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Archive for November, 2016

The way I see the conference, particularly Utah

You could call this a “very coarse” power ratings… although that term is so abused.  When I think of power ratings, I think of how the teams are playing right now, whereas the term seems to have morphed over time to speak to how the teams have performed over time.

I think the conference has 3 good teams: Washington, Colorado and USC.  Outside of USC making the wrong QB decision to start the season, none of these three teams have lost to anybody outside their group.  They’re the best.

Next up are WSU and Stanford.  I’m tempted to put WSU above Stanford, but WSU has had a very soft Pac-12 schedule thus far and didn’t look that good against Colorado.  Yes, they beat Stanford, but Stanford has gotten meaningfully better since then and I’m not so sure the result would be the same now.  But nevertheless, these two teams are good and beat everyone below them.  But they’re not in the top tier either.

Then comes Utah, which if one just went by record, would be in a group by themselves.  But I actually think they SUCK far more than people think and belong with the next group.  So let me put Utah aside right now and talk about the next group…

“The Muck” are the rest of us, with the exception of Arizona (who is below the Muck and winless and conference play).  Cal, UCLA, ASU, Oregon, Oregon State are all 2-6 in conference.  These teams have lost every game to the top-5 teams above.  The wins come from each other (and Arizona), with two exceptions.  Those two exceptions are Cal over Utah and Oregon over Utah.  And that’s why I think Utah belongs in The Muck.  All their victories are over Muck teams, with 1 exception, and they’ve lost to 2 of The Muck.  The only thing positive they’ve got going is a victory over USC, but that was the pre-QB switch USC and can safely be discounted.  And once you discount that, you’re looking at a team that had a Muck heavy schedule and competed reasonably among the Muck, but as the two losses indicate, are not meaningfully better than the rest in The Muck.

So what does that mean for this weekend games?  It means that Cal has a real shot at UCLA, another Muck team.  It also means that I’m expected Colorado to kick the crud out of a WAAAAY over appreciated Utah team.

Big Game thoughts

The Bears actually were competitive in the Big Game longer than I expected.  They apparently agreed with my advice to focus on stopping McCaffrey and force Chryst to beat them with his arm.  And that worked reasonably well for a half.  But the moment McCaffrey ran right by three over-pursuing defenders en route to a 90+ yard TD run, the game was over.  If you can no longer stop the one thing you’re dedicated to stopping, your chances of winning are not good.

Additional thoughts:

  • I don’t know if it would have mattered if the Bears could have kept McCaffrey in check for the remainder of the game.  Eventually Chryst found some rhythm and the openings in the Cal secondary and extended the lead.  My guess is the Bears would have lost anyway even without McCaffrey’s 2nd half flurry.
  • An interesting question is why the Bears seem to be able to stop what they intend for a quarter or two, but then fail to do it for the rest of the game.  One possible answer is conditioning.  These Bears just don’t have the strength to do what they need on defense for 4 quarters.  I’m pretty sympathetic to that answer, but it’s not the only one.  Another one is game-planning.  Perhaps the Bears are doing a reasonably good job of confusing their opponents with unique game plans well tailored to each opponent and it is taking the opponent a quarter or two to adjust.  Then there’s the inverse argument: The opponent is better at in-game/half-time adjustments.
  • Just as frustrating to me as the defensive failings is the inconsistency of the offense, particularly in the 3rd quarter.  For those who listened to my OTRH podcasts (which since I’ve been sick and haven’t made it to the last two home games have been lacking) all season, know that I’ve been complaining about the offense getting too cute and putzing around, particularly in the 3rd quarter.  I felt the same way on Saturday.
  • Similarly, I also feel like the team tries to go to the same well too many times.  While the wide-receiver screens haven’t worked all season, I was very happy to see the O-line screens working so well against Stanford’s aggressive linebacker core.  But by the 2nd half, they stopped working.  Why?  Because they ran too many of them.  And I feel that way about a number of plays.  They’re good plays, but we use them too often.  The most blatent example of this was the WR screens early in the 3rd quarter.  They must have run 6 of those in a row.
  • I have a similar concern about the run game.  The team is very streaky in when they use it.  The run game needs to be mixed in every drive, not used for a drive or two (and we tend to use it heavily during that drive) until it stops working and then abandon it until later in the game.  That is not how to keep the defense honest.
  • But probably the most baffling thing about the 2nd half of the season has been the COMPLETE inability of the WR’s to stretch the field.  And I refuse to blame all of that on Hansen’s injury.  I’m more inclined to think that Webb’s hand still isn’t right.  Or perhaps the defenses have schematically figured out how to stop it.
  • Speaking of Webb, I think too many people are going too easy on him.  While he’s not a bad QB, he’s had a lot of inconsistency.  Inconsistent decision making.  Inconsistent throwing.  Inconsistent footwork.  I don’t want to harp on him too much, as there are plenty of people playing worse football on the field than him.  But he deserves a share of the blame.
  • Which brings me to my long-term Dykes-led team fear: Is his system too dependent on a QB who executes near perfectly?  A lot of plays require the QB make a run-pass decision pre-snap.  If the QB is unable to make the right decisions, things can go quite poorly.  I wonder if the reason the run game is used in such a streaky fashion is because Webb is making these decisions pre-snap and doesn’t have the big-picture of how to mix it in.  I really wonder if we’ve now had two head coaches in a row that put too much emphasis on the QB.

