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Week 5 candidate games

(OK, I know I’m now two weeks behind. The goal is to watch both finish week 3’s game and watch week 4’s game tomorrow…)

It’s on to week 5… what game should we watch?

This week we’ve got two games that are among the biggest, most consequential games of the last 20 years:

  • 2003 USC – Triple overtime thriller of 3rd ranked USC that I’m sure everyone remembers
  • 2007 Oregon – This game was remarkable when it happened, although it lost some of its luster after the season took a nasty turn due to Longshore’s injury. Nevertheless, this was a great game.

And then add to that two games that in a normal week would be contenders:

  • 2014 Colorado: 59-56 victory at home. The first of two back to back games shootout games of the highest variety
  • 2016 Utah: 28-23 victory at home. The one time a Dykes coached team won with defense.

What do people prefer to watch? (If it helps, next week’s game is likely an Oregon game.)

Week 4 choice – 2019 Ole Miss

I don’t like the fact that half of the games thus far are from last year, but I promise that trend won’t hold. It’s just that two of last year’s biggest wins were early in the season.

Nevertheless, last year’s Ole Miss game was a great one:

(And yes, I know, I still haven’t posted the week 3 re-watch thoughts… still working on it…)

Week 4 candidate games

(As an FYI, I’m still working on watching the week 3 game. I didn’t manage to finish squeezing it in over the weekend (I’m currently mid 2nd quarter) and I’m in the middle of a critical project with a deadline tonight at work. I should have time tomorrow or Friday to finish it off.)

OK, we’re already in week 4. Not that we’re going to pick one of these, but week four has some awful games. Between 2009 and 2014 the Bears never won their week 4 game including the very demoralizing losses to Oregon in 2009 and USC in 2012. It also includes 2002 loss to Air Force. This might be Cal’s most inauspicious week of the season.

So the number of good games is not large… but luckily includes at least one gem. Here are the candidates:

  • Blowout of ASU in 2006
  • 2015 UW: First win in Husky stadium in a decade and sign that a Sonny Dykes team may have what it takes to be bowl eligible.
  • 2019 win at Ole Miss

That’s really about it (there’s only 3 other wins at all and they’re nothing remarkable) and as far as I’m concerned, that makes it an easy choice: Ole Miss.

Anyone disagree?

Week 3 choice – 2015 Texas

Well, it was as I thought, the two popular ones were 2002 Michigan State and 2015 Texas. And frankly I probably would have picked MSU since I feel like the final list will be a little too recently biased… but I ran into one problem: No full game footage of the MSU game. I personally have just about every game from 2006 onward in my collection, but online I was only about to find the 1st to 3rd quarters of the MSU game.

So Texas it is:

Check back for commentary by the end of the weekend.

Week 3 candidate games

As much as I enjoyed last week’s game, I have to admit it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Without video of the delay, it was void of the unique emotion that delay caused. Still, hard to argue with an upset over a top-15 team.

Here are the best candidates for week 3:

  • 2002 @ Michigan State: The Bears opened the Tedford era with 2 dominant wins over weak teams. But week 3 required them to go on the road to Michigan State, who was ranked 15th at the time. Could the Bears really have improved so much in so short a time to go on the road to a ranked Big-10 team and win? Impossible!
  • 2009 @ Minnesota: A game full of Jahvid Best highlights.
  • 2015 @ Texas: What is it about week 3 and big non-conference road games?
  • 2016 Texas: The return game back in Berkeley. To me, this one is not nearly exciting as the previous year’s game. But again, that may be because I have an emotional attachment to the 2015 game as my wife and I went to it (usually I would take my boys on the road trip games).
  • 2017 Ole Miss: Any win over an SEC team is notable, but it is worth noting that this is the home game in 2017, not the more memorable road game in 2019 (that game was in week 4)

No shortage of good games to pick from, yes? What tickles your fancy? What one do you want to watch?

(Selection will be made Friday afternoon/evening.)

2020 Virtual Season Game 2

For week 2, we’ve chosen a recent one: last year’s (2019) UW game. For those who don’t remember, the Bears had upset the Huskies at home 12-10 in 2018. It was a very physical defensive struggle. Washington fans felt they should have won and some bad in-game decisions by the coach had cost them the game. But of course the Bears felt otherwise (and I think felt a little disrespected by that talk). Could the Bears go on the road to Seattle and prove Husky fans wrong by beating 14th ranked UW (they had been ranked 15th in 2018)?

To add to all of that, this was what our family jokingly calls “the lightning bowl”. You’ll see why in a bit…

Commentary when watching:

  • After a long kickoff return (to about mid-field), the Huskies go 3 and out. That was capped by a 3rd down QB run where a relatively new rule (one that would loom heavy throughout the season) cost the Huskies a potential first down. The new rule is that when the QB slides, the ball is marked where he “gives himself up” (which is usually a couple yards behind where the knee hits the ground). The result was a 4th and 1 where UW lined up to go for it, but when they saw the defense, they did the QB pooch punt thing.
  • I’ve said this before, but the justification for that rule change is ridiculous. They say it is to “protect the QB”. But what it really does is encourage QB’s to dive head first to get the yards they need for a first down.
  • The Bears get a couple of first downs and then have to punt. Yet again the Huskies get a good return and are already back at mid-field again.
  • And with that, the game is delayed by a couple hours. The video I have cut out the two and a half hours of delay, so the built up nerves and anxiousness isn’t really there. Also how late it was. The game was already a 7 PM (or was it 7:30 PM) start, so with the delay the game was REALLY late. They didn’t restart until 10:30 PM and it was still early in the 1st quarter
  • The Huskies get a first down and then go for it on 4th down and fail giving the Bears the ball back at their own 35.
  • The Cal offensive line is not holding up well. Garbers has already been sacked twice and even when he wasn’t sacked, he was frequently hurried. The Bears punt again.
  • The UW run game is working reasonably well. There are holes to run through most of the time. However, just frequently enough the Bears are getting a stop for no gain and forcing the passing game, which was not working so well for UW.
  • After a QB sneak on 4th down works, the Huskies have to sub in the backup QB because Easton’s helmet came off. The Bears get a big sack with a corner blitz that is too much for the inexperienced QB. A very wise defensive decision that puts UW well behind the sticks on a 2nd down. The result is they force 4th down and a field goal. Huskies score first and the Bears are down a field goal: 0-3
  • The Bears continue to struggle offensively and in the punting game. After a 3 and out and 19 yard put, the Huskies get the ball at mid-field for the 3rd time.
  • But this time Bynum jumps the receiver’s route and gets an interception. The Bears get the ball back quickly, although deep in their own territory.
  • While the Bear run game starts to show some progress, a holding call kills another set of downs and the Bears punt again.
  • UW gets themselves into yet another 4th and 1 on the Cal side of the field. This time, over pursuit by the Bears inside (perhaps since the last two successful conversions were up the middle they felt the need to over compensate), opens a bit hole outside and Ahmed (UW RB) scores an easy 20+ yard TD. Bears in a big hole midway through the 2nd quarter: 0-10
  • A swing-out pass (kinda like a screen pass to the RB) results in a big 20 yard gain with another 15 tacked on for an illegal block on UW. With that, the Bears only take one play to get to the UW 32 yard line.
  • The Bears run game continues to Bear fruit. Brown breaks a 10 yarder, then a read-option gets Garbers down to the 5 yard line.
  • But between a false start and a bad play-call on 2nd down and the Bears are forced to settle for a field-goal. Bears back within a TD: 3-10
  • After a first down by UW, Weaver sacks the UW QB and forces a fumble. The Bears get the ball back on the UW side of the field (33 yard line). That’s two turnovers and they’ve most definitely helped keep Cal in the game.
  • But Bears go 3 and out and give ball back to UW with two minutes left in the half, but UW is unable to drive the field. They punt from mid-field with just over 30 seconds left at their own 11 yard line. They just take a knee. Halftime score: 3-10.
  • Bears have a good drive, mixing power runs from Brown, safe passes from Garbers and a big run from Dancy gets them well into UW territory. Then Dancy finishes the drive off with a 20+ yard TD run. Bears tie it up on the first drive of the 2nd half: 10-10
  • UW drives the field, mostly through running (although they convert a frustrating 3rd and 18 pass), but then the Bears stiffen and stop them on 3 consecutive plays inside the 5 yard-line. Huskies convert the field-goal to re-take the lead and put the Bears in an FG sized hole: 10-13
  • One thing that was definitely notable was how much quieter the crowd was than a normal game in Husky stadium. The 2 1/2 hour delay definitely thinned the crowd, and then it thinned further in the 2nd half as public transit options forced people to leave before the last train/bus.
  • Dancy playing a larger role now that he’s proved himself on the previous drive. Something about his running style is better suited to the UW defense. But after the Bears need a tough yard, they bring back in Brown and he not only gets the first down, but a few plays later breaks a bigger one to get the Bears down near the redzone.
  • But it’s Dancy who gets the TD after Brown comes out for a breather. Bears on top for the 1st time near the end of the 3rd quarter: 17-13
  • UW has yet another 4th and 1 and yet again converts. Both the Bears and Huskies have a terrible 3rd down conversion rate, but the Huskies have 3 or 4 4th down conversions to supplement that. It really kept a lot of drives alive.
  • And it happens AGAIN at the 2 yard line. Another 4th and 1. And again the Huskies go for it, but just before the play there’s a false start. With that, the Huskies kick the field goal. The Bears lead is narrowed to 1: 17-16
  • Wow, they just did a wide view of the stadium. There can’t be 15K there at this point.
  • Bad throw by Garbers on third down means the Bears go 3 and out and the Huskies get the ball back pretty quickly and a bit less than 6 minutes left. We sure the Bears win this one? Why am I nervous?
  • The Huskies are pretty methodical driving down the field. Nothing big ever, but lots of 4 to 6 yard gains to offset the few times the Bears come up with a stop. UW gets to the Bears 32 with 2 minutes left. But then 2 incomplete passes brings up 4th and long. The Huskies at first plan for a 4th down play, but then change to the field goal. It appears to be smart as he sneaks the 50 yarder inside the upright and take the lead. Bears need a two-minute drill down 17-19.
  • Two back to back fade passes net a bunch of yards, one on a completion and one on a PI foul. The Bears are down to the UW 30 with 1:30 left.
  • Then a big gain on a WR screen to Crawford gets the ball to the 4 yard line. That was a brilliant call after the last two passes. It had the safeties playing wide and going to a cover-2. It opened up the middle of the field for a play like that. Now the Bears are in a commanding position with just over a minute and in easy field-goal range.
  • On 2nd down the Bears center the ball at the 3 yard line to setup the game winning field goal on 3rd down on what is as close to an extra point as conceivable.
  • But then the Bears do the unexpected and run an inside with Brown. He appears to get over the goal line and score, but the linesman calls it short. There’s no good replay angle and the play stands. But the downside of the play is now the FG attempt isn’t straight on. Yet they do make it and are up with 8 seconds left 20-19.
  • The Huskies of course don’t convert and the Bears upset the Huskies 2 years in a row. Woohoo!

