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Archive for March, 2009

Renewed season tickets

You know the economy is bad when even I don’t renew my tickets right away. I’ve made a habit of trying to be on of the first to renew. This year however I said to my wife. “If I’m still employed at the end of March, we’ll renew.”

Well, it’s the end of March and nobody has stopped by my cube and said “Ken, can you come with me to a private meeting room?”

So, whether or not I’m gainfully employed in September, I’ll be attending Bears games in my same seats as always.

New Pac-10 Commissioner

A few days ago the Pac-10 announced Larry Scott as the replacement for Tom Hansen as Pac-10 commissioner. I’ve done a little research in the last few days on Scott and here are my thoughts:

  1. He definitely seems to have the kind of intensity and charisma that the Pac-10 needs from its commissioner.
  2. It sounds like he is a risk taker.
  3. It seems he has absolutely no experience with college sports nor any sport outside of tennis.
  4. However it seems he recognizes he has a lot to learn.
  5. He knows a lot about securing sponsorship and TV contracts for leagues that are not an “easy sell”.
  6. There’s no doubt that his experience with women’s tennis means he’s being asked to take a balanced approach to sports in the conference.

Overall, I don’t know if it was the “right” pick, but I think it was a right-minded pick. The conference realizes the Pac-10 isn’t the easiest sell but also realizes it has a lot to offer. It realizes that it needs someone bold and energetic.

And it made sure it hired someone who met those characteristics.

The “catch” is that it is someone who’s a duck out of water now. For some people, that’s not a problem at all, in fact, it’s a strength. They get to see our problems with a fresh set of eyes. However, there are some people who have a passion for a specific thing and when you take them out of that environment, they cease to have the characteristics that came from their passion.

That’s the risk with Scott, he’s a tennis guy. Was he good at promoting tennis because he’s good at promoting lower-tier sports or because he loves tennis so much? Really, no one will be able to answer that question until the 2010 TV contracts and bowl arrangements come out, and that’s at the very earliest.

Overall, I’m taking an optimistic wait and see attitude.

Numbers keep growing

I was reviewing my viewing statistics and realized that sometime early last week, EMFMV’s blog crossed the 100k view boundary since we came into being in August of 2007.

Also, for the whole website (including the pick’em and other stuff), 2008 was the first 1 million hit year. (Hit’s being different than views (a view will include a bunch of hits).) So the numbers keep going upward!

In any case, the reason I bring this up is because I wanted to say thanks to everyone who reads and keep the comments and thoughts coming. I just came to an arrangement with the folks to cover the away games again next year and am looking forward to another good year of blogging and reporting.

Why I’m not a fan of the direct snap

It was brought up in the comment box that Ludwig may be interested in exploring using the Wildcat formation with Best. For those not in the know, the Wildcat is a formation with a direct snap to the running back that is 4 times out of 5, maybe more, a running play.

Everytime I see the Bears line up that way I sigh.

First of all, the way the Bears have done it in the past is that they don’t “tip their hat” until after the huddle breaks. In other words, the QB is still a player in the huddle so that the opposition doesn’t know that a direct snap is coming. This sounds great in theory, why give the opposition any more warning than necessary, right?, but in the end I think it gives up the biggest advantage of the Wildcat: an extra blocker.

If you think about your average running play, the QB is a pretty wasteful player on the field. All he does is take the ball from the center, hand it to the running back and then get the heck out of everyone’s way. There have been a number of strategies to address this weakness. Most of them involve turning the QB into an additional running back (or at least a pseudo one). The original option did this. So does the zone-read option that spread teams like Oregon run.

The wildcat takes a different approach. It is designed to get the QB off the field and substitute in another blocker. Cal doesn’t gain this benefit because they leave the QB on the field, usually spread out as a wide receiver.

Which brings me to the the 2nd big problem. It is fundamental to the Wildcat. If you direct snap to the running back, the defense doesn’t have to much respect the passing game. This is of course a huge problem and over 50% of good offensive strategy is providing balance that keeps the defense guessing.

The solution to this problem is to find a running back who is a psuedo-QB. If the running back can throw the ball well enough that it keeps the defense honest, then you’ve got a win-win: an extra blocker on the field and at least the threat of offensive balance.

