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Archive for November, 2015

ASU OTRH Podcast

Here’s the year’s final installment of the On The Road Home podcast.  Thinking over what I said, I probably was a bit too harsh on the offensive line.  They did a VERY good job of pass protection against a difficult blitzing ASU defense.  Where my mind was as I was recording this was the lack of a consistent run game, something that has plagued the team all year.

Since I don’t see myself going to the bowl game, this will be the last installment of the 2015 season.  I’m always interested to hear if people enjoy them, so consider this post your opportunity to say you’d like me to keep doing this in future seasons or if you couldn’t care less.

Forgetting why we were down 24-3?

I don’t know why this has to be my 1st post-ASU post.  I mean, I’m ecstatic with the win and really think the Bears showed a lot of heart, determination and resolve last night.  Way to go, right?

But it’s not what is on my top of mind this morning.  Perhaps it is because all of the articles and blog posts I’m reading don’t even mention it other than to set the stage for the comeback.  Perhaps it is because I fear what happens if it becomes a pattern.  Perhaps it is because I fear it is already a pattern (UCLA?).  Whatever the reason, I’m a bit stuck on… why was this team down 3-24 to ASU?

There have been a few too many moments this season where I just don’t get why the team was unable to execute.  Why was the offense so good against Oregon for a 10-0 lead, but then pathetic for the rest of the game?  What happened to the offense against UCLA?  Why did it take a quarter for the offense to get humming against OSU?  Why was Cal unable to execute in the redzone against Stanford?

It all leaves me a little bit uneasy.

So as I reflect on ASU, I’m happy.  I’m thankful for the strong effort, for the never-say-die attitude.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that in the back of my mind I’m worried about why this team was ever down 3-24 to ASU.

Thus endeth the negative post-ASU posts.  More joy to come…

ASU Preview

ASU is a perplexing team, maybe even as perplexing as Cal.  It becomes most notable when looking at how ASU faired against common competition:

When Cal was hanging tough with USC, ASU was getting the crud kicked out of it.  While on the other side of LA, ASU absolutely destroyed UCLA while Cal was licking its wounds before halftime.  They held closer against Oregon than Cal did, but lost handily to WSU while Cal won that one.  We both beat Washington by a small margin.  And to finish off the list Cal held closer to Utah than ASU did.

So if we ignore the LA teams, the results favor the Bears.  If we include USC, it looks even a little better for the Bears.  But UCLA throws that all into turmoil.  (Maybe it’s UCLA who is the wildcard here?)

And unlike Oregon, Stanford or WSU, for whom we have a narrative to explain the discrepancies, it’s much harder to give one to ASU besides perhaps inconsistency.

Thus when I visualize this match-up, I see both the potential for a big Cal win and a disaster of a game that sends the program reeling.  ASU has potential.  One shouldn’t too quickly discount their performance at UCLA as an anomaly.  ASU can play that good.

What ASU needs to have that sort of a dominating performance is to get pressure with their defensive line.  Until last week’s victory over Arizona, the most points ASU had allowed in a winning effort was 23.  They won by being disruptive all game long and allowing their offense the time to find it’s rhythm and be productive.

I believe Cal would do better today in a shootout than a defensive struggle.

I also think Cal has the defensive chops to slow ASU.  There’s nothing particularly scary about their passing game (although it’s not bad either).  The key to ASU is traditional balance. I see more of USC and Washington in them than I see UCLA or Oregon.

So the question becomes, can the Cal offense be efficient and productive against ASU?  I think so.  I think Cal has enough different ways to deal with defensive line pressure to defuse that threat.  I also think Goff has turned a bit of a corner the last couple weeks and is focusing on taking what the defense is giving him, something that was lacking from Utah through Oregon.

The end result is that I see a game where Cal marches down the field, nibbling away.  Lots of dump-off pass plays, screens, QB scrambles, quick hitches and the such.  They’ll end up getting the defense tired.  So while I expect a close score through the 1st half, I see Cal extending the lead in the 2nd half.  I see the Cal defense overall doing a reasonably good job, but there’s also going to be a few too many plays (or even a drive or two) that will drive us nuts.  One or two of those scores will make it appear that the potential win could be in trouble.

