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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.

Looking back on ’08: Big Game

(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). Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
After the disaster of 2007, no one was quite sure what to think of the Big Game in 2008. Was it just the collapse that broke Cal’s Big Game winning streak? Was it a Stanford resurgence? Was this Stanford team better than 2007’s 4-8 campaign (currently at 5-6 in 2008)? How much was the game being in Berkeley going to be a factor? Would the reduced number of Stanford fans (due to the new ticket exchange arrangement with Stanford stadium’s reduced size) in Memorial Stadium be missed? It was hard to tell. What was clear is that Stanford was building a reputation as a power running team and winning games at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. Their defense led the conference in sacks, their offense was allowing Gerhart to run for big yards. Could the Bears stop them? If they couldn’t do it in the Big Game, it could be trouble for the Bears, who were already on a 2-game losing streak.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Best breaks a tackle and reverses field for a long run down into the redzone. The drive stalled and Tavecchio put it through the uprights to score on the opening drive. Bears up early: 3-0
  • Brian Anger kicked a 76 yard punt down to the 1 yard-line, completely changing the field position game while the two teams were trading punts.
  • After driving the length of the field, Stanford comes up empty when their kicker pushes a 25 yarder just wide right.
  • After converting a 4th and 1 at the Stanford 40, Riley lofts an ill-advised pass into the corner of the endzone where it is easily picked off, giving Stanford the ball at the 20.
  • Alualu forces a fumble out of Gerhart inside the Cal redzone. For the 2nd time in a row, Stanford marched the field and came up empty.
  • Cal uses the iso play they usually use with Best but instead with Vereen, and Riley throws a great bomb down the sideline for a 60 yard touchdown. Bears up by two scores: 10-0
  • Stanford marches down the field again, but the Cal defense comes up with yet another stop in the redzone, this time including two stops on the goal-line on 2nd and 3rd and goal from the 1 yard-line. This time Stanford gets the kick through, Bears up by a touchdown at halftime: 10-3
  • Pritchard is unable to dump the ball in for a screen pass, overthrowing the ball into Eddie Young’s hands for the Tree’s first interception of the game to start the 2nd half.
  • On 3rd and goal from the 1, Cameron Morrah sneaks out to the far side of the endzone off of the fake block, giving Riley the easiest touchdown pass of his life. Bears up big early in the 3rd: 17-3
  • Cal runs a hook and ladder to Best for another all-to-easy touchdown down the sideline after a very short punt by Stanford. Bears have broken it open: 24-3
  • After a 40-yard reverse catches the defense pursuing Best when he hands off to Ross going the other way, Best punches it in on the next play on an all too easy run. Bears up huge even though the extra-point hold is botched: 30-3
  • Stanford goes for it on 4th and 1 from the Cal 27 and Gerhart is stopped short, even after a tackle busting second effort, giving Cal the ball back with just a couple minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • Anger kicks it 75 yards on his 2nd punt of the game. Unfortunately it rolled into the endzone, but the 55 yard net punt is still very good.
  • After Stanford has to punt again, Best explodes through another good hole opened by the O-Line for a 45 yard touchdown. The rout was officially on 2 scores ago, but they didn’t slow down: 37-3
  • On a play where it’s clear the Cal defense got a bit too relaxed, Pritchard finds a receiver streaking across the middle who turns it up field for the Tree’s first touchdown of the game. Bears still way out in front: 37-10.
  • Stanford converts an on-side kick, surprising the Bears doing it with nearly 12 minutes left in the game.
  • Stanford marches down the field and then Gerhart finished it off with a nice 7 yard run. Stanford misses the extra point, Bears up big but losing the impressive score: 37-16
  • Cal comes up with two more interceptions, one that ends a potential scoring drive for Stanford and a second that allows them to run out the clock. Bears win another Big Game!

Observations:

  • The Cal offensive line had a stalemate with the Stanford defensive line in the 1st quarter, but the power of the Tree offense was definitely taking its toll on the Cal defense. Stanford had numerous players who were bouncing off Cal tackles and getting lots of yards after contact.
  • Stanford QB Pritchard was also looking fairly sharp. I can’t tell how good his reads were or if he was missing some better options, but his passes were on target and generally complete.
  • The Cal passing game didn’t start all that strong. Riley had made a few bad reads including the one INT and one should have been INT. In part, Cal’s 1 yard of passing midway through the 2nd quarter was because the offense was emphasizing the run, but it was also in part because of the passing ineffectiveness.
  • Stanford really dominated the 1st half despite only putting up 3 points. All 4 of their drives they made good progress and on 3 of them, well into the redzone. But the fumble and the missed field goal kept a number of points off the board.
  • OK, this isn’t really about the game, but the sideline girl, Jessica Mendosa was by far the WORST sideline announcer I’ve ever heard. She couldn’t spit out a sentence any better than the at-the-time lame-duck president.
  • After getting man-handled in the 1st half, the defensive line started getting a lot more pressure right from the beginning of the 2nd half, including a sack on 3rd down to end Stanford’s second possession of the half and a similar sack on the 3rd possession of the half. All of this was while Cal was scoring touchdowns.
  • The offense was also getting more push in the 2nd half as witnessed by Best starting to get some sizable holes to run through.
  • The penalties really started piling up for Stanford in the 2nd half, particularly after Cal started opening up the can-o-woopass.
  • By midway through the 3rd quarter it’s hard to judge the Stanford offense because they were forced out of their comfort zone by being forced to throw the ball, being in catch up mode. While Stanford is more balanced in 2009, they’re still not a team that is built for a comeback. If the Bears could strike early, it could completely change the complexion of the game and force Stanford to play out of their comfort zone.

Implications for 2009:
While the Cal offensive line has struggled compared to the 2008 version, and thus making it harder to judge, the pressure that the D-Line got on Stanford has to be a reason to be optimistic. Admittedly, Stanford’s 2009 offensive line is made up of mostly different players than their 2008 version, at least the one that played in the Big Game, but I still think there’s reason to be optimistic that the Bears will at least be able to compete on the line. More importantly, Stanford seemed more susceptible to the trick play than most of Cal’s other opponents and their highly aggressive attitude was exposed again and again by Tedford’s offensive genius. If the Bears are going to beat Stanford in 2009, they need to be watching this game again both for how to corral the Stanford offense and what kind of special/trick plays can be used to expose the aggressive Stanford defense. Then they should watch how Oregon State beat Stanford. They’ve seemed to have their number both of the last two years. Finally, Stanford ran out of gas in the 2008 Big Game and it appears from their recent games that the start out strong but generally fade (Oregon did almost catch up after all). It might be that Stanford’s not ready for a 4 quarter game.

Conclusion:
The Big Game is always a wildcard game (as anyone who watched the 2007 edition would know) but Tedford has figured out how to take advantage of that extra emotion to the team’s benefit in every year but 2007. The 2008 edition seemed to be the perfect example of how Tedford has won this game. After a first half in which Stanford gave Cal fans a lot to worry about, even though the Bears led 10-3 at halftime, Tedford brought out all the tricks in the 2nd half to put it away. Can he do it again in 2009? Only time will tell.

Looking back on ’08: USC

(We continue the looking back series for the 2008 season. Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
USC was well established as a very good defensive team by the time Cal made the trip south to the Coliseum. What was less clear was how good the USC offense was. The hope for Bear fans was that Cal’s potent defense would be able to stifle the USC offense. Once that was accomplished hopefully the Cal offense could get enough going to win the game, hopefully spurred by a turnover, something Cal was one of the best teams in the nation at forcing. The Coliseum had not been kind to Cal ever since Tedford, and just as importantly Carrol, took over. Nevertheless, even with the loss in Arizona, Cal was tied with USC and Oregon State (who the Bears were headed to face in Corvallis the following week) for the conference lead and there was optimism that the Bears could end the curse.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • After USC fairly easily marched down the field on their first possession, the Cal defense stiffened in the redzone and forced the short field goal. Bears start in an early hole: 0-3
  • Mohammed sacks Sanchez at the Cal 37 (play was from the 33) on 3rd and 3, forcing USC to punt on what was otherwise looking to be a killer drive for USC.
  • Longshore throws an interception on an out-pattern (Longshore’s biggest INT weakness) but it is saved by a roughing the passer. It not only saved him from that but put Cal in the redzone.
  • Longshore is saved a second time from an interception, another very bad decision, this time by a pass-interference call that although correct, would not have otherwise changed the outcome of the play were it not called.
  • Tavecchio kicks a 35 yard field goal where the kick is shorter than most 35 field goals need to be. Nevertheless it ties the score: 3-3
  • USC makes what looks like a great diving TD catch that replays clearly show that the catch hit the turf as the WR was trying to corral it. But the catch was never reviewed and it stands. Bears back in a hole, this time a TD: 3-10
  • Cal has a great touchdown called back by a bogus ineligible receiver down-field penalty that was rooted in the ref calling a receiver who was off the line being called on the line. The TD pass to Vereen would have tied the score as well as forced USC to play Cal’s fakes better.
  • Riley’s pass is tipped by a linebacker and then intercepted in the endzone on what could have been another TD pass that instead ensures the drive comes up empty. A huge blow on Cal’s first drive on the 2nd half.
  • Zack Follett strips the ball from McNight on a wild crisscrossing run and Williams recovers, killing a USC drive that looked to be a killer as the Cal defense was getting tired and having trouble stopping the USC run game.
  • Sanchez throws a nice quick pass on a quick WR screen that goes for a short touchdown. It was relatively well defended by Cal but great execution by USC gets it done. Cal now is completely out of it with less than 3 minutes left to play: 3-17

