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Big Game thoughts

The Bears actually were competitive in the Big Game longer than I expected.  They apparently agreed with my advice to focus on stopping McCaffrey and force Chryst to beat them with his arm.  And that worked reasonably well for a half.  But the moment McCaffrey ran right by three over-pursuing defenders en route to a 90+ yard TD run, the game was over.  If you can no longer stop the one thing you’re dedicated to stopping, your chances of winning are not good.

Additional thoughts:

  • I don’t know if it would have mattered if the Bears could have kept McCaffrey in check for the remainder of the game.  Eventually Chryst found some rhythm and the openings in the Cal secondary and extended the lead.  My guess is the Bears would have lost anyway even without McCaffrey’s 2nd half flurry.
  • An interesting question is why the Bears seem to be able to stop what they intend for a quarter or two, but then fail to do it for the rest of the game.  One possible answer is conditioning.  These Bears just don’t have the strength to do what they need on defense for 4 quarters.  I’m pretty sympathetic to that answer, but it’s not the only one.  Another one is game-planning.  Perhaps the Bears are doing a reasonably good job of confusing their opponents with unique game plans well tailored to each opponent and it is taking the opponent a quarter or two to adjust.  Then there’s the inverse argument: The opponent is better at in-game/half-time adjustments.
  • Just as frustrating to me as the defensive failings is the inconsistency of the offense, particularly in the 3rd quarter.  For those who listened to my OTRH podcasts (which since I’ve been sick and haven’t made it to the last two home games have been lacking) all season, know that I’ve been complaining about the offense getting too cute and putzing around, particularly in the 3rd quarter.  I felt the same way on Saturday.
  • Similarly, I also feel like the team tries to go to the same well too many times.  While the wide-receiver screens haven’t worked all season, I was very happy to see the O-line screens working so well against Stanford’s aggressive linebacker core.  But by the 2nd half, they stopped working.  Why?  Because they ran too many of them.  And I feel that way about a number of plays.  They’re good plays, but we use them too often.  The most blatent example of this was the WR screens early in the 3rd quarter.  They must have run 6 of those in a row.
  • I have a similar concern about the run game.  The team is very streaky in when they use it.  The run game needs to be mixed in every drive, not used for a drive or two (and we tend to use it heavily during that drive) until it stops working and then abandon it until later in the game.  That is not how to keep the defense honest.
  • But probably the most baffling thing about the 2nd half of the season has been the COMPLETE inability of the WR’s to stretch the field.  And I refuse to blame all of that on Hansen’s injury.  I’m more inclined to think that Webb’s hand still isn’t right.  Or perhaps the defenses have schematically figured out how to stop it.
  • Speaking of Webb, I think too many people are going too easy on him.  While he’s not a bad QB, he’s had a lot of inconsistency.  Inconsistent decision making.  Inconsistent throwing.  Inconsistent footwork.  I don’t want to harp on him too much, as there are plenty of people playing worse football on the field than him.  But he deserves a share of the blame.
  • Which brings me to my long-term Dykes-led team fear: Is his system too dependent on a QB who executes near perfectly?  A lot of plays require the QB make a run-pass decision pre-snap.  If the QB is unable to make the right decisions, things can go quite poorly.  I wonder if the reason the run game is used in such a streaky fashion is because Webb is making these decisions pre-snap and doesn’t have the big-picture of how to mix it in.  I really wonder if we’ve now had two head coaches in a row that put too much emphasis on the QB.

Post-Oregon monday morning thoughts

Various thoughts after Saturday night’s thrilling LOOOOONG victory over Oregon:

  • There will be an OTRH podcast this week.  I’ve been sick and had a busy weekend, so I didn’t get to posting it yet.  Hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning.
  • I’m seeing way to much of “the offense scored 52 points” argument this morning.  If you want to take a holistic view based on points scored, you need to limit yourself to regulation.  The Bears only scored 42 in regulation.  Admittedly, that’s not nothing, but it’s also not so much that one can’t be frustrated with the offense.
  • That’s particularly true when you pull out this nugget: The Bears only scored 11 points in the 2nd half.  Don’t tell me the offense didn’t struggle at times.
  • I’m probably less concerned with the defensive effort than most.  Yeah, there were some portions of the game they were frustrating.  But they held Oregon to 14 in the 1st half and were given absolutely no support in the 2nd half by the offense.  They were pretty dang tired by the end.
  • Speaking of the defense, I thought they did pretty well against the read-option game, something they have failed miserably against in recent years.
  • One thing that is concerning is the offense’s lack of ability to stretch the field.  This team lived by the long-ball for the 1st portion of the season and now they can’t seem to throw the ball downfield to save their life.
  • Call me under-impressed with the clock management on the final drive of regulation.  The Bears got the ball with 3:15 left.  And while I know they wanted to make sure they didn’t leave any time for Oregon to score, there’s no excuse to run out of time and have to kick a 41 yard field goal on 2nd and 4.  Push that ball another 10 yards down field and it’s a gimme of a field goal.
  • I’m practically getting vertigo watching the defense struggle yet then coming up with game-winning plays at the end of the game (at home anyway).

There will be NO 2nd watch post this week

If my silence since Saturday means anything, it means I’m disgusted.  There’s NO WAY I’m ever going to watch that game again except as an act of penance for some terrifyingly horrible sin.

What the heck!?!

I mean seriously… did Tedford take back over the program for a week?  Because this is exactly the sort of face plant against OSU that he was known for.  Unable to beat the press coverage and dominated at the line of scrimmage for the entire game… but the team gets their act together in the 4th quarter enough to make it a close affair before the team does something stupid to prevent the comeback, like Riley running with less than 30 seconds left with no timeouts in 2007.

