The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

Archive for December, 2019

Redbox preview

Bowl games are perhaps the hardest games to predict, with the possible exception of the first game of the season when there’s been major changes to one or both teams playing.

Here’s what history has proven to be true about bowl games:

  • Often it is more about which team is more excited about playing in that game
  • Many teams are missing multiple players due to upcoming draft preparations or, even if they play, at a minimum don’t seem to be as committed to the team as they were mid-season
  • Many teams have coaching staffs with things in transition that have more impact than people anticipate

So which of those issues apply here?

  • Cal will be missing a number of notable players: Jordan Duncan (who’s missed a lot of playing time already), Tevin Paul, Ashtyn Davis (both big impact players), as well as the usually less important but notable safeties Isaiah Humphries and Trey Turner, but now pretty critical with Davis out.
  • Cal is losing it’s offensive coordinator to Cal Poly after the game as well as the offensive line coordinator to retirement after the game.

Luckily, particularly with the game being local to the Bay Area, I think the Bears are excited to play and perhaps more than anything else, anxious to get the bad taste of last year’s Cheez-It bowl out of their mouth. Will that be enough to overcome the missing players and coaching staff distractions? That’s anyone’s guess.

As for Illinios, they appear to be a bit of an enigma. The team is clearly capable of beating good teams, beating both Wisconsin and #19 (at the time) Iowa. (Oops, misread the Iowa score. Illinois lost that one (thanks for the correction Rick). But still, the Wisconsin win suggests they have the potential to “play up”.) But they’re also capable of laying some eggs without a lot of good excuses (Eastern Michigan and Northwestern).

But they’re definitely hungry and excited to be playing in the Redbox bowl. Illinois is a year behind Cal in its turn-around. It’s their first bowl game since 2014 and even that was a one year return since their better years in the past.

And frankly that scares me. When you have team that can beat Wisconsin when they put their mind to it and they’re excited to be playing in their first bowl game in a while, with a chance to have their first winning season since 2011… that’s a formula for a team that will play well above their weight class.

And to make matters worse, I’m not sure on paper this is a very good match-up for the Bears. While Cal’s defense is notably better across the board, I’m a bit worried about Illinois power running attack, which is where Cal’s defense is at its weakest. On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense may have trouble running the ball against their defensive line. A victory for Cal will be very dependent on Garbers having a good game against a competent yet mediocre Illinois secondary.

What I would be preaching in the locker room is ball security. Illinios owes a lot of their success this season to turnover margin. To some degree that explains why they’re so inconsistent as turnovers are always a somewhat inconsistent thing, even for teams that are very good at forcing them.

So, can the Bears win this game? Absolutely! If they play well on the defensive line and let Weaver wreck havoc on the run-game, Cal can slow their run-first offense. And Cal can most definitely put up some points through the air against Illinois.

Yet at the end of the day, I feel like Illinois is going to bring a very physical game and, sadly, is going to want it more.

Bears lose: 20-24 (But here’s hoping Garbers pulls another 2-minute drill like UW and Standford to make it 27-24)

End of regular season thoughts

What an up and down season, huh?

  • Start with 4 wins and get ranked
  • Lose 4 straight after Garbers goes down, including two games that still stick in the craw (ASU and OSU).
  • Finally break the losing streak versus WSU (phew!)
  • Only to get exposed for lack of defensive backfield size/talent against USC
  • But manage to hobble together a couple of shakey wins against 2 mediocre teams (Stanford and UCLA)

In the end it’s a season of “what ifs”:

  • What if Garbers hadn’t gotten injured?
  • What if we were on the Colorado/Arizona cycle instead of the far superior Utah/ASU cycle?

But 7-5 is what I expected in my pre-season game-by-game prediction post, but the wins were a bit different. I expected losses to UW and UCLA and wins over ASU and OSU. And in some sense, I feel pretty good about that pre-season prediction.

So the question becomes should we be happy about the wins and losses?

One metric I like to look at is how many games went “wrong” based on finishing record. In that sense, it went as it should have. All the better teams (Utah, Oregon, USC) beat Cal and all the worse teams (WSU, Standford, UCLA) lost to Cal. Of the teams we tied in conference (UW, ASU, and OSU), we went 1-2. Particularly when one accommodates where Garbers was missing, it’s hard to criticize that 1-2.

(Also worth noting is my level of upset-ness about the OSU loss was wrong. Turns out OSU was much better than I thought.)

In the end I think it comes down to this: The program seems to be headed in the right direction overall and its biggest problem was that there wasn’t any depth at QB. While that’s a little disappointing in year 3, there are worse crimes. There is potential in Branch… he’s just young. Plus, if Bowers had stuck around there would have been more depth.

Considering the team is still young and we’re only losing a couple of important players (obviously Weaver being the most notable), there’s reason to hope that 2020 could be a break-through season if a few chips fall the right way.

Go Bears!