Observations:

  • Cal’s running game was looking good on their first series, gaining 6 and 3 yards by Best. But on 3rd and 1, Cal went to the wildcat and Mack launched a high snap that Best couldn’t easily corral, ensuring the play went for a loss and forcing the Bears to punt on their 1st series.
  • The USC offense was really man-handling the Bear defense the first couple series. USC started the game with a handful of play-action passes and it really slowed Cal’s aggressiveness. USC was then able to abuse that indecisiveness by winning in the trenches.
  • While it hadn’t hurt USC much, about the only thing slowing the USC in the 1st quarter was their penalties. They had 3 in the 1st quarter. Add in the two defensive penalties early in the 2nd quarter that nullified 2 turnovers and USC had 5 penalties for 55 yards early in the game.
  • Longshore was struggling with his accuracy down field, specifically skipping it to receivers who were open down the middle in the 2nd quarter.
  • Riley comes in to start the 2nd half after only 89 yards of offense in the 1st half and Longshore’s two nullified interceptions. Probably a good decision when viewed just from the context of how ineffective the Cal offense was in the 1st half.
  • The Cal defense made some good adjustments to start the 2nd half and USC looked really ineffective on offense their first few drives.
  • Cal got a great start to their second drive of the 2nd half with Syd’s punt return down to the USC 36, but Riley takes a 7 yard sack on 1st down that pretty much kills the series. Then Riley throws both the next two passes too far down field and the result is a punt even though they started the drive only needing a few yards to kick the field goal.
  • Penalties continue to kill USC, allowing Cal to stay on the field time and time again. Another roughing the passer, this time on 2nd and 20, gives Cal a fresh set of downs.
  • In general, this was a very tightly officiated game because the Bears also got their share of penalties too.
  • Nevertheless those penalties on USC were far bigger because it allowed the Cal defense lots of time to rest and that allowed them to be as aggressive as they were without giving up too much.
  • Starting early in the 4th quarter you could tell that Cal was getting tired, particularly in the trenches. The offensive line was collapsing too quickly on Riley and the defense wasn’t making the tackles and plays they were earlier in the game. Riley was sacked on back-to-back plays and the Bears were only kept alive by another USC penalty.
  • Riley looked sharp down the field early in the 2nd half, but by the time the 4th quarter rolled around he was consistently over-throwing his receivers down field, which was disappointing to see as Cal had gotten a handful of receivers behind the gambling USC defense.
  • That inaccuracy led to back to back short drives for Cal which really affected the defense’s ability to come up with stops later in the quarter. The drive that allowed USC their final TD took a ton of time off the clock and it was clear the Cal defense was exhausted as USC had their way with them, moving the pile.

Implications for 2009:
Cal’s ability to slow the USC offense is reason for optimism for 2009. While the Cal defense has been more susceptible to the passing game in 2009 than it was in 2008, which by the way has been a big surprise to me, the USC offense is most definitely sputtering, particularly through the air. There’s real reason to believe that the Cal defense can hold USC to a point total in the 10 range. Also, with USC losing so much on defense, the hope would be that the Cal offense can get more going than it did in 2008. I think the key will be Riley and whether he can provide the balance that will force USC to play the running game straight up. Best did not get that many carries in 2008 because there just wasn’t any running room, and that was because USC didn’t have to play Cal balanced. That will be the key to Cal putting up points and putting up points should be the key factor on who wins (not to over-state the obvious).

Conclusion:
This was both a very disappointing game and one that showed a lot of promise. The reality was that the 2008 USC team was probably the best team in the nation and we really should have seen USC face Florida in the BCS championship game (and here’s betting that USC would have won). So to keep them so stifled all day was a big win for the Bears. The Bears ability to hold onto the ball was also nice to see. But there were just too many execution errors, particularly by the QBs (and both Longshore and Riley came up short, each getting a half to prove themselves) for the Bears to win. And that’s the disappointing part. There have been so few genuine opportunities to beat USC over the last few years that watching one of them slip away is pretty disappointing.

Looking Back on ’08: Oregon

(We continue the looking back series for the 2008 season. Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
Rain was the order of the day for this game. The Bears had already racked up two losses to Maryland and more distressing to Cal’s Rose Bowl hopes, Arizona. While Arizona didn’t seem to be a Pac-10 title contender, it was still a bad sign for Cal with all the tough teams still in front of them on the schedule. So while Cal controlled their destiny, Oregon had only one loss, but it was a blowout loss to USC. The rest of their schedule was still in front of them too. Riley was back under center starting the previous game against UCLA after a couple of game where Longshore had gotten the start.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Riley throws an interception on the first drive of the game, trying to throw a dump-off pass to Best over the middle but throws right when Best moved left. Oregon gets the ball at the Cal 45.
  • Masoli runs the read-option to the right from 17 yards out and the Ducks score in very easy fashion after the Cal interception. Things don’t look good early for the Bears. The extra point is blocked to minimize the damage: 0-6
  • Riley completes a 3rd and 15 pass to Tucker after escaping pressure and rolling out on the ensuing drive. With Oregon having scored so easily on their first drive, Cal keeping the ball and not going 3 and out was critical for momentum reasons.
  • Riley throws passes of 23 yards to Tucker and 30 to Ross for the touchdown, the pass to Ross a nice seam route on the slant. Bears take a one point lead: 7-6
  • Best rips off a 60 yard run, cutting it back to the middle after going up the sideline. However, at the end of the run the ball squirts out and the Bears give up their 2nd turnover of the game. At least this time the ball was at the Oregon 30.
  • Oregon’s long-snapper snaps the ball WAY over the punters head sailing out of the back of the endzone for a safety. The Bears extend to a field goal lead: 9-6
  • Riley runs up the middle on a broken play for a sizable gain but takes a hard hit at the end of the play and goes off the field woozy. Nate Longshore comes in as his backup.
  • Tedford has the team go for it on 4th and 17 from the Oregon 35 and Longshore completes it to Tucker for a 1st down, getting Cal into the redzone.
  • After guiding the team down to the Oregon 5 yard line, Longshore bobbles the snap on the hold for the field goal and Oregon escapes without a Cal score.
  • Best fumbles the ball inside the Cal redzone when he didn’t have a good grip on the handoff. Oregon gets their second short field of the day.
  • Sean Cattouse picks off the pass from Masoli on the goal-line cutting off the slant pattern. It prevents the Ducks from scoring on their short field.
  • Vereen gets in on the fumbling act as Oregon gets a helmet on the football, shooting it up in the air, giving Oregon the ball around midfield.
  • Oregon tries a fake punt by putting backup QB Roper as the punter. However, the fake fails and Cal gets the ball back at their own 40.
  • Tavecchio from 41 yards out pulls a line drive wide left.
  • Oregon tries for a end of half score and Masoli throws an interception to Worrell Williams who rumbles down to the Oregon 3 yard line.
  • Longshore throws a nice out-pattern to Boateng who turns it up field just enough to get it into the endzone. Bears take a 10 point lead: 16-6
  • Oregon kicks a long field goal to finish of their first drive of the 2nd half. Bears lead shrinks to a TD: 16-9
  • Tavecchio kicks a 32 yard field goal from “the lake” after a nice drive by Longshore that was aided by a pass interference call. Bears back up by 10: 19-6
  • Jeremiah Johnson has a surprisingly easy 21 yard run into the endzone on the 3rd drive of the game where the Ducks offense comes to life. Bears lead down to a field goal: 19-16
  • Oregon misses a field goal attempt at the start of the 4th quarter leaving Cal with that 3 point leed and now the benefit for the Bears of not running into the lake.
  • Oregon’s return man drops the punt and the Bears recover the fumble at the Oregon 6 yard line.
  • Vereen finds a hole on the edge for a 2 yard touchdown run. The Bears are back out in front by 10: 26-16
  • Oregon is unable to move the ball for the entire 4th quarter ending with an incomplete on 4th and 17 from around midfield with 39 seconds left.