Apparently Webb had an injured hand, and perhaps that mitigates why the passing game was so ineffective and over-rides my growing concern of his inability to complete game winning drives.  (What was with that horrid in the turf pass to Robertson on the last drive?)  Up until now, the offense was licking their chops whenever the opponent played press coverage.  But for some reason, perhaps an injured hand, the Bears were mystified by it.

But that is NO EXCUSE for the defensive line and linebackers who both were getting physically dominated AND couldn’t tackle worth a hill of beans.  They looked hesitant and refused to attack when tackling.  If I never see another player dragged for 5 yards before letting go again it will be too soon.

And what makes it worse is that Dykes’ teams have not had this problem.  Sure, they haven’t been at the top of the pecking order, but they’ve always beat the teams below them, particularly OSU.  In the past 3 seasons, the only games one could argue the Bears were the superior team based on their season performance and yet loss are the following:

  • 2014 BYU (marginal, team was 8-5 but against worse competition)

That’s it!  I went through every other game, and every one that Cal lost to finished ahead of them in the conference standings and for the non-conference teams had a record that suggested they were better.

Until Saturday night.

Perhaps we’ll look back on this game at the end of the season in a different light, seeing an OSU team that went on a tear starting with this game, but somehow I don’t think so.

There’s no other way to say it: This is the worst loss of the Dykes era.

Utah 2nd watch comments

Here are my thoughts as re-watching the game:

