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Archive for October, 2015


USC Preview

There are certain games where one can break down film and stats to predict what is likely to happen.  There are other games where it comes down to more of a feel than cold analysis.  This is one of those games.

Anyone who knows recruiting knows that there is no team in the conference who gets higher rated recruits than USC.  They get more 5-star recruits than the rest of the conference combined in many years.  And while there is the issue of whether the ratings align to whether those kids are in fact the most talented players, one would have to take a very dim view of all of the rating services to believe that USC didn’t have a talent advantage.  I think this is particularly true of the 5-stars.  There are a number of 4-star players who get their rating from their in-game statistics and statistics can be misleading due to what team a player is on and the such.  But 5-stars have to have the whole package: size, speed, physically dominating tape plus the in-game statistics.  There are very few 5-stars who are not as talented as they appear.

All of that is a long way of saying that USC is more talented than any team in the conference.

But talent will only get a team so far.  They have to be motivated.  They have to be coached well in all aspects (technique, scheme, physical development).  As a result, USC has been under-performing now for the better part of a decade because the coaching just hasn’t been there.  In the most recent incident, it appears it has been because their head coach has been an alcoholic.

Now that Sarkesian has been fired, everything has changed.

And the worst part is that the way it has changed for USC is in a way that is deadly to Cal: the linemen.  When I’ve seen USC play up until the Utah game, I saw a team that looked marginal on the line.  They didn’t look bad, but they weren’t pushing anyone around.  What I saw at the Utah game was a physically dominating line performance.

That’s the worst case scenario for Cal, as Utah and UCLA both proved.  Both of those games were lost in the trenches.  And if Cal lost a game in the trenches (albeit marginally) to a team that lost badly in the trenches to USC, we should turn on the red-alert alarm.

So I’ll be blunt: Unless Cal has a HUGE improvement in line play today (or for some reason USC massively under performs on the line), Cal loses this one big.  And frankly I just don’t see that happening.  I think you might be surprised to see me discounting this game when previewing future games, because I don’t think the teams after USC (Stanford aside) are going to physically dominate Cal the way USC is likely going to.  I’ve got hope for the future against Oregon, OSU and ASU.  But today is going to be a blood bath.

Cal 17, USC 42

Common opponent review of remaining games

It’s wise on occasion to look at the common opponents of our up coming games.  Here’s a quick look:

USC:

  • UW: Cal barely beat, USC lost to handily
  • Utah: Cal barely lost, USC beat handily

Conclusion: Confused, if one doesn’t take a pre and post Sarkesian view… in which case Cal loses big time.

Oregon:

  • Utah: Cal barely lost, Oregon lost big
  • WSU: Cal barely won, Oregon barely lost
  • UW: Cal barely won, Oregon barely won

Conclusion: In Cal’s favor, although harder to tell if one takes a with or without Vernon Adams view

Oregon State:

  • WSU: Cal barely won, OSU lost big

Conclusion: A bit short on data, but in Cal’s favor

Stanford:

  • UCLA: Cal lost big, Stanford won big
  • UW: Cal barely won, Stanford won medium

Conclusion: Definitely doesn’t look good for Cal

Arizona State:

  • UCLA: Cal lost big, ASU won big
  • Utah: Cal barely lost, ASU lost medium

Conclusion: Some confusion, but leans more in ASU’s way than Cal’s.

 

What does one take away from that?  There’s a few ways to look at it.  The positive way is there is only one game that is clearly not in Cal’s favor.  The negative way is there’s not a single game where the evidence is thus far strongly in Cal’s favor (if one assumes the single OSU common opponent isn’t sufficient).  My conclusion, reading between the lines, based on the results, Cal should lose to USC (because of the Sark factor) and Stanford, should beat OSU, Oregon is a toss up (due to Adams factor), and I wouldn’t like needing to beat ASU for bowl eligibility to be on the table even if I don’t put it in the same category as USC and Stanford (because I generally view Cal’s performance as not indicative of the team’s potential).

Disgusted by UCLA performance

What is it with the Bears and their regular season trips to the Rose Bowl?  Tedford’s Bears were notorious for laying eggs when on the road at UCLA (2005 and 2011 being the most notable).  Now Dyke’s Bears have been blown out twice down there.  Since 2003, the only victory at UCLA was 2009.