Observations:

  • Oregon did a really nice job with their first possession. They spread the ball around and proved to Cal that Masoli could throw the ball with a couple of nice pass plays. I had completely forgotten about the early interception and easy TD that really made it look like it was going to be a long day in the rain in Berkeley. Luckily the Bears marched right down the field and got a return touchdown to undo the momentum.
  • The Oregon secondary was playing very physical in this game as evidenced by a couple of pass interference calls and the hit on Riley. Cal was doing a good job of not letting it affect them and doing their best to stay on their routes.
  • It’s effectively impossible to understate how much of an affect the rain had on the game. From bad snaps, to bad holds, plus fumbles and errant throws, about every other play was notably affected by the slick conditions.
  • Oregon’s tendency to go for it at the end of the half has burned them on more occasions than it has helped them from my vantage point. They treat it like it’s the end of the game and big interceptions have been the rule of the day.
  • Oregon’s run game seemed to come back to life at the beginning of the 2nd half, similar to how they did well to start the game. But the defense made adjustments both times and locked them down.
  • The difference between how the north end of the field looked before halftime and after halftime was very notable. It had turned into a lake in the mean time. It was pretty much impossible to be effective down on that side of the field, particularly when running to the right. Tavecchio’s field goal from that lake was darned impressive whereas when the Oregon kicker tried to make effectively the same kick from the same spot later in the game, he missed.
  • The Cal offense was really ineffective in the 2nd half with lots of 3rds and long that they weren’t able to convert.
  • At the same time, the Oregon offense became resurgent towards the end of the 3rd quarter, their run game coming to life. Probably their biggest mistake was letting the 3rd quarter expire while they were driving all the way into the redzone. That put them squarely in the middle of the lake when they switched sides. A false-start on 3rd and 1 was likely due to the lineman not being comfortable in the lake and then the Ducks were unable to convert the 3rd and 6 in the middle of the lake. Then to add injury to insult, the field goal attempt from the lake is wide right.
  • The impact of “the lake” just can’t be understated. It effectively ensured the defense only had to cover half the field. Each time Oregon would get to midfield, their drives would come to a halt.
  • Roper came in for Masoli on the final drive of the game. Although Masoli clearly isn’t as good of a passer, it was an odd choice in my mind because Roper was on the sideline all game and he just doesn’t have the time to get in rhythm that he needed.

Implications for 2009:
After looking at the statistics and watching Oregon’s games this year I was starting to buy into the notion that Oregon isn’t all that good and that Masoli stinks. Re-watching last year’s game and knowing how many of those players are back, I have much more respect for Oregon than I did before. At the same time, the weather was a HUGE factor in this game and its hard to draw too many conclusions. What we know for sure is that when Oregon’s run game is firing on all cylinders, it can be a long day for the opposing defense, so shutting it down is key to victory. If Masoli can’t improve on last year’s throwing performance or even more critically is weak throwing performances this year, that could prove to be the key to a Cal victory. However, if he can force the Cal defense to play Oregon balanced, it will make the game much more challenging.

Conclusion:
This will always be a game that sticks with me because of the weather. I think I’ll call it “The Lake Bowl” from now on…

Looking back on ’08: Michigan State

(We continue the looking back series for the 2008 season. Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. I’m matching the Michigan State game, Cal’s 2008 Big-10 opponent with Minnesota, the 2009 Big-10 opponent. For the rest of the games, all conference games, I can do an exact matchup comparision from 2008 to 2009. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
For the 3rd year in a row the Bears started off the season with their toughest non-conference game (Tennessee getting that distinction in the two previous seasons). After the previous year’s success against Tennessee at home, there was a lot of confidence that the Bears could take on Michigan State. However, with Riley getting only his 2nd start there was reason to be concerned about the inexperience there. Additionally, it was the first game for Cal’s new 3-4 defense. While there was a lot of talent at linebacker, a new formation is always something to be a bit concerned about. So generally, as with all Cal teams of late, there was optimism mixed with concern to start the season and it didn’t help that the first opponent was such a formidable one.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Consecutive big penalties setup 1st and 40 for Michigan State who was marching down the field and was inside the Cal 30 before the penalties, ends the scoring threat.
  • 2 drives later Cal blocks the punt on the MSU goal line by Bret Johnson and it is picked up by Nnabuife who ran it for a touchdown. Bears up early: 7-0
  • Anger kicks his 2nd booming punt pinning MSU back deep in their territory yet again. His kicks have been ensuring Cal is winning the field position game.
  • After Best’s running game comes alive and the Bears have their first sustained drive, Seawright kicks the field goal on 4th and 1. Bears extend their early lead: 10-0
  • MSU has to kick the field goal after the instant replay takes back what looked like a touchdown pass. To add injury to insult, the 40 yard field goal attempt is wide left.
  • Longshore throws 2 interceptions in quick succession, the 2nd of which getting returned for a touchdown. Bears lead eroded all too quickly: 10-7
  • Best finishes off the drive he started with a 33 yard swingout pass with a 2 yard touchdown run. Bears get their touchdown back: 17-7
  • Syd intercepts a wounded duck of a pass that kills another potential scoring drive that had reached the Cal 11 yard line with less than a minute left in the half. Bears go into the locker room with a 10 point lead.
  • Anger can’t corral a good snap from Sundberg and tries to punt on the run and is tackled. It gives MSU the ball in the Cal redzone.
  • Ringer was able to rush it in from there. Bears down to a field goal lead again: 17-14
  • After Riley got a 42 yard pass to Sean Young to get the ball down into the redzone, Riley caps off the drive with a TD pass to Morrah. Bears get back their 10 point lead: 24-14.
  • MSU decided to punt from the Cal 40 but Kendricks roughs the kicker giving MSU a fresh set of downs at the Cal 25.
  • Ringer gets a 10 yard TD run on the end of that drive. Lead back down to a field goal: 24-21
  • On 3rd down Kevin Riley gets off a play as he is being sacked that he inexplicably manages to to get to Morrah for not only a 1st down but an extra 15 yards, keeping the drive alive.
  • After Best takes it down to the 5 yard line on an outside run tip-toeing down the sideline, Riley connects with Ta’ofo’ou on a rollout play for a touchdown. Bears get their 10 point lead back: 31-21
  • Hagan and MSU WR Dell have a simultaneous catch (really 70% Hagan and 30% Dell, but those sorts of things don’t count in the rulebook) on a long pass down the middle, giving MSU the ball at the Cal 24 yard line.
  • Cal holds from there and MSU kicks the field goal. The Bears lead is down to a touchdown: 31-24
  • On the first play of the ensuing drive, Vereen takes it 81 yards off tackle for a HUGE touchdown. The Bears have their first 14 point lead: 38-24
  • After a near-interception is overturned by the replay booth, Dell gets another pass, this time in traffic where somehow all three Bears around him miss on the tackle and Dell is able to sprint into the endzone. Bears lead down to a touchdown again: 38-31
  • The Bears get the clock down to 48 seconds with a 1st down or two, making life really difficult for MSU on their final drive and attempt to tie the game. MSU can’t convert on 4th down from mid-field and the Bears are able to run out the clock.

Observations:

  • Tavecchio has his first kickoffs as a Bear and is kicking just outside the Cal 10 yard line.
  • There’s no doubt that Longshore was forcing things. Even his successful throws were dangerous and aggressive throws. He was playing things on the worrisome side. His two interceptions not only sealed his starter fate, I think it also killed his confidence.
  • Boateng really had a bad game dropping the ball. While it was something that got better over the course of the year, we’re seeing the same thing again at the start of the 2009 season.
  • Best really got his motor running in the 2nd quarter after getting stuffed in the 1st. Once he breaks one for even 10 or 15 yards, it really gets inside the defense’s heads with his explosive speed. That seems to loosen up the shorter running game because the defense isn’t willing to be as aggressive for fear of getting burned.
  • Vereen also got going in the 2nd quarter and was really an important component of the Cal running game. It gave Best a lot of rest when he needed it but at the same time picked up some critical 1st downs.
  • The defense really had the MSU running game bottled up. Ringer was never able to get his feet under him. He wasn’t able to pick up 1st downs and he wasn’t able to bust any big runs. The defense was clearly trying to force MSU to beat them through the air.
  • By the time the 4th quarter had rolled around MSU had somewhat answered that challenge from the Bears and had figured out how to be productive passing the ball in small increments. The fact that they were able to get 3-5 yard pickups on high percentage passing plays really helped them have easier 3rd down conversions than earlier in the game.
  • This was really Sean Young’s one good game of the 2008 season, which on the one hand sounds bad at first blush, but you have to give Young a lot of credit for being the leaders and leading the way for the young/inexperienced guys. That he had one good game to show the young guys how it was done was only icing on the cake.
  • In the 4th quarter Seawright took over for Tavecchio on kickoff duty. While Tavecchio started off OK (but not exceptional), he just kept getting worse and worse. Unfortunately a sign of things to come.
  • Anger was never quite himself, although he only got two punts to test this, after he was tackled as he tried to get off the punt on the run in the 3rd quarter. That injury would stick with him for a handful of games early in the season, including the road loss to Maryland.

Implications for 2009:
Michigan State was a very similar offense to what we can expect to see from Minnesota. However, Minnesota really relies on their one good WR and they don’t have a running back like Ringer. Defensively, Minnesota may just have a better linebacker core than Michigan State and they’ll need it if they’re going to slow down Cal’s offense. Riley looked really good in this game and his throwing form and accuracy were better than they were later in the 2008 season. In many ways I expect a similar game versus Minnesota with perhaps MSU having more heart and talent to stay in the game than Minnesota will.

Conclusion:
I really like these big games to start the season, as much as they make us all a bit uneasy. It’s a bit unfortunate that Maryland is having a down year because the game with them could have been a big one if Maryland had been on the rise from 2008, not the decline. This win over Michigan State puts the Bears at 5-0 versus the Big-10. Can that continue?

Looking back on ’08: Colorado State

(We continue the looking back series for the 2008 season. Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. I’m matching the Colorado State game, last year’s non-BCS opponent with the 2009 non-BCS opponent, Eastern Washington. Next week I’ll match Michigan State, Cal’s 2008 Big Ten opponent with Minnesota, the 2009 Big Ten opponent. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
Although it wasn’t intended to be sequential, the 2008 Colorado State game was directly after the 2008 Maryland game. The Bears had been shocked on the East Coast and as a result had fallen back out of the rankings they had just risen into. To make life just that little bit more complicated, the Bears had struggled a bit the previous year against Colorado State. It took the Bears far too long to build a lead and then at the end Cal let Colorado State back into the game with a couple late big pass plays allowed. The Bears had survived that 2007 scare, but after the Maryland debacle, it was very scary to have what should be an easy win be against a team that scared the Bears the previous year. Add in the bye week in between Maryland and Colorado State and the fact that the Pac-10 was 0-5 versus the Mountain West (CSU’s conference) thus far and there were just too many intangibles for Bears to fear to be anything but nervous.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Best took the opening kickoff across midfield, including attempting to reverse his field to extend, but was tackled just on the other side of midfield.
  • Riley throws underneath on 3rd down and comes up short on what was likely a bad read, forcing a punt on the 1st possession. Anger then punts into the endzone, killing any benefit of Best’s kickoff return.
  • Best fumbles the ball when a CSU helmet forces it out, after a couple 1st downs, giving CSU the ball back around midfield.
  • Kendricks blocks the punt and Nabuffee scoops up the CSU punt and runs it in for a touchdown. Bears out in front on a special teams TD: 7-0
  • Brett Johnson intercepts a slant pattern by the CSU QB and runs it in for a TD. Bears score twice in less than a minute: 14-0
  • Rulon Davis and Tyson Alualu meet at the quarterback for a big sack on 3rd and 7 ending CSU’s most promising drive so far.
  • Vereen took the direct snap on 1st and goal from the 6 and was hit hard after he was turned around, coughing up the ball, killing a scoring opportunity for the Bears.
  • Bears get a coverage sack on 4th down in Cal territory ending CSU’s last real scoring chance of the 1st half.
  • Riley finds Boateng on a slant from just outside the redzone for a touchdown. The offensive finally gets on the board: 21-0
  • Syd’Quan takes a punt off a bounce and then spins out of a tackle to take the punt up the sideline before cutting it back to the middle of the field en route to the endzone. Bears still only have one offensive TD but up big: 28-0
  • Hagan jumps a slant route to get a Cal interception around midfield. While it wasn’t a great drive yet, it had been one of CSU’s better one in a long time. This put an end to that.
  • Conte is beat on a go route and CSU converts a 63 yard pass for their first redzone trip.
  • But then CSU tries a trick play with a halfback pass that is bobbled before being thrown up as a wounded duck that Cameron Jordan intercepts, killing CSU’s best scoring opportunity of the game by far.
  • Longshore finds Ross on a slant pattern from just outside the redzone for another TD, very similar to Riley’s touchdown pass. Bears still holding the shutout while growing their lead: 35-0
  • Conte trails another receiver, this time on a crossing route and CSU is able to connect on another long one, this one down to the Cal 2 yard line. CSU takes three runs to pound it in from there. Cal loses the shutout: 35-7
  • Longshore throws another TD on a crossing route to Cameron Morrah against the grain who walks into the endzone. Bears finally up big: 42-7

Observations:

  • The Bears defensive line and linebackers were manhandling the CSU offensive line. The talent differential was very obvious in that match up. It was less obvious on the other side of the ball with the O-line having a harder time being so dominant.
  • Because of the special teams touchdown followed by the interception for a touchdown, the Bears offense had not been on the field for over 10 minutes of the game. All-in-all Cal only ran 9 plays in the 1st quarter and did not score on offense.
  • Best and Vereen’s fumbles in the first 20 minutes of the game were a big hit to the offensive effectiveness early in the game. If this was something they did regularly throughout the season it would have been devastating. They could get away with it against CSU.
  • Riley did not look sharp in the 2nd quarter, with a number of mis-throws and some bad reads to boot. If it weren’t for the running game, Cal would have been 3 and out numerous times in a row in the 2nd quarter.
  • The wide receiver inexperience was also obvious in the 1st half, the pinnacle of which being Sean Young dropping a long TD pass that Riley threw perfectly that went right though his hands.
  • Best was in the game with 10 minutes left in the 3rd and the Bears up 28-0 when Best hyper-extended his elbow, an injury that would affect him all season. With the offense sputtering in the 1st half it’s understandable why Tedford wanted the starters in longer to work on their timing and precision. However, it’s an important reminder of how keeping the best players healthy should be a key goal of the weakest non-conference game.
  • Rulon Davis also broke his foot during this portion of the game and was out for most of the rest of the season.
  • Nate Longshore came in with 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter after having not played in the Maryland game. But having played garbage time in the WSU game, it was not surprising to see him in for garbage time versus CSU.
  • Nate actually out-performed Riley, but it’s not really a fair comparison because CSU was doing all sorts of defensive substitutions to get their young guys playing time. Nevertheless the coaching staff and the players took notice.
  • Conte had a really tough game as corner in garbage time. It was probably this game more than any other that solidified him as a backup and not a contender to replace Hagan.
  • In the end it was the defense that won this game. Yes, the offense finally matched the defense and special team’s point production at 21, but they did it late. And the reason they were able to have so many opportunities to get it right is because the defense kept forcing punts and giving the offense back the ball without the urgency of the score being close.

Implications for 2009:
The biggest impact of the CSU game on the 2008 season was the injuries to Best and Rulon Davis. Cal couldn’t get any offensive rythym in the 1st half and that meant the blowout didn’t start nearly as early as it should have. As a result starters like Best were in the game longer than they otherwise would have been. If the Bears want to be able to pack up early and save their stars this year against E. Washington, they need to get in rythym offensively early and put the game away early. Don’t forget that Longshore went down for the season against Sac State, so it’s not like it’s without precedent.

Conclusion:
As much as it’s nice to have an easy win on the schedule, these games are dangerous. Between injury risk and the damage that a loss would have on the program and it’s not wise to take these games lightly.

Looking back on ’08: Maryland

(Today we start the looking back series for the 2008 season. Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. Go here for past posts.)

Pre-Game notes and thoughts:
The Bears entered this game ranked for the first time in 2008, at number 23. This was pretty much a direct result of the 66-3 drubbing of Washington State the previous week. No one yet knew that putting up 60 points on Washington State would be par for the conference. So in many ways, the Bears were starting to get a little bit too confident with their ability. At the same time, Maryland was very under appreciated. The 2008 Maryland team was senior laden, particularly on defense. When one adds in the road game and tough environmental factors, this game had upset written all over it.

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

  • Holding penalty on Cunningham brings back what would have been Cal’s first 1st down of the game. Instead, the Bears were unable to convert on their second 3rd down attempt and they had to punt.
  • Maryland RB Scott runs off tackle for a 20 yard touchdown, giving the Turtles (or is it Terrapins?) an early lead, 0-7.
  • Riley throws a VERY ill-advised interception that was both off the mark and a bad read. Cornerback Barnes takes the interception back to the Cal 14 yard line.
  • Scott lowers his shoulder on a run-play from the goal line to extend the Maryland lead, 0-14.
  • Best returns the kickoff to the Maryland 39 yard-line.
  • Sewright kicks a short field goal after a short “chipping away” drive. Score is now 3-14.
  • Syd’Quan Thompson bats away a would-be TD pass to Maryland WR Heyward-Bey.
  • Play action pass to Maryland’s star tight end Gronkowski, who had received numerous catches on the drive, gives them their third touchdown. Score is a ridiculous 3-21 early in the 2nd quarter.
  • Seawright kicks another field goal after another “chipping away” drive that stalls in the redzone. Score is still very troublesome at 6-21.
  • After another “chipping away” drive stall in the redzone, Seawrights short field goal attempt bounces off the upright just before halftime.
  • After Follett forces a fumble on Maryland’s first possession of the 2nd half, Maryland forces Cal to go for it on 4th down just outside of field goal range and busts up the screen play, giving Maryland back momentum just when Cal could have gotten back in the game.
  • Scott is thrown down on run play and hurts his shoulder and is out for the rest of the game after having been a dominant force so far.
  • Maryland tries the same pass to Heyward-Bey that Syd broke up in the 1st half but his bat-down attempt comes up a couple feet short and Maryland extends their lead, 6-28.
  • Cal fails on another 4th down conversion from the Maryland 35 again.
  • A marginal pass interference call keeps a later Cal drive alive, now in the 4th quarter.
  • Riley passes over the middle to Morrah for the Bears first TD of the game with half of the 4th quarter remaining. Score is still troublesome at 13-28.
  • After Cal fails to convert on the onside kick, backup RB Merrett runs it down to the Cal 1 yard line where it is punched in from there. Bears now have too big a hole to crawl out of, 13-35
  • Riley passes to Tad Smith for another TE touchdown. The Bears are back within two scores, 20-35.
  • After Cal fails to convert another onside kick, Maryland misses the field goal to keep it at a two score lead.
  • Riley throws a jump ball down the sideline that Cunningham hauls in. Then Riley connects with Tucker in the endzone. Bears within one score, 27-35.
  • Final onside kick is also not successful and Maryland is able to take a couple knees to run out the clock.

Observations:

  • With the exception of Turner at quarterback and Scott at tailback, just about every player who made a big play or was mentioned by the TV commentators was a senior. Between Barnes at cornerback, the entire linebacker crew, Heyward-Bey at wide receiver and Gronkowski at tight end, who was HUGE in the first half, this was one senior laden team.
  • After the score was 3-21, the game was much more evenly played on both sides of the ball. With the exception of the semi-long run that gave Maryland their last touchdown, the Bears defense really stepped up after that.
  • After the early interception, the offenses biggest problem was their ineffectiveness on the Maryland side of the field. Between the three 1st half redzone appearances that resulted in a total of 6 point and the 3 trips to the Maryland 35 in the 3rd quarter that resulted in ZERO points, it was not a question of Cal not moving the ball, but not finishing off drives.
  • Maryland actually ran a very effective Bend But Don’t Break defense. They did exactly what the 2007 Cal defense tried to accomplish: Force the opponent to earn every yard by keeping everything in front of them and then stiffening in the redzone and holding the opponent to field goals. This worked particularly well once they were up 3-21.
  • Penalties really hurt the Bears again. A number of 1st downs were erased by penalties, including the dreaded illegal formation penalties where the wide receivers didn’t line up properly. There were also a couple of big-yardage personal foul calls that gave Maryland big shifts in field position.
  • It was most definitely the heat and humidity, not the time, that hurt the Bears. Having been there I know just how hot it was. Also, it was visibly darker in the 4th quarter when the Cal offense finally got back on track, because a high cloud cover had come over the stadium.
  • Riley was not as off the mark as people remember. Yes, he had a handful of overthrows, his “normal” mistake, but he also had a number of very good throws. He was also fairly elusive and got out of a number of would-be sacks. Really his only inexcusable throw was the early interception that gave Maryland their 0-14 lead.

Implications for 2009:
The one aspect of the Maryland team that was seen in 2008 that’ll still be in place in 2009 is the running game of De’Rel Scott. He was a powerful running back with pretty good speed. If the Maryland offensive line can overcome its losses to graduation, a big if, Cal is going to have to load up the box to slow him down. With Turner back at quarterback but his receiver core completely rebuilt, he shouldn’t be the threat it was in 2008. On defense, as we all know by now they’re bringing in a new defensive strategy and minus the personnel loses it is hard to make any conclusions from the 2008 game.

Conclusion:
The Maryland game was probably the most disappointing loss of the 2008 season, so it’s appropriate that it’s first in line after my review of the 2007 season that was so painful to look back on. For the most part it’s uphill from here.

However, there was a lot to be learned from this game. Most notably, re-watching it I was struck by how comprehensively the notable players on the team were seniors. It’s one thing to hear a defense needs to replace 7 starters. It’s another to actually see all the plays made by those seniors. The same was true on offense with just about every catch going to a senior.

The Maryland team that comes to Berkeley will almost entirely, minus the RB and QB, be a different team than the one that shocked Cal in College Park.

Looking Back on ’07: Armed Forces Bowl

(We FINALLY finish up our hugely unpopular, mostly intolerable look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the Armed Forces Bowl. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
Would the Bears get back on track for their final game, an undeserved bowl game? Or would this be the first losing season of the Tedford era? Would Kevin Riley get a chance to play with Longshore under-delivering even as his injury subsided? Does anyone care about this game besides Air Force? Bear fans across the nation had more questions than answers. That was enough to get them tuning in, kinda like watching a train wreck, to the bowl game. There were reasons for optimism, including the promise that Riley would get playing time and heavy disciplinary actions by Tedford against Jackson, Jordan and DeCoud, signs that Tedford was getting his team back under control.

The pre-game Reality:
The reality was that this team was still a talented team, one that was fully capable of winning the game. However, the Air Force’s tricky triple-option attack was nothing to scoff at. The Bears had won the last meeting in 2004, but it was after losing in 2002, which gave them the necessary experience to beat it. The 2007 team did not have the benefit of having been on the field for either of those games and was as unprepared as the 2002 team was for the attack which requires disciplined assignment defense.

The key plays:

  • Jackson, Jordan and DeCoud were being held out of the 1st quarter for disciplinary reasons.
  • Moye and VanHosen were in for Williams and Felder for disciplinary reasons as well (both had not performed well of late), a repeat of the Big Game.
  • After Forsett ran for 12 yards to get the Bear’s first 1st down, he was unable to convert on 3rd and inches, losing 2, and forcing the Bears to punt from midfield.
  • Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney rushes for 17 yards on an option keeper on their 1st drive.
  • RB/WR Chad Hall and his backup Jim Ollis run for 20 and 34 yards respectively, both off of option plays, to get the ball down to the Cal 1 yard-line.
  • Carney is able to punch it in on an option keeper. Bears continue their trend of giving up points early: 0-7
  • Longshore passes to Forsett who had split out wide for 18 yards to get the Bears across midfield.
  • Montgomery runs for 16 yards down to the Air Force 29.
  • Consecutive negative runs by Forsett put the Bears out of field goal range. DeSa drops the good pass from Longshore on 4th down.
  • Air Force goes for it on 4th and 1 on their next possession and converts the option play to Ollis.
  • Carney runs for 40 yards on three option keepers to get the ball down into the redzone.
  • Cal bites hard on the play action and Carney completes the easy TD pass. Bears down big early: 0-14
  • Cal can’t handle the pooch kick from Air Force on the kickoff and Air Force recovers at the Cal 40.
  • Without a chance to re-group and made adjustments on the sideline the Cal defense is burned again on a number of option plays, including the TD run by Ollis. Bears down HUGE early: 0-21
  • Riley comes in for Longshore in a planned change at the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Jackson and Jordan are also back in. (DeCoud came back in the middle of the previous drive when the 2nd quarter started.
  • Riley avoids a quick pass-rush by Air Force and bombs it deep to Jackson in the endzone. Bears show their first sign of life: 7-21
  • The Cal defense comes out in the 3-4 to counteract the option plays. The adjustment works and Air Force punts after a 3 and out.
  • Riley shows his mobility running for a 1st down on a busted play.
  • Riley finds Jordan wide open down the field. The throw was late and under thrown, giving away the TD, but the completion gets the ball down to the Air Force 12.
  • 2 plays later Riley throws a nice fade to Hawkins for a touchdown. Bears back in it: 14-21
  • Air Force gets one 1st down but otherwise the Cal adjustments continue to work and Air Force is forced to punt with 27 seconds left in the half.
  • Hail Mary nearly is completed to Hawkins, but he was distracted by an earlier blatant pass interference by Air Force and the ball bounces off his chest.
  • On Air Forces first drive of the 2nd half, Ollis runs for another 20 on an option play on 3rd and 2 where the Bears were trying to force the punt and over-pursued.
  • Some halftime Air Force adjustments clearly are helping as Hall is able to rush for 23 yards down to the Cal 5. The Cal defense holds from there and Air Force kicks the field goal. Cal back in a two score hole: 14-24.
  • Justin Forsett loosens up the Air Force pass defense where Riley completes another touchdown pass to Jordan from 18 yards out. Bears closest yet: 21-24
  • Air Force converts another 4th down, this time from 2 yards out, extending yet another drive.
  • Carney completes a rare pass to Hall for 17 yards down to the Cal 27 yard-line.
  • Carney goes to the air again, completing the pass to Dekker who gets it down to the Cal 5 yard-line
  • Carney has a massive knee injury on 3rd and goal, putting him out of the game. Air Force kicks the field goal. Bears still within one score: 21-27
  • Riley and Jordan continue their breakout game together with another 50 yard pass. But yet again Jordan is dragged down just before reaching the endzone where Forsett punches it in. Bears have their first lead of the game: 28-27
  • Air Force 3 and out again.
  • Riley to Jordan is again the connection of note on their next drive, getting two passes for a combined 45 yards.
  • Forsett breaks free for a 21 yard touchdown run. Bears extend their lead, but it’s still one score: 35-27
  • Air Force goes for it again on 4th down, again converting with a 7 yard rush. Ball is all the way down at the Cal 30 after a Mike Mohammad personal foul.
  • Air Force kicks a long field goal. Bears lead down to 5: 35-30
  • Forsett runs for 25 yards across midfield.
  • Montgomery continues another solid day with a 20 yard run to just outside the redzone.
  • After Forsett takes it down to the 1, Riley runs the option himself for a TD. Bears 2 scores up: 42-30
  • Air Force goes for it on 4th down again, this time from 9 yards out with 4 minutes remaining and can’t convert.
  • Forsett fumbles on the first play of the ensuing drive, putting Air Force back in business.
  • Another passing play by Air Force catches Cal off guard and gets the ball into the redzone. Hall rushes it in from there. After failed 2-point conversion, Cal still up by 6: 42-36
  • Cal recovers the onside kick.
  • Forsett runs for 14 on 3rd down to seal the win and allow Cal to run out the clock.