Week 2 choice – 2019 UW

As much as I have an affinity for the 2008 WSU game, it wasn’t a very important win. WSU was in quite a drought at that point and the Bears were close to the top of the Tedord era. So yeah, it was fun… but I want more than fun. I want important too!

So this week’s choice is last year’s “lightning bowl”:

Tune in tomorrow for my notes from watching it.

Week 2 candidate games

Alright, week 1 is behind us. It was a great victory over Tennessee. If the team keeps playing like that, this could be an undefeated season! Could this finally be our year?

Here are the games from 2002 to 2019 I think are worth considering for week 2:

  • 2006: After the disaster at Tennessee in week 1, the Bears come home and stick it to Minnesota.
  • 2008: Bears travel to WSU and absolutely destroy them. This one has a fond place in my heart because I was there and it was part of a memorable road-trip that lasted all the way through the following week’s game at Maryland (which will *NOT* be an option for next week).
  • 2010: Blow out over Colorado at home
  • 2011: Nail biter overtime victory over Colorado on the road
  • 2018: Solid win over BYU on their turf
  • 2019: What I affectionately call “the lightning bowl”… the win over UW in Seattle, preventing UW from avenging the previous year’s upset Cal Bear win.

So there’s actually a pretty good slate of games to pick from. While I will reserve the right to make the final selection, I’m all ears for which game people would prefer and your rationale for that pick.

What game to people want to see?

2020 Virtual Season Game 1

Tonight we re-watch the 2007 Tennessee game. The Bears had gone to Tennessee to start the 2006 season and been humbled. They were ranked 9th and the Vols ranked 23rd. Nothing went their way and a number of early big plays made the game a laugher, despite the more respectable final score (35-18). The Bears went on to have a great season in 2006 despite the weak start and were yet again ranked above the Vols to start the 2007 season. (#12 vs. #15) But because of the previous season’s game, there wasn’t a lot of confidence the Bears were the better team. That set the stage for a great game:

  • One forgets how full Memorial stadium was at this point in the Tedford years. Full to the brim and the crowd was very loud right from the get-go.
  • The Bears send the now legendary Zack Follett (he was young then) and hits the Vol QB in the back just as he went to throw the ball. Worrell Williams (another Cal linebacker) scooped and scored for an early Cal lead: 7-0.
  • Based on today’s standards, that would have been a personal foul on Follett for spearing. How the rules have changed.
  • Looking at the scores scrolling at the bottom of the screen, there are SOOOO many big schools that schedule weak opponents for week 1. That’s one thing I love about the Bears. We’re rarely afraid of a big week 1 match-up.
  • Tennessee pretty methodically drives down the field and scores a matching TD. The final play was particularly troublesome as a number of missed tackles turns what should have been a 2-3 yard gain into a 13 yard TD catch and run. Score tied: 7-7
  • Wow does Tedford look young in 2007. Kinda like being president really ages a guy, so does being a head coach (or at least for a lot of them).
  • People remember DeSean Jackson for his speed, but this was one of those games where he showed his other talents. He held on to a catch when he got drilled just as he caught the ball. That was very good hands.
  • Forsett was now the starting back after Marshawn Lynch went early to the NFL. A lot of plays he was easily stuffed for little game, far more so than Lynch, but his shiftiness and speed gave him some pretty night runs. A great juke on the Bears first drive gets the ball into the redzone.
  • A Cal QB sneak on the goal-line results in a TD. Bears back up 14-7
  • But Tennesse has a big kickoff return and is in the Cal redzone right away.]
  • For those who don’t remember, 2007 was in the middle of the tree-sitter era. They had a couple of pretty funny special interest pieces about it. Kirk Herbstreet was so confused. He just couldn’t imagine it.
  • Tennessee finishes off the drive with a short run of their own. Tied again: 14-14
  • After trading punts, well, really on the 2nd punt, DeSean Jackson does what he does in one of his most iconic punt returns. “The wizard of returns!” Bears back in front: 21-14
  • After Tennessee goes 3 and out, Tennessee purposely punts it out of bounds. The crowd was not pleased…
  • Tennessee gets a 44 yard pass play on a busted coverage and back into the Cal redzone again. A couple plays later a well designed swing pass evens the score again: 21-21
  • Jahvid Best came into the game as a true freshman on the next drive and breaks a big run on his 3rd carry to get down to the Tennessee 5 yard line. The beginning of a great career at Cal.
  • A screen play (a bit odd in the red-zone, yes?) gets Cal back in the red-zone and back to a TD lead: 28-21
  • Both teams are having pretty good luck on their kickoff returns. The ball always seems to get out to at least the 30, if not the 40 or more.
  • After Tennessee fails to convert on a 4th down at the Cal 30, Cal runs a brilliantly schemed screen to Forsett with a minute left in the half that gets down to the Tennessee 20 yard line.
  • But Longshore has 3 bad throws near the goal-line and the Bears settle for the field goal just before halftime. Bears up by 10: 31-21
  • And that’s the halftime score.
  • DeSean is given the ball on a reverse and gains 20+ yards on the 1st drive of the 2nd half.
  • Something about that run play really loosened up the Vol defense and Longshore makes 2 quick passes to get into the endzone. Bears up big now: 38-21
  • Tennessee breaks a long run down to the Cal 3 yard-line, but then Cal has a great defensive stand to force 4th and goal. Tennessee goes for it on 4th down (I’d say it was a bit early to get that desperate, particularly when down by 17 and a field goal is helpful). The Bears break up the pass and get the ball back without giving up any points.
  • Bears get enough yards to flip the field before having to punt after 2 bad snaps in a row result in a bad sequence.
  • The Bears defense does a pretty good job of forcing Tennessee to chip away underneath so as to lengthen their drives and stop the quick scores. However, Tennessee takes what the Bears give them and drive the field for a TD. Back to a 10 point margin: 38-28
  • Bears go 3 and out and give the ball back to Tennessee awful quickly. I remember this was a moment I started to get nervous. Tedford appeared to be going to one of his worst habits: Getting conservative offensively too early to try and run out the clock. Although I must say, the 3 plays weren’t all that conservative: 2 passes out of 3 downs.
  • Bears defense again keeps things in front of them and this time it works more like planned. The Vols use a lot of time and only get a field goal out of it. Nevertheless, the score is down to a TD: 38-31
  • And I’m exhibiting a classic Cal fan syndrome. I’m feeling nervous even watching a game I know the outcome for.
  • After the Bears punt, DeCoud (safety) misses an easy interception when he doesn’t see the ball. Nevertheless, Tennessee goes 3 and out themselves and give the ball back to the Bears with 10 minutes left.
  • Bears actually stick to throwing the ball quite a bit on these drives. They finally get a good completion and convert a 1st down for the first time in a few “drives”.
  • Forsett has a nice run, weaving his way through the linebackers, for another Cal TD that seems to be the one that demoralizes the Vols hope for a comback. Back up 14 points: 45-31
  • After Tennessee has to punt again, the Bears commit themselves to the run game. Forsett has a number of good runs, and most definitly shows his toughness, grinding out some tough yards and breaking tackles.
  • Boy, I forgot about that Tennessee injury where the defender went head first into the back of another defender. I can say this now because I know he was eventually fine, but boy did he go down like a sack of potatos and then didn’t move *AT ALL*.
  • After driving the length of the field Longshore fumbles on a QB sneak at the 1 yard line. Not only do they not get the score, it’s called a touch-back (which was marginal at best) thus giving Tennessee the ball at the 20 yard line.
  • What a great defensive play! Vols try a screen play on 1st down and the Bears both put pressure on the QB and sniff it out, causing a 7 yard loss.
  • It kinda feels like between the team mate injury and the 14-point lead, Tennessee’s heart was not in it at this point with 2 minutes left.
  • The Bears force a 3 and out and are able to run out the clock after getting one first down.
  • Final score: 45-31
  • Redemption!

Best Game in week 1 – 2007 Tennessee

Week 1 is an easy one, at least as far as I’m concerned:

I hope to watch it this afternoon and post my thoughts before I go to Church to do live-streaming this evening.

Looking back on ’09: Washington

(We continue the looking back series for the 2009 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we look at the 2009 Washington game. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Bears had re-inserted themselves in the conference conversations after two upset wins over Arizona at home and Stanford in Palo Alto. They were 5-3 in conference and 8-3 overall. If they won this game, as everyone expected, they’d be tied for 2nd in the conference with 3 other teams and could go anywhere from the Holiday bowl to the Nut or Vegas. If they lost, something no one was talking about, it was the lowly Poinsettia bowl. They’d had a bye after the upset in the Big Game, something it was unanimously assumed was good for the team after the bruising Big Game. But could the off-time, including Thanksgiving actually be to the detriment of the Bears? Was Washington better than their 4-7 record indicated? We were about to find out.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Riley makes a couple of nice throws on the first drive of the game, one to Jones on 3rd down and one to Ross, that help get the Bears deep into Washington territory.
  • UW makes a nice stand at the 25, first stopping Vereen for a loss on 1st down and then not giving anything up the following two plays, stalling the drive.
  • D’Amato hooks the 42 yard field goal attempt and the Bears come up empty on their first drive.
  • UW goes for a pass off a of a reverse, that goes for 38 yards despite reasonably good coverage from Nnabufee.
  • Nnabufee gets taken advantage of again, when Locker throws a beautiful pass into the endzone and despite reasonable coverage, it was just too perfectly thrown. Two big plays and UW is up 0-7
  • Shane Vereen makes a nice cutback move to get into the secondary for a 50 yard gain down to the UW 15.
  • The drive stalls there and D’Amato this time succeeds on the kick. Bears slim the lead, but two trips this deep into UW territory and only 3 points is trouble: 3-7
  • After completing a nice pass again, UW tries to pound the ball 3 times on their next series of downs, failing to convert on 3rd and 3 and the Bears are able to force the punt from midfield.
  • After a 3 and out, Anger has one of his all-to-frequent for how good he is, less than stellar punts, giving UW the ball back around midfield.
  • The Huskies go for it on 4th and 5 from the Cal 34 yard line. Locker throws a strike to a hole in the zone to his favorite receiver (at least in this game), Jermaine Kearse to convert the 4th down.
  • UW goes for it again on 4th down, this time 4th and 2 from Cal 14 deciding to forgo the field goal, and the Bears sack Locker to get the ball back.
  • After another Cal 3 and out, Anger’s punt is returned down to the Cal 34.
  • Locker runs it on a designed run play, easily out sprinting around the outside and into the endzone for a 19 yard touchdown pass. The Bears had been dancing with disaster with their 3 and outs and finally UW capitalized to go up big: 3-14
  • Locker caps a complete drive with a 2 yard keeper on 1st and goal from the 2. Just before halftime the deficit goes from a challenge to troublesome: 3-21
  • Locker runs for a 1st down on 3rd and 7 and a busted play where it’s just amazing how fast he got around the outside pursuit and up field.
  • On the next play Locker throws a back-shoulder pass into the corner of the endzone and UW extends out of the locker room: It’s officially a mountain to climb for the comeback to be a possibility: 3-28
  • Riley throws two strikes on the Bear’s first drive of the 2nd half, the first to tight end Skylar Curran, the second to Marvin Jones, to get the Bears down the UW 17.
  • Boateng catches one in the flat and cuts back to the inside and into the endzone. Bears finally get a look at the colored section: 10-28
  • Washington bounces right back with a short (long kickoff return to midfield) but potent drive, capped by a 13 yard strike by Locker on a slant into the endzone. The Bears touchdown is for not: 10-35
  • Sofele takes the kickoff return down the left sideline, showing off his speed in hitting the hole from the wedge, down to the UW 18 yard line.
  • Riley throws a horrible ball on 3rd and 4 for what should have been an easy TD. Then on 4th down, Riley gets a horrible spot on a run off a busted play and the Bears turn it over on downs in the redzone.
  • Riley gets sacked for the umpteenth time with less than 7 minutes left in the game and the Huskies recover at the Cal 42.
  • Polk caps the short field drive with a 10 yard touchdown run. That’s the final score with just over 3 minutes left: 10-42
  • Riley fumbles again on a scramble (the ball was forced out) and Huskies recover again for their second turnover.

