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Archive for October, 2016


GAH! WSU game is at 7:30 PM too!

Another week, another 7:30 PM game.  Admittedly not a home game so it doesn’t have the same downsides, but it’s still a ridiculous trend.

ESPN’s short-sighted thinking

A handful of years ago, the unthinkable happened when the Rose Bowl was moved from ABC to ESPN.  I made a big stink about it at the time, and indicated it was a big mistake by the Rose Bowl committee as the key to long term success is continued visibility.  The Rose Bowl would be wiser to accept a million or two less right now by insisting that the game be on broadcast TV, because in the long run, the number of viewers will stay high and ensure that their future contracts will still be for large viewing audiences.

I stand by that analysis.

But what I didn’t think of was the impact on ESPN.  It was easy to see the short term benefit to ESPN.  They would drive up their subscriber numbers by moving more content from ABC to ESPN.  More people would bite the bullet and get a cable plan with ESPN and ESPN would make more money.

However, what I’m now learning is the long term impact works out the same way.  By moving their games to ESPN, the casual fan stops watching their games.  And since the key to long-term success is turning casual fans into hardcore fans, ESPN is ensuring themselves a shrinking fan base by putting all of their content on channels only the existing hard-core fans get.

The chickens are coming home to roost.  ESPN’s subscriber numbers are WAAAAY down.

Cal and the Pac-12 really need to get their minds around this concept.  They’re going for the short term money and they’re listening to ESPN’s short-sighted thinking.  And in doing so, they’re ensuring that the next generation of Pac-12 football fans never tune-in and never show up at the stadium.  If the conference wants long term success, the #1 criteria in their TV negotiations should be visibility (both on TV and in the stadium), not dollars.

The dollars will flow naturally over time based on that visibility.

Getting sick of these 7:30 PM games

I’ve got a slew of reasons why it stinks, but I’ll start with quoting myself from CGB:

My kids are losing interest in Cal

It used to be Cal football was something we did as a family, something my kids loved because they participated in something their dad loved. Now it’s something that Dad goes and does with his friends that they have no part of. It’s too late for them to even watch on TV.

Is it any wonder why they’re losing interest?

Adding to that:

  • I’m a church-going man and it’s really hard to be fully awake for Sunday morning Mass when I get home at 2 AM, Sunday morning.  This week, I’ve got to give a reflection at the 7:30 AM Mass, so I’ll be getting about 4 hours of sleep before I have to get up and be at my best.
  • Any complaints we have on the west coast are amplified by 3 hours for our East Coast fellow Bear fans.
  • It’s so late I have trouble getting friends to come.  They, just as much as me, have things to do on Sunday and only have a small part of the interest as I do in the game.
  • This week’s game will be a particularly long one as I’m going to make sure I get there early to get one of the bobble heads.
  • It’s one thing if it is one or two or even 3 games.  But when it’s EVERY game (every one but Utah has been a night game), it is just too much.
  • #Pac12AfterDark may be a fun slogan, but it really is just a way to cover up the fact that no one outside of the conference ever sees our games.

(Update: Just read an interesting article from the LA Daily news indicating, among other things, that “special attention” is given to homecoming games, implying that they are far less likely to get a 7:30 PM start.  The Utah game was Cal’s homecoming.  Said another way, the only game Cal didn’t play at night was the one game the TV networks were forced to give “special attention” to so that it wouldn’t be at 7:30 PM.)

USC Preview

Cal hasn’t beaten USC since 2003 and frankly, haven’t come close in a long time.  Until Dykes took over, the previous time the Bears kept it to a one score game was 2007.  Between 2002 and 2007, Tedford had reasonable success trying to beat USC at their own game, pro-style power football.  He only won one of those, but the Bears were competitive in all but one of them.  After 2007, as the Tedford Bears started their decline, Tedford refused to try and beat them any other way and it got worse and worse and worse.

