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Archive for September, 2018


Bye-week games to watch

One of the few fan benefits of a bye week, is it is a good chance to watch other games one might otherwise not have time for.  Unfortunately, a couple of the teams I was interested in watching are themselves either on bye or play a meaningless game:

  • BYU is playing an FCS team
  • UCLA is on bye

But there’s still 4 I would suggest considering.  Here’s what I would suggest (in order of importance):

  1. Stanford @ Oregon (5 PM PDT, ABC): Duh!  Cal plays Oregon in one week, so it’ll be good to get a glimpse of them as they face their first meaningful opponent (it’s been all cupcakes for them thus far).
  2. Arizona @ Oregon State (1:00 PM, Pac-12 Net): If this overlapped with the higher priority game, I wouldn’t have included it.  But, since the afternoon is devoid of other Pac-12 games (great scheduling again Pac-12!), might as well make it a quadruple-header.  Cal plays both teams in the next month and it will be good to know if either team has anything to be feared.
  3. ASU @ UW (7:30 PM, ESPN) I expect UW to kick the tar out of ASU, despite ASU having over-achieved thus far.  However, if I’m wrong, when that Oregon game wraps up and if this is a close one, switch on over.  However, if it’s a snoozer as expected, perhaps 3 games was enough and it’s time for bed.  That way you’ve got no excuse Sunday morning and hopefully will make it to Church. 🙂
  4. Pittsburgh @ North Carolina (9:20 AM, ACC-NE): UNC missed their game with UCF due to the hurricane.  It will be interesting to see if they bounce back from their loss to ECU and show some backbone.  Again, since there is no conflict, why not?

So there you have it… get up early and watch 4 games with no more than an hour break in between and hopefully only about an hour of over-lap on the late games.  Enjoy!

(Oh, don’t forget the WSU @ USC game tonight as well)

Idaho State OTRH Podcast

Sorry again for the late posting.  I wish I had a good excuse. 🙂

Grrrr…. stinking 7:30 PM start

It’s been announced that the Cal vs. Oregon game on Saturday 9/29 will be at 7:30 PM.  Which of course really means it will kick off at 7:42 or something ridiculous like that.

I guess I could grudgingly accept the 7:00 PM starts, and I know that we’ve had the 7:30 PM starts for a few years now, but it just feels like they keep pushing more games, even supposedly pretty good games, back to 7:30 PM and it’s only going to get later and later, no matter how good the match-up is.  I mean, the Bears will be undefeated, having beaten ranked BYU and Oregon will at worst be 3-1 with their only loss potentially being to a top-10 Stanford team.  Or even better, the Ducks will be undefeated having just knocked off a top-10 team.

That’s a game that belongs at the end of the day after the East Coast is in bed?  Feels to me like it should be a 4 PM game.

Idaho State Preview

I don’t have a lot to say about Idaho State.  Cal has never lost a game against an FCS opponent, nor against a Big Sky opponent.  That includes the year that the Bears only won 1 game (2013: Portland St.).  And when one adds in that Idaho St. isn’t even a particularly good FCS team (last year they were 2-6 in the Big Sky) and it’s not hard to predict a win.

But here’s what I think is worth predicting:

  • The Bears will be doing a lot of personnel experimenting on both sides of the ball.  We’ll see a lot more backups playing and they’ll be playing early in the game.  The result will be that while the Bears will cruise to victory, it will feel a bit more bumpy than it should.
  • This will include Bowers getting his last shot at impressing the coaches that he deserves to be the starting QB.
  • The Bears will call very vanilla plays on both sides of the ball.  They won’t do a lot to reveal to their conference foes what they intend to do later in the season.
  • We will see a lot of over-the-top passing attempts, trying to evaluate how good each QB is at them in a game.

But overall it will be the expected yawner and the Bears will cruise to victory on a pleasant and brisk/windy (although not unusually so) afternoon in Berkeley.  If you want to make watching it interesting, spend a lot of time reading jersey numbers looking for which backups are in and then key on them during the plays to see how they’re doing.