Observations:

  • Nnabufee really had a rough first quarter. Not only did he miss on the two long plays on the first drive, he also was out of position on a number of smaller plays as well.
  • There was an interesting stat shown with Riley’s completion percentage in wins (62%) and losses (44%). It clearly shows how teams have been forcing the Bears to beat them through the air. When Riley was successful, the Bears would win. When he wasn’t, they’d lose. I’d say the same trend played true in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see if opposing defenses play things similarly in 2011. I kinda hope they do, because I think the Bears will burn that sort of strategy, but the less potent run game in 2011 may allow defenses to play the Bears in a more balanced fashion.
  • One could definitely tell the impact of Matt Summers-Gavin not being able to play. Riley did not have a lot of time to throw and the running holes were inconsistent.
  • Cal ran a lot of the wildcat in the 1st half this game and it just didn’t work. At least two drives were stalled because of losses on wildcat plays.
  • The pressure on Riley started to take it’s toll in the 2nd quarter. He fumbled once (Bears recovered) and was sacked to effectively end another drive. He seemed to be much more skidish after those two plays.
  • The final score before halftime was really demoralizing for the Bears. Not only was it a complete drive with successful runs, passes and a few 3rd down conversions, it also was clock sapping, not letting the Bears have a good opportunity to score before halftime. Down by 11 and down by 18 at half is a very different thing.
  • Riley did not have a good half. He was 2 of 8 at one point and missed a number of open receivers (including a wide-open Verran Tucker in the endzone) as well as a having too many mis-throws. The pressure on him didn’t make his life easy, but that doesn’t deserve all the blame. It was just another off game for Riley.
  • It’s really too bad the Bears couldn’t stop UW on their first 2nd half drive. 10-21 would have been a very doable situation and the momentum would be all on the Cal sideline. Instead the Bears were already in desperate catchup mode.
  • Riley actually didn’t have a bad 3rd quarter. Minus a couple of key bad throws, overall he made most of his throws despite the heat that UW was bringing.
  • You definitely got the sense that Riley was affected by the cold. Out of the locker-room in both halves, he didn’t do half bad, but later in both halves as he got cold both his accuracy and his decision making went downhill.
  • The Bears were desperate and tired in the 4th quarter. Nothing went right after Cal’s lone touchdown in the 3rd quarter.

Implications for the future:
This being Cal’s last trip to Seattle, it’s instructive to the home-field advantage that the Huskies have. With Oregon’s rise to prominence and USC’s extended stay on top, UW’s storied home field advantage has gotten a lot less press. That doesn’t make it any less real. Let’s just be thankful this year we’ve got an early season day game instead of the late season games of the last few years and the night games have been killer as well. In most ways however, these are two very different teams than in 2009 (the soon to be published 2010 recap will not have that shortcoming). If there’s one thing that’s consistent it’s that UW is one team that can play the power game with Cal quite effectively. The Bears won’t just be able to power-up and win this one.

Conclusion:
In some ways this game was every bit as terrifying as we all remember it. In other ways, it was much closer than the final score indicated. I will say this, this game was UW’s best performance of the season. They were clicking on all cylinders. You could argue they haven’t played a game this well since either, particularly on the offensive side of the ball (their victory in the Holiday bowl over Nebraska last year was an incredibly strong defensive performance). There’s not much about UW that scares me at this point, although saturday’s should be a fairly evenly matched affair. I wouldn’t expect them to as great as they were on this night. Not even that team could have repeated this performance.

Looking back on ’08: Washington

(We continue the looking back series for the 2008 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we look at the 2008 Washington game. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
It was a very different time in Pac-10 football. Cal was just 2 years removed from a co-Pac-10 championship. They were 1 year removed from being ranked #2 in the country (before the meltdown of 2007). 2008 had been a good, but not quite great season and things were looking up for 2009 to be another banner year. Washington was in a very different place. They were winding down a sequence of two bad coaches in Gilbertson and then the surprisingly bad run of Ty Willmingham. Willmingham had already been fired before this game, so everyone knew it would be his last at UW. Cal entered the game 7-4 (en route to 9-4). Washington was 0-11 and was as down as a team could be. If there was one danger here, it was the drive to make sure the game didn’t go victory-less. Could that desire give them the heart needed for an upset? It was hard to believe that to be possible, but Old Blues knew that nothing should be discounted.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Washington gets nothing done on the first possession of the game and when combined with a short punt, give the Bears good field possession for their first drive.
  • On the 2nd play from scrimmage, Best busts through a big hole on the left side and accelerates away from the secondary for an all too easy touchdown. Bears up early just 2 minutes into the game: 7-0
  • After a long drive that included overcoming a 15 yard penalty on Alex Mack (a rare event if there ever was one), Tavecchio pushes an easy 30 yard field goal from the right hash.
  • Zack Follett comes flying off the end to sack UW QB Fouch and Mohammed recovers and the Bears are back in business in the redzone 3 plays after Tavecchio’s miss.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Tavecchio makes take 2, a 23 yarder. Bears extend on their early lead: 10-0
  • Mohammed decides it’s not good enough to just recover the fumble and this time both forces and recovers the fumble on the sack on Fouch. That’s two drives in a row ended on sack-fumbles for UW.
  • Longshore is brought in for Riley after he struggles (after starting with 2 completions, went 1 for 5). However, Longshore too starts off slow, missing his first throw and then fumbling on a sack (Vereen recovered) so the Bears have to punt for the first time.
  • Syd’Quan Thompson returns a punt down the right sideline down to the UW 7 yard line.
  • Two plays later, Best jumps over the line and into the endzone. Bears have a 3 score lead: 17-0
  • On the next drive, Darian Hagan beats the receiver to a ball with too much air under it and intercepts Fouch.
  • On the next play, Longshore completely the first meaningful pass of the game, a 29 yard pass to Morrah on the outside.
  • A couple plays later, Best accelerates through a small gap in the line for his second touchdown, this one a 20 yarder. Bears up big mid-2nd quarter: 24-0
  • Backup UW QB Bean (Fouch went out after a hard hit), can’t thread the needle into cover-2 and Hagan intercepts his second of the day.
  • Jahvid Best unleashes another signature run, cutting back against the grain to get in the open field, doing a stop move to let two defenders go flying by and then is eventually tracked down from behind after a 53 yard gain.
  • It takes Longshore 2 passes in 3 attempts to get it into the endzone, the 50th touchdown of his career. Just before halftime Bears up huge and maintaining the shutout: 31-0
  • Best outdoes his previous run on the second play of the 2nd half, getting around the outside and then exploding downfield, somehow managing to run full speed even after getting hit from the side and somewhat turned around. From there, no one was able to touch him. Best dominates the scoreboard: 38-0
  • Vereen gets in the action, running it in from 2 yards out after Best shatters the Cal single-game rushing record. Bears cross the 40 point threshold: 45-0
  • Bean caps a long (15 play) drive with a designed QB rollout and run for a 2 yard TD run. The shutout is lost: 45-7
  • Jordan Kay, the senior, gets in a late field goal to cap his career at Cal and the scoring for the game. Final score: 48-7

Observations:

  • The Bears went very run heavy in their first few possessions. The good news is that they were quite successful, but the lack of balance was notable. Additionally, Riley wasn’t very accurate, only 3 of 7 (and those 3 weren’t very impressive) despite the weak defense being played.
  • The crispness of the offensive line compared to the last couple seasons was very notable in 2008. They got out of their stances quickly and in unison. This was a Michalczik coached line at its best. Disappointing to see the lack of precision in the last few years. Hopefully by the end of this season they’ll have gotten it back.
  • Longshore had a little bit of a slow start, but got into a rhythm as the half wore on. He definitely was the better of the two QB’s in the 1st half.
  • Losing Fouch for UW was a tough blow for them. Fouch was already their backup to Locker who was injured earlier in the season. Bean was their 3rd stringer who did not expect to play. Their offense when from bad to pathetic. But with no protection on Fouch, it was bound to happen.
  • In the mid-3rd quarter, Cal started bringing in some backups on defense and you could definitely tell. Bean started finding more open receivers and had more time to throw. He got into a bit of a rhythm, something neither he nor Fouch was able to do prior.
  • Mansion got some snaps in the 4th quarter but didn’t look particularly good, although it’s hard to tell when it’s just about all the backups in.

Implications for the future:
This game is from a different era of both Cal and Washington football, so it’s hard to make much of it. However, if one stretches real hard, one can see how Mansion may not be our best option, and also see just how good coach M was at coaching up our offensive line. I haven’t seen that sort of precision and team work in our offensive line since that game. Maybe we’ll get this back soon?

Conclusion:
I think this game summarize the current frustration of Cal fans in relief. We know what we want, we’ve seen it. What troubles us is what we’ve seen the last couple years has not been it. Both 2009 and 2010 showed a surprising lack of precision and effort, particularly on offense. At the same times, the seeds of 2009 and 2010 are here. Riley was off his game and showed the sort of inconsistency that would mark his last two campaigns. Mansion looked even worse. The running game that was so potent under Best would never quite look the same once he left.

