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Archive for September, 2019


My Ole Miss replay rant

OK, it has been a while since I’ve gone full rant-mode… and this whole “controversy” with the Pac-12 refs has grown into something ridiculous. When the ESPN recap during later game half-time shows is mostly them bashing the refs, it’s ridiculous. This is particularly true because THE REFS GOT IT RIGHT!

It’s extremely frustrating to me how little so many people know about the rules of football and particularly the rules for replay. College football reply was specifically designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. (Side note: whether they’ve accomplished that goal is a separate issue) The rules gods decided they didn’t want what the NFL had with red flags and challenges and all the machinations that go along with that. The specifically wanted to create something that as little as possible affected the game.

That’s why “every play is reviewed” automatically. But we have to understand what that means. It means that there’s a separate ref from the refs on the field who after every play (key word: AFTER) reviews the replays to see if there’s something that looks like it was likely called wrong on the field. If so he ‘buzzes’ down to the field to stop play so that a more thorough review can be done.

The on the field refs are not supposed to in any way change the flow of the game until the replay-ref buzzes down. They’re supposed to continue on as if everything is correct until they get notified by the replay ref.

And that’s exact what happened. The on the field refs made the best call they could on the field. (For a moment, you can ignore whether the ref made the correct call, I’ll get to that later.) That call indicated the receiver was just short of the endzone. As such, the clock continues to roll and it’s 4th down. The refs rushed to get the ball set so that Ole Miss could run a play as soon as they were ready. They did it exactly right.

As for the replay ref, since he doesn’t start looking at a play until after the play is over, it’s not reasonable to expect him to reasonably make a decision to review a play in a handful of seconds. He needs at least 10 maybe 15 to be able to watch a replay and properly judge whether a full review is justified. So there’s no reason to complain that he wasn’t able to do it before Ole Miss had to snap the ball before the clock expired.

To get even further to the point: Ole Miss doesn’t deserve an extra free timeout just because the play was a close one. I don’t know why people seem to think they do. The clock was running. Reviewing the play without specific justification (something that takes 10 to 15 seconds to come up with) would be unfair to the defense. Why should Ole Miss be given extra time to think through what they want to do on 4th down? That’s not fair either. If they wanted that time, they should have picked a play that wasn’t going to result in the player being tackled in-bounds, or had better timeout management earlier in the half so they still had one at this point in the game. It’s not Cal’s fault nor the refs fault that Ole Miss didn’t have that timeout and called a play that risked being down in-bounds.

And here’s what makes all of the above even more important: It appears the refs not only made the correct procedural call, but likely made the correct call on the field:

Here’s what I see in that bottom video by Emily Van Buskirk:

  • When the receiver reaches out to catch the ball, his feet and lower body are in the endzone but his upper body and hands (including the ball) are in the field of play
  • As he falls to the ground, the majority of his body drifts back into the field of play
  • But amidst that, the receiver transfers the ball to his left arm, bringing it very close to being in the endzone just as his first knee hits the ground. Whether it is in the endzone is nearly impossible to tell as the angle is not straight down the line (but it’s apparently the closest to down the line that exists). But I’ll admit it is very close and could possibly be a few inches over the line. No one can say for sure.
  • Then as he falls to the ground, the majority of the remainder of his body drifts into the field of play, including the ball now clearly being back in the field of play.
  • Finally, well after his knee is down, the receiver rolls back into the endzone and the ball at this point clearly breaks the plane. But of course, his knee has been down for a while now and it doesn’t matter if the ball crosses at this point.

So to summerize, the ball is caught outside the endzone, is transferred to his left arm where PERHAPS for just a moment it gets into the endzone, and then clearly returns back to the field of play as his knee is hitting the ground.

I’ve seen a lot of plays that more or less meet that criteria (ball perhaps crossing momentarily before returning to the field of play) and almost universally, unless it is VERY clear, refs generally don’t call it a touchdown. And for sure, if it is marginal as that one, the review booth would leave the play as called on the field. They for sure wouldn’t overturn that call based on the evidence we have.