  • There sure hasn’t been a lot of info on Mohammad’s injury (at least not that I’ve seen).  I sure hope we get him back soon.
  • Although Tre Watson was looking sharp on that first possesssion
  • Chad Hansen really does have great body control and also has a very good sense of body placement.  On that first TD, he purposely played it inside and kept the DB inside so he had a lot of room between him and the sideline.  Then, he waits until the last second to step to the outside to give him some space to catch the ball and run into the endzone.  Great stuff.
  • Interesting that the 1st play Utah ran was a pass play.  And it was complete…
  • I think something that is hard for most defenses to get their mind around is a team that always goes for it on 4th and short.  Defenses have had it beat into them from pee-wee onward that on 3rd down you don’t have to stop them for no gain, just short of the 1st down line.  It makes it a bit too easy to give up the yards get to 4th and 1.
  • At first I couldn’t believe they didn’t give an intentional grounding penalty at the end of Utah’s 1st drive, but upon closer inspection, there was a receiver “in the area” of where the QB threw to.
  • Cal did indeed get a “very generous spot” on that 3rd and 9 completion in the 2nd drive.
  • Webb was a bit inconsistent on that 2nd drive, throwing a number balls to either the wrong guy or just a poorly thrown ball.  Not his best drive.
  • It sure would have been nice if that 2nd drive punt would have been downed.  Sometimes the guys try too hard to keep it too close.  The 1st guy should have batted it HARD back towards the middle of the field.  Instead he tried to just keep it on the 1 and the result was a touchback.
  • Something Cal did well early in this game was to mix up the inside and outside runs.  Lot’s of misdirection on the outside runs too.
  • That 2nd touchdown to Robertson was GENIUS!  Just genius.  Cal had ran the fly sweep a couple times.  They run Robertson across the middle before the snap like it’s another fly sweep, but they don’t give it to him.  That has the effect of getting the defense to forget about him “Oh, it’s not the sweep, let’s figure out what it is.”  Then, since they had Robertson singled on his side, when he came across, unless Utah did a shift, they were short a DB on that side.  By having the receivers cut inside, it left a WAAAAY over matched linebacker trying to keep up with Robertson… when he was already really late to pick up that it was his assignment.  Great, great, GREAT, playcall.
  • An under appreciated aspect of this game is the affect of an inexperienced QB.  His passing was pretty inconsistent.  Why were the Utes thought to be any good with both a new QB and having lost Booker at RB?
  • One of the things that shows that Cal isn’t good at run defense is the delayed draw play.  Utah got a 1st down on 3rd and long with that.  A good rush defense wouldn’t have let that happen, even if they were fooled by the delay.
  • OK, we’re on the “why once Cal was up 14-3 did they have such trouble scoring?” watch… holding penalty and then a delay of game did them in.  But overall the playcalling was OK on this one until they were dug in a 2nd and 25 hole.
  • I’m sorry, the refs made the wrong call on the overturned fumble.  The ball was in the process of coming out as his knee hit.  That should have been a “play stands” either way (if it had been ruled down or a fumble) as it was pretty dang close and the best view was obscured by other players.
  •  OK, that 1st killer personal foul penalty was a stupid one by the Bears.  The throat slash Saffle?  Seriously!?!  I sure hope he got a very public discipline that the whole team recognizes should never be done again.  That cost the Bears 4 points at a very critical time in the game.
  • 2nd drive in the stalled period from the 2nd and 3rd quarter: Delay of game and broken up WR screen results in long 3rd down and then Webb does the “virtual punt/prayer” throw down the sideline.  The coaches should have already known the WR screens weren’t working, but the delay of game, that’s on Webb.  Give that 50% credit to over-conservative play-calling.
  • 3rd drive of “the stall”: Went for it all (only 39 seconds, so not a bad idea), then a near sack, did them in.  Considering the time, let’s just forget this one.
  • 4th drive of “the stall”: Boring out followed by boring run up the middle followed by Webb locking in on boring underneath route (when Hansen was WIDE OPEN down the field) results in a 3 and out.  This is exactly the sort of lacking any dynamic qualities playcalling I don’t like.  No misdirection.  No pre-snap motion.  Nothing interesting.
  • Utah scores a TD on another long, time-sucking driving.  Probably the most interesting thing here is this drive is the first sign of the Cal defense stiffening in the redzone.  They had 3 goal-line plays and while Utah got in on the 3rd, he was only barely in.  Cal was starting to figure it out at this point.
  • Cal will score an easy TD on this next drive, so we can now summarize “the stall”… I must admit, there’s really only 1 drive of the 4 that really meets my criteria for dinking around and trying to eat clock.  Although I might still quibble that too much in those 4 drives had plays around the line of scrimmage and not enough downfield, the real story was that it was only 4 drives in nearly a half of football.  Utah really did do a good job of keep away.
  • Watson really came alive on that drive.  He was doing a great job of fighting through tackles and getting a lot of yards after contact.
  • What’s with the new 3-yard ineligible man down field?  Didn’t it used to be 5-yards?  I’m sorry, in neither of those cases was it logically illegal man down field, it was just a lineman who managed to get to a linebacker on his blocking assignments.  That’s just stupid and if I’m a defensive coordinator, I’m going to be coaching my linebackers to stay 4 to 5 yards off the line when they’re not supposed to be rushing the QB to draw more of these stupid penalties.
  • Another great throw from Webb to Hansen for the TD.    If only Webb were as on the same page with his other WRs… not that he’s bad with the others, but his touch isn’t as good for their speed.  I think he’s still figuring out just how fast Stovall and Robertson are.
  • Another case where the defense “stops” Utah on 3rd down, but because it is only 2 yards, Utah goes for it on 4th down and picks up the conversion.  I’d be remembering this factor for the next game as the defensive coordinator… to coach the defense to not view 3rd down as “we only have to prevent the 1st down”.
  • Utah really did make a mistake not kicking the field goal on that failed 4th down conversion.  Yeah, Utah had been executing that 4th and short play at will, but it hadn’t been in the redzone where the defense can focus more effort on the line of scrimmage not to mention the huge difference of only being down 1 vs. 4 points.
  • Love that quote by the sideline reporter.  Cal defense says “we will need to do that again… be ready” after the 4th down stop.  Practically prophetic!
  • Speaking of a little room for improvement on touch by Webb.  Robertson had to stall quite a bit on his TD catch to wait for the ball.  But he was SOOO fast, he had more than enough room to do it.
  • If Utah had kicked the field goal, they’d only be down by 8 right now, still just one score.
  • I had under appreciated how successful the Utah passing game had been.  Yes, it was nothing overwhelming (and sure as heck nothing like Cal’s) but similar to how Cal’s run game can at times be good enough to keep the defense honest, the Utah passing game was doing well enough to keep Cal’s defense more balanced and prevent them from putting all their focus on stopping the run.
  • The replay booth fixed it for the refs, but I wouldn’t feel too good about my weekly review if I was the line judge on that one.  He was staring right at the play and should have seen that his knee was CLEARLY down on the green portion and his body was leaned back, so it was clearly not a TD.  But he called it a TD.  (And yet again our TV commentators have granite for brains when it comes to looking at reviews… it was true all day.)
  • Stupid, stupid, stupid holding penalty on Hudson.  Completely didn’t need to do it and suggests he didn’t understand what his assignment was (or perhaps misunderstood where his runner was).  Completely killed that drive.
  • But the refs wanted in on the stupidity too… I just can’t believe they called off the blocking in the back.  It was obvious to everyone in the stadium and seeing it on video it was just as clear.  The guy clearly pushed him. And as for the personal foul, if you watch the “live” portion of the video, at the end of the play #88 (who was called for it, gently taps #7 with both hands, theoretically an illegal block in the back, and then walks around him and is just about off the field with no Utah players around him when the camera pans away.  I can’t imagine what it could have been, unless the guy made a massive U-Turn and did something after that.  I call BS on the whole thing.
  • Cal was definitely playing too soft on the WRs for most of the game.
  • Boy, for how awesome Looney was on the goal line, boy did he blow it on the run that got Utah to the 9.  He literally was face-to-face with and bumped into the runner, but in no way tried to tackle him… no arms up, nothing.  Could have been a tackle for a loss, and instead was a 12 yard run to the 9.
  • Man do Pac-12 commentators suck.  Let the clock go down to 3 seconds for 4th down?  Boy would that have killed Utah’s chances.  Of course immediately after the PI happens, they realize how stupid that would have been.
  • The PI on Cal on 4th down was definitely PI.  Yes, as it played out, the ball was uncatchable, but what we don’t know is how much the receiver could have come back to the ball if #18 hadn’t had him in a near bear-hug.  At the same time, I’m not sure #18 did the wrong thing.  He lost his leverage and was leaning the wrong way when the cutback happens.  He doesn’t know where the ball is or how badly it was thrown.  On the ‘one play for the game scenario’ when you’re beat, you foul.
  • Which is also why PI is so common in those scenarios and why it’s not “wizardry” (as someone said on another forum) to predict that possibility and game plan for it (i.e. let the clock run down so there’s not as much time.)
  • Those who think the pass on 2nd down would have been a TD had it been caught (or thrown better and caught), perhaps if he throws it PERFECTLY and hits him in stride he gets in, but that’s a really tough angle to drop it over the top like that.  If the throw was anything like it was where he has to turn his hips like he did, even if it is lower, that slows him up a lot and he would get tackled from behind by #11 and the game is over.  It was a good thing for Utah he couldn’t catch it.
  • On the last play I agree with the consensus that Utah’s play didn’t go the way it was intended.  But I’m not sure it was wrong the way most people think.  I think Moss decided his pulling guard was going to slow and he’d get tackled from behind.  He was right up on his back and then decided to cut back to the middle.  Also, it’s worth noting that pulling guard fell down.  Moss might have gotten in that way, but he would have had to either hurdle the downed guard or cut back to the line (and there was a bit of a whole there that it is unclear if Cal could have filled).  The short answer was that Cal got a good push and was disruptive.  It wasn’t just a “blown play”.
  • Anyone else lose some respect for Whittingham for his post-play actions?  He went up to a bunch of guys and clearly said (reading lips) “That’s on you guys!”  I know I wouldn’t be too happy if Dykes was doing that after a heart-breaking, game-losing play.

