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(A pre-rant caveat… I missed all the 2nd quarter and part of the 3rd, so I missed all 3 of Garbers INTs.  However, I think what I’m about to say still stands)

How could this be Cal’s strategy?  The Bears are throwing too many interceptions… so you switch QB’s and go with a QB who hasn’t seen any meaningful playing time in his 5 years at Cal.  SERIOUSLY!?!  I don’t care how bad Garbers was playing.  He’s your guy at this point.  Instead the right decision is to reign him in so he won’t keep shooting the team in the foot.  You sit him down at halftime and say… “OK, we’re up 7 to nothing.  You’re having a rough game.  Stop forcing it.  When in doubt, throw it away.  What we’re going to do is run a lot and when we do pass, you’re going to play it REALLY safe.  You’re also going to run it more.  We’re going to pick passing plays that make your job easy.  And when those are blown up, don’t sweat it, just throw it away.”

What you DON’T do is put the ball in Forrest’s hands and create even more risk.  You’re telling TCU, load up against the run and see if Forrest can beat you.  If they’ve scouted Cal at all they know Forrest can’t run at all, so they no longer need the spy, they no longer have to worry about the read-option.  Cal gave TCU a *HUGE* advantage by tipping their hands at what the 2nd half strategy was going to be.  It would have been wiser to leave Garbers in but use him differently.

For what it is worth, that’s what TCU did once their QB was injured.  After one disastrous series while he was getting medical treatment, they  trotted him out there and had him hand it off over and over.  He threw one pass just to show he wasn’t completely incapable and the defense had to respect his throwing a little, but mostly he just handed it off.

THAT’S what Cal should have done with Garbers.

But let’s even pretend that going with Forrest is OK, the entire end of the game was *STILL* pathetic.

Cal get’s the ball at their own 10 with 7 minutes left, and go with the run the ball strategy for the 4 consecutive following plays:

  • 6 yard run
  • 8 yard run
  • 8 yard run
  • 3 yard run

It sure seems like it’s working… and since Forrest has shown no feel for throwing the ball (he was 3 for 11 at that point), why would you have him throw, in particular something where he has an option to come back over the middle!?!

And thus Cal throws their 4th interception. ARG!?!

OK, on to the next possession (after Cal dodges a bullet and TCU can’t convert 4th and short just outside of field goal range)  Cal goes with a safe outside pass to the flat (that’s the sort of pass play to use to keep the defense honest) that Mo Ways powers his way to the TCU 40.  The Bears are in striking distance.  Woohoo!  Next they try WR screen to McMorris… a good idea, but he drops it.  Then they run on 2nd and pick up 5 (see the run is working!).  And while the following decision is debatable, I say the right call is to run it on 3rd and 5.  There’s not much trust in Forrest to read the defense and he threw an INT the last time he had to make a serious read.  Why not play it as a 4-down series and use two downs to get a 1st down running the ball? (It’s been working recently after all)  Heck, with some luck, TCU is not expecting run on 3rd down and Cal doesn’t even need the 4th down.  But nevertheless, if they get that 1st down by running on both 3rd and 4th down, then Cal could pound the ball to pick up 6 to 8 yards on the next series and all of a sudden Cal is in field goal range with little time left.  Even if they miss, they have a good shot at a win.

Instead they go for the high risk Forrest throw, it’s incomplete (as any idiot would expect) and then it’s too high risk to go for it on 4th and 5 and punting is sadly the right call with 2 minutes left.

The coaching staff still found fresh ways to lose their minds before regulation was up.  What was with the timeout with TCU at their own 10 with 2 minutes left on 1st down?  There’s only 2 timeouts.  Cal couldn’t have stopped the clock on all 3 plays.  They should have waited for 3rd and 4th down.  By waiting, at least they would know if it was 3rd and short or long before calling time out. At least by waiting you know if you’re likely to get the ball back and so it’s good to conserve clock, or whether they have 3rd and short and Cal should want to shorten the game.  But no, they take a timeout on 1st down and all of a sudden TCU is rumbling down the field and thankful Cal saved them some clock.  But thankfully, they miss the long field-goal and Cal is saved from their stupidity.

On to overtime…

The Cal running game picks up a reasonable 3 yards on 1st down (and frankly, it felt like it could have been 4 or 5.  Do they keep running the ball?  Do they say, “you know, I bet we can win a game of trading field goals… did you see how weak their kicker was?”  No, on 2nd down they have Forrest throw incomplete, surprising no one with his passing incompetence.  On 3rd down do they wise up?  No, they have Forrest throw again and it’s a ridiculously bad INT that was almost run all the way back.

Then the Bears lose when TCU kicks a field goal on their overtime possession.

Pathetic and disgusting.

It reminded me of everything that was wrong with the McIlwain experiment.  They have confidence in the wrong guys at the wrong time.  Instead of working with the obvious choice (Garbers) and working with his short-comings to hone in on an offense that is at least mildly functional without shooting the entire team in the foot, they go for a wildly high-risk plan with a QB who has shown time and time again to be even worse at the one thing we can’t afford (lot’s of INTs).

I just don’t get it.

Colorado re-watch thoughts

Decided to re-watch, or more accurately watch the TV converage for the 1st time, the Colorado game.  Here are my thoughts as I watched.

