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Archive for October, 2013


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!)

Washington OTRH podcast

Slowly moving it back up in the week again. By the end of the season you might get one on a Monday. :)

Here it is:

1st thoughts on Arizona

The first thing I do when looking at an upcoming opponent is to look at their schedule. But the biggest mistake is to just look at their record. Yeah Arizona is 5-2, but who did they beat? So far Utah at home is their most impressive win.

The one common opponent, both at Washington, at first glance seems to be fairly similar. They lost 13-31. We lost 17-41. Except with 5 minutes left in the 3rd, Arizona scored to make it a 5-point game and the Huskies put down the hammer from there. By that point in the game for Cal it was 7-38. Then we put up some garbage time points. So there’s no doubt Arizona played Washington tougher than Cal did.

Nevertheless, Arizona has fattened up on pretty weak teams, teams that for the most part it is reasonable to think the Bears would have beaten as well, with the possible exception of Utah. Cal obviously beats NAU and UTSA. We mostly seem to believe Cal can beat Colorado. Would a game at UNLV been a win for the Bears? Probably. Particularly early in the season.

Hopefully the Bears can bring one of their better performances this Saturday, because based on their schedule/performance so far, I think Arizona is not nearly as good as their record indicates and the Bears may have a shot at beating them.

Offense is regressing badly

Football is an amazingly stupifying sport. Prognosticators such as myself can try to say they know what is going to happen, but we’re constantly humbled by reality.

Who amongst us after the first 3 games would think that the problem going into the 2nd half of the season would be our inability to score points?

I, like everyone else, was of the mind that we could win a few shootouts, but the defense was going to be the weak link. SURPRISE! Now the problem is the offense is putting the defense on the field after the fastest 3 and outs in the country and their mediocre talent is doing it’s best but can’t be expected to work miracles.

Where did the offense go?

I think there is a few things:

  1. Improved competition: Has anyone else noticed how mediocre Northwestern is? Or how many points Ohio State is allowing? The reality was those first 3 games, particularly their defenses, weren’t what they were billed to be. Oregon, Oregon State and Washington have all had better defenses.
  2. Game film has help opponents: It’s very tough for defenses to prepare for early season games against new head coaches. Looking at the team’s old games only shows the talent. Looking at the coach’s previous school doesn’t reflect how he’s changing it at the new school. However, by the time we got into conference schedule, they had plenty of game film to digest and exploit.
  3. Goff has regressed: It’s actually easier for a confident true freshman to go out for his first game than his 4th. He hasn’t made any mistakes that can be the demons in his head yet. You can tell Goff is just a little bit more cautious and hesitant these days. He’s definitely regressed.

I think the long term doesn’t look so bad for the offense, but the rest of the season is going to be pretty rough. And considering the defense, while improved, still isn’t great, the offense is going to have to get A LOT better for Cal to win any more games.

ARG!?! Comments re-enabled AGAIN

Generally I’m quite happy with WordPress, but there’s something about my installation that constantly causes me trouble. It randomly, without permission, changes the rules for comments so that you have to be a registered user to comment a handful of times a year. Seeing as how I’m the only registered user, it means that when this happens no one can comment and I never know it because I can always comment.

Commenting is turned back on. Sorry about that.

Washington preview

I’ve said multiple times that I think the talent on this Bears team is high enough that there’s a good chance they surprise someone this year. That magical game where everything just clicks happens now and again for under-performing teams. Long time Cal fans have seen it many times. Last year against UCLA was a good example. Holmoe had a few. So did Gilby. Joe Kapp made it a Big Game specialty (as a coach).

But the trick is finding the right game to predict it. Wins over Arizona or Colorado wouldn’t be it, in my humble opinion. Those are both games we’d BETTER be competitive in. So that leaves Washington, USC and Stanford.

USC is a mess and figuring them out is nearly impossible. They’re under-performing even worse than the Bears. They could kick the crud out of our beloved Bears or just as easily be the big upset. Stanford is pretty dang good and seems like a long-shot, although anything can happen in the Big Game.