But in the end, Cal will control enough of the game to win by a couple scores.

Cal finishes 7-5: Bears 37, Sun worshippers 23

Big Game OTRH podcast

Here’s another thrilling installment of the On The Road Home podcast:


Frustrated with my fellow Cal fans today

I’ll have my OTRH podcast up tomorrow morning, but I wanted to make a comment in the mean time:


I’m frustrated too, but what I’m seeing on the various Cal sites today is bothersome to me.  Dykes made reasonable calls taking the points instead of going for it on 4th down.  At the end of the game, yeah, they were surrender punts and kickoffs, but guess what, the game was ALREADY surrendered at that point.  (Anybody here really think Cal was going to recover two consecutive onside kicks and score 2 TD’s with 1:50 left?)

My point is overall Dykes was reasonably aggressive.  He went for it on 4th down a handful of well chosen times.  Those 9 points made it so Cal was within a score in the 4th quarter.  Yes, Cal would have had a much better shot at winning had a couple of those field-goals been touchdowns, but that should be blamed on bad catches, bad throws, or if someone would like to put in the effort to prove it, bad play calls on 1st through 3rd down.

Cal needed two things Saturday: Better redzone execution and a defense that could hold a tough rushing team for 4 quarters.

Dykes lack of aggressive play-calling wasn’t the problem.

Big Game preview

This might just be the most important game of Sonny Dykes coaching career.  The Bears need to prove they can beat  the better teams in the conference, even if it is just occasionally.  A win over a struggling ASU isn’t going to cut it for that, so Stanford is the last chance of the season.  It’s put up or shut-up time.

The good news for the Bears is there are reasons for optimism.

As the previous post showed, the common opponent analysis suggests the difference in quality between the teams isn’t has high as their current records would suggest.  The unbalanced Pac-12 south schedule doesn’t allow a fair comparison.  While Stanford was off beating up on Colorado and Arizona, two of the three worst teams in the conference, Cal instead had to play Utah.  In contrast, in the Pac-12 north where the teams played an identical set of teams, they have the same record (3-1).

The second reason is that if one looks at where Cal has struggled, UCLA and Oregon, it is against teams the emphasize speed over power.  Against the better teams that emphasize power, Cal has held their own.  I remain convinced that if Goff hadn’t felt the pressure of trying to carry the whole team on his back against Utah, he wouldn’t have thrown 5 picks and Cal would have won the game.  As for USC, Cal had a shot to win in the 4th quarter, and I think we’ll see later today how good a resurgent USC team is when they play Oregon.  After all, they haven’t lost a conference game since the coaching change happened.

So here’s the blueprint for how to win this game:

  1. The offense needs to have a mantra today: “Take what the defense is giving you.”  The team does not need to score 50 points.  30 will likely do.  They don’t need to be successful on every drive.  While it would be wise to *occasionally* take the shots down field to get some extra “free” points and to keep the defense honest, the key to victory for the offense is to be opportunistic and not let a few stalled drives get inside their psyche.
  2. The defense needs to be VERY physical at the line of scrimmage while biasing towards stopping the run.  I think they have it in them.  They showed it against Utah and to a lesser degree against USC.  Make Hogan beat Cal with his arm.

If they do that, I think they have a 50/50 shot of winning, if not slightly better than that.

The big question is, will they?  And here’s thinking that they don’t. (Sorry to say)  I very much fear we’re going to see Jekyll and Hyde at quarterback, flippant at some times, and desperate at others.  There will be flashes of Goff’s brilliance, but I don’t think it will be consistent.

On defense, we’re going to see them be just barely not good enough.   There’s going to be a lot of long frustrating drives where the Bears appear to have it stopped every 3rd of 4th set of downs, but somehow Stanford keeps chugging along and getting 1st downs when they should have been stopped.

This will have the effect of shortening the game and reducing the number of chances for the Cal offense to find its rhythm.