OK, that’s 2200+ words on the game.  I think that’s enough. :)

Extremely late ASU comments

Finally finished watching the game.  Boy is it hard to get motivated to watch a game that you know was a heart-breaker!

Here are my takeaways:

  • It’s a mistake to correlate “31 points yielded in the 4th quarter” with “our defense sucks!”  The defense was only responsible for 14 of those 31 and prevented the 1st interception from giving up any more than 3 points.
  • My biggest fear right now is that Webb is not a “gamer”.  We’ve had 2 games this season when he needed to drive us down the field at the end of the game when the team was trailing and both times he through ill-advised interceptions.  It’s an awful small sample size, but it’s all we have, and it is worrisome.
  • That said, I won’t hold the 1st interception against Webb too much.  That was a tougher one for him to see developing and not nearly as egregious as the 2nd interception which was mindbogglingly bad.
  • I also don’t hold the onside kick turned TD against the team.  That’s the nature of a high risk play like that.  It’s a desperate moment and bad things happen in desperate moments.
  • More concerning to me was the highly predictable play-calling in the 2nd half.  EVERY 1st down (ironically besides the 1st interception) was a run play.  It reminded me WAAAY to much of the Holmoe years: Run, Run, Pass.  The difference of course being the pass had a much higher success rate than Holmoe’s teams did.
  • I felt like the offense got somewhat lucky in the 1st half but that it somewhat evened out in the 2nd (this is before the interception fest).
  • I think we really should be feeling better about both the defensive play and the running game than we are.  They’re not the Achilles Heels we think they are.  They’re not great or anything, but they’re not horrible.  The defense is MUCH better than their stats would suggest and getting better.
  • I’m happy to see the shift to Mohammad getting more and more playing time.  I’d like to see it go a little further and see him be the #1 back (with still giving meaningful time to Enwere and OK, I guess, Watson can do some relief work too).

But big picture, as much as it was heart-breaking, I feel like the pieces are there and Cal has a real shot at beating Utah this weekend.

Texas 2nd watch thoughts

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

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

Any thoughts from the rest of you?

Texas preview

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, that’s not the case:

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

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

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

Re-watch SDSU thoughts

Here are my thoughts on re-watching the game:

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

Let’s see if Cal can improve!

SDSU post-game 1st thoughts

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

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

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

(More to come tomorrow)

SDSU halftime thoughts

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

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

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

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

Additional post-Hawaii thoughts

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

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

Hawaii game thoughts

In no particular order:

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

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

Bowl game thoughts

Well that was fun!  Some post-game thoughts:

  • The way the defense performed makes me think good things about the coaching staff.  Even on the 1st drive the defense looked reasonably prepared.  They would have stopped the drive for a field-goal attempt if it hadn’t been for the phantom facemask penalty.  As the game wore on, they got better and better.  Every time Air Force made an adjustment, it would work for a short while, but the Bears would adjust and shut it down again.
  • As the season has wore on, I’ve been less and less impressed with the receivers.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re still reasonably good.  It’s more that I used to think they were awesome and now think they’re just good.  Powe in particular didn’t impress me early in the game.  He just didn’t look like he cared all that much.  Maybe these guys are affected by the cold?  I dunno.  Whatever it is, the number of dropped balls has been disappointing for a supposedly elite group.
  • The offensive line looked good today against a smaller defensive group.  That last drive to seal the game was something we’ve never seen before from a Dykes team.  Air Force knew Cal as going to run the ball to grind out the clock and they couldn’t stop it.  Considering the opponent one has to take that performance with a grain of salt, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Something the announcers picked up on starting in the ASU game and was repeated yesterday was how good Goff is against pressure.  I wholeheartedly agree.  I think the key to the Cal offense without Goff is whether the new QB can be trained to know his quick pass opportunities when the opponent brings a blitz and has the guts to deliver those passes with the heat bearing down on him.  The offensive line doesn’t look to have the talent to take care of blitzing all on its own.
  • While we’re on the topic of Goff leaving, put me in the camp of thinking he is more likely to stay than most people think.  If you made me bet with even odds, I’d bet on him leaving.  But somewhere around 2.5-to-1 I’d consider betting on him staying.  Goff loves it at Cal.  I think he sees the potential for a better run next year.  I’m not sure how close he is to getting his degree by the end of next year, but that could be the deciding factor.
  • Back to the game, I still think Mohammad is our most under-appreciated running back.  It seems he’s the #2 back right now behind Tre Watson, who I must admit is starting to impress me and I think is the back of the future, but Mohammad deserved the #1 spot yesterday.
  • On a more light hearted topic, unless Tony Franklin likes the crazy professor look, I think he should wear hats more often like he did yesterday.  He looked darned right respectable.  Normally he reminds me of Bill Murray in the movie Kingpin:

    Sure, he doesn’t have the comb over, but it just looks worse and worse as the game wears on:
  • I was happy with the linebacker play considering how many we were missing yesterday.  It makes me feel a lot better about the future of the defense.  While I’ve still got my fears about how many guys we’re losing on defense, it seems that the linebacker core of 2016 might be an area they can build around.
  • Overall, a reasonably strong performance in a mediocre bowl against a reasonably challenging mid-major opponent.  The Bears came to play and were the superior team.

