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End of season thoughts

A handful of random thoughts now that the season was over:

  • Cheez-it bowl?  I liked the name a lot better when it was the Copper bowl or the Insight Bowl.  Nevertheless, I’m happy to see the Bears in a bowl game.  I think the outcome will be pretty important for the trajectory of the program.  8-5 looks a lot better than 7-6 and beating another Power 5 school in a year where the Pac-12 was pretty lowly regarded (not without cause) will be to Cal’s benefit.
  • When I look back at the season, I see a combination of both missed opportunities and a lot of good luck.  The missed opportunities start with Arizona.  I’m still not sure how the Bears lost that game, although I think it starts with the Bears forcing a turnover that somehow became a forward pass to Arizona’s benefit.  Add in the McIlwain experiment gone wrong, and it’s so disappointing Cal lost that game.  Then of course there is WSU, the other most obvious case of the McIlwain experiment sinking the Bears.  That’s two games that it would have been REALLY nice to have in the win column and there’s every reason to think that a couple of bounces/mistakes goes the Bears way.
  • At the same time, don’t forget how many times the Bears got just enough bounces to their benefit.  The USC win had a few.  What if Weaver ends up 3 yards short of the endzone against UW?  What if Colorado doesn’t spot Cal 14 points?  (Admittedly those interceptions are a combination of good defense and opponent mistakes.)  The season was a lot closer to being a big failure than we want to admit.  Cal lost 2 games (Arizona and UCLA) that based on how they finished, Cal can’t afford to lose to if they want to be a bowl eligible team on a regular basis.
  • Then there is the big question: Should Cal fire Baldwin and find a new OC.  I’ve thought about this a lot and my final conclusion is ‘no’.  I don’t feel very confident about that ‘no’, because Cal hides a lot of player information (most notably injury information).  But if we assume that Bowers was injured in week 1 and it really was the plan for him to be the 2018 starter, then it’s hard to look at Baldwin and say he should be fired.  As much as I was frustrated with the offense, there were enough things that broke the wrong way injury wise that one can be sure that Baldwin needs to be fired.  He deserves a chance at redemption next year.  He has enough history of HUGE offensive success at EWU as head coach that he deserves another shot.  Plus, one of the things that this team is building is a good culture.  I think having a former head coach as a coordinator is part of what is making that work.
  • But it is important to finish with the positives, because overall this season was a good one.  Wins over both USC and the eventual conference champion (UW) are hard to argue with.  The only think that kept it from far exceeding our expectations was the Big Game loss.  But a trip to a bowl game was the goal, and the team cleared that hurdle with a game to spare.

Sunday morning ‘what idiot?’ thoughts

Some random post-Colorado victory thoughts, not so much about the game itself, but tangential:

  • What idiot is it who thought that spotting the ball where the QB initiates the slide will increase safety?  It’s going to decrease safety.  Garbers (and others) will eventually figure out they have to push things much further to get the first down.  They’re going to have to risk a major collision, perhaps going head first, to get that extra yard or two they used to get by leaping into their slide.
  • Who was the idiot who started playing ‘4th quarter blowout songs’ in the 2nd quarter over the stadium PA system?  Sweet Caroline in the 2nd quarter?  Are you freaking kidding me!?!  I think a significant part of the reason Cal played so soft in the 3rd quarter was because the environment around them was telling them the game was already over.
  • How can Berkeley still be so idiotic that Scenic Avenue has never been repaved?  That road is an absolute disaster and has been for as long as I can remember.  The patches have their own patches and the the potholes are developing their own potholes.  I can’t think of a worse street in Berkeley, and that’s saying something.
  • What idiot hasn’t figured out that it is time for Lee Grosscup to retire from the radio post-game show?  I’m generally pretty tolerant of former Cal greats being announcers, but Grosscup needs to figure out where John Madden has retired to and go join him.  He’s staining his otherwise great legacy.

Not sure why I’m full of ‘what idiot?’ thoughts this morning… perhaps it’s because that game was an odd combination of joyful and highly disconcerting.  (That performance is *NOT* going to cut it against Stanford.)

13th man

(Another ridiculously late post, but this one closes my USC thoughts.  I probably wouldn’t have posted it at all had it not been for wanting to get the podcast published and I figured if I could still do that, there was room for one more ridiculously late post…)

Everyone knows the ’12th man’ on a football team is the crowd in the stands.  But perhaps there should be a ’13th man’ as well: The band.