I was willing to excuse the 2013 performance as the Bears were generally terrible, getting blown out just about every week, so UCLA just fit in with the “theme” of the season.  But there’s no excuse this year and there’s no other way to say it: the Bears laid an egg last night.  So what is it?  Is it that that the Bears have so many So. Cal players on the team?  (The Bears don’t exactly have the best track record at the LA Coliseum either.)  Is it that it’s the only long bus ride the Bears take to a game? (The Bears fly to the Oregon, Washington, Arizona and “mountain” schools, but take a bus to LA.)  Is it a permutation of the Rose Bowl curse?  Or is it a coincidence and what we’re seeing here is due to something else (Thursday night game, Utah hangover, etc.)?

Frankly, I don’t know, but I’m getting really, really, really sick and tired of losing to mediocre Bruin teams in LA.

Some notes on the game:

  • Has anyone else noticed that up until the Utah game, Cal operated the snap differently?  It used to be the guard looked back and on Goff’s command tapped the center in the leg.  Now we use the more traditional scheme of the center looking through his legs.  Frankly, the offensive line play has looked terrible since then.  I was willing to overlook it against Utah, but UCLA does not have the sort of dominant line that Utah does.  The old system allowed the center to keep his eyes on the defense and be the leader of the line calling audibles and the such.  Why did they change?
  • When I looked at the Cal secondary positioning, it reminded me too much of past seasons.  Players were too often WAAAY off the ball, particularly in the slot.  It’s another, ‘why the change?’.  The defense looked confused and out of sorts all night.  The scheme was ridiculously bad.
  • That said, Cal is losing these games in the trenches.  I really thought the lines were in better shape than they are.  They’re getting pushed around and manhandled on both sides of the ball.
  • Goff had another bad game.  He looked tentative and unsure.  I think those interceptions from the prior week are in his head.  He’s also not taking what the defense is giving him and forcing the ball too far down field too often.
  • Why is Mohammad not our primary back?  Whenever we put him in, the run game comes to life.  All of a sudden we’re getting 5+ yards a rush.  Even when he doesn’t have a great rush, he’s falling forward, getting 2-3 instead of -1.  What the heck did he do or what bias does the coaching staff have against him?  It’s been the biggest head-scratcher of the year.  This guy should be our primary back.  No RB by committee until Lasco (another head-scratcher is why he’s not 100% yet) is healthy.
  • Dykes picked some really odd times to be aggressive despite being conservative in his offensive game plan for most of the game.  What was with that fake punt on 4th and 10?
  • Overall I’d say it was a bad offensive game plan (to go along with the horrible defensive game plan).  They should have committed to the run game earlier and stuck with it.  They were running on downs that are a bad idea when you’ve got concerns about the run game.  You don’t run on 2nd and 10.  3rd and 7 is not much of a help.  It’s just making it so you’re nearly guaranteed to have 3rd and long and taking your margin of error down to nothing.  You also don’t pass on 2nd and short.  That’s when you tell the team to go out there and get those 3 yards and don’t let them off the hook until they start converting them.  Finally, on 3rd and short, you don’t throw low percentage plans like deep fades to Treggs.

So, I’m disgusted.  If the Bears play like they did last night for the rest of the season, this team will be 6-6 and there’s a risk they don’t go bowling if things fall apart for the OSU game.  (Luckily I have hope that the Bears won’t play like that for the rest of the season.   They may be able to get a couple of wins out of vulnerable USC and Oregon as well as over-rated ASU.)

UCLA game prediction

No time for a full preview this evening, but I wanted to get my prediction out there.  The Bears win tonight and the difference maker is going to be the Bears run game which is going to bust some big ones tonight as UCLA struggles with Cal’s offensive balance.

Cal 45, Baby Bears 20.

Happy BTTF Day

Happy Back to the Future Day.  For those not in the know, today is the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrived in the future in their time machine: From October 21st, 1985 to October 21st, 2015.

The Cubs almost made the movie’s otherwise completely horrific futuristic predictions interesting (they were predicted to win the world series over “Miami” in the 2015 World Series), but seeing as how they’re down 0-3 in the NLCS, it doesn’t look likely.