So, to summarize:

  • The ref on the field likely made the correct call live.
  • The refs on the field did the right thing and didn’t assume a replay would be done. They continued as they are supposed to and properly spotted the ball quickly so Ole Miss could run a 4th down play as quickly (or slowly) as they desired.
  • The replay ref just didn’t have enough time to review the play to decide whether a full review was warranted and thus it is very reasonable that no replay was done.
  • But even if he had called for a full review, it appears the result would have been a “play stands as called on the field” result.
  • As such, it would have been unfair to the Bear’s defense to give Ole Miss the benefit of the doubt and do the replay and thus effectively give Old Miss a free and undeserved timeout to review a play that wouldn’t have been overturned.

Thus this “controversy” is a complete joke. Anyone who’s read all my content and particularly listened to my podcast knows I’m no defender of Pac-12 refs. But just because the conference’s refs have made plenty of mistakes in the past, doesn’t mean they made a mistake here. Best I can tell, they did everything right on this one.

Quick post Ole Miss game thoughts

  • It seems pretty clear at this point, by the end of this season we’ll all know whether there’s anything wrong with our hearts. They’re going to be stress tested every week.
  • There’s no doubt the defensive injuries are having a pretty big effect on the defense. Let’s hope what the announcers said is accurate and the team will likely to get Paul and Goode back next week. The team really needs them.
  • The offensive line, while not great, seems to be surviving its injuries at this point. They looked reasonable in the 2nd half, even opening a few more running lanes against what was clearly a stacked box. (It’s part of why Garbers had so much room to throw.)
  • It’s been a long time since I’ve seen cornerback Cameron Bynum get beat over the top. Although that late throw that got the Rebels down to the 10 yard line was a well placed ball and a very good catch, making it very hard to defend, Bynum was not his usual lock-down self on that one.
  • Seeing Modster on the field as QB (admittedly just while Garbers was injured) clears up that he’s finally now eligible to play. Perhaps that’s just what Garbers needed to open up his passing game: Someone who might challenge him for the starting spot who is actually eligible to play.
  • By the way, great play call choice for Modster’s first pass (A jailbreak screen). Not a run like Ole Miss was assuming, but also something pretty safe with little downside and a lot of upside.
  • I’m still getting used to the idea that punting on 4th and 1 at mid-field with 2 minutes left and up by only 1 score, is the right call. With Dykes it was the absolute wrong call. While it was tighter than anyone would have liked, punting worked out. Woohoo defense!
  • That 3rd down play, no matter what announcer Ryan Leaf said, was most likely not a touchdown. The WR’s nearly entire body landed on the field side of the endzone line. My guess is if they review it (which they didn’t have time for), it would have been a “stands” if not “confirmed” call. Give credit to the line judge for being in exactly the right spot and being decisive about making the call as he saw it.
  • How just is it that Weaver made the final stop on 4th down?
  • And as a reminder, remember the Bears don’t lose if that TD is scored. Not only do the Rebels need to convert the 2-point conversion, even then it just goes to overtime. And I like the Bears chances in OT.

More later…

Ole Miss halftime thoughts

  • Starting with the positive: Way to go Garbers! Finally throwing the ball with some authority and picking some good reads.
  • Although I don’t think Garbers reads have all been right. There’s clearly been some missed reads (including the interception). But I’ll take what we’ve been getting this week every time over the past.
  • Last offensive thought: The offensive line is getting man-handled on run plays. Really need to turn that around. Too many injuries is making it too hard for them to hold up.
  • The defense is in a tough spot themselves with injuries. Missing both Tevin Paul and Cameron Goode at linebacker? OUCH! That hurts a LOT, LOT, LOT!
  • And that might be part of the reason the Bears are really struggling at reading the read-option. Nobody seems to be assigned (or at least that’s how it looks) to the QB keep option.
  • And when they manage to cover the QB keep, they’re not ready for the RPO option of passing over the top of the linebacker who’s going to make the QB tackle to an open reciever.
  • Those two plays have been the backbone of Ole Miss’s offensive success. The hope is they figure out a way to schematically clean that up in the 2nd half.
  • Happy to see the Bears leading (albeit by 1) at half-time, particularly getting the ball to start the 2nd half.

Ole Miss Preview

Are you ready for some football!?!

