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Archive for September, 2015

Washington game thoughts

(Sorry for the lack of a Texas wrap-up post nor a UW prediction.  Never really got my feet back under me after the Texas trip last week.)

There’s few things one has to fight harder for than a win in Husky stadium.  No matter how many times I see Cal go to UW as the favored team, you’re never going to see me over-confident.  UW just doesn’t go down easily on their home field and more than one Cal season has been derailed by games up there (Heck, one could argue Tedford’s struggles up there were significantly responsible for his demise).

So no matter what you think about this win, don’t forget how hard fought it was.  This team has heart!

Various thoughts:

  • On the 1st series, as the announcers explained, Enwere went to the wrong gap when he didn’t get the 1st down on 3rd and short.  It was a really weird play because it sure looked obvious/easy to pick the right hole, but for whatever reason he got scared and cut it back.  Although later in the game Enwere seemed to come of age and find his power game, I’m still not 100% convinced about him.  I still think Mohammad should be our #2 back.
  • While were on that play, what is it with Dykes sacrificing his challenge on the 1st drive to a marginal ball-spotting review?  You just don’t win those unless it is SUPER obvious and neither of the last two games was it obvious (in fact he was just wrong against UW).  We could have really used that challenge at a couple points later in the game.
  • While we’re on the negative, UW shot themselves in the foot a lot more than I think most people appreciate.  Stupid penalties;  Under throws that allowed the DB’s to get back into the play (Cal would have been in trouble against a better QB); Dropped passes that would have kept UW drives alive… it all adds up to a game where a better executing team would have exposed more in the Cal defense.
  • It was also not the best refereed game.  Cal got the good end of it a couple times (Goff definitely fumbled in the 4th quarter) and the bad end of it (Enwere’s butt hit the ground before he fumbled on the one returned for a TD (speaking of times Cal could have used a review in their pocket)) as well as some missed penalty calls, again some against Cal (Lawler push-off) and some we could have used (Lawler getting down right abused both by a targeting hit and a late hit on the same play).  So it’s not that the refs were biased, but it wasn’t there best day on the field either.
  • Speaking of refs, I wouldn’t be intellectually honest if I didn’t say the UW fumble where the question was whether the QB’s arm was coming forward should have gone the other way.  I think it was a fumble, but that was very marginal.  Since it was called a pass on the field, that should have been called as a “play stands”.
  • My final ref thought is that the Bears got the absolute shaft from the refs on the 4 plays from the UW 1 yard line.  Enwere had a great effort on 1st down and that was clearly a touchdown based on the slow-mo.  He kept his knee off the ground (where was Cal’s challenge used again?).  Then there was the HORRIFIC pass interference on Lawler.  My only guess was that the refs were calling that uncatchable.  But when the WR gets thrown just after the ball was in the air, how can you know?  I guess they could have been saying it was before the ball was in the air and within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, but it was clearly after the throw was airborne.
  • On to some positives, it was really nice to see Cal’s pass coverage making plays on the ball, including two interceptions.  That’s the sort of performance I’ve been waiting for.  The other way they were making plays on the ball was in the way they went after the receiver as they were catching the ball.  There was more than one breakup that was impressive.  Overall the effort was more than most teams do.  The fumble by the WR was also a result of the DB’s getting their hands in as the WR was making the catch (although in that case, it was late, so it was a catch and a fumble instead of incomplete).
  • We should all be really happy with the defensive line pressure.  There were times they were getting pressure when only rushing 3 and they definitely could get pressure with 4.  Whenever they got 5 rushing, they were pretty darned successful if it wasn’t a quick pass.  I think this was instrumental in helping the secondary.  The QB was definitely rattled.
  • I really should give Enwere props for his running as the game wore on.  He definitely disappointed me on that 1st drive, but as the game wore on I could see more of why the coaching staff is putting him in there.  He definitely is the back on the team who is going to break tackles and make something out of nothing.  Particularly as defenses get tired (which his kind of running can force) he’s going to break free more often.  Hopefully he continues to mature in his decisions (and in fairness, I only saw the one really bad hole choice).
  • Speaking of under-estimated runners, what is going on with Goff?  It’s not quite like when Longshore broke a 25 yard run against UCLA in 2006, but Goff is really surprising people with his feet.  While the game sealing run wasn’t exactly pretty, Goff had heart and 2nd effort.  Add to that the decision to take the easy 10-15 yarders when the coverage breaks down and all of a sudden we’ve got something really surprising.
  • Along those lines, while the play-call was a surprise, Cal going for it when everyone was expecting a pooch punt wasn’t a surprise to me both because I very much anticipated Dykes  eventually lulling a team into complacency with the assumed pooch punt and because of where they were on the field.  You’re only going to get another 15-20 yards if you’re lucky from a punt.  If you’re choices are take a 50-50 shot at ending the game right now or push the ball from the UW 35 to the 15, I take the 50-50 shot.  Now a Goff run… yeah, that was a surprise.
  • And because it wouldn’t be me without picking on the details… I’m a bit uneasy with Dykes over-conservative tendencies.  It’s showing itself in a few ways.  One is the kicking game.  We just can’t afford to be giving the opponent the ball somewhere between the 30 and 40 every kickoff.  Another is his inability to pick the right plays as he’s trying to seal the win.  While it wasn’t as bad as the Texas game, he still didn’t do a good job of mixing run and pass in a way that kept the defense off balance while still keeping the clock running.  One particular series that troubled me was 1st and 25 from the UW 40 or so with 5 minutes left.  Sorry, you just can’t run it up the middle on those.
  • Finally, and this definitely feels like harping, this was not the WR’s best catching game.  Lawler dropped two passes and there was a few others as well.  I wouldn’t call it “bad” but it wasn’t up to their usual exceptional standard.