The forgotten

  • Longshore did not have that bad of a day. His two possessions were not spectacular, but he was also missing Jordan and Jackson. It doesn’t help when his receivers dropped a couple passes either.
  • Carney’s knee injury was before Cal took the lead. While I still think it is safe to say that Cal would have won the game in either case, after all Cal had scored 21 to Air Force’s 6 in the last half of play with Carney in, there’s no doubt it would have more difficult and not as assured as most Cal fans remembered.
  • Forsett and Mongomery really gave the Bears their consistency over the final games of the season. While Riley and the WRs played outstanding, whenever Air Force would over focus on the passing game, the two RBs would make Air Force pay.
  • Many have forgotten that the 21 points Air Force hung on Cal early were the direct result of the defense not having time to make adjustments between the 2nd and 3rd touchdown because of the turnover on the kickoff.

The post-game storyline:
A new savior of the team was born! Riley, our new knight in shining armor would for sure lead us to greatness in future seasons! How horrible was it of Tedford to keep him on the bench and let Longshore stay in when he clearly stunk. He’s probably good enough to keep DeSean Jackson from declaring for the draft early!

The post-game reality:
There’s no doubt that Longshore had his problems and that his injury heavily contributed to those problems. However, the amount of blame heaped on him was unjust. It was almost as if he was responsible for those 21 points being scored on the Bears early in the game (when in fact it was obviously an overwhelmed defense) or that he was responsible for the lack of effort in previous games. Obviously Riley played a great game and deserved a lot of credit. But giving him ALL the credit is to over look the rest of the team’s improvement during the game and to drastically over-simplify things. Also, to assume that his performance against a non-BCS team was indicative of how he’d perform the following year in the Pac-10 was also a mistake.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Riley was most definitely ready to challenge for the starting job.
  • The disciplinary actions before this game were insights in to how many chemistry problems there were on the team.
  • The 3-4 defensive switch had gone surprisingly well for a mid-game adjustment. It put a lot of questions in the coaches mind that perhaps it was the defense of the future.

The conclusion
Let there be no doubt about my determination. It took just about all of my will-power to re-watch these games. As St. Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) And what did I gain for my determination? Unlike my semi-futile pursuit of Holiness, not much…

This is still a chapter of Cal football that is better left forgotten. (To which you all say, “yeah, that’s why we kept complaining that you were doing it!?!”) While I believe I have a better grasp on what happened that season having spent the time to re-watch it, I still feel like there’s too much emotion wrapped up in it to view objectively. Normally when I watch the games for my looking back series I’m able to do it objectively and without emotion. Not the 2nd half of 2007. I felt myself getting emotionally wrapped back up in it.

It’s like whenever the Nazis come up in a conversation. Whether or not it’s a reasonable analogy or comparison, the Nazis are just to emotionally charged period of history for there to be of value in making a comparison. So too the 2007 season (see, I’ll now get in trouble for comparing the 2007 season to the Nazi regime).

So, by way of closing this lookback, I now introduce Crawin’s law, corollary to Godwin’s law that states:

As a Cal Bears football discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Longshore or the 2007 season approaches 1. Once such a comparison is made, the discussion is finished and whoever mentioned 2007 has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.

Do I hear any objections?

Looking Back on ’07: The Big Game

(We continue our hugely unpopular look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the Washington game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
The Bears had to come out of their hibernation eventually, right? Every Bear fan had to find some reason for optimism for the Big Game because, well, they just had to. The thought that a team that started the season 5-0 could end up 6-6 and potentially without a bowl bid was beyond comprehension. Luckily, Cal had Stanford’s number for the last 5 years. Washington had taken Cal to overtime in 2006 in Berkeley, so in retrospect, they were better than everyone remembered. But Stanford, Cal had laid the wood to them year after year. The Bears had to win this one, right?

The pre-game Reality:
There were two reasons the Big Game was not the same as the previous 5 years. The first was that Stanford was under a new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who had significantly ratcheted things up in Palo Alto. The second was their new Stadium. The Bears had gotten used to a home field advantage even when the game was in Palo Alto in recent years, with 60%-70% of the fans in Palo Alto in 2005 being Bear fans. With the new Tin Bowl in Palo Alto, Cal would be facing their first hostile Big Game crowd in a long time.

The key plays:

  • DeSean Jackson is unavailable for the game, still recovering from the leg injury he sustained in the Washington game.
  • Moye and VanHoosen were in for Williams and Felder for disciplinary reasons (both had not performed well of late).
  • Stanford has to punt after one 1st down, using Ostrander as QB.
  • Hampton returning punts despite flub in Washington game.
  • Longshore is sacked and fumbles on Cal’s first possession giving Stanford the ball on the Cal 35.
  • Stanford WR Bradford is wide open on a crossing route and is able to turn up-field for an early TD. Bears continue the trend of going in a deficit early: 0-7
  • Cal only returns kickoff out to 8 yard line. Hawkins is trying to do too much.
  • Forsett and Montgomery go on a string of running plays to mid-field, loosening up Stanford pass defense.
  • Longshore finds Jordan in the slot for an easy 50 yard touchdown. Bears tie things back up: 7-7
  • Cody Jones gets a roughing the passer penalty, the first of many personal fouls against the Bears.
  • Stanford attempts a pass out of a double reverse but the WR to WR pass comes up way short and is intercepted by Hicks.
  • Forsett is dropped for a 2 yard loss on 3rd and 1 forcing the Bears to punt.
  • Prichard comes in for Ostrander and runs the ball on a naked bootleg.
  • Prichard continues to mix runs with underneath passes to get into the redzone.
  • The Cal defense stiffens but the damage is done and the Stanford kicker who had missed his last 8 makes the short field goal. Bears back in a small hole: 7-10
  • A personal foul on the kickoff puts the Bears inside their own 10 again after the kickoff.
  • Forsett has a monster run breaking multiple tackles along the way for a 20 yard gain.
  • After a couple pass completions gets Cal into the redzone, Forsett loses 8 on 1st down when he tries to extend to the outside instead of taking a 1-2 yard gain inside.
  • A personal foul sets up 3rd and 33 from the 40 yard line, but a well designed screen play to Montgomery gets ball down to the Stanford 10 yard line.
  • Unfortunately, that’s 3 yards short of the 1st down and Cal kicks the Field Goal. Score tied again: 10-10
  • Stanford switches back to Ostrander. The switching seems to confuse the Bears a bit.
  • Stanford goes for it on 4th and 4 at Cal 30 and makes it on pass interference on Syd’Quan Thompson.
  • The Cal defense stiffens again and Stanford kicks their second Field Goal. Bears back down by 3: 10-13
  • After Hawkins takes two consecutive passes down to Stanford 30, his drops a diving catch (a difficult one) on the goal line that would have given Cal their first lead just before halftime.
  • Kay misses the 48 yard Field Goal attempt as time expires in the 1st half.
  • Stanford brings lots of heat on Cal’s first possession of the 2nd half, forcing a 3 and out.
  • A number of drives later (including two 3 and outs for the Bears) Stanford RB McGraw busts a big run outside down to Cal 1 yard line.
  • Cal is fooled by play-action on goal line and Prichard completes the easy TD pass. Bears down by two scores: 10-20
  • Cal goes 3 and out again.
  • Stanford marches down the field again but this time the Field Goal attempt is wide left, saving the Bears from a near disaster. However the damage of the time taken off the clock is trouble enough as the 3rd quarter is over and the Bears have not completed a 1st down in the 2nd half yet.
  • Bears 3 and out again.
  • After a couple of Stanford stops (with another Cal 3 and out in the middle) Longshore attempts to complete a long pass to Jordan down the sideline but is grabbed as he threw and the now-short pass is intercepted.
  • Cal gets the ball back after another Stanford punt and Cal finally capitalizes on a possession when a double reverse to Hawkins gets the ball down to the Stanford 35.
  • A few plays later the drive stalls but Kay makes the 42 yard Field Goal. Cal back within a TD: 13-20
  • Follett forces a fumble with a huge hit and Bears recover. It’s a good thing too because the Stanford running game was taking over to run out the clock. Nevertheless, the Bears have life yet.
  • Cal is given a gift on 4th down when Stanford is offside, giving the Bears a second shot at the 4th down attempt, which Longshore completes to Jordan who manages to get a toe down.
  • Hawkins drops a perfectly thrown ball from Longshore in the endzone.
  • Hawkins can’t pull in a 2nd TD pass, this one a tougher one that went through his extended hands.
  • Longshore makes a horrible read on 3rd down and the ball is intercepted just off the turf.
  • Stanford goes play-action on 3rd down to get the one 1st down they need to effectively run out the clock.
  • Cal forces a punt with 12 seconds left but it’s not enough to give a shot at a tying TD.