Looking back on ’10: UC Davis

(We continue the looking back series. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order, with doing games from 2008, 2009 and 2010 as needed to complete the series. Today we look at the 2010 UC Davis game, last year’s weak non-conference opponent. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
After a disappointing end to the 2009 season, a loss on the road to Washington and a loss to Utah in the Poinsettia bowl, there had been some changes in the coaching staff. Alamar was finally replaced. Just as importantly, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory had been replaced. In his place was an aggressive minded NFL grade guy in Pendergast. Obviously there wasn’t too much concern about the Bears beating UC Davis, but there were two questions Bear fans were hoping to get insight into from the game: Would Kevin Riley finally turn the corner and deliver on his promise in his senior season and what would this new defense look like.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • UC Davis gets the sort of break that an upset minded team wants: An un-forced turnover (Riley had the snap punched out of his hand by a pulling guard) gives UC Davis the ball in Cal territory. However, the Cal defense stepped up and UC Davis wasn’t willing to go for it on 4th and 4 from the 37.
  • Vereen is wide open after slipping out of the backfield for an easy touchdown pass. Bears up early: 7-0
  • Riley throws a strike on a slant in the redzone to Marvin Jones for an all-too-easy TD. Bears extend their lead early in the 2nd quarter: 14-0
  • Jeremy Ross returns a nice punt that somewhat out-kicks the coverage down deep into UC Davis territory.
  • Cal goes for their 1st trick play, an attempted pass by Keenan Allen. Because the receiver wasn’t open, Allen channeled Marshawn Lynch, pulled the ball down, ran across the field and into the endzone. Just after the last score, Bears are up 3 scores: 21-0
  • Marvin Jones makes a remarkable catch on an underthown ball by Riley where the safety is draped all over him swatting for the yet-to-be delivered ball. The flag is thrown before the completion is made, but somehow Jones kept focused, kept his hands free and hauled in the ball for a 51 yard pass. Sadly the drive collapsed from there and the Bears turned it over on downs.
  • Keenan Allen has a huge run on a wide receiver screen, almost getting down to the endzone on the 50 yard play. Vereen punches it in on the next play the bears extend to a 4 TD lead late in the 2nd quarter: 28-0
  • UC Davis makes their first unforced error, a fumble on the kickoff return that wasn’t really forced out, giving Cal the ball in the redzone just after having scored a touchdown.
  • Vereen has a nice run, nice enough to merit it’s own line in the key plays list as opposed to an addendum to the turnover, staying on his feet after two different hits en route to the endzone. Up big about ready to go into the locker room: 35-0
  • They run the wide receiver screen to Keenan Allen again and this time he makes it all the way to the endzone. Bears extend to open the 2nd half: 42-0
  • UC Davis starts at around midfield on their next drive after a good run back. After one of their best drives of the game, UC Davis kicks a 43 yard field-goal. So much for the shutout: 42-3
  • Sweeney runs for a touchdown on a busted play inside the 10 yard touchdown. While it’s a touchdown, it reflects that Sweeney wasn’t showing much with his arm and was doing it all with his legs. In either case, it still counts: 49-3
  • Tavecchio finishes the scoring with a 23 yard field-goal after a long clock-grinding drive designed to end UC Davis’s misery. Final score: 52-3

Observations:

  • Riley had a good start to the game, completing his first 9 passes including 3 TD’s before a dump-off pass on a scrambling play is knocked down.
  • Riley had a number of miscues on that drive with his first incompletion. He also had a false start (looks like he forgot his own snap count) and then had a delay of game penalty. The Bears went for it on 4th down at the UC Davis 31 and don’t convert.
  • Despite being out-manned, UC Davis just didn’t have the talent of the Bears, one had to be impressed with their discipline and their schemes. They played with precision using fundamentally sound football.
  • The defense was dominant in the 1st half. Giving up a total of 31 yards, only 3 of which were on the ground.
  • After Riley’s quick start, he fell of dramatically, getting into quite a funk. He was only 1 of 6 on the remainder of passes in the 1st half.
  • Beau Sweeney came in for Riley with 9 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. This is notable for 2 reasons. First, Tedford was willing to make the switch early. Second, since it was Mansion who ended up taking over for Riley when he was injured, the fact that the depth chart was reversed at this point in the season means that Mansion didn’t get nearly as much playing time early in the season.
  • Mansion comes in for Sweeney with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game, but he never gets to throw the ball. He hands it off 4 times before getting one pass play called. Unfortunately the protection broke down quickly and it ended up being a botched play from the get-go. UC Davis held the ball for the last minute of the game and so Mansion never got a pass attempt.

Implications for 2011:
I think the biggest learning from this game as it applies to this year is how much we’ll see the backups. If Tedford sticks with tradition, early in the 3rd quarter, assuming the Bears are up big, we’ll start seeing backups all over the field, from the QB to the RB to the line and all throughout the defense. Other than that, it’s not hard to see why Sweeney was leap-frogged by Mansion and why he eventually left the program.

Conclusion:
These patsy games don’t mean much, so I don’t have a lot to say. The most one can glean from them is how the backups look, but even that has to be moderated against the quality of the foe. I guess we got a glimpse at the new attacking defense and got our hopes up about Riley turning the corner, although his funk mid-game was a bit distressing. At least they make for easy wins en route to bowl eligibility.

Looking back on ’10: Colorado

(We continue the looking back series. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order, with doing games from 2008, 2009 and 2010 as needed to complete the series. Today we look at the 2010 Colorado game. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Bears had just come off of an expectedly easy win over UC Davis, a game in which they were barely tested in the 1st game of the season. Kevin Riley looked very proficient in that win. Would he have the senior magic this year after struggling with inconsistency in 2009? As for Colorado, it had already been announced that they would be joining the Pac-10 and they were clearly anxious to show that they could belong. Head coach Dan Hawkins’ job was on the line in 2010 after a few years of under-performing. Nevertheless there was reason for Colorado to be optimistic that they’d be turning the corner to get bowl eligible. The Bears themselves were coming off a less-than-stellar 2009 campaign and there were plenty of question marks. At least at first, this had the feel of a game where whoever wanted it more, would come out on top.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • The Bears receive the opening kickoff, but Isi Sofele fumbled the kick. Luckily he was able to fall forward on it to the 23 yard-line. Still made a nail-biting start to the game.
  • After the defense kept Colorado pinned deep on their first possession, Jeremy Ross returned the quick punt to the Colorado 19 yard-line.
  • Kevin Riley throws a nice back-shoulder pass to Shane Vereen in the endzone, who does a great job getting one foot down for the first score of the game. Bears score on their 2nd drive of the game: 7-0
  • Cal goes for it on 4th and 1 from the Colorado 40 yard-line, and has Riley pass the ball. He over throws Marvin Jones on a crossing route, giving Colorado good field position.
  • After giving up one 1st down, Cal sacks the Buff’s QB twice, the second time forcing the fumble that the Bears (Kendricks) recover.
  • Riley throws a strike to Marvin Jones as he’s streaking across the endzone, for the Bears second touchdown. Bears up early nearing the end of the 1st quarter: 14-0
  • After getting yet another sack on Colorado, they hit QB Hansen as he’s throwing the ball, sending an easily interceptable ball up into the air, which Nnabufee intercepts and returns to the Colorado 21.
  • Cal doesn’t convert on 3rd and short and they kick the field-goal. Bears up 3 scores early in the 2nd quarter: 17-0
  • Cal is dominant on their next drive, mostly on the ground (although Riley had one nice throw for a long-ish gain) and Vereen tops it off with a 3 yard touchdown dive. Bears blow it open with 10 minutes left in the half: 24-0
  • After Colorado got to the Cal 3 yard line, on 3rd and goal they got a personal-foul chop block, a false start and then a sack, to setup a long field goal attempt (42 yards), which was missed.
  • Colorado was trying to get a 2-minute drill in to get some points on the board before halftime when Hansen threw behind his outlet receiver and into the hands of Mohammed, who sprints into the endzone. Things go from bad to horrible for Colorado and the Bears hold a BIG halftime lead: 31-0
  • Cameron Jordan sacks Hansen on 3rd and 9, to force Colorado to punt on which was otherwise their best drive of the game (now in the 3rd quarter).
  • After another long, drawn out drive, Colorado finally gets a TD on a busted play on 4th and goal from the 3, when Hansen runs it in on the QB keeper. Bears lead shrinks a bit: 31-7
  • Anger kicks a 67 punt that is called back on an offensive formation penalty and then repeats it with a 65 yard punt, pinning Colorado deep in their own territory.
  • After Cal gets the ball back, Riley finds a wide open Marvin Jones for a 61 yard play down to the Colorado 2 yard line.
  • After a false start penalty, Riley finds Keenan Allen on a rollout play for a touchdown. Bears back up by 31: 38-7
  • Steve Williams out jumps the receiver on an under thrown go-route to intercept the ball.
  • Sofele caps another nice drive, with had a nice catch by Ross, with a 1 yard touchdown catch. Bears extend: 45-7
  • In one of the oddest looking plays, after the Colorado WR catches the ball it’s punched out from behind, right into the hands of Darian Hagan who streaks down the sideline for an easy touchdown. That’s the final score: 52-7

Observations:

  • Eric Kiesau was the offensive coordinator at Colorado, a former Cal Bear coach who of course is back on the Cal Bear staff in 2011 as the passing game coordinator and receiver coach.
  • The Cal defense was extremely dominant on the first Colorado drive of the game, actually pushing them back from where they started on the 6 yard-line.
  • Colorado had lots of penalties early. On their first drive a illegal block penalty on what would have been their only positive play. On their 2nd drive, they both got a holding penalty on the return and a false start before they had even run a play.
  • Tavecchio was booming the kickoffs early in the game, sending all of his kicks inside the 5 and one at least 4 yards into the endzone.
  • Colorado actually had negative yards until they finally put a drive together in the mid-2nd quarter. Hansen threw a few good balls and the running game came to life, at least for one drive. Unfortunately for the Buffs, they went from nearly guaranteed points at the Cal 3 to a missed long field-goal which was a definite momentum and confidence killer for them.
  • Colorado actually had some of the same success as with their earlier drive in their first few drives of the 2nd half. While it took them a lot of plays and a lot of 3rd down conversions, they moved the ball effectively. Colorado could have easily had 3 touchdown drives in the late 2nd quarter and 3rd quarter, but mistakes and turnovers killed all but one of those opportunities.
  • The Bears were in a funk in the 3rd quarter offensively, having 2 3-and-outs in the quarter (with Colorado’s two long-ish drives taking the rest of the time)
  • One really has to wonder why we never saw Mansion or Sweeney in this game, even in the 3rd quarter. We did see a number of other backups, Sofele getting a number of snaps late in the game and substitutions throughout the rest of the offense and defense. But no QB backup… why not?

Implications for 2011:
The Bears controlled this game from start to finish. They controlled the game in the trenches, particularly on defense. If the Bears can have similar control in 2011, they’ll be victorious again. However, so many breaks went the Bears way, I think if you played that game 10 times, at lease a couple times Colorado would have been within 14 points at the end. Colorado did show some potential and did put together a few sustained drives. Don’t think that the Colorado offense was as inept as the final score indicated. They also seemed to keep the Cal running game mostly in check, although they did it at the expense of the pass defense and the way Maynard is playing, he’d abuse them worse than Riley did. However, what truly killed Colorado was the mistakes, particularly the penalties and turnovers. If their new head coach can keep that in check, the game will be a lot closer.

Conclusion:
This was Cal at their best last season, probably their best game of the season. However, Riley wasn’t playing all that well and you could see the seeds that would flower into trouble later in the season, heck, even the next week. As mentioned above, despite being up so big, we never saw backups Mansion or Sweeney get any snaps. That would turn out to really hurt the Bears later in the season. Of course hindsight is 20/20 (well, that’s why we do this series of posts, isn’t it?), but it’s pretty clear that when re-watching this game what would eventually plague the team.