To sum up, it’s been said that the best win is the type that gives the coaches plenty to focus on in practice.  Perhaps that’s just one more reason that this was a great victory for the team.  Solid in lots of different ways to keep the confidence of the team growing, while still giving plenty for this team to work on in practice to strive to get better.

Go Bears!

Texas OTRH Podcast

Sorry it took so long to post this.  These quick trips take a lot out of me with my already too busy schedule.  I still intend to post a post-game thoughts post as well.

Overall, I don’t feel this is my best podcast.  What occurred to me after I recorded it is how much more brain power it takes to drive on roads that you’re not familiar with than a route you take all the time.  I was having a much harder time concentrating on my game thoughts than I would have liked.

But judge for yourself:

Texas trip report

Another great Cal trip under my belt!  For those of you who have never done a big Cal road game trip and have the means to do so, I highly recommend it.  The fans are always nice and as long as you go with the attitude that even if the Bears lose you’ll still get to watch an enjoyable football game, you’re sure to have a good time.

As for me, my wife and I flew out of Sacramento for San Antonio at 6:30 AM on Saturday.  One of the upsides of a later in the day game is you can fly out the day of the game if you so desire.  After a quick stop-over in Phoenix, we were in San Antonio.  Your first question is probably “Wasn’t the game in Austin!?!”  Why yes, it was.  But San Antonio is only an hour and a half from Austin and we were able to save a couple hundred dollars flying into San Antonio, an airport that wasn’t seeing an influx of a bunch of football fans that weekend.  (For the same reason, our hotel reservation was in San Antonio.)

After landing, our first stop was of course the car rental place where as I stepped up to the counter I was greeted by a friendly “Go Horns!” and a hand sign.  Apparently he was getting off work in a couple hours himself so that he could go to the game.  He indicated that Texas was in an unusual situation being the underdog at home.  I said I was having a hard time believing Cal was really the favored team, to which he quickly replied, “Oh believe it!” and then he shook his head in disbelief of how much his beloved Longhorns had sunk.

Since it was only 1:30 PM and the game didn’t start until 6:30 PM, we checked into our hotel before making the trip to Austin.  We got a GREAT deal off of and were staying at the Hyatt Regency on the San Antonio riverwalk.  It is in a great location if you’re visiting downtown San Antonio, directly between the riverwalk and the Alamo.  (More on that later.)