  • What was Montez thinking on that 1st INT?  There were two guys who could have made that interception.  That had to be a case of having a pre-determined throw because he didn’t seem to have any thought behind that throw.
  • Now, that 2nd INT, I was a bit more sympathetic to Colorado’s plight when I saw it live, but on re-watch, that one was just as egregious.  Montez should have seen the safety.
  • You have to feel sorry for CU on the 3rd possession.  Could they possibly throw the ball again?  No.  So everyone knew it was going to be run heavy.  So it’s no surprise they had no success.
  • There was a targetting no-call on Cal’s 1st offensive play, but there was no notice of it on the TV coverage.
  • Penalties didn’t help the Cal offense much this game.
  • Jeez, I had forgotten that it was the very 1st Cal punt where CU fumbled it. They just couldn’t get out of their own way, could they?
  • Colorado was very committed to stopping the run through the whole game.
  • Garbers did a great job of getting off the pass to McMorris on that 4th and 1.  That was pretty impressive.
  • Why did CU take the holding penalty to replay 3rd and goal when Cal only got to the 5?  It’s not like a field goal from the 18 is particularly tough.  Instead, Cal gets 16 on a scramble on the re-try and then Cal converts on 4th and 2.
  • Nixon, the WR for CU, was *really* fast.  A few times he got behind Cal’s DBs and it was only because Montez didn’t have the right touch that they didn’t convert.
  • I was really impressed with Wharton’s after catch effort.  There’s a couple other receivers who could learn from him.  He doesn’t dance.  He doesn’t back-track.  He just runs hard and then when all that is left it to try and bowl over the DB, that’s exactly what he tries to do.
  • Cal had 2 defensive offsides early in the 2nd quarter on back to back plays.  I don’t have trouble admitting that I was livid in the stands.  And sure enough, 3rd and 12 ended up being a 1st down and from there CU drove the rest of the field to get their lone 1st half touchdown.  Small things like that can make a huge difference.
  • Boy have our TE’s been a disappointment this year.  Lot’s of dropped passes and not very good routes run.
  • That 2nd muffed punt return was a hugh momentum saver.
  • That Garbers slide wasn’t even close to a 1st down was it?  I take back what I said in the podcast.  There was no reason for Garbers to push it.  He wasn’t going to get it no matter what.
  • I’m disappointed there was no TV coverage of the hold the killed the 3rd interception return that cost the Bears 40 or so yards.  I sure as heck didn’t see it.
  • Ha!  I didn’t realize Cal’s only 3rd down conversion was a Garbers scramble.  It shows just how ineffective Cal’s offense was.
  • Can someone explain to me why Wilcox was calling timeouts on CU’s last 1st half possession?  Cal wasn’t going to get the ball back with much time left.  It’s not like the Bears had been very aggressive on offense.  Why?
  • On one of Montez’s 3rd down scrambles, Weaver looked like he had the positioning to get to him, but he held up like he had some zone assignment that he didn’t want to risk giving up a pass over the middle.  The next play CU scored their 2nd TD.
  • Cal’s 2nd field goal is yet again the result of an unforced error by CU, in this case a stupid personal foul after the play was over.
  • If I were Stanford, I’d spend a lot of time watching CU’s last touchdown drive.  They seemed to find the key to beating the Cal defense.  Perhaps it wasn’t Cal’s best effort, but CU marched right down the field on that one.
  • Why wasn’t CU given a penalty for “inadvertantly” snapping the ball?  That seems like illegal procedure to me.
  • Hicks made a big mistake on CU’s last touchdown.  He needed to protect the inside, not the sideline, but instead got caught outside of the WR making Montez’s life easy to complete the throw.
  • Wharton was the offensive MVP of the game for sure.  After that 4td down conversion, he got two big pickups by being really physical after the catch.
  • I was so ticked when Cal kept going backwards after 1st and goal.  3rd from the 18?  OUCH!
  • But bailed out by a REALLY stupid personal foul that gave Cal a re-do… a 2nd shot at first and goal from the 7.
  • And then both Garbers and Ways play the fade perfectly for the touchdown.
  • The two point conversion was a pretty good play if it hadn’t been tipped at the line.
  • Jeez, how many false starts were there on 3rd and short?  At least 2.
  • Oh that offensive pass interference was garbage.  Yet another 3rd down conversion lost to penalty.  (In this case not fair)
  • I can’t believe Mo Ways didn’t catch the ball on that 3rd down that would have just about ended the game.  That was a pretty risky call, a deep fade on 3rd and short.
  • Another bogus penalty on Cal on 4th and 17 with a PI call.  There was no way that WR was coming back to the ball and Bynum even got his head around and his hand up.
  • That lateral on the Montez scramble was somthing else, wasn’t it?
  • And Davis as a single high safety… gotta love how he plays.

Final thoughts:  The offensive performance wasn’t quite as bad as I thought.  Just some random stupid mistakes that need to be cleaned up.  I’ll admit the lack of O-Line push was troublesome, but other than that, what was wrong was very fixable.

Re-viewing of USC game thoughts

I re-watched the game (or said another way, watched the TV coverage for the 1st time since I was at the game).  Here are some thoughts from that:

  • What a game Beck had!  Tackled the kicker on the fake field-goal attempt.  Had a 3rd down pass breakup.  Had a very nice tackle for loss.  And of course the key interception that setup the go-ahead touchdown.
  • I hadn’t noticed that Wharton was missing in the 1st quarter from the stands.  That’s one of the harder things of being at the game.  Minus the QB and the running back, it is generally tough to see who’s missing.
  • The holding call on the long run play of Garbers was pretty marginal.  Yeah, it was probably technically holding, but only in the ‘if you were to call every hold, there would never be a play without a penalty’ sorta way.  The lineman disengaged pretty quickly and didn’t seem to meaningfully slow the progress of the defender once he had turned away from the legitimate block, particularly from the perspective of the likelihood he gets to Garbers before he gets downfield.
  • While on the topic of long Garbers runs that were for naught, the fumble call was complete BS.  The replay clearly shows his knee was down and his arm is still around the ball.  Was the ball “starting” to come out?  Perhaps.  But his arm is still around the ball.  It makes me want to look up just when the precise moment a fumble has happened.
  • Not that anyone was doubting this besides the TV commentators, but going for 2-points when up 15-14 late in the 3rd was the right call.  If this was Dykes Cal vs. WSU, then I get the “not until the 4th quarter” rule.  But this was a defensive struggle.  It was late enough in the game not a lot of other points were likely to be scored.  (Which turned out to be true)
  • The game had more dropped passes on the Cal side than I remembered.
  • To give one concession to USC, the personal foul that extended Cal’s final drive was pretty harsh.  I know I wouldn’t have been happy if it was the other way around.  No pushing or shoving, just something he said from a few feet away.  Yes, the USC guy should have been smarter and stayed away from the Cal sideline.  But at the same time, unless he said something incredibly egregious, that’s a pretty harsh call on USC.
  • In the podcast (yet to be published) I talked about how the 1st USC touchdown was a really good play call, putting Bynum in a really tough spot to cover the WR.  What was noticeable on the re-watch was that Cal changed from having the DB follow the receiver to doing a “shift” of receiver assignments when USC brought one across the formation (most of the time).  A wise decision.
  • Something I forgot to mention on the podcast… boy was that stadium quiet starting at about 7 minutes left in the game.  The USC fans were stunned!
  • Another forgot to mention in the podcast… another game where the opponent wasting timeouts in the 2nd half came back to bite them.  And both were really stupid.  Why would they go for it on 4th and 2 from that point on the field?  You can’t get in a play call in 40 seconds?
  • USC really did leave a lot of points on the board.  The fake field goal.  The fumble in the redzone.  The score should have been at least 20-0 if not 24-0 at halftime.
  • For some reason it was more obvious to me watching the game on TV how much the field-position game was not in the Bears favor in the 1st half.  They really shot themselves in the foot a couple of times, particularly that horrible kickoff.