Looking back on ’10: Nevada

(Today we pick back up the looking back series. We’re going to continue the trend we started a couple years ago of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order, with doing games from 2008, 2009 and 2010 as needed to bring the series up to date. Today we look at the 2010 Nevada game, which in theory matches with Fresno State from last week, but is also a good match for Colorado both because the game will be at a similar altitude and it’s the challenging road non-conference game of the previous year. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Bears had just come off of two dominating wins over Colorado and UC Davis. While everyone knew that UC Davis was nothing to brag about, Colorado was a bit of an unknown quantity and there was reason for great optimism in Berkeley. That said, everyone knew there was reason to fear the trip to Reno. Nevada was peaking and thought to be a serious challenge to Boise State in the WAC. With a senior quarterback who was a legitimate dual-threat QB and an innovative scheme that was growing in popularity (the pistol), there was reason to be nervous, particularly considering the struggles the Bears have on the road during the non-conference (see 2008 Maryland, 2006 Tennesee). Nevertheless, this was definitely a winnable game for the Bears.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Nevada got the ball to start the game and made relatively quick work of the Bears. Kaepernick delivers a strike on a come-back route off the play-action, to a wide open receiver who powers through the tackle of Darian Hagan to the endzone. Cal in a hole early: 0-7
  • Riley throws a nice pass to an open Keenan Allen, although a tad behind him, but it goes right through his hands and is tipped into the safety’s hands for an interception to end Cal’s first drive that was otherwise promising.
  • After the defense forces the punt, Vereen explodes through a large hole on the first play of the drive and runs for a 59-yard touchdown run. The Bears tie it up: 7-7
  • Kaepernick caps another read-option heavy drive (although just enough diversity to keep Cal on its toes) with a 2-yard touchdown run. Bears back in a one touchdown hole: 7-14
  • Riley is sacked on back to back plays as the offensive line folds all to quickly. The Bears are forced to punt on a 3-and-out.
  • The defense is every bit as inept on the ensuing Nevada drive, completely letting Kaepernick free on the outside. This time it’s capped by an 8 yard touchdown run by the nimble QB. Bears down by two scores: 7-21
  • After stringing together a couple 1st downs, Riley overthrows an easy target on 3rd and 3, forcing the Bears to punt from around midfield.
  • Cal recovers a fumble from a botched handoff, getting the ball at the Nevada 21.
  • Vereen punches in a 2 yard touchdown run on the end of the short-field drive. Cal back within a touchdown: 14-21
  • Kaepernick throws a nice deep ball on loose coverage by Conte, for 30 yards, giving Nevada a shorter field for their end of half drive.
  • Nevada runs out of time (not very good clock management, actually) and has to kick a 30 yard field-goal. Bears down by 10 at halftime: 14-24
  • Vereen busts his 2nd big run, this one is a 49 yard touchdown run, on the opening drive of the 2nd half. Bears back within 3… yes, all you “Cal got blown out by Nevada” people, Cal was down by only 3 in the 3rd quarter: 21-24
  • Cal forces a 3-and-out on Nevada’s first possession of the 2nd half.
  • After marching the ball down to the Nevada 35, Riley makes a crucial judgment error and is intercepted. A pick-6 at that! Bears back down by 10: 21-31
  • Vereen nearly breaks his longest run of the day. As it was, it was a 35 yard run. But it was a couple of steps from being an 80 yard touchdown run.
  • On the following play, Anthony Miller takes it most of the rest of the way to the endzone, setting up 1st and goal from the 7.
  • However, 2 run plays only get the ball to the 5 and the jump ball to Jones in the corner of the endzone falls incomplete. The Bears have to settle for 3 to get it back to a touchdown deficit: 24-31
  • Kaepernick throws another great ball on a seam route down to the 5 yard line. The ball is knocked out by Marc Anthony, but the receiver is able to recover the fumble just over the goal line for a touchdown. Bears down by two touchdowns again: 24-38
  • Cal marches down the field and has unable to convert on 3rd and 4th down from the Nevada 8 yard line (could get a 1st down at the 2 yard line). Instead of taking 3, they went for 7 and ended up getting nothing.
  • The tired Cal defense was so concerned about Kaepernick on the read-option that they eventually gave up a big run up the middle, a 54 yard touchdown run. Now with less than 8 minutes left in the game, the score was officially embarrassing: 24-45
  • Riley throws a nice rainbow to Jones down to the 4 yard line, giving Cal one last shot to close up the score.
  • Riley throws a rare fullback rollout for a touchdown. The Bears are back within 14: 31-45
  • After a failed onside kick attempt, Nevada makes easy work of the short field and Kaepernick scores on another read-option. Back to down by 3 TD’s: 31-52
  • With Riley throwing up desperation balls to trying and get another touchdown or two (or perhaps the miracle comeback), he throws up an interception, sealing the final drive for the Bears and the victory formation for Nevada.

Observations:

  • On Nevada’s first drive, it was feast or famine for Nevada. In a lot of ways, there was promise in the Cal defensive effort, with a number of plays for no gain or even a few short losses. But then on other plays, things would break down quickly and it would go for a lot of yards.
  • On Nevada’s third drive, Cal’s outside pursuit was diving on the running back EVERY TIME they ran the read-option. Kaepernick was able to explode for big yards on the outside. It was a disappointing thing to see and seemed to reflect that Cal wasn’t well prepared for the pistol (it’s OK to dive on the runner, but you’d better have someone on outside contain if the QB runs with it.)
  • After Vereen picked up 14 on 2nd and 20 in the 3rd quarter, he had to come out of the game to catch his breath. You could definitely tell the altitude was getting to him in a big way, the way he was gasping for air. He was back in 2 plays later to score the touchdown, so it’s not long term, but it just shows how players need to be spelled at altitude.
  • Cal’s defensive adjustments looked really good to start the 2nd half. Kaepernick was contained when he kept the ball and the inside run game wasn’t going any better. Things definitely looked up for the Bears.
  • It can’t be overstated how much of a turning point Riley’s interception was. Cal had clawed within 3 and was driving. They were only a few yards from being in field goal range to tie the game, but it felt more like the Bears were headed to the endzone. The defense was also containing the Nevada offense for the first time all game. Instead, the Bears find themselves back in a 10 point hole with just over 20 minutes to play.
  • Kevin Riley’s accuracy in the 4th quarter was a real problem. While he wasn’t perfect earlier in the game, most of his passes were enough on target to be complete. Not so in the 4th quarter. Their drive down into the redzone was on the back of Vereen and Sofele and also on pass interference penalties (on not very well thrown balls).
  • The failed conversion on 4th down was the turning point where the game officially fell apart. You could tell the defense lost their heart after that failed conversion deep in Nevada territory and Nevada’s runs returned to a level of success they mostly hadn’t seen in the 2nd half, including the 54 yard touchdown run.

Implications for 2011:
There’s no doubt that Cal has struggled with their bigger non-conference road games. Just about every year but 2009: 2006 Tennessee, there was no tough road game in 2007, 2008 Maryland, the exception that proves the rule 2009 Minnesota and then this game, 2010 Nevada. Will Colorado have the same result in 2011? It does have a similar aspect to it with the altitude. But in many ways, that’s where the comparisons end. Really, of all the teams Cal lost to, with the exception of perhaps 2008 Maryland, each of those teams would clearly be better than Colorado this year. Also, Nevada ran a very unconventional offense, one the Bears had never seen before and there’s no doubt that had an impact on the defensive performance. So it’s a little hard to judge things based on this game. But the altitude is an interesting component. There’s no doubt players will have to be spelled. But the good news is that Cal has lots of depth to do that, particularly on defense. So the comparisons here may be pretty weak.

Conclusion:
Overall, this was obviously a very difficult game for the Bears, but re-watching it confirmed what I thought after watching it the first time. The Bears could have legitimately won this game if a few of the breaks had gone their way, starting with Mike Mohammed not being available for the game. It also confirmed for me just how good of a team the 2010 Nevada team was. They most definitely peaked in 2010, and their victory over Boise State later in the season was more evidence of that. Is it just me, or does it feel like we often get non-conference foes while they’re peaking?

Looking back on ’09: Arizona

(We continue the looking back series for the 2009 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we look at the Arizona game. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
When Arizona came to town, there was only one thing on the minds of Bear fans around the nation: Nothing. We were in shock, in disbelief, in disarray. Jahvid Best’s injury the previous week against Oregon State left everyone shell shocked. We almost didn’t remember that we had lost the game. If we could manage the mental discipline, we’d remember that after similarly terrifying back-to-back losses to USC and Oregon, Cal had ripped off 3 consecutive wins, including a gritty road win over Arizona State, clearly showing that the Bears had rebounded. But now, where were we? Was the rebound over? Was Arizona going to beat Cal for a 3rd year in a row (they were ranked 17th after all)? Who’s asking these questions (because it wasn’t the shell shocked Bears fans)? They only had one question: Will Jahvid be OK?

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • The Bears manage to get far enough down field on their first drive, a fairly balanced one, to kick a 46 yard field-goal which Tavecchio nails right down the middle. Bears first to score: 3-0
  • Tavecchio follows up the good FG with a very short kickoff and Arizona starts their drive on their 35.
  • Alualu is so physical pushing his lineman back he’s thrust into the RB who fumbles the ball. Cal recovers at the Arizona 32.
  • Cal gets a somewhat generous pass interference on 3rd and long to keep their drive alive.
  • Vereen spins out of a backfield tackle that would have lost the Bears 10+ yards and turns into a 9 yard gain. An outstanding run.
  • Riley fumbles while running the option play on 3rd and goal from the 2, but luckily the Bears recover. Tavecchio kicks the easy FG. Bears scoring, but only FGs: 6-0
  • Arizona’s RB busts one open for 40 yards getting the ball down to the Cal 18, their first big play, over half way through the 2nd quarter.
  • After getting down to the 2 yard-line by converting a 3rd and 12, Arizona punches it in. Cal’s inability to add points through their domination early, puts them in a hole: 6-7
  • After forcing a 3 and out for Cal and using timeouts to give them one last shot before halftime, Arizona kicks a 37 yard field-goal. Bears down by 4: 6-10.
  • Cal takes advantage of the 30 seconds left before half and on the back of a long pass to Tucker, Tavecchio kicks a 50 yard field-goal to negate Arizona’s. Down to a one-point game at halftime: 9-10
  • On the opening drive of the 2nd half, Josh Hill intercepts a ball that Foles tries to thread into too small a hole. Unfortunately the drive stalls and Tavecchio misses this one, his third long field goal attempt of the game.
  • Riley under throws a wide open Boateng for what should have been an easy TD but instead is a interception at the Cal 3 yard line.
  • After the D forces a 3 and out and a shanked punt gives Cal the ball back inside the Arizona 30, it just takes one chuck to Skylar Curran in the endzone, who manages to come down with it despite the aggressive pass interference call. Bears go for the 2-point conversion and fail but Bears back in front: 15-10
  • Jeremy Ross has a strong punt return back inside the Arizona 30, giving Cal yet another short field to work with.
  • But Riley throws what has to be the most ridiculous interception of his career, panicking when the rush came through quick and floating a duck into the endzone where no Cal receivers are and is easily caught by the waiting safety for an interception and touch back.
  • Cal gets called for two (correct) pass interference calls on an Arizona drive that keep it alive and eventually Foles connects with his TE on 1st and goal from the 9. They too go for the 2-point conversion and fail. Bears back down by one: 15-16.
  • After Riley connects with Tucker to get on the right side of the field, Vereen and DeBoskie trade off runs that get the ball down into the redzone. Alas the drive stalls yet again when Cal can’t convert on 3rd and 9, but Tavecchio kicks his 4th field-goal. Bears back on top: 18-16
  • Tavecchio saves a long kickoff runback, tackling the runner with his legs at a critical moment in the game (4:30 left)
  • After getting in field position mostly on the back of Foles passing, Foles throws the ball twice in one down after it is batted down on 3rd and 3 from the 25. Instead they have to go for it on 4th and 17 from the 39, which they don’t convert.
  • On Cal’s next play, Vereen busts through a big hole for a 61 yard touchdown run. Bears miss the extra point giving Arizona just a smidgen of light leaving it a one score game: 24-16
  • Cal breaks up a long pass by Foles, then sacks him twice (2nd and 4th down) to put an end to it.