But is it UW?

There are few indicators that suggest it might be. For starters, UW’s offense is not exactly lighting it up. In particular, their passing game has been pretty weak. Price has been OK, but nothing spectacular. Also, it’s an offense that is more traditional, one that is closer to the traditional offense that the traditional 4-3 was designed to beat. (At least when Price doesn’t run the ball.) That they’re towards the top of the conference in rushing yards seems to play right into the one area of the Cal defense that hasn’t been hugely exploited.

Also, confidence on the team can’t be that high. They survived the losses to Stanford and Oregon in tact, but the 24-53 beat down by Arizona State has to have taken it’s toll. As for the Bears, I think they’ve reached that “nothing to lose” point in a disastrous season.

So overall, there are reasons for hope tonight. However, to be balanced, the more troublesome is their defense, which has been pretty good. Their pass defense is their best unit, which will probably keep the Bears in check. If they have a weakness, it’s their rush defense, but considering that is inflated by playing Oregon already and we haven’t exactly been lighting it up on the ground, it doesn’t give me a lot of hope.

So by the numbers, the Bears should lose. Our history in Husky Stadium in recent years only makes hope more dim. But as I’ve said before, throw the trends out the window. This isn’t Tedford’s team that Sarkesian knew like the back of his hand how to beat. Tosh’s inside knowledge is no longer of use.

So this could be it. This could be the game. If the Bears can get their passing attack working and then get the ground game working behind it, the Bears could have a shot.

Final score: Bears 23, Washington 30

I’m not THAT bold.

Oregon State OTRH Podcast

Late as per usual. But here it is:

Perhaps the most ridiculous comparison yet

Avi over at CGB suggests that it takes time to build a program. Completely agree there.

What I can’t even come close to agreeing to is his examples of how it takes time:

“It took Chip Kelly just over two years to turn Oregon into an uncatchable spaceship.” Says Avi. But in his first year as head coach, he went 11-2, losing only his first game and the Rose Bowl. In his 2nd year, he went undefeated until losing in the BCS championship game. Perhaps he was referring to his time as OC, but in both seasons he improved over the prior season.

“Harbaugh had two losing seasons in Palo Alto…” Yes, but considering that they were 4-8 and then 5-7 after going 1-11 before his arrival, that’s a pretty big improvement.

“Saban got embarrassed by Louisiana Monroe and got creamed by Utah on a national stage.” Er, but that ‘national stage’ was the Sugar Bowl… hard to call that a “takes time to build” example.

He also mentions Urban Meyer, Chris Peterson, Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Art Briles at Baylor, the last two probably being the best examples of the group, but in whole, few of them saw their programs actually take a meaningful step backwards in their first season, which is what we’re seeing so far in Berkeley with Dykes.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the argument. Sometimes it does take a step back to get moving in the right direction. I just couldn’t help but think these were some of the worst examples.

Oregon State preview

For most of the season I’ve been preaching how using past trends is a mistake as EVERYTHING is different about this Bears team. However, there is one thing that these Bears have in common with the Tedford Bears: Their passing game is mostly an underneath, high percentage passing game.

While the nature of how the underneath passing worked are different and their strategies for how the run game is integrated into it is different, generally speaking, if the opposition could/can take away the underneath passing game, or even turn it into a lower percentage game, the Bears were/are in trouble. Considering this is the reason that Tedford’s Bears struggled so mightily against Oregon State in years past, it’s a very bad omen for tonight’s game.

See, Oregon State lives and dies by their press coverage. You want to know why Oregon State has a surprising number of embarrassing losses to FCS and other low-end teams while still being very competitive later in the same season? Because they don’t change their defensive philosophy, particularly at the beginning of the season, for their personnel. The stubbornly stick with their press-coverage philosophy. As new DB’s come in, particularly early in the season, they get burned. As the season wears on, the good coaching (and Oregon State has an EXCELLENT technique coaching staff) and sometimes minor adjustments to make up for weak spots, makes them far less vulnerable. And once less vulnerable, their press coverage scheme is very effective.

So, the big question is, can the Bear Raid beat the press coverage. My guess is no. If the Bears put up points today it’ll be by going over the top. And for that to work, three things will have to happen: 1. The offensive line will have to hold up to Oregon State’s relentless press-based pass rush. 2. Goff will have to start throwing over the top with the accuracy we saw against Northwestern and has mostly been absent since. 3. Dykes and company will have to have a game-plan that calls for a fair amount of plays well suited to throwing over the top. I have strong hopes #3 could happen. It wouldn’t be out of the question for #2 to happen. #1 is the weak link in the plan.

Perhaps if the defense could up its game a bit, and keep this a lower scoring affair, there would be just enough big plays out of the offense to make it a game. And actually, if the Bears can stay in their 2 safety zone coverages and disguise well when they aren’t going to be in that formation, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the defense have a better than expected game. Mannion might be having a great season, but what I’ve seen thus far doesn’t overly scare me. Looking at the schedule (EWU, Hawaii, Utah, SDSU, Colorado, WSU) it’s not exactly like he’s come up against a defensive juggernaut yet. Of course the big catch is… let’s see raised hands on who thinks the Bears are/could be a defensive juggernaut…. I didn’t think so.

Thus my overall prediction is that the Bears get a few shots over the top, a few mostly futile trips into the redzone, but the defense can’t keep the Beavers in check in part because Buh refuses to give up the defensive formations that are killing the Bears.

Final score: Bears 24, Beavers 37

Back in business

Sorry for the slow week+ of non-blogging. Between my brother visiting from Massachusetts, arriving in town the day of the WSU game, and the trip down to LA for the UCLA game and to go to Disneyland, I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging.

What I will say is that if you find yourself overly depressed about the Bears, I have a suggestion for you: Go do something else. I love my Golden Bears, but every time I find myself getting overly depressed about their failure, reminding myself that this team is not my life by going off and doing something else, is the best medicine. And it was in this case. I love my family. I live a blessed life in so many different ways. And I’m looking forward to another pleasant evening in Strawberry Canyon on Saturday… maybe the Bears will surprise me and win this one. Or maybe they won’t. But in either case, I’m going to go and enjoy myself with my awesome family.

So, unless your last name is Dykes or Buh, perhaps some other distractions between now and Saturday is what the doctor ordered for you too.

UCLA OTRH Podcast

This is the delirious edition of the podcast. 10+ hours of driving in addition to going to see the space shuttle in LA and getting the family down to Anaheim before heading back to the game made for a LONG day, one that started at 3:45 AM.

WSU OTRH Podcast

I was “just a tad” frustrated on the way home from the game on Saturday. Listen if you like to hear a guy fighting with himself over how frustrated to be:

One point I’m now willing to concede

The injury bug that has affected the Bears defense is truly amazing and baffling at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not on the Bears, not on any team in the Pac-8/10/12, not on any team I’ve ever even tangentially watched. It completely defies the odds and averages.

And yes, it is affecting the ability of the defense to put together a competent unit. I will finally concede that point. It doesn’t fully excuse the problems the defense has (the defensive line doesn’t get a pass here). But it is a factor, one that I’ve been dismissing in the past.

I don’t like to think this way, but it’s so bad that it has me thinking up all kinds of conspiracy theories. Did the Tedford regime have them taking “supplements” that since they’re now off them they’re injury prone? Does the Dykes regime have them taking something that makes them injury prone? What about the workout programs? What about the practice schedules/philosophies? There’s got to be something!?! Right?

As I said, it’s not wise to let the brain go down those roads, but I’m having a hard time stopping myself.

It’s just too bizarre to not have stupid thoughts trying to explain.

My prediction for the next 5 years

After Saturday’s beat down in Berkeley, I had a vision, a vision that must be shared.

The Bears are going to get better next year. Significantly better.

Year 2 of the Berkeley conversion will result in a far higher level of execution as Dykes and company are able to focus more on execution than on scheme implementation. This young team will be a lot more mature and seasoned. Goff will be significantly improved and will lose the jitters of a Freshman who’s made a couple too many mistakes. The injury plague that has inexplicably gripped this team will not last forever. The Bears will give us early hope that 2014 will include a bowl game.

And while this trend might even extend into year three with so many of today’s young players still on the team, that will be the end of it. Our hope that the trajectory of improvements seen in 2014 continue into the future will find themselves dashed in 2015 and 2016.

Simply put, Dykes won’t win enough games, particularly the critically important ones. Even though massively improved from this year’s 2-10 effort, we likely won’t go to a bowl game, or if we do it’ll be such a low one that nobody of note cares. The recruiting situation will get much worse. We will go back to half empty stadiums full of die-hard Bear fans only.

What good will and program momentum Tedford initially built will slide into a distant memory. The program will return to its steady state position for the last 60 years, lots of 4-8 seasons with just enough home wins and the occasional big upset that keeps the die-hards around.

In between the 2015 and 2016 seasions, Sandy Barbour will be let go because the financial plan built on an assumption of success will go from troublesome to a disaster as season ticket sales plummet. particularly in the ESP sections. The new AD will fire Dykes after the next season, with a year left on his contract. The new AD will be faced with the very difficult decision of who to hire for a massive rebuilding project and probably have very limited funds to do so.

The result will be to go back to the playbook that resulted in hiring Tedford: hire a young coordinator with no head coaching experience from a newly successful BCS conference (NOT mid-major) school. He would like to get somebody with a more polished resume, but both the lack of cash and the lack of intangibles to lure someone like that will prevent it.

And in year 5 we start over again.

(Either that, or I’m reading my Crystal Ball upside down again, like I apparently did in the WSU preview.)

WSU preview

As I’ve said before, under Tedford’s regime WSU was the one game a year (outside of any FCS match-up) I always had 100% confidence the Bears would win. Tedford’s philosophical approach to offense was to find ways to create mismatches on the field. He used a number of techniques to do this, but in the end he succeeded and failed based on whether he accomplished his match-up goals. With WSU, the talent differentials, particularly in the trenches, made it EXTREMELY easy for him to get favorable match-ups.

But Dykes does not look at football in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, every football coach likes having a talent advantage on the field. It’s just that certain schemes are better suited for it than others. And Dykes scheme comes from a school of philosophy where it is assumed you don’t have a talent advantage. Said another way, there’s a reason the USC’s of the world don’t use this sort of offense.

The other big thing we have going today is that we have mentor vs. mentee. Dykes’ father, Spike was Leach’s predecessor at Texas Tech and Dyke’s was Leach’s assistant coach both at Kentucky and at Texas Tech. To say they’ve crossed paths before is a massive understatement.

But who has the advantage? It’s not always the mentor. In fact, often the mentee has the advantage of knowing how the mentor thinks inside and out and then bringing their own thoughts to the table of which the mentor can sometimes be clueless, particularly when they’re very strong-headed (Leach, strong-headed? Now THERE’S an understatement!).

And frankly, I think in the end, this is the thing that has pushed me over the edge as to which way the game will go.

Dykes will be able to well communicate to Buh what the keys to stopping Leach’s system will be and Buh will have the talent to do it, particularly in the trenches. Today the defensive line will be FAR more disruptive than in any game yet this season. The pass coverage won’t be brilliant, but it will contain things overall, and might just get a couple of extra interceptions from being inside the head of Leach. Combined with the Cal win in the trenches, I don’t see WSU putting up a ton of points.

As for the offense, I think Cal looks good today. The Bear Raid includes a lot of ideas that aren’t in the Air Raid. Cal’s offensive line problems won’t look so bad today against WSU’s defensive line. The speed of Bigelow will have an impact. The tempo and pace will wear WSU down more than the previous opponents. As long as Goff doesn’t throw a bunch of interceptions, and I do think that’s more of a risk today with the similar minds on the other sideline, we should see a pretty balanced Cal attack.

I think we see a relatively close one early, but Cal opens it up a bit in the 2nd half and never looks back.

Final score: Cal 41 – WSU 27