More thoughts to come…

McIlwain sinks the Bears again

When will Wilcox and staff realize that McIlwain can *NOT* be trusted with the ball for more than a play or two?  I think the Bears would have won that game had Garbers been in on that drive that resulted in an INT in the endzone.  Instead, everything went sideways from that point.


(If you’re looking for a silver lining… the Bears continue to show they can compete with anyone in the conference.)

Looks like I was right to be afraid

UCLA just kicked Cal’s butt up and down the field.  While on the one hand, UCLA is better than people think, I’m starting to lose confidence in the Cal coaching staff.  There’s more talent on this team than what they’re showing.  The defense is starting to look disinterested in giving a full effort if the offense isn’t going to carry its share of the load.

That was a horrible performance.

If they don’t turn a HUGE corner this week, they’re going to lose in Corvallis and the wheels are going to come off the bus.  Then we’ll be dreaming of last year’s success as the Bears end up going 0-9 in conference or at best 1-8 with that odd upset that can’t be explained (like last year’s WSU performance).

Post Arizona Rant

I couldn’t be more livid right now.  Wilcox… KICK THE STINKING FIELD GOAL!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Everything that went wrong with the end of that game started with the failed 4th down conversion when they *SHOULD* have kicked the easy field goal to tie the game.  The Bears were dominating on both sides of the ball.  The Arizona offense didn’t score a point after the 1st quarter.  The Cal offense was moving the ball.  Why would you take the high-risk path like that?

This is two Arizona games in a row where Wilcox took the “win it now” philosophy (last year it was going for 2 in the 2nd overtime) and both times it has cost the Bears the game.

All of this is particularly true with McIlwain under center.  You think he throws those two interceptions, forcing the ball where it shouldn’t have been thrown, if the game was tied?  No, he plays smarter if the game is tied.  Instead he plays desperate and makes two stupid decisions because he knows it is drive and score or lose.

And then to add insult to injury, none of the breaks went Cal’s way.  That 1st INT for a TD with the fumble was blind luck from start to finish.  And then the Bears got a horrible call on the sack turned fumble where McIlwain’s hand was clearly moving forward and clearly in a throwing motion.  The key is to look how his hand releases the ball.  It releases it in a spiral motion as if he was throwing.  For a moment I was upset Wilcox didn’t challenge that, but with only one TO left and the marginal nature of that booth review, I can make my peace with that one.

But I absolutely *CAN NOT* make my peace with Wilcox’s ridiculous decisions to take the “win it now” attitude in games when the Bears have the upper hand.  Last year, it was ignoring how much overtime games tend to go in favor of the home team, particularly the longer they go.  This year it’s not recognizing the Bears are dominating on both sides of the ball.

It is completely inexcusable to lose a game that you’re leading by 4, dominate statistically in the 2nd half, but somehow manage to lose by 7.  There’s no excuse for it and it completely came down to poor game management by the coaches, putting the team in a bad situation.

Final gripe: I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate these 7 PM or later games.  I’m supposed to go to sleep now!?!  And I’ve got to be up early for 7:30 AM Mass. ARG!?!

And to add insult to injury on that front, next Saturday I’ve got an all-day commitment where I could have barely got to Berkeley for a 7 PM game.  So it was the one game I was hoping for a late start.  Do I get it? Of course not.  No, it’s just all the other games.  The one time I want it to be late, it’s at 4 PM. GAH!

(mid-morning addendum: Sure enough, I didn’t get to sleep until around 1 AM and then when my alarm went off, I slept through it for over an hour (admittedly I set a quiet alarm), and then woke up with *barely* enough time to shower and make it to mass.  Phew!)

Sunday morning thoughts post BYU

Some various random thoughts the day after…

  • Still feeling pretty good about the potential of this team after last night.  The offensive play calling, when it was good, which was that one 1st half drive and most of the 2nd half, was very promising.  And of course the defense, lights out.
  • On the “let’s not get ahead of ourselves” front.  BYU’s win over Arizona looks pretty unimpressive after Arizona got throttled by Houston of all teams.  That might mean that BYU’s narrow victory over them wasn’t nearly all that good and thus mean Cal’s win was not that impressive either.  The same goes for UNC which got destroyed by East Carolina.  If we only beat them by 7 and ENC beat them by 22 (41-19), isn’t that a bit worrisome?
  • And while we’re worrying, I’ve got to believe that if the Bears keep letting the opposition claw their way back close enough where an onside kick could doom the Bears, one has to think that eventually the Bears are going to lose one they shouldn’t.
  • But of course, wins are wins and these teams have P5 size and competency.  Even if they’re mighty flawed, we’re still looking at a Cal team that can beat at least mediocre to weak P5 teams.
  • Oregon, who is very untested themselves, will be Cal’s first test.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Bowers, sans injury.  Heck, even then, McIlwain might be our full time QB should Garbers get injured.
  • Heck, I won’t count out McIlwain being our primary starter.  His throwing ability was much better than I thought.  He didn’t show us that much because he was only asked to throw a little bit, but what we saw had promise.
  • Winning all 3 non-conference games will be a great start to this season.  With the parity and weakness in the conference, only having to go 3-6 in conference to get to a bowl should be very doable.  Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State should all be games the Bears should win if they play to their potential.  Add in WSU and Colorado as games the Bears should be competitive, and one should expect at least 3 conference wins.  And I’m not even going to count out an upset against Oregon, USC, UW or Stanford (who, sad to say, is looking pretty good right now).

BYU live blog

Since i didn’t pre-announce this, I don’t know if anyone will follow along, but I’ll do it anyway.  (click on the blog title or here to see the full commentary from last night.)

