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Archive for November, 2017


Big Game Preview

Stanford has been a bit of a baffling team this season.  They looked *very* beatable early in the season when they lost to San Diego State.  But they looked like the best team in the conference when they beat Washington last week.  Their other losses are a beatdown by USC in the 2nd week of the season and a nailbiter loss to WSU two weeks ago.  The other surprising game was a nailbiter victory over Oregon State 3 weeks ago.

But one piece of data dramatically clarifies their more recent struggles: Star RB Bryce Love was injured half way through the Oregon game.  He missed the following game versus Oregon State game and it’s reasonable to project that he wasn’t back to 100% for the WSU game.  Indeed he had his lowest number of carries since the loss to San Diego State and by far his lowest number of yards (69 vs. a previous pre-injury low of 152).

So my feeling is the narrative for Stanford be that they’ve improved dramatically over the course of the season, in part realizing how much they should build their offense around Love, but then struggled without him at 100%.  And if that’s accurate, Cal is in real trouble with Love back at full strength.

Cal’s only hope is to sell out to stopping Love and hope that the secondary can sufficiently stifle young QB K.J. Costello (and hopefully confuse into some interceptions) who has taken over for the mediocre veteran QB Chryst.  Costello has not really been an improvement throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception while completing just over 50% of his passes in his last two games as starter.  So if the Bears can actually stop Love while not leaving receivers dramatically open, they’ll have a shot of slowing Stanford to a degree to make the game competitive.

But that is not the Bears only problem.  Stanford continues to win with defense.  Indeed, the most points the team has given up outside of a head scratcher versus UCLA, is 24 points.  Cal is going to have to focus on a quick passing game, as it is hard to believe the offensive line is going to hold up to the Stanford rush.  It’s also going to have to find balance with the running game.  Cal will have to maximize their possessions, because this will likely be a game with fewer possessions than most (particularly those against spread/quick snap teams).

Is it possible that Cal wins?  Yes, it is.  In fact, far stranger things have happened in Big Game history.  I could see Cal holding Stanford to 16 points (3 FG’s and a touchdown) if they really are able to contain Love.  I could also see Cal putting up 24 points on Stanford if everything is clicking, perhaps even as high as 31 if a few turnovers help them.  But at the end of the day, that’s just not what I expect to happen.

Cal loses in frustrating form: 13-31

End of the season games setting up nicely

Cal is headed into its bye week, and while it probably would have been better overall for the bye to come a couple/few weeks ago to give Cal a better shot at Arizona and Colorado, being well rested before the Big Game will be nice.

Let’s take a quick look at how the last two games are looking, schedule wise:

Stanford has two tough games with Cal in the middle.  They’ve got UW, then Cal, then Notre Dame (all at home).  Beating UW will be tough for Stanford.  If they win, they could be exhausted, over confident or looking forward to their chance to beat #3 Notre Dame (and massively improve their ranking).  If they lose to UW, they’ll 6-4 and looking at another disappointing season.  Plus, as we all know, Stanford is always a bit thrown off by how many Cal fans are in their home stadium.

Plus, this team is vulnerable.  The only victory on their win list that makes it look unlikely that Cal could beat them is their beat down of Oregon.  But it’s worth noting that Oregon has been horrible ever since Cal knocked out their 1st and 2nd string QBs.  Other than that, Cal beat OSU better than Stanford did, lost closer to USC than Stanford did, and schlacked WSU whereas Stanford lost to them.  While a subjective analysis suggests Stanford is the better team, nevertheless, Cal can compete with them.  If Stanford doesn’t come with their best game, Cal can easily beat them.

Then there’s UCLA…

UCLA is having yet another disappointing season and things aren’t looking to get any better.  The odds makers would suggest that UCLA will lose its next two games and come into the Cal game 4-7 and out of bowl game contention.  That’s a great place to catch a team at the end of the season, after Thanksgiving.  While going to the Rose Bowl always worries me (the list of Cal flops down there is long and distinguished), this might be one of the best times to catch UCLA in quite a while.

While two games on the road against talented opponents should never be looked at in too rosy a light, I can’t imagine too many scenarios that setup better than these do.

Oregon State Sunday evening watch

Here’s my thoughts on watching the game Sunday evening:

  • OSU sideline looks pretty pumped up to start the game.  They know this is one of their few shots at a win this season.
  • Bears sure looked fooled on OSU’s first play.  I haven’t done a detailed look, but it sure feels like for at least the last few games, Cal has not been well defensively prepared for the 1st few plays/possession.
  • It sure seems like the linebackers have been playing further back the last few games.  They’re playing a good 7-8 yards behind the line on this 1st possession.  Generally that’s good for underneath pass coverage but not so good for run defense nor for their “come from anywhere” blitzing scheme.
  • Wow, the Bears were sure fooled by the 2-pass touchdown play.  Not a very good defensive possession.  The Bears are going to need to start stronger defensively in their last two games if they want to win.  Bears down early: 0-7 with 11 minutes left in 1st quarter.
  • Bears offense in good rhythm early.  I liked Bowers reading of the pass coverage on 3rd and 7.  That looked like his 3rd read and the right decision to Wharton.
  • The Bears have been using the inside WR screen a lot in the redzone, generally with good results.  (Although in this case it was negated by a personal foul.)
  • Lots of penalties on this 1st Cal offensive drive.
  • Boy, Oregon State is sure leading with their helmet a lot on their tackles.  Have they not learned about the targeting rules?
  • Nice run by Laird for a TD with pretty good zone blocking by the O-Line.  Score tied 7-7 with 8 minutes left in the 1st quarter.
  • The Bears have sure been “lucky” with kick off returns against them being called back by penalties.
  • Overall good pressure by Cal D-Line on OSU pass plays.  If Cal can slow the running game and force OSU to pass, they’ll be in good shape.
  • Cal O-Line is opening nice holes and getting a good push against OSU.  So far very different than last year when OSU dominated the trenches on both sides.
  • Laird has good patience, which does him well most of the time, but he needs to learn in the redzone that holes close quicker and negative plays are more troublesome.  Down there, you need to pound it and do it quicker.
  • We haven’t seen as much of Enwere lately.  Even on some ‘pound it’ downs.  (although here he comes in now on 2nd and goal)
  • Holy smokes did 2nd and goal go bad!  12 yard loss.  But then Bowers throws a brilliant fade (his touch is getting better) to Wharton on 3rd and goal from the 14.  Great recovery after a disaster of a play.  Bears up 14-7 near the end of the 1st quarter.
  • Lots of drops by OSU receivers today.  They’re kinda shooting themselves in the foot the last couple drives.  This game could easily be a shootout if OSU could execute.
  • Another couple big Laird runs.  The way this is going, there is no reason to ever throw the ball.
  • Matt Anderson has been back to his old form after a tough few games to start the season.  Bears up 17-7 with 12 minutes left in 2nd quarter.
  • Bad decision by OSU to go for it on 4th down, even though they got lucky and got a good spot.  But they’re only down 10 in the early 2nd quarter and it’s on their side of the field.  I wonder why Wilcox didn’t challenge?  It seemed the evidence was pretty good to overturn it.  Probably just didn’t think it was important enough.  If the game got tighter later, you’d hate not to have that in your pocket anymore.
  • OSU doing a good job with their option running game on this next drive.  Cal’s doing a good job of assignment football, making sure all the options are covered, but it means there’s not as many guys to cover the main run threat.  Bears lead down to 17-10 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
  • Wharton has been getting a lot more attention from Bowers now that Noa is being double covered a lot by defenses.  That’s maturity by a QB to hit other WRs when his favorite isn’t open.  Bowers is still young, but is maturing nicely this year.  I’m hopeful that he could be really good in the future.
  • Cal is mostly dominating this game, but OSU is within 4 with 1 minute left in the half.  As a general statement, I feel like Cal hasn’t been very efficient the last few games.  Also, yet another game where the defense gives up end of 1st half points.  Bears only up 17-13 wit one minute left in the half.
  • Wow, great catch by Wharton.  That was an interesting scenario.  Did Bowers mis-throw it, or did he throw it to the hole in the zone coverage and force Wharton to come back to that hole?
  • And Cal steals back 3 points with another good Anderson kick.  Bears lead 20-13 at the half.
  • Bears again going back to the run game with success to start the 2nd half.  But again, the Bears are only up 7 despite statistically and visually dominating the 1st half.  Ever since the Arizona game I feel Cal has been “inefficient” on both sides of the ball.  Somehow the points just aren’t coming for the offense and somehow the defense is giving up more points than they feel like they are (the big play was a big part of that for Arizona and Colorado).
  • OSU really was putting their helmet down on defense.  It’s like they didn’t know about the targeting rules.  2 players out of the game, but there could have been a couple more.
  • Bears fumble in the redzone and give up the ball.  More signs of that inefficiency.
  • Bears force a 3 and out on the next possession, with a good job of corralling the underneath stuff to not go for many yards (although gets lucky with a missed catch on 3rd down).
  • Bowers has been doing a good job hitting the quick slants when the defense has been giving them with a soft safety coverage.
  • The offensive line is doing a good job picking up blitzes today.
  • But then Bowers makes the absolute wrong decision on a read-option for a “sack” (statistically).
  • And again, Cal not being efficient.  They get the ball well on the OSU side of the 50 yet just get a handful of yards and kick the field goal.  For how much the ball has been on the OSU side of the field, the score should at least be 30, if not more.  Instead the Cal lead is only 23-13 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • The OSU QB did a pretty good job finding the deep hole in the Cal zone and dropping a pass in exactly the right spot on their next possession.  That’s the first big play the Bears have given up all game, which is a nice change from the last couple weeks.
  • OSU uses the run game to get in the endzone.  I suspect Cal’s defensive redzone numbers aren’t that good either.  Cal lead down to THREE!  Considering the nature of the game, there’s no excuse for the score to be this close: 23-20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd.
  • The Bears have been running the ball surprisingly little in the 2nd half.  It sure doesn’t seem like OSU is loading the box and forcing Cal to throw.  Seems like the Bears have abandoned it a bit considering how well it has been working.
  • Bowers hits another deep fade to the endzone and Cal is back up by 10: 30-20 at the end of the 3rd.
  • I know it’s hard to be an announcer, a lot harder than it seems, but some times… how can the color guy be saying “that’s tough” for an obvious PI call.
  • The Cal offense is showing good balance right now.  They’re leading with the run and Laird, and then going to the pass when OSU starts to bite on it.
  • Cal finishes off a drive built on the run (with just enough passing to keep the OSU defense honest) with Enwere pounding it into the endzone.  Bears up 37-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.
  • It feels like the Bears have been able to extend so quickly because they’ve won the conditioning battle.  OSU can no longer give 120%, particularly on defense, and Cal is having their way with them.
  • Ahhhhh… it sure feels good to hear Nall only had 35 yards at this point in the game (and that’s all he got).  If you needed a reason to still feel good about getting rid of Dykes… (last year he had 221 against Cal)
  • OSU has been quietly building up a number of big plays, particularly as the game wears on.  A few of them have been because the Cal defense is playing soft to contain OSU, but still, it’s worrisome to see the big-play trend continuing into a 3rd game.
  • OSU kicks a field goal to close it to 37-23 with 6 minutes left in the game.
  • I’d have Laird out of the game at this point.  He’s carried the ball 30 times.  Give him some rest and save him from injury.  It’s not like we don’t have a senior in his final home game nor a couple of young guys who could use some more experience.
  • Cal never punted in the entire game.  One failed 4th down conversion at the Cal 40 and one fumble in the redzone were the only two drives that didn’t end in points.  Yet at the same time, 3 field goals and a missed redzone opportunity.  Games with no punts generally shouldn’t only have 37 points.
  • Overall, it feels like the score should have been 45 to 13 based on how the teams played and the stats.  Cal is going to have to be more efficient in their last two games to get that crucial 6th win.

Oregon State Preview

We’ve reached the part of the season where “the loops” start to appear.  Cal has a head-scratcher with WSU and Colorado (in chronological order):

  1. Cal destroyed WSU 37-3
  2. WSU destroyed Colorado 28-0
  3. Colorado handled Cal 44-28

Obviously there is at least one game in there that one or both of the teams didn’t perform as expected (either bad or good).  I think the answer to understanding where Cal sits is to accurately determining what those unexpected performances are.  Here’s my stab at it:

  • WSU had a bad game against Cal (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a great game against WSU (but would have won anyway)
  • Colorado had a bad game against WSU (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a bad game against Colorado (outcome unclear, particularly on a neutral field)

In other words, these three teams are relatively equally matched if they all brought a strong performance and in my opinion the ordering is Cal over WSU over Colorado (but it’s all very close).

I know that is a pretty rosy picture, but now that Arizona beat WSU by a stronger margin than its victory over Cal (as well as beating Colorado), it’s showing that Arizona wasn’t one of the two easy games on Cal’s schedule like we thought it was.  Thus everything on Cal’s schedule makes sense if Colorado is the outlier.  And it makes particular sense when you look at last week’s preview where I talked about the Colorado X-Factor.

That’s just a really, really, REALLY tough place to play, particularly for a young team.

And then add this, with the above assumptions, the games where one would say Cal didn’t quite measure up to their capabilities, they’re *ALL* road games.  Oregon might have been a loss anyway, but Cal should have played them closer.  Washington would *definitely* have been a loss anyway, but Cal could have kept it closer.  And then there’s Colorado that had us nashing our teeth.

So, all of that is a long way of saying that I think Cal bounces back today against a more dangerous than we think Oregon State team.

Oregon State lost a close one to Colorado at home as well as a close one against Stanford at home.  This is a team that is playing above their potential with nothing to lose since their head coach quit mid-season.  If Cal had to make the trip to Corvallis, I’d be pretty worried right now.  Not that Cal couldn’t win that game on the road.  It just would be very dangerous.

As it is, I think Oregon State is in for a surprise.  They’re going to face a Cal team that is tired of losing games it could win and will take out their frustrations on Oregon State at home on Senior Day.

Cal wins 38-20.

 

Free Oregon State tickets

Anybody want my effectively worthless Oregon State tickets?

If so, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll contact you about transferring them to you digitally.

(OSU preview coming by tomorrow morning)

eBay auction ends this afternoon

The eBay auction for my Oregon State tickets ends today at 3:22 PM PDT:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253232833908

Starting bid is $30.  Buy It now for $65.  For SEVEN tickets (2 adults, 5 youth)