The forgotten

  • Stanford switched between Prichard and Ostrander on every possession and it seemed to be confusing the Bears. Prichard was much more likely to run but Ostrander was a better pocket passer and Cal had a tough time adjusting.
  • Stanford significantly switched their defensive philosophy at halftime and it completely stilted the Cal offense for most of the 2nd half. Cal didn’t get a 1st down until midway through the 4th quarter.
  • Forsett again had a monster game AGAIN and it was yet AGAIN wasted. He was doing this despite the fact that the opponents were loading up on the run more and more.
  • Penalties killed the Bears, particularly in the 1st half. Between stalling drives unnecessarily and giving Stanford lots of yards they didn’t deserve.
  • The field was very slippery and also seemed to be cut long, taking away much of Cal’s speed advantage.

The post-game storyline:
The unthinkable had happened twice in one season. Sure, the Bears were going to play in the Armed Forces bowl thanks to Arizona being unable to beat ASU in their final game and so no longer bowl eligible, but many fans felt it wasn’t even worth going to that game, particularly because it was so far away.

The post-game reality:
In the end, it was the offenses inability to deal with the high pressure Stanford defense that killed the Bears. The defense, particularly as the game progressed, held up their end of the bargain. Anytime they hold a team at 20, the offense should be able to get the job done. But between the penalties in the 1st half and the inability to adjust to the blitz heavy defense in the 2nd half did in the offense.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Mistakes were the Bears death. Penalties and turnovers in particular.

The conclusion
When I left Stanford stadium at the end of this game I was just if not more disgusted than after the Washington game. Watching it again, I was far more impressed with Stanford’s play than with UW’s. Yes, the Bears should have won this game, but I didn’t feel like the team had phoned it in, in advance. If anything, I felt like the coaching staff was not doing a good job of making mid-game adjustments while Stanford did an excellent job with that. I think this is an very visible example of why having Tedford call plays makes it more difficult for him to be a head coach and make adjustments. But the penalties were still infuriating as was Hawkins game tying drop and Longshore’s baffling effectively game-ending interception.

The regular season was over and nobody, myself included, really cared to see it extended by going to a bowl game.

Looking Back on ’07: Washington Game

(We continue our hugely unpopular look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the Washington game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
The horrid stretch was finally over. Things could not have gone worse (or could they?) than they had over the last 5 weeks with Longshore’s injury at the most unfortunate time. Things would have been very different if USC would have come to town when OSU did and UCLA and ASU been later in the year, after the WSU game, allowing Longshore more time to heal. Now, finally, Longshore appeared to be getting more healthy and the most difficult stretch of the schedule was behind them. Washington and Stanford should be easy victories.

The pre-game Reality:
In reality, Washington was not nearly as bad as people thought and it was yet another road game for the Bears. When one adds in all the weakness of the defense that had been exposed over the last month, there was far more to be concerned about than either the players or the fans knew.

The key plays:

  • Rain is the order of the day, at least for kickoff.
  • In a horribly stupid move that has Tedford visibly disgusted on the sideline, Cal opts to kickoff after Washington wins the toss and defers. As a result, Washington will receive the kick to start both halves.
  • UW RB Rankin takes the first play of the game nearly 50 yards down into Cal territory.
  • 3 plays later, with Rankin still bowling over Bears, Washington scores its first TD. Bears in a hole early: 0-7
  • A delay of game penalty forces 3rd and 11 instead of 3rd and 6, stalling Cal’s first drive.
  • Cal puts in its 2nd string defensive line for the second Washington possession because of how weak the 1st string played the first possession.
  • Rankin runs over them too getting across mid-field with 5 consecutive runs.
  • Cal puts 1st string line back in.
  • Later in the drive, Rankin has a dancing, cross-field run, with Cal players diving and missing all over the place, for 28 yards down to the Cal 9 yard line.
  • Two more run plays later and the Husky’s are in the endzone again. The Bears are in real trouble early: 0-14
  • Forsett gets to work on the 2nd drive, loosening up the passing game.
  • Longshore throws a strike over the middle to Morrah for a Cal TD. The extra point is missed due to do a bad hold. Bears still in a big hole: 6-14
  • Hampton makes a nice pass breakup on 3rd down forcing the first Husky punt.
  • Bears go for it on 4th down around midfield and convert on a Forsett run for 15 yards.
  • Longshore continues his love of his Tight Ends with a nice pass over the middle to Stevens for another TD. Bears back in it, only an extra point down: 13-14
  • The rain had pretty much dried up by now.
  • Bear defense back in sync and forces another 3 and out.
  • Another Longshore to WR miscommunication results in another interception, giving Washington the ball at the Cal 32.
  • Rankin rumbles for two more big runs down to the goal line (what happened to the Cal D?) where it is punched in. Bears are 8 points down again: 13-21
  • DeSean Jackson injures his ankle/knee and was limited for a couple series and then out of the game entirely.
  • A number of drives later, with only 3 minutes left in the half, Forsett busts a 58 yard run down to the Washington redzone.
  • Longshore finds Montgomery in the endzone for a touchdown on the next play. Bears back in it: 20-21
  • The Bears force another punt before halftime but disaster strikes when Syd’Quan runs into Hampton, who is returning kicks in place of the injured Jackson, just as he’s about to catch the ball. It’s ruled on the field that Hampton never touched the ball, but an instant replay reverses the call based on marginal data, giving Washington the ball deep in Cal territory with a minute left in the half.
  • Bonnell throws up a jump ball in the endzone and the receiver goes up and gets it over Conte for a TD. Halftime score is no longer hopeful: 20-28
  • Washington receives the kickoff to start the 2nd half, completing the disasterous coin toss decision.
  • The Cal defense goes back to their weak ways, giving up another long Rankin run, this time a 46 yarder on the first drive of the half.
  • The Cal defense holds from there and Washington makes the 46 yard Field Goal. Cal down by two scores again: 20-31.
  • Longshore completes a long pass to Jordan down to the Washington 2 yard line.
  • But a loss of 2 on 2nd down, after a no-gainer on 1st, sets up a throwing down on 3rd down and Cal can’t convert, only getting the Field Goal. Back down to a touchdown with a 2-point conversion deficit: 23-31.
  • Later in the quarter, the Huskys get a break when what was clearly a lateral was called incomplete and intentional grounding, taking away what would have otherwise been a Cal recovery in Washington territory.
  • The Bears can’t even capitalize on the big penalty and Bonnell completes a 3rd and 24 pass down the sideline over a leaping Conte (again) getting Washington down into Field Goal range again.
  • Cal defense holds and Washington kicks the Field Goal. Bears back down by two scores: 23-34
  • Cal gets another bad break at the end of the 3rd quarter when a marginal review calls a tackle on Hawkins a fumble and Washington recovers.
  • Another Cal drive is stalled by a holding penalty and personal foul in one set of downs and the Bears are unable to convert on 3rd and 32.
  • Washington gets another instant replay break when a punt return that was already a strong one but still out of field goal range is not called out of bounds when the player was clearly out. Instead the ball is all the way down at the Cal 11.
  • The Cal defense stiffens again and Washington kicks another Field Goal. Cal down by two full touchdowns: 23-37
  • Montgomery stalls yet another Cal drive when he fumbles the ball and recovers it himself. However, the yardage damage stalls the last drive for the Bears
  • Washington bowls over the now demotivated and tired Cal defense getting 4 first downs to run out the clock.

The forgotten

  • Cal was back in this game at two different points in the 1st half, being down only one point, but successive series of bad defense put them in a deficit again. This game was not a case of a slow start gone bad.
  • The replay booth and the refs were not kind to Cal, particularly in the second half. While the Bears were doing plenty of other things to shoot themselves in the foot, they were additionally hampered by bad calls.
  • Forsett again had a monster game and it was yet again wasted.
  • Conte was picked on again and again and again by the Washington offense. Considering this game was won on the ground, the UW passing game consisted almost entirely of picking on Conte.
  • Longshore at this point had played a pretty good game. It was the fumbles that were the turnovers that doomed the Bears and Longshore made a number of good passes. While his form was still poor, his accuracy and reads were pretty good. He was not the reason why Cal lost.
  • This was most definitely Montgomery’s best game. While he was no Best, his transfer was a bigger blow to the program that most of us remember.

The post-game storyline:
The excuses about the previous 4 loses being a result of a tough situation with Longshore’s injury and a tough stretch of the schedule were no longer valid. There was no excuse for the Bears to play so poorly or lose this game no matter how bad the bounces and the refs were against them. Frankly stated, the 336 rushing yards Washington had in the game were disgusting and reflected a defense that wasn’t trying very hard. Add in that injury to Longshore and the team was in ruins.