In any case, enjoy your hoverboards and flying cars.

Unbalanced schedules could hurt Bears

With the collapse of Oregon, the Pac-12 North appears to be a battle between Cal and Stanford.  While it’s not guaranteed, as Cal could lose some games they shouldn’t based on what we know so far, at this point any results-based analysis suggests it should come down to the Bears and the Cardinal.

Thus the question becomes, what will it take for the Bears to finish ahead of Stanford?

The simplest answer of course is the Bears need to beat Stanford in the Big Game and then do no more than 1 game worse in the rest of conference play than the Cardinal.  So, if Cal beats Stanford, we can afford to lose one game to someone else that Stanford does not.  Cal could lose to USC even though Stanford beat them and still be OK.

But here’s where it could get unfair…

Stanford doesn’t have to play Utah.  They get to play Colorado instead.  There goes our one-game buffer, as one has to expect Stanford to beat lowly Colorado.  But to make matters even worse, the other swap isn’t exactly fair either.  Stanford gets Arizona, whereas Cal gets ASU.

So, for those of you Old Blues out there, here’s your worst case scenario:

Cal runs the table in the conference, including beating Stanford, and beats every team that Stanford beats, but Cal still loses the division, because Cal loses to ASU in the final game of the season (in addition to already losing to Utah) whereas Stanford beats up on Colorado and Arizona.

Wouldn’t that stink?

Thoughts from the Utah game

Here are some various thoughts from the game:

  • If you don’t think the defense did a great job, then you weren’t watching closely enough.  Name a game where the offense gave up 6 turnovers and the opposition only scored 30 points?  The defense did GREAT.  Other than the one 40 yard touchdown run, they really kept the Utah running game in check and gave the Bears every chance to win the game.
  • I think too many people (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone) were of the thinking that the only way the Bears win was if Goff had an incredible game, and that is at least in part to blame (luckily I’m sure Goff doesn’t listen to me so I’m off the hook… phew!) for his poor performance.  That was a QB who thought he had to perform miracles and every drive had to be a success.  It’s the only explanation I have for the majority of those interceptions.  There’s been no game I’m aware of where he’s forced balls into so many bad spots.
  • Actually, I have one other theory, but it isn’t as comprehensive as the prior one.  Don’t forget the Bears were playing at 4000 feet.  He had a few too many balls sail on him and that could in part be because of the thinner air.  As proof it makes a difference, did anyone notice that all of a sudden our kickoffs were all touchbacks?  In any case, a couple of the interceptions were over-throws.
  • Was I the only one who noticed that Muhammad was conspicuously absent?  Yes, yes, yes, I know we’re all watching Lasco like a hawk, so his missing is the bigger headline, but Muhammad rushed 4 times in the 1st quarter (OK, the 4th was early 2nd quarter) averaging 6 yards a carry, and then was seen no more.  My gut tells me he got injured and we haven’t been told yet.
  • BTW, Lasco shouldn’t be blamed for that fumble.  He had both hands solidly on the ball and just happened to get hit by a helmet right on the ball.  Just about any RB puts that ball on the turf.  I don’t question the decision of the coaches… without detailed analysis of the specifics of what happened (something the coaches don’t have the luxury of mid-game) it’s a fair conclusion that if the 1st time he touches the ball he fumbles, his head is not back in the game.
  • Lawler may be able to make incredible catches, but the last few games he’s been a little weak in the consistency department.  He had two pretty bad plays, one that caused an interception and the other cost us a touchdown in the redzone.
  • Back to the defense, yeah Booker had 222 yards, but it took him 34 rushes to do it.  Here’s predicting Booker either is rested a lot in the next few weeks or the Utah rushing game falters late in the season.  A back can’t do 34 rushes every week very long.  It really hurt Vereen at the end of the 2009 season.  He was toast after the Big Game.
  • Finally, while I’m not one to let this sort of thing bother me, it was DEFINITELY pass interference on the failed 4th and 5.  There’s no way the defender gets his hand in there if he doesn’t use the WR’s weight to turn himself around while holding on to him.
  • If there’s a conclusion to take from this game (and to some degree from the rest of the games played this past weekend), Cal can beat any team in the conference.  The wins of UW and WSU show that Cal should be able to beat USC and Oregon with a solid effort.  The way the Bears hung in with the physical play of Utah shows the Bears should be able to compete with Stanford.  Since ASU lost to USC and UCLA lost to ASU, one has to believe that Cal can compete with ASU and UCLA as well.  None of this is to say the Bears *will* win all those games, but it does say there’s not a game left on the schedule we should be assuming will be a loss at this point.