By 2:30 PM we had checked in and were heading north to Austin.  We should have checked into places to eat, because we were starving.  Unfortunately we settled on a Denny’s that was staring us in the face when we made a wrong turn trying to get on the freeway.  The hostess/waitress talked me into sitting in a both despite request for a table in a crowded section that turned out to be hers, despite the fact there were empty tables in other sections.  It later became clear she was directing everyone to her section and didn’t want to seat me at a table because there were none left in her section.  I could have gotten over that, but she was overly busy and we weren’t getting any service at all due to the way she was seating people.  The end result was we left 15 minutes later after having never even having been asked our drink order.  We didn’t have time to sit there for what could have been a couple hours.  So instead, having lost 15 minutes to that debacle, it was drive-through burgers on the road.

We got to Austin at 4:30 PM and went straight to our prepaid parking lot.  The traffic was really light and unlike a Cal game at that point, it felt like the reason was because everyone was already there.  Every parking lot looked full from the perimeter.  We toured the campus for about an hour, walking by many pregame tailgates that had the appearance of winding down before making our way to the stadium.  When we got to the stadium lots of people were making their way to the gates.  That’s why we were surprised when we went in, got to the middle level to look around and poked our heads into the seating area to find it basically empty.  Where was everyone!?!  Frankly, I was never able to answer that question to my satisfaction.

After walking through the stadium and taking pictures from various angles, we finally made our way to our seats about 30 minutes before game time.

The band’s pregame show was fine.  Nothing spectacular.  They’re one of many schools that does the HUGE drum thing, but there was no real flair to it.  Perhaps if they had Bevo pulling it or something, but as it was, it was just a big drum that four guys pushed around.  Otherwise it was pretty ho-hum.  It was frankly surprising.  I mean, the alumni band there has over 500 active members (they were at the game and performed at halftime).  This is a school that cares about its marching band.  But overall, I’d put it behind most of the good marching bands I’ve seen, including Ohio State and Texas A&M (that will tick off Longhorn fans).

Oh, one more pregame thing… it was pretty warm.  I’ve experienced REAL Texas heat before and this wasn’t it, but it was warm enough that they were giving out hand towels soaked in ice water to try and keep people cool.  Luckily it wasn’t too far into the game when the sun got behind the rim of the stadium and things cooled down substantially.

I’ll cover the game itself in a different post.

As for the environment, Texas fans love their team, and the fans that were there (including actor Matthew McConaughey who was shown on the Jumbo-tron multiple times) were passionate.  That said, the stadium was not particularly full.  It’s pretty clear the fans aren’t too thrilled with how things are going and aren’t showing up in droves.  The stadium was never particularly loud and definitely didn’t have a direct affect on Cal.  They also left in significant numbers late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th before Texas made it a 2-score game.  From that point on, nobody left.

Maybe I should be grateful for that, because when the remaining 60-70k of us left at the end, it was a zoo out there.  There’s only one 3-lane freeway running through that part of Austin.  Getting to it was a mess and getting onto it was a mess.  To be fair, I’ve seen worse messes elsewhere, but this was in the bottom half of my post-game driving experiences.  I can’t imagine if 100k of us were trying to leave at the same time.

The result was we weren’t back at our hotel room in San Antonio until 1:30 AM.  That’s when my wife and I decided to splurge on something we haven’t done since our honeymoon… room service!  The prices were reasonable and we knew we were going to have a busy morning, so we put the room service card on the door to have breakfast brought to the room at 8 AM.

That helped us get out the door to the riverwalk around 8:30.  We made our way over to where they load the boats to get tickets, which opened promptly at 9:00 AM.  After waiting for the boat to load up until 9:15, we got our 35 tour of the riverwalk and all the historically significant buildings, trees, bridges, islands, walkways… anyone who’s been on a tour bus/boat knows the drill.  But it was interesting.  For those who have more time, I’d recommend the boat 1st thing in the morning and the spend up to a day walking it as well.  Lots of museums, restaurants and various sightseeing opportunities.  We didn’t have that sort of time however, with a 1:20 PM fight home pending.