UNC game re-watch

I watched the game on TV today after having gone to the game on Saturday.  So “re-watch” is not entirely accurate.  It was my first time watching the TV broadcast… but the 2nd time watching the game.  In any case, here is my as-it-happened commentary:

  • Coming out in the first defensive possession, the Bears looked pretty good. Bynum’s defense on the 3rd down throw was textbook.
  • Boy, it speaks to how many QBs graduated in the Pac-12 that Bowers has the most passing yards per game of any returning QB.
  • Both of the 1st two plays were outside runs to the right. It felt a little predictable.  Now, admittedly, what caused the drive to stall was a weak throw and unimpressive grab by Hudson on what should have been an easy 3rd and 3 conversion.
  • Goode was a strong X-factor all day. What looked like a pretty good wide receiver screen got blown up by him on UNC’s 2nd possession, putting an end to the drive.
  • Boy did the offensive line not look good on that first sack. Live I thought that Bowers should have known he didn’t have time to pass that ball, but on watching it again, if the line had done their job, he would have had a lot more time than he did.
  • All 3 of Bowers throws thus far haven’t been very good. The WR made the adjustment on the 3rd one, but it still wasn’t quite in the right place.
  • Another 1st down, another run.
  • Another pass to Hudson, another drop. Both have been contested passes (bad reads by Bowers?) but TEs need to be able to make those sorts of catches.
  • Another deep pass attempt in Bynum’s direction and yet again he’s on his WR like glue and forces the breakup.  He had a great day.
  • But hiding amongst the good plays is a lot of incompetence by UNC’s offense. Receivers falling down.  Screens where the intended target doesn’t turn around.  Lot’s of mistakes.  Don’t think UNC’s offense is any good.
  • Another Cal 1st down, another run up the middle.
  • It feels like the old Holmoe, run-run-3rd and long. Just not good play calling.  Too much predictable stuff.
  • Best Cal play thus far: interception of UNC and the Bears get the ball inside the UNC 25.
  • Another Cal first down, another Laird run up the middle.
  • Garbers is now in at QB. As much as Bowers didn’t do anything positive, he also didn’t do anything worthy of being pulled.  Clearly the plan was to have Garbers come in.
  • Garber’s 1st pass is overthrown. As is his 2nd pass, but he gets bailed out by a (deserved) PI call.
  • Now that’s a good 1st down play call. Play action when McMorris as a fullback ends up as a pass to McMorris in the flat.
  • And that sets up the touchdown run as the UNC defense is more hesitant on 2nd down to not bite too hard on the run in case it’s another play action. Gotta give the OC props on that sequence for doing a good job.
  • I’m loving our new kickoff guy!  It’s been a while since I’ve been so satisfied with kickoff depth and positioning.
  • Great play by Goode again. Getting up to bat down the pass when it was clear he wasn’t going to get there on the blitz.
  • Wharton was trying too hard to break the big punt return. Sometimes you just have to take the yards the defense gives you.
  • UNC was not fooled by any of Cal’s screen plays.
  • Bad throw on another Garbers throw. This time not finding the right spot on a quick WR comeback.
  • Interesting to see the number of designed run plays (or option plays) with Garbers here on this drive.
  • Garbers also looked to be having a little bit of a difficult time progressing through his reads. He looked a little confused by UNC’s coverage.
  • Goode continues his dominance with his interception and runback for a touchdown.
  • So the score is 14-0, but 10 of those 14 points come from the INT’s. All the offense did was make sure they got those few yards on the short field to turn the FG into a TD.
  • Bowers is back in and throws a reasonably good ball on 1st (and notice, the defense was not well prepared for throwing on 1st down.)
  • Another Bowers completion. This one a bit low, particularly for short over the middle pass that needs to be the type that makes it easy for the WR to run after the catch.
  • And then, because Bowers had thrown 2 in a row, it’s no surprise that Laird has his biggest run of the day. UNC was clearly playing run first and it was very disappointing that Cal didn’t pass more early to loosen up the defense.
  • OK, it was the right call that Laird stepped out at the 14 yard line, yet it was frustrating to me because late in the game UNC did the same thing pretty much at the exact same spot on the field but it didn’t get reviewed.
  • Bowers had a shot at picking up a key 3rd down conversion, but puts it too far outside for Hudson to get a toe down in bounds. Hudson, for all his early poor catches, did a great job on that one and almost pulled it off.
  • OK, I forgot something I used to do… and I’ll pick it up from here. At what point we’re at in the game for each comment.  Sorry about that.
  • (5:41 2nd) UNC gives Cal another gift of an interception. All they had to do was play center field on a pass that never should have been thrown, but made all the easier by overthrowing the WR so he can’t even make a play on it or break it up.
  • (5:02 2nd) Good throw by Bowers on 2nd and 9. A nicely timed out and right on the WR’s numbers.
  • (4:20 2nd) Although another completion by Bowers, it was a bit behind Noa and slowed his progress. The play after that, a good out pattern by Bowers.  3 completions in a row, 2 of which were right where they should be.
  • (2:33 2nd) A wise TO by UNC. Waited until it was clear what Cal was going to run (a dive by McMorris) and then called the TO.  Although Cal picked up the 4th down conversion after the timeout, they were forced to change the play call because of the TO.
  • Bowers makes a bad throw (perhaps even the wrong read) and Noa can’t get to the ball.
  • Another bad throw by Bowers. After a good sequence, he’s now off his mark.
  • (1:05 2nd) I’ve been very impressed by the secondary’s ability to get off their blocks and get to the runner.
  • (1:00 2nd) Why was Cal trying to get one more possession at the end of the 1st half? Why not just go to the locker room and talk it over?
  • (0:41 2nd) Bowers next throw was low, but I’m inclined to thing that was intentional to put it in the only place that it was safe from an INT. But it was probably a bad read.  His next pass was also a bad read and a much more dangerous one with 3 defenders in the area.
  • (end of the half) So a dominating, in every sense of the word, performance by the Bears.  Only gave up one 1st down and 38 total yards. But the offense was pretty inconsistent.  Just one meaningful drive that netted 3 points.  Otherwise it was mostly the defense that got Cal the points.  Bowers didn’t do much in the last couple of possessions to make his case to play in the 2nd half.  Bad reads, bad throws.
  • (13:54 3rd) Garbers throw on 3rd down was overthrown and lacked the touch needed for an over the top throw.  My guess is it was also the wrong read, but on 3rd and long, sometimes  you don’t have a lot of options.  That one would have at least been long enough for a 1st down, even though it was low percentage.
