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Archive for August, 2016

Additional post-Hawaii thoughts

Additional thoughts that were hiding in the recesses of my mind until now:

  • ANZ Stadium didn’t look like a very good football stadium.  Obviously it’s just a fact of life that if you’re going to play a game in a country where they don’t play football, you’re going to have to set a football field on a stadium not designed for one, but that stadium had A LOT of open space between the field and the stands.  It looked worse than USC’s Coliseum.
  • Special teams looked pretty good.  How long has it been since we had multiple kickoffs in a game result in touch-backs?  Plus, there sure seemed like there was a lot of running room on our kickoff returns and not a lot for our opponent’s kick returns.  Additionally, 3 for 3 on field goals and 100% on extra points.  About the only thing that was suspect was the punter didn’t seem to have a lot of leg (although caveat that there we’re many chances for him to just boom the ball kicking from our side of the field).
  • I didn’t much comment on how clean the team’s play was.  It didn’t feel like there were a lot of penalties  (although upon looking it up, it was 6 for 80 yards, with most of them being personal fouls).  But no turnovers and the team never put the ball on the turf at any point.  All the snaps were clean.  Overall a pretty clean game.
  • Another concerning statistic on the defensive side: Hawaii had a 100% TD success rate in the redzone.  (2 for 2)
  • It was interesting to hear that Davis Webb has no history of running with the ball because the two times he ran, I was pretty impressed.  Most QB’s don’t score on that designed run play.  And his one scramble looked pretty good too.  If I was the offensive coordinator, I’d be drawing up a few run plays for him to use in unique situations that merit it.  (Don’t get me wrong: We shouldn’t be using him regularly as a running QB.)

Hawaii game thoughts

In no particular order:

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the program on ESPN I was watching was the Cal vs. Hawaii football game.  Why then did the commentators seem to think it was the ESPN pre-season preview program?  They must have missed calling half of the game with all of their non-game related commentary about all the great match-ups in week 1 and then who was going to win each division in each conference.
  • Along the same lines, I suspect they had a lot fewer cameras than your average US based game.  They never seemed to have very good angles on replays, when they showed them, which wasn’t very often.  Although in part they weren’t showing them because of the quick pace of play, but I also think it was because they didn’t have many good angles to show.
  • Basically what I’m saying is that I found the production quality of the game pretty darned weak.  Perhaps they were using Australia based crews and that affected things as well?  Whatever the case, I felt like I was watching a game from the late 90’s FSN-BA.
  • As for the game… David Webb will be serviceable, but he’s no reincarnation of Goff.  As others have said, he does have a pretty long motion and that’s affecting his ability to make quick and correct decisions.  His accuracy was OK on many throws, but whenever he had to go over the top with touch, I wasn’t impressed.  He also seemed to commit to throwing long over the top balls fairly early and then would really lob them over the top (and it didn’t work well).  I also didn’t see a ton of arm strength there, although again, it was acceptable.  Overall my thought is he’ll be OK.  I doubt there will be more than a game all year where we’ll be aching to put the loss on his shoulders (and remember we did that with Goff against Utah) but at the same time, I’m not expecting to see him pull a couple wins out of thin air with impressive performances.
  • As for the RBs, put me back on the Muhammad bandwagon.  Although it was pretty disappointing to see him drop that easy touchdown pass (is that perhaps why he can’t separate himself from the other two, his pass catching?) he’s the guy I most trust in to make forward progress and to fight for yards.  And yes, I’m aware Enwere is better suited to be a short yardage back.  If I need a back to get two yards, I want Enwere back there.  But on your average down, I trust Mohammad to fight for the extra two yards harder and be more slippery to get them.  Add to that, if there’s a guy who is most capable of breaking a big run, it’s Mohammad.  So why isn’t he getting more carries?   True to form, he had the fewest carries and yet got the most yards.  I really hope the coaching staff gives him more carries moving forward.
  • The receivers look capable, but only Chad Hansen seems to look refined.  There’s obviously some explosive talent, Stovall in particular.  but expect to see Hansen be the go-to guy for a while.  And please, please, please, let some team over-focus on Hansen so Stovall and others are given free reign to exploit the lack of attention.
  • The offensive line looked like last year: Mediocre and serviceable.  But they’re not going to be taking over a game and winning it in the trenches.  They also probably will get abused in at least one game this year, against someone like USC or Utah.
  • On defense… uh-oh.  I’m really feeling like it’s going to be 2014 all over again.  They probably won’t get burned for the big long pass plays as much as in 2014, but I’m pretty concerned overall that the team is going to need to score a lot of points to win games.
  • No sacks… seriously?  There was NO meaningful rushing pressure.
  • The rush defense was OK.  I think perhaps the commentary I’m seeing elsewhere is a bit too much looking at the final stats and not taking into account the way those yards were gained.  There was one long 1st half run that was pretty troubling and a couple times where I felt like they were giving up yards on the ground too easily, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like it was the rushing game that allowed Hawaii to score 14 1st quarter points.
  • The passing defense situation was hit and miss.  With a better QB, Hawaii could have won that game.  There was PLENTY of missed passes and a number of open guys who never got the ball thrown to them.  At the same time, Cal was doing reasonably well at contesting passes on the perimeter.  Over the middle was a different story.  There was way too much passing room.  That would suggest that our problem is not the corners or even the safeties, but the linebackers and the nickel-back.

Overall, the offense better plan on scoring at least 40 points in every game they hope to win, starting in two weeks when the Bears travel to SDSU for game #2.

Hawaii game prediction

We’re less than 36 hours away from the start of another exciting season of Cal Football!

First up is the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (boy does that strike fear in their opponents…  Rainbows!?! Run for your life!) in a unique neutral site location: Sydney, Australia.

There are very few people who are giving Hawaii a chance to win the game, the Bears have to give 20 points on the betting line, and you won’t find me taking the ultra-pessimistic route.  Quite the opposite, I’m probably more optimistic than most about the outcome.  I expect Cal to win this one easily.

In these sorts of games, the way the smaller school from a lesser conference wins against a power-5 conference school is by having some combination of a weakness to exploit and/or a means to blunt the strength of their opponent.  Cal’s biggest weakness is its passing defense, with a decimated secondary and linebacker corps.  Hawaii will be starting a QB with limited experience and is generally a stronger running team than passing team.  So they don’t really have the means to exploit Cal’s weakness.

As for Cal’s strength, it will be its passing game.  Hawaii is switching to a high-risk attacking defense.  While that *may* result in blowing up the Cal offense on occasion, I suspect it will also mean that Cal will have a fair number of big plays as well.  I can’t imagine that Hawaii will be able to blunt Cal’s offensive onslaught.  And I’d think that even if Cal was starting one of their inexperienced QBs.  But with Webb behind center, a man who’s picked up more than a few blitz packages in his collegiate career, I doubly can’t imagine this working out well for Hawaii.

So expect to see Cal win big.

That said, within these sorts of games, there can still be a lot of interesting things to watch, that will give insight into how the season will unfold.  Here’s a list of things to watch:

  1. Is Webb as advertised?  I generally tend to believe Webb was a key off-season acquisition and will make a sizeable difference in the outcome of this season.  But sometimes these things take a life of their own and they’re not nearly as true as the consensus believes (just look at the ridiculous expectations for UW this year…).  It will be very comforting if we see Webb come out of the gate strong.
  2. Can Cal force Hawaii to be one-dimensional, relying on their throwing game?  If Cal can shut down Hawaii’s rushing attack, that will bode well for the future.
  3. How well does Cal pick up Hawaii’s blitz packages?  Call me crazy, but I’m not buying the hype around the Cal offensive line.  They were moving from weak towards mediocre last year, but a great deal of that was having a QB who was exceptional at operating behind inconsistent line play.  That hid a LOT of their weaknesses.  It will be interesting to see how clean Webb’s jersey is at the end of the game.
  4. How well can Cal grind out the clock as the game wears on using its running game?  Last year, the inconsistency of the running game was a significant liability.  (BTW, to bolster point #2, I think the running game inconsistency was far more indicative of the quality of the offensive line than Goff’s ability to make them look OK.)  This year Cal is going to need to take some pressure off the defense by holding on to the ball and grinding out the clock when appropriate.  I think this factor alone could result in a 2 to 3 game swing in the final record of the team.  While Hawaii isn’t the most daunting test, it might show us something.  If Cal struggles with consistent running against Hawaii, be very, very worried about the rest of the season.
  5. Just how bad is the secondary?  This can be a tougher one to judge.  Dykes has been claiming the defense has much better depth than in the past and he expects far more consistent play this season even with the troubling number of starters lost.  Friday night will be the teams first chance to prove to us that the depth argument holds water.

No matter what happens with the above items, expect Cal to win big, with a few big Hawaii plays being their only glimmer of hope.  Final score: Cal 48, Hawaii 23.

Random Monday morning thoughts

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

New Memorial Stadium bag policy

Have you guys seen this:

(Cal has gone the way of the NFL and will now only allow clear bags in the stadium)

I’m getting really sick of these ever increasing “security” measures.  If they’re looking for a way to get me to stop being a season ticket holder, this is their best path.  I can take losing (I sat through the Holmoe years), but what I can’t take is being treated like a criminal.

So I decided to write a letter to the athletic director.  Here it is in full:

I was recently called about my season tickets and during that conversation was told about the new bag policy at Memorial Stadium. I was also sent an e-mail about the policy as well.  I have a number of objections:

1. First and foremost, every time we get one of these announcements they are made LOOONNG after we’ve purchased our season tickets.  I find it cowardly that the athletic department does not announce these changes when we’re buying our tickets, when we actually have an opportunity to push back with the one thing that matters: our dollars.  To that end, it is not surprising that no refunds were being offered on my tickets when they called me.  As I’m sure the athletic department well knows, part of what compels people to buy tickets is a certain level of comfort.  That is why padded seats or bench backs and the like cost more than the bleachers.  Refusing to disclose ways in which you plan to reduce our comfort at games when we buy our tickets is deceptive and lacks integrity.

2. More importantly, shame on whoever decided to advertise this as a necessary security measure.  All bags are checked as we enter the stadium and have been for years.  How will making the bag clear meaningfully change anything?  Can someone not roll a sweatshirt or some other acceptable item around something they’re trying to conceal?  Unless everything in the bag must be clear, that the outer layer of fabric must be clear is of little security value. Inspection and/or pass-through detectors remain the only meaningful way to screen bags.

3.  It is further coercive to tie this policy change to “recent world events” as if what has happened in Europe sporadically over the course of the year has any connection to what might happen in Memorial Stadium.  It is a manipulative ploy to pretend that this policy change is justified on the basis of these events, none of which have happened in a stadium.  It is disgraceful that this University that prides itself on critical thinking and innovation would stoop to such a poorly thought out policy that does little to increase security while causing meaningful discomfort to the fans who fund the stadium and the team, and then use a smoke screen of unrelated events to justify it.

4. Make no mistake, it is a significant reduction in comfort for us fans.  I’ve always brought a small soft-walled insulated cooler with soda and water.  That’s always been allowed up until now.  It brings me great comfort to have cold beverage of my choice throughout the game that I don’t have to pay $5 for.  This new policy effectively bans me from doing that.  Also, preventing me from keeping my camera and binoculars in a protective bag could cost me hundreds of dollars if they were accidentally dropped without the above mentioned bag’s padding.    Additionally, although you allow seat pads, if someone wants one with a back, they must rent them (even MORE cost to us fans who like to be comfortable) as it is no longer acceptable to bring them in.  Then there’s the inconvenience to my wife to dump out her purse every other Saturday and put only a few of those items in a “clutch bag”.  Not to mention that it seems every year I must buy a couple new bags to meet whatever new arcane requirements have been implemented.  Let there be no mistake.  The cumulative effect of the new restrictions every year has notably and significantly reduced my family’s comfort and increased our cost of being Cal football season ticket holders.  And for what?  As points 2 and 3 make clear.  The security benefits are trivial.

5. In fact, it is even worse than that, as the bag policy actually makes my family less safe.  Although it’s not a further reduction in bag size from last year, the continued reduction in bag size over the years means it is a lot harder for me to carry sweatshirts and snacks for the whole family in a sizeable backpack that leaves both my hands free for my four kids so they don’t wander off.  Now I must split that up into multiple small bags leaving me far more encumbered and unable to protect my children on the busy streets of Berkeley.  I ask you: what is more statistically likely, that my young child will get hit by a car or my family will be harmed in a terrorist event?  Anyone with even a elementary understanding of mortality statistics knows how infrequent terrorist attacks are.

6. Finally, any comparison to the NFL is anecdotal and a complete misunderstanding of the fans.  Many of us come to Cal football because we enjoy the traditionally more relaxed, less restrictive, more family friendly (and bringing bags with stuff for the kids is a significant portion of that) environment that has separated college football from pro football.  It is notable that there is no mention of the far more lax policies of Major League Baseball as compared to the NFL.

To summarize, this announcement is cowardly timed, shamefully advertised, disgracefully justified and costly to my family’s comfort, while actually putting them more in harms way than in the past.  All things considered it will take a lot more than “The NFL is just as bad” to convince me of the wisdom of this ridiculous policy.

I respectfully request that this policy be reversed immediately.

Ken Crawford
Season ticket holder since 1999

I encourage all of you to do likewise and e-mail the athletic director at:

Back for another year

Fall practice started yesterday.  From the off-season news and the reports from yesterday, it’s looking a lot like 2015: Offense should be productive with an experienced QB (David Webb) and young WR’s but defense may struggle mightily unless they can fill the holes among their young talent.  There’s reason to hope the Bears could be much better than 2015 (better O-Line, reasons to believe defense will not be as susceptible to the big momentum-deflating plays), but there’s also reason to fear it will be a season with lots of promise, yet too much of a  frustrating inability to put all the pieces together consistently, game after game.

In any case, I’ll be doing my usual thing: Game predictions, post-game posts, podcasts for games I go to, and random musings.  Any particular requests for content this year?

Go Bears!