So as soon as the boat ride was over we made our way over to the Alamo.  I’ve always pictured the Alamo as being out in the middle of nowhere.  The pictures of it always make it seem that way.  In practice, it is much smaller than the pictures make it look and it is surrounded on all sides by downtown San Antonio.  We only had an hour, so we walked through it at the “we only have an hour” pace, but found ourselves out of things to look at after 50 minutes.  What is there is nice, but it’s not a whole day place.  It’s barely a half-day place.  I’d recommend the morning if you’re going in the hot summer as there is not a lot of shade.

By the way, San Antonio (downtown at least) was more humid than Austin was.  I’m assuming that was because of the proximity to the river, but my sample size is a *tad* small.

In any case, at 11 AM we made our way back to the hotel and off to the airport.  There’s only one more anecdote to share…

At our layover in Phoenix there was a problem with our plane.  You have to give credit to Southwest for trying hard, but they were flailing a little bit and the result was we had the gate changed 3 times on us.  They were trying to find a plane we could use and kept pulling the trigger on the gate change before it was confirmed.  By the last time the whole group of passengers was now in one group and it reminded me of the movie “Airplane!” where towards the end of the movie the plane is coming in too fast so they keep changing the gate it is going to arrive at:  Gate 14 (skreetch of brakes of plane in background), Gate 16 (Skreetch), Gate 18… and we all started “running” to the next gate.

Luckily it only totaled up to a 30 minute delay, so we were back on the ground in Sacramento less than 36 hours after we had left it, ending another kamikazi road-game trip, and a win to boot.

Go Bears!

Texas Preview

I did not have time to do a preview post before getting on the plane this morning, so I will make this short:

My heart says the Bears lose this one.  Just too many heartbreaking losses on these big road games to ignore.  However, when even the rental car guy here in Texas is predicting a victory, I am going to overrule my heart and believe.

Bears win: 46-23

San Diego State thoughts

I wasn’t able to go to the game yesterday.  I had other Church commitments that prevented it.  However, I was able to watch the game.  When I first turned it on, it was 7-7 late in the 2nd quarter.  I saw the interception and drive down the field to make it 14-7.

From what I saw from there, it was clear that whatever had happened early was different than what I saw.  It took until this morning to have a chance to watch the 1st portion of the game.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Don’t get too excited about the Cal defense.  San Diego State did a lot to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties.  Yes, it was nice to see the defensive line be disruptive at times, and that accounted for a number of the times SDSU had to punt, but their job was made a lot easier by penalties putting SDSU in a hole that caused drives to stall.
  • I continue to be a bit flustered by the lack of consistency of the offense.  They too hurt themselves with penalties and mistakes.  I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for only scoring 14 points against that defense by halftime.
  • If I’m a Cal opponent, I’m going to focus on finding ways to drop unusual people into coverage.  It was definitely confusing to Goff the way SDSU would threaten to bring 6, but then bring 5, but drop the “wrong” guy back into coverage.
  • The other factor that was concerning to me was that when Goff was sacked, and it feels like it has been a bit too frequent this season against such weak opponents, it’s not just for 5-7 yards.  He always looses a ton of yards.  9-12.  That makes a big difference in the team’s ability to dig out of the hole caused by the sack and keep the drive alive.
  • It’s not a huge surprise, but it sure seems field goal kicking is going to be an adventure this year.

So what about Texas?  My gut says the game is trouble.  The defense might do OK, but I’ve got a lingering feeling Cal’s offensive line is not measuring up this year.  The running lanes have not been very big considering the level of opponent.  Goff has been under too much pressure.  Cal could very easily lose the game on the line of scrimmage.  That’s not exactly unprecedented with Texas.  That’s what happened in 2011 at the Holiday Bowl.