Observations:

  • Even though the Bears were able to force a punt on Arizona’s first drive, the Arizona running game was working pretty effectively, picking up 5+ on most runs.
  • After that first drive, the Cal defense was a lot stiffer than the first. Forcing a number of punts and getting the ball back to the Cal offense.
  • The Cal offense had pretty good rhythm but no finishing power in the 1st quarter.
  • Foles, while not particularly fast, did a pretty good job of avoiding would-be sackers and extending the play a number of times throughout the game.
  • The Bear defense was definitely firing on all cylinders on this day. Their stretch plays weren’t working with both corners, Syd in particular, doing a great job of shedding their blockers. The inside run game was just not working for Arizona and the pass coverage was good enough to get the job done. A very strong performance.
  • At one point Arizona was so frustrated with their offense’s play that they benched Foles and brought in their young running QB. He was no more effective as Cal collapsed on his obvious run plays. It didn’t even last a full drive before Foles was back out there.
  • Riley was most definitely not having one of his best performances in the 2nd half. There were a couple opportunities for Cal to stick a knife in Arizona but his interceptions kept killing otherwise promising situations.
  • As much as the penalty on that double throw was big, the reality was that it was trouble the minute it was batted down and Foles caught it. He was unlikely to get past the 30 yard line with the defense in pursuit, and that’s being generous. Either way it’s 4th down and a long FG attempt for a weak kicker or go for it on 4th down.
  • Overall the Cal defense played a gritty game that gave the offense enough opportunities to score the points needed to win.

Implications for 2010:
There’s no doubt that Cal matches up well against Arizona with their return to a more traditional offense. Cal had them bottled up all night. If Riley can play a good consistent game, Cal can provide enough balance to move the ball against Arizona. There should also be some open receivers down the field the way Arizona plays an aggressive defense. Riley couldn’t hit them in 2009, but if he can make a couple of those in 2010, it could really break the game open. But I have a fair amount of optimism that the Cal D-Line will do well enough to allow the linebackers to be disruptive like they did in 2009. All of this is predicated on not letting the crowd dictate the emotions on the field, but based on the teams on paper, Cal most definitely has a shot at this one.

Conclusion:
This game was stuck in a fog for me between the Best injury and the Big Game. It was good to re-watch it. The reality is the defense was the key to the game. The bottled up the Arizona run game and kept Foles in check (although he got stronger as the game wore on). I had forgotten just how mistake prone Riley was. Had he been more consistent, the game wouldn’t have even been close.

Looking back on ’08: Arizona

(We pick back up the looking back series for the 2008 season after it fell apart when the traveling schedule started taking it’s toll (starting with UCLA) last season. I didn’t even get to these games from 2 years ago in the off-season! So now you’ll get two years worth of looking back games in some weeks. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Bears entered this mid-October game ranked 25th, and 4-1 (2-0 in conference), having rebounded from their ranking killing loss to Maryland in September with 2 wins over Colorado State and Arizona State, both at home. Longshore had taken back over the starting spot from Kevin Riley the previous week against ASU after inconsistent performances in the Maryland and CSU games lost Riley his job. Longshore would be starting for the 2nd straight week. Was this Longshore’s time to shine as a senior? They were also the only team undefeated in conference play, admittedly having played two of the weakest teams (although that wasn’t as clear about ASU at the time as it is in retrospect), with USC having lost to Oregon State. Could this be the year that Cal broke through? Would the Arizona game be their downfall again as it was in 2006? Would Longshore have another mistake filled trip to the desert as in 2006 at Arizona and 2007 at ASU? Arizona didn’t seem like that big of a challenge in 2008, having lost to New Mexico and having been destroyed by Stanford, also considered poor at the time, in Palo Alto. But the 2006 edition of Arizona wasn’t very strong either. Only time would tell if the Bears were going to continue to roll.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Nyan Boateng does a false start on 3rd and 4 when Arizona had jumped offside, forcing a 3rd and 9 that the Bears can’t convert on their 1st drive of the game.
  • Arizona’s RB Grigsby fumbles the ball when Felder punches the ball out on their own 43 giving the Bears the ball back quickly and with a short field.
  • Longshore hits Verran Tucker on a slant for a 35 yard gain down to the 9 yard line.
  • Verran Tucker makes a diving catch in the back of the endzone on 3rd and goal from the 2. Bears start the game off right: 7-0
  • Tuitama throws a middle screen over the head of the intended receiver right into Anthony Felder’s hands, giving Cal the ball back at midfield after the run back, killing an otherwise promising drive for Arizona.
  • Longshore overthrows a wide open Tucker on the long ball right after the interception, giving up a nearly free opportunity for a 14-0 lead. Alas he was off the mark.
  • Tedford decides to have Tavecchio kick on 4th and 3 from the 34. Tavecchio’s 51 yard kick was long enough but wide right by just a foot or two.
  • The Arizona run game wears down the Bear defense and a 20 yard run finishes off a power drive. The game is tied: 7-7
  • Arizona’s Thomas busts off a 40 yard punt return to setup Arizona on the Cal side of the field after Cal 3 and outs.
  • A pass to the TE after the linebacker suck up and a 10 yard power run up the middle was all it took by Arizona to score another TD. Bears loses two scores in 2 minutes: 7-14
  • After Cal and Arizona trade punts, Best busts out one of his signature long runs accelerating away from the safety and into the endzone. Game is tied: 14-14
  • After an Arizona 3 and out and Best continuing to work well in open space, Longshore gets a long ball down to Tucker at the 3 yard line.
  • Even after a 15-yard chop block penalty gives Cal a near impossible 1st and goal from the 18 yard-line, Longshore gets a great pass to Morrah in the corner of the endzone. Bears rebound to take lead back: 21-14
  • After a couple punts back and forth, the Bears manage to get a 43 yard field-goal off before halftime and the Bears get one last score before the half. Halftime score: 24-14
  • On the first drive on the 2nd half, SydQuan gets beat on a deep slant (an unusual occurrence if there is one) and Arizona gets an all too easy TD. Lead is down to the pre-halftime FG: 24-21
  • Follett gets a monster sack on 3rd and 12, sacking Tuitama on the 2 yard line, forcing the short punt.
  • The Bears get just enough to get into field-goal range. Bears slowly growing lead: 27-21
  • The Bears go with some weird defensive alignment of the d-line (a tight bunch) and Arizona exposes it for a 50 yard run that only Ezeff is able to save from a touchdown. It only takes two goal-line runs to ram it in. Arizona back in front: 27-28
  • Longshore throws what has become his signature throw: The quick out for an interception for a TD. This one is a bit odd as Verran Tucker and the DB fight over the ball, but eventually the DB strips it away for the TD. Puts a stake through the heart of Cal with another streak to two quick TD’s from Arizona: 27-35
  • Tuitama throws a nice ball to their stud TE who bowls over Felder and Ezeff en route to the 35 yard touchdown. Make that 3 quick TDs: 27-42
  • After Longshore is given a couple more chances, and looks desperate slinging the ball down field every play, Riley comes in as QB with 10 minutes left in the game.
  • Riley over throws Morrah who tips the ball, which is then tipped up by an Arizona DB and finally intercepted. A bad throw, but also a bad bounce.
  • Ross catches a tough ball on 4th and 9 with just over 4 minutes left, keeping hope alive.
  • After failing to convert on another 4th down, the defense steps up and gives the offense the ball back with 3 minutes left.
  • Riley is sacked on 4th and 15 with 1:30 left, effectively ending the game.

Observations:

  • Tavecchio was in for David Seawright after Seawright strained his groin muscle and looked really shaky, particularly on kickoffs.
  • Although the didn’t have the ball much, Arizona’s outside run game was working well on their first drive. It was creating nice running lanes for them and they were still running with power.
  • Cal really had the chance to take the Arizona crowd out of the game early with the two turnovers, but the lack of execution on the second opportunity, made it so one TD from Arizona was all it took to get them back in it.
  • It’s easy to forget how good the linebacker crew was in 2008. Felder, Follett, Williams, Mohamed and Young. We just don’t have the same quality of guys these days.
  • The Bears inability to get some distance from Arizona with stalled drives kept the crowd in the game. Just like early in the game, that TD to start the second half took it down to a small 3-point lead. Then when the Bears only scored a field-goal later in the quarter, it still kept it a one score game and the crowd was still in it.
  • At the time I watched the game, I felt like Arizona dominated physically and Cal was the scrappy team holding in. But watching it now, Arizona was the team that really was on the weak side and kept coming up with key scores. Their two sets of back-to-back TD’s were the key to this game and both where the result of mistakes by Cal, not by dominating play by Arizona.
  • The crowd went into over-drive after that pick-6. You could visibly see the difference in how Cal played after the interception.
  • If the 2 quick scores had the Bears rattled, the 3 quick scores had the Bears desperate. It was all long throws on the next possession.
  • After that 3rd quick score, the Bear defense tightened substantially and really locked down the Arizona run game.

Implications for 2009/2010:
If I had done this review in 2009, I think I would have had a lot more confidence in the Bears ability to upset Arizona at home last year. This 2008 game was really all about those quick strikes by Arizona and in a lot of ways Cal showed as the stronger team. Tuitama was also a big factor and with a new QB in 2009, that had to go against Arizona (which it did). Moving on to 2010, the key to Arizona is to get the crowd out of it and KEEP them out of it. Cal had lots of opportunities in this game to break it open early and they ended up settling for field goal attempts, one of which was missed. The Bears could have been up 31-7 at halftime with the turnovers that Arizona handed them and the mistakes that Cal made. That would have kept the crowd at bay and allowed Cal to focus on stopping the passing game. A lone TD to open the 2nd half wouldn’t have energized the crowd. Cal needs to come out strong on Saturday and get up by a couple scores and stay that way.

