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Archive for October, 2017


Anyone want free tickets to the Arizona game?

It’s ridiculous how little Cal game tickets are going for.  I couldn’t sell my *SEVEN* tickets for $30 total.  That’s $4 and change a piece.

And it’s not even a 7:30 PM game.

Anyone want them for free?  Leave a comment with your e-mail and I’ll get back to you and send them digitally to you.

Arizona Preview

Watch out!  We’ve all thought Arizona was going to be one of Cal’s easier games, but they’ve been quietly (and more recently, not so quietly) putting together a much better season than expected.  They’re sitting at 4-2 and tied for 2nd in the south division at 2-1 in conference.  Their big surprise comes from quarterback Khalil Tate, who took over 2 games ago when starter Brandon Dawkins went down on the 1st drive of the game.  But Tate so thorough turned the team around that a 5 minute search couldn’t even turn up whether Dawkins is healthy enough to play versus Cal.  Tate is the starter now and is a “dual threat” QB.

That said, there are a bunch of caveats.  The first is the softness of Arizona’s schedule.  A non-conference slate that “features” Houston, UTEP and N. Arizona… oh, and they lost to Houston (admittedly with Dawkins at the helm).  Their signature win was over a suspect (in my opinion) UCLA squad.  They lost to Utah (again, the Dawkins caveat) who lost to USC in similar fashion to Cal (a close one).  Utah has gotten some ranking hype, but the reality is they haven’t beat anyone of note either.  Utah’s signature win is without a doubt over Arizona (and so the comparison loops go).  Simply stated, their highest ranked opponent Utah, would be the 4th toughest game on Cal’s slate thus far and the non-conference comparison is a joke (obviously in favor of Cal).

Next up, the emergence of game film… there’s a long history of a backup QB coming in and looking awesome for a couple games, but then tailing of dramatically.  Why?  Because they’re unexpected and there’s very little game film on them for a couple weeks.  Frankly, Cal benefited from that all the way up through the Ole Miss game as the opponents didn’t have much to look at for Cal.  It’s no surprise Cal didn’t look quite as brilliant starting with the USC game (better opponents obviously played a part as well).  But the point is, Tate was a *COMPLETE* unknown against Colorado and then there was only one game’s worth of film for UCLA, who didn’t know for sure whether Dawkins or Tate would be starting.  Thus UCLA had to prepare for both and do so for Tate with limited film to work with.  Cal is not going to have that problem.  Dawkins is out and Tate is the known starter with nearly two full games of film to look at.

Then there’s the “dual threat” QB thing.  He threw only 13 times against Colorado (but admittedly did very well with 12 completions) and another 13 versus UCLA (admittedly with another respectable 9 completions).  Need I remind my readers that Cal just befuddled and confused one of the best passers in the nation last week?  Arizona has two choices: 1. Continue to heavily bias the play-calling toward the run game or 2. Make the *VERY* risky decision to let a guy with less than 2 games experience try to read Cal’s defense.  Frankly, I hope they pick #2.  I’m pretty confident that dual threat means that he can pass the ball when the defense is forced into difficult coverage scenarios as they attempt to slow down his run game.  If he ever had to be a pocket passer, all bets are off.

So this game will come down to whether Cal can shut down Tate’s running game without having to give up reasonable pass coverage.  In that regard, there’s bad news, Downs is out for the season (the injuries are starting to pile up).  Nevertheless, Cal did pretty well without him in the 2nd half last week.  Downs is good, but there is more depth on the Cal defense than we think.  Cal has been doing a lot of substituting to keep the defense fresh throughout the season.  One of the upsides of that philosophy is that your 2nd and 3rd string guys get a fair amount of playing time before they end up first string guys due to injury.

Thus there are two scenarios I envision.  #1, the Cal defense struggles to contain Tate’s running game.  Everything else opens up from there and Arizona puts up enough points to win (I’ll leave it as an open question whether Cal can score a fair amount of points, but in this scenario, how ever many points Cal can score, it’s not enough as Tate runs all over the Bears).  #2, Cal shuts down Tate’s run game and Arizona is forced to the passing game.  Things will go haywire for Arizona from there and Cal will win BIG, similar to the WSU game.  Frankly, I think it’s a 60%/40% chance on which one will play out as there have been times I’ve been a little worried about the Cal run defense and with Downs out, that may be more trouble against a more formidable run offense than WSU.  I expect Cal to play a lot of zone defense and will allow the safeties to play pretty aggressively to come up and stop the run.