Big Game preview

A month ago, I was pretty optimistic about the Big Game.  Stanford was struggling, had recently changed QB’s and the rushing game wasn’t working.  Also, the defense was looking softer than they had looked in a LOOONG time.  Oh what a difference a month makes!  Stanford has started to find their rhythm offensively (to their standards) and their defense has tightened up significantly.  Don’t get me wrong, this is still not the power-house Stanford of a few years ago, but they’re a lot more solid than they were a month ago.

If Cal was entering the game as the same team as last year, I’d have a lot of hope.  Even with Stanford improved, they’re still more vulnerable than usual.  But the problem is that Cal is on the ropes right now in just about every phase of the game.  The offense is sputtering, having failed to get to 30 points in any of their last 3 games.  The rushing game, that was a meaningful threat and kept defenses honest has mysteriously disappeared.  The deep passing game that both helped the Bears put up lots of points and ensured there was plenty of room for short and medium range passing is practically non-existent.  And Webb hasn’t looked like himself, particularly in the mid-range stuff, since the Oregon State game.

And that’s the better of the two units!

The defense is an absolute mess.  Any team that can competently pass the ball is going to destroy the Bear’s defense.  There’s just no other way to say it.  At their best point of the season they were acceptably mediocre.  But between offenses adjusting to their weaknesses and a rash of injuries that has left them decimated, they’re officially horrible.  The rush defense isn’t quite as bad, but is still in a pretty bad place.  I think they look even worse than they really are because the linebackers and safeties are so preoccupied with their suckitude as a pass defense, they’re not able to properly focus on the run game.

And that’s where the potential silver lining lies…

Here’s what I would do if I were game-planning today:  I’d put my corners on islands and tell me linebackers and safeties to play run-first.  Tell the defense it’s OK if they get torched through the air, but it is unacceptable to lose through a thousand cuts to Christian McCaffrey.  Force Stanford to prove they can beat the Bears through the air.  Put a lot of pressure on Keller Chryst.  Force Stanford to beat the Bears a way that is not very comfortable to them.

It might be that the Bears won’t be able to pull that off, but it’s the ONLY thing they have a remote chance of pulling off.

As for the offense, spread the field and focus on getting all four field spreading play types working:  Deep passing, short passing, inside running, outside running.  With the exception of the WR screens (which just aren’t working!), they should try to be VERY diverse.

But as one can obviously tell, I’m not sitting on a lot of hope that the Bears pull that off.  So while I think there is a path to victory, the opportunity is slim.  And thus my official prediction will be bleak:

Losing streak continues and no bowl game: Cal 17, Furd 42

(The theoretical win would look like Cal 45, Furd 38)

Boy does the loss to OSU hurt!

It’s looking less and less likely the Bears can win both of their last two games.  And if they don’t, they don’t make a bowl game nor get the MUCH needed extra practices that go with a bowl game.  Looking back over the season, the loss to OSU stands out as a massive disaster.  The Beavers ONLY conference win is against Cal.  And it’s not like they haven’t played other weak teams, they lost handily to a VERY weak UCLA team (Cal’s best hope at a win before the season’s end) just last week.

I guess the Bears got a win against Utah that each week becomes more and more of  a head-scratcher, but ignoring that, MAN does that loss to Oregon State hurt!

WSU preview

What everyone wants to talk about when previewing a Cal-WSU game is high scores.  But what those people seem to forget is that 2 of the 3 Leach-Dykes matchups had cumulative scores in the 60’s, that I suspect the under won, not the over.  Yes,  yes, 2 years ago the score was 60-59, we all know that.  But last year it was a more comfortable than the score indicates 34-28 Bears victory.

And if you look at the history not just of Cal-WSU but of most teams with high-scoring offenses that are of a similar nature, when they meet, on average the scores tend to be lower.  Why?  Because the defenses are very comfortable defending it.  They saw that offense (or something very similar) for all of Spring and Fall practice.

The problem with 2014 was that both teams had horrible defenses, and that overwhelmed the usual pattern.

Which brings us to this year.  Do both teams have a horrible defense?  No, only one does.  WSU’s defense is getting better every week and although it would be a mistake to overstate how good their defense is, it’s much, much, MUCH better than Cal’s.

Cal’s only hope, is that their defense has an unusually good showing.  And as I said already, going up against this familiar offense does make that more likely.  But unfortunately, the injury situation is so untenable, that I just don’t see it happening.  I was tempted to believe it was possible considering the larger problem this year has been rush defense, and WSU gives the Bears a bit of a break in this department.  But as loss to the Huskies showed, the injuries are plaguing the secondary even more so than the run defense.  So, the more I look at who is hurt and who’s replacing them, I just can’t believe this defense will have success.

And sadly, I do see it happening for WSU.  So as much as my heart believes Cal has a better shot at this than most people think, my head and my official prediction has to be that Cal loses a really, really tough one to take: Cal 31, WSU 59.