Bring on UCLA in a week and a half!

Shouldn’t the Bears ranking go up today?

Cal was 25 yards from beating a team ranked 18 spots higher than it.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” Washington looks a whole lot better now that they upset #17 USC.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” Texas looks a WHOLE lot better now that they upset #10 Oklahoma.

Cal’s previous victory over “not very good” WSU looks better now that they upset “#26″ Oregon.

Cal is still 5-1, as good as at least 8 teams (even more if you count the losses from this week) ranked above them.

Doesn’t that all add up to a team that should be ranked around #20 or so?

Utah preview

I think 3 questions will determine the outcome of the game tomorrow:

  1. Can the Cal offensive line hold up good enough for Goff to be effective?
  2. Can the Cal defensive line force Travis Wilson to try and win the game through the air?
  3. Will the home-field prove to be much of an advantage?

#3 is the hardest one for me to answer with my head and not my heart.  I was in SLC for the last Cal game there.  It was U.G.L.Y..  The team never looked like itself.  It had the scared look of an elderly couple lost in the backwaters of nowhere when a group of menacing looking people surround the car.  It was one of those horrific Tedford road games where you wonder how he prepared them to go on the road (2008 Arizona, 2009 UW, 2011 UCLA and 2012 Colorado come to mind as of the same vein).

So my heart has a hard time believing being the visitors won’t hurt the Bears.  But it’s important to note that this is not Tedford and Dykes has shown the leadership to have the Bears performing well on the road.  We saw it last year and we’ve definitely seen it this year.  So my head says it will be a non-factor.  For now I’m going to go with my head, but I reserve the right to pretend I didn’t say that on Sunday.

As for what is going to happen in the trenches, my gut tells me that both the Cal line will do what it needs (3rd and 1 rushing scenarios aside) for the offense to be productive and the Utah offensive line will impose it’s will enough to keep the game off of Wilson’s shoulders.

What that means to me is that the Bears are going to have to be VERY efficient on offense.  They can not afford to have many unproductive series.  Utah will happily play keep-away and shorten the game, scoring the needed 30 or so points deliberately with just enough passing to keep Cal’s defense balanced.

So the question is, does the Cal offense take the step to get back to the level of efficiency we saw early last year against Arizona, Colorado and WSU, where just about every series results in points?

I’d love to believe that, but I just don’t see it happening.  There have been a few too many inconsistencies thus far and the thinner air in SLC doesn’t exactly lend itself to clarity of thought and crispness of execution.  My gut tells me we’re going to spend most of the game waiting for the offense to kick it into high gear, with moments/drives that show promise but it being too stilted for comfort.  Then, even if it finally happens that the offense starts clicking, the defense will come up a couple of stops short of giving the offense a chance to win the game.

Bears lose a tough one: 23-34

Initial thoughts on Utah game

What a difference a week makes.  Cal goes from an “also ran” to part of the biggest game in the Pac-12… the match-up of the lone undefeated teams!  Cal is now “predicted” to end up in the Rose Bowl according to ESPN (with Utah in the playoffs).

And somehow that all happened while Cal underwhelmed in their victory over lowly WSU and Utah was on a bye.

Yet from my way of thinking, nothing much really changed in the last week.

My gut instinct says that Utah looks to be a real Pac-12 south title contender and Cal still looks to be a middling Pac-12 north team.  Based on that, one should expect than an upset here (Utah is a 6-point favorite) would be a true upset.

However, as I dig deeper, I’m not so sure that Utah is as good as its #5 ranking would suggest.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they deserve it.  They’ve won all their games and it includes two marquee wins over Michigan and Oregon.