All things considered, I’ll stick with the 60% scenario.  Cal wins big: 38-13.

EXACTLY 10 years later

Anybody know what happened 10 years to the day before Friday’s upset win over Washington State?

If you guessed the #2 ranked Bears lost to Oregon State on the infamous Kevin Riley scramble that cost the Bears a shot that the game tying field goal… you’re right!

That game was a *HUGE* inflection point in Cal football.  Before that moment, the Tedford era had been one of constant ascendancy.  Every year the team got better, with a slight interlude in 2005.  Going into that game, the Bears were poised not only to go to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years (at the time) but also felt like real national title contenders, not just that year, but into the future.

Yet, after Tedford threw down his play card and his headset, the team was never again the same.  There were moments in 2008 and 2009 that suggested the team might find some of it’s former glory, but they were mirages.  The team continued down and down and down, eventually resulting in a 3-9 effort in 2012 that lost Teford his job and the 2013 season where the Bears were back to a one win season for the first time since 2001, the year before Tedford was hired.  The cupboard was bare and there wasn’t much reason to hope.

But exactly 10 years later the Bears did something remarkable, something they’ve never done before: Beat a top-10 team by 30+ points.

Perhaps it is just false optimism, but why do I feel today that this event, exactly 10 years to the day after that terrible moment, could be another inflection point for the program, but this one in a much more positive direction?

WSU OTRH Podcast

Here’s my On The Road Home Podcast for the WSU game:

WSU game re-watch

Here are my thoughts on the game during a re-watch at home:

  • The Bears got really lucky on that opening kickoff return penalty.  It didn’t seem very bad and could easily have been ignored.  How different would the game be if it started that way?
  • Bynum’s interception was a thing of beauty.  Live at the stadium, I was amazed he broke on the ball as it looked like he was in man coverage.  Frankly, I think that’s what Falk thought too.  But it was a very well disguised zone and Bynum was in great position to intercept it.
  • Still not impressed with the Cal offensive line and wide receivers blocking on sweeps and other stretch/outside runs.  They’re getting beaten to their spots.
  • Other than the one pass to Noa, that first sequence was pretty pathetic.  The run plays didn’t work.  False start penalty.  Just ugly.
  • Until the 3rd and goal when the Bears got screwed on a missed pass interference call.  They don’t show it much on TV, but let me tell you, in person, it was obvious and it was blatant.  Noa was physically held and stopped.
  • Cal scores an easy field goal on a missed opportunity of a turnover and short field: 3-0.
  • Kickoffs in this game were very good for Cal.  Nice hang time and into the endzone.
  • The running game of WSU on the 2nd possession was trouble.  Frankly, I don’t know why WSU didn’t use it more as the game wore on.  But that’s what got WSU down into Cal territory.
  • WSU was really shooting itself in the foot early.  There’s a HUGE difference between 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 6 on the opponent 30.  That false start penalty really hurt WSU and ultimately resulted in a good drive stalling and the missed field goal prevented it from netting any points for WSU.
  • After that missed field goal, I was sure WSU wouldn’t go for a field goal over about 45 and would do a lot more 4th down plays in that range.  (Boy was I wrong)
  • Bowers didn’t look good on that next possession.  Two misthrows out of 3 incompletions (the 3rd was a drop by Veasy).
  • And then Hawkins punches the ball out for the 2nd turnover of the game.  It sure felt like the WSU offense was finding its rhythm at that point (the play was a mid-distance pass completion before the punch-out).  I think without those early turnovers, this game could have gone very differently.
  • Another drop by a Cal WR… this is what I meant in my podcast about the fits and starts of the offense early in the game.  Bad passes, dropped balls, poor running outside the tackles.  The team had two turnovers and a number of WSU mistakes and was only up 3-0 and was giving WSU the ball back again.
  • Falk is sacked.  That was definitely a coverage sack, but Beckett just didn’t give up and kept driving.  But at some level, it was a little unfair to just call that a “coverage” sack.  Yes, Falk didn’t know where he could go with the ball, but a big part of that was his confusion in not knowing how to read Cal’s zone coverages and have confidence on who would break on his throws.  Even though there wasn’t a sack on 2nd down, it was the same story of Falk not being sure where he could throw the ball.
  • Wharton returned the punt to the WSU 23.  Hasn’t just about every punt return been a fair catch up until then?
  • Bowers has a good pass to the TE to get down to the 6 on a roll out.  Boy were the roll outs working.  They kept Bowers uniform clean and gave him time to read the defense.
  • Then Enwere bowls his way into the endzone.  That was the type of run we’ve been expecting from him this season that the last few games have been missing.
  • Bears up 10-0.
  • Cal had some tackling issue in this game.  Luckily, the first defender slowed the runner enough to allow the 2nd guy to get there before too long (on average), and the swarming nature of the defense prevented any of them from being disastrous.  But there could have been even *MORE* negative plays had the Bears gotten more guys down right away, particularly in the flat.
  • Cal got another penalty break on that PI call that overturned a 2nd WSU touchdown.  So all of a sudden, between a tackle for loss on a sweep, a 15 yard PI call and a sack, a 2nd and goal from the 3 turned into a 52 yard field goal… which REALLY surprised me.  That kick would have been good from 60+.  Shows his first failed attempt was a mis-kick and not indicative of his potential.
  • Cal lead cut to 10-3.
  • The Bear offense was doing a pretty good job of “taking what it was given”.  Quick outs for 5-10 yards when the corner was playing off, etc..
  • And then Veasy drops a ball when there was pretty blatant pass interference against him on a deep fade.  Disappointing both that he didn’t come up with the catch on a very good pass from Bowers and that Cal didn’t get the very deserved PI call.  (That’s twice!)
  • I think the blocker downfield rules are too tight.  3 yards!?!  It should be 5 and there should be a caveat for “away from the play” issues.
  • In the 1st half, Cal got a number of hits on Falk that were for short gains and I think they had an impact on Falks performance as the game wore on.
  • I have no idea what Falk was thinking on his next interception.  There was coverage both over the top and in front of that receiver.  It’s just more of a sign he was really struggling to read the Cal defensive pass coverages.
  • The TV coverage of the targeting call that was overturned was excellent.  I was really critical of the refs at the game, but in retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It was a hard hit and although I think they let the fact it was the QB push them to call a foul they wouldn’t have called for a running back, I can see why at full speed it looked like targeting.  And that’s why it is good that they’re all reviewed.
  • The pass to Enwere in the redzone was risky.  He almost cut inside and he wouldn’t have made it to the end zone.  But luckily he got to the sideline and stopped the clock.
  • Great playcall on the end of half TD.  Bowers never goes under center and it’s a strong indicator it was going to be a run play.  It’s not a surprise WSU bit on the play-action.  And since it was a tight end, who can of course block, the defense is likely to let him by thinking they’re shedding a blocker.
  • That said, I’m not sure I agree with the call to go for the TD.  If it didn’t work, you give WSU a big momentum piece to build on going into halftime.  Even the 3 points strongly keeps the momentum in Cal’s camp and would have the Bears up by enough to worry WSU.
  • Nevertheless, Bears up 17-3 at the half.
  • I have to admit, I was really bothered when the Cal possession to start the 2nd half resulted in a punt.  I was still really worried that the WSU offense would come to life and a lead of 14 wasn’t going to be nearly enough.
  • And sure enough, before I can eat a few chips, WSU is down in the Cal redzone.
  • But luckily, Cal has its luckiest play of the game, another interception on a botched shovel pass where Cal is lucky enough to have a guy in the area to scoop it up before it hits the ground.  That’s two redzone interceptions that save the Cal defense from an otherwise good WSU drive.
  • It ended up not mattering because of a chop-block foul on Cal, but I sure would have liked to see a replay on that Veasy diving catch in the endzone that was called incomplete.  It’s not clear in full-speed if he got his hand underneath the ball, but he sure may have.
  • WSU’s WR’s did a lot of juking, cutting back inside, that fooled the Cal secondary and resulted in a fair amount of yards after catch.
  • *ANOTHER* Cal interception, this one a great break on a ball behind the receiver.  This was about the point I really started to believe that Cal was going to win this game.
  • And then the refs try to get WSU back into the game with the bogus catch and fumble call on what was obviously a through his hands incompletion.  Thankfully the replay booth got it right.
  • Speaking of which, I’ve felt very good about the centralized replay booth in San Francisco.  We’re getting much better review consistency by a group that doesn’t have the emotional attachment to the referee crew on the field (and thus more likely to overturn a bad call).
  • Matt Anderson kicks a 48 yard field goal.  I sure hope the Anderson we saw on Friday is the Anderson we see for the rest of the season.  He looked solid and didn’t miss a kick, even the 48 yard one.
  • Cal up 20-3
  • Cal was getting more and more pressure on Falk as the game wore on and was doing it with 4 rushers most of the time.  That says the Cal defense was the better conditioned group.
  • I was really happy with the game plan to reduce sacks.  Quick throws.  Rolling Bowers out.  More schemes that kept extra blockers in (but not excessively or consistently to allow WSU to key on it).  It was all well thought out and made Bowers life a lot easier while keeping his uniform a lot cleaner.
  • Although Enwere had one rushing touchdown, the reality is he had more negative plays when trying to run near the goal line.  It wasn’t really his fault, the offensive line wasn’t able to hold the rushing pressure and Enwere was stopped before he could ever get started.
  • And the Bowers somersaults into the endzone. Amazing, but in the name of Jahvid Best, please don’t do that again Bowers.
  • Bears up 27-3
  • Nothing went right for WSU in this one.  Even when Wharton fumbles a punt, WSU can’t seem to come up with it.
  • It was really, really, *REALLY* great to see the Bears able to run the ball effectively in the 4th quarter to help run down the clock.
  • Anderson completes his hat-trick without a miss: Bears up 30-3
  • What was WSU thinking going for it on 4th and 4 in their own territory?  They weren’t going to win the game and they gave Cal a play where they could bring the house.  Result, Sack -> Fumble -> Scoop and score.
  • Bears up 37-3
  • One of the things you can’t tell as well from the stands is when players go out for the rest of the game.  I didn’t realize Downs missed so much time due to injury.  To see how well the defense played without him gives me a lot of hope.  It shows depth and it shows the strength of the scheme.
  • Another interception!  Yet another one Falk should have never thrown, but also the 2nd one Cal was pretty lucky to come down with.  No fewer than 4 Bears touched the ball on that pass.
  • Glad to hear the announcers pick on the over-rated chant.  It does diminish the win.
  • Go Bears!

WSU preview

Another quick one this week…

The Bears and Wougs have two common opponents, USC and Oregon.  Both played USC at home and both played a close game into the 4th quarter.  At that point the Bears fell apart and WSU sealed the deal.  Both played Oregon at Oregon and while Cal got destroyed, WSU cruised to victory.  However, there’s a *HUGE* caveat in that.  The Bears mostly lost that game to the starting QB.  Once he went down, the game actually went in the Bears favor until late in the game.  The starting QB didn’t make it back for the WSU game and so WSU played a pretty compromised team compared to the one that put up a bunch of points on Cal in the 1st half.

Nevertheless, the Wougs have the benefit of the doubt and out performed Cal in both games.  Additionally, while WSU seems to be getting stronger every week, Cals’ offense has regressed and its defense, while holding OK, seems to have a few issues that offensive coordinators are learning to exploit.

So, while I think it is possible, if the ball bounces the right way and the Cal offense gets back on track, for the Bears to win tonight, I don’t think it happens.  The offense is too likely to stall.

Bears 17, Wougs 38

Washington game thoughts

Going into the season I thought the offense was going to be a horrible mess with an offensive line that couldn’t open running lanes and couldn’t protect the passer, plus a QB who was not mature enough for that sort of rush pressure.  But for the first few games, I was *very* pleasantly surprised.  But how true does my original assumption sound now?  It sounds all too accurate after the last two weeks.

This is my biggest concern after the UW game.  The offensive performance was *HORRIBLE*.  Even though the defense gave up 38, and didn’t look particularly good doing it, I’m not that worried about them.  They got absolutely no support from the offense and found themselves back on the field after 3 and outs over and over and over, yet still managed to look respectable.  They got pretty tired in the 2nd half, and it showed, but somehow they still managed to not get embarrassed.

But the offensive line… oy-vey!  And sure enough, Bowers doesn’t have the maturity as a young QB to deal with the rush pressure he’s getting.  He’s making all the wrong decisions as when to try and escape, which way to try and escape, when to run for it, when to throw it away, when to try and squeeze in a tight window (seems like the USC game made him too shy in this regard), etc..  He’s just too inexperienced to be put in that sort of situation.  (Quick aside, I saw nothing from Chase Forrest that impresses me other than a really strong arm.  It’s clear why he lost the starting QB battle.)

The Bears are going to need to figure out the offensive line problems ASAP, otherwise, a bowl game isn’t likely.