Go Bears!

Frustrated with my fellow Cal fans today

I’ll have my OTRH podcast up tomorrow morning, but I wanted to make a comment in the mean time:

GET A HOLD OF YOURSELVES!?!

I’m frustrated too, but what I’m seeing on the various Cal sites today is bothersome to me.  Dykes made reasonable calls taking the points instead of going for it on 4th down.  At the end of the game, yeah, they were surrender punts and kickoffs, but guess what, the game was ALREADY surrendered at that point.  (Anybody here really think Cal was going to recover two consecutive onside kicks and score 2 TD’s with 1:50 left?)

My point is overall Dykes was reasonably aggressive.  He went for it on 4th down a handful of well chosen times.  Those 9 points made it so Cal was within a score in the 4th quarter.  Yes, Cal would have had a much better shot at winning had a couple of those field-goals been touchdowns, but that should be blamed on bad catches, bad throws, or if someone would like to put in the effort to prove it, bad play calls on 1st through 3rd down.

Cal needed two things Saturday: Better redzone execution and a defense that could hold a tough rushing team for 4 quarters.

Dykes lack of aggressive play-calling wasn’t the problem.

I’m done

(Clarity update: this was written just before halftime during the Oregon game)

I’ve got better things to do with my life than watch this garbage.  How can the team that got those stops in the 1st quarter and looked mostly unstoppable turn into completely incompetent on both sides of the ball?

The only answer is effort.  This team doesn’t have it.  Goff couldn’t care less and the rest of the team with him.  Defense too.  Over 400 yards in basically 1 quarter.  Are you FREAKING kidding me!?!

To hell with them all.  Dykes, Goff, Franklin, Kaufman.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any posting from me for a while.

Various USC thoughts

Not going to try and do a full breakdown, but just a few of the random thoughts I have:

  • It’s disappointing to me to hear that both Goff and Dykes were frustrated with the refs.  No game is ever officiated perfectly and there was nothing egregious in this game.  Their efforts would be better spent being frustrated with their own problems.
  • Hardy Nickerson did not have his best game.  He took a bad route on a blitz that allowed him to be too easily blocked on a touchdown run and both of the 3rd down conversions when USC was running out the clock was due to him not doing the outside contain properly.  Perhaps someone else was responsible, but it sure looked like it was supposed to be him and he got caught up by trying to fill an already filled inside gap and then couldn’t get to the outside.
  • Not that it matters, as USC would have definitely scored from 1st and goal from the 1 yard line, but that interception return was NOT a touchdown.  The pylon is OUT of bounds.  That means the nose of the ball must cross the plane INSIDE the pylon.  At best the ball touched the outside of the pylon (and I have my doubts about that, I think it might have been his forearm and the full ball was outside the pylon).  I’ve got no problem with the on the field call, but shouldn’t the replay booth know the rules?
  • I’m definitely of the opinion that Goff has not been right in the head ever since the Utah game.  I’m still seeing hesitation and jitters that he didn’t have before that game.  It might be that it is because the subsequent performances have all seen a lot more man-coverage, but my instinct tells me that’s not it.  If there’s good news, it is that I feel as the game wore on he slowly shook his jitters.  Perhaps this will be the last game of it.
  • When I re-watched the game on TV I was closely watching for whether the RB’s were hitting the holes right.  I noticed two things: 1. it’s a lot harder to tell on TV because the view is more from the sideline than my seats.  2.  From what I could see my fears were confirmed: The RB’s were not hitting the right holes at time and were often in the wrong location within the hole.
  • The other thing the RB’s were doing is cutting to the sideline too much.  They need to cut up field.  The running game needs 5 yard runs to keep defenses honest.  It’s better to get 3-5 consistently than a lot of 2 yarders and the occasional 50 yarder.  Someone needs to remind them of that and that they can get those extra couple of yards by plowing through defenders.
  • That said, the OL is not exactly helping the cause.  I think they were able to open holes early because they gave a strong effort, but they aren’t big/strong enough to do it for 4 quarters against a team like USC.
  • Just one comment about the defense: Anytime you guys give up 19 points against a Pac-12 team, I’m happy.  Carry on.

Any thoughts from others?

Disgusted by UCLA performance

What is it with the Bears and their regular season trips to the Rose Bowl?  Tedford’s Bears were notorious for laying eggs when on the road at UCLA (2005 and 2011 being the most notable).  Now Dyke’s Bears have been blown out twice down there.  Since 2003, the only victory at UCLA was 2009.

I was willing to excuse the 2013 performance as the Bears were generally terrible, getting blown out just about every week, so UCLA just fit in with the “theme” of the season.  But there’s no excuse this year and there’s no other way to say it: the Bears laid an egg last night.  So what is it?  Is it that that the Bears have so many So. Cal players on the team?  (The Bears don’t exactly have the best track record at the LA Coliseum either.)  Is it that it’s the only long bus ride the Bears take to a game? (The Bears fly to the Oregon, Washington, Arizona and “mountain” schools, but take a bus to LA.)  Is it a permutation of the Rose Bowl curse?  Or is it a coincidence and what we’re seeing here is due to something else (Thursday night game, Utah hangover, etc.)?

Frankly, I don’t know, but I’m getting really, really, really sick and tired of losing to mediocre Bruin teams in LA.