Conclusion:
As I said a few times, this game was a lot closer than I remember and there’s a lot to suggest the Bears were the better team that day but mistakes and the bounce of the ball didn’t go the Bears way. You take away the signature Longshore interception and the freebee TD’s given up and the Bears win this game.

Looking back on ’09: Maryland

(We continue the looking back series for the 2009 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we match last year’s “B” non-conference team, Maryland with this year’s “B” non-conference team, Nevada. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
Cal started off the season ranked 12th and anxious to get off to a good start versus a Maryland team that had embarrassed Cal in 2008 on the other side of the country. Maryland had ended up being better than expected in 2008, ending the season 8-5 with a convincing win over Nevada in their bowl game. They were also implementing a new, much more aggressive defense, which was expected to make them even better. It was expected to be a good test to start the season. The Bears wanted payback, and it made them smile that after having to start the game at 9:00 AM home-time in 2008, Maryland had to start at 10:00 PM home-time for the rematch, and Maryland wanted to show that the 2008 victory wasn’t a fluke or home-aided.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Maryland just barely doesn’t get off a 3rd and short play that would have been a 1st down due to a delay of game. After a holding penalty to boot, Maryland’s 2nd drive stalled when they couldn’t convert on 3rd and 16.
  • Jahvid Best busts through a sizeable hole in the line, partially opened by the faked fly-sweep, and runs for a 73 yard touchdown run, using Verran Tucker as a lead blocker on the safety. Bears up early: 7-0
  • On the ensuing kickoff, Little hits the returner hard and pops the ball loose and DJ Campbell recovers giving Cal the ball back right after the 1st TD.
  • Best leaps over the line on the 2nd play of the drive for an all too easy TD. Bears opening the can in less than a minute: 14-0.
  • Maryland’s returner redeems himself a little, taking the always short kickoff to the Cal 37 yard-line stealing back some momentum from Cal.
  • After a formation foul negates a Maryland TD, Alualu bats down a 3rd and goal pass, forcing the short field-goal. Bears still up by two scores: 14-3
  • After Owusu gets a sack taking Maryland out of field-goal range on 3rd down, Maryland converts 4th and 9 to keep the drive alive.
  • After Maryland’s drive stalled on yet another sack, they kick the field-goal. Lead is now down to one score: 14-6
  • Verran Tucker makes a nice recovery and catch while being fouled on a deep ball that Riley well under threw.
  • Riley is sacked on 1st and goal from the 9, setting up a difficult 2nd and goal from the 14.
  • Bears settle for the field-goal. Lead back to 11: 17-6
  • Bishop knocks out the ball on a short run and Cameron Jordan recovers giving Cal the ball at midfield and ending what was otherwise starting to look like a promising drive for Maryland.
  • Marvin Jones hauls in a poor pass from Riley (too hard and too high), giving Cal a 1st and goal from the 3.
  • Riley does a great job to evade a would-be sacker and then finds Skyler Curran in the endzone for a TD. Bears establish a big lead: 24-6
  • Cal gets back-to-back sacks from Owusu and Price late in the 1st half, killing Maryland’s chances to get a momentum gaining end-of-half touchdown.
  • Nyan Boateng is WIDE open as Cal is executing the 2-minute offense and scores an easy 40 yard touchdown before halftime. Bears up huge before halftime: 31-6
  • Best starts off the 2nd half with a 40 yard run, which on the back of Vereen’s kickoff return to midfield, has the Bears in the redzone less than 30 seconds into the half.
  • Vereen finishes off the drive with a 2 tackle shreading TD run. Bears making it a blowout: 38-6
  • On the Bears next possession, Jones gets behind his DB and Riley lays a beautiful rainbow in his hands and Jones gets another TD. Game officially out of hand: 45-6
  • Maryland finally gets something to cheer about on a long run play for a touchdown. Still a blowout: 45-13
  • Riley throws a swingout pass to Vereen who dodges a couple would-be tacklers en route to the endzone. Bears finish the scoring early in the 4th quarter: 52-13

Observations:

  • It was amazing to see the difference in Tavecchio’s kickoffs last year. They were pathetically short in this game.
  • The offensive line was not doing a great job in pass blocking early in the game. Riley had to get rid of the ball early a number of times. That was in part due to the aggressive schemes of Maryland, but also you got the feeling there were some issues.
  • Maryland’s QB Turner was not very accurate in the 1st quarter and the opportunities they had were often spoiled by poor throws.
  • Cal was bringing a lot of defensive heat in the 1st half, and did a lot to rattle Maryland’s QB in addition to the sacks they racked up.
  • SydQuan was in top form for this game, with a number of key breakups in the 1st half.
  • There were two points in the game that really put a stake through the heart of Maryland in the 1st half: The first was the quick back-to-back TD’s to start off the scoring. The second was the end of half touchdown to put the game effectively out of reach (remarkable comebacks aside) before halftime.
  • Riley’s accuracy in the second half was significantly better than in the 1st. He really played much better than the first, particularly on the long throws.
  • It’s funny to hear the hype that we know doesn’t work out. Tedford thinks this offensive line will be better than the 2008 version (uh, that would be NO!) This should be one of the best defenses in the nation (well, reasonable thought at the time, but SO far from the truth). Cal will challenge USC this year (oh how painfully not true). Etc.
  • It was interesting to see how much pressure Cal got on the QB in this game. 6 sacks! It sure seemed like the defense was as good as the 2008 edition at that point with all the same characteristics.
  • By the 4th quarter Cal was subbing in a lot of backups outside of Riley. Best was nowhere to be seen. WR’s like Lageman were getting playing time. Etc.
  • Here’s something from this game that was a precursor to later in the season: 5 of Cal’s TD drives were 2 minutes or less. Cal was most definitely a quick strike offense last year. Unfortunately, that’s all they were.
  • The 4th quarter was a pretty lazy affair on both sides of the ball with both teams sticking to a conservative run game to run out the clock, Maryland wanting it over just as much as the Bears.

Implications for 2010:
I don’t know that there is much about this game that necessarily applies to Nevada or to any other game in 2010 other than to serve as a warning to this 2-0 team. We thought beating Maryland meant something. It turns out they’d go 2-10 last year, one of those wins being over lowly James Madison and losses to Middle Tennessee, Duke, Rutgers and North Carolina State not doing much to help their resume. Who has a hard time believing that Colorado could suffer a similar fate? The Bears will need to prove their mettle this year in the Pac-10 and any non-conference success needs to be taken with a grain, nay a pound, of salt.

Conclusion:
It was nice to see the Bears get revenge for their loss to Maryland in 2008, but at the same time, it’s sad that the Bears keep needing this sort of redemption. The 2007 Tennessee game was the same way. Let’s hope the Bears won’t be looking for redemption from Nevada when they come to play in Berkeley in the future.

Looking Back on ’09: Minnesota

(We continue the looking back series for the 2009 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we match last year’s “A” non-conference team, Minnesota with this year’s “A” non-conference team, Colorado. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Minnesota game had been circled on a lot of people’s calendars long before the season started. It was either this game or the Maryland game that would be the toughest game of the season, but this game had the edge because it was on the road. To make the road situation worse, Minnesota was opening a brand new stadium on campus that many expected to give the Gophers a much better home field advantage than in the past. With the Bears going 1-4 on the road in 2008, only beating lowly WSU, there was a question whether the Bears had what it took to win on the road. Minnesota was a routine bowl team out of the Big-10 that the Bears had beat in 2006 at home, but the Gophers looked better in 2009 than 2006, plus the road game factor made this a “show me” game for the Bears.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Cal started the game with the halfback pass from Vereen. Isn’t that “trick play” so cliche for the Bears at this point as to be overly obvious?
  • Jahvid Best got through a big hole as the fly-sweep fake freezes the linebackers and then breaks it to the outside before leaping into the endzone, in what was probably his signature TD of 2009, putting the Bears up front: 7-0.
  • Minnesota ran a reverse off the kick-off return taking the ball just past midfield, setting them up with great field position.
  • Minnesota runs a hook and lateral to try to make a 3rd and 15, but Cal is not fooled and the Gophers don’t convert.
  • Riley threw a beautiful rainbow to Verran Tucker for 58 yards, only just being tripped up at the 2-yard line.
  • Jahvid Best runs for a surprisingly easy 2-yard TD run between the tackles and the Bears are up by two TD’s, mid 1st quarter: 14-0
  • Riley got sacked and fumbled the ball on their 3rd possession. Luckily for the Bears, it was recovered, not giving Minnesota a free trip to the redzone. It does however result in a 2nd and long that the Bears can’t recover from and they have to punt for the first time.
  • Anger has a surprisingly short punt giving the Gophers the ball around midfield.
  • Alualu beats two defenders en route to the QB for a sack at the Cal 32.
  • Minnesota’s Decker catches the ball for a Minnesota TD. Cattouse hit him hard and from my view, Decker didn’t hold onto the ball as he went out of bounds, but nevertheless it was a great effort to even keep the ball on his chest and it was scored as a TD. The lead is cut to a TD: 14-7.
  • Boateng makes a nice catch and run on a crossing route on a key 3rd and 7 when Minnesota had momentum, keeping the drive alive.
  • D’Amato shanks a 47 yard-field goal attempt after a determined drive with a number of key 3rd down conversions.
  • Best explodes through the sizable hole through the line and then quickly past the secondary for another Cal touchdown. Back to a 2 TD lead: 21-7
  • Sofele gets a bogus interference to catch the ball, offsetting the fumble recovery by the Bears and giving Minnesota the ball at the Cal 30 with less than two minutes left in the half.
  • Hagan completely whiffs on the coverage on Decker giving Minnesota an easy fade for a touchdown. Score down to one TD going into the locker room: 21-14
  • After forcing a 3-and-out on Minnesota’s possession to start the 2nd half, the shanked punt hits a Cal defender and Minnesota recovers the fumble around midfield. Yet another special teams issue (I’ll refrain from the word “blunder” as it was a touch bounce) gives Minnesota more chances and better field position than they otherwise deserve.
  • A fumble by Minnesota at the Cal 20 saves Cal from letting the special teams turnover result in points.
  • Anger has a monster punt from the Cal 25, that is fair caught at the Minnesota 18.
  • After a drive where Decker was at the receiving end of almost all the passes, they pull a trick-play out of their hat and Decker throws the ball to a wide open receiver for a 7-yard touchdown. The game is tied: 21-21
  • Riley escapes throwing an interception when his overthrown ball over the middle is dropped by the Minnesota safety with it in his bread-basket.
  • Cal gets another rough penalty call, a pass interference call on Cattouse when he made a brilliant defensive move on 3rd down, extending the Minnesota drive.
  • Preventing Cal’s 4th consecutive 3-and-out, Riley squeezes it into Ross who sidesteps a tackler to get their first 1st down of the half with less than 9 minutes left in the game.
  • Riley throws a nice fade to Ross who gets the ball down to the 1 yard line.
  • After getting stuffed on 1st down between the tackles, Best goes to the outside and scores his 4th touchdown of the game. Bears back in front: 28-21
  • When Cal brings a blitz, the throw is offline giving Mohamed an easy interception on the Gopher side of the field just after the Cal touchdown.
  • Cal runs the QB sneak on 4th and 1 from the Minnesota 33 yard-line and converts.
  • Anthony Miller makes a great stretching one-handed catch, bailing out Riley’s over-throw, getting the ball down to the 8 yard-line.
  • Best gets his 5th touchdown, again going to the corner. Bears back in front by 2 TD’s, now with less than 3 minutes left in the game: 35-21
  • Josh Hill gets an interception on 4th and 10 on a desperation throw for the Gophers with the clock running down.
  • Minnesota forces the 3-and-out, using all of their timeouts, to give them one last desperation shot, needing a touchdown, an onside kick recovery and a second TD, all in 45 seconds.
  • Mohamed gets his second interception of the game to put an end to the comeback attempt.