To this end, USC probably is one of the best bands in this regard.  Their highly repetitive, frustratingly banal set of 3 songs is often a point of snearing by opposing fans (the lady next to me at the game 2 weeks ago was obsessed on the topic).  I must admit, the USC band really gets on my nerves.

But that’s the point.  It can really get inside one’s head.  And if it can get in our heads, don’t you think it affects the players too, just the way the crowd can?  And unlike the Stanford band that is only worth snearing at during their ridiculous halftime performance (their in-game antics although similarly as juvenile are of little consequence and get little attention from either fans or players), the USC band is constantly prattling on throughout the game, doing it’s “magic”.

And in this regard, the Cal band deserves some recognition for their performance at USC.  Not once throughout the entire game (sans pre-game and halftime shows) did the Cal band let the USC band play uninterrupted.  Whenever the USC band would start up, the Cal band would get up and play.  They were fearless.  They were relentless.  They were NOT going to let the USC band dictate the sound environment of the game.

Well done Cal band.  Well done!

Sunday morning ‘outside the lines’ thoughts

‘Outside the lines’ meaning not explicitly about last night’s football game:

  • The highlights from last night’s game, both from Pac12Net and from Fox stink!  They just have no idea how to make a highlight reel for a 12-10 game with only 2 turnovers.  The only thing they know how to put in a highlight reel is scoring plays and turnovers.  Really, there were a bunch of great plays that weren’t that, but none of them make the highlights.
  • Seven-FORTY-FIVE!?!  Cal’s next game (@WSU) starts at 7:45!?!  This is past getting ridiculous.  7:30 was the when we reached ridiculous.  We complained when there were too many games at 7 PM.  The solution?  Move more games to 7:30 PM and now SEVEN STINKING FORTY FIVE!?!
  • Berkeley in the fall is a great place to watch a football game in the afternoon.  The temp at kickoff was in the high 60’s and sunny.  It was a glorious day even before Weaver’s interception.
  • Speaking of Weaver, a family favorite movie is UHF and we can’t help but think of this scene when we hear his name:
  • ARE YOU READY WEAVER!
  • FYI, there will be a OTRH podcast posted at some point (i.e. I recorded one on the way home last night)

Worst loss since analysis

OK, I’ve done my thorough analysis and have the results for you.

Here’s the criteria for the magnitude of a loss (from most important to least):

  1. Disproportion of outcome vs. expectations.  In other words, getting blown out when you were expecting a loss isn’t nearly as bad as getting blown out when one is expecting a big win.
  2. Objective difference in records or ranking.  The lower the team is versus where Cal, is the worse it is.
  3. Implications on bowl eligibility or positioning, or ranking
  4. What it seems to indicate about the program’s state
  5. Actual score differential, with emphasis on low Cal scores
  6. Games one attended are worse (I realize this criteria makes it more subjective, but frankly there’s no avoiding that)
  7. Home games losses are worse

Working backwards in time:

  • 2017 28 – 44 loss @Colorado: This was a hard one to take, and it officially put Cal in doubt of making a bowl.  It also hurt because they had just lost to WSU who Cal had beat 37-3 just a few weeks earlier.  However, Colorado and Cal were both middle of the conference teams and Cal only lost by 16 points on the road.  Bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2017 7 – 38 loss @ Washington: Point differential is similar, but on the road to an undefeated UW squad doesn’t match 0-5 UCLA at home.
  • 2017 24 – 45 loss @ Oregon: This one hurts a lot in part because Oregon was without their starting QB for half the game and the Bears still couldn’t claw back in it.  But objectively, the road game and Oregon’s historical quality make it fall short.  Another bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2016 21 – 56 loss @ WSU: WSU was pretty good that year and the game was on the road.
  • 2016 27 – 66 loss vs. UW: Another good team.  This one really hurt because it was the turning point when we knew the Cal defense was never going to be any good under Dykes.  But still, that UW team was too good to match 0-5 UCLA, despite both games being at home.
  • 2016 24 – 45 loss @ USC: I think we’re all too numb to losses in the LA Coliseum to be too affected by a loss like this anymore.  Side note #1: Anyone as foolish as me and thinking of going to the USC game in LA this year?  #2: That’s 3 games in a row in 2016 that made the list.  Ouch!
  • 2015 28 – 44 loss @ Oregon: This one hurt because Oregon wasn’t very good this year and it was a relatively good year for the Bears.  But a 16 point loss on the road just doesn’t cut it here.
  • 2014 7 – 31 vs. UW: I don’t remember much about this game other than it was a letdown after a few close games that preceded it.  Overall the Bears were on an upward trajectory and it wasn’t hard to accept this loss as part of the growing pains.
  • Ignoring all of 2013: We knew the cupboard was bare and it was going to take Dykes time to rebuild.
  • 2012 14 – 62 @ OSU: This seems like a real contender to be the one.  It ended Tedford’s career at Cal after all.  But OSU was 7-2 going into that game.  If this was the 2018 Beavers, then it probably would be the previous worst loss.
  • 2012 17 – 59 vs. Oregon: The wheels had fallen off the bus on the Tedford era by this game.  Oregon was an exceptionally good team.  It stung, but not like last Saturday.
  • 2012 27 – 49 @Utah: Another real contender.  I had the misfortune of going to this game.  I was so angry after the game I put $137 on a table, took a picture of it and said it was for the Fire Tedford fund.  Cal was 3-5 entering the game against a 2-5 Utah that was relatively new to the conference.  Cal had an outside shot at bowl eligibility with a weak UW team immediately after that game.  It would then just take an upset over either Oregon or OSU to get to bowl eligibility.  Instead Cal didn’t win again in 2012 and Tedford was fired.  This one scores high on criteria 1, 3, 4, and 6 with partial points for 2.  While I think a strong argument could be made for this game, let’s keep going and see what we can find.
  • 2011 14 – 31 @UCLA: I remember how much this game hurt.  Luckily the Bears finished strong down the stretch.  There’s no arguing that UCLA team was worse than the 2018 team and the margin was far closer.
  • 2011 9 – 30 vs. USC: Another game that would have really hurt if we weren’t so used to getting our butts kicked by USC.
  • 2011 15 – 43 @Oregon: Another stinker, and at a time hope was re-building after 2010, but Oregon was the Pac-12 champs that year and thus it doesn’t compare.
  • 2010 13 – 16 vs. UW: Sometimes it’s not just about the score.  Last game in the old Memorial stadium and a win would have made the Bears bowl eligible.  UW was mediocre.  And it all came down to 4th and goal at the 1 and all Cal had to do was stop it.  Somehow the Bears let them run up the middle for a score.  UGH!  But, as much as this one still sticks with me, the score was too close to really be a contender.
  • 2010 14 – 48 @ USC: This was one of those USC games that got Cal fans very used to losing big to USC.
  • 2009 10 – 42 @ UW:  Another real contender.  Cal was 8-3 and lost HUGE to 4-7 UW.  To make matters worse, this was my last game as a Cal reporter and I got food poisoning at the game.  I was throwing up all night.  The flight home was horrible (I went with the don’t eat anything so there’s nothing to throw up on the flight strategy).  Yeah, this was a really bad one.  It came on the back of two really uplifting wins over Arizona and Stanford (the Bears last Big Game win).  It also pushed the Bears WAY down the bowl priority list and they ended up in the Poinsettia as opposed to the Sun or Holiday.  Yup, definitely one worth considering as worse.  Scores high on criteria 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, with partial points on 4.  But a few more games back there’s one that tops it.
  • 2009 3 – 30 vs. USC: USC beat downs are so boring at this point.  However, if the Bears hadn’t lost big at Oregon the week before this game would be a contender.  There were very high hopes entering 2009 and to lose this bad to USC early in the season was very disappointing.
  • 2009 3 – 42 @ Oregon: And this is where it ends for me.  This was the game that was worse that 2018 UCLA.  Oregon had lost to Boise St., and barely beat Purdue and pre-Pac-12 Utah.  They were very weak this year (or so we thought).  Cal was undefeated and back to it’s powerhouse Tedford self (or so we thought).  I was there.  And it was one of the most soul crushing experiences of my football watching life.  The Bears were beat so badly that sites like CGB were in full melt-down mode (like this week).  I remember that Danzig (I think that’s who made it) who was known for making highlight YouTube videos every week made a video that was merely a minute and a half of Oregon cheerleaders.  Not a single play of the game.  This one fits criteria 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and partial points for 2 (OK, Oregon wasn’t considered top end, but they weren’t 0-5 either).

So there you have it, in my opinion, the UCLA game was the worst game since 2009 Oregon, where 2012 Utah and 2009 UW are the possible other contenders.

Worst loss since…

Fill in the blank.  Last nights loss to UCLA was the worst loss since ___________

(I’ll add my thoughts in the comments after I get a few replies)

The optimist’s way to look at stupid mistakes

Probably the easiest thing to improve on is the number of stupid mistakes.  It comes with caveats (the additional thinking robs the team of a little execution speed), but overall, the school of hard knocks is pretty efficient at teaching things.

So when you’ve got a team that played a pretty even game against an upper-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes and significantly outplayed a lower-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes, then you’ve got a team that’s not as far as one tends to think from success.  Although UCLA scares me as they seem to finally be turning a corner and the road scares me even when it is Oregon State, I think Cal has proven they not only have the talent to beat both those teams, they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the better teams.  I’d say both WSU and Colorado are games that I’d have optimism about a win if Cal can clean up the mistakes.  I’d also argue that wins over USC and Stanford are not out of the question, again assuming Cal can clean up the mistakes.  USC would be even more true if it weren’t for the difficulty of going into the Coliseum, in my opinion the toughest place to go play.

So hope is not lost, the team just needs to clean up its stupid mistakes.

Advice: After a loss like that, do something unrelated

After cursing all that I could think of throughout that debacle of a game I took a deep breath, went into the other room and proceeded to have a great afternoon with the family playing board games and cooking some burgers and dogs on the grill.

Sometimes the best solution to a tough loss is to do something else.

EXACTLY 10 years later

Anybody know what happened 10 years to the day before Friday’s upset win over Washington State?

If you guessed the #2 ranked Bears lost to Oregon State on the infamous Kevin Riley scramble that cost the Bears a shot that the game tying field goal… you’re right!

That game was a *HUGE* inflection point in Cal football.  Before that moment, the Tedford era had been one of constant ascendancy.  Every year the team got better, with a slight interlude in 2005.  Going into that game, the Bears were poised not only to go to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years (at the time) but also felt like real national title contenders, not just that year, but into the future.

Yet, after Tedford threw down his play card and his headset, the team was never again the same.  There were moments in 2008 and 2009 that suggested the team might find some of it’s former glory, but they were mirages.  The team continued down and down and down, eventually resulting in a 3-9 effort in 2012 that lost Teford his job and the 2013 season where the Bears were back to a one win season for the first time since 2001, the year before Tedford was hired.  The cupboard was bare and there wasn’t much reason to hope.

But exactly 10 years later the Bears did something remarkable, something they’ve never done before: Beat a top-10 team by 30+ points.

Perhaps it is just false optimism, but why do I feel today that this event, exactly 10 years to the day after that terrible moment, could be another inflection point for the program, but this one in a much more positive direction?

Boy does the loss to OSU hurt!

It’s looking less and less likely the Bears can win both of their last two games.  And if they don’t, they don’t make a bowl game nor get the MUCH needed extra practices that go with a bowl game.  Looking back over the season, the loss to OSU stands out as a massive disaster.  The Beavers ONLY conference win is against Cal.  And it’s not like they haven’t played other weak teams, they lost handily to a VERY weak UCLA team (Cal’s best hope at a win before the season’s end) just last week.

I guess the Bears got a win against Utah that each week becomes more and more of  a head-scratcher, but ignoring that, MAN does that loss to Oregon State hurt!

Cal theme of the week: Tired

All the videos of team interviews I’ve seen indicate this is a tired team.  These very close games, including overtime in the last two, are taking their toll.  Add to that the short week, and the Bears will be on the wrong side of exhausted on Thursday night.  I didn’t think the Bears had much of a shot at USC ever since USC switched their QB, but the exhaustion will likely lead to an ugly game, the worst of the season.

(Full preview to come tomorrow)

Thoughts on last week’s games

I had meant to get to this on Tuesday or Wednesday, but the week has got away from me…

The most scary result from last weekend has to be Michigan 63, Hawaii 3.  Ouch!  That doesn’t speak well for Cal’s 51-31 victory over Hawaii.  Now, of course, Hawaii had a very hard week, having to travel from Australia to Hawaii to Michigan and somewhere in there they had to prepare for Michigan.  If you’re looking for a sliver lining, that’s about all you’ve got, and it’s not a lot to hold onto.

If that’s scary as for what it says about the whole upcoming season, two other results are at least somewhat scary for the upcoming couple of games.  In the somewhat troubling category is the 31-0 victory SDSU had over New Hampshire.  While the ’31’ doesn’t say much considering the opponent, the ‘0’ almost always says something.  SDSU’s defense is no slouch, even if the shutout only comes against a weak FCS team.

But the truly terrifying result is the 50-47 Texas victory over Notre Dame.  There’s no doubt that Texas is markedly improved on offense.  The only way the Bears will win that game is if they can win a shootout, as there’s no way Cal’s defense is as good as Notre Dame’s.  The good news is that perhaps the Texas defense is susceptible to giving up a lot of points themselves.

Looking forward to the conference games, the Pac-12 doesn’t look all that formidable and suggests there will be room for Cal to win a number of games:

  • ASU didn’t look bad in their victory over Northern Arizona, but who wouldn’t?
  • Utah looks very formidable on defense, shutting out Southern Utah.  One must fear that this year’s Utah game will be a bit like last years game, but if Cal can get the offense rolling, it’s a winnable game.
  • Oregon State actually handled themselves well against Minnesota in a loss.  They probably won’t be as much as a pushover as we’d hope but still very beatable
  • Oregon looked almost as mediocre as Cal did in their 53-28 victory over UC Davis.  This could be the year against them.
  • USC had the conferences largest faceplant, but it was against Alabama.  Nevertheless, this team is very beatable.
  • It’s hard to know if Washington is the real deal, but their victory over Rutgers probably helps their resume enough to propose that they might be pretty good.  Let’s wait a couple more games before we write that in stone though.
  • WSU showed they are just as beatable as last year in losing a shootout to Eastern Washington.  Somebody needs to tell them they’re allowed to practice before their 1st game.
  • Stanford looked like their old self.  Frustratingly hard to beat for such a vanilla offense.  The defense gives them so many opportunities to win the game.
  • UCLA played a suspect, but still upper-half power-5 conference team (Texas A&M) pretty close, but again, demonstrated they’re vulnerable to a good team.

So to sum that all up, lots of vulnerable teams if Cal can get its act together and play some defense.  If Cal can show me something more inspiring on Saturday than they did in Australia, I might be willing to be pretty optimistic about our chances in the conference.

Random Monday morning thoughts

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

Unbalanced schedules could hurt Bears

With the collapse of Oregon, the Pac-12 North appears to be a battle between Cal and Stanford.  While it’s not guaranteed, as Cal could lose some games they shouldn’t based on what we know so far, at this point any results-based analysis suggests it should come down to the Bears and the Cardinal.

Thus the question becomes, what will it take for the Bears to finish ahead of Stanford?

The simplest answer of course is the Bears need to beat Stanford in the Big Game and then do no more than 1 game worse in the rest of conference play than the Cardinal.  So, if Cal beats Stanford, we can afford to lose one game to someone else that Stanford does not.  Cal could lose to USC even though Stanford beat them and still be OK.

But here’s where it could get unfair…

Stanford doesn’t have to play Utah.  They get to play Colorado instead.  There goes our one-game buffer, as one has to expect Stanford to beat lowly Colorado.  But to make matters even worse, the other swap isn’t exactly fair either.  Stanford gets Arizona, whereas Cal gets ASU.

So, for those of you Old Blues out there, here’s your worst case scenario:

Cal runs the table in the conference, including beating Stanford, and beats every team that Stanford beats, but Cal still loses the division, because Cal loses to ASU in the final game of the season (in addition to already losing to Utah) whereas Stanford beats up on Colorado and Arizona.

Wouldn’t that stink?

19 point favorite?

The point-spread for the Cal vs. WSU game this weekend is up to 19 points.

What are they crazy?  Who would give that many points?

If I was a betting man with no loyalty, I’d be taking WSU in a heart-beat.  Do people not remember that WSU should have won the game last year if it weren’t for a field goal kicker who couldn’t line himself up correctly on the right hash mark?

Just insane.

WARNING: Pink is a shade of Red!

Am I the ONLY one who realizes that pink is a shade of red?  Thus, there should be NO pink Cal gear.  The cheerleaders should never wear pink.  The team should never wear pink.  And there sure as heck shouldn’t be a day where we’re all supposed to wear pink to the game like this official Cal page suggests for the WSU game (a team that also happens to be red).

Is a strong run game a good thing?

Anybody who’s watched a fair amount of football knows how important the run game is.  You generally can count me among its strongest proponents.  So I was happy to read this BearTalk post about how the Bears intend to run better this year.  That is until I got to this perplexing line:

they ran for just 103 yards per game against their first six FBS foes, then hiked that to an average of nearly 184 yards over the final five games.

That sounds good to the untrained observer.  How can improvement over the course of the year be bad, right?  But for those of us who actually remember how last season went, the Bears went 3-3 in their first 6 FBS games but only 1-4 in their last 5.  Sure seems like running more resulted in more losing.