Thus what I expect to see is a game where Cal appears to have a shot, where they remain in tantalizingly close striking distance, but are never able to put together enough drives, particularly at the crucial times, to win.

Bears lose a frustrating one: Cal 20, Trees 27

Common opponent comparison for Big Game

(Sorry for my lack of posting this week.  I only got to watch snippets of the OSU game due to connectivity problems and this week has been so busy I haven’t been able to do the re-watch.  I wanted to complete the re-watch before commenting, but that’s just not going to happen.)

As I predicted, the most important game as a precursor to the Big Game was in Palo Alto, not in Berkeley.  Cal decisively beat OSU to gain bowl eligibility, but who can say what that really means?  Cal was expected to win big over a weak OSU team and they did.

But in Palo Alto we found out two things:

  1. Stanford is vulnerable.  They can be beat.
  2. Oregon is really a very different team than they were in the early to mid-season and that Cal lost to them is not so much about Cal being weak but instead about how much better Oregon has gotten.

Now the question becomes, how do we judge the Big Game?  To that end, let’s do a common opponent analysis:

Washington State:

  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won even smaller, needing a missed field goal by WSU at the end to hold on
  • Conclusion: WSU is much better than we thought early and this turns out to be Cal’s best win of the season.  It suggests against an offense like Cal’s, Stanford can be beat, although it won’t be easy.


  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Stanford was better positioned to win a grind it out power game, so it made it easy for Stanford to win.  Not much to learn from this common opponent other than to say Cal was able to be competitive against a power team.


  • Cal lost big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Without a doubt, the most troubling common opponent of the season.  If you want to be optimistic you can chock this up to Cal having their worst performance of the year.


  • Cal lost small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Definitely a game in Stanford’s favor, but Cal played competitively against another power team and kept it close.  Nevertheless, if one ignores UCLA, this becomes the most troubling common opponent.


  • Cal lost medium-large
  • Stanford lost small
  • Conclusion #1: It turns out that Oregon is playing the best football late in the season in the North and Cal’s loss doesn’t look so bad.
  • Conclusion #2: The teams Cal has been most vulnerable to are the fast spread teams, like Oregon and UCLA, and not the power teams, like USC, Utah, and Washington.

Oregon State:

  • Cal won big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Not much to take from this one.  OSU just isn’t very good and isn’t a good test for either team.

And that’s it.  Because of the way the scheduling work, Cal and Stanford will only ever have USC and UCLA as common south opponents in the same season.

So what’s the overall conclusion?

It says that Stanford is the better team, but by less than one would expect, particularly when you look at how Cal does against power teams (and when judging Cal against Stanford, we need to be more concerned with power than speed).  If you’re willing to chock up the UCLA game to a horrid Cal performance and suggest it is not a good comparison point for the Big Game, the margin of Stanford’s edge gets surprisingly small.

Thus, I think this game is going to be a lot closer than people think.

Expect a full preview post tomorrow.

The most telling game this weekend isn’t in Berkeley

Although there is a possibility that the Bears continue their free-fall and lose to Oregon State, it’s not a high probability.  And no matter what the score is, assuming the Bears win, it will be hard to learn much about the Bears from the game.

More telling will be what happens across the bay.

The way I see things, Cal has only had two really bad games.  UCLA and Oregon.  Other than that it has lost close games with too many mistakes to pretty good teams.  At this point I’m willing to chock the UCLA loss up to a bad effort and poor preparation.

But the Oregon game really hurts if Oregon is as mediocre as we all fear.

The best possible thing to happen for the Bears outlook is to find out that Oregon is “back”, that they turned a massive corner in the last few weeks with the return of a healthy Vernon Adams and the rest of the team starting to click.  Then the Bears just happened to hit Oregon at the wrong time and their preparation was hindered by not having enough film on the resurgent version of the Ducks.