Observations:

  • The Bears came out fast and hard in this very important road game, to prove that they could win on the road. What was noticeable is that the offense pulled out all the stops early, giving Minnesota a lot of different looks, a high diversity of plays and punishing Minnesota for cheating to what had been successful on previous plays, i.e. the long Tucker pass after the strong running game, the running up the middle after the fly-sweep, etc..
  • Both teams had very good intensity in the 1st quarter. Cal came out of the tunnel and scored 2 quick TD’s but Minnesota didn’t give in and fought hard both to close the gap on the scoreboard and get momentum back.
  • Two plays back-to-back showed the problems that the Cal receivers had in 2009. On the first play, Riley threw a ball out in front of Best who corralled the ball and got a first down. On the very next play the WR had a similarly out in front ball, but he didn’t even catch it, bobbling it before it went to the ground.
  • Vereen powered through a gang-tackle on 3rd and 3 to get a 1st down when it looked like Minnesota had him stopped. This is the sort of advantage having Vereen as the every down back in 2010. He’s much more likely to get the tough yards and less likely to lose a few when the play breaks down.
  • The touchdown at the end of the 1st half was a huge momentum killer for the Bears. After they had held off the strong push by Minnesota in the early 2nd quarter, extending back to a 2-TD lead, they gave Minnesota both momentum and hope in the locker room. The Bears statistically dominated the 1st half, but the poor results by the special teams and efficient play by the Minnesota offense when they had a short field, had the game much closer on the scoreboard than on the stat sheet.
  • Cal had some definite tackling problems in the 3rd quarter. Just before the Minnesota fumble there were two missed tackles for loss. After Anger’s monster punt, Cal had 3 shots at a sack inside the 2 yard-line (perhaps even a marginal safety) before sacking him around the 8 yard-line. Lot’s of diving at players and not wrapping them up.
  • There’s no doubt that the Gophers’ new stadium was helping their home field advantage. The crowd was in the game even when Minnesota was down and the players were feeding off of it.
  • The Cal defense continued to look out of sync for the rest of the 3rd quarter, particularly on the Minnesota touchdown drive. They looked desperate and out of position as Minnesota went to Decker over and over.
  • Great quote from the commentator: “Cal is rushing 3 and dropping 8, so get out your GPS and find #7 (Decker). You’re covering dirt and you should be covering him.” Decker was all Minnesota had in the 3rd quarter yet he was still open play after play. For whatever reason Hagan was on Decker far more than Syd, which just baffles me (and just about everyone else).
  • Cal had 3 consecutive 3-and-outs to start the 2nd half (extending into the 4th quarter). Unlike the 1st half where the Bears came out sharp, both sides of the ball came out week in the 2nd half. It was nearly a miracle that Minnesota only scored one TD in the 3rd quarter.
  • Cal’s last TD drive was key not just because it made it a two score game, but also because Cal kept the game clock running, taking over 6 minutes off the clock on a 9 play, 42 yard drive. That put Minnesota in desperation mode and made life much easier for the Bear defense. For all we criticize Tedford for sometimes going too quickly to trying to shorten the game, it was drives like this where it bears a lot of fruit.

Implications for 2010:
It’s hard to draw direct comparisons between last year’s Minnesota game and this year’s Colorado game. They’re very different teams. If there’s a similarity, it’s that, at least on the non-conference slate, they’re the most power-oriented teams Cal will face. Cal seems to match up well against those teams these days, as the Big Game game showed. But Colorado isn’t exactly a HUGE power team, they’re just closer to that end of the spectrum than, say, Nevada. Speaking of Nevada, what this game does show is that the Bears seem to be over, or at least minimized, their road game struggles as both the Minnesota game and both the ASU and Big Game showed. If there are games that bring it into question it was the Washington game and to a lesser extent Oregon (which the Bears probably lose either way).

Conclusion:
Far more important than the implications for 2010, what this game showed was a preview of the secondary problems that Cal was going to have. Minnesota only had one good WR and he burned Cal over and over and over. It’s one thing when a multi-weapon passing game is too much for a team, it’s entirely something else when you know who they’re going to go to and you still let him burn you again and again. This game would have been a HUGE blowout if it weren’t for Decker. Luckily for the Bears, minus the 3rd quarter struggles, the offensive was firing on all cylinders and the run defense was pretty stout.

Looking Back on ’09: Eastern Washington

(Today we start the looking back series for the 2009 season. We’re going to continue the trend of doing these in “matching order” instead of chronological order. Today we match last year’s “C” non-conference team, Eastern Washington with this year’s “C” non-conference team, UC Davis. Go here for past looking back posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
What a difference a year makes. It’s nearly impossible to get one’s mind around the thought that the Bears started the season last year ranked 12th and were ranked 10th at the start of this game. Of course there was no reason to fear Eastern Washington despite what Tedford rightly does to pump up his team. Cal had shown no problem with similar teams like Portland State in previous years. The Bears had been firing on all cylinders the previous week against a Maryland team that at the time, people thought were pretty good (it turned out they stunk). Everyone saw this game as a tune-up for the Minnesota game the following week.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • The EWU returner slipped while coming out of his shoe and went down to 1 knee at the 6 yard line, putting EWU in a hole off the opening kickoff.
  • Alualu got a quick sack at the goal-line on 1st down and EWU barely avoided a safety.
  • On 2nd down the Bears were robbed of a safety on a run play. There’s NO WAY the RB got out.
  • EWU only managed a 32 yard punt, setting up the Bears at the EWU 36 for their first drive of the game.
  • Brian Holley broke a tackle and kept his knees off the ground and extending for a 21 yard kickoff down to the 3 yard-line.
  • A QB sneak gets the TD. Bears up early: 7-0
  • In a rare mistake by Syd’Quan, EWU’s Bryce get’s quite a bit of separation on the outside for a 30 yard gain down to the Cal 25.
  • EWU executes a perfect play-action TE rollout in the redzone for a touchdown. Game is tied 10 minutes into the game: 7-7
  • Best busts a 30-yard run through a sizable hole to start Cal’s 2nd drive.
  • The Bears have to punt and Anger’s very high punt lands at the 3 but the Bears can’t keep it in.
  • The Bears run a creative counter-toss play to Best, who just barely goes out of bounds 30 yards up-field, preventing the 70+ yard TD run.
  • Vereen runs two nice between the tackles plays in the redzone and scores the touchdown. Bears back in front: 14-7
  • Mohamed gets a sack off the outside, forcing a fumble, and Kendricks scoops and runs, only getting stopped inside the EWU 5 yard line.
  • Option pitch to Best on 3rd down and goal is fumbled, but Cal recovers and kicks the short field goal. Bears up by 10: 17-7.
  • EWU went for it on 4th and short and the Bears break up the pass, giving Cal good field position.
  • Bears run the “Best as WR matched up against a LB” play that worked so well last season for another TD. Bears extend their lead: 24-7
  • EWU gets their first sack of the game late in the 2nd quarter.
  • Vereen returned a 50 yard kickoff return to start the 2nd half.
  • Sofele ran a fly sweep for 15 yards, completely juking a defender out of his shoes.
  • Best runs an easy 1-yard touchdown to extend the Cal lead: 31-7
  • The Cal defense stuffed runs on 2nd, 3rd and 4th and short to get a turnover on downs on the first EWU drive of the 2nd half.
  • D’Amato misses a medium distance field-goal after the Cal drive sputters.
  • Vereen gets his 2nd touchdown at the goal-line. Bears up big: 38-7
  • Anthony Miller runs a great seam route that Riley hit him with great timing getting the Bears down into the redzone.
  • Vereen runs another redzone run between the tackles for his 3rd touchdown, putting the seal on an already out of touch game: 45-7
  • Sofele runs a surprisingly easy TD as the backup tailback and the Bears pile on: 52-7
  • Chris Little gets a sack (Bear’s 4th of the game) on 3rd down forcing a longer field-goal attempt for EWU, which falls short when the EWU kicker duffs it.
  • DeBoskie-Johnson busts a 35 yard run as EWU’s D-line looks exhausted.
  • DeBoskie-Johnson finishes off the drive that was mostly his with a 2 yard TD run. Closing in on 60: 59-7

Observations:

  • The Bear defense seems to have the EWU offense pretty bottled up early in the game, but only on 2 out of every 3 plays. EWU has no consistency, but got just enough plays strung together on their 2nd drive to get that TD. All the big gains were through the air as the focus was stopping the run.
  • On the other side of the ball, the Bears offense early was all about the run game. They were just over-powering the EWU line and so the Bears weren’t trying much through the air. However, when they did, there wasn’t much success.
  • In the first half it was quite apparent the the Cal secondary and the zones they were running were not all that effective. The fact that they were so suspect against an FCS team bodes poorly. Of course we learned the rest of that as the season wore on, but this should have been a big warning sign.
  • The Bears started substituting in 2nd and 3rd string guys late in the 3rd quarter and the value of the game slowed significantly at that point.
  • The wide receivers for Cal were pretty inconsistent. Occasional drops, occasional half efforts assuming they won’t get the ball, etc.. Considering that the Bears stuck to the run game for the most part, the WR’s needed to make the most of their opportunities and they didn’t.
  • Despite Tedford doing all the right things to pull off the accelerator in the 4th quarter, the backups and the generic, run out the clock play calling was working surprisingly effectively against a tired EWU. That says a lot about the future of the Bears when the backups are not enough of a step down to not have effect of taking the foot off the accelerator.

Implications for 2010:
This was a bit of a lazy game for the 1st string. The 2nd and 3rd string is who really ran up the score. Part of that is an opponent like EWU (or UC Davis) is going to tend to over-exert themselves early in a vain attempt to pull the upset. Fans shouldn’t be too worried if the Bears are only leading by a little when the 2nd quarter starts. It could still easily be a blowout by the time the final gun goes off. What also should give some optimism is how well the 2nd and 3rd string did. Since the best of these guys are taking over for the graduating seniors, it gives reason for hope that the Bears have a bright future.

Conclusion:
It’s always hard to take too much away from a game against an FCS team, so I won’t belabor the point too much. Overall, the Bears have shown the determination and talent to put the FCS teams away without breaking too much of a sweat.