But what if Oregon is a lower than middling team?  They didn’t exactly overwhelm lowly Colorado this past Saturday.  And what if Michigan is a combination of both not as good as their ranking and also much improved from their season opening loss to Utah?  (I mean, it was Harbaugh’s first game as their coach.)  It’s very possible that Utah, while I’m sure a pretty good team, is really not as good as their #5 ranking would suggest.

And then what about Cal?  How good are the Bears?  My thinking is that the Cal offense hasn’t hit their stride.  If they are unable to do that versus Utah, then the Bears are doomed.  But if Cal can rise up to their potential on offense, they could probably put up a lot of points on Saturday.  And make no mistake, that’s what it is going to take.  The defense might be good enough to keep the Bears in this game, but it going to be the offense that will either win or lose it.

So call me unconvinced all the way around.  I’m unconvinced this is the lauded match-up that it is being billed as.  I’m unconvinced Utah is as good as they appear.  I’m unconvinced about whether the Cal offense is really what we think/hope it is.

So it’s going to take me a while longer to come up with my prediction.

 

WSU postgame thoughts

I managed to get in a re-watch of the game on TV yesterday evening. Here are my thoughts:

  • The Bears didn’t look as flat as they did on TV as they did in person.  Perhaps it is because you can see a bunch of pre and post play stuff on the field that you can’t see on TV.  It was funny to hear them refer to Goff as “composed” when the Bears were down.  I saw it as troublingly unconcerned with his poor play.
  • To some degree it speaks to how high of expectations we have of Goff that he thrown 73% completions on the day and we can consider it an “off” day.
  • A really, really weird thrust of the announcers was their talking about it being a referee emphasis this year to penalize “Bush push” plays.  What is he NUTS?  In my entirely life I can’t think of a time I’ve seen that called and there have been plenty of times where I’ve seen it, including the WSU 4th and 1 TD.  For what it is worth, they didn’t call it in the UCLA game I saw on TV that evening either.  One wonders if the announcer is having conversations with ghosts, because I’ve never heard anything about it nor any indication of it on the field.
  • On the other hand, the announcers did a good job explaining what was going on with the corners and the cover-2 schemes WSU was running.  It was definitely confusing Goff early in the game.  I think it would be wise for the Cal corners to watch film of WSU doing it.  The key to cover-2 is that the corner has to get deep enough and the safety has to play it shallow enough that the window the QB has to fit the ball into is small enough that it’s too dangerous to throw it there as the WR is passing through.  The other half, the part that makes it difficult for the corner, is they have to be able to break towards the line as soon as it is clear the play is going to come in front of them.
  • I said this in the podcast, but it is worth repeating.  The pass protection of the OL was pretty dang good.  What turned this game was Goff realizing he had the time to survey the field and find the open receiver.  I think he’s so used to having to make a quick read he was too quick to pull the trigger in this one.  But as it became clear he would have time back there, he started to wait for the right guy to get open and the passing game came alive.
  • Missed from the podcast was a shout-out to Cole Leininger.  He had 3 great punts, none better than the one with 20 seconds left.  Nothing better than a long punt that goes past the returner into the endzone, draining clock as it rolls.
  • Who doesn’t deserve a shout-out is kicker Matt Anderson.  I had really hoped that the UW game was a turning point for him.  Instead we saw an even more shakey performance from him on Saturday than we’ve grown accustomed to.
  • In fairness, the onside kick was executed to perfection.  Anderson did a good job of hiding it until very late in his run-up and then kicked it with just the right amount of velocity to get it past the WSU edge.  At first I thought he had kicked it a bit hard, as the Cal outside guy BARELY managed to catch up to it before it went out of bounds, but having watched it a few times, it was clear if he had slowed it down any, it was likely WSU would have been able to pounce on it before it got past them.
  • Speaking of positives it was nice to see the WR’s back on their mojo.  Minus the Lawler fumble, they executed VERY well.  Lawler continues to make really impressive catches.  I actually feel sorry for the other guys because they’ve made some pretty impressive grabs, including Treggs 2-point conversion that he was almost denied, but Lawler’s highlight film is so over the top it’s hard for them to get noticed.  Mark my words, some NFL team is going to get a steal of a WR late in the draft (or even as a undrafted free-agent) because Lawler will get all the attention.
  • One thing that didn’t impress me much was the kick returning.  I hadn’t thought much of it before this weekend because there just haven’t been that many opportunities to return kicks.  But it was a point of emphasis in the reporter blogs this week, so I guess I was paying more attention.  And what I saw was guys running to the wrong spots for where the blocking was setting up.  There’s no doubt these guys have speed and talent.  They’re fully capable of breaking a couple this year.  But they’ve got to use their blocking and get to the right spots to make that happen.
  • And I’ll finish with the same subject I ranted on in the podcast: Muhammad.  I still don’t get why this guy hasn’t been getting more touches.  The supposed complaint of him by the coaches was he wasn’t hitting the right holes during the off-season (and perhaps back to last year).  I guess I can’t comment on that, but from what I’m seeing, he’s the only one hitting the right holes.  Lasco (and this is not a complaint, the guy is recovering from injury) just didn’t have it and looked a bit rusty out there.  Enwere is Mr. wrong hole.  The only one who explodes through the line is Muhammad.  He’s also the only one (while Lasco is down) who can be counted on to catch the ball out of the backfield.  He should be starting right now.  It’s rare that I don’t understand what the coaches are doing (sometimes I’ll disagree, but I get it), but in this case, call me flabbergasted.  And yes, I still feel that way after Enwere’s 42 yard run in the 4th quarter.  It was nice and I get the value of Enwere, but I bet Muhammad does just as well on that play, probably doesn’t get tripped because he’s 4 more yards down field of where Enwere was at that point, and finishes with a 1st down as well.  That play was mostly about the blocking and WSU being out of position.