  • (12:59 3rd) UNC definitely hurt themselves with penalties. Finally they’re ahead of the sticks and they get a false start.
  • (11:22 3rd) Good play call by UNC, a reverse. The Cal defense did slightly over pursue to help make that play work.  (But that’s how the play is supposed to work from an offensive perspective.)
  • (10:10 3rd) Jeez, a whole sequence of penalties here.  Again, nobody should be thinking the dominant Cal defensive performance is all about the Bears.  It helped that UNC was pretty weak offensively.
  • (9:55 3rd) Now is when the Bears go back to being too conservative on offense. Another run-run-3rd and long.  This time Garbers makes a nice throw on 3rd and 7 on a slant to get a 1st down, but it’s not the type of play calling I want to see.
  • (9:43 3rd) Nice sideline fade by Garbers to his tallest receiver.
  • (5:47 3rd) UNC completes their 1st long pass of the game. It was a good pass, but contested by 2 defenders.  Every once and while that is going to work, but not often the way the defense was playing.
  • (4;39 3rd) UNC converts the FG based solely on the long pass. Cal 17, UNC 3.
  • (3:38 3rd) Garbers significantly under throws his receiver on a fade down the outside. Luckily the DB clobbered the WR and Cal got the PI call.  But it should have been a big pass reception if Garbers had hurled it far enough.
  • (2:12 3rd) Cal hurt themselves with a couple too many false start penalties throughout the game.  When the offense is mediocre, there just can’t be any stupid penalties.
  • (1:43 3rd) Garbers definitely has better wheels than Bowers. He’s had a few nice scrambles and a couple reasonably good designed run plays.
  • (0:22 3rd) Garbers throws a nice out to Laird on a pass out of the backfield and then a nice cut up field to score a TD. This was the only legitimate drive of the field by the Bears, and I guess it is notable that Garbers led it, not Bowers.  Cal 24, UNC 3
  • Now, who would have thought at this point the game was going to end up being close?
  • (0:03 3rd) UNC has their first inside run of any merit. A 9-yard QB keeper where it didn’t look like it would go for much, but ended up being a significant pickup.  A sign of things to come…
  • (14:55 4th) Another Cal INT on another poor throw by UNC. One of the upsides of Cal playing so much zone is that they’re looking back towards the ball more often to make these sorts of plays.  In man coverage, that’s less likely.
  • (13:27 4th) Overthrow by Garbers on fade down the sideline. Cover-2 defense and a bit late to squeeze it in the window.
  • (13:18 4th) Garbers sacked on one you’d think he would have seen the blitz coming as his head was turned that way. Would have been nice to see him recognize the blitz and throw it away.
  • (11:43 4th) Another sizeable run for UNC. I think the Bear defense was starting to show its tiredness at this point.  Also notable was that UNC was running at a much faster tempo than earlier in the game.
  • (10:35 4th) UNC converts a 4th down on a traditional option play. I shouldn’t be too judgmental as Cal doesn’t see a lot of it.  But I still have the feeling that earlier in the game Cal would have stopped that.  It sure feels like Cal was getting tired.
  • This was also the play that Goode went out with his foot injury. So point being, the run game was already softening up before he went out.  Of course, losing him doesn’t help.
  • (8:43 4th) Definitely the tempo of UNC was neutralizing the defense. They couldn’t attack as much.  They were much more vanilla on defense.  Perhaps it was because they didn’t gameplan for fast tempo, but they’ll need to fix that.
  • (7:19 4th) OK, one of the most overlooked plays of the game.  4th down just outside the Cal redzone.  The UNC QB scrambles with the ball.  He definitely steps out at the 17 yard line when I freeze on the right frame, although admittedly close.  He needed to get to the 15.  His next step is at the 15 and a half, just short of a first down and he’s *CLEARLY* out.  His foot is in the middle of the white line.  With none of it on the green.  It’s horribly bad out of bounds from a marking it perspective.  Yet the ball is placed at the 12 yard line.  Now, admittedly, they get to the line quick to prevent the review, but it was a horribly bad call.  And remember, it was 4th down, so the Bears should have gotten the ball.
  • Plus, and this is less clear on video, but the Bears were quite surprised at the spot and the lack of a replay, so they were not very prepared for that next play, which was an easy 5 yard run for 2nd and 5 from the 7. That’s a great place to be when it should have been a turnover on downs.
  • And are the announcers even remotely aware of all of this? Nope!  Even after they go to a commercial break, no mention of the missed call.
  • And imagine how different this game is with 7 minutes left, UNC down 24-3 and the Bears have the ball.
  • (6:31 4th) UNC punches it in for a touchdown and the Bear defense all of a sudden is getting beaten on the line and the inside runs are working. Cal 24, UNC 10.
  • (6:26 4th) The first onside kick, although a Cal recovery, was not played particularly well by the Bears.  A sign of things to come.
  • (4:45 4th) Disappointed by the play calling on 2nd and 3rd and short for the Bears. If you can’t get a 1st down from 2nd and 3, you’ve got a problem.  And it’s not right to do a sweep run on 3rd and 1.  There’s just too many people close to the line on a play like that.  Better to play it straight up in the middle and trust your offensive line to get the push they need to.
  • (3:50 4th) UNC back with the ball.  On their first play (although the play was called back due to penalty) there were a lot of missed tackles. This defense was tired.
  • (2:50 4th) It may be a bit unfair to criticize the run defense excessively at this point. They were playing 2 deep safeties, which means there’s just not enough guys close to the line in a 3-4 defense, particularly when one of your LB’s is out wide on a WR.  It’s a prevent defense forcing UNC to use up a lot of clock to score.  Not a horrible idea when Cal is up by 2 TDs.  But perhaps I’m being too harsh on how they couldn’t stop the run.  To some degree that was by design.
  • But they still look tired to me.
  • (1:20 4th) I really loath announcers when it comes to PI. They have no idea what they’re talking about (a few exceptions aside).  Bynum did indeed commit a PI, but it wasn’t the contact, it was the holding of the shoulder and preventing the WR from turning to the ball.
  • (1:13 4th) A great pass and WR battle by UNC to get a TD.  They deserved that one.  Bynum did his best to make a play on a perfect throw, but it wasn’t enough.  Cal 24, UNC 17
  • (1:10 4th) The 2nd onside kick… I have to admit that I was not aware of the illegal block rules for an onside kick. While probably technically a foul, the Bears got lucky on that one.  It seems to me that the offense should be engaging the kicking team well before 10 yards to force them to evade their players or risk a foul.
  • And it just seems like Cal didn’t have enough players on that side. Why 2 guys in the middle?  Put one there to protect the middle kick, but put 5 on each side… or even when you know which way they want to go, go 6 and 4 to the “strong” side.
  • Final score: Cal 24, UNC 17