Well, you’d better be ready with some starbucks… because it’s another 9 AM West Coast kickoff for the Bears. For us Old Blues, this will no doubt bring back flashbacks of the 2008 game versus Maryland that started at noon EDT (which is the same as 9 AM PDT) and the 25th ranked Bears didn’t seem to wake up until the 4th quarter, thus losing to what we all felt was an inferior team. (And with the subsequent beat-down of Maryland at home the following year adding credence to that line of thinking.)

But this is Wilcox’s Bears, not Tedford’s or Dyke’s version. As much as I have very positive feelings about the Tedford era, there’s no doubt that those teams would occasionally have a stinker of a game and that there was a strong correlation between those and being on the road. Dykes was even worse for inconsistency.

Not Wilcox’s Bears. If anything they’ve excelled on the road. And every week, win or lose, I always feel that the Bears come to play. Thus, I don’t think 9 AM is going to have an effect on the outcome.

As for Ole Miss, for those who don’t remember, Cal played them 2 years ago and after trailing 7 to 16 at halftime scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead. Then with 3 minutes left, the desperate Rebel QB threw a pick-6 to give Cal some breathing room (and a 27-16 victory).

I recently re-watched that game and generally what I saw was two physically equally matched teams: both Power 5 teams without elite talent pretty much across the board. There was no meaningful difference in size between the teams on the line, despite what you hear about how big SEC teams are in the trenches.

And frankly, talent wise, I don’t think much has changed from 2 years ago for either team.

But there have been some pretty significant changes based on coaching and scheme. I think we’re all familiar with what’s changed for the Bears, so I’ll focus on Ole Miss

The big change for Ole Miss is that they have a new defensive coordinator, one who is very familiar to Bears fan: Former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. After being fired by CU just before the Cal game last year, he got picked up by Ole Miss in the off-season. He’s changed from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4 scheme. And thus far it is having pretty good results. So much so that their defense is ranked 16th, just behind the 15th ranked Bears, in the S&P+ defensive rankings.

This is what Ole Miss fans are hanging their hats on for their chances for a win. They, like Cal fans, don’t have a lot of confidence in their offense.

But is their defense really that good? My thought is: not really. Their best result is a 10 to 15 loss to Memphis. Memphis is a pretty good Group of 5 team (and currently undefeated), so it is something that the Rebels held them to 15. But they also gave up 29 to an FCS team and 17 to the (as of last year) pretty terrible Razorbacks (they do seem to be improving this year). Overall, Ole Miss’s defense is petty untested thus far.

Also, new schemes, on either side of the ball, have a real advantage for the 1st few weeks of the season. The opponents don’t have any significant game film to work with. The element of surprise is very important in college football, thus new schemes have a short term advantage. But now it’s week 4 and Cal has 3 weeks of footage to work with.

Nevertheless, I think it’s right to think of this game as a defensive struggle. And what that means is the team that can break a few big plays will win. I’m going to go with my gut and say that team is Cal, in part because of big defensive plays.

Garbers and the offense is playing it really safe and not turning the ball over. I see that as continuing. Ole Miss is far more likely to fall victim to Cal’s confusing defense and throw a pick-6 or do something similarly as disheartening. Also, Cal’s defense is less likely to have a blown play. Ole Miss may be better with their new defensive scheme, but it’s only their 4th week of it. Mistakes are bound to happen.

So, my call is for a low scoring game where 2 extra big plays for the Bears make the difference: Cal 20, Ole Miss 13.

N. Texas Preview

One of the biggest temptations after a game like last Saturday is to presume the team will always play every bit as good as they did last week in the upcoming week. To disabuse us of that temptation, here’s some recent Cal Bear post-upset history (going backwards in time):

  • 2018 – USC win in LA Coliseum: Beat Colorado, starting out fast but almost letting them back in the game.
  • 2018 – UW win at home: Lost to WSU in a close one that hinged on an interception thrown by McIllwain as the Bears were driving for the hopeful go-ahead score.
  • 2017 – Destroyed WSU 37 – 3 at home: Lost at home in double overtime to a struggling Arizona squad
  • 2016 – Won a defensive struggle over Utah at home: Lost to Oregon State (OSU!?!) on the road in OT.
  • 2015 – Won at Texas (turns out they weren’t very good, but we thought so at the time): Beat a rebuilding UW in Seattle

Big wins get harder to come by before that for quite a while, so we’ll stop there.