OK, that’s most of my thoughts.  Expect more posts this week than usual, leading up to the big GameDay game at Utah.

WSU OTRH Podcast

Apparently I had a lot to say because I was nearly in Fairfield by the time I shut-up. (In fairness, as always, I don’t usually start recording until I’m in Richmond where I’m past the areas there are likely to be slowdowns that would steal my concentration. Here it is:

WSU preview/prediction

In the build-up to this game, while last year’s thriller is repeatedly mentioned, it seems that it is rarely remembered.

There’s no other explanation for why the Bears are considered such a favorite in this one.  I mean, WSU absolutely TORCHED the Bears.  Holliday set an NCAA record passing the ball.  Not a WSU record, not even a Pac-12 record, but a NCAA record.  Usually those sorts of records are set when  USC or Oregon play somebody like Southern Wyoming Community College, not when it’s a match-up of two teams in the same conference.

Of course, the big question is, how good is the WSU passing game without Halliday under center.  For those who have forgotten, his replacement took over mid-last season when Halliday went down with a season-ending knee injury.  He managed to come back the very next week and beat Oregon State in Corvallis in a very similar fashion that Cal did a week prior.  In the 8 games he started, he’s thrown for nearly 3000 yards and completed more than two-thirds of his passes.  Those are nearly as good as Goff’s numbers.  This is not to say he’s as good as Halliday was (or Goff is), but it definitely shows he’s a capable replacement.

The next question becomes, how improved is the Cal pass defense?  To them I say watch these 20 seconds:

Or if you think that one was unfair because of the out of bounds thing, how about these 20 seconds:

OK, maybe it’s a bit unfair to use those examples.  Texas was a team that Cal had to respect the running game.  But to counter that, both of those plays were on 3rd and long. How could they NOT be expecting the pass? Yeah, they’ve done better in pass defense in every other game.  But none of them, not even Texas, have the passing game that WSU has.

So, I’m expecting a shootout.  I’m expecting the Bears to give up 40+ points, but I’m also expecting the Bears to put up even more.  #Drop50 as they say.

Bears win a wild one: Cal 52 – WSU 41

19 point favorite?

The point-spread for the Cal vs. WSU game this weekend is up to 19 points.

What are they crazy?  Who would give that many points?

If I was a betting man with no loyalty, I’d be taking WSU in a heart-beat.  Do people not remember that WSU should have won the game last year if it weren’t for a field goal kicker who couldn’t line himself up correctly on the right hash mark?

Just insane.