However, after the debacle in 2013, Dykes now has had two games in a row where he’s kept it reasonably close, sticking to his kind of game.  However, the scores are a bit deceptive.  Last year the Bears were down 7-24 and ended up putting up just enough points to get back in it.  I never felt like the Bears were threatening to win.  It was a similar story in 2014 with the Bears down 9-31 and 16-38 late and the best the Bears could do was to get it close late.  Again, I never felt like the Bears were threatening.

Which brings us to this year.  What is clear from the history of Cal vs. USC games is that two things need to happen for the Bears to win:

  1. Cal needs to win in the trenches
  2. Cal needs to start strong, leading early in the game

So, can they do that?

I actually think the Bears have a better chance in the trenches than in quite a while.  The offensive line is gelling and can both open running lanes and protect the QB reasonably well.  And while the defensive line has been a bit inconsistent, they’ve shown flashes of being pretty disruptive even against teams with pretty good offensive lines.

Starting strong will be the difficult part.  A Thursday night game, during mid-terms, on 6 days rest, playing a team on twice the rest they’ve had, coming off two back-to-back (kinda, there was a bye in there) overtime games, all point to a difficult/slow/tired start.  Add in that the LA Coliseum has been a very intimidating place for the Bears to begin with, and I’m just not feeling it.

I think there are two scenarios that are the likely ones:

  1. Cal is just too tired and gets blown off the ball, losing the game in the trenches, and loses horrifically.
  2. Cal has a slow start and can just never catch up.

Neither one results in a win.  Bears lose in heart-breaking fashion: 23-38

(And here’s hoping my reverse prediction mojo keep working!)

Cal theme of the week: Tired

All the videos of team interviews I’ve seen indicate this is a tired team.  These very close games, including overtime in the last two, are taking their toll.  Add to that the short week, and the Bears will be on the wrong side of exhausted on Thursday night.  I didn’t think the Bears had much of a shot at USC ever since USC switched their QB, but the exhaustion will likely lead to an ugly game, the worst of the season.

(Full preview to come tomorrow)

Oregon OTRH Podcast

Sorry that this is ridiculously late, particularly for a Friday came.  I’ve had this cold I just can’t kick and it’s knocked me down pretty good.  In any case, here it is:

Post-Oregon monday morning thoughts

Various thoughts after Saturday night’s thrilling LOOOOONG victory over Oregon:

  • There will be an OTRH podcast this week.  I’ve been sick and had a busy weekend, so I didn’t get to posting it yet.  Hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning.
  • I’m seeing way to much of “the offense scored 52 points” argument this morning.  If you want to take a holistic view based on points scored, you need to limit yourself to regulation.  The Bears only scored 42 in regulation.  Admittedly, that’s not nothing, but it’s also not so much that one can’t be frustrated with the offense.
  • That’s particularly true when you pull out this nugget: The Bears only scored 11 points in the 2nd half.  Don’t tell me the offense didn’t struggle at times.
  • I’m probably less concerned with the defensive effort than most.  Yeah, there were some portions of the game they were frustrating.  But they held Oregon to 14 in the 1st half and were given absolutely no support in the 2nd half by the offense.  They were pretty dang tired by the end.
  • Speaking of the defense, I thought they did pretty well against the read-option game, something they have failed miserably against in recent years.
  • One thing that is concerning is the offense’s lack of ability to stretch the field.  This team lived by the long-ball for the 1st portion of the season and now they can’t seem to throw the ball downfield to save their life.
  • Call me under-impressed with the clock management on the final drive of regulation.  The Bears got the ball with 3:15 left.  And while I know they wanted to make sure they didn’t leave any time for Oregon to score, there’s no excuse to run out of time and have to kick a 41 yard field goal on 2nd and 4.  Push that ball another 10 yards down field and it’s a gimme of a field goal.
  • I’m practically getting vertigo watching the defense struggle yet then coming up with game-winning plays at the end of the game (at home anyway).