Bears win 48-10.

Sunday morning thoughts post BYU

Some various random thoughts the day after…

  • Still feeling pretty good about the potential of this team after last night.  The offensive play calling, when it was good, which was that one 1st half drive and most of the 2nd half, was very promising.  And of course the defense, lights out.
  • On the “let’s not get ahead of ourselves” front.  BYU’s win over Arizona looks pretty unimpressive after Arizona got throttled by Houston of all teams.  That might mean that BYU’s narrow victory over them wasn’t nearly all that good and thus mean Cal’s win was not that impressive either.  The same goes for UNC which got destroyed by East Carolina.  If we only beat them by 7 and ENC beat them by 22 (41-19), isn’t that a bit worrisome?
  • And while we’re worrying, I’ve got to believe that if the Bears keep letting the opposition claw their way back close enough where an onside kick could doom the Bears, one has to think that eventually the Bears are going to lose one they shouldn’t.
  • But of course, wins are wins and these teams have P5 size and competency.  Even if they’re mighty flawed, we’re still looking at a Cal team that can beat at least mediocre to weak P5 teams.
  • Oregon, who is very untested themselves, will be Cal’s first test.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Bowers, sans injury.  Heck, even then, McIlwain might be our full time QB should Garbers get injured.
  • Heck, I won’t count out McIlwain being our primary starter.  His throwing ability was much better than I thought.  He didn’t show us that much because he was only asked to throw a little bit, but what we saw had promise.
  • Winning all 3 non-conference games will be a great start to this season.  With the parity and weakness in the conference, only having to go 3-6 in conference to get to a bowl should be very doable.  Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State should all be games the Bears should win if they play to their potential.  Add in WSU and Colorado as games the Bears should be competitive, and one should expect at least 3 conference wins.  And I’m not even going to count out an upset against Oregon, USC, UW or Stanford (who, sad to say, is looking pretty good right now).

BYU live blog

Since i didn’t pre-announce this, I don’t know if anyone will follow along, but I’ll do it anyway.  (click on the blog title or here to see the full commentary from last night.)

BYU preview

Sometimes you just have to embrace who you are… and for me, that means embracing being an Old Blue.  I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1999.  That’s 20 seasons.  I’m running the longest standing Cal Football blog, dating back to 2007 on this site and 2004 overall.  I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve seen the incompetence of head coach who was a great guy (Holmoe) and learn that it’s really hard to keep that in perspective.  “Way to go, HOLMOE!”  That was the chant of 2000.  I saw the rise and fall of the Tedford era.  I watched the Dykes experiment never quite materialize.  I’ve seen year after year of promise mostly evaporate into mediocrity.

But more importantly than anything else, at least for this upcoming week, I’ve seen (often in person) the horrible debacle of what happens when the Bears go to the high desert of Nevada, Utah and Colorado.  Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, shall we?:

That’s *every* game during the time of this blog in the high desert.  Before that, the games get pretty few and far between anyway, being before Colorado and Utah joined the conference.

So let’s review those 7 games.  I predicted a win in 6 of the 7.  Cal won 2 of them.  And both of them were against pretty darned weak teams.  Colorado State is never that good and early 2007 was the pinnacle of the Tedford era.  Cal would a few weeks later head to Oregon and beat the highly ranked Ducks in Autzen.  That was a *really* good Cal team before Longshore was injured.  So it’s hard to get too excited about beating CSU at altitude that year.  And then in 2011, Colorado would end up going 3-9 in their first season in the conference (although oddly, the game versus Cal was a non-conference game).  So again, not exactly a great team the Bears beat.

But for the rest of them, time and time again the Bears looked like the better team (one game aside), sometimes significantly so.  Then the Bears go there and not just lose, but get throttled.  If I were to write down the top-10 losses in Cal history that got me most upset, 4 of the above 5 losses would most definitely be on the list.  Those 4 games were maddening, heart-breaking affairs.

Ironically, of the 7 games, the only one where one can argue the Bears played well was one of the losses: the 2015 loss to Utah.