3 election thoughts

I’m a bit of a disinterested party to this election.  I’m a “member” (it’s not an official party yet) of the American Solidarity Party and haven’t voted for the presidential candidate of either major party since 2000.  I refuse to vote for politicians who are ideologically far from what I stand for.  I just won’t do the “lesser of 2 evils” thing.  I don’t vote for “evil”.  Neither Clinton nor Trump were worthy of my vote and both would have been forcing me to endorse too many things I’m ideologically opposed to.  And so I wrote in a candidate who I can get behind.

Nevertheless, I’m at peace today and do not fear the future.  Hopefully these words will be helpful to where ever you stand:

  1. Hyperbole is not helpful (notice how I scare quote evil above).  If you feel yourself making broad sweeping and aggressive statements, I would caution against it.  Trump is not Hitler.  The world is not coming to an end.  For those on the other side, this was no “beat-down of the establishment”.  8 years ago it was the conservatives who thought the world was coming to an end.  Guess what, we’re still here and mostly in the same place we’ve always been.  16 years ago it was the Democrats.  Guess what, we made it to Obama without too much change to our daily lives.
  2. Do your best to avoid demonizing the other side.  The people on the other side are human just like you.  They’ve got real concerns and make judgment calls based on less than perfect information.  They make compromises that they don’t feel that comfortable with.  They talk themselves into being 100% behind something they really aren’t that excited about because they want to win and you don’t win by having lukewarm support for something.  A pattern I see time and again:  A person does something stupid and/or wrong, and others are very forgiving.  They rationalize.  They sympathize.  They ask for mercy.  Yet anther person does something similarly stupid and/or wrong and the same crowd is ready to nail them to the wall.  Why the difference?  Because one is seen as “us” and the other is seen as “them”.  Try to get away from having a “them” in your mind, so you have no one to demonize.  Listen and be sympathetic to everyone.  Try to understand, not write people off as evil or bigoted.
  3. Remember what what you do locally on a daily basis is far more important than the national policies.  While of course national politics has an affect on our lives, the reality is, whether you have a good day today has more to do with whether you’ve got good friends, good co-workers and good family than anything else.  And how that happens is by all of us collectively committing to being good friends, good co-workers and good family members.  And part of how we do that, is by not demonizing those among our friends, co-workers and family who don’t share our political views and by avoiding speaking in hyperbole with them.  Sympathize with those who are troubled today.  Forgive those who gloat.


There are those who are just but are treated as though they had done evil, and those who are wicked but are treated as though they had done justly. This, too, I say is vanity. Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:14-15)

Don’t count out the Bears vs. WSU

The Bears need to win 2 of their final 3 to go bowling.  Most people reasonably assume that the likely candidates are Stanford and UCLA.  But here’s my early prediction:  Cal always plays WSU tough and Dykes has the keys to the WSU air-raid.

Expect Saturday’s game to be a close one with a reasonable chance the Bears pull the upset.

(And if you’re wondering where the Washington post-game post is… I’ve said all I’m going to say.)

Washington preview

I must admit, I’m having a bit of cognitive dissonance with Washington.  Is this the same Washington team that Cal was up 27 to 7 over early in the 3rd quarter last year?  It’s not like they’ve had an influx of new guys.  It’s mostly the same guys from last year.  And this year the game is in Berkeley, not Seattle.  How is it possible the Bears are such underdogs?

But at some point you can’t ignore the evidence: The beat-downs of Oregon and Stanford.  The solid victory over Utah.  Or perhaps it is just as simple as 8-0.  There’s no doubt that UW is a vastly improved team.  And the way they’re improved is precision and consistency.  Turnovers are down.  Penalties are down.  Execution consistency is WAAAY up.

And let us not forget, UW turned the ball over 5 times against Cal last year.  We can’t expect that again tonight.

And then there’s the Bear’s struggles.  Last year the UW defense held Cal to 30 points, their lowest score in a win all season.  It frankly wasn’t the Bears best offensive performance of the season.  However, the defense played one of their better games.  The game ball deserved to be given to the defense, not the offense.  I don’t think I have to mention how much of a rarity that is.

So, this is what is going to happen this year:  UW will play a clean game and not give the Bears extra possession and free points.  The UW defense will frustrate the Cal offense enough that we won’t be seeing 40+ points on the Cal scoreboard.  Of the above statements I am nearly 100% confident.  The question mark, if there is one, is the defense.  Can they keep the Huskies in check and get the ball back to the Cal offense.  If they can repeat last year’s performance, the Bears have a chance to pull the upset.  More likely, they’re the rusty swinging gate that results in another painful loss.

Cal loses big: Cal 24 – UW 45

Free Washington game tickets!

I’ve got a cold I just can’t beat, so I won’t be using my tickets.

I’m willing to give away my 7 tickets (a row of 3 behind a row of 4) for “free” with one condition: That you are willing to mail me half of the Bobbleheads you get (so if you take 2 tickets, you mail me 1. If you take 4, you mail me 2. If you request an odd number, I’ll let you keep the “split baby”.

If you’re interested, e-mail me at