Oregon preview

There are a number of things that set off red flags for me when looking at an upcoming game that the Bears are favored in:

  1. The opponent had a bye
  2. The opponent has been under-performing
  3. The opponent has typically had our number (should have been a red-flag against Oregon State)
  4. Cal has recently lost a game where their biggest strength was exposed
  5. Cal has an under-appreciated injury (no Enwere is not one)
  6. The game is not on Saturday (Cal is on a 7 game losing streak, the last win coming in 2005 at New Mexico St.)
  7. The opposing team has a really good defense
  8. The game is a road game

When 5 of my 8 red flags (1, 2, 3, 4 and 6) are going off, I’m going to be your source of doom and gloom.

The best case scenario is that Cal gets the offense back on track, manages to corral the Oregon rushing attack, but does it in a way that prevents the Oregon freshman QB (Justin Herbert) from finding his rhythm.  But I think if any one of those things goes wrong, the Bears are doomed.  Let’s take them one by one:

  1. Cal gets the offense back on track: My hope here is that we really can blame the passing game troubles against Oregon State on Webb’s injury.  So far this season, press coverage on the Bears has not worked.  It was really surprising that it worked so well for OSU.  And while in the back of my head I know that this wouldn’t be the 1st time the Beavers showed the rest of the conference how to shut down the Cal offense, I’m going to believe that this is the least likely of the group to bite the Bears.
  2. Cal manages to corral the Oregon rushing attack:  So who are the real Bears… the Bears that kept Utah in check or the ones that looked like a high school team against Oregon State?  Beyond that, how will the Bears do against their first real read-option team of the season?  The likely answers to both questions are concerning.  This is the one that is most likely to hurt the Bears.
  3. Oregon’s freshman QB finds his rhythm:  Don’t under estimate this one.  The mid-season bye tends to be one of those moments that a freshman QB starts putting things together and the game starts “slowing down” for him.  There are two techniques that tend to prevent young QBs from improving: Get lots of pressure on them or throw lots of confusing pass protection schemes at them.  I haven’t seen much from the Bears this season that would suggest they could accomplish either method.  The counter to this is that this QB hasn’t exactly shown a lot of promise, so perhaps it doesn’t bite the Bears.  But don’t be shocked if it does.

If there is good news, this shouldn’t be a keep-away game for the Bears like the Utah game.  The Bears should have a fair number of chances to get the offense working.  But the risk is that it is a shootout and Cal just can’t keep pace.

And that’s what I’ve got to predict: Cal 38, Oregon 51

There will be NO 2nd watch post this week

If my silence since Saturday means anything, it means I’m disgusted.  There’s NO WAY I’m ever going to watch that game again except as an act of penance for some terrifyingly horrible sin.

What the heck!?!

I mean seriously… did Tedford take back over the program for a week?  Because this is exactly the sort of face plant against OSU that he was known for.  Unable to beat the press coverage and dominated at the line of scrimmage for the entire game… but the team gets their act together in the 4th quarter enough to make it a close affair before the team does something stupid to prevent the comeback, like Riley running with less than 30 seconds left with no timeouts in 2007.

Apparently Webb had an injured hand, and perhaps that mitigates why the passing game was so ineffective and over-rides my growing concern of his inability to complete game winning drives.  (What was with that horrid in the turf pass to Robertson on the last drive?)  Up until now, the offense was licking their chops whenever the opponent played press coverage.  But for some reason, perhaps an injured hand, the Bears were mystified by it.

But that is NO EXCUSE for the defensive line and linebackers who both were getting physically dominated AND couldn’t tackle worth a hill of beans.  They looked hesitant and refused to attack when tackling.  If I never see another player dragged for 5 yards before letting go again it will be too soon.

And what makes it worse is that Dykes’ teams have not had this problem.  Sure, they haven’t been at the top of the pecking order, but they’ve always beat the teams below them, particularly OSU.  In the past 3 seasons, the only games one could argue the Bears were the superior team based on their season performance and yet loss are the following:

  • 2014 BYU (marginal, team was 8-5 but against worse competition)

That’s it!  I went through every other game, and every one that Cal lost to finished ahead of them in the conference standings and for the non-conference teams had a record that suggested they were better.

Until Saturday night.

Perhaps we’ll look back on this game at the end of the season in a different light, seeing an OSU team that went on a tear starting with this game, but somehow I don’t think so.

There’s no other way to say it: This is the worst loss of the Dykes era.

Nevermind

(Update: This post was originally titled “Anyone interested in an EMFMV liveblog tomorrow night?”.  But seeing as how no one said they were interested, I won’t be doing one.  No biggie.  I’ll be enjoying the game anyway!)

It’s been a long time since we’ve done a live-blog during a game… anyone interested in participating on one tomorrow night for the OSU game?  Post a comment if you are and if there’s at least a few who are, I’ll have one.

PLEASE NO! No alcohol in Memorial!

Jon Wilner has been reporting on the budget shortfall for the athletic department at Cal.  Among all the talk was this nugget:

One option, based on a brief conversation with AD Michael Williams, is alcohol sales throughout Memorial Stadium.

For the love of God and all that is Holy… NNNOOOOOOO!

I’m no prude.  I drink.  But Cal games need to remain alcohol free.  There are just too many bozos who don’t know how to control themselves at games once they get liquored up.  It’s not like one’s private life where I can just stop inviting those sorts of people or stop going to things where those sorts of people are invited.  No, I’m stuck with these random jerkwads who can’t control themselves once they get a few beers in them.

DON’T DO IT!

Utah 2nd watch comments

Here are my thoughts as re-watching the game:

  • There sure hasn’t been a lot of info on Mohammad’s injury (at least not that I’ve seen).  I sure hope we get him back soon.
  • Although Tre Watson was looking sharp on that first possesssion
  • Chad Hansen really does have great body control and also has a very good sense of body placement.  On that first TD, he purposely played it inside and kept the DB inside so he had a lot of room between him and the sideline.  Then, he waits until the last second to step to the outside to give him some space to catch the ball and run into the endzone.  Great stuff.
  • Interesting that the 1st play Utah ran was a pass play.  And it was complete…
  • I think something that is hard for most defenses to get their mind around is a team that always goes for it on 4th and short.  Defenses have had it beat into them from pee-wee onward that on 3rd down you don’t have to stop them for no gain, just short of the 1st down line.  It makes it a bit too easy to give up the yards get to 4th and 1.
  • At first I couldn’t believe they didn’t give an intentional grounding penalty at the end of Utah’s 1st drive, but upon closer inspection, there was a receiver “in the area” of where the QB threw to.
  • Cal did indeed get a “very generous spot” on that 3rd and 9 completion in the 2nd drive.
  • Webb was a bit inconsistent on that 2nd drive, throwing a number balls to either the wrong guy or just a poorly thrown ball.  Not his best drive.
  • It sure would have been nice if that 2nd drive punt would have been downed.  Sometimes the guys try too hard to keep it too close.  The 1st guy should have batted it HARD back towards the middle of the field.  Instead he tried to just keep it on the 1 and the result was a touchback.
  • Something Cal did well early in this game was to mix up the inside and outside runs.  Lot’s of misdirection on the outside runs too.
  • That 2nd touchdown to Robertson was GENIUS!  Just genius.  Cal had ran the fly sweep a couple times.  They run Robertson across the middle before the snap like it’s another fly sweep, but they don’t give it to him.  That has the effect of getting the defense to forget about him “Oh, it’s not the sweep, let’s figure out what it is.”  Then, since they had Robertson singled on his side, when he came across, unless Utah did a shift, they were short a DB on that side.  By having the receivers cut inside, it left a WAAAAY over matched linebacker trying to keep up with Robertson… when he was already really late to pick up that it was his assignment.  Great, great, GREAT, playcall.
  • An under appreciated aspect of this game is the affect of an inexperienced QB.  His passing was pretty inconsistent.  Why were the Utes thought to be any good with both a new QB and having lost Booker at RB?
  • One of the things that shows that Cal isn’t good at run defense is the delayed draw play.  Utah got a 1st down on 3rd and long with that.  A good rush defense wouldn’t have let that happen, even if they were fooled by the delay.
  • OK, we’re on the “why once Cal was up 14-3 did they have such trouble scoring?” watch… holding penalty and then a delay of game did them in.  But overall the playcalling was OK on this one until they were dug in a 2nd and 25 hole.
  • I’m sorry, the refs made the wrong call on the overturned fumble.  The ball was in the process of coming out as his knee hit.  That should have been a “play stands” either way (if it had been ruled down or a fumble) as it was pretty dang close and the best view was obscured by other players.
  •  OK, that 1st killer personal foul penalty was a stupid one by the Bears.  The throat slash Saffle?  Seriously!?!  I sure hope he got a very public discipline that the whole team recognizes should never be done again.  That cost the Bears 4 points at a very critical time in the game.
  • 2nd drive in the stalled period from the 2nd and 3rd quarter: Delay of game and broken up WR screen results in long 3rd down and then Webb does the “virtual punt/prayer” throw down the sideline.  The coaches should have already known the WR screens weren’t working, but the delay of game, that’s on Webb.  Give that 50% credit to over-conservative play-calling.
  • 3rd drive of “the stall”: Went for it all (only 39 seconds, so not a bad idea), then a near sack, did them in.  Considering the time, let’s just forget this one.
  • 4th drive of “the stall”: Boring out followed by boring run up the middle followed by Webb locking in on boring underneath route (when Hansen was WIDE OPEN down the field) results in a 3 and out.  This is exactly the sort of lacking any dynamic qualities playcalling I don’t like.  No misdirection.  No pre-snap motion.  Nothing interesting.
  • Utah scores a TD on another long, time-sucking driving.  Probably the most interesting thing here is this drive is the first sign of the Cal defense stiffening in the redzone.  They had 3 goal-line plays and while Utah got in on the 3rd, he was only barely in.  Cal was starting to figure it out at this point.
  • Cal will score an easy TD on this next drive, so we can now summarize “the stall”… I must admit, there’s really only 1 drive of the 4 that really meets my criteria for dinking around and trying to eat clock.  Although I might still quibble that too much in those 4 drives had plays around the line of scrimmage and not enough downfield, the real story was that it was only 4 drives in nearly a half of football.  Utah really did do a good job of keep away.
  • Watson really came alive on that drive.  He was doing a great job of fighting through tackles and getting a lot of yards after contact.
  • What’s with the new 3-yard ineligible man down field?  Didn’t it used to be 5-yards?  I’m sorry, in neither of those cases was it logically illegal man down field, it was just a lineman who managed to get to a linebacker on his blocking assignments.  That’s just stupid and if I’m a defensive coordinator, I’m going to be coaching my linebackers to stay 4 to 5 yards off the line when they’re not supposed to be rushing the QB to draw more of these stupid penalties.