So why am I beating this dead horse so viciously?  Because we need to get it through our thick skulls, that’s why.  Time and again we forget how hard it is to go play at altitude.  It’s *REALLY* hard.  The other team has been conditioning at altitude and is at a significant cardiovascular advantage.  In addition, their passing game has been practicing throwing and catching balls in the thin air.  Our beloved Bears?  Not so much.

So here’s the generic game plan that a high-altitude opponent can use against the Bears: Load up the box and force the Bears to throw the ball.  Also, play tight pass coverage on the line.  Don’t give the opposing QB the short passes he can zip in there.  Make him throw over the top with touch.  They know from years of experience that it is hard to get that touch in the heat of a game with only a day to adjust.

Now, if the Bears had the sort of run game that they could power their way through that, one might have reason to hope.  If the team could find a way to make the defense respect runs both inside and outside, thus forcing the defense to cover at least the whole line well, maybe the Bears could spread the field somewhat.  But last Saturday’s results do not bode well.  The run game was not working with UNC loading the box.  That included the sweeps where Cal had real trouble sealing the edges.

And to make matters worse, it looks like BYU has bulked up quite a bit from recent seasons and has big, tough linemen on both sides of the ball.  I watched the BYU @ Arizona game and I saw a BYU team that over-powered Arizona.  For some reason many people like to blame that on Arizona being exceptionally weak, but that’s not what I saw.  I saw a mediocre Pac-12 team get man-handled on the line.

What is Cal?  A mediocre Pac-12 team with delusions of making it to the upper tier.

Sorry, tomorrow the Bears are going to get man-handled at the line.  They’re going to be unable to do the one thing that would give them a shot: Pass the ball over the top.  The defense will keep the score low to give us some hope.  But in the end, what looks like a close game going into the 2nd half will be a grind it out soul-crushing loss that gets worse every minute of the 2nd half.

Bears lose in a big way: Cal 13, BYU 38 (but only 24 at the end of the 3rd quarter)

UNC game re-watch

I watched the game on TV today after having gone to the game on Saturday.  So “re-watch” is not entirely accurate.  It was my first time watching the TV broadcast… but the 2nd time watching the game.  In any case, here is my as-it-happened commentary:

  • Coming out in the first defensive possession, the Bears looked pretty good. Bynum’s defense on the 3rd down throw was textbook.
  • Boy, it speaks to how many QBs graduated in the Pac-12 that Bowers has the most passing yards per game of any returning QB.
  • Both of the 1st two plays were outside runs to the right. It felt a little predictable.  Now, admittedly, what caused the drive to stall was a weak throw and unimpressive grab by Hudson on what should have been an easy 3rd and 3 conversion.
  • Goode was a strong X-factor all day. What looked like a pretty good wide receiver screen got blown up by him on UNC’s 2nd possession, putting an end to the drive.
  • Boy did the offensive line not look good on that first sack. Live I thought that Bowers should have known he didn’t have time to pass that ball, but on watching it again, if the line had done their job, he would have had a lot more time than he did.
  • All 3 of Bowers throws thus far haven’t been very good. The WR made the adjustment on the 3rd one, but it still wasn’t quite in the right place.
  • Another 1st down, another run.
  • Another pass to Hudson, another drop. Both have been contested passes (bad reads by Bowers?) but TEs need to be able to make those sorts of catches.
  • Another deep pass attempt in Bynum’s direction and yet again he’s on his WR like glue and forces the breakup.  He had a great day.
  • But hiding amongst the good plays is a lot of incompetence by UNC’s offense. Receivers falling down.  Screens where the intended target doesn’t turn around.  Lot’s of mistakes.  Don’t think UNC’s offense is any good.
  • Another Cal 1st down, another run up the middle.
  • It feels like the old Holmoe, run-run-3rd and long. Just not good play calling.  Too much predictable stuff.
  • Best Cal play thus far: interception of UNC and the Bears get the ball inside the UNC 25.
  • Another Cal first down, another Laird run up the middle.
  • Garbers is now in at QB. As much as Bowers didn’t do anything positive, he also didn’t do anything worthy of being pulled.  Clearly the plan was to have Garbers come in.
  • Garber’s 1st pass is overthrown. As is his 2nd pass, but he gets bailed out by a (deserved) PI call.
  • Now that’s a good 1st down play call. Play action when McMorris as a fullback ends up as a pass to McMorris in the flat.
  • And that sets up the touchdown run as the UNC defense is more hesitant on 2nd down to not bite too hard on the run in case it’s another play action. Gotta give the OC props on that sequence for doing a good job.
  • I’m loving our new kickoff guy!  It’s been a while since I’ve been so satisfied with kickoff depth and positioning.
  • Great play by Goode again. Getting up to bat down the pass when it was clear he wasn’t going to get there on the blitz.
  • Wharton was trying too hard to break the big punt return. Sometimes you just have to take the yards the defense gives you.
  • UNC was not fooled by any of Cal’s screen plays.
  • Bad throw on another Garbers throw. This time not finding the right spot on a quick WR comeback.
  • Interesting to see the number of designed run plays (or option plays) with Garbers here on this drive.
  • Garbers also looked to be having a little bit of a difficult time progressing through his reads. He looked a little confused by UNC’s coverage.
  • Goode continues his dominance with his interception and runback for a touchdown.
  • So the score is 14-0, but 10 of those 14 points come from the INT’s. All the offense did was make sure they got those few yards on the short field to turn the FG into a TD.
  • Bowers is back in and throws a reasonably good ball on 1st (and notice, the defense was not well prepared for throwing on 1st down.)
  • Another Bowers completion. This one a bit low, particularly for short over the middle pass that needs to be the type that makes it easy for the WR to run after the catch.
  • And then, because Bowers had thrown 2 in a row, it’s no surprise that Laird has his biggest run of the day. UNC was clearly playing run first and it was very disappointing that Cal didn’t pass more early to loosen up the defense.
  • OK, it was the right call that Laird stepped out at the 14 yard line, yet it was frustrating to me because late in the game UNC did the same thing pretty much at the exact same spot on the field but it didn’t get reviewed.
  • Bowers had a shot at picking up a key 3rd down conversion, but puts it too far outside for Hudson to get a toe down in bounds. Hudson, for all his early poor catches, did a great job on that one and almost pulled it off.
  • OK, I forgot something I used to do… and I’ll pick it up from here. At what point we’re at in the game for each comment.  Sorry about that.
  • (5:41 2nd) UNC gives Cal another gift of an interception. All they had to do was play center field on a pass that never should have been thrown, but made all the easier by overthrowing the WR so he can’t even make a play on it or break it up.
  • (5:02 2nd) Good throw by Bowers on 2nd and 9. A nicely timed out and right on the WR’s numbers.
  • (4:20 2nd) Although another completion by Bowers, it was a bit behind Noa and slowed his progress. The play after that, a good out pattern by Bowers.  3 completions in a row, 2 of which were right where they should be.
  • (2:33 2nd) A wise TO by UNC. Waited until it was clear what Cal was going to run (a dive by McMorris) and then called the TO.  Although Cal picked up the 4th down conversion after the timeout, they were forced to change the play call because of the TO.
  • Bowers makes a bad throw (perhaps even the wrong read) and Noa can’t get to the ball.
  • Another bad throw by Bowers. After a good sequence, he’s now off his mark.
  • (1:05 2nd) I’ve been very impressed by the secondary’s ability to get off their blocks and get to the runner.
  • (1:00 2nd) Why was Cal trying to get one more possession at the end of the 1st half? Why not just go to the locker room and talk it over?
  • (0:41 2nd) Bowers next throw was low, but I’m inclined to thing that was intentional to put it in the only place that it was safe from an INT. But it was probably a bad read.  His next pass was also a bad read and a much more dangerous one with 3 defenders in the area.
  • (end of the half) So a dominating, in every sense of the word, performance by the Bears.  Only gave up one 1st down and 38 total yards. But the offense was pretty inconsistent.  Just one meaningful drive that netted 3 points.  Otherwise it was mostly the defense that got Cal the points.  Bowers didn’t do much in the last couple of possessions to make his case to play in the 2nd half.  Bad reads, bad throws.
  • (13:54 3rd) Garbers throw on 3rd down was overthrown and lacked the touch needed for an over the top throw.  My guess is it was also the wrong read, but on 3rd and long, sometimes  you don’t have a lot of options.  That one would have at least been long enough for a 1st down, even though it was low percentage.
  • (12:59 3rd) UNC definitely hurt themselves with penalties. Finally they’re ahead of the sticks and they get a false start.
  • (11:22 3rd) Good play call by UNC, a reverse. The Cal defense did slightly over pursue to help make that play work.  (But that’s how the play is supposed to work from an offensive perspective.)
  • (10:10 3rd) Jeez, a whole sequence of penalties here.  Again, nobody should be thinking the dominant Cal defensive performance is all about the Bears.  It helped that UNC was pretty weak offensively.
  • (9:55 3rd) Now is when the Bears go back to being too conservative on offense. Another run-run-3rd and long.  This time Garbers makes a nice throw on 3rd and 7 on a slant to get a 1st down, but it’s not the type of play calling I want to see.
  • (9:43 3rd) Nice sideline fade by Garbers to his tallest receiver.
  • (5:47 3rd) UNC completes their 1st long pass of the game. It was a good pass, but contested by 2 defenders.  Every once and while that is going to work, but not often the way the defense was playing.
  • (4;39 3rd) UNC converts the FG based solely on the long pass. Cal 17, UNC 3.
  • (3:38 3rd) Garbers significantly under throws his receiver on a fade down the outside. Luckily the DB clobbered the WR and Cal got the PI call.  But it should have been a big pass reception if Garbers had hurled it far enough.
  • (2:12 3rd) Cal hurt themselves with a couple too many false start penalties throughout the game.  When the offense is mediocre, there just can’t be any stupid penalties.
  • (1:43 3rd) Garbers definitely has better wheels than Bowers. He’s had a few nice scrambles and a couple reasonably good designed run plays.
  • (0:22 3rd) Garbers throws a nice out to Laird on a pass out of the backfield and then a nice cut up field to score a TD. This was the only legitimate drive of the field by the Bears, and I guess it is notable that Garbers led it, not Bowers.  Cal 24, UNC 3
  • Now, who would have thought at this point the game was going to end up being close?
  • (0:03 3rd) UNC has their first inside run of any merit. A 9-yard QB keeper where it didn’t look like it would go for much, but ended up being a significant pickup.  A sign of things to come…
  • (14:55 4th) Another Cal INT on another poor throw by UNC. One of the upsides of Cal playing so much zone is that they’re looking back towards the ball more often to make these sorts of plays.  In man coverage, that’s less likely.
  • (13:27 4th) Overthrow by Garbers on fade down the sideline. Cover-2 defense and a bit late to squeeze it in the window.
  • (13:18 4th) Garbers sacked on one you’d think he would have seen the blitz coming as his head was turned that way. Would have been nice to see him recognize the blitz and throw it away.
  • (11:43 4th) Another sizeable run for UNC. I think the Bear defense was starting to show its tiredness at this point.  Also notable was that UNC was running at a much faster tempo than earlier in the game.
  • (10:35 4th) UNC converts a 4th down on a traditional option play. I shouldn’t be too judgmental as Cal doesn’t see a lot of it.  But I still have the feeling that earlier in the game Cal would have stopped that.  It sure feels like Cal was getting tired.
  • This was also the play that Goode went out with his foot injury. So point being, the run game was already softening up before he went out.  Of course, losing him doesn’t help.
  • (8:43 4th) Definitely the tempo of UNC was neutralizing the defense. They couldn’t attack as much.  They were much more vanilla on defense.  Perhaps it was because they didn’t gameplan for fast tempo, but they’ll need to fix that.
  • (7:19 4th) OK, one of the most overlooked plays of the game.  4th down just outside the Cal redzone.  The UNC QB scrambles with the ball.  He definitely steps out at the 17 yard line when I freeze on the right frame, although admittedly close.  He needed to get to the 15.  His next step is at the 15 and a half, just short of a first down and he’s *CLEARLY* out.  His foot is in the middle of the white line.  With none of it on the green.  It’s horribly bad out of bounds from a marking it perspective.  Yet the ball is placed at the 12 yard line.  Now, admittedly, they get to the line quick to prevent the review, but it was a horribly bad call.  And remember, it was 4th down, so the Bears should have gotten the ball.
  • Plus, and this is less clear on video, but the Bears were quite surprised at the spot and the lack of a replay, so they were not very prepared for that next play, which was an easy 5 yard run for 2nd and 5 from the 7. That’s a great place to be when it should have been a turnover on downs.
  • And are the announcers even remotely aware of all of this? Nope!  Even after they go to a commercial break, no mention of the missed call.
  • And imagine how different this game is with 7 minutes left, UNC down 24-3 and the Bears have the ball.
  • (6:31 4th) UNC punches it in for a touchdown and the Bear defense all of a sudden is getting beaten on the line and the inside runs are working. Cal 24, UNC 10.
  • (6:26 4th) The first onside kick, although a Cal recovery, was not played particularly well by the Bears.  A sign of things to come.
  • (4:45 4th) Disappointed by the play calling on 2nd and 3rd and short for the Bears. If you can’t get a 1st down from 2nd and 3, you’ve got a problem.  And it’s not right to do a sweep run on 3rd and 1.  There’s just too many people close to the line on a play like that.  Better to play it straight up in the middle and trust your offensive line to get the push they need to.
  • (3:50 4th) UNC back with the ball.  On their first play (although the play was called back due to penalty) there were a lot of missed tackles. This defense was tired.
  • (2:50 4th) It may be a bit unfair to criticize the run defense excessively at this point. They were playing 2 deep safeties, which means there’s just not enough guys close to the line in a 3-4 defense, particularly when one of your LB’s is out wide on a WR.  It’s a prevent defense forcing UNC to use up a lot of clock to score.  Not a horrible idea when Cal is up by 2 TDs.  But perhaps I’m being too harsh on how they couldn’t stop the run.  To some degree that was by design.
  • But they still look tired to me.
  • (1:20 4th) I really loath announcers when it comes to PI. They have no idea what they’re talking about (a few exceptions aside).  Bynum did indeed commit a PI, but it wasn’t the contact, it was the holding of the shoulder and preventing the WR from turning to the ball.
  • (1:13 4th) A great pass and WR battle by UNC to get a TD.  They deserved that one.  Bynum did his best to make a play on a perfect throw, but it wasn’t enough.  Cal 24, UNC 17
  • (1:10 4th) The 2nd onside kick… I have to admit that I was not aware of the illegal block rules for an onside kick. While probably technically a foul, the Bears got lucky on that one.  It seems to me that the offense should be engaging the kicking team well before 10 yards to force them to evade their players or risk a foul.
  • And it just seems like Cal didn’t have enough players on that side. Why 2 guys in the middle?  Put one there to protect the middle kick, but put 5 on each side… or even when you know which way they want to go, go 6 and 4 to the “strong” side.
  • Final score: Cal 24, UNC 17

Overall my impression is about the same as it was in my OTRH podcast.  The Bears are pretty annemic on offense and not as well conditioned on defense as I’d like.  I’m worried.  Bowers played worse than I had realized but Garbers played about as bad as I thought.  In other words, we’re pretty mediocre at QB.  I’m pretty worried this is going to be a long season, that UNC is a pretty bad team and the fact that the Bears had such a hard time putting them away is really troublesome.

BYU will be a much stiffer test.

North Carolina OTRH Podcast

Sorry for the delay in posting this.  It was recorded on the drive home as always, it just took me a few days to get to it, what with the holiday weekend and work and stuff.