But the only way the above logic would make sense is if the Ducks go into Stanford Stadium on Saturday and stick it to Stanford.  That’s the best proof that the Ducks are “back” and for real.  Then all of a sudden, finishing the seasons with a few more wins won’t seem so unlikely.  Then Stanford will be more beatable, and ASU, who’s record (minus UCLA) in the conference is less impressive than the Bears, looks manageable with a strong performance in Berkeley.

But if Oregon gets dominated by Stanford, it’s hard to imagine the Bears getting a 7th win without a huge improvement.

(One more piece of good news: The Bears are done traveling.  They’ll stay in the Bay Area for the rest of the season.  Don’t under-estimate how much impact traveling has, particularly as the season wears on.  I’ve done a couple seasons of going to every game, and it really wears on you.  ASU is not going to be happy coming to Berkeley on Thanksgiving weekend.)

Oregon State tickets for sale

Can’t make it to the Oregon State game this weekend, so I’m selling my tickets on eBay:


I’m done

(Clarity update: this was written just before halftime during the Oregon game)

I’ve got better things to do with my life than watch this garbage.  How can the team that got those stops in the 1st quarter and looked mostly unstoppable turn into completely incompetent on both sides of the ball?

The only answer is effort.  This team doesn’t have it.  Goff couldn’t care less and the rest of the team with him.  Defense too.  Over 400 yards in basically 1 quarter.  Are you FREAKING kidding me!?!

To hell with them all.  Dykes, Goff, Franklin, Kaufman.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any posting from me for a while.

Various USC thoughts

Not going to try and do a full breakdown, but just a few of the random thoughts I have:

  • It’s disappointing to me to hear that both Goff and Dykes were frustrated with the refs.  No game is ever officiated perfectly and there was nothing egregious in this game.  Their efforts would be better spent being frustrated with their own problems.
  • Hardy Nickerson did not have his best game.  He took a bad route on a blitz that allowed him to be too easily blocked on a touchdown run and both of the 3rd down conversions when USC was running out the clock was due to him not doing the outside contain properly.  Perhaps someone else was responsible, but it sure looked like it was supposed to be him and he got caught up by trying to fill an already filled inside gap and then couldn’t get to the outside.
  • Not that it matters, as USC would have definitely scored from 1st and goal from the 1 yard line, but that interception return was NOT a touchdown.  The pylon is OUT of bounds.  That means the nose of the ball must cross the plane INSIDE the pylon.  At best the ball touched the outside of the pylon (and I have my doubts about that, I think it might have been his forearm and the full ball was outside the pylon).  I’ve got no problem with the on the field call, but shouldn’t the replay booth know the rules?
  • I’m definitely of the opinion that Goff has not been right in the head ever since the Utah game.  I’m still seeing hesitation and jitters that he didn’t have before that game.  It might be that it is because the subsequent performances have all seen a lot more man-coverage, but my instinct tells me that’s not it.  If there’s good news, it is that I feel as the game wore on he slowly shook his jitters.  Perhaps this will be the last game of it.
  • When I re-watched the game on TV I was closely watching for whether the RB’s were hitting the holes right.  I noticed two things: 1. it’s a lot harder to tell on TV because the view is more from the sideline than my seats.  2.  From what I could see my fears were confirmed: The RB’s were not hitting the right holes at time and were often in the wrong location within the hole.
  • The other thing the RB’s were doing is cutting to the sideline too much.  They need to cut up field.  The running game needs 5 yard runs to keep defenses honest.  It’s better to get 3-5 consistently than a lot of 2 yarders and the occasional 50 yarder.  Someone needs to remind them of that and that they can get those extra couple of yards by plowing through defenders.
  • That said, the OL is not exactly helping the cause.  I think they were able to open holes early because they gave a strong effort, but they aren’t big/strong enough to do it for 4 quarters against a team like USC.
  • Just one comment about the defense: Anytime you guys give up 19 points against a Pac-12 team, I’m happy.  Carry on.

Any thoughts from others?

USC OTRH Podcast

Sorry for the delay this week.  I am traveling on business, so I didn’t have as much personal time at the end of the weekend/beginning of the week as I usually do.  In any case, here is this week’s installment: