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Archive for January, 2008

Cal Basketball in danger of falling through floor

After a promising start, the Bears are in a free-fall right now after losing to Arizona on Saturday night 75-79. This was a game the Bears had completely in control midway through the 2nd half, being up by as much as 7 with as little as 7 minutes left. I was able to watch the 2nd half of the game on TV and was able to see the Bears both at their best and at their mind-numbing worst.

Early in the 2nd half, the Bears were playing a very effective zone defense that had Arizona completely stumped. The Bears were both applying good outside pressure and preventing Arizona from either passing the ball inside or driving into the lane. On the other side of the ball, the Bears were doing a great job of both being patient to find the open shot or inside passing opportunity and to make the most of their transition and early shooting opportunities.

What a difference a timeout or two can make.

Down the stretch, the Bears were somehow simulatiously over pursuing on defense on the perimeter, giving lots of passing/driving opportunities to the inside, while also focusing too much on the inside defense and giving Arizona lots of ridiculously open looks on the perimeter. To Arizona’s credit, they started knocking down a lot of those open outside shots, particularly the 3-pointers. On offense the Bear faired no better, looking desperate and out of control. There were a disgusting number of un-forced turnovers as well as poorly chosen shots that had no hope from the outset, particularly on the inside where Arizona stepped up their defense dramatically. Instead of the Bears kicking the ball out to their open perimeter shooters, they forced some easily blocked inside shots.

The result is that the Bears DESPERATELY need a turn-around victory to halt this free-fall. Losing both games on a home weekend is a disaster for any team’s tournament hopes particularly in a tough conference like the Pac-10. Depending on how one looks at it, having Stanford at home next Saturday is either a golden opportunity to turn things around or a disaster in the making.

Basketball setback vs. ASU

Arizona State is definitely the surprise team of the Pac-10 this year. They’re undefeated in Pac-10 play, beating Oregon, Arizona and now Cal on the road in the process. Originally they were a candidate in my analysis along with Oregon State and possibly Washington for the Bears to be able to beat twice to get to the 9-9 Pac-10 record that is likely needed to get to the NCAA tournament. That made last night’s game a critical one because it would show whether Cal had even a remote chance of sweeping the ASU games.

As it turned out, ASU was for real and although Cal put up a valiant effort, they fell in double overtime 90-99. Since the game wasn’t televised, it’s hard to give a detailed analysis, but it looks like the Bears ran out of gas on defense, particularly in the 2nd overtime.

So the question becomes, who can Cal make up the delta on? It now looks like instead of going 2-0 vs. ASU, Cal will likely go 0-2 with the road game against ASU still to come. That’s two games that need to be found somewhere, assuming that Cal still goes 0-2 against both WSU and UCLA.

To me, the candidates for a 2-0 record to offset the three 0-2 teams are Oregon State, who Cal has already beat on the road, Washington, who Cal hasn’t faced yet but did beat Oregon at home last night, Arizona, who’s looking weaker and weaker but hasn’t yet faced Cal, and USC, who Cal beat at home fairly handily suggesting that the Bears have a shot at the road win too.

That makes Saturday’s game against Arizona all the more key to a NCAA tournament appearance. Hopefully the Bears can rebound from the tough OT loss and stick it to a weaker than expected Arizona.

DeSean to go pro

DeSean Jackson announced at the 1 PM press phone conference that he is going to go pro. No surprise there.

I wish him the best at the next level.

Cal Basketball continues on track

Last weekend was another “meet expectations” weekend for the Cal Basketball team. They went up to Oregon and went 1-1, losing to Oregon on Thursday and beating Oregon State on Sunday. The game against Oregon was both frustrating and encouraging as the Bears dug themselves a hole that they almost climbed themselves out of and pulled off the upset before running out of gas at the end. The game against OSU was, after a worrisome start, a sluggish performance on both sides with the big difference being OSU’s inability to land their shots from the floor, particularly their 3’s. OSU moved pretty well, but they were a very poor shooting team, at least last weekend.