  • Another great throw from Webb to Hansen for the TD.    If only Webb were as on the same page with his other WRs… not that he’s bad with the others, but his touch isn’t as good for their speed.  I think he’s still figuring out just how fast Stovall and Robertson are.
  • Another case where the defense “stops” Utah on 3rd down, but because it is only 2 yards, Utah goes for it on 4th down and picks up the conversion.  I’d be remembering this factor for the next game as the defensive coordinator… to coach the defense to not view 3rd down as “we only have to prevent the 1st down”.
  • Utah really did make a mistake not kicking the field goal on that failed 4th down conversion.  Yeah, Utah had been executing that 4th and short play at will, but it hadn’t been in the redzone where the defense can focus more effort on the line of scrimmage not to mention the huge difference of only being down 1 vs. 4 points.
  • Love that quote by the sideline reporter.  Cal defense says “we will need to do that again… be ready” after the 4th down stop.  Practically prophetic!
  • Speaking of a little room for improvement on touch by Webb.  Robertson had to stall quite a bit on his TD catch to wait for the ball.  But he was SOOO fast, he had more than enough room to do it.
  • If Utah had kicked the field goal, they’d only be down by 8 right now, still just one score.
  • I had under appreciated how successful the Utah passing game had been.  Yes, it was nothing overwhelming (and sure as heck nothing like Cal’s) but similar to how Cal’s run game can at times be good enough to keep the defense honest, the Utah passing game was doing well enough to keep Cal’s defense more balanced and prevent them from putting all their focus on stopping the run.
  • The replay booth fixed it for the refs, but I wouldn’t feel too good about my weekly review if I was the line judge on that one.  He was staring right at the play and should have seen that his knee was CLEARLY down on the green portion and his body was leaned back, so it was clearly not a TD.  But he called it a TD.  (And yet again our TV commentators have granite for brains when it comes to looking at reviews… it was true all day.)
  • Stupid, stupid, stupid holding penalty on Hudson.  Completely didn’t need to do it and suggests he didn’t understand what his assignment was (or perhaps misunderstood where his runner was).  Completely killed that drive.
  • But the refs wanted in on the stupidity too… I just can’t believe they called off the blocking in the back.  It was obvious to everyone in the stadium and seeing it on video it was just as clear.  The guy clearly pushed him. And as for the personal foul, if you watch the “live” portion of the video, at the end of the play #88 (who was called for it, gently taps #7 with both hands, theoretically an illegal block in the back, and then walks around him and is just about off the field with no Utah players around him when the camera pans away.  I can’t imagine what it could have been, unless the guy made a massive U-Turn and did something after that.  I call BS on the whole thing.
  • Cal was definitely playing too soft on the WRs for most of the game.
  • Boy, for how awesome Looney was on the goal line, boy did he blow it on the run that got Utah to the 9.  He literally was face-to-face with and bumped into the runner, but in no way tried to tackle him… no arms up, nothing.  Could have been a tackle for a loss, and instead was a 12 yard run to the 9.
  • Man do Pac-12 commentators suck.  Let the clock go down to 3 seconds for 4th down?  Boy would that have killed Utah’s chances.  Of course immediately after the PI happens, they realize how stupid that would have been.
  • The PI on Cal on 4th down was definitely PI.  Yes, as it played out, the ball was uncatchable, but what we don’t know is how much the receiver could have come back to the ball if #18 hadn’t had him in a near bear-hug.  At the same time, I’m not sure #18 did the wrong thing.  He lost his leverage and was leaning the wrong way when the cutback happens.  He doesn’t know where the ball is or how badly it was thrown.  On the ‘one play for the game scenario’ when you’re beat, you foul.
  • Which is also why PI is so common in those scenarios and why it’s not “wizardry” (as someone said on another forum) to predict that possibility and game plan for it (i.e. let the clock run down so there’s not as much time.)
  • Those who think the pass on 2nd down would have been a TD had it been caught (or thrown better and caught), perhaps if he throws it PERFECTLY and hits him in stride he gets in, but that’s a really tough angle to drop it over the top like that.  If the throw was anything like it was where he has to turn his hips like he did, even if it is lower, that slows him up a lot and he would get tackled from behind by #11 and the game is over.  It was a good thing for Utah he couldn’t catch it.
  • On the last play I agree with the consensus that Utah’s play didn’t go the way it was intended.  But I’m not sure it was wrong the way most people think.  I think Moss decided his pulling guard was going to slow and he’d get tackled from behind.  He was right up on his back and then decided to cut back to the middle.  Also, it’s worth noting that pulling guard fell down.  Moss might have gotten in that way, but he would have had to either hurdle the downed guard or cut back to the line (and there was a bit of a whole there that it is unclear if Cal could have filled).  The short answer was that Cal got a good push and was disruptive.  It wasn’t just a “blown play”.
  • Anyone else lose some respect for Whittingham for his post-play actions?  He went up to a bunch of guys and clearly said (reading lips) “That’s on you guys!”  I know I wouldn’t be too happy if Dykes was doing that after a heart-breaking, game-losing play.