But if for some reason they can improve significantly in this regard, I still see a strong possibility.  Arizona and Oregon State are both at home and very winnable.  And with that, Cal only has to pick off one of WSU (feeling less likely now, but still 40%), Colorado (50+%), Stanford (45%) and UCLA (45%).  If Cal can actually win the two games it is supposed to (UA and OSU), one has to believe they’ll get at least one of those other four.

As long as they fix the problems on the offensive line…

Larry Scott’s PR campaign is complete BS

Obviously Larry Scott and Co. have realized that the entire conference fan base is ready to revolt over the ridiculous number of late night games (starting at 7:45 PM… are you FREAKING kidding me!?1).  They’ve got the game announcers constantly repeating talking points and then he even comes on live for an interview to repeat those talking points.  Here are some rebuttal points:

  • There’s more to visibility than the TV rating numbers.  People flip between games.  People watch halftime highlights.  People watch the ESPN recap shows in the evening.  All of these things are happening before our late games kick off.
  • It’s not just that there are *some* late night games, it is that the MAJORITY of Pac-12 games are late night games.  All us fans want is balance.  Don’t tell me in an interview “it’s a delicate balance’ when there is ZERO balance.
  • It’s not just TV that matters.  Attendance matters too.  There’s no doubt it hurts alumni support for the program as well.
  • All of the above affects recruiting as well, so there are other long term effects as well.

Give it up Scott.  It was a money grab from the get go and your conference’s fans hate it.

Quick UW game preview

Wanted to make sure I had a prediction on record.

I think the Bears do better tonight than last week, but just don’t have the horses to keep up, particularly in Seattle.  However, I think we’ll be heartened by the effort and likely feel the Bears will likely be competitive in all their remaining games (things get much easier from here).

Bears lose 24-38

Speed kills – Oregon game thoughts

Well…. THAT didn’t go as expected!?!

I find myself flipping back and forth between being disgusted with both the teams performance and the coaching staff’s plan and then a dispassionate understanding of what went wrong strategy wise.

Strategy failures:

The game plan the Bears put together clearly assumed the Bears would win in the trenches.  I think they looked at the Oregon game film and saw a dangerously fast but not particularly big team and assumed they’d out muscle them in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  What they didn’t seem to anticipate was that Oregon would be so fast, they’d win in the trenches with speed.  Never in my life have I seen an offensive line abused so thoroughly with speed on the inside.  The Ducks were able to beat Cal to blocking positions and get underneath the blockers using speed.  Once they had a positional advantage, they were able to leverage their way to success even when they had a size disadvantage.  Trying to be a dispassionate fan, it was pretty impressive.

But as a highly biased Cal fan it was disgusting.  The team to me seemed flat and uninterested for the entire 1st half, on both sides of the ball.  They looked demoralized by the USC loss and intimidated by Autzen stadium.  By the time they decided they actually were interested in winning the game, they had put themselves in a nearly impossible situation.  Even though they clawed back within 7, they had to work so hard to do it, they just couldn’t summon the energy needed to finish the comeback and played like the exhausted team they were for the final quarter.  Watching Oregon run their way to *THREE* fourth quarter touchdowns using backup running backs and a 3rd string QB (so the Bear *KNEW* it was going to be a run-heavy offense) was so massively discouraging, I wanted to burn my Cal gear.  Oregon could run at will and there was nothing the Bears could do about it.

The defensive execution was horrific.  They were out of position.  They didn’t know how to play the read option (did they practice defending it?!?).  They couldn’t get pressure on the QB.  They blitzing schemes didn’t confuse and as the Bears got more desperate trying to confuse, they got horrifically out of position and exposed.  They were indecisive when they needed to be flying to the ball, yet they were also jumping to the wrong places when they needed to just hold their position.  (One of the late/long running TD’s, there was a linebacker perfectly positioned in the running lane, but he jumped to the wrong side of the line for some inexplicable reason and opened a golden highway for the Oregon RB to the endzone.)

And on offense, it all fell apart on the offensive line.  The rest of the team was helpless because the offensive line was getting abused in the trenches.  The RB’s couldn’t run.  Bowers couldn’t find time to pass.  And ideas like rolling out were only making it worse.

It was just ugly, ugly, ugly, *UGLY*.

The only good news is that I don’t think Cal will see another team like Oregon for the rest of the season.  The key for the coaching staff will be preventing discouragement, particularly after a likely Washington loss next week.  But the rest of the way, the teams are pretty beatable if the team can get their confidence back and completely forget about this disaster in every way except as a reminder of how important it is to bring a strong effort every week.