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It’s official: Goff to turn pro

Well, the Goff era is officially over.  He will be missed.

This will be an interesting test for the Cal coaching staff.  How well will the system work without someone of Goff’s caliber?

Review of each defensive position group

Continuing on with the position group review, now focusing on the defense…

Defensive line:
All things considered, last year the defensive line wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It would have been useful if they could have put more pressure on the QB in passing situations to take some heat off the secondary, but overall they were serviceable… and in last year’s defense serviceable is as good as you’re going to get. Two big names that were out last year are back: Brennan Scarlett and Mustafa Jalil. Will these two be the difference between a defensive line that managed to hold its own most of the time and one that will be disruptive at the point of attack? There’s definitely reason to hope that will be the case and it is MUCH needed. Outside of Scarlett and Jalil, there appears to be enough depth that even with some injuries the unit shouldn’t fall below serviceable.

Linebackers:
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m skeptical of the 4-3 as Cal’s base defense. In the Pac-12 you need the versatility that the 3-4 provides. Heck, even the NFL is moving towards the 3-4 after decades of thinking you couldn’t plug the running lanes sufficiently with a 3-4. For the 4-3 to be successful you need 3 VERY rangy linebackers, particularly on the outside (although the middle linebacker needs to be able rangy too as he gets abandoned by the outside linebackers a lot as they’re covering their large area of turf). To that end, I’m most concerned on the strong side. Raymond Davison as a redshirt freshman is the best we’ve got? I frankly don’t know much about him, but I sure hope he’s got some speed. Looking at the other two positions, losing Broussard hurt, but Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson have potential in the middle. Jalen Jefferson is our lone upper classman and from what I’ve seen so far, will be serviceable or better. Hopefully he can provide the leadership for this young group. Losing him would be a BIG loss because there’s not much behind him.

Secondary:
Make no mistake, this was the unit that was mostly responsible for the defense’s woes last year. They were has horrible as the offensive line. Nevertheless, I’m a lot more optimistic this year. The secondary is an experience heavy position and there just wasn’t any after the injuries took hold last year. We look pretty good at safety with Stefan McClure and Michael Lowe. It’s surprising that Sebastian is 3rd on the depth chart. I’ve always thought he had a lot of talent. Perhaps he’s not fully healthy yet. Corner is still where one raises an eyebrow. Cedric Dozier and Cameron Walker have some experience (although Walker was at safety), so it’s no surprise they make up 2 of the starting 3 (technically, Dozier is a backup, but we’ll be in the nickle a lot and he’s likely to get that role). The talented Darius Allensworth got the other corner position, so let’s hope he is as good as they say he is. Nevertheless things get pretty thin behind them. Literally everyone else on the depth chart is a Freshman. Notably absent from the depth chart Darius White who was hoped to come in as a transfer and challenge for playing time right away. We really can’t afford many injuries in the secondary again this year. Who is starting is barely sufficient.

One has to think based on the above things will be better than last year. I think a big key will be the defensive line, not based on their own merits, but based on the rest of the defense could use things getting disrupted right from the snap. It’s a lot easier to play corner when the QB is throwing wounded ducks up into the air as they’re falling to the ground.

Call me cautiously optimistic.

Depth chart released

As expected, the depth chart was released today. Some general thoughts about the offense to follow up on my previous post:

  • On the offensive line Rigsbee got moved back to his natural spot at right tackle and Chris Adcock, coming off of injury that kept him low on the depth chart at the end of spring, back at center. Otherwise the lineup is unchanged from the Spring. Matt Cochran, Brian Farley and Dominic Granado appear to be the ones who provide the key depth. If they live up to their hype that’s not bad depth to have.
  • Austin Hinder appears to have made a bit of a “late charge” in fall camp and is now an “OR” with Rubenzer for the backup QB spot. My gut is that Rubenzer is the true number 2, but there’s enough of a desire to hang on to his redshirt that Hinder may get some time. So when a backup is needed for a few plays in the 1st few games (where the redshirt can still be preserved) you’ll see Rubenzer. Once we get past that point, any short term replacement would go to Hinder. But if Goff goes down for a few games, then burning the redshirt will be a lot more tempting, until it’s the final few games of the season.
  • Khalfani Muhammad is the starting RB and I’m pretty happy about that. But expect to see plenty of Lasco.
  • Harper has slipped a bit amongst the WRs only getting an “or” for one of the 4 starting spots. Steven Anderson and Trevor Davis are the ones who have clearly impressed the staff and both got a starting spot alongside Treggs and Lawler.
  • I’ll cover the defensive groups separately in a combined position group/depth chart post shortly.

Review of each offensive position group

The depth chart for the season (really for Northwestern, but let’s not quibble over details) has not yet been released (we should expect it later today). However, we know enough that it’s time to review each position group.

Quarterback:
I appear to be more pessimistic here than others. Hasn’t anyone else ever heard of the Sophomore Slump? It sure doesn’t seem like it. More seriously, last year I found Goff to be less impressive than I hoped and not in a way that I have high hopes for him to be great anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a serviceable quarterback and at the end of the season I’m pretty confident Goff will not be the reason we’re shaking our heads in disgust. But I’m also not expecting him to be the reason we’re over-joyed. Also, since this is a position group analysis, one has to be pretty scared about the prospect of Goff going down. Hinder has been passed by a true freshman (Rubenzer) on the depth chart. Chances are there will be at least one game where Goff is not the primary QB under center. Let’s hope it’s going to be a game the Bears were most likely going to lose anyway.

Offensive line:
I might as well continue on to the next group I’m more pessimistic about than the norm. There’s been a lot of positive press about the improvement of the offensive line. Well, there HAD BETTER BE!?! That group was down-right horrible last year and costs us a win or two. What I want to know is how much of a curve is this improvement being judged on? My gut says they’re grading a bit too easy. There are some young guys I have some hope will impress (Matt Cochran, Dominic Granado, and Steven More) but the proven talent is small (Jordan Rigsbee and ???). Losing Okafor hurt and it’s troublesome that Adcock is so far down on the depth chart (and no, I’m not one of those who say “If random guy X beat known quantity Y, X must be really good”). So here’s hoping this group really has come together and the new talent impresses in a big way, because from my way of thinking, this is the unit the season’s success rides on.

Running backs:
Let’s switch gears to a group I’m very high on. While some have mixed feelings about the RBs, count me amongst those who think we’ve got two very talented guys in Lasco and Khalfani. They weren’t given a chance last year behind the OL. While the impression of them still rests on improved OL play, I think these two could hold their own as the backfield for almost all of the Pac-12 teams. If there’s one downside, it is that their backups are young, particularly now that Coprick is out. Let’s hope we don’t get bit by the injury bug here.

Wide receivers:
This is by far the strongest offensive group. Powe, Treggs, Harris, Lawler, Harper… all of them are very capable and have shown it on the field. Supposedly Davis and Anderson are looking really good too. If there’s one group the team could afford to have more than its usual share of injuries, this is it. In fact, one wonders why we haven’t considered moving a few of them over to the other side of the field to be a DB.

Tight Ends and Fullbacks:
Sorry, I just had to throw this in here. But we intentionally have no depth here (I guess technically we have 3 fullbacks on the roster, but you’d never know it) and frankly it’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me. There are times when you want extra bodies who can line up and put someone on their back on the field. I’ve got two reservations about the offensive scheme: 1. that it depends too much on up-tempo, something our opponents are figuring out how to neutralize. 2. That it eschews the TRUE power running game (or even just lining up that way and then throwing out of it). Thus I just can’t get over the lack of concern for having any talent in this area by the coaching staff.

I am the voice of reason

Well, at least the 9th voice of reason: http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2014/8/25/6054941/cal-bears-football-predictions-sonny-dykes-jared-goff-sunshine-pumping

Every year CGB does a poll on the percentage likelihood Cal wins each game. It’s an interesting analysis, at least in compiling what the average Bear fan thinks. As part of it they list who most closely resembles the normative vote and call those people “the voice of reason”. Most years I’m in that top-10.

Really it would be more accurate to call us “group thinkers” as what it really says is our opinions reflect the average of Cal fans… but you won’t hear me complaining. :)

Time to retire a 2nd number?

I’ve been reluctant to post on the subject of Ted Agu’s passing. There seemed to be very little accurate and detailed info the first few days and I wanted to let the dust settle before sticking my foot in my mouth.

Well, it’s been a few days and no more meaningful info has come out. No cause of death. No more details about the nature of the difficulty he was having before he collapsed. No confirmation of the rumor he had Sickle Cell trait.

I sure hope the details eventually come to light so that something can be learned from this. If/when they do, I will comment more.

But in the meantime, I wanted to put an idea out there…

Should #35 be retired?

I must admit I didn’t know anything about Ted Agu until this happened. But from what I’ve read, and I’ve got a strong BS meter for the posthumous deification of people who die a tragic death, he seems like a great guy. It’s pretty clear he loved football and was on the team for all the right reasons. And anyone who dies in the pursuit of excellence for the team, deserves to be recognized.

Retiring his number would be the greatest honor we could give him.

Usually retired numbers are reserved for those who excel on the field. Cal has one retired number, and it is for someone with great on the field success, who also lived an exemplary yet short life off the field. I think it would be a nice bookend to also have someone who lived a similarly exemplary yet short life without the same on the field success.

Thoughts?

Thoughts on Goff being named the QB starter

For those who haven’t heard, Jared Goff has been named the starting quarterback.

This was a moderate surprise to those who have believed the rumor mill dating back to the 2012 season that Zack Kline was the program’s savior, but for those who had been paying attention, it wasn’t that much of a surprise:

  • Coach Sonny has long said that the keys to being his QB was consistency, accuracy and quick decision making. Who’s been most consistent since Spring practice? Who’s the only one who can somewhat routinely hit the trash can in their throwing drill (accuracy)? I think the thing that has been hindering Goff has been the decision making, but the word on the street is that he’s improved dramatically since Spring practice and is doing as well if not better than Kline.
  • Which QB was recruited by Sonny? I think the tie goes to the guy that the head coach recruited.
  • As Dykes said in his comments, Goff isn’t really a “true-freshman”, he’s an early-enrolled freshman. Being here for spring practice, and then having the time between then and now to absorb the system makes a WORLD of difference in regards to freshmen QBs.
  • Kline just threw too many interceptions in practice to make his case. He may have one heck of an arm, but the new offense is predicated more on accurate short throws instead of long passes.

And here’s the kicker, the lore around Kline, is just that: lore. Lot’s of people were sick of Maynard last year. Lot’s of people wanted a change. And is the case on every team where the starting quarterback is struggling, the backup QB is the knight in shining armor ready to save the team. But the few times I saw him play in practices I was never really overly impressed. That’s not to say he didn’t have potential. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have been a better choice than Maynard. But it is to say he was no miracle savior.

But the rumor mill/peanut gallery/fanciful dreamer crowd was just too strong in creating a fairy tale that Kline was this semi-mythic recruit destined to save the program once he was given the chance.

News flash: It just wasn’t based on facts.

This if of course not to say that Goff was for sure the right choice. I don’t really know (and unless you’ve been at all the practices, you don’t know either). But what I do know is that this shouldn’t be a shocking surprise. Goff earned being named the starting QB and most showed the characteristics that make a good QB, particularly in Dykes system. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform on 8/31.

GO BEARS!

Maynard struggled against USC

In my previous post I indicated that for the most part I felt like, relative to our post-Nevada/S. Utah expectations, the Bears have improved.

I still mostly stand behind that, but there’s one very notable player who didn’t: Maynard.

Maynard was 18 for 33 (54.5%) for 173 yards, or 5.2 yards per attempt. Not horrific numbers, but also not good. He was also sacked 7 times, which while plenty of blame for that goes to the offensive line, there were 2 or 3 of those that a better QB would have avoided.

The statistic that was most notable was that only one player had more than two receptions: Keenan Allen. Maynard was locked on him like teenage boy seeing his first stripper.

Treggs: 1 reception. Harper: 1 reception. You can’t tell me those guys were never open. Heck, we don’t have to look at the statistics, watch the TV coverage… they pointed out multiple plays were Maynard didn’t see WIDE open receivers, Treggs at least three times for what were sure touchdowns (twice he was wide open in the endzone and the 3rd was a longer play were he was 15 yards behind the defense).

Then there were the misthrows. He missed a number of guys with bad throws yesterday, more than the last couple games combined. Generally his problem is the ball sailing and lacking good touch.

Not to overstate, this was not his worst performance, nor was it the reason the Bears lost. But it was still a definite step back from the tOSU game.

So where does that leave us? Well, it’s really hard to tell. USC has a way of making Cal, and particularly our quarterbacks, look bad. The Bears have rebounded from bad USC games with much better performances afterward. We sure as heck saw it last year from Maynard. After USC he had a 65% completion percentage or better in every game except UCLA and WSU (where the percentage was a bit deceiving in an otherwise good performance).

My bet is it’ll be a lot like last year. Maynard will rebound, but we’re likely to see a regression game or two. When it hits him and whether it affects the outcome of the game is anyone’s guess.