And Jahvid Best can’t throw worth a hill of beans. Seriously. There’s a reason that the one time the Bears ran the halfback pass, it was Vereen. There’s a reason that the other times Cal threw from a different position than QB it was a wide receiver. Jahvid. Can’t. Throw.

And everybody knows it.

So when Cal runs the direct snap, and splits the QB to a wide receiver position, it’s the worst of both worlds: the defense knows that Cal is going to run the ball, it doesn’t have to worry about covering the QB at wideout and Cal doesn’t have an extra blocker to make up for it.

That’s why the Wildcat didn’t work last year (and in part why it was somewhat successful with Marshawn Lynch, who can throw pretty well).

Top-10 things that need to improve – full text

(Note that I’ve reworded a few things to be more “blog friendly” from the version that was on just over a week ago)

With Spring Practice underway, the coaching staff is furiously working to make sure that they’re ready by September. While there will be plenty of emphasis on the fundamentals of coaching during Spring Ball, the coaching staff will also have a number of specific issues to address during practice. What follows is a list of the top-10 issues that must be improved upon during Spring and Fall Practice for the team to succeed in 2009.

#10 – Develop a new Long Snapper

Nick Sundberg was everything the pundits hoped he would be when he was recruited in 2005. His 4 consecutive years of near perfect snaps more than speak for themselves. With his departure, Matt Rios, the redshirt Freshman will have his chance to prove himself to be a capable replacement. However, without the game experience, Rios has a lot to learn to be ready by September to step seamlessly into Sundberg’s shoes.

#9 – Integrate Andy Ludwig’s style into Tedford’s offense

Nothing is more difficult to a team than lots of late changes to the coaching staff. Different coaches teach different ways and emphasize different aspects of the game. The departing offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was as close to a clone of Jeff Tedford’s style and mindset as one could find. Ludwig, particularly after taking over the spread in Utah, comes in with similar challenges as past offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar who struggled with different philosophies than Tedford. The team must feel that both Tedford and Ludwig are on the same page right from the starting whistle of practice in everything from coaching style, areas of emphasis and play calling.

#8 – Find a replacement for Cameron Morrah

No loss during the off season surprised the coaching staff more than Morrah’s decision to declare for the NFL draft. They had not intended on having to find a replacement for their starting Tight End in 2009 and thus could take a more leisurely attitude to the development of their young Tight Ends, particularly Anthony Miller and Spence Ladner. With this surprise, not only will the more experienced Tad Smith have to step up his game right away, but the younger players will have to develop quickly.

#7 – Develop the power running game

For all the wonderful attributes of the 2008 Cal running game, one thing it lacked was the bruising Running Back who could be counted on to get one or two yards when absolutely necessary. Between redshirt Freshman Covaughn DeBoskie and incoming true Freshman Desarte Yarnway it seems there are candidates to take that roll. Developing them during practice will be key to keeping the chains moving in September.

#6 – Improve pass protection

With the loss of both Alex Mack and Norris Melele, there is much to be worked on for the offensive line. To make matters more challenging, even with Mack and Melele, the offensive line still struggled to give Riley and Longshore the kind of protection they needed to pick apart opposing secondaries. If the offensive line is to succeed in 2009 it will require not only replacing the run blocking skills of the 2008 squad but also completely re-tooling on pass protection.

#5 – Improve Quarterback consistency

Nothing hurt the Bears more on offense than inconsistency at the quarterback position. While head coach Jeff Tedford insists that the younger QB’s will get a shot at the starting position, nobody doubts that it is Riley’s job to loose. He is also the only Quarterback with enough game experience to even have the hope of consistent play, as all young Quarterbacks struggle with it in their first year under center. Nevertheless Riley will have to improve his consistently substantially during practice for the Bears to be able to deliver on the promise of the 2009 squad.

#4 – Solve kickoff issues

It’s no secret that the coaching staff was besides themselves with the average field position that Cal gave their opponent after kickoffs in 2008. Between a number of kicks out of bounds, short kickoffs and mediocre downfield coverage, the Bears relied on their strong defense to cover their mistakes. Between now healthy David Seawright, a year of experience under Giorgio Tavecchio’s belt and the new challenger Vince D’Amato who arrives in the fall, there is reason for hope.

#3 – Get new team leaders to emerge

The two intangible areas where the Cal Bears have fallen short during the Tedford era have been collapses after disappointing losses and handling high expectations. Many hope that 2008 was the year where the collapse issue was resolved. It was due in great part to the exceptional leadership on the team. 2009 will likely see raised expectations, expectations similar to the beginning of the 2006 season where the team struggled out of the gate in Tennessee. Team leadership will be key to the team managing expectations, particularly if the Bears win their first few games and end up in the Top-10.

#2 – Improve Linebacker rushing skills

One of the big benefits of Cal’s 3-4 defense is that it unleashes the Linebackers on the opposing Quarterback frequently enough to keep him on his toes. The key to the success of this strategy is having Linebackers who are competent pass rushers. Cal lost three very good such linebackers in the off-season. Both Mike Mohommad and Eddie Young bring enough experience at the position to keep the status quo. Finding the additional two Linebackers who can fill the shoes of Zack Follet and Worrell Williams will be key to keeping the defensive momentum developed in 2008.

#1 – Find a replacement for fullback Will To’ofu’ou

Whenever Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen busted off a big run last year one could be sure that the game film would show To’ufu’ou laying a massive hit on some unsuspecting Lineman or Linebacker, opening the hole for the ball carrier to run through. If the run game is going to be as prolific in 2009 as it was in 2008, developing a replacement for To’ufo’ou will have to be on the top of the list. Sophomore John Tyndall and Brian Holley are the leading candidates, but are still quite raw. Zack Smith, the Duke transfer, probably has the most experience but may lack some of the physical tools to fill To’ufo’ou’s shoes. Rounding out the list, Peter Geurts showed a lot of talent in practice in 2008 and Tedford mentioned having been impressed with the potential of Eric Stevens.

Spring Practice 3/17 Podcast

My first podcast of the spring is up over at Here’s a link to the audio:

Everyone should be able to listen to it, I think.

Offensive Coordinator thoughts

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Cignetti leaving and the hire of Ludwig for a while now, but finding the time has been a challenge.

First, Cignetti’s leaving:

Personally, I thought Cignetti was an awesome offensive coordinator and worked perfectly with Tedford. Those two were twins separated at birth. As such, Tedford could focus on being the head coach and could leave much more of the offensive play-calling where it theoretically belongs: in the booth. Also, Cignetti had a great balance of adding in trick plays, run vs. pass, inside vs. outside, about the only area where Cal seemed to have an tendency was throwing out of the shotgun. Well, I hate it when we run out of the shotgun so as long as Cal only starts out of the shotgun when it’s an obvious passing play, which seemed to be the becoming the norm as the season progressed, it’s not a tendency that bothers me.

So I was really high on Cignetti and his leaving was a tough one for me to take.

But the question remains, is his leaving a systematic problem of the program or just part of college football. On the one hand, we’ve lost a lot of offensive coordinators, particularly in the last 4 years. Here are the OC’s of the Tedford era:

2002: Cortez
2003: Cortez
2004: Cortez
2005: Cortez (hired away)
2006: Dunbar (pushed out)
2007: Michalczik (Demoted)
2008: Cignetti (hired away)

Really, Cal did a great job of holding onto the OC through the first few years. It’s been the last 4 where things have gotten “ugly”. Breaking it down even further, Cortez getting hired away after 2005 is completely understandable, so it need not be discussed. Michalczik was really a figure head for Tedford when he didn’t have someone he wanted to hire externally in 2007. So really, we’re talking about two coaches: Dunbar and Cignetti.

Dunbar to me was the failed experiment. Tedford wanted to bring in someone who would challenge him to introduce new ideas, specifically the spread. But Tedford didn’t realize just how much it is a matter of philosophy and when you get a pro-set guy and a spread guy trying to join their philosophies together, it’s just not going to mesh. Each is going to suggest that the solution to the current set of problems is to go further down the road of their philosophy and away from the compromise.

So that explains why Dunbar left after one year.

Which leaves Cignetti. On the surface, what we’re told is that Cignetti left Cal for his “dream job”. I think as fans we’ve got two choices: We either assume that they’re lying and something else was going on under the covers or accept that they’re telling us the truth and this really just was a unique situation. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that this was a unique situation. There was nothing in the interaction of Cignetti and Tedford both on and off the field that suggested Cignetti was anything but happy in Berkeley. It also doesn’t seem like the money he was getting in Pitt was anything to entice them away on its own right.

And because of that I’m inclined to believe there is no OC problem in Berkeley. Just one failed experiment and one unique situation.

On to Ludwig:

At first glance Ludwig has both a bunch of upsides and at the same some big downsides. First the upsides:

The first big upside is that he knows Tedford’s system. Having both taken over for Tedford at Frenso State and at Oregon when Tedford left, he’s very familiar with Tedford’s playbook, his terminology and also how it has progressed over the years. There’s no doubt that when Ludwig was handed the Cal playbook what he saw was very familiar.

There’s a subtle upside to this as well. Because Tedford hired him with the “knowing Tedford’s system” as being a big reason, there’s no debate who’s offense is going to be on the field in 2009. This is unlike Dunbar where it was a “lets join forces” operation. Ludwig knows who’s offense he’s being brought in to run.

The second big upside is the success he had at Utah. I’ve followed Utah with interest ever since Cal lost to them in 2003. They looked darned good. After Utah won their BCS bowl game in 2004, my suspicions were confirmed. But then Urban Meyer was hired away by Florida (as an aside, boy did Notre Dame miss the boat on that one…) and I figured Utah was a flash in the pan. But somehow they rebuilt into the BCS Bowl team they were this year and instrumental to that was their offensive coordinator, Ludwig. How can one argue with 37.4 points and 405.3 yards per game with a pretty good balance of pass and run (over 2000 yards each)? Plus they went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

But underneath that big upside lies the downside: spread offense.

Ludwig, for all of his experience with Tedford offenses, has become a spread guy and he’s had a lot of success with it. So despite the fact that he knows he’s coming to Cal to run Tedford’s offense, one may wonder just how much his heart will be in it. Could it be that somewhere deep down inside he’s hoping to convince Tedford to open the playbook to morph it more towards the spread again?

That’s my biggest fear. We can’t afford another Dunbar.

To compound that fear… talk to any Oregon fan about how Ludwig did running the Tedford offense in Eugene. They were VERY glad to be rid of him. I temper my thoughts on the subject because Oregon fans tend to have overly high expectations and are over critical. But nevertheless, one only need look at Oregon’s performance in 2002-2004 (7-6, 8-5, 5-6) to see that the Ducks were not in top form with Ludwig in the booth. In fact, since 1998, the only season the Ducks performed as badly as the best of Ludwig’s 3 seasons was 2006 when they went 7-6. Other than that, Ludwig’s 3 seasons as OC were the 3 worst years of the recent past.

So, what does this all mean?

It’s hard to tell really. I’m taking a wait and see attitude. Particularly considering how late of a hire Ludwig was, it’s important not to under-estimate the value of bringing in a guy who is comfortable with Tedford’s offense. At the same time, there’s reasons to be concerned with his history of running pro-set offenses. However, his recent past suggests he’s developed into a very good OC… but with the Spread. It’s all very, very, very hard to tell.

So I say, let’s give this guy a chance. Only time will tell what will happen.

Chat sessions?

I’ve thought for a long time that a valuable added feature to this site would be chat sessions at various times. Of course, it won’t be available all the time, but perhaps once a week during Spring Practice we could have a chat session. If it works well we could see about doing it during the season.

Would people be interested in that?
(And please make sure you leave a comment if you’re interested. If there’s not interest, I won’t be spending the time to setup the chat software for the site.)

Spring Practice

Spring Practice starts on Saturday. I’ll be going down to cover it on 5 different occasions over the course of the practice, the first being next Tuesday, March 17th… hey that’s St. Patricks Day. Luck ‘O the Irish to you from an Irish Catholic!… In any case, I’ll be doing podcasts on each of those 5 visits, so check back here over the next 6 weeks for approximately weekly podcasts from Spring Practice.

Top-10 things that need to improve

Here’s my next article for

It is a subscription article. I’ll do the same thing as last time and post the content of it here after it falls of the front page of (which takes up to a week).

In the meantime, you can vote on which of the 10 areas you think needs the most work on the sidebar.

Tiny Bates banquet

I went to the Tiny Bates banquet in Sac on February 24th and did a write-up about it for

It is a FREE article, so all can go view it.