss didn’t have that timeout and called a play that risked being down in-bounds.

And here’s what makes all of the above even more important: It appears the refs not only made the correct procedural call, but likely made the correct call on the field:

Here’s what I see in that bottom video by Emily Van Buskirk:

  • When the receiver reaches out to catch the ball, his feet and lower body are in the endzone but his upper body and hands (including the ball) are in the field of play
  • As he falls to the ground, the majority of his body drifts back into the field of play
  • But amidst that, the receiver transfers the ball to his left arm, bringing it very close to being in the endzone just as his first knee hits the ground. Whether it is in the endzone is nearly impossible to tell as the angle is not straight down the line (but it’s apparently the closest to down the line that exists). But I’ll admit it is very close and could possibly be a few inches over the line. No one can say for sure.
  • Then as he falls to the ground, the majority of the remainder of his body drifts into the field of play, including the ball now clearly being back in the field of play.
  • Finally, well after his knee is down, the receiver rolls back into the endzone and the ball at this point clearly breaks the plane. But of course, his knee has been down for a while now and it doesn’t matter if the ball crosses at this point.

So to summerize, the ball is caught outside the endzone, is transferred to his left arm where PERHAPS for just a moment it gets into the endzone, and then clearly returns back to the field of play as his knee is hitting the ground.

I’ve seen a lot of plays that more or less meet that criteria (ball perhaps crossing momentarily before returning to the field of play) and almost universally, unless it is VERY clear, refs generally don’t call it a touchdown. And for sure, if it is marginal as that one, the review booth would leave the play as called on the field. They for sure wouldn’t overturn that call based on the evidence we have.

So, to summarize:

  • The ref on the field likely made the correct call live.
  • The refs on the field did the right thing and didn’t assume a replay would be done. They continued as they are supposed to and properly spotted the ball quickly so Ole Miss could run a 4th down play as quickly (or slowly) as they desired.
  • The replay ref just didn’t have enough time to review the play to decide whether a full review was warranted and thus it is very reasonable that no replay was done.
  • But even if he had called for a full review, it appears the result would have been a “play stands as called on the field” result.
  • As such, it would have been unfair to the Bear’s defense to give Ole Miss the benefit of the doubt and do the replay and thus effectively give Old Miss a free and undeserved timeout to review a play that wouldn’t have been overturned.

Thus this “controversy” is a complete joke. Anyone who’s read all my content and particularly listened to my podcast knows I’m no defender of Pac-12 refs. But just because the conference’s refs have made plenty of mistakes in the past, doesn’t mean they made a mistake here. Best I can tell, they did everything right on this one.

Quick post Ole Miss game thoughts

  • It seems pretty clear at this point, by the end of this season we’ll all know whether there’s anything wrong with our hearts. They’re going to be stress tested every week.
  • There’s no doubt the defensive injuries are having a pretty big effect on the defense. Let’s hope what the announcers said is accurate and the team will likely to get Paul and Goode back next week. The team really needs them.
  • The offensive line, while not great, seems to be surviving its injuries at this point. They looked reasonable in the 2nd half, even opening a few more running lanes against what was clearly a stacked box. (It’s part of why Garbers had so much room to throw.)
  • It’s been a long time since I’ve seen cornerback Cameron Bynum get beat over the top. Although that late throw that got the Rebels down to the 10 yard line was a well placed ball and a very good catch, making it very hard to defend, Bynum was not his usual lock-down self on that one.
  • Seeing Modster on the field as QB (admittedly just while Garbers was injured) clears up that he’s finally now eligible to play. Perhaps that’s just what Garbers needed to open up his passing game: Someone who might challenge him for the starting spot who is actually eligible to play.
  • By the way, great play call choice for Modster’s first pass (A jailbreak screen). Not a run like Ole Miss was assuming, but also something pretty safe with little downside and a lot of upside.
  • I’m still getting used to the idea that punting on 4th and 1 at mid-field with 2 minutes left and up by only 1 score, is the right call. With Dykes it was the absolute wrong call. While it was tighter than anyone would have liked, punting worked out. Woohoo defense!
  • That 3rd down play, no matter what announcer Ryan Leaf said, was most likely not a touchdown. The WR’s nearly entire body landed on the field side of the endzone line. My guess is if they review it (which they didn’t have time for), it would have been a “stands” if not “confirmed” call. Give credit to the line judge for being in exactly the right spot and being decisive about making the call as he saw it.
  • How just is it that Weaver made the final stop on 4th down?
  • And as a reminder, remember the Bears don’t lose if that TD is scored. Not only do the Rebels need to convert the 2-point conversion, even then it just goes to overtime. And I like the Bears chances in OT.

More later…

Ole Miss halftime thoughts

  • Starting with the positive: Way to go Garbers! Finally throwing the ball with some authority and picking some good reads.
  • Although I don’t think Garbers reads have all been right. There’s clearly been some missed reads (including the interception). But I’ll take what we’ve been getting this week every time over the past.
  • Last offensive thought: The offensive line is getting man-handled on run plays. Really need to turn that around. Too many injuries is making it too hard for them to hold up.
  • The defense is in a tough spot themselves with injuries. Missing both Tevin Paul and Cameron Goode at linebacker? OUCH! That hurts a LOT, LOT, LOT!
  • And that might be part of the reason the Bears are really struggling at reading the read-option. Nobody seems to be assigned (or at least that’s how it looks) to the QB keep option.
  • And when they manage to cover the QB keep, they’re not ready for the RPO option of passing over the top of the linebacker who’s going to make the QB tackle to an open reciever.
  • Those two plays have been the backbone of Ole Miss’s offensive success. The hope is they figure out a way to schematically clean that up in the 2nd half.
  • Happy to see the Bears leading (albeit by 1) at half-time, particularly getting the ball to start the 2nd half.