D’Amata… are we being too harsh?

40, 18, 25, 47… those are the field goals that Vince D’Amata has kicked in the first two games. He was 4 of 5, missing a chip shot in the Nevada game. He hasn’t missed an extra point yet.

Let’s remember that when we consider bashing Tedford for continuing to give D’Amato chances to kick field goals. It’s not like the guy was struggling before yesterday. Missing two in a row does not a meaningful trend make.

Also let’s remember that all of his kicks were from 40+ yards yesterday. It’s not like he was missing 25 yard chip shots.

Of course, there’s no doubt D’Amato had a bad game. And there’s reason to be concerned whenever your kicker starts to struggle. There’s no doubt that those missed 9 points cost us the game. Yet remember there were other things that similarly could be considered as crucial to the loss.

So it frustrates me how people exaggerate how bad a situation is because of the impact on the outcome. If we had won by 7 what would the reaction be? Sure, it would still be a concern. Yet it wouldn’t be a ‘bash Tedford for sending him out a third time and what the heck kind of horrible player is D’Amato’ affair.

Brendan Bigelow

What a break out game for Bigelow! CJ Anderson better watch his back, because he’s still no Isi and with Bigelow asserting himself, frankly demanding more playing time, CJ is going to get relegated to power rushing formations.

It was pretty disappointing not to see Bigelow in the game on that final drive.

I’ve watched Bigelow with excitement since he arrived on campus, but he never seemed to really have the vision and didn’t seem to execute very well. Nevertheless there was no denying his speed and his ability to make a cut. But it just wasn’t coming together.

Until today.

Expect to see a lot more of Bigelow in the future. He’s got the look of a Jahvid Best in the making.

Maynard’s Interception

There seems to be wide disagreement on how bad Maynard’s interception was…

One side looks at how “obvious” a read it was. The guy was standing right in front of him and he threw it right at him. How more horrible could it be?

The other side looks at the design of the play and sees more nuance. Maynard’s job was to look to the other side of the field to distract the defense away from the play. When he turned and threw he didn’t see how bad it was.

I fall somewhere in the middle of those two thoughts. It was both something harder for Maynard to see than it looked AND Maynard should have been more aware of what he was doing. Both have some truth.

But there’s another aspect that hasn’t been mentioned in what I’ve read: The lack of touch. That ball wouldn’t have been intercepted had Maynard put a little loft on it. All good screen passes know that you have to get the ball over the charging linemen, so it takes some touch and good loft to drop it in at the right place for your receiver.

We saw no touch out of Maynard yesterday. He was pretty good when he could sling it in, but just about all of his misses were cases where he needed some touch to get the ball in there. The missed TD throw, a couple of throws out to the flats and this screen pass, were all cases where he needed to slow things down, take a little off and drop it in there.

So I find myself less discouraged with the “poor decision”. He’s not going to see a lot of repeats of that situation. But at the same time, his lack of touch is far more worrisome to me. Tedford’s playbook relies heavily on a QB with good touch.

Note to Cal secondary

Just a quick note, in case the secondary hasn’t heard it enough from their coaches yet…

When there’s a Hail Mary, you hit the ball DOWN!

You don’t try to catch it. You don’t knock it in the air.

DOWN!
DOWN!
DOWN!
DOWN!

That is all.

Maynard’s benching handled poorly?

The big controversy after the game was the decision to bench Maynard for the 1st quarter.

Personally, I fully stand behind Tedford’s decision to bench a player for not taking his academics seriously, particularly when he’s a player who is struggling academically, as Maynard is rumored to be. Even if it means the Bears lose a game because of it, I fully stand behind proper discipline/academics being more important than winning.

Yet, I also agree that this was handled poorly.

To be clear, all the wrangling over why Tedford did it the way he did, let’s make it quite clear there is only one answer: Tedford didn’t want the opposition to know. It’s just that simple. There were no other motives. The only way to assure that is to tell as few people as possible and not do anything in practice that would tip his hand to the press of what he was about to do.

But, that’s when a head coach has to take a step back and ask himself: What’s worse, the opposition knowing, or my team being poorly prepared for the game?

The answer to that question is obvious, and should have been to Tedford before yesterday afternoon.

That’s the real problem here. I had hoped Tedford had figured more out about team psychology and proper preparation, but I’m starting to worry that the last 6 years of experimenting and trial-and-error, have not led him to the right conclusions. He’s running out of time to figure this out.