Some notes on the game:

  • Has anyone else noticed that up until the Utah game, Cal operated the snap differently?  It used to be the guard looked back and on Goff’s command tapped the center in the leg.  Now we use the more traditional scheme of the center looking through his legs.  Frankly, the offensive line play has looked terrible since then.  I was willing to overlook it against Utah, but UCLA does not have the sort of dominant line that Utah does.  The old system allowed the center to keep his eyes on the defense and be the leader of the line calling audibles and the such.  Why did they change?
  • When I looked at the Cal secondary positioning, it reminded me too much of past seasons.  Players were too often WAAAY off the ball, particularly in the slot.  It’s another, ‘why the change?’.  The defense looked confused and out of sorts all night.  The scheme was ridiculously bad.
  • That said, Cal is losing these games in the trenches.  I really thought the lines were in better shape than they are.  They’re getting pushed around and manhandled on both sides of the ball.
  • Goff had another bad game.  He looked tentative and unsure.  I think those interceptions from the prior week are in his head.  He’s also not taking what the defense is giving him and forcing the ball too far down field too often.
  • Why is Mohammad not our primary back?  Whenever we put him in, the run game comes to life.  All of a sudden we’re getting 5+ yards a rush.  Even when he doesn’t have a great rush, he’s falling forward, getting 2-3 instead of -1.  What the heck did he do or what bias does the coaching staff have against him?  It’s been the biggest head-scratcher of the year.  This guy should be our primary back.  No RB by committee until Lasco (another head-scratcher is why he’s not 100% yet) is healthy.
  • Dykes picked some really odd times to be aggressive despite being conservative in his offensive game plan for most of the game.  What was with that fake punt on 4th and 10?
  • Overall I’d say it was a bad offensive game plan (to go along with the horrible defensive game plan).  They should have committed to the run game earlier and stuck with it.  They were running on downs that are a bad idea when you’ve got concerns about the run game.  You don’t run on 2nd and 10.  3rd and 7 is not much of a help.  It’s just making it so you’re nearly guaranteed to have 3rd and long and taking your margin of error down to nothing.  You also don’t pass on 2nd and short.  That’s when you tell the team to go out there and get those 3 yards and don’t let them off the hook until they start converting them.  Finally, on 3rd and short, you don’t throw low percentage plans like deep fades to Treggs.

So, I’m disgusted.  If the Bears play like they did last night for the rest of the season, this team will be 6-6 and there’s a risk they don’t go bowling if things fall apart for the OSU game.  (Luckily I have hope that the Bears won’t play like that for the rest of the season.   They may be able to get a couple of wins out of vulnerable USC and Oregon as well as over-rated ASU.)

Thoughts from the Utah game

Here are some various thoughts from the game:

  • If you don’t think the defense did a great job, then you weren’t watching closely enough.  Name a game where the offense gave up 6 turnovers and the opposition only scored 30 points?  The defense did GREAT.  Other than the one 40 yard touchdown run, they really kept the Utah running game in check and gave the Bears every chance to win the game.
  • I think too many people (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone) were of the thinking that the only way the Bears win was if Goff had an incredible game, and that is at least in part to blame (luckily I’m sure Goff doesn’t listen to me so I’m off the hook… phew!) for his poor performance.  That was a QB who thought he had to perform miracles and every drive had to be a success.  It’s the only explanation I have for the majority of those interceptions.  There’s been no game I’m aware of where he’s forced balls into so many bad spots.
  • Actually, I have one other theory, but it isn’t as comprehensive as the prior one.  Don’t forget the Bears were playing at 4000 feet.  He had a few too many balls sail on him and that could in part be because of the thinner air.  As proof it makes a difference, did anyone notice that all of a sudden our kickoffs were all touchbacks?  In any case, a couple of the interceptions were over-throws.
  • Was I the only one who noticed that Muhammad was conspicuously absent?  Yes, yes, yes, I know we’re all watching Lasco like a hawk, so his missing is the bigger headline, but Muhammad rushed 4 times in the 1st quarter (OK, the 4th was early 2nd quarter) averaging 6 yards a carry, and then was seen no more.  My gut tells me he got injured and we haven’t been told yet.
  • BTW, Lasco shouldn’t be blamed for that fumble.  He had both hands solidly on the ball and just happened to get hit by a helmet right on the ball.  Just about any RB puts that ball on the turf.  I don’t question the decision of the coaches… without detailed analysis of the specifics of what happened (something the coaches don’t have the luxury of mid-game) it’s a fair conclusion that if the 1st time he touches the ball he fumbles, his head is not back in the game.
  • Lawler may be able to make incredible catches, but the last few games he’s been a little weak in the consistency department.  He had two pretty bad plays, one that caused an interception and the other cost us a touchdown in the redzone.
  • Back to the defense, yeah Booker had 222 yards, but it took him 34 rushes to do it.  Here’s predicting Booker either is rested a lot in the next few weeks or the Utah rushing game falters late in the season.  A back can’t do 34 rushes every week very long.  It really hurt Vereen at the end of the 2009 season.  He was toast after the Big Game.
  • Finally, while I’m not one to let this sort of thing bother me, it was DEFINITELY pass interference on the failed 4th and 5.  There’s no way the defender gets his hand in there if he doesn’t use the WR’s weight to turn himself around while holding on to him.
  • If there’s a conclusion to take from this game (and to some degree from the rest of the games played this past weekend), Cal can beat any team in the conference.  The wins of UW and WSU show that Cal should be able to beat USC and Oregon with a solid effort.  The way the Bears hung in with the physical play of Utah shows the Bears should be able to compete with Stanford.  Since ASU lost to USC and UCLA lost to ASU, one has to believe that Cal can compete with ASU and UCLA as well.  None of this is to say the Bears *will* win all those games, but it does say there’s not a game left on the schedule we should be assuming will be a loss at this point.

Bring on UCLA in a week and a half!

WSU postgame thoughts

I managed to get in a re-watch of the game on TV yesterday evening. Here are my thoughts:

  • The Bears didn’t look as flat as they did on TV as they did in person.  Perhaps it is because you can see a bunch of pre and post play stuff on the field that you can’t see on TV.  It was funny to hear them refer to Goff as “composed” when the Bears were down.  I saw it as troublingly unconcerned with his poor play.
  • To some degree it speaks to how high of expectations we have of Goff that he thrown 73% completions on the day and we can consider it an “off” day.
  • A really, really weird thrust of the announcers was their talking about it being a referee emphasis this year to penalize “Bush push” plays.  What is he NUTS?  In my entirely life I can’t think of a time I’ve seen that called and there have been plenty of times where I’ve seen it, including the WSU 4th and 1 TD.  For what it is worth, they didn’t call it in the UCLA game I saw on TV that evening either.  One wonders if the announcer is having conversations with ghosts, because I’ve never heard anything about it nor any indication of it on the field.
  • On the other hand, the announcers did a good job explaining what was going on with the corners and the cover-2 schemes WSU was running.  It was definitely confusing Goff early in the game.  I think it would be wise for the Cal corners to watch film of WSU doing it.  The key to cover-2 is that the corner has to get deep enough and the safety has to play it shallow enough that the window the QB has to fit the ball into is small enough that it’s too dangerous to throw it there as the WR is passing through.  The other half, the part that makes it difficult for the corner, is they have to be able to break towards the line as soon as it is clear the play is going to come in front of them.
  • I said this in the podcast, but it is worth repeating.  The pass protection of the OL was pretty dang good.  What turned this game was Goff realizing he had the time to survey the field and find the open receiver.  I think he’s so used to having to make a quick read he was too quick to pull the trigger in this one.  But as it became clear he would have time back there, he started to wait for the right guy to get open and the passing game came alive.
  • Missed from the podcast was a shout-out to Cole Leininger.  He had 3 great punts, none better than the one with 20 seconds left.  Nothing better than a long punt that goes past the returner into the endzone, draining clock as it rolls.
  • Who doesn’t deserve a shout-out is kicker Matt Anderson.  I had really hoped that the UW game was a turning point for him.  Instead we saw an even more shakey performance from him on Saturday than we’ve grown accustomed to.
  • In fairness, the onside kick was executed to perfection.  Anderson did a good job of hiding it until very late in his run-up and then kicked it with just the right amount of velocity to get it past the WSU edge.  At first I thought he had kicked it a bit hard, as the Cal outside guy BARELY managed to catch up to it before it went out of bounds, but having watched it a few times, it was clear if he had slowed it down any, it was likely WSU would have been able to pounce on it before it got past them.
  • Speaking of positives it was nice to see the WR’s back on their mojo.  Minus the Lawler fumble, they executed VERY well.  Lawler continues to make really impressive catches.  I actually feel sorry for the other guys because they’ve made some pretty impressive grabs, including Treggs 2-point conversion that he was almost denied, but Lawler’s highlight film is so over the top it’s hard for them to get noticed.  Mark my words, some NFL team is going to get a steal of a WR late in the draft (or even as a undrafted free-agent) because Lawler will get all the attention.
  • One thing that didn’t impress me much was the kick returning.  I hadn’t thought much of it before this weekend because there just haven’t been that many opportunities to return kicks.  But it was a point of emphasis in the reporter blogs this week, so I guess I was paying more attention.  And what I saw was guys running to the wrong spots for where the blocking was setting up.  There’s no doubt these guys have speed and talent.  They’re fully capable of breaking a couple this year.  But they’ve got to use their blocking and get to the right spots to make that happen.
  • And I’ll finish with the same subject I ranted on in the podcast: Muhammad.  I still don’t get why this guy hasn’t been getting more touches.  The supposed complaint of him by the coaches was he wasn’t hitting the right holes during the off-season (and perhaps back to last year).  I guess I can’t comment on that, but from what I’m seeing, he’s the only one hitting the right holes.  Lasco (and this is not a complaint, the guy is recovering from injury) just didn’t have it and looked a bit rusty out there.  Enwere is Mr. wrong hole.  The only one who explodes through the line is Muhammad.  He’s also the only one (while Lasco is down) who can be counted on to catch the ball out of the backfield.  He should be starting right now.  It’s rare that I don’t understand what the coaches are doing (sometimes I’ll disagree, but I get it), but in this case, call me flabbergasted.  And yes, I still feel that way after Enwere’s 42 yard run in the 4th quarter.  It was nice and I get the value of Enwere, but I bet Muhammad does just as well on that play, probably doesn’t get tripped because he’s 4 more yards down field of where Enwere was at that point, and finishes with a 1st down as well.  That play was mostly about the blocking and WSU being out of position.

OK, that’s most of my thoughts.  Expect more posts this week than usual, leading up to the big GameDay game at Utah.

Washington game thoughts

(Sorry for the lack of a Texas wrap-up post nor a UW prediction.  Never really got my feet back under me after the Texas trip last week.)

There’s few things one has to fight harder for than a win in Husky stadium.  No matter how many times I see Cal go to UW as the favored team, you’re never going to see me over-confident.  UW just doesn’t go down easily on their home field and more than one Cal season has been derailed by games up there (Heck, one could argue Tedford’s struggles up there were significantly responsible for his demise).

So no matter what you think about this win, don’t forget how hard fought it was.  This team has heart!

Various thoughts:

  • On the 1st series, as the announcers explained, Enwere went to the wrong gap when he didn’t get the 1st down on 3rd and short.  It was a really weird play because it sure looked obvious/easy to pick the right hole, but for whatever reason he got scared and cut it back.  Although later in the game Enwere seemed to come of age and find his power game, I’m still not 100% convinced about him.  I still think Mohammad should be our #2 back.
  • While were on that play, what is it with Dykes sacrificing his challenge on the 1st drive to a marginal ball-spotting review?  You just don’t win those unless it is SUPER obvious and neither of the last two games was it obvious (in fact he was just wrong against UW).  We could have really used that challenge at a couple points later in the game.
  • While we’re on the negative, UW shot themselves in the foot a lot more than I think most people appreciate.  Stupid penalties;  Under throws that allowed the DB’s to get back into the play (Cal would have been in trouble against a better QB); Dropped passes that would have kept UW drives alive… it all adds up to a game where a better executing team would have exposed more in the Cal defense.
  • It was also not the best refereed game.  Cal got the good end of it a couple times (Goff definitely fumbled in the 4th quarter) and the bad end of it (Enwere’s butt hit the ground before he fumbled on the one returned for a TD (speaking of times Cal could have used a review in their pocket)) as well as some missed penalty calls, again some against Cal (Lawler push-off) and some we could have used (Lawler getting down right abused both by a targeting hit and a late hit on the same play).  So it’s not that the refs were biased, but it wasn’t there best day on the field either.
  • Speaking of refs, I wouldn’t be intellectually honest if I didn’t say the UW fumble where the question was whether the QB’s arm was coming forward should have gone the other way.  I think it was a fumble, but that was very marginal.  Since it was called a pass on the field, that should have been called as a “play stands”.
  • My final ref thought is that the Bears got the absolute shaft from the refs on the 4 plays from the UW 1 yard line.  Enwere had a great effort on 1st down and that was clearly a touchdown based on the slow-mo.  He kept his knee off the ground (where was Cal’s challenge used again?).  Then there was the HORRIFIC pass interference on Lawler.  My only guess was that the refs were calling that uncatchable.  But when the WR gets thrown just after the ball was in the air, how can you know?  I guess they could have been saying it was before the ball was in the air and within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, but it was clearly after the throw was airborne.
  • On to some positives, it was really nice to see Cal’s pass coverage making plays on the ball, including two interceptions.  That’s the sort of performance I’ve been waiting for.  The other way they were making plays on the ball was in the way they went after the receiver as they were catching the ball.  There was more than one breakup that was impressive.  Overall the effort was more than most teams do.  The fumble by the WR was also a result of the DB’s getting their hands in as the WR was making the catch (although in that case, it was late, so it was a catch and a fumble instead of incomplete).
  • We should all be really happy with the defensive line pressure.  There were times they were getting pressure when only rushing 3 and they definitely could get pressure with 4.  Whenever they got 5 rushing, they were pretty darned successful if it wasn’t a quick pass.  I think this was instrumental in helping the secondary.  The QB was definitely rattled.
  • I really should give Enwere props for his running as the game wore on.  He definitely disappointed me on that 1st drive, but as the game wore on I could see more of why the coaching staff is putting him in there.  He definitely is the back on the team who is going to break tackles and make something out of nothing.  Particularly as defenses get tired (which his kind of running can force) he’s going to break free more often.  Hopefully he continues to mature in his decisions (and in fairness, I only saw the one really bad hole choice).
  • Speaking of under-estimated runners, what is going on with Goff?  It’s not quite like when Longshore broke a 25 yard run against UCLA in 2006, but Goff is really surprising people with his feet.  While the game sealing run wasn’t exactly pretty, Goff had heart and 2nd effort.  Add to that the decision to take the easy 10-15 yarders when the coverage breaks down and all of a sudden we’ve got something really surprising.
  • Along those lines, while the play-call was a surprise, Cal going for it when everyone was expecting a pooch punt wasn’t a surprise to me both because I very much anticipated Dykes  eventually lulling a team into complacency with the assumed pooch punt and because of where they were on the field.  You’re only going to get another 15-20 yards if you’re lucky from a punt.  If you’re choices are take a 50-50 shot at ending the game right now or push the ball from the UW 35 to the 15, I take the 50-50 shot.  Now a Goff run… yeah, that was a surprise.
  • And because it wouldn’t be me without picking on the details… I’m a bit uneasy with Dykes over-conservative tendencies.  It’s showing itself in a few ways.  One is the kicking game.  We just can’t afford to be giving the opponent the ball somewhere between the 30 and 40 every kickoff.  Another is his inability to pick the right plays as he’s trying to seal the win.  While it wasn’t as bad as the Texas game, he still didn’t do a good job of mixing run and pass in a way that kept the defense off balance while still keeping the clock running.  One particular series that troubled me was 1st and 25 from the UW 40 or so with 5 minutes left.  Sorry, you just can’t run it up the middle on those.
  • Finally, and this definitely feels like harping, this was not the WR’s best catching game.  Lawler dropped two passes and there was a few others as well.  I wouldn’t call it “bad” but it wasn’t up to their usual exceptional standard.

To sum up, it’s been said that the best win is the type that gives the coaches plenty to focus on in practice.  Perhaps that’s just one more reason that this was a great victory for the team.  Solid in lots of different ways to keep the confidence of the team growing, while still giving plenty for this team to work on in practice to strive to get better.

Go Bears!