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2020 Cal football blogging plans

(Written by kencraw)

We find ourselves in uncharted territory… how are we to survive a Fall without Cal football? Are we to (to quote Fletcher from the movie ‘Liar, Liar’) “piss and moan like an impotent jerk and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!?!”?

Well perhaps… that seems to be the theme of the year.

But, fear not! I have a plan to at least take some of the sting out our predicament. Why not make up a “fantasy season”, a season that was the best possible season one could imagine? Think about it, haven’t you said to yourself “wouldn’t it be great if we had a season where the Bears played at their best every week?”

Let’s do that this “season”!

Since the only way we can watch Cal football is to watch games from seasons past, I say we watch the best game from modern Cal history (from the hiring of Tedford in 2002 onward) from each week of the year. I’ll take recommendations for each week if people would like to make them.

(Quick note, the 4th week of the season is not necessarily the same as the 4th game of the season. Bye weeks count. So make sure you account for that when you make a suggestion.)

I’ll announce the game mid-week based on my analysis of what weeks the best games were played on combined with your recommendations (well, except for this week, where I will announce it today). Then I’ll watch the game sometime over the weekend and share my thoughts on the game in a blog post.

Sound good? Anyone out there?

Redbox preview

(Written by kencraw)

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

(Written by kencraw)

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!

UCLA preview

(Written by kencraw)

Just going on record for a prediction…

I don’t see tonight going well for the following reasons:

  1. Big Game hangover (see 2009, UW game)
  2. Thanksgiving week road game (see 2017, UCLA)
  3. Rose Bowl venue is not kind to Bears for some reason (See 2017, 2015, 2013, 2011, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001)
  4. UCLA always plays Cal tough, particularly of late (see 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2017, 2018)

If these two teams played each other in some fantasy neutral game, where it was just talent and scheme against each other, I think the Bears would have about a 60/40 shot at a win. But sometimes all the stars suggest otherwise.

Bears lose 27-17

Big Game preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’ll state right up front that this “preview” is more of an emotional plea instead of my normal analysis. And here’s why: I desperately desire something that uplifts my soul today. I desire something that will inspire me to renew my season tickets. I desire something that will make me feel that 40+ years of Cal football fandom has not been in vain.

And it seems like if there was ever a time when the Big Game could do that, it would be today. Stanford is the most vulnerable they’ve been since Harbaugh took the coaching job in 2007. Since that happened, Cal has only won the Big Game twice: 2008 and 2009.

The 2009 Big Game was a great moment for Cal football. Down on the farm an underdog Cal team brought the sort of effort that only can come in a rivalry game. Even when they were down 14-0 after two big Gerhart rushing touchdowns in the 1st quarter made it look like the Bears had an impossible task, they clawed their way back. And when Mohammed sealed the win with his interception with just over a minute left, it was a moment of great euphoria.

While we’re thinking back on great Big Game wins, let’s go back to another great day in Cal football: November 23rd, 2002. Stanford had won 7 Big Games in a row going into that Saturday. But for the first time in a long time there was hope that Cal could overcome so many years of Big Game frustration. People forget how much there was doubt at that moment… Cal had lost some games we thought they should have won in the weeks leading up to the Big Game. Even though Stanford was having a terrible season after the departure of Willmingham, there was the memories of recent Big Games where Cal seemed to be poised to end the streak. And what were were given that day? One of the most cathartic, joyful wins in Cal Football and Big Game history: a 30-7 start to finish drubbing of Stanford.

That’s what I desperately desire today: A win that uplifts my spirits and gives me hope. I’m not picky how it goes. It can be of the 2009 variety: A tough hard-fought close victory. And of course who could complain about something that emulates the 2002 game? I’m even open to some other sort of uplifting win. Perhaps some sort of “the Cardinal never crossed the 50” sort of defensive beat-down. But however it happens, that’s what I desire from the depths of my soul: an uplifting win that gives me faith in the Sturdy Golden Bear yet again.

Is that too much to ask? I know that it’s a rare thing when we get a moment like that. I know it’s not this teams fault that my faith is wavering. Nevertheless, this is where I, and I think a lot of other Cal fans, are this morning.

The Cardinal is vulnerable today. For the love of Oski, give me a reason to believe again. Because if the Bears lose to this weak Stanford team, how could I possibly hope that the Bears are on the right track?

Nevertheless, I place my hope in this team and what they are capable of. Please Bears, remind me again what Joe Kapp famously said after another great Big Game win:


Apparently I wasn’t as ready as I thought

(Written by kencraw)

I knew that what I needed was to get Cal football out of my mind to get some emotional distance.

Of course, having a win over WSU makes it easier to come back, but I think it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have been ready either way at this point.

Apparently that wasn’t as true as I thought. The USC Game re-sucked the life out of me. I just wasn’t expecting that sort of loss. I think I would have been ready for a low scoring but close loss. I also think I would have been ready for a low scoring but multi-score loss because the Cal offense could get nothing going. I might have even been ready for Cal losing a multi-score, but high scoring affair loss (at least the offense would have shown some promise).

But I was not ready for the blowout.

Thinking back to the last time I was so disheartened this long, the worst part of the end of the Tedford era was when the team just wasn’t competitive against the best teams. When Cal would go play Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington and just get crushed like an FCS team gets crushed. From first snap to final whistle the team just didn’t have the players or the scheme to compete.

What has been so uplifting about the Wilcox era until last Saturday was we could walk away from the game thinking that with a couple changes, or perhaps a couple of good recruits (like perhaps a 4-star QB recruit who delivers on his hype), or even just a few less injuries, that even the worst losses could have gone the other way.

That is not how I felt after I walked out of the stadium early in the 4th quarter against USC. I felt like Cal was manhandled from start to finish and was in no way competitive. And most troubling, it was the Cal defense that looked overwhelmed… something we haven’t seen until the Utah (and that was just glimpses) and now USC games.

And so yet again, I needed to take a step back. Even though I had the equipment in the car, I didn’t record a OTRH podcast. I couldn’t see any value in ranting, particularly considering that’s what my last podcast (OSU) had been.

But I’m back today. (more to come shortly)

USC Preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’m back!!! Sorry for the lack of posts the last few weeks. After the Oregon State game I needed a few weeks away from Cal football. That loss was SOOOO demoralizing. It was very taxing on my soul. I knew that what I needed was to get Cal football out of my mind to get some emotional distance.

Of course, having a win over WSU makes it easier to come back, but I think it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have been ready either way at this point. In fact, I might have been ready before the WSU game, but I had other commitments that kept me away. I had a critical project associated to the transit of Mercury last Monday. So despite the fact I had my season tickets, and was theoretically available to go to the WSU game, I didn’t go merely because I had a ton of work to do before the transit.

In either case, I’m back now. 🙂

Onto the preview… It’s so hard to know what to make of both the Bears and of USC. USC has been very inconsistent. Cal has been mostly horrible through all of the injuries, particularly those at QB.

So, are we going to see the USC team that beat Utah or the team that got manhandled and throttled by Oregon? The one thing you can say about USC is they’ve only lost to good teams. Oregon, Notre Dame, Washington, and BYU (OK, they’re the weakest of the 4 by far). So USC isn’t laying any eggs in the Win-Loss department, unlike our beloved Bears. So my gut says USC is going to be a much tougher win this year than last.

And then there is the fact that Chase Garbers is back for the Bears as well as a number of other injuries are clearing themselves up. Chase hasn’t lost a game all season and was looking pretty darned good before he got injured. So are we going to get a ‘where-he-left-off’ Chase or will there be some rust to shake off? And what about the rest of the returning talent that started to look reasonably good/back last week?

It all leaves a lot of question marks.

My crystal ball sees that this game will come down to the Cal defense. They have to give the offense a lot of chances to score and not need that many scores to win. I think Chase is going to be somewhat inconsistent as he shakes off the rust. He’ll have some good drives and some bad drives. I’m guessing 2 TD’s and 2 FG’s worth of good drives… but only if the defense keeps getting the offense the ball back.

But if USC did a good job watching Utah and Oregon State film, and can expose the Bear’s defensive weaknesses, which they theoretically have the talent to do, then this game could be long and frustrating. USC can play keep-away and not give the Cal offense many chances.

But I’m going to be the optimist today (cautiously so) and predict that the defense comes out fired up and wins the game for the Bears.

Cal 20, USC 16

OSU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I was *NOT* a happy camper after the game yesterday. I was hoping that recording a podcast despite the fact I forgot my audio gear would be cathartic.

I was wrong.

It just got me all worked up. I was thinking about not posting it at all. It’s a bit harsh. But in the end, for full disclosure and transparency, this is what I sound like when I’m very much not a happy camper.

OSU prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Ran out of time to do a full preview. Cal offense is better against OSU, but not as good as last year. Cal defense is stifling.

Prediction: Cal 23, OSU 6

Oregon Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Well, I need to eat some humble pie after last week’s HORRIBLY off prediction. I got just about everything wrong. Sure, I wrote that it was possible things could go the other way, but what I actually predicted was a clicking Cal and a fading ASU. We saw exactly the opposite.

So here’s hoping my crystal ball is still broken, because what it sees today is UGLY. I’m sure Modster will be better than what he showed us against ASU, but there’s just no getting around how big of a loss Garbers is. Garbers would have won the ASU game, I have no doubt. And he would have been the key to a functional Cal offense versus Oregon.

But things are even worse than that. Oregon is the team built to beat Cal: Physical on the offensive line. Their stats may not show it, but I still think they are a run-first team. The fact that they have a QB who can make the opposition pay for loading up against the run only makes things worse. They’re going to push around Cal’s defensive line and control the game.

On defense, they’re also stronger against the run than the pass. This would be interesting if Cal had a serviceable quarterback… sadly all signs suggest the opposite.

And then add on the intangibles: Game in Eugene. Oregon is well rested after a bye. Oregon is in the pole position in the north now and ready to prove they deserve to win the north. It feels like a statement game for Oregon.

I just can’t imagine this game going well for the Bears: Cal 10, Oregon 31

ASU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

I wasn’t pleased Friday night. I was in the middle of a marathon set of commitments, speaking at a Catholic conference both Friday and Saturday. I really needed a game to uplift, not to remind me how exhausted I was.

So please use that filter when you hear my not so optimistic words:

ASU Prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Sadly, I won’t have time to do a full preview post for this one. But I will say that ASU on the one hand scares me, but on the other hand feels much more manageable than our two tough games thus far.

The Cal injury situation with both the linebackers and the offensive line is troubling as well.

But I’m going to go the complete other way with this one. Something tells me tonight is going to be one of those games where the opponent comes in flat (demoralizing loss last week plus early Friday night game) and everything is clicking for the home team.

Cal is going to get 2 to 3 scores early and then ASU will meaningfully attempt to battle back, but will be too mistake prone against the Cal defense to get any closer.

Keeping my Old Blue in a cage for this one: Cal 38, ASU 17

My Ole Miss replay rant

(Written by kencraw)

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

(Written by kencraw)

  • 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

(Written by kencraw)

  • 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

(Written by kencraw)

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

(Written by kencraw)

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?

(Written by kencraw)

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

(Written by kencraw)

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

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve posted them over on eBay:

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?