Next up this week is the Arizona schools at home. This is a key weekend for the Bears as the need to win both games to keep on track to make the tournament under the assumption that at best they’ll be able to go 1-1 against those teams when they face them on the road in mid-February.

ASU is the big question mark in the conference as they’re 3-0 in confernece play, having beat the Oregon schools and Arizona, all at home, and 13-2 overall against a fairly mediocre non-conference schedule (not that Cal’s non-conference schedule is any better). Here’s hoping that the early stretch of home games makes them look deceptively good and they’ll struggle in their first conference road game in Berkeley on Thursday (no TV coverage).

Arizona was supposed to be better this year but has struggled so far. Their only conference win is over lowly OSU although their non-conference schedule was a tough that they did acceptably in. Nevertheless, this is a potent team that Cal will have to play their best against to win, although it is definitely reasonable to expect a win out of the Bears on Saturday. Check it out on Comcast SportsNet at 5:00 PM.

Mack to return

I had not been one who thought it likely that Alex Mack, the Bears awesome center, would head to the NFL early. Nevertheless there were those that thought he may leave. The good news is that he has announced his intention to stay.

Still no work on DeSean, who everyone is assuming will leave, but it seems suspiciously slow for him to make his announcement. I still think he’s going to go pro… and this from the guy who held out hope Marshawn would stay.

Ranking the conferences in the bowl games

Well now that the college football season is officially over with the predictably easy (although unpredictably starting) victory for LSU in the BCS championship game, let’s take a moment to review each conferences (BCS) performance and what it says about them. In order in which I think their performance leaves them:

  1. SEC: 7-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • LSU handled Ohio St. 38-24
    • Tennessee beat Wisconson 21-17 in a mistake prone game that wasn’t as close as the score
    • Alabama beat Colorado 30-24 holding off a 2nd half charge
    • Auburn beat Clemson in an overtime thriller 23-20
    • Georgia creamed Hawaii, the most undeserving BCS team in history, 41-10
    • Kentucky beat a slipping from grace Florida St. 35-28 in a back and forth game
    • Miss St. beat a weak UCF 10-3 in a defensive yawner
    • Arkansas got blown out by a potent Missouri team 38-7
    • Florida lost to Michigan in a disgustingly mediocre game 41-35

    Overall, it’s hard to rank lowly a conference that wins 2 BCS games, even though one was a weak win at best, but also beats the 3rd place team in both the ACC and Big-10 as well as traditional powerhouse Florida St.. The biggest caveat to their successes is Florida’s abysmal performace against a weak Michigan team. However, one stinker in 9 games is to be expected.

  2. Big-12: 5-3
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Kansas beat Virginia Tech 24-21 in a game more in control than the final score
    • Missouri destroyed an outmanned Arkansas 38-7
    • Texas over-powered ASU 52-34
    • Texas Tech squeeked out a 31-28 come from behind win over Virginia
    • Oklahoma St. whipped Indiana 49-33 in a game that was worse than the score
    • Texas A&M collapsed after being spotted 14 by Penn St., losing 24-17
    • Colorado lost 24-30 to Alabama unable to pull of the comeback
    • Oklahoma lost to West Virginia 48-28, seemingly complete unprepared for the spread

    I was a Big-12 doubter before the season started but the immergence of Missouri and Kansas in addition to the traditional powers made the conference a great deal stronger. If it weren’t for the Oklahoma collapse against West Virginia there would be a case to make the Big-12 out-performed the SEC, although the weak level of competition in their middle teir bowls (particularly Indiana and Virginia) hurts that cause significantly. As it stands, Kansas, Missouri and Texas carried the Big-12 to the number 2 spot.

  3. Pac-10: 4-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • USC easily dismantled an un-BCS worthy Illinois 49-17
    • Oregon demolished South Florida 56-21, teaching them how the spread actually works
    • Cal beat Air Force by dominating after spotting them 21 points
    • Oregon St. got over their early jitters to beat Maryland 21-14
    • UCLA lost to BYU 16-17 unable to convert a last second field-goal
    • ASU got creamed by Texas 34-52

    If ASU had been able to hang with Texas, there might be a claim to leap-frog the Big-12 in these bowl rankings. Without it, the Pac-10 is marred by the weak competition across the board with the exception of Texas. Nevertheless, the 4-2 record along with USC, Oregon and to a lesser degree Cal carrying the Pac-10 to a respectable performance in their bowl games.

  4. Big-10: 3-5
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Michigan upset an absent Florida team, 41-35
    • Penn St. rebounded from their horrible 1st quarter to beat Texas A&M 24-17
    • Purdue won a shootout 51-48 over Central Michigan
    • Wisconson lost to Tennessee worse than the 17-21 score indicated
    • Michigan St. lost a tough one to Boston College, 21-24
    • Indiana was completely outmanned against Oklahoma St., 33-49
    • Ohio St. was a repeat BCS champ. punching bag losing 24-38 to LSU
    • Illinois lost 17-49 to USC in a game without hope

    The only thing saving the Big-10 is the toughness of their bowl schedule. Facing USC, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and to a lesser degree Boston College and Oklahoma State, gave the Big-10 probably the toughest bowl line-up. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for the Michigan upset of Florida, the Big-10 would be contending for the basement with their only to victories being against Central Michigan and Texas A&M.

  5. Big East: 3-2
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • West Virginia handily upset Oklahoma, 48-28
    • Cincinnati beat Southern Miss. 31-21 in a game they mostly controlled
    • Rutgers owned Ball St., 50-32
    • Connecticut was shutdown my Wake Forest 10-24
    • South Florida was owned by Oregon, 21-56

    The Big East played a pretty weak schedule outside of the beat-down of Oklahoma and did mediocre in their victories and horrible in their loses. The only upside to the conference was West Virginia. One-trick ponies don’t do well in my rankings.

  6. ACC: 2-6
    (in order of impressiveness)
    • Boston College won a tough fought victory over Michigan St.
    • Wake Forest shutdown Connecticut, 24-10
    • Virginia Tech was outplayed by Kansas 21-24 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score
    • Clemson lost an overtime nailbiter to Auburn, 20-23
    • Virginia lost a close one to Texas Tech., 28-31
    • Maryland lost 14-21 to Oregon St. despite being handed 14 early points
    • Florida State lost to Kentucky 28-35
    • Georgia Tech was beat 28-40 by a in control Fresno St.

    A conference can’t go 2-6 in their bowl games and expect to be well regarded. Both of the victories were over middle-teir programs in other weak conferences (based on bowl ranking). If there is a saving grace, it is that the ACC lost a lot of close ones, the Georgia Tech loss being the only one that really stinks. Nevertheless, there’s not a single marque victory nor a terribly difficult list of opponents to pull the ACC out of the BCS conference basement.

Looking at the overall picture, it seems there was a stark dividing line between the top 3 conferences and the bottom 3. While there is no doubt that the SEC was the best conference this year, at least based on bowl performance, both the Big-12 and the Pac-10 can definitely play competitively with the SEC. The Big-12 is definitely the positive surprise of the year, taking the number two spot away from the Pac-10, much higher than the number 4 or 5 spot I would have pegged them with at the beginning of the season.

As for the bottom half, the Big-10 is the most over-rated conference in the land. Everyone doesn’t expect much from the Big East and the ACC these days. Somehow the Ohio State/Michigan/Wisconson illusion continues to fool people. The fact that Illinois was able to rise to near the top of the conference and was obviously not in the same league as the big boys is proof enough to just how over-ranked the Big-10 is. Finally, as much as the Big East didn’t impress on it’s own, graded on a curve for expectations, they continue to rise. I expect in another 5 years for them to be much more respected as their young but talented programs continue to mature.