Overall my impression is about the same as it was in my OTRH podcast.  The Bears are pretty annemic on offense and not as well conditioned on defense as I’d like.  I’m worried.  Bowers played worse than I had realized but Garbers played about as bad as I thought.  In other words, we’re pretty mediocre at QB.  I’m pretty worried this is going to be a long season, that UNC is a pretty bad team and the fact that the Bears had such a hard time putting them away is really troublesome.

BYU will be a much stiffer test.

UCLA mid-game thoughts

End of 1st Quarter:

Jeez, what a bunch of wasted opportunities.  The Bears are getting worse and worse and worse as the season progresses at finishing drives.  It’s unacceptable to have the ball inside the 30 twice and only get 3 points.  It should be at *LEAST* 10 points so far against this *VERY* uninspired UCLA team.  (The Bears aren’t looking particularly inspired either (on offense anyway))

Update early in 2nd quarter:  Yet another trip to the redzone, and only 3 more points to show for it.  *COMPLETELY* unacceptable.

Half time:

I’m so ticked off with Cal’s effort right now.  It’s unbelievable that Cal has been inside the 30 4 times but only has 9 points.  I’m starting to lose confidence in Bowers.  He’s had plenty of time back there.  Don’t tell me there’s no one open.

The defense is doing better, but still seem to have inconsistent effort,  On some downs their dominating, but then they’re giving up too many long pass plays even after getting UCLA substantially behind the sticks.  One of the touchdowns came when the Bears had the punt, but then had a running into the kicker (for no good reason) give UCLA a 2nd chance on the field.  The score should be 20-10 Bears.

(Side note, I’m also sick of these UCLA biased announcers who don’t know an obvious targeting foul (against Cal) when one happens, among other idiotic commentary.)

Beginning of 4th quarter:

Wanted to wait to see how the end of quarter drive ended up.  Cal has now had SIX trips inside the 30 and only scored 17 and it required going for it on 4th down to get the touchdown.  Unbelievably bad short field offensive performance.  Bowers looks confused and overwhelmed.

Mid 4th quarter:

We’re up to SEVEN!?! short possessions and only 20 points.  The play calling from first and goal from the 5 was ridiculous.  UCLA was loading the box, and obviously so.  You don’t just stuff it into the middle twice and then have one shot at the pass.  If you’re going to run, you have to do some sort of mis-direction.  I’m getting more and more and more disappointed with the way this is going.  The Bears should be KILLING and I mean DESTROYING UCLA right now, particularly with Rosen out in the 2nd half.  Instead their down seven and are just now starting to show some urgency.

Urgency that should have been there from the opening snap.

End of game:

I’m so stinking ticked off.  There’s no excuse for losing this game.  UCLA played uninspired crummy football and Cal handed the game to them with horrible play of their own, starting with the coaching staff’s hyper conservative play calling and complete lack of urgency until mid-way through the 4th quarter.  It’s like they didn’t realize they were behind.  And guess what, tying it with 2 minutes left is a great way to lose the game (as what happened).

And don’t get me started on the over-aggressive play calling by the defense that left them open to big plays on the final drive.  There’s no reason to continue the strong blitzing game when the result can be 10 and 15 yard gains.  No, you let your 4 rusher try to get pressure and you keep the plays short and in front of you.

GAH!?!   What a ridiculous end to a season, that in many ways mimics it.  There was promise, but between bad execution at poorly timed moments and poor leadership from the coaching staff at critical moments, the team just couldn’t win enough of the close ones.  There’s no reason this team couldn’t have been 8-4 with just a little bit better play, game planning and coaching.

And someone, for the love of Pete, please tell Wilcox that ON THE ROAD YOU MUST, and I repeat *MUST* START THE GAME WITH A SENSE OF URGENCY!?!  STOP PLAYING SO TENTATIVE ON THE STINKING ROAD!?!

(and yet somehow, amidst my teeth grinding frustration, I’m optimistic about the future.)

Oregon State Sunday evening watch

Here’s my thoughts on watching the game Sunday evening:

  • OSU sideline looks pretty pumped up to start the game.  They know this is one of their few shots at a win this season.
  • Bears sure looked fooled on OSU’s first play.  I haven’t done a detailed look, but it sure feels like for at least the last few games, Cal has not been well defensively prepared for the 1st few plays/possession.
  • It sure seems like the linebackers have been playing further back the last few games.  They’re playing a good 7-8 yards behind the line on this 1st possession.  Generally that’s good for underneath pass coverage but not so good for run defense nor for their “come from anywhere” blitzing scheme.
  • Wow, the Bears were sure fooled by the 2-pass touchdown play.  Not a very good defensive possession.  The Bears are going to need to start stronger defensively in their last two games if they want to win.  Bears down early: 0-7 with 11 minutes left in 1st quarter.
  • Bears offense in good rhythm early.  I liked Bowers reading of the pass coverage on 3rd and 7.  That looked like his 3rd read and the right decision to Wharton.
  • The Bears have been using the inside WR screen a lot in the redzone, generally with good results.  (Although in this case it was negated by a personal foul.)
  • Lots of penalties on this 1st Cal offensive drive.
  • Boy, Oregon State is sure leading with their helmet a lot on their tackles.  Have they not learned about the targeting rules?
  • Nice run by Laird for a TD with pretty good zone blocking by the O-Line.  Score tied 7-7 with 8 minutes left in the 1st quarter.
  • The Bears have sure been “lucky” with kick off returns against them being called back by penalties.
  • Overall good pressure by Cal D-Line on OSU pass plays.  If Cal can slow the running game and force OSU to pass, they’ll be in good shape.
  • Cal O-Line is opening nice holes and getting a good push against OSU.  So far very different than last year when OSU dominated the trenches on both sides.
  • Laird has good patience, which does him well most of the time, but he needs to learn in the redzone that holes close quicker and negative plays are more troublesome.  Down there, you need to pound it and do it quicker.
  • We haven’t seen as much of Enwere lately.  Even on some ‘pound it’ downs.  (although here he comes in now on 2nd and goal)
  • Holy smokes did 2nd and goal go bad!  12 yard loss.  But then Bowers throws a brilliant fade (his touch is getting better) to Wharton on 3rd and goal from the 14.  Great recovery after a disaster of a play.  Bears up 14-7 near the end of the 1st quarter.
  • Lots of drops by OSU receivers today.  They’re kinda shooting themselves in the foot the last couple drives.  This game could easily be a shootout if OSU could execute.
  • Another couple big Laird runs.  The way this is going, there is no reason to ever throw the ball.
  • Matt Anderson has been back to his old form after a tough few games to start the season.  Bears up 17-7 with 12 minutes left in 2nd quarter.
  • Bad decision by OSU to go for it on 4th down, even though they got lucky and got a good spot.  But they’re only down 10 in the early 2nd quarter and it’s on their side of the field.  I wonder why Wilcox didn’t challenge?  It seemed the evidence was pretty good to overturn it.  Probably just didn’t think it was important enough.  If the game got tighter later, you’d hate not to have that in your pocket anymore.
  • OSU doing a good job with their option running game on this next drive.  Cal’s doing a good job of assignment football, making sure all the options are covered, but it means there’s not as many guys to cover the main run threat.  Bears lead down to 17-10 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
  • Wharton has been getting a lot more attention from Bowers now that Noa is being double covered a lot by defenses.  That’s maturity by a QB to hit other WRs when his favorite isn’t open.  Bowers is still young, but is maturing nicely this year.  I’m hopeful that he could be really good in the future.
  • Cal is mostly dominating this game, but OSU is within 4 with 1 minute left in the half.  As a general statement, I feel like Cal hasn’t been very efficient the last few games.  Also, yet another game where the defense gives up end of 1st half points.  Bears only up 17-13 wit one minute left in the half.
  • Wow, great catch by Wharton.  That was an interesting scenario.  Did Bowers mis-throw it, or did he throw it to the hole in the zone coverage and force Wharton to come back to that hole?
  • And Cal steals back 3 points with another good Anderson kick.  Bears lead 20-13 at the half.
  • Bears again going back to the run game with success to start the 2nd half.  But again, the Bears are only up 7 despite statistically and visually dominating the 1st half.  Ever since the Arizona game I feel Cal has been “inefficient” on both sides of the ball.  Somehow the points just aren’t coming for the offense and somehow the defense is giving up more points than they feel like they are (the big play was a big part of that for Arizona and Colorado).
  • OSU really was putting their helmet down on defense.  It’s like they didn’t know about the targeting rules.  2 players out of the game, but there could have been a couple more.
  • Bears fumble in the redzone and give up the ball.  More signs of that inefficiency.
  • Bears force a 3 and out on the next possession, with a good job of corralling the underneath stuff to not go for many yards (although gets lucky with a missed catch on 3rd down).
  • Bowers has been doing a good job hitting the quick slants when the defense has been giving them with a soft safety coverage.
  • The offensive line is doing a good job picking up blitzes today.
  • But then Bowers makes the absolute wrong decision on a read-option for a “sack” (statistically).
  • And again, Cal not being efficient.  They get the ball well on the OSU side of the 50 yet just get a handful of yards and kick the field goal.  For how much the ball has been on the OSU side of the field, the score should at least be 30, if not more.  Instead the Cal lead is only 23-13 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • The OSU QB did a pretty good job finding the deep hole in the Cal zone and dropping a pass in exactly the right spot on their next possession.  That’s the first big play the Bears have given up all game, which is a nice change from the last couple weeks.
  • OSU uses the run game to get in the endzone.  I suspect Cal’s defensive redzone numbers aren’t that good either.  Cal lead down to THREE!  Considering the nature of the game, there’s no excuse for the score to be this close: 23-20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd.
  • The Bears have been running the ball surprisingly little in the 2nd half.  It sure doesn’t seem like OSU is loading the box and forcing Cal to throw.  Seems like the Bears have abandoned it a bit considering how well it has been working.
  • Bowers hits another deep fade to the endzone and Cal is back up by 10: 30-20 at the end of the 3rd.
  • I know it’s hard to be an announcer, a lot harder than it seems, but some times… how can the color guy be saying “that’s tough” for an obvious PI call.
  • The Cal offense is showing good balance right now.  They’re leading with the run and Laird, and then going to the pass when OSU starts to bite on it.
  • Cal finishes off a drive built on the run (with just enough passing to keep the OSU defense honest) with Enwere pounding it into the endzone.  Bears up 37-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.
  • It feels like the Bears have been able to extend so quickly because they’ve won the conditioning battle.  OSU can no longer give 120%, particularly on defense, and Cal is having their way with them.
  • Ahhhhh… it sure feels good to hear Nall only had 35 yards at this point in the game (and that’s all he got).  If you needed a reason to still feel good about getting rid of Dykes… (last year he had 221 against Cal)
  • OSU has been quietly building up a number of big plays, particularly as the game wears on.  A few of them have been because the Cal defense is playing soft to contain OSU, but still, it’s worrisome to see the big-play trend continuing into a 3rd game.
  • OSU kicks a field goal to close it to 37-23 with 6 minutes left in the game.
  • I’d have Laird out of the game at this point.  He’s carried the ball 30 times.  Give him some rest and save him from injury.  It’s not like we don’t have a senior in his final home game nor a couple of young guys who could use some more experience.
  • Cal never punted in the entire game.  One failed 4th down conversion at the Cal 40 and one fumble in the redzone were the only two drives that didn’t end in points.  Yet at the same time, 3 field goals and a missed redzone opportunity.  Games with no punts generally shouldn’t only have 37 points.
  • Overall, it feels like the score should have been 45 to 13 based on how the teams played and the stats.  Cal is going to have to be more efficient in their last two games to get that crucial 6th win.


