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Archive for October, 2018


OSU preview

Games like this are so hard to predict.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears in full meltdown mode and lose 13 to 38 or something like that.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears clean up their act, play to their potential and win 31 to 13.  It’s all about mental preparation and emotional fortitude.  If it was just about talent levels and X’s and O’s, the Bears should win.  But after last week’s performance, who here thinks the fundamental issue is talent and X’s and O’s?  (OK, perhaps a bit on offense it is.)

And thus it may mean it will come down to those first few odd bounces of the ball and small mistakes that every team has and it’s just blind luck how big the implications of those small mistakes are.  You know, a guard takes just too wide of a stance in pass blocking, the tackle trips on the guards foot, thus the end rusher gets a free blind-side attack on the QB, who fumbles the ball and it’s returned for a touchdown… all because the guard took just a bit too wide of a blocking stance.

Great teams find ways to keep those sorts of mistakes from unduly changing the game.  They also find ways to capitalize on the other team making those small mistakes.  But neither Cal nor OSU are great teams.

So to sum up, if there were no odd bounces of the ball and no odd mistakes, plus Cal puts the past behind them and plays to their potential, then Cal should have a solid win.  But it’s foolish to think that’s how it will play out.

I’m going to take pessimist’s route and hope to be pleasantly surprised.  Bears lose a wild one.  Mistakes early put them in a hole, they claw most of the way back, but late mistakes doom them.

Bears lose 20 – 31.

Worst loss since analysis

OK, I’ve done my thorough analysis and have the results for you.

Here’s the criteria for the magnitude of a loss (from most important to least):

  1. Disproportion of outcome vs. expectations.  In other words, getting blown out when you were expecting a loss isn’t nearly as bad as getting blown out when one is expecting a big win.
  2. Objective difference in records or ranking.  The lower the team is versus where Cal, is the worse it is.
  3. Implications on bowl eligibility or positioning, or ranking
  4. What it seems to indicate about the program’s state
  5. Actual score differential, with emphasis on low Cal scores
  6. Games one attended are worse (I realize this criteria makes it more subjective, but frankly there’s no avoiding that)
  7. Home games losses are worse

Working backwards in time:

  • 2017 28 – 44 loss @Colorado: This was a hard one to take, and it officially put Cal in doubt of making a bowl.  It also hurt because they had just lost to WSU who Cal had beat 37-3 just a few weeks earlier.  However, Colorado and Cal were both middle of the conference teams and Cal only lost by 16 points on the road.  Bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2017 7 – 38 loss @ Washington: Point differential is similar, but on the road to an undefeated UW squad doesn’t match 0-5 UCLA at home.
  • 2017 24 – 45 loss @ Oregon: This one hurts a lot in part because Oregon was without their starting QB for half the game and the Bears still couldn’t claw back in it.  But objectively, the road game and Oregon’s historical quality make it fall short.  Another bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2016 21 – 56 loss @ WSU: WSU was pretty good that year and the game was on the road.
  • 2016 27 – 66 loss vs. UW: Another good team.  This one really hurt because it was the turning point when we knew the Cal defense was never going to be any good under Dykes.  But still, that UW team was too good to match 0-5 UCLA, despite both games being at home.
  • 2016 24 – 45 loss @ USC: I think we’re all too numb to losses in the LA Coliseum to be too affected by a loss like this anymore.  Side note #1: Anyone as foolish as me and thinking of going to the USC game in LA this year?  #2: That’s 3 games in a row in 2016 that made the list.  Ouch!
  • 2015 28 – 44 loss @ Oregon: This one hurt because Oregon wasn’t very good this year and it was a relatively good year for the Bears.  But a 16 point loss on the road just doesn’t cut it here.
  • 2014 7 – 31 vs. UW: I don’t remember much about this game other than it was a letdown after a few close games that preceded it.  Overall the Bears were on an upward trajectory and it wasn’t hard to accept this loss as part of the growing pains.
  • Ignoring all of 2013: We knew the cupboard was bare and it was going to take Dykes time to rebuild.
  • 2012 14 – 62 @ OSU: This seems like a real contender to be the one.  It ended Tedford’s career at Cal after all.  But OSU was 7-2 going into that game.  If this was the 2018 Beavers, then it probably would be the previous worst loss.
  • 2012 17 – 59 vs. Oregon: The wheels had fallen off the bus on the Tedford era by this game.  Oregon was an exceptionally good team.  It stung, but not like last Saturday.
  • 2012 27 – 49 @Utah: Another real contender.  I had the misfortune of going to this game.  I was so angry after the game I put $137 on a table, took a picture of it and said it was for the Fire Tedford fund.  Cal was 3-5 entering the game against a 2-5 Utah that was relatively new to the conference.  Cal had an outside shot at bowl eligibility with a weak UW team immediately after that game.  It would then just take an upset over either Oregon or OSU to get to bowl eligibility.  Instead Cal didn’t win again in 2012 and Tedford was fired.  This one scores high on criteria 1, 3, 4, and 6 with partial points for 2.  While I think a strong argument could be made for this game, let’s keep going and see what we can find.
  • 2011 14 – 31 @UCLA: I remember how much this game hurt.  Luckily the Bears finished strong down the stretch.  There’s no arguing that UCLA team was worse than the 2018 team and the margin was far closer.
  • 2011 9 – 30 vs. USC: Another game that would have really hurt if we weren’t so used to getting our butts kicked by USC.
  • 2011 15 – 43 @Oregon: Another stinker, and at a time hope was re-building after 2010, but Oregon was the Pac-12 champs that year and thus it doesn’t compare.
  • 2010 13 – 16 vs. UW: Sometimes it’s not just about the score.  Last game in the old Memorial stadium and a win would have made the Bears bowl eligible.  UW was mediocre.  And it all came down to 4th and goal at the 1 and all Cal had to do was stop it.  Somehow the Bears let them run up the middle for a score.  UGH!  But, as much as this one still sticks with me, the score was too close to really be a contender.
  • 2010 14 – 48 @ USC: This was one of those USC games that got Cal fans very used to losing big to USC.
  • 2009 10 – 42 @ UW:  Another real contender.  Cal was 8-3 and lost HUGE to 4-7 UW.  To make matters worse, this was my last game as a Cal reporter and I got food poisoning at the game.  I was throwing up all night.  The flight home was horrible (I went with the don’t eat anything so there’s nothing to throw up on the flight strategy).  Yeah, this was a really bad one.  It came on the back of two really uplifting wins over Arizona and Stanford (the Bears last Big Game win).  It also pushed the Bears WAY down the bowl priority list and they ended up in the Poinsettia as opposed to the Sun or Holiday.  Yup, definitely one worth considering as worse.  Scores high on criteria 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, with partial points on 4.  But a few more games back there’s one that tops it.
  • 2009 3 – 30 vs. USC: USC beat downs are so boring at this point.  However, if the Bears hadn’t lost big at Oregon the week before this game would be a contender.  There were very high hopes entering 2009 and to lose this bad to USC early in the season was very disappointing.
  • 2009 3 – 42 @ Oregon: And this is where it ends for me.  This was the game that was worse that 2018 UCLA.  Oregon had lost to Boise St., and barely beat Purdue and pre-Pac-12 Utah.  They were very weak this year (or so we thought).  Cal was undefeated and back to it’s powerhouse Tedford self (or so we thought).  I was there.  And it was one of the most soul crushing experiences of my football watching life.  The Bears were beat so badly that sites like CGB were in full melt-down mode (like this week).  I remember that Danzig (I think that’s who made it) who was known for making highlight YouTube videos every week made a video that was merely a minute and a half of Oregon cheerleaders.  Not a single play of the game.  This one fits criteria 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and partial points for 2 (OK, Oregon wasn’t considered top end, but they weren’t 0-5 either).

So there you have it, in my opinion, the UCLA game was the worst game since 2009 Oregon, where 2012 Utah and 2009 UW are the possible other contenders.

Worst loss since…

Fill in the blank.  Last nights loss to UCLA was the worst loss since ___________

(I’ll add my thoughts in the comments after I get a few replies)

Looks like I was right to be afraid

UCLA just kicked Cal’s butt up and down the field.  While on the one hand, UCLA is better than people think, I’m starting to lose confidence in the Cal coaching staff.  There’s more talent on this team than what they’re showing.  The defense is starting to look disinterested in giving a full effort if the offense isn’t going to carry its share of the load.

That was a horrible performance.

If they don’t turn a HUGE corner this week, they’re going to lose in Corvallis and the wheels are going to come off the bus.  Then we’ll be dreaming of last year’s success as the Bears end up going 0-9 in conference or at best 1-8 with that odd upset that can’t be explained (like last year’s WSU performance).

UCLA preview

This will be a bit of a shorter preview as I’m a bit short on time.  UCLA might just be the scariest 0-5 team in the country.  First of all, the talent is there, at least when judged by recruiting stars.  Second of all, they’ve played a really hard schedule: Two top 10 ranked teams.  The only undefeated team in the Pac-12.  Heck, the worst record team they’ve played is 4-1 Fresno State.  Does anyone think Cal would be 3-2 against that schedule?  I guess it’s possible the Bears could have pulled that off with wins over Cincinnati, Fresno State and Colorado, but considering the disaster in the desert last week, it’s hard to argue the Bears would be better than 2-3 if they played UCLA’s schedule.  It’s also not hard to imagine they’d be 1-4.

Now admittedly, UCLA has not only lost, they’ve lost by sizable margins.  Only one was a single score loss.  But that’s where point #1 comes in… there’s talent on this team.  When one combines that with the fact they’re learning a whole new system with new head coach Chip Kelly, it’s not the most irrational fear to have that they’re starting to play to their potential, or will be by tomorrow in Berkeley.  Indeed, their best game was their most recent, a 24-31 loss to Washington.  And you know they’re looking at this game against Cal as one of their few remaining possibilities of a win.  They’ll bring everything they have to win this one.

At the same time, Cal has been under performing their potential the last two games.  Something tells me that this week they play a lot closer to it.  I’ve talked a lot about the history of matchups in my predictions this year: Struggling at altitude.  Struggling in the desert.  If I’m going to be fair, the history of the UCLA @ Cal matchups is *REALLY* favorable.  Since the turn of the century, the Bears are 7-1 against UCLA.  And that includes some really surprising wins: 2000, 2012 and 2016 in particular.  Those were some pretty crummy Cal teams, yet they seemed to be able to beat UCLA in Berkeley anyway.

So, while I’m really scared UCLA is better than their record indicates, getting better every week and I greatly fear this is the week UCLA puts all the pieces together, in the end I’m going to go with the Bears.  I think they also clean up the mistakes of the last two weeks.

Bears win: 34-20

UCLA tickets for sale on eBay

As previously noted, I have an all-day commitment on 10/13 and I can’t make it to the game.  You can get my 7 tickets (2 adult and 5 youth (they have never checked if adults use youth tickets)) for as little as $40 ($100 buy-it-now) on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253923640430

Auction ends Thursday morning and I’ll mail you my parking pass for Lower Hearst if you’re interested.

The optimist’s way to look at stupid mistakes

Probably the easiest thing to improve on is the number of stupid mistakes.  It comes with caveats (the additional thinking robs the team of a little execution speed), but overall, the school of hard knocks is pretty efficient at teaching things.

So when you’ve got a team that played a pretty even game against an upper-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes and significantly outplayed a lower-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes, then you’ve got a team that’s not as far as one tends to think from success.  Although UCLA scares me as they seem to finally be turning a corner and the road scares me even when it is Oregon State, I think Cal has proven they not only have the talent to beat both those teams, they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the better teams.  I’d say both WSU and Colorado are games that I’d have optimism about a win if Cal can clean up the mistakes.  I’d also argue that wins over USC and Stanford are not out of the question, again assuming Cal can clean up the mistakes.  USC would be even more true if it weren’t for the difficulty of going into the Coliseum, in my opinion the toughest place to go play.

So hope is not lost, the team just needs to clean up its stupid mistakes.

Post Arizona Rant

I couldn’t be more livid right now.  Wilcox… KICK THE STINKING FIELD GOAL!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Everything that went wrong with the end of that game started with the failed 4th down conversion when they *SHOULD* have kicked the easy field goal to tie the game.  The Bears were dominating on both sides of the ball.  The Arizona offense didn’t score a point after the 1st quarter.  The Cal offense was moving the ball.  Why would you take the high-risk path like that?

This is two Arizona games in a row where Wilcox took the “win it now” philosophy (last year it was going for 2 in the 2nd overtime) and both times it has cost the Bears the game.

All of this is particularly true with McIlwain under center.  You think he throws those two interceptions, forcing the ball where it shouldn’t have been thrown, if the game was tied?  No, he plays smarter if the game is tied.  Instead he plays desperate and makes two stupid decisions because he knows it is drive and score or lose.

And then to add insult to injury, none of the breaks went Cal’s way.  That 1st INT for a TD with the fumble was blind luck from start to finish.  And then the Bears got a horrible call on the sack turned fumble where McIlwain’s hand was clearly moving forward and clearly in a throwing motion.  The key is to look how his hand releases the ball.  It releases it in a spiral motion as if he was throwing.  For a moment I was upset Wilcox didn’t challenge that, but with only one TO left and the marginal nature of that booth review, I can make my peace with that one.

But I absolutely *CAN NOT* make my peace with Wilcox’s ridiculous decisions to take the “win it now” attitude in games when the Bears have the upper hand.  Last year, it was ignoring how much overtime games tend to go in favor of the home team, particularly the longer they go.  This year it’s not recognizing the Bears are dominating on both sides of the ball.

It is completely inexcusable to lose a game that you’re leading by 4, dominate statistically in the 2nd half, but somehow manage to lose by 7.  There’s no excuse for it and it completely came down to poor game management by the coaches, putting the team in a bad situation.

Final gripe: I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate these 7 PM or later games.  I’m supposed to go to sleep now!?!  And I’ve got to be up early for 7:30 AM Mass. ARG!?!

And to add insult to injury on that front, next Saturday I’ve got an all-day commitment where I could have barely got to Berkeley for a 7 PM game.  So it was the one game I was hoping for a late start.  Do I get it? Of course not.  No, it’s just all the other games.  The one time I want it to be late, it’s at 4 PM. GAH!

(mid-morning addendum: Sure enough, I didn’t get to sleep until around 1 AM and then when my alarm went off, I slept through it for over an hour (admittedly I set a quiet alarm), and then woke up with *barely* enough time to shower and make it to mass.  Phew!)

Arizona preview

The first thing one needs to do when predicting a game like this is figure out what to make of the last game.  Even though Cal lost by about the amount I expected, they lost in a very different fashion than I expected.  I can’t think of the last game a Wilcox Bears team was that mistake prone.  And part of why that was so disappointing was that the Bears mostly seemed to play an even game against Oregon… except for the big mistakes.

There was one exception to that… the pass rush.  Cal couldn’t get a pass rush on Justin Herbert to save their life.  The few times they did, they did it by letting themselves be very exposed in the secondary and Herbert took advantage of it.  So at a minimum it suggests that Cal’s D-Line is a bit suspect against a good O-Line.

Of course it’s tempting to go to Cal and Arizona’s one common opponent thus far.  Arizona was manhandled by BYU at home in their 1st game of the season.  One week later, Cal went to BYU and won, fairing pretty well in the trenches (I won’t go so far as to say they dominated at the line, but I think Cal  got the better end of it).  That would suggest a Cal win, yes?

Well… maybe.  Arizona had a really slow start to the season.  They seem to be improving.  The embarrassing loss to Houston seems to have been a turning point for their team.  So on one level, I tend to discount their BYU performance at this point.  On the other hand, the one part of a team that seems to be less likely to see big changes over the course of the season is the lines.  Linemen win with size and power.  Size and power doesn’t change much from week to week.  Thus there’s reason to believe that Cal’s ability to win against the BYU lines that manhandled Arizona suggests Cal will win in the trenches.

That’s a very good place to be.

If the game was in Berkeley, that would be enough for me.  But Cal dreams go to die in the desert.  At first I was thinking, “Well, maybe the trip to BYU suggests the Bears have gotten over their road woes.”  But then I remembered last season the Bears beat North Carolina on the road early and then proceeded to lose every single conference road game, including two embarrassing ones (Colorado and UCLA).

So ultimately, I don’t have faith in this Bears team to win on the road in conference yet.  I think Arizona and Cal are overall equally matched, as demonstrated by last years double overtime heart breaker in Berkeley.  I think Cal may have a slight advantage on the lines, although I’m concerned the D-Line’s performance against Oregon is a sign of things to come.  I think Arizona is improving.  But I’m also optimistic about the level of play Cal demonstrated against Oregon if they could just clean up those mistakes.  Speaking of which and repeating myself, I’m terrified of a game in Tucson.

Add that all up and I expect another close loss that comes down to the last couple possessions: Cal 27 – Arizona 30.