Tedford’s coaching changes official

Well, it’s not exactly what had been rumored, but the changes have been officially announced:

  • Frank Cignetti Jr is replacing Michalczik as offensive coordinator, as well as taking on the QB coach responsibilities, giving Michalczik a slight demotion back to primarily being the offensive line coach as well as keeping the titles of assistant offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.
  • Al Simmons will come on board to be the new defensive back coach, replacing Littlejohn, who it is unannounced if he is leaving the program, but one would assume so.
  • Kevin Daft will move from QB coach, a responsibility being taken over by Cignetti, to WR coach, displacing Ferringo who is leaving the program to “pursue other opportunities”.
  • Former player and graduate assistant Tosh Lupoi is taking over as defensive line coach, to replace Ken Delgado who has accepted a position at another school.

For the most part the rumors was accurate as to what positions were in play although the individuals coming in were wholy wrong.

Of course the key name to know moving forward is Frank Cignetti Jr.. He’s been working his way up through the college offensive coordinator ranks over the last 5+ years with 4 at Fresno State and 1 at North Carolina. He’s done a number of stints before that as QB coach and last year he took a detour from the OC jobs to be the 49er QB coach. He seems like a good find but I must admit I don’t know much about him.

The other change of key interest to me at least is Lupoi taking over as defensive line coach. This is a unit that has been under performing the last couple years and I think a lot of that has to do with coaching. I really don’t know how good of a coach Lupoi is but he was a pretty good player when he manned the line. This was particularly true of his technique and technical talents, which, more so than talent, makes for a potentially good coach.

The final key is that Tedford will be giving up play-calling, which I think is a very good thing. He’s going to have a REAL offensive coordinator instead of a O-Line coach that was really the assistant offensive coordinator to Tedford. I think that will leave him much more free to be the great head coach he is and notice things liike… oh, I don’t know… that his QB can’t hit the broadside of a barn and it’s time for the backup to get another shot.

Here’s looking at a good 2008!

Bears fall WAY short against UCLA

Well, it wasn’t a win they needed, but it would have been a nice one to gain/keep momentum, for the Bears basketball team. Everything that went right against USC, went wrong against UCLA. The big guys were unable to penentrate inside the paint or get the rebounds and the team was mostly ineffective shooting from just about anywhere on the floor. All things considered it was surprising the Bears only lost 58-70.

For a short while it looked like the Bears were going to get back in the game when the Bears went on a 10-2 run to start the 2nd half, closing the score to 35-38, but the effort required to make that run, pretty much did the Bears in for the rest of the game. Although they were able to keep the score around a 5-8 point deficit until late in the game, it was clear the Bears didn’t have the intensity to come back.

Such is life. UCLA is one of the nation’s best teams with a smothering defense so this is a game they weren’t supposed to win. If the can go to the state of Oregon next week and go 1-1 against those two teams they will continue on track to make the NCAA Tournament.

Mistakes were made

Now that I’ve had a few days to think over the 2007 season, I thought I’d give a few thoughts on what the biggest mistakes made that led to this 7-6 season.