OK, that’s 2200+ words on the game.  I think that’s enough. :)

Time for me to wade into the timeouts question

The big controversy this week is whether Dykes made a mistake by not calling timeouts when Utah was inside the redzone with 2 minutes left.  The theory is that IF Utah had scored, Cal would want some time on the clock to be able to get down the field and score themselves.

To start with my summary: Neither option is a “mistake”.  Both options have pros and cons.  Anyone who tells you differently isn’t thinking the matter through fully.  While I could have a ridiculously long post showing all the pros and cons of both sides, I’m not going to do that.  The ones being most vocal are effectively arguing there was no downside (or at least very little downside) to calling the timeouts, thus not calling them was a mistake.  So I’m going to refute that.  But PLEASE know, I’m not saying the only right choice was not to call them.  It would have been a reasonable choice to call the timeouts.  To repeat: Neither option is a “mistake”.

Here’s my 3 arguments for why not calling the timeout was a reasonable choice:

  1. It prevents Utah from getting another drive:  Let’s say Cal calls the timeouts and its defense holds, leaving 1:30 on the clock.  What happens next?  Now Utah is going to start calling their timeouts to force Cal to get a 1st down.  If they don’t, Utah could get the ball back with over a minute on the clock.  To supplement this one, don’t forget the turnover possibility for Utah, that could end the drive even sooner than 4 plays and put Cal in the position where it needs to burn clock.
  2. It limits the total number of plays Utah can run: This is the “Duh, this is what happened!’ argument.  Utah was SEVERELY limited in it’s options once it got the new set of downs after the PI penalty.  (Which, I’m sorry to all of you who can only think 2 moves ahead, is something that anyone thinking through all the possibilities would anticipate as a VERY real possibility.)  All of a sudden, Utah was running out of clock.  Remember the game didn’t end on a failed 4th down conversion, it ended because the clock reached zero.  If Cal had been calling timeouts, Utah would have gotten another play, at a minimum (imagine if there were TWO penalties that extend the drive!).  Also, more time would have given Utah more flexibility in playcalling.  On the final 2nd down, Utah HAD to run a pass play or the game would have been over because it was out of timeouts.  By refusing to use timeouts you’re ensuring that no matter what happens, Utah will only get to run so many plays, particularly run plays (which is what was working for them).
  3. It limits Utah’s playbook: Utah wanted to win the game with so little time on the clock that Cal could not drive down the field.  Therefore, they were going to call running plays when the clock was well over a minute.  Then when time got down under 30 seconds or so, Utah would want to shift their plays to passing plays, particularly as they ran out of timeouts.  If Cal takes the timeouts, to some degree it opens the playbook for Utah as they’ll know it won’t matter what they do, the amount of clock that dwindles will be the same no matter what (at least while Cal is calling timeouts).

Or to say all of the above at a higher, more philosophical level:  Cal was winning.  The goal is to end the game without that changing.  The faster that happens, the fewer ways Utah can win.  Why prolong the game and give them more chances?

Is that the only argument?  No.  There’s a valid argument to say that calling the timeouts would have been wise.  It’s reasonable to say the statistics suggested Utah was likely to score and the best way for Cal to win is to give itself a chance to score after they’ve lost the lead.  And I completely agree that’s a strong argument.  But where I draw the line is those who say there’s NO good argument against calling the TO’s.  They are just wrong.  None of the above arguments are low percentage or meaningless.  It’s very reasonable to anticipate drive extending penalties.  It’s very reasonable to fear having to run the clock out after a quick end to Utah’s drive.  It’s very reasonable to like the ability to predict Utah’s playcalling.  They are real factors for making the decision and should not be discounted.

Finally, I’m more and more of the opinion that the way Chip Kelly ran things at Oregon was the right way to go.  The man could care less about the clock.  He’d rather go down the field in 1:30 and be up by another 7 points than try to end the game on a 4 or 5 minute drive.  (Imagine how much it would have thrown Cal off if Utah had thrown a pass to the corner of the endzone on 1st down with 2 minutes left.)  Coaches would do better to focus on having an offense that can score at will and a defense that can stop opponents at will instead of spending their time trying to get too cute managing the game clock.

Who says Cal can’t win the Pac-12 north?

Maybe it’s just that I’m letting last Saturday’s exciting win go to my head, but I’m starting to feel like there’s an opportunity this year that Cal has never had: to win the division title.

Said another way, who’s left on the schedule that Cal can’t beat this year? UW is looking to be the strongest team in the North… but Cal beat them on the road last year and I don’t see anything fundamentally different about the two teams that says Cal can win that game at home.

Going through the rest (traditionally most troublesome first):

  • USC has had Cal’s number and get’s Cal at home.  But they look awful vulnerable.  Perhaps this is the year fortunes change?
  • Stanford too has had Cal’s number.  But Cal was REALLY close last year, painfully close, and the Bears gets the trees at home and Stanford is looking FAR more vulnerable than last year.
  • Oregon is in a free-fall and Cal gets them at home.
  • UCLA has been beatable in Berkeley.
  • Cal has 2 game winning streak over WSU (although heading to the Pallouse in November is troublesome).
  • I’m practically inviting disaster on Saturday against OSU, but other than that, it should be a winnable game.

The best case scenario has Cal beating a reeling Oregon after the bye, to pump the team up to new heights as they head to LA to face USC.  That results in the team’s best performance of the season.  After that, the team will have the confidence to win against both the Washington schools back-to-back, just like they did last year.  At that point, you’ve got a 7-2 and highly ranked Bears team hosting Stanford ready to unleash a highly cathartic torrent of points, before sealing the Pac-12 north against UCLA.

OK, it’s a long shot, but don’t tell me it’s not possible.  Frankly, to me it feels pretty reasonable until the trip to USC.  If they can against all odds deliver on that very elusive goal (history note… last win @USC: 2000 under Holmoe), it feels like the momentum and recent history could carry them the rest of the way.

Or it could all fall apart in Corvallis.

RIP Roger Theder

Former Cal football head coach (from 1978 to 1981) Roger Theder died today.

He wasn’t the best most winning head coach Cal has ever had, but he did ensure that John Elway never won the Big Game for Stanford, even in some years where Stanford was believed to be the vastly superior team and denying him (and Stanford) any bowl experiences. He always operated with integrity in a way that made all of use Cal fans proud.

Godspeed coach Theder.

(Update: I didn’t feel comfortable with the 2nd sentence of this post.  It’s been bugging me for the last day.  I was trying to indicate his teams didn’t win a lot of games without in any way being critical of him.  I’ve got a STRONG ‘thou shall not criticize the dead’ policy.  So I’ve substituted “most winning” for “best”.  After all, sometimes the best coaches in our lives aren’t responsible for the most games won.)

What is a Ute?

(Editorial note: I posted this video BEFORE a prior Cal vs. Utah game… and it didn’t turn out so well.  So from now on, you’ll only see this feature after a Cal victory.)

I must think of this movie scene at least 10 times during each Utah game.

Utah OTRH podcast

Here’s the On The Road Home podcast for the Utah game:

 

Why are you reading my predictions?

MAN… do I stink at predicting these games or WHAT!?!  I’m 1-4 this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be wrong this weekend, but it’s clear I don’t have my finger on the pulse of this team so far.

Utah preview

I don’t have a lot of time to write a preview, but I did want to give a quick prediction.

Last year the Bears weathered a strong attack from the Utah lines and did much better than expected at it.  It’s not that they won in the trenches, they just made it so it wasn’t a huge advantage for Utah.  Unfortunately, Goff tried to put the game too much on his shoulders and threw a number of ill-advised interceptions.  It was without a doubt his worst game of the year.  Had he played better, Cal would have won, without a doubt.

So, can Cal be good enough in the trenches AGAIN to allow Cal’s superior offensive talent a chance?  My gut says it is possible, this year’s lines have been stout at time and have been getting better.  But I also fear that it won’t be enough.  I expect Webb to have  better game than Goff did (he won’t try to do too much), but when it comes down to the end,  Utah will have wore the Bears down too much and will control the game late.

Bears fall to a losing record: 23-31