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Archive for November, 2009


We Have the Axe! (EMFMV 2009 #11)

In this podcast: We still can’t believe Cal won the Big Game. We talk offense, defense, special teams, strange play-calling, and the general atmosphere in Stanford Stadium. There’s also a preview of the UW game, we talk bowl positioning, and there’s even a secret word. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Interception wasn’t crucial

I seem to be the only one out there who had a lot of confidence/hope when Stanford had 1st and 10 at the Cal 13. Those last yards are the hardest and the clock was down low enough that handing the ball to Toby 4-5 times in a row was not an option. That game was far from being a lock for Stanford at that moment.

So, imagine that Mohammed wasn’t there. The receiver was well covered and it wouldn’t have been caught (in fact, if Luck had put some air under it like he said he should have, it might have been intercepted by Cattouse who was all over the receiver). In any case, let’s pretend that there was no interception. After the incompletion, it would have been 3rd and 10 from the 13. That’s two plays to get a touchdown (I’m ignoring the 1st down scenarios because it’s unlikely that close to get a 1st down but not a touchdown when going to the air or screen passes or the such.) and it’s even more difficult to figure out how to get Toby the ball in a way that works, because you’ve basically got two plays. Personally, I think the smart money at that moment is still on the Bears, particularly the way Luck was playing.

Don’t get me wrong, I was glad that Mohammed put an end to it. I just don’t think it was as desperate as many suggest.

Big Game OTRH Podcast

I know everyone’s already got a weak heart after that game, but don’t go falling over when you see my On The Road Home podcast is up the day after the game. I even got in my obligatory yard work and fixed the break in the sprinkler line. I think you can thank Versus, because if it had been on some other channel that wasn’t having a 15-round knockout fight with DirecTV, I’d be re-watching the game all day on my Tivo. As it stands, I’ve just got to imagine it in my head. Here’s the podcast:

We Have the Axe!!

We have the axe

I kept saying it in the car on the way home from the CalTrain station: I can’t believe we won that game.

But we did.

Oh, and before the game, your faithful correspondents met up. We only see each other at Stanford Stadium. I’m serious. It’s weird.

Ken and Jason

Jason (that’s me) on the right, Ken on the left.

Tedford’s 100th game

This Saturday’s Big Game is Tedford’s 100th game. I wrote a column for BearTerritory.net about it (all the writers wrote something, it was a concerted effort). And because it’s a big deal, most of the columns are free for all to read, including mine.

I think that column is some of my best reporting work. A lot of research went into it, too much of which ended up on the cutting room floor as they say in the movies. So I wanted to share some more:

  • 100 games is the 3rd most in Cal history behind Pappy (103) and Stub Allison (102). They’re both proof that one has to be pretty good as a coach to reach 100 games at Cal. (Pappy has 3 Rose Bowls to his name and Stub has 1)
  • Tedford is 4th in all time wins, a game behind Pappy, and then in position to pass Andy Smith (74) and James Schaeffer (73) next year.
  • His winning percentage is also exceptional. If the Bears can pull the upset Saturday he’ll be tied with Pappy for the best win percentage at 67% of their game (this excludes the coaches from 1925 and earlier, which includes Smith and Schaeffer. If you saw the percentage leaderboard, where there are 10 coaches in front of Tedford and Pappy, but all of them are 1925 and earlier, you’d readily understand why there is a tendency to focus on the “modern era” when it comes to winning percentage.)
  • Probably the most “unfair” credit that Tedford gets is the number of bowl games, at least when it’s compared to previous coaches. The bowl revolution happened in the mid-90’s and so no coach other than Holmoe coached in an era when every bowl eligible team went to a bowl game. So the fact that no other Cal coach has been to 7 in a row doesn’t mean much in a historical context. Frankly, Pappy’s 3 Rose Bowls in a row is Cal’s most impressive Bowl stat.
  • However, when one looks at the number of teams who have been bowl eligible each of the last eight seasons, it’s a pretty small list. After all, if Florida State can’t win one of it’s last two games, (Maryland and Florida), then the longest streak would be 19 (Florida). In the Pac-10, only USC has been bowl eligible every year during that stretch. While overall numbers were tough to come by (the best I could come up with is that through 2007’s bowls, only 12 teams had an eight year streak but one (Michigan) has fallen off that list) a team is in pretty elite company these days when they’ve been bowl eligible eight years in a row.

Point being, what Tedford has accomplished is pretty amazingly awesome.

I know, I know, we all want the Rose Bowl so bad we spit up blood every time the Bears are eliminated from contention. And yes, I know, we’re not looking in great shape to reach that mark in the next year or two. But, while I concede things aren’t as Rosy as I’d like, at the same time that’s not as true as one thinks. If the Bears had beaten Oregon State, we could have easily gotten a share of the conference title, and if the right teams lost in these last couple weeks, we still could have seen the chips fall the right way to end up in Pasadena. Said another way, our chances would be as good as Stanford’s are right now. Next year is an even year and generally, even years are the Bears good years minus continually losing to USC in LA. But you know what, if this year showed anything, it showed that there will be years where one doesn’t have to beat USC to go to the Rose Bowl.

I also know that the last three seasons have seen the Bears plateau a bit. But you know what, every coach hits a lull. People were ready to lynch Bellotti at Oregon after his slow stretch from 2002-2004, but guess what, 2005-2008 were his best years at Oregon. I know how much it’s like rubbing salt in one’s eyes to think that see Stanford leap-frog Cal with their new head coach and getting the wins we’ve been dying for years to get. But it’s just one year and they’ve peaked at opportune times during this season.

Please, go read my column. Go back and remember what it was like back then. If you’re too recent of a fan to do that, do your best to imagine. We’ve completely lost all sense of context in the last few years. We NEED to remember where we were and just how much has been accomplished. The 100 game mark for Tedford provides an opportunity to do that.

I don’t know that the Bears are going to be able to beat Stanford on Saturday (a post on that later). I don’t know that the Bears will do better than the Poinsettia Bowl this year. But what I know, and I mean know, with an absolute confidence unmatched besides my love for my wife and children and my faith in God and the Catholic Church, is that Tedford has been a great coach for Cal and there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll continue to be a great coach for the program.

Thanks Coach Tedford! Here’s to 100 more!

Looking back on ’08: Big Game

(We pick back up the looking back series for the 2008 season after it fell apart when the traveling schedule started taking it’s toll (starting with UCLA). Unlike prior seasons where I did these games in chronological order, I’m going to do them as what will look like previews for this year’s match up. Go here for past posts.)

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

Scoring and momentum changing plays:

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

Observations:

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

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

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

More thoughts on the double pass

I’ve been thinking more and more about that double pass and I’m not sure the QB’s mistake of throwing a second pass was as big a deal as the consensus is. I’ll make my case:

  1. At best, the QB decides to knock down the ball instead of catching the deflection. Then it’s 4th and 3 at the 25, setting up a 42 yard field goal. This kicker’s lifetime long is 37 and his one shot at a 40+ yard field goal was missed. Definitely not a gimme, but I also doubt Stoops goes for it on 4th and 3. I’d give the kicker a 1 in 3 shot at best at that field goal.
  2. More realistically, the QB catches the ball but decides not to throw again. Well, Cal was hot in pursuit and again, at best, he’d have made it to the 30 yard line before getting tackled. Now we’re talking about a 47 yard field goal or if Stoops thinks that’s too long 4th and 8. This, ironically, might have been the best thing to happen to Arizona as it would force their hand to go for it on 4th down but it wouldn’t have been 17 yards, only 8-10.

So yeah, putting it back to 4th and 17 didn’t help Arizona’s cause, but I think it wasn’t as big a deal as some make it out to be. The instant that pass was blocked, Arizona was in a tough spot.

Arizona OTRH Podcast

Another week, another On The Road Home Podcast. Sorry for the sickly voice. It actually came out better than I hoped, but it’s still pretty bad.

Blue and Goldfinger (EMFMV 2009 #10)

In this podcast, we’re re-capping the delightful victory over Arizona. Pre-capping a scary battle with the scariest Stanford team in recent memory. Talking Rose Bowl scenarios for almost everyone except Cal. (Of course.) We wonder why Cal can’t recruit a freakin’ kicker, praise the offensive line, unveil a new Secret Word (this week: it’s a concept!), Jason does yet another round of terrible Bill Walton impressions, and goes off the deep end to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of recent James Bond movies. What does that have to do with Cal football? Oh, right–nothing at all.

You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Victory

It sure felt good to leave Memorial Stadium for the last time in 2009 with a win.

IMG_0896

Good article on Memorial Stadium

Check it out at ESPN:

http://sports.espn.go.com/travel/news/story?id=4647075

After the Fall (EMFMV 2009 #9)

This week we recap the Oregon State game, specifically the scariest moment in recent Cal history. The future of Jahvid Best, the future of the Cal Bears, the difficult path ahead against Arizona and Stanford, and Stanford’s defeat of Oregon. Jason tries to improve on his awful Bill Walton impression. And yeah, there’s a secret word. Try to find it and work it into the comments to win a no-prize.

You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Arizona Press Conference Podcast

The next in my series of BearTerritory.net podcasts is posted over at BearTerritory.net:

http://cal.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1014872

As always, it is free for all to listen to.

Big Game at 4:30 PM on Versus

“Son of a family-friendly site!?! Another Versus game!?!”

That’s what went through my mind when I saw the announcement that the Big Game will be at 4:30 PM on Versus. This Versus against DirecTV feud just got really frustrating to me. Two weeks in a row of games that no matter how much I’m willing to pay DirecTV I can’t get on my TV.

Yeah, I’m going to game. My kids have not missed a Big Game in their life and that’s not going to change as long as I can help it. But I like to have the game recorded at home for later review and for archiving to DVD (I know, I know, there are torrents available, but generally they’re not as well edited as mine).

I guess it’s good we’ll get some national exposure in the beat-downs I fear we’re going to receive in the next two weeks… or is it?

Oregon State OTRH Podcast

The On The Road Home podcast is up. I’m getting better, it’s only Wednesday morning.

Since it was a home game, no interview quotes in this one, but as a bonus you do get to see the darker side of Ken in this one (remember that is really is recorded on the way home from the game, so no time to get one’s emotions in check).

Where are my Stanford tickets?

Just in case you were wondering. If you pre-ordered Stanford tickets and opted to have them electronically delivered “no less than two weeks before the game,” you may be confused by the fact that you haven’t received them yet.

Have no fear, says Erin from the Athletic Ticket Office. They’ll be sent out by the end of the week.

How exciting for us Bears fans to see the best college football team in the Bay Area play at Stanford Stadium!

(They’ll be the home team.)

Ouch.

Arizona game at 4:00 PM

Versus picked up the Arizona game so the game will be at 4:00 PM.

All healthy-hearted (you’d have to be after Saturday’s heart-wrenching loss [even without counting Best’s injury]) sturdy golden fans are welcome at the stadium.

As an FYI, for those with DirecTV, Versus is no longer available.

Let Best Rest

Jahvid Best seems to have sustained a concussion but otherwise can move his extremities, according to the AP.

That’s fantastic news after what was a terrifying scene at Memorial Stadium tonight.

Hopefully a concussion is all it is. However, given that Best apparently suffered a “mild” (and I use the term loosely) concussion against Arizona State, let me say this as a Cal fan.

After two concussions, Best should sit it out. And I’m talking the month of November, and possibly December.

Brain injuries are serious business. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker if you want to question yourself about being a football fan, given the damage it does to the brains of many players.

I’m sure the doctors and coaches at Cal take this seriously. So should the fans. Jahvid Best is a wonderful athlete to behold. But I’m not interested in watching him risk serious brain injury by returning too soon. If Jahvid needs to hang ‘em up for the rest of the season, I’m going to take a breath and say it’s absolutely the right thing to do. Even if we want to see him play, and Cal win, his health comes first.

All our best to Jahvid and his family.

Pregame thoughts on Oregon State

Well, it’s game day and I can’t quite make up my mind how scared I am of Oregon State. My co-worker who’s a relatively fair OSU alum thinks that Canfield is going to be a real problem for the Bears. He thinks the Bears are going to either have to stop the Rodger brothers at the line of scrimmage and risk getting burned by Canfield downfield, or keep everything in front of them and let the Rodgers brother nickle and time them to death with the occasional big play that’ll kill the Bears. In some sense I’m inclined to agree that if the Beavers win, that’s about what it’s going to come down to.

At the same time, this has the makings of a Pac-10 shootout. There’s a reason that the over/under is at 61 (it averages in the low 50’s for most games).

I like the Bears chances in a shootout. The Beavers might have the Rodgers brothers, but we’ve got a much bigger family of explosive players than OSU. At the same time, the Bear defense is more opportunistic than OSU’s and is more likely to come up with the big turnover. They’re also more likely to force a lot of redzone field-goals when things get more dicey for the passing game. The running game is more important in the redzone and the Bears have the edge in that. These edges, both for the Bears and the Beavers, become most obvious when you look at the statistical preview I did over at BearTerritory.net (subscription required).

Finally, don’t think too much about the history of this match up. Yes, the Beavers are undefeated against Tedford in Berkeley and they’re on a 2 game winning streak, but the Bears were on a 3 game winning streak over the Ducks including a recent victory in Eugene and we saw how that worked out for the Bears. Does anyone really think that if Longshore was healthy against OSU in 2007 the Bears wouldn’t have won that game? They nearly won with a redshirt Freshman QB for who the game didn’t start slowing down until the 4th quarter. Add in that in 2005 the Bears were Booya handicapped and all of a sudden the Beavers winning streak in Berkeley makes a lot more sense and isn’t so intimidating. In each game in Berekely going back to 2003 the Bears have been breaking in a new QB for the OSU game (in 2003 it was Aaron Rodger’s 3rd start overall and he had sat most of the 2nd half of the USC game the preceding week) and the Beavers beat the Bears with press coverage and daring the Bears to beat them over the top.

Going to the games in Corvallis, the Bears destroyed the Beavers in 2004 and 2006, so it’s not like the Beavers “have the Bear’s number”. The game last year was competitive and the Corvallis home field advantage was an important factor. Based solely on last years game, I think if you play that same game in Berkeley, Cal likely wins. Add in that OSU has lost far more talent since then than the Bears and it’s not exactly like past history suggests a Beaver victory even though that’s the way it seems.

The “Beaver struggles” are more like the difficulty Cal has had beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The sample size is small and there’s lots of extenuating circumstances. We all saw how that worked out this year in the Rose Bowl. In the end they actually play the game instead of just counting on history to determine the outcome. Most of the time, the better team wins despite what history may have to say.

So, take heart. There’s no jinx here. The statistics suggest an even match up. The recent match ups and talent changes suggest Cal should do well. And finally, the game is in Berkeley where the Bears play very well.

Bring your fan A-Game today and expect a good game with the Bears coming out on top: 35-28

Arizona State OTRH Podcast

Another late OTRH podcast. I’ll tell you what, that road trip took A LOT out of me. I just didn’t have it in me to stay up late editing audio until last night. But the good news is that it was indeed recorded on the way home, right after my Griswaldish trip to the Grand Canyon. The good news is it is another long one.

Here are the list of quotes at the end of the podcast from the post-game interviews:

Tedford’s general thoughts
Tedford on mood after first missed field-goal
Tedford on what Riley proved on last drive
Tedford on what the win means to the team
Tedford on talking to Tavecchio after his miss in the 4th quarter
Tedford on how close he felt the team needed to get to kick the field-goal
Tedford on thoughts mid-play on halfback pass at the end of the game
Tedford on going for it on 3rd down instead of centering the ball
Tedford on refs calling a tight game
Tedford on ASU winning line of scrimmage battle
Tedford on Lagemann’s performance
Tedford on not using Best down the stretch
Tedford on how they dealt with losing on the line of scrimmage
Tedford on Riley’s fumbles
Tedford on confidence in Tavecchio moving forward
Tedford on getting bowl eligibility
Tedford on the turn-around from 0-2 to 3-2 in conference
Riley on thoughts before final drive
Riley on why they were able to move the ball at the end of the game
Riley on thoughts after 1st field goal was missed
Riley on previous oppportunities to have that drive
Riley on 26 yard pass to Jones on last drive
Riley on signficance of win to the team
Riley on Vereen’s halfback pass
Riley on dropped passes (like to Tucker)
Riley on winning ugly
Riley on what win does for team confidence
Riley on his 3 fumbles
(No intro for Tavecchio)
Tavecchio on getting a second chance
Tavecchio on his confidence for the last kick
Tavecchio on centering the ball showing confidence in him
Tavecchio on feeling of making the kick
Tavecchio on game-time decision on being the kicker
Tavecchio on kickoffs
Tavecchio on the last kick being a short one
Tavecchio on Mansion holding for him
Tavecchio on the last time he kicked a game winning kick
Tavecchio on dreaming about a game winning kick
Tavecchio on length of “dream kick”
Tavecchio on Tedford talking to him between kicks
Gregory on last defensive stand
Gregory on ASU’s running game in 2nd half
Gregory on giving up long plays
Gregory on ASU’s long pass play
Gregory on performance at corner
Gregory on impact of shuffling lineup
Hill on his performance
Hill on end of game tackle
Hill on confidence on making the stop
Hill on how he played in the secondary
Hill on how it feels to be involved in 3 big plays
Hill on emotion going onto the field needing the big stop
Hill on emotion after taking the lead and going back on the field
Hill on Alualu breaking up hail mary
Hill on end of game penalties on ASU