I’m similarly as concerned about the defense.  Yes, there’s been more defensive line pressure, but will they just get blown off the ball by a bigger team?  I think the secondary is vastly improved, but they aren’t the type of unit that can operate without help.  They’re going to need some help up front to provide pressure.  I hope what we’ve seen so far translates to a bigger team.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

San Diego State preview

Early season previews are always the hardest, particularly when dealing with teams that have significant areas in flux.  And when in college football does a team not have significant flux from year to year?

For this game the two questions are whether the Cal defense is for real and whether the San Diego State offense can put up enough points to keep the game in doubt.

San Diego State had a mediocre year last year, losing all of their games to power-5 conference teams and the top teams in their conference.  But the general consensus is they will be better this year despite losing their starting quarterback, who was apparently nothing special.  But SDSU is a HUGE run-first team and they welcome back a lot of depth with their running backs, including their leading rusher, and 4 of 5 offensive linemen, who are bigger than average for a mid-major team.

For quarterback, they’re starting a senior transfer from Kentucky who went 9 for 21 for only 100 yards in his debut, so there’s no reason to think that this won’t be a run-first team on Saturday

And for me, that’s the key.

The Bears defense has done fine against the run and looks as good as ever in that regard.  Unless the offensive line is a top-flight, Alabama level line, there’s no team that is going to be the Bears with its run game alone.  Particularly when one adds that it is unlikely the SDSU defense is going to be able corral the Cal passing attack (side note: this will be a more interesting game to judge the progress of the Cal running game, even if it won’t meaningfully affect the outcome) and one has to like Cal’s chances.

Cal wins big again: Bears 51, Aztecs 16.

San Diego State tickets for sale

I’ve put my San Diego State tickets for sale on eBay.  $35 starting bid for 7 tickets (2 adults and 5 children).  Auction ends Thursday @ 2:14 PM PDT.  I’ll transfer the tickets digitally so you don’t have to worry about mailing times.

As always, my seats are in section C, on the isle and in the 1st row above the concourse (which has 10″ more leg room).

Auction link:

Grambling State thoughts

I find myself a bit outside the bulk of commentators on this game:

  • The offense was not “efficient” or any of the other similar words that spoke to them executing precisely.  You can get me on board with words like “potent” or “impressive” or “overwhelming”.  But I saw too many mistakes, too many penalties, too many short runs to call them efficient.  The analogy I used on the podcast was it was like a teenager driving an over-powered muscle car.  The Bears could stomp on the accelerator when ever they got in trouble and use the big play to get out of jams, but there was a bit too much fishtailing to make me comfortable.
  • I seem to be one of the only people who noticed the weakness of the run game.  I’m sorry, minus Mohammad’s two big runs, the Bears only had 121 yards on 27 carries (3.3 yards/carry).  That’s not a good number.  Maybe against a great run defense we can accept that number but against an otherwise overwhelmed Grambling State squad we should expect better.  I wouldn’t expect any more run balance than last year.  (But maybe that’s not a huge problem.)
  • But I am on board with how well the defense did.  No big plays until we were so far down the depth chart it is hard to worry about it.  Minus the one 90 yard run, they gave up only 37 yards of rushing and a total of 207 yards.  And of course, a shutout into the 4th quarter.
  • Add to that, there were the things I was looking for in my pre-game post:  Pressure on the QB, interceptions, plays on the ball, successful press coverage… all the things we were looking for.
  • Now, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.  That wasn’t evidence of a great defense.  I saw plenty of open receivers and other reasons to suggest this is merely a mediocre defense.  But mediocre would be a HUGE improvement.

So, long story short, I think the team has potential, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

Grambling State OTRH Podcast

Nothing like kicking off the season with an easy win.

Grambling State Preview

I’m going to make this short and sweet.  The Bears win and win big.  The could easily score 70, but let off the throttle before getting there.  The defense looks pretty good, but they give up more points late in the game than we’d like because they’re getting the less experienced guys time.

Cal 59, Grambling State 23

WARNING: Pink is a shade of Red!

Am I the ONLY one who realizes that pink is a shade of red?  Thus, there should be NO pink Cal gear.  The cheerleaders should never wear pink.  The team should never wear pink.  And there sure as heck shouldn’t be a day where we’re all supposed to wear pink to the game like this official Cal page suggests for the WSU game (a team that also happens to be red).

What to look for in Grambling State

One of the problems with playing an FCS team is that it can give the illusion that the team is better than they are.  They can win big and have lots of impressive plays.  Those problems from last year?  Not so much against weaker opponents.

But then the “real” games start and all of a sudden everything that looked fixed turns out to still be broken.

However, if one looks closely, there are things that can observed even in a blowout win that might illuminate how much the Bears have improved since last year.  Here are my 7 things to look for in that regard:

  • The Bears secondary in press coverage:  How often are they willing to commit to aggressive coverage schemes with their DB’s?  And when they do it, how successful are they?  Don’t look too much at the actual result of the play, but whether the guys were open.  Grambling State’s QB may not have seen it or been able to make the throw, but later QB’s will.  In any case, it will be a good sign if Cal shows more aggressive coverage, putting the DB’s “on an island” and they’re successful at it.
  • Is the Bears secondary making plays on the ball?  One of the biggest things that disrupts opposing QB’s is seeing their passes picked off (or nearly so).  It makes them much more nervous to throw into tight spots and they’re more likely to hold onto the ball and look for something better.  But if the defense is never looking, is never able to make a play on the ball, the QB can throw into just about any spot and the worst case scenario is just an incompletion.  This has been part of what has been plaguing the Bears secondary.  Even when they’ve had reasonable coverage, the QB’s aren’t fearing throwing the ball and completions are made at times when the ball would never have been thrown if the DB’s had giving the QB that fear.  We need to see significant improvement in this area.
  • How much penetration is the D-Line getting?  Where is the line of scrimmage 2 seconds after each play starts… is it where it started, or are the Bears physically moving Grambling State around?  Don’t worry too much about the number of sacks as FCS teams tend to modify their plays to get the ball out quickly against FBS opponents.
  • How much of a push is the O-Line getting?  This is the same as the prior one, but in the inverse.  Are the Bears getting a forward push on run plays and somewhat holding their ground on pass plays?  Unlike the prior one, every sack should terrify us.
  • How often is the defense confused or urgently making corrections right before the snap?  A good defense knows what it wants to do.
  • When are the points scored?  Sometimes the final score will look good, but most of the points were scored in the 2nd half.  If the halftime score is 20-10, that should concern us even if the final score is 57-16.  Generally FCS teams come out and play really hard, but they can’t sustain it.  Eventually the bigger team wears them down and things get out of hand.  However, a good team manhandles the FCS team even when they’re giving that over-effort in the 1st quarter.
  • How much player rotation are we seeing?  I’m talking about more than whether the coaching staff starts subbing in the 2nd string in the 4th quarter and the 3rd string for the last drive.  That just means the Bears were winning big.  I’m talking about through the majority of the game are we seeing more than 22 players out there.  How many different WR/TE/RB packages are we seeing?  Are they rotating in different D-Line guys?  What about in pass coverage… particularly when they go into nickle packages, what sort of variety are we seeing in personnel?  (Dont’ forget to include the LB’s in that assessment)  Finally, how does Chase Forrest look at QB when he comes in as a backup? (For the QB it’s OK if it isn’t until the 2nd half.)  For this team to win consistently they need depth.  One of the sure signs of depth is the team is playing lots of different guys throughout an FCS game.  Bring your depth chart and check off the 2nd string guys as you see them come in.

That is what strikes me as things to look for that can be illuminating, even if the Bears win big.

Now if the Bears have a tight game like they did against Portland State in 2013… LOOK OUT!  It could be a rough year.

Interest in the Pick’Em league again?

I got an e-mail request to get the Pick’Em league back up and running.  It wouldn’t be too much work to get the software working again, but I’d sure like to make sure I get at least a handful of people signed up to put in the effort.

Who’s in?  (Add a comment in the comment section if you are)