The post-game reality:
In the end, it was the defense that lost the game. Longshore played fairly well and was not the reason the Bears lost. The Bears had gotten a tough lesson in not trying hard enough. Being honest, there was still plenty of talent on this team. All the needed to do was try.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Cal continued their struggles around the goal line. The failure to convert in the mid-3rd quarter was probably the moment the game was lost, even though it wasn’t clear at the time.
  • For the first time it was truly clear that there was something wrong on this team that didn’t have to do with talent, injuries or game-planning. The Bears had an effort/team chemistry problem.
  • Longshore’s injury was now mostly healed and there were no longer any excuses in this department.

The conclusion
This was by far the most disgusting game for me of the Tedford era. Never before and never since have I seen a Tedford team so implode. At the same time, I was nearly beside myself with disgust for the replay booth. They overturned a marginal situation on the botched punt return, with really weak angles, but then uphold the bogus punt return where he was CLEARLY out. Then they don’t over turn the Hawkins fumble when, admitting that the evidence was weak, it looked to me like his hand was still over the ball when he hit the ground. What. A. Joke. And it was the last thing this team, a team that was looking for an excuse to lose, needed in the 2nd half of a winnable game. But all of that aside, what was just as frustrating was to watch the inconsistent play of the defense. Sometimes it looked like they had Rankin figured out for a possession or two but then he’d burn the Bears later on. The final drive of the game, with the 4 first downs was just inexcusable. Sure, it was unlikely the Bears were going to come up with 2 scores in less than 5 minutes, but the defense never game them a chance.

I was as disgusted with the Bears as I’d ever been. Heck, I was as disgusted as the lone Cal game I walked out on in 2001 during the Holmoe debacle. I couldn’t imaging being more disgusted.

Or so I thought…

Looking Back on ’07: USC

(We continue our hugely unpopular look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the USC game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
The Bears had finally won a game, albeit not very impressively, after a horrific 3 game losing streak. Now Bear fans had to ask themselves, was this still a team capable of competing with the best in the PAC-10? Maybe. USC had, after all, lost to the same Oregon team that Cal had beat, as well as losing in a shocker to Stanford. They seemed vulnerable. Add that to the fact that Longshore was still undefeated at home and there was reason for hope. But hope it was, and everyone saw this as an opportunity, not an expectation.

The pre-game Reality:
While it was true that USC was not the same team it had been the last 3 years, it was still very good and was getting some of its form back. With Booty now back under center after 3 games off injured (a streak which, if you include that he played injured against Stanford, spanned both of USC’s loses) and their talent was still 2nd to none. Talented teams, particularly deep talented teams, tend to do very well towards the end of the season. At the same time, there was still lots of talent on this Cal team and a strong effort at home could have sealed a victory. There was of course one huge wildcard: it was raining in Berkeley.

The key plays:

  • Longshore starts the game slinging the ball in his “new” post injury slinging form.
  • Longshore and Jordan were not on the same page on 3rd down forcing the Bears to punt on their first possession.
  • Larson shanks his first punt for only 20 yards.
  • USC tries to run the ball on their first possession and the Bears are ready for it, forcing a 3 and out.
  • A double reverse from Hawkins to Best fools USC for a sizeable gain.
  • A delayed run play to Forsett catches USC over-pursuing and Forsett is able to rush for a TD. Bears up early: 7-0.
  • USC returns the ensuing kickoff to midfield.
  • Booty connects with a wide open WR in the cover-2 hole.
  • Washington busts a big run down to the Cal 2 yard line and USC punches it in from there to tie the game: 7-7.
  • Another Longshore to WR miscommunication nearly results in an interception.
  • Forsett has a series of good runs, particularly in staying on his feet and bouncing of tackles, sustaining the drive.
  • Hawkins open on a seam pattern and gets the ball down to the USC 6 yard line.
  • The Bears get a number of good breaks on the goal line including pass interference call that gives Cal a second set of downs and a Forsett fumble and turnover erased because of an offside penalty. Nevertheless the Bears can’t convert and Kay kicks the Field Goal. Bears back on top: 10-7
  • Cal sends the farm on an all out blitz around midfield and Washington gets by it for an easy TD run. Bears in their first hole: 10-14
  • With a minute left in the half, Longshore slings it to Jackson down to the USC 27 yard line.
  • Longshore is sacked and loses the football but it is recovered by Cal back on the USC 42. Unfortunately that was the end of that last-second scoring opportunity.
  • After marching the ball down the field to open the 2nd half, USC fumbles deep in the Cal redzone saving the Bears from a disaster on the scoreboard.
  • Longshore and his WR are not on the same page yet again and this time it hurts the Bears as USC intercepts it at the Cal 13.
  • However, the defense holds firm and USC is held to a Field Goal. Deficit grows but is still one score: 10-17.
  • Game gets very sloppy through the rest of the 3rd quarter.
  • DeSa tips a USC punt giving the Bears the ball at the USC 45.
  • Longshore finds Hawkins on another seam route, this time for a touchtown. Game is tied: 17-17.
  • USC fumbles on a bobbled snap giving Cal the ball around midfield.
  • Forsett continues to look strong and bouncing off tackles but another QB/WR miscommunication on 3rd down stalls the drive.
  • A USC play-action pass fools the Bears and a long completion ensues, but it is called back for holding, saving the Bears again.
  • However, a wide open TE gets USC back in business to erase 1st and 20 and then Washington runs over a tired Cal defense getting down to the Cal 4 yard line where USC punches it in from there. Bears back down by a TD: 17-24
  • Longshore bobbles a snap of his own giving USC the ball back at the worst time of the game, now mid-4th quarter.
  • Cal got the ball back on its own 7 yard line with 4 minutes left where Forsett breaks a big run to get them out of the shadow of their goal line.
  • Forsett runs for a big gain down to the USC 36 on a swingout pass.
  • Longshore throws a crucial pick by not putting enough air under a ball to Jordan that would have gone for a tying score with 2:30 left.
  • Instead, USC is able to run the clock out, including getting a crucial 1st down when Follett misses a back-field tackle that would have forced 4th down.

The forgotten

  • Cal really got the better of the bounces of the ball. Between the fumble recoveries, the missed interceptions that USC couldn’t haul in, penalties offsetting otherwise big plays, Cal got all the help it needed to win this game.
  • USC’s Washington really destroyed the Bears late in the game with his rushing for 220 yards.
  • Forsett also had a monster game, perhaps the best of his career at Cal, carrying for nearly 170 yards and being very determined and durable even when the plays didn’t go as designed.
  • The miscommunications between Longshore and his receivers was so consist and so baffling that it must have either been a new read that hadn’t been in place in previous games or there was something about USC’s defense that made the reads more difficult.
  • Booty was surprisingly off the mark in this game missing a number of open receivers, more so by far than Longshore. If he had been on the mark, this game would have been a blowout.
  • The same can be said for penalties where Cal played a very clean game and USC’s penalties really stiffled them.

The post-game storyline:
Somehow in the middle of this game it turned from an opportunistic one to a “must win” and the hearts of everyone in Berkeley were crushed again. The game was eminently winnable but the Bears just couldn’t seal the deal. Thankfully the rest of the schedule looked easy and the Bears could finish the season a respectable 8-4 with a likely Sun Bowl visit if two PAC-10 teams made it to a BCS game (between ASU, Oregon and USC that seemed likely).

The post-game reality:
The Bears were now completely broken down and had lost their heart for the season. They too were making the assumption that these last two games were easy victories when in fact there was more trouble brewing.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Cal’s trouble around the goal line was now firmly established but the USC game confirmed what was already known.
  • The defense was showing more and more signs of sporadic weaknesses. Sometimes it was wide open receivers, other times it was a systematic inability to slow down the running game. Which would strike when was unclear.
  • Longshore’s trend of giving up game sealing interceptions continued into this game.
  • Longshore was still not healthy but there were no signs that Tedford was going to give Riley a shot.

The conclusion
This was a game that I really didn’t get a good look at the first time around. I had brought my kids (the weather was fine in Sacramento when we left) and they were soaked and cold by the end of the 1st quarter. We left just before halftime and didn’t get to a place to watch the game until late in the 3rd quarter. Even then I was distracted by comforting the kids (changing into dry clothes, food, etc.). So my heart was never really invested in the game the first time and I never understood why so many people were hugely disappointed by this game. But experiencing it again and seeing how there was every reason to believe the Bears could win this one and how that changed the game from an opportunistic one to another disaster mid-game, I better understand now. In reality, this game was more like the ASU game where there was every reason that the Bears should have been dominant early and extended to a good win, but instead found themselves with only a small lead and completely unable to convert on later opportunities that could have still given the Bears a win. Perhaps if the Bears had never been competitive from the get-go, it actually would have been better for the team psyche.

And from this point on, the psyche was the key to success (or failure).