So then I dug into it on a per-game basis.  Perhaps hiding in the above numbers was some clarity:

Wins:

  • Northwestern: 114
  • Colorado: 127
  • Washington State: 62
  • Oregon State: 269

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 193
  • UCLA: 56
  • BYU: 173

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 64
  • Oregon: 193
  • USC: 105
  • Stanford: 179

Uh, not really.  The Bears won and lost close running for 62 and 56 yards, their lowest two totals of the season and lost big with their 2nd highest total of 193 (Oregon).  They also lost close with the exact same number of yards (Arizona).

There’s not much way around it statistically.  The Bears ability to win last year had very little to do with their ability to run (at least statistically).  It’s far more tied to whether they could pass:

Wins:

  • Northwestern: 300
  • Colorado: 458
  • Washington State: 527
  • Oregon State: 277

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 380
  • UCLA: 310
  • BYU: 393

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 304
  • Oregon: 367
  • USC: 279
  • Stanford: 231

If the Bears passed for more than 310 or so, they gave themselves a good shot to win (OSU being the outlier).  However in the 4 large loses, they only got over that number once and 2 or their 3 worst passing performances were in that bucket.

So maybe for this offense, it’s just not keyed on the run game.

Thoughts?

Thus endth a disappointing season

Two things for me defined both the BYU game and the season:

  1. The defense is H.O.R.R.I.B.L.E…  Early and mid-season, while complaining occasionally about scheme issues, I frequently held out hope of improvement throughout the season.  There were things I saw early in the Arizona game, the Washington game, even the Oregon game, that gave me reason to hope.  But when the team is getting repeatedly burned for long touchdowns in the 4th quarter of the final game of the season it is time to face facts.  The defense is horrible.
  2. Dykes in game management and halftime adjustments leave something to be desired.  The Bears came out the tunnel in the 2nd half acting like they had a big lead and were trying to run out the clock.  Even after BYU evened the score, they continued to run the offense as if running out the clock with the running game was the order of the day.  Only when the Bears trailed did they revert to 1st half form.  Add to that mistakes like misuse of timeouts on the final drive and I find myself more and more frustrated with the coaching staffs in-game decisions.

I could rehash the entire season at this point to prove how the above two trends are what turned this team from somewhere around 8-4 into 5-7 (Arizona, UCLA, BYU on the top of the flopping list), but I think it is pretty obvious to all who have been watching.

Instead, here’s the big question for us “lifers” as we head into the off-season:  Will any of this change in the years to come?

I’ll take them one at a time:

Defense:

There are 3 things that affect defensive performance: The scheme, the coaching, and the talent of the players.  There’s been some valid concern that the talent on the defensive side of the ball has been lacking.  And while I won’t completely dismiss that as an issue, the longer the season has wore on, the less I think that’s the fundamental issue here.  It’s not like the guys aren’t fast enough, or strong enough, or big enough on the lines.  While they may not be the biggest and fastest and the strongest, they’re enough of those things not to be the worst defense in the country.  Talent wise they should be a middle of the conference defense.

However, sometimes when people talk about “not having the players” they mean something else.  “They’re young” can mean two things: they haven’t physically developed yet and they haven’t been “coached up” to be good at the collegiate level.  Thus really, to some degree not  having the players is about coaching over multiple seasons.

And here’s the rub: If the coaching staff doesn’t know how to develop the talent, they’ll never improve.  It’s not like it’s some osmosis process that has them develop.  It’s coaching.  And I’m beginning to have my doubts about the quality of the defensive coaching.  By this point in the season, I don’t care HOW young they all are, I don’t expect them to have the massive errors on defense we saw yesterday.

(However, I’m willing to admit that these things are difficult to read and what we saw Saturday may be indicative of something other than poor coaching)

Which brings us to the thing I’ve been complaining about all season: The defensive scheme.  Frankly, it stinks on ice.  The players were put in positions where they were downright guaranteed to fail.  However, I must say that the schemes I saw Saturday were the best I’ve seen all season.  They did a much better combination of press coverage and soft coverage.  They did a better job of using the outside linebackers to both provide passing protection, particularly just off the line of scrimmage, while keeping them in a place where they could help with run support.  And while I still think Cal would be better suited with a 3-4, what I saw yesterday was a vast improvement.

And of course that’s the game where the Bears got torched down the field worse than they have all season.

That’s all a long way of saying perhaps the crummy scheme they’ve been using was necessary to cover up some pretty glaring holes.  Perhaps the coaching staff had no choice but to play a scheme that gave up too much underneath and left the defense vulnerable in a myriad of small ways, while preventing them from being vulnerable in too many big ways.

So in the end, I’ve got reasons for concern and reasons for hope on defense.  They are young, and perhaps with another year to be coached up, if indeed this staff is capable of it, they’ll be a lot better.  Perhaps the scheme will improve as the defense matures.  But I’m not willing to go too much further than “perhaps”.

In-game management:

One of the disadvantages of coaching a rebuilding team is that you don’t have a lot of time to work on the little things.  They’ve got so many big things to work on that there’s just not much time for little things like on-side kicks, scenario planning like what to do with no-time outs and 1st and goal with less than 30 seconds left.  So to some degree, I have hope that some of the boneheaded things that hurt the team this year will be worked out as the team moves further up the rebuilding curve.

That also applies to things like timeout management where the coach burns timeouts that he otherwise wouldn’t because he’s doing coaching during the game that a mature team wouldn’t need.  Actually, it applies very broadly because mid-game the coaching staff is distracted on the sideline, working on things on the sideline, that take their attention away from the field.

So I’ve got more reason for hope here than most do.  I think Dykes will get better as time goes on.  I think he’s learning (at least I hope so).  The in-game mistakes he’s made have been very inconsistent.  In this case, that’s a good thing.  If he was making the same mistakes over and over, then we’d know he wasn’t learning from his mistakes.

Conclusion:

So overall my thought is that while I sure wish the team was further along the growth curve, the analytical side of me realizes that just because progress is going slower than I’d hoped, doesn’t mean the team isn’t going to continue to grow.  It may stall at some point, perhaps even next season, but I’m not ready to sound the alarm that this is the best we’re going to be.

At this point my biggest concern is how it affects recruiting.  You only have so long you can sell the story that this is a new staff and the team will be getting better.  It really would have helped for this team to be 7-5.  It would have made a much more compelling case to our potential recruits.  Because if Dykes can’t improve recruiting, it won’t matter how good of a coach he is, he just won’t have the players to get it done.

Here’s hoping that 5-7 after a 1-11 season is just enough to keep that train moving in the right direction.

A look at a time not far from now

It’s a different time and a different place… the fans are worried.

The previous coach who had showed some promise at first, but then flushed the team down the toilet, has been replaced by someone who did even worse. His last season was even worse than his first. The team had lost the last 5 rivalry games in a row. Frankly, that last good streak of winning teams seems more like an exception to a negative trend than a reason for hope.

What hope for the future is there? Should we even be playing FBS ball? There’s NO WAY we play for a Rose Bowl anytime in the foreseeable future.

Welcome to the fans of Stanford in 2006.

OK, sorry to pull that stunt on everyone…

But I was trying to find a way to show that there is hope out there. So, let’s go take a look at 2006 for a minute:

  • Cal and USC shared the Pac-12 title that year and it looked like these two teams were going to be battling for the conference title every year.
  • Washington was the next worst team to Stanford.
  • Oregon was showing signs of collapse after their strong run in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
  • Arizona State and UCLA were perpetual underachievers.

Yes, the conference was a very, very, VERY different place than it is right now. Anyone who had predicted that Stanford would be the best team in the conference would be laughed at in 2006. Anyone who said USC was about to falter big-time would be ridiculed, particularly if it was suggested that ASU and UCLA were the ones to displace them in their yet-to-exist division. Heck, even that Oregon was going to be a powerhouse program would be met with a raised eyebrow from many.

Point being, the future is uncertain. Things change in VERY unpredictable ways and surprisingly quickly. Is Dykes the guy to take us to the promised land? It’s reasonable to argue perhaps not. But neither was Walt Harris for Stanford. At the same time, Jim Harbaugh didn’t exactly light up the field his first 3 years, going a combined 9-15 his first two seasons. Dykes might yet surprise us.

Or not… frankly it doesn’t matter (in regards to the point I’m trying to make). What matters is that this is no time to despair. If in 15 years we’re still turning out horrible teams and regularly uncompetitive games, then it might be time to talk. But even Duke has managed to turn it around after having had only ONE winning season since 1990.

And Cal’s not even in that boat. Cal has had a comparatively large amount of recent success.

So, grind away on how unhappy you are with Dykes. Talk about how horrible this team was. Moan and complain about how you hate the scheme on offense. Rip Buh to shreds for his ridiculously bad defense.

But please don’t despair. We aren’t doomed to what we saw on the field this year, forever.

Heard Sandy speak last night

There’s a great Cal Bear fan club in Sacramento called the Sac Grid Club. It goes waaaaay back in Cal’s history when fans/alumni were allowed to recruit and so Cal had a grid of clubs up and down the west coast. Just a few of them are still in existence and have morphed from being an arm of the recruiting department to being independent fan clubs.

In any case, every week they bring in surprisingly good speakers including Sandy Barbour once a year. I don’t often make it to the meetings because I generally have a conflict at Church on Wednesday evenings. But since it just so happens I was free yesterday and Sandy was the planned speaker, I couldn’t resist going. (Ironically, they still had a name-tag for me, one that said “Guest speaker” since the last time I was there it was to speak as a Rivals reporter.)

If you’ve never heard Sandy speak in a small setting, I suggest finding a time to do so. She is very personable. She’s a very good fit for Cal. You can’t help but like her and her sense of humor and her general honesty.

Here are some highlights from her talk:

  • The number of night games is a concern of both her and our new chancellor. Investigations are under way to see how much it would cost to “buy back” some of the flexibility we sold/allowed the TV networks to schedule so many night games. However, she cautioned that a number of the other Pac-12 presidents aren’t so upset about it. She said only Arizona is truly in our camp. But it was apparent to me she thinks that if the number of dollars lost is small enough to fix the problem, she believes the other schools will come on board.
  • In regards to academics, she spoke at length about the lag in the APR and GSR numbers and what they reflect. She talked about the steps already taken to fix the problem. She expects the basketball numbers to rebound significantly next year but there will be one more bad year for the football team based on the delay/averaging effects. She shared some of what the new numbers that will be replacing the old numbers will be in the future and they are quite encouraging. She specifically said she apologizes, that it is her responsibility and she expects better, just like we do.
  • She clarified that the issue with academics isn’t that kids are flunking classes but that they are not completing their degrees, that the complete their eligibility and then just disappear, evening going so far as to not complete the spring semester that is covered by their scholarship. She said the number of kids who have flunked out of school or have been academically ineligible has been small. Obviously that is true of the GSR, which is specifically tied to graduation, but I was a bit curious as to how that applies to the APR, which explicitly doesn’t require graduation (it’s one of the criticisms of it). Maybe the seniors who aren’t completing their spring semester are a big part… although it feels a bit dubious. Frankly, of everything she said last night, this was the part I was least convinced about being the whole truth.
  • She has a lot of confidence that the football team is going to get a lot better next year, and referenced the youth, tough schedule, injuries and the difficulty of changing the culture as why we’re not good this year.
  • Along those lines, she specifically mentioned that consistency of discipline under Tedford had suffered (although she didn’t mention him by name in this regard). That “depending where you were on the depth chart” the rules would be enforced differently. I found that to be very troubling. I’d heard rumors of it, but when the AD is talking about it, that’s pretty hard to swallow. Similarly, she talked about how Dykes agrees with her on a core rule principle: “Don’t make a rule unless you’re willing to enforce it.”
  • Sometimes we get overly focused on Football, but it is Sandy’s job to look over the whole program and she pointed out a lot of the very good things happening. The swimming teams are top notch. Golf will very good again. She has a lot of hope for the basketball teams. The academics outside of Football and men’s basketball are very good.
  • She talked about the value of the athletics department to the University as a whole. She mentioned that sports are the “connective tissue” that keeps alumni connected to their school. Looping back to the night game topic, she mentioned that a big part of how it keeps alumni connected is by getting them on campus frequently. That doesn’t happen as meaningfully when walking in and out of the stadium after the sun goes down (my language here).

Overall, I found the talk to be very worth attending and gave me some renewed confidence in what the athletic department as a whole is doing. Sandy has a very difficult job and seems to have the right goals in mind. Does she always meet them? No. But seems to be doing a better than acceptable job in the attempt.

Finally, one conclusion I walked away with was how “distracting” the building projects have been for the department as a whole. Sandy came to us from Notre Dame where she was the associate AD in charge of their building projects. I’m sure that means she was pretty hands on with the new training center and the stadium renovation. It led me to wonder if perhaps a side effect is that some of the other things, like making sure academics were top-notch, may have paid a penalty. One can only have so many priorities. The result is that some things that may have atrophied, will be coming back strong now that the building projects are complete.

Go Bears! (and thank you Sandy for coming up to visit!)