That was BY FAR the worst half of football under Wilcox thus far.  How do you give up a 3rd and 17 in the redzone!?!  How do you give up *ANOTHER* 3rd and 17 when you have them pinned on their goalline!?!  How do you give up two over the top plays for long yardage when on both 3rd and 17’s the reason you gave them up is you were playing too soft!?!

And the offense, how do you *NOT* know that it is VERY hard to throw over the top at altitude!?!

It’s a miracle the Bears are only down 13.

What was Wilcox thinking!?!

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

HUGE mistake!

WSU game re-watch

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

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

Washington game thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed kills – Oregon game thoughts

Well…. THAT didn’t go as expected!?!

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

Strategy failures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

USC game thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call me disappointed but optimistic about the future.

Re-watch of Ole Miss game

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

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

Initial Weber State thoughts

Phew!  That was too close for comfort.  It was significantly tighter than my pre-season (pre-North Carolina) prediction of 38-13.  Some initial thoughts:

  • Anyone who wants to say that North Carolina had a great defensive line can take a long walk of a short pier as far as I’m concerned.  The Bears struggled with the Weber State defensive line far too often, more so than North Carolina.  There’s no way Weber State has one of the best defensive lines in college football.
  • Laird impressed me last week and now I’m officially a huge fan of the guy.  He’s got great vision, great instincts, good timing, and deceptively impressive speed.  He’s looked better than Watson in every regard and is frankly giving Enwere a run for his money power-wise.  I think the depth chart officially got turned upside down for RB.
  • The wide receivers are struggling a little bit with route running, in particular after the catch.  They need to get up field faster and are cutting short too often.
  • Bowers has a great completion percentage, but his yard totals are pretty mediocre.  In part that is due to the previous item, but I think it’s also because he’s picking the wrong guy too often.  The dump offs have not been working.
  • Cal’s defense got abused in 3 ways that are very troubling: 1. Linebackers running circles around our LBs in coverage.  2. Deep pass patterns.  3. The O-line getting too much of a push on Cal.  These are all things we should be watching with a close eye as the teams get more talented.  One caveat: Saffle was missing.  With him back things will be better.
  • The offensive line looked much more mediocre today, more the way I was expecting.

More to come later…

North Carolina game thoughts

(Sorry for the slow posting… I was backpacking for the holiday weekend and didn’t get to watch the game until Tuesday night and then scrambling to catch up on all my various commitments)

Well THAT was a lot better outcome than most of us were expecting, yes?  I’ll get down into the details in a second, but first, I’m very tempted to be getting on both the Wilcox and the Bowers bandwagons after watching that performance.  I was expecting North Carolina’s defense to be very disruptive to our offensive line and Bowers to make a lot of mistakes as a result.  As such, I only expected the Bears to put up 10 points.  Frankly, 35 was amazing to see!

I think I had the defense about right.  They were noticeably improved.  I said 24 points and had it not been for the last minute TD, I would have nailed it.

However, I think we should be a bit cautious.  I think we are going to look back on North Carolina later in the season and realize they weren’t as good as we thought they were.  That was not a particularly good team.  They didn’t play with a lot of heart.  They had nothing particularly innovative or impressive on either side of the ball.  That was a team that looked to be in rebuilding mode on both sides of the ball.  Even still, they’d have won that game had they gotten all the interceptions they should have and if they’d hit a few wide open receivers for easy TDs.

As such, my prediction for the season win total only moves by a couple games after this one.  The Bears should be 2-1 after non-conference (although 3-0 seems not out of reach) and I’d still expect them to lose their first 4 non-conference games (USC, Oregon, UW, WSU).  But particularly as this young team matures, the Bears should have at least a shot at each of the remaining games, 3-2 is a good expectation, 4-1 is not out of reach.  So we’re looking at a 5 to 6 win season.  That last game at UCLA after Thanksgiving may be for bowl eligibility!

Let’s break it down unit by unit:

QB: The difficult thing to be Bowers is us Cal fans are *very* spoiled.  So while what I saw didn’t bowl me over, I see a lot of upside in this kid.  His accuracy was what worried me most.  Every handful of throws he had a pretty inaccurate one.  When coupled with a handful of bad decisions, he had far more interceptable balls than I’d feel comfortable with against a ball-hawking defense.  The good news is I think the mistakes lessen as he matures and I expect a sharp learning curve from him as the season progresses.

RBs: This was the area with the least question marks coming into the game.  That said, while both Enwere and Watson performed reasonably, I was hoping to see a little bit more out of them.  Enwere got the tough yards, which was good, particularly on 4th down.  I’d hope to see them break more runs open in the future and I have hopes that they will.  Laird was a pleasant surprise who I hope to see more of.

WRs: Even though Cal lost WRs in the off season, we knew because of the shear volume of recruits the previous administration brought in, it would be near impossible for there not to be reasonable replacements here.  That was definitely the case.  They seemed to be in pretty good rhythm with Bowers as a group and it was very good to see Bowers being able to spread it around to such a large group.  A few of them could have better hands (not that they were horrible).

TE: Not much stood out to me here.

O-Line: I was most pleasantly surprised here.  When the whole right side is freshman, one has to think it’s going to be a disaster.  But they were getting a pretty good push on run plays and Bowers wasn’t pressured all that much.  The group as a whole did very well.  If I had more confidence in North Carolina, I would have said awesome.

D-Line: Another pleasant surprise.  I very much liked the return to the 3-4 and the hybrid edge rushing strategy with Saffle worked well.  Their push and penetration on the line was good.  Overall, this is a group that I think will continue to improve as the season goes on.  I liked the balance of blitzes and good protection.

LBs: A solid performance here as well, although nothing overwhelming.  They seemed well coached and in position.

DBs: This is the defensive group I was most happy with the improvement I saw.  How many times in the past did we cringe at poor corner play?  How exciting was it to see DB’s make plays on the ball in the air?  This group will be tested much more in the weeks to come, but so far they’re doing a great job and are *HUGELY* improved.

So yeah, good stuff.  But it is important to remember the quality of the opponent and that we tend to grade on a curve of how poorly we were expecting the team to do.  But what we saw was most definitely a step in the right direction.