  1. Kevin Riley should have gotten more playing time: This is not to say that I think he should have been the starter for the entire time, but I am convinced that Tedford was ignoring how badly Longshore had slipped. The most obvious example is the 2nd half of the ASU game. Longshore started strong and then faded as the hits piled up to where he could barely throw the ball. Riley should have come in after Longshore limped off the field in the 3rd quarter. To be clear, I think Longshore was the right guy to start both the UCLA and ASU games, but Riley should have come in late in the ASU game. After that, it’s hard to know because we don’t know how Riley would have performed or Longshore would have recovered both with less playing time and the QB competition.
  2. Tedford should not have been calling plays: This is a tough one to say because I think Tedford is a brilliant offensive mind and a great play-caller. All of that said, calling plays takes a TON of focus and really hampers his ability to be a head coach. Also, from the sideline, you can’t see a lot of the developments that a guy in the box can see. Often what is obviously a great play-call with the benefit of the view from the booth is less than obvious on the sideline. Tedford really needs to find an offensive coordinator that he feels good about and work really hard with him each week to design/script plays that can be used during the game. That’ll allow Tedford to both have the offense he wants and the time to be a good head coach on gameday.
  3. Offensive line needed better blocking: This is one of the hardest ones to be very specific about with out spending hours pooring over game film as well as interviewing the offensive line coach. Who was at fault here? Were some players not performing well? Were they poorly coached? Was this just a transitionaly year after losing too much talent? It’s all very hard to know. What I can say is that they did not perform as well as their predicessors and there are a number of problems that plagued the offense that starts with the offensive line play. Just to list a few: Ineffectiveness on the goal-line and 3rd and short situations, Longshore’s frequent hurried throws, rushing difficulties in key situations/games, etc..
  4. Defense should have gone to 3-4? Now I’m grasping for a final answer to our defensive weaknesses. There was discussion before the season that the Bears would use the 3-4 more than in the past, but through fall-camp it seemed like enough strong defensive linemen developed to not need that and sticking with the traditional 4-3 would work. However, the injury to Rulon Davis as well as the other minor injuries that plagued the defensive line, along with a couple of the guys not developing as quickly as everyone hoped, it seems in retrospect that maybe the 3-4 would have worked better. The 3-4 was used a lot more in the later portions of the Armed Forces bowl and I think it was a better formation for the talent this team had.

Those are the biggies in my opinion. I can’t decide whether #1 or #2 is really the #1 item because I’m unsure if Tedford would have more easily seen what was happening with his QB’s if he hadn’t been so focused on calling plays. Since it was the QB situation that was the symptom-level problem, I put it on top.

The good news is that I think the above problems can all be fixed and 2008 could be a very successful season if the Bears can just find the wide receiver replacements needed to round out what will otherwise be a very experienced team.

Rumors about coaching changes

I generally like to stay away from the rumor mill because 9 out of 10 times they end up being… well… just rumors. But these rumors are worth passing on.

The main link is to WildWestSports that suggest that Ferringo and Littlejohn (WR and DB coaches respectively) were fired and that Michalczik was pseudo-demoted back to offensive line coach from offensive coordinator but will keep the title of assistant head coach duties. It is speculated that Trent Dilfer will come in as the new OC and QB coach while current QB coach Kevin Daft will move over to WR coach leaving only the DB coach spot unfilled.

There are no official announcements yet so I won’t give analysis on rumors. What I will do is state what I think the changes that need to be made:

  • Tedford needs to give up play-calling responsibilities to someone who is of the same mind as him to free him to be a head coach and observe his players instead of being overly focused on play-calling.
  • Offensive line need to be main focus of Michalczik, probably including being on the sideline during the games. It seems too much of a coincidence that the first season his duties were split is the first season the OL struggled in a long while.

While there are other areas of the team that I think need improvement, specifically the defensive line and the QB to WR communication/route-running, I’m not so sure that coaching is the problem. I think the first item on my list (Tedford not calling plays) is key to a lot of things, including that QB/WR communication as our QB guru Tedford is too busy designing/calling plays to be working with his QBs.

Cal Basketball beats USC

I know what some of you are thinking… what’s EMFMV doing covering basketball!?! These are football guys right?

Yeah, we’re football guys, there’s no doubt about it. You haven’t heard a word about the basketball team so far this season. But once football season is over, there’s no harm in covering basketball, right? OK, the truth of the matter is that I’m traditionally not a big fan of basketball, particularly pro-basketball. But last year I covered a handful of games for and saw just how different college basketball is from the NBA. You know, things like team work and defense and egos small enough that their heads would fit through the hoop should they try. So, while I’ll always be a football guy, you’ll see more basketball coverage these days.

Back to the game…

Cal played what many believed to be a critical game last night for their chances to make it to the tournament against USC. It breaks down like this: Everyone believes it takes 18 wins for a Pac-10 team this year to make the tournament. Cal went 9-2 in non-conference play losing to Kansas St. on the road in a fairly tight game and to Utah at home in an EXTREMELY tight game. Kansas St. gets a lot of respect and is expected to be a tournament contender. Utah, although not great, has played good ball against a lot of good teams. What all of that means is that Cal’s non-conference schedule is good enough that an 18 win season seems like it’ll get the job done.

What that means is that Cal has to go 9-9 versus Pac-10 teams. Said another way, for every team Cal loses to twice (for the un-initiatied, in basketball each team plays every conference opponent twice, once at home, once on the road), it must beat another team twice. Breaking that down, the best teams in the conference are WSU and UCLA, so one has to assume that Cal loses to each of them twice. Oregon St. and one of Arizona St. and Washington are likely candidates for Cal to beat twice. The rest are in the middle. That means that Cal has to go 1-1 against the rest. All 4 of the remaining teams, USC, Arizona, Oregon and Stanford are definitely beatable, but winning at home will be key for Cal. That makes those 4 home games potentially critical games.

All of that is a long way of explaining that Cal needed a win against USC last night in their Pac-10 opener against USC at home. Boy did the Bears deliver in the 2nd half, winning 92-82. With just over 7 minutes to play, Cal had a tight 66-65 lead when Eric Vierneisel busted two consecutive 3-pointers to open the game up and start a 15-3 run that was the difference maker in the game. The final notable part of the game was how well Cal did with rebounding in the 2nd half, particularly during that run.

It’s great to see Vierneisel doing well. I interviewed him last season and he’s a very unassuming and almost shy guy. He’s also a guy that you don’t ever see being very popular with the fans, in part because of his demeanor. But he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders and had insightful things to say about the game and his teammates. Here’s hoping he continues to play well on the court to become a fan favorite!

Go Bears!

Armed Forces Bowl Podcast

My last podcast of the 2007 football season is now posted on the podcast page here.

I’d really like to hear some feedback from those who listened to it throughout the season to let me know what I can improve for next season (or whether it just isn’t worth doing). Along those lines, how much more popular would it be if I was to include player and coaching audio from weekly press-conferences and post-game interviews and the such. I noticed that while I usually get 20-30 listeners per podcast, my Oregon podcast where I had player quotes got over 100 listens. Is that a necessary piece to make this podcast worth while?

Please let me know what you think.

Reviewing the Pac-10 bowl performances

Well all 6 Pac-10 bowl games are now finished and I thought it would be appropriate to review the conferences performance. Overall the conference was 4-2 with UCLA losing to BYU on a last minute blocked field-goal and ASU losing to Texas rather handily in the Holiday Bowl. Two of the wins were blowouts, USC over Illinois and Oregon over South Florida. Finally, both Cal and Oregon St. spotted their opponent an early lead before taking control of the game in the 2nd half.

I think that speaks very well of the Pac-10 and re-enforces what I thought the relative quality of each of the bowl teams was. ASU, although they had an impressive season, was more consistent than they were good. They could beat a mediocre team every time, but they never showed the ability to beat a good team like USC or Oregon at their prime. It was no surprise that they fell short against a strong Texas team. UCLA was the worst of the bowl teams without question and it was a miracle they were 6-6. The only reason they managed that was because they were gifted a number of victories they didn’t deserve. Fate finally bit them back when a game they probably deserved to win didn’t go their way at the last minute. Nevertheless, the fact that they were in a close game against a on-again, off-again Mountain West team says volumes.

I’ll have more analysis of the actual strength of each conference after the last of the bowls are completed, but for the moment I’ll go so far to say that the Pac-10, although not the best, was one of the better BCS conferences in 2007, both during the season and in their bowl games.