But here’s what that list says to me… that the 2018 did pretty darned well by itself. UW and WSU were very equally matched teams. To lose by one score on the road and win the other by one score at home seems about right. And there was no post USC hangover, despite having reached bowl eligibility.

Before that, things get a bit more dicey. Yet what those years says to me is that when you have a mediocre team, while occasionally they over-achieve, one should expect them to return to form the following week.

So is this a mediocre team?

Hard to say at this point. But I think what they are the ‘Earn It’ team they claim to be. They come prepared the best they can every week and try their best to win every week. There may be a few teams that they don’t beat either because the bounces don’t go their way or they’re just over-matched (either that day or in general), but overall, you can expect these Bears to live up to their potential… sometimes even more.

And if that’s the case, I don’t think the North Texas fighting oil fields (OK, that’s not actually right, they’re the “Mean Green”) will stand between the Bears and victory. They just don’t have the talent to compete. They have a good Quarterback, but that’s about it. They’re particularly weak on defense.

Now, perhaps that’s the recipe for a Cal disaster. Perhaps the Cal offense can even struggle against a weak defense if they’re not bringing their A-game. Perhaps some quality QB is finally going to break through and play just about every play perfectly. But the way I see it, even if we look at the realistic worst case scenario there (minus a large turnover margin) it results in something a mid-20’s close victory for the Bears.

More likely, the Cal offensive line will just grind away at the barely-mediocre (and that’s for a group of 5 team) run defense. It may take a quarter or two, but the Bears will eventually wear them down. Plus, the Mean Green like to play man coverage, and I suspect Garbers will have more confidence picking the right receivers in that situation.

On the other side of the ball, I just don’t see them being able to beat this defense. Even in the most troubling scenario, they will dink and dunk their way down the field as Cal plays conservative. But again, I doubt they go big. And if they try to play aggressive, the confusion of the secondary will result in multiple painful turnovers for the Mean Green.

And that’s what I’m going to predict. UNT comes in and plays VERY aggressive on both sides of the ball. They sell out to try and stop the Cal run game, and while they’re somewhat successful for a couple drives, eventually exhaustion takes over and the Bears open up some big holes for some big runs and scores. On the other side, multiple interceptions from an over aggressive UNT QB gives Cal lots of short fields and maybe even some pick-6’s.

Half time score may be within a TD or two, but by the end this is a laugher: Cal 45, UNT 13

Free tickets to N. Texas game?

For whatever reason, nobody wants to buy my tickets. Any of my loyal readers want them for free? Leave me a comment if you do.

UW game thoughts

My boys were surprisingly joyful yesterday in reminding me how wrong my prediction was. I’ll give you guys the same answer I gave them: I couldn’t be more happy to be wrong.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s my thoughts on the game:

