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Archive for August, 2015

Is a strong run game a good thing?

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

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

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

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


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

Close Loses

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

Larger loses:

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

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

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


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

Close Loses

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

Larger loses:

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

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

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


Thoughts from practice

I was able to make it to the open practice last Sunday.  Here are my various thoughts:

  • The Bears appear to be making use of Maxwell field these days during practice.  It used to be EVERYTHING happened inside Memorial Stadium.  While I don’t know what they were doing over at Maxwell, the fact that the defense was missing for the 1st 45 minutes or so and then the kickers were missing for most of the rest of practice (despite having been in the stadium for the 1st hour) suggests they were over there when absent.
  • Much has been made of Malik McMorris as a former DE who, in part because he is short, is being tried out as a 310 lbs. fullback.  Perhaps I just didn’t catch him on a good day, but what I saw was unimpressive.  He was very easily winded, constantly with his hands on his hips.  He didn’t run very crisp routes when going into formation.  He dropped a very easy catch.  In fairness, he seemed to do well blocking during running plays.  In other words, he looked exactly what I’d expect a converted DE to look like.
  • In man-on-man drills, the D-line was making the O-line look pretty bad.  It was hard to tell if it was because the defense has gotten better or if it’s a sign of weak O-line play, but whatever it was, it was a pretty uneven matchup.
  • However, when the O-Line was playing as a unit they appeared a lot better.  I would call it a stalemate, which was plenty for the passing game of Cal which gets the ball out pretty quick.
  • As reported elsewhere, the coronation of Rigsbee as the center seems to have been premature.  Granado had the 1st string center spot for nearly the whole practice and Rigsbee was back at right guard.
  • On the defensive side of the ball I was very gladdened to see much, much, much more press coverage out of the DB’s.  It’s clear the defensive staff has a lot more confidence in their backs than last year.  Now, as to how they performed… well… it wasn’t horrible.  Nevertheless, expect some long plays on broken coverage this year.  I’ll still take that over what we had last year.
  • True freshman safety Billy McCrary impressed me with his speed and his aggressiveness.  He’ll have to learn how to be more subtle as his current technique will flagged for pass interference too often, but I see a big future for him.
  • In other defensive back news, can someone tell Darius White to shut his yap and just play football?  I forgot how much that guy likes to mouth off.  Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh as it seemed to fire up his teammates and be a positive influence.  I’ve just never been a big fan of that sort of yapping.
  • For the quarterbacks, it is quite obviously Goff 1st and then Forrest 2nd.  Forrest impressed me.  I think he’ll do well when he comes in for relief of Goff.  He had good touch and his decisions suggest he has command of the playbook.
  • There are two freshman QB’s, Ross Bowers and David Maaghul.  Bowers was clearly the better thought of by the staff and got the 3rd string reps.  The game hasn’t “slowed down” for him yet and he was having timing issues with the WRs.  I do like his delivery and seems to throw a good ball.
  • Lasco is looking better than ever.  He looked REALLY fast to me.  He’s way too fast to be called a “power back” at this point, which is what he was perceived as in the past (with Muhammad at the “speed back”).
  • Finally, the kickers.  Both of the place kickers, Matt Anderson and Noah Beito have the leg to kick 50+ yard field goals, but both left something to be desired in their accuracy even with 35 yard field goals (BTW, everything inside the redzone is 37 yards or less).  Their accuracy did seem to go up once it was inside 30 yards.

Overall what I saw was a team that seems to have a lot of potential but also has enough holes that we shouldn’t expect miracles.  One thing I will say is the quality of play out of the 2nd and 3rd strings was a lot higher than in years past.  It should mean that we shouldn’t need to hold our breath for the rest of the season once a couple of guys get injured.  This team is a LOT deeper than in the past.


Are you ready for some football?

Fall practice is upon us so it is time to bring the blog out of hibernation!

It looks like expectations in Berkeley are pretty high.  I was surprised to see the Pac-12 media poll put Cal in 3rd, ahead of Washington (surprising), Washington State and Oregon State (not so surprising).  That would suggest they’re anticipating about a 5-4 conference record and one would expect that they would see us going 2-1 in non-conference play (losing to Texas).  So a 7-5 season.

I guess that jives with what my expectations are, although I have hopes that Cal can beat Texas.  I’d be surprised to see the team go 6-3 or better in conference.  There’s an outside chance Cal finally gets the Ax back, but loses to Oregon and USC seem likely and ASU/Utah is the harder of the two cross-division options we have (the other being Colorado/Arizona).  When you add in UCLA and even Washington (in Seattle), hard to imagine there’s only 3 losses there.

But, maybe the team takes another big step forward this year.

Speaking of which, so far at fall practice the general feel is that the defense is significantly improved.  That would be great news if true.  The defensive line is providing good pressure and the secondary has found a nose for the ball, with Evan Rambo alone picking off the ball 4 times in 3 days.  Of course, there’s plenty of reason to wonder about all of that.  Is the offense regressing?  Or perhaps the offense just isn’t in rhythm yet?  Or is it all talk and “significantly improved” means they’re not unbelievably horrible (125th in nation), but just really, really bad (100th in nation)?  Frankly, I don’t think we’ll really know until they line up against Texas in the 3rd week.

As for the blog, here’s what you can expect this year:

  • OTRH podcasts for home games
  • OTRH podcast for the Texas game (yes, I’m going!)
  • Weekly game preview posts with predictions
  • Weekly post-game celebratory posts (or wailing and gnashing of teeth when necessary)
  • Occasional mid-week posts as interesting topics come up
  • A handful of fall practice posts, including one after the 8/16 practice which I will see in person

So kinda the same as the last couple years.

Here’s hoping for a great season in Berkeley!