  • It was quite clear that Garbers was told to be VERY conservative with passing the ball. Did he throw a single ball over the middle? He looked there a lot, but just about every time he either went to an outlet receiver or ran the ball. I’m convinced he’s been told to not lose the game by turning it over.
  • Speaking of which, Garbers numbers were ho-hum (only 111 yards), but exactly what this team needs him to be: 60% completion percentage, over 6 yards an attempt, no interceptions and 40+ yards of scrambling runs. (Although it would be nice to see more downfield throws and fewer than 3 sacks.)
  • Garbers also had a key block on Cal’s 2nd TD. Dancy doesn’t get in without Garbers block.
  • The two headed monster of Brown and Dancy is looking really good. Neither one of them is too one dimensional they can’t be used in most situations nor tip the team’s hand to the defense for what they should expect.
  • My biggest concern is the defensive line. They got pushed around quite a bit by the UW offensive line. It’s the reason every time UW ran the ball, they always fell forward for what seemed to be at least 3 yards. The defense as a whole was able to be effective because the d-line took just enough attention from the o-line so that the linebackers and secondary could wreck havoc and create enough negative plays to stop UW from grinding out TD’s all game long.
  • Another concern: Punting. Not only did Longhetto and Coutts (who might be still hampered by injury) not kick the ball very well (avg 30 yards per punt) the coverage team has been very suspect. They’re suspect on kickoffs too, but luckily Cal has a place kicker with a strong enough leg to force a touch-back most of the time.
  • Returning to the positive, I continue to be more optimistic about the wide receivers, particularly Kekoa Crawford. For one thing, he’s got an awesome last name. But even if you ignore that, he’s fast, runs good routes and also has a penchant for yards after the catch.
  • The last drive of the game still has me wowed. It was exactly what it needed to be. The WR screen that got the ball deep in the redzone was a great call. How long has it been since Cal won on a last minute drive? (answer – excluding OT – 11/28/15 over ASU)
  • I will say, I was a bit surprised by the 3rd down play call on the final series. Why would you waste a play on 2nd down to center the ball and then on 3rd down go for the TD, and thus de-center the ball? I can see both decisions (going for the TD vs. centering and kicking the extra-point like FG) as being reasonable, but the odd combination of both seemed a bit odd.
  • I said to my eldest son as the weather delay was wrapping up, looking at that mostly empty stadium, that the game was going to be won by the team that wanted it most. When I said it, I felt pretty good about what that might mean. This Cal team has shown time and again to hit above their weight class by shear will, and sure enough, they did it again Saturday night/Sunday morning.
  • That said, unlike last year, I feel that if this game was played multiple times, the Bears would come out on top the majority of the time. I’m not quite as confident that would be true without the weather delay, but I still likely think it is true, and here’s why: The breaks didn’t exactly go the Bears way. Neither turnover resulted in points nor really kept points off the board. The penalties slightly helped the Bears, but they were valid/clear cut penalties. This game was pretty straight up and the Bears won it that way too.
  • And the most important part: This was a good UW team, make no mistake. Beating them on the road means that Cal can compete with any team in the conference, even in their house.

N. Texas tickets for sale

I’ve posted them over on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/254354981752

Starting bid: $40 for a total of 7 tickets

1:15 PM kickoff… isn’t this the one you want to take the family to?

UW Preview

(Posting note: This was written around noon. For some reason it wasn’t posted. So, don’t take the 8 PM posting time as accurate.)

As my pre-season predictions showed, I wasn’t sitting on a lot of confidence about the UW game before last week’s results. From the beginning I thought that if last year’s game had been replayed numerous times, Cal would have only won the game about a quarter of the time. A lot of things went right for the Bears that afternoon and a number of things didn’t go all that well for the Huskies.

And once I think that, it’s hard to imagine that Cal has a better shot in Seattle… a VERY tough place to play. The only hope would be that the Cal offense learned a lot between last October and now and/or the UW offense is even further hampered by the loss of their long-time starting QB (Browning).

Then we all watched both teams play last weekend, against remarkably similarly leveled FCS teams. While one game can be misleading, there’s no doubt that what we saw last weekend suggests UW is the better team. UW’s new QB (transfer Jacob Eason) looks *really* good. The Husky offense was firing on all cylinders.

As for the Bears offense? They looked rusty all the way around. Garbers showed a bit more ability to read defenses, but looked slow in his evaluations. Thankfully the offensive line gave him plenty of time to make his reads. But before we get too excited about that, his passing motion looked unrefined (to be charitable) and the number of errant balls was really troubling.

Then there were the drops by the WR’s and TE. Luckily there is some hope in that the route running and separation looked better than in the past. Perhaps it just takes a week for the rust to come off.

All of that offensive hand-wringing is a long way of saying, if Cal is going to win this game, they’re going to have to win it the exact same way as last year: An incredible defensive performance with a couple of “bounces” that go the Bears way.

And between what I saw from UW’s offense and the minor troubling issues I saw on defense (lack of a D-Line push, tackling was not at the same level as last year, more open receivers than last year, etc.) I have a very hard time believing Cal shuts UW down the way it did last year.

Bears lose a frustrating one: Bears 10, UW 23.

UC Davis OTRH podcast

I’m going to try this year to be much more prompt in posting my On The Road Home podcasts. To that end, here’s the one I recorded last night on the way home from the UC Davis game: