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UC Davis preview

(Written by kencraw)

Watch out! This is not your father’s UC Davis. This isn’t even the team that beat Stanford in 2005. This is a top-tier FCS team, currently ranked #5 in the FCS, with a very experienced quarterback (2018 Big Sky offensive player of the year Jake Maier). Ever since Dan Hawkins (former Colorado and Boise St. Head coach) took over from Ron Gould (of Cal running back coaching fame), UC Davis has been getting better and better.

Cal could actually lose this game. *REALLY*. Not, “if the Bears don’t bring their A-game” lose, actually lose the game straight up. All it would take is a sub-par game plan and last years offensive struggles.

The good news for the Bears is I don’t think Maier has ever played a defense as good as Cal’s and most definitely never played one that so effectively uses deception. He has a pretty common weakness in that he’s mistake prone when under pressure. That bodes really well for the Cal defense.

When the Bears have the ball, I think the most important question is whether they can dominate in the trenches. If they can, I expect the Bears to play it pretty conservative and pound the ball. That might be difficult as UC Davis has a pretty good defensive line (for FCS) and it’s their most experienced unit.

But if that doesn’t work, the secondary is pretty young, so the Bears hopefully can exploit that if UC Davis commits too heavily to stopping the run.

My expectation is that we’re going to see a surprisingly good UC Davis team, but one that tries a bit too hard on offense and makes enough mistakes to turn what in principle a pretty even-handed game into somewhat easy victory.

But if Cal loses the turnover and field position battle… watch out!

Hoping that doesn’t happen: Bears 31, Aggies 17/

2019 game-by-game prediction

(Written by kencraw)

Before we get into 2019, it seems worth looking back on my 2018 pre-season predictions:

  • N. Carolina: Predicted 2 score win; got a 1 TD win
  • @BYU: Predicted close loss; got close win
  • ID St.: Predicted big win; got big win
  • OU: Predicted 1 score loss; got 3 score loss
  • @UA: Predicted 2 TD loss; got 1 TD loss
  • UCLA: Predicted close win; got blowout loss
  • @OSU: Predicted close win; got blowout win
  • UW: predicted 1 score loss; got 1 score win
  • @WSU: predicted 2 score win; got 1 score loss
  • @USC: Predicted blowout loss; got 1 score win
  • Stanford: Predicted 1 score win; got 2 score loss
  • Colorado: Predicted 2 score win; got 2 score win

(Colors are where I predicted wrong, green when it was a win instead of a loss, red for the opposite.)

So I got half the games right (with only a couple where the magnitude was meaningfully off) and half the games wrong, but the number of wins overall was as expected. I wouldn’t call that stellar, but it’s also not horrible for a middle of the pack team.

On to 2019…

  • Cal 31 vs. UC Davis 17 – I’ll do a separate post for this one
  • Cal 13 @ UW 17 – The only thing that gives me pause on this prediction is that UW is doing a fair amount of rebuilding this season, most notably at QB, but I don’t think UW let’s Cal win this game on their turf. They’ll be careful. They’ll try to wear our defense down. And ultimately, UW will grind out a win. Here’s hoping Garbers and the offense surprises me.
  • Cal 38 vs. N. Texas 13 – Cal starts clicking a bit more on offense and N. Texas is overwhelmed by the Cal defense. Desperation leads to a couple of “ill advised passes” that help pad the score for Cal.
  • Cal 27 @ Ole Miss 10 – Cal shuts down Ole Miss’ new offense from Rich Rodriguez (which isn’t yet up to full speed) and the offense takes advantage of a number of short fields.
  • Cal 24 vs. ASU 20 – In a game that keeps our nerves frazzled, Cal squeaks out a win when ASU can’t convert in the redzone at the end of the game (needing a TD). This game gives Cal fans more worries about the quality of the defense than it should.
  • Cal 13 @ Oregon 28 – The defense improves on it’s 2018 effort, but the inability of the Cal offense to get things going is just too much for the defense to handle
  • Cal 45 vs. OSU 17 – Garbage time scores give OSU more points than they deserve, but this is the cathartic game us fans needed after a couple of troubling weeks.
  • Cal 20 @ Utah 23 – The most painful game of the season (think last year’s WSU game) where Cal fans spend the next few days moaning about what could have been. Close the entire 2nd half, Cal can never get through and score the points it needs to win.
  • Cal 38 vs. WSU 6 – Without the Minshew magic of 2018 and yet again unable to beat the Cal defense, this time the Cal offense does it’s job and puts WSU in a hole early. Desperation only increases the margin of victory.
  • Cal 12 vs. USC 14 – Cal gets a bit too cocky and gives up a couple big scores. On the other side, the USC defense keeps Cal out of the endzone.
  • Cal 27 @ Stanford 17 – I’m getting tired of predicting “this is our year” with the Big Game… so this year the Bears are not going to let me down when I say “THIS IS OUR YEAR!!!” Stanford continues to regress as a team and is pretty disheartened (and thus under-performs) when Stanford stadium is yet again Bear Territory in the stands.
  • Cal 24 @ UCLA 31 – I’m sticking to my planned prediction despite what happened to UCLA last night. They’ll find just enough mojo at the end of the year to beat the Bears.

So, yet another 7-5 season with some new wins but also some regressions and losing to teams we beat last year (UW and USC in particular).

2019 Reasons to be concerned

(Written by kencraw)

It’s all well and good to focus on the positives before the season starts. God knows that we’ll have plenty of time to focus on the negatives starting tomorrow afternoon. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to properly set expectations so that when things start to not look as good as our most wildly optimistic thoughts, we’re not so surprised (or is the right word angry?).

Here are my thoughts about things to be concerned about:

  • Pick-6’s may not come so easy this year: Of the Bears 7 wins, 3 can pretty directly be attributed to pick-6’s or INTs: UW, Colorado (got a 14 point head start on 2 pick 6’s), and USC. As much as the defense deserves a lot of credit for those points, there’s an element of chance and randomness there. It wouldn’t have taken much for Cal to lose a couple of those games last year and end a disappointing 5-7. It’s not hard to imagine the team doesn’t have such good luck in that department this year.
  • Garbers improvement may not be as advertised: While there’s definitely reason for hope here, the last couple games of the season aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the idea that Garbers was getting better. And if he wasn’t improving over the course of the season, why are we so confident he got better over the off-season?
  • The tough games are on the road: This is the inverse of the optimistic ‘Most of the most winnable games are at home’ point. If we’re hoping for a Cal team that gets to 8-4 or better, they’re going to need to beat some pretty good teams. And most of those games are on the road: Oregon, Washington, Utah and Stanford top that list. And depending on what you think of UCLA after their loss last night, add UCLA to that list (remember that one is at the end of the season). Plus, I’d feel a lot better about Ole Miss at home and more confident about ASU if they weren’t coming home from a road trip to Ole Miss before the short week for that Friday night game.
  • The nose guard position: On the surface, it seems in good shape… Luc Bequette was one of our best defensive linemen last year. But he’s been moved from outside at end to the nose guard. The pre-fall camp hopeful starter Maldonado is injured and Fuimaono has been missing for unclear reasons. When the team’s only depth behind a player who had to be moved to that position is guys who’ve never played a snap of college football, it’s a little concerning.
  • Depth in general is a bit weak: There are some positions the team seem to have a lot of options: QB (ironically), RB, and DE are the most likely to survive injuries. But after that it gets a bit more troubling… ILB and OLB may not be too bad if you account for moving people around based on injuries, but if you just look at the depth chart, it gets thin pretty quick. The same could be said about CB and Safety. Past that, it gets pretty dicey. The offensive line, the wide receivers, and tight end as well as the previously mentioned nose guard position, could all be one injury away from being a real problem.
  • Weak offenses lead to thin margins of error: Perhaps this is a more general way to say my first point. But as we saw last year against Arizona, WSU and could imagine for UW and USC, it only takes a couple of pretty minor mistakes to turn the game the wrong way when the offense doesn’t score a lot of points. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a defense.
  • ASU and Utah are much better than UA and CU: Odd years are when Cal switches which pair of Pac-12 south teams it plays in addition to USC and UCLA. Without a doubt, both ASU and Utah are better than both UA and Colorado. And the Bears only went 1-1 against UA and CU last year. It’s going to be pretty challenging for the team to beat ASU and Utah this year.
  • Year 2 for break-out units tend to be tough: When a team has an offense that explodes, it takes a while for opponents to figure out how to defend it. But make no mistake, one of the coaching staff’s biggest jobs in the off-season is to analyze last year’s game film for ways to improve the following year. That’s why in year 2 of a newly improved unit, there’s often a step back. In our case, the unit in question in the defense. I’m sure every Pac-12 offensive coach spent a fair amount of their time pouring over Cal game film for weaknesses they might be able to exploit. Opposing QB’s now have a season’s worth of game film to review so they won’t be as surprised by the team’s creative coverage schemes. All of this brings up the very real possibility that the exact same defensive performance as last year, might not go quite as well the 2nd time around.

Do I have you sufficiently scared yet? Just in case I haven’t done my job yet, let’s walk through the season with a pessimistic outlook:

I won’t go completely doomsday and predict a UC Davis upset, but as you’ll see when I get to my game preview, they’re a lot more dangerous than many think. The same goes for N. Texas. But for sure, losing to UW is a very real possibility. So let’s say the Bears start out 2-1.

From here there’s a bunch of trouble. On the road into SEC territory, potentially early in the day? (game time is not yet set) That could easily be a loss even though it is a weaker Ole Miss. And if that happens, it’s not hard to imagine a loss to ASU after the short week for the Friday night game. And things don’t get better the following week headed to Eugene to lose to Oregon.

Thus the Bears would stumble into their bye week on a 3-game losing streak and 2-4 overall. The Bears should pick up a win against Oregon State at home after the bye.

Yet after that, there’s not a single game the Bears should feel safe about. Heading to Utah is always trouble. WSU is always a tough game and the same goes for USC. (Don’t let winning one game after 14 years of futility get to your head.) Let’s be nice and suggest the Bears win 1 of those 3.

That brings the team’s record to 4-6, needing to win both games against Stanford and UCLA. And if we were being optimists, we could hope for 2 wins to get to bowl eligibility. Sadly, this is the pessimists view and that suggests we lose to Stanford (who continues to have Cal’s numbers, year after year) and at that point, now eliminated from bowl eligibility, Cal has a tough time bringing the needed intensity to UCLA on the road on Thanksgiving weekend and drops the final game.

Final record 4-8 for the pessimistic view, with 3-9 not being completely out of the realm of possibility of you’re embracing the ‘Old Blue’ inside you.

2019 Reasons for Optimism

(Written by kencraw)

Another Cal season is upon us. And if you read the various Cal sites, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic. In fact, I think a couple of weeks ago it officially crossed the threshold from optimism to delusion. But, that doesn’t mean that hiding inside the delusion aren’t some real reasons for optimism. Here’s what they are as I see them:

  • The defense should be good again: …perhaps even great. While there are a couple more concerning points (but I’ll get to those in another post) it is not unreasonable to think that the 2019 defense has the potential to match or even exceed the 2018 version.
  • Good defense leads to close games: Last year Cal gave up more than 24 points only twice: Oregon and UCLA. And wouldn’t you know it, those were the only two games Cal fans walked away dejected. Why? Because even if you’re offense is inept (there, I said it, OK?) it doesn’t take but a couple of lucky breaks to score a couple touchdowns. And once the team has done that, you’re always in striking distance of a last second win.
  • The QB situation should be better: There’s no getting around that last year was rough at QB. The presumptive 2nd year starter (Bowers) for whatever reason was quickly on the sideline leaving us with two untested QB’s fighting it out. One was potentially explosive, but as it turned out, also frequently disastrous. The other was steady but a bit uninspiring at times. Mr. Steady is back for season #2. Now he’s got 2/3rds of a season of experience under his belt plus a full off-season as the presumptive starter. One has to expect Garbers to be better in 2019.
  • There’s a lot more talent at WR: (Note the word “more”… particularly when compared to the late season injury plagued unit that is most fresh in our minds). There’s a lot of youth in this group, but youth has rarely been a huge problem at WR. It’s more about talent and work ethic. Between the set of backups from last year who might be ready to contribute and the freshmen and transfers, there should be enough speed and talent here to keep opposing defenses more honest than 2018. That’ll help the run game too.
  • Most of the most winnable games are at home: This can be a tough one because it can be said in both a positive and negative way, but I’ll save the negative way for another post. The positive way to say it that if you have the easy games at home, the floor for the team is higher. In other words, if all the supposed easy games are on the road, the team (in the worst case scenario) is a lot more likely to be at risk of a 2-win season. Said another way, it’s much easier to lose teams that the team shouldn’t lose to on the road. By having those teams at home, the floor is higher. There’s 3 nearly guaranteed wins at home (UC-Davis, N. Texas and Oregon State) and another 3 that are very winnable (WSU, USC and ASU). Win those games and Cal goes bowling even if they strike out on the road.
  • Year 3 of programs tend to be the break out year: If you look at most programs that are on a building trend, year 3 is where it most frequently comes together. Last year the defense got there a bit ahead of schedule. But we’ve reached the point where Wilcox and staff have a team that is mostly of their making and they’ve had a chance to fully put in place what they want to do.

So what does my optimistic scenario look like? I think this team could open the season 5-0. UC Davis, a rebuilding UW, N. Texas, a weaker than normal Ole Miss, and ASU at home. There’s no reason to think (when being optimistic) that the Bears couldn’t win all those games.

At that point, yet again we’ll get ESPN GameDay, but yet again it will be on the road, for the Oregon game. I think we’re in delusion mode if we think Cal wins that game. Sure, crazy things happen, but I’d like my optimism to have at least some semblance of reality.

The final 6 games have 3 that really concern me (@Utah, @Stanford and @UCLA) and 2 that I think are reasonably winnable (WSU and USC) and one that should be a win (OSU). Because things are never as ‘by the book’ as we’d think, my realistic optimistic prediction is they win one of those 3 scary ones, but also lose 1 of the pretty winnable ones.

The result is optimism points to an 8-4 team, with an upside to 9-3 and if you squint just the right way, 10-2 isn’t inconceivable. Anything beyond that (well probably even the 10-2 should be included) is pretty delusional.

Back for another season

(Written by kencraw)

Fear not Cal fans… the longest running Cal Football blog is back for another season. (Can you believe this is my 16th season blogging about Cal football as a whole and my 13th season here on EMFMV?) Here’s the posts you can expect before the season starts:

  • Reasons for optimism post
  • Reasons to be concerned post
  • Game by game score prediction
  • Detailed UC Davis game prediction

Then throughout the season, expect to see the following for each game:

  • Game prediction post
  • On The Road Home podcast for all games I attend
  • Post game thoughts post
  • Mid-week updates and thoughts as they come to me

Are you excited? Who’s ready for another season of Cal football?

Disgusted

(Written by kencraw)

(A pre-rant caveat… I missed all the 2nd quarter and part of the 3rd, so I missed all 3 of Garbers INTs.  However, I think what I’m about to say still stands)

How could this be Cal’s strategy?  The Bears are throwing too many interceptions… so you switch QB’s and go with a QB who hasn’t seen any meaningful playing time in his 5 years at Cal.  SERIOUSLY!?!  I don’t care how bad Garbers was playing.  He’s your guy at this point.  Instead the right decision is to reign him in so he won’t keep shooting the team in the foot.  You sit him down at halftime and say… “OK, we’re up 7 to nothing.  You’re having a rough game.  Stop forcing it.  When in doubt, throw it away.  What we’re going to do is run a lot and when we do pass, you’re going to play it REALLY safe.  You’re also going to run it more.  We’re going to pick passing plays that make your job easy.  And when those are blown up, don’t sweat it, just throw it away.”

What you DON’T do is put the ball in Forrest’s hands and create even more risk.  You’re telling TCU, load up against the run and see if Forrest can beat you.  If they’ve scouted Cal at all they know Forrest can’t run at all, so they no longer need the spy, they no longer have to worry about the read-option.  Cal gave TCU a *HUGE* advantage by tipping their hands at what the 2nd half strategy was going to be.  It would have been wiser to leave Garbers in but use him differently.

For what it is worth, that’s what TCU did once their QB was injured.  After one disastrous series while he was getting medical treatment, they  trotted him out there and had him hand it off over and over.  He threw one pass just to show he wasn’t completely incapable and the defense had to respect his throwing a little, but mostly he just handed it off.

THAT’S what Cal should have done with Garbers.

But let’s even pretend that going with Forrest is OK, the entire end of the game was *STILL* pathetic.

Cal get’s the ball at their own 10 with 7 minutes left, and go with the run the ball strategy for the 4 consecutive following plays:

  • 6 yard run
  • 8 yard run
  • 8 yard run
  • 3 yard run

It sure seems like it’s working… and since Forrest has shown no feel for throwing the ball (he was 3 for 11 at that point), why would you have him throw, in particular something where he has an option to come back over the middle!?!

And thus Cal throws their 4th interception. ARG!?!

OK, on to the next possession (after Cal dodges a bullet and TCU can’t convert 4th and short just outside of field goal range)  Cal goes with a safe outside pass to the flat (that’s the sort of pass play to use to keep the defense honest) that Mo Ways powers his way to the TCU 40.  The Bears are in striking distance.  Woohoo!  Next they try WR screen to McMorris… a good idea, but he drops it.  Then they run on 2nd and pick up 5 (see the run is working!).  And while the following decision is debatable, I say the right call is to run it on 3rd and 5.  There’s not much trust in Forrest to read the defense and he threw an INT the last time he had to make a serious read.  Why not play it as a 4-down series and use two downs to get a 1st down running the ball? (It’s been working recently after all)  Heck, with some luck, TCU is not expecting run on 3rd down and Cal doesn’t even need the 4th down.  But nevertheless, if they get that 1st down by running on both 3rd and 4th down, then Cal could pound the ball to pick up 6 to 8 yards on the next series and all of a sudden Cal is in field goal range with little time left.  Even if they miss, they have a good shot at a win.

Instead they go for the high risk Forrest throw, it’s incomplete (as any idiot would expect) and then it’s too high risk to go for it on 4th and 5 and punting is sadly the right call with 2 minutes left.

The coaching staff still found fresh ways to lose their minds before regulation was up.  What was with the timeout with TCU at their own 10 with 2 minutes left on 1st down?  There’s only 2 timeouts.  Cal couldn’t have stopped the clock on all 3 plays.  They should have waited for 3rd and 4th down.  By waiting, at least they would know if it was 3rd and short or long before calling time out. At least by waiting you know if you’re likely to get the ball back and so it’s good to conserve clock, or whether they have 3rd and short and Cal should want to shorten the game.  But no, they take a timeout on 1st down and all of a sudden TCU is rumbling down the field and thankful Cal saved them some clock.  But thankfully, they miss the long field-goal and Cal is saved from their stupidity.

On to overtime…

The Cal running game picks up a reasonable 3 yards on 1st down (and frankly, it felt like it could have been 4 or 5.  Do they keep running the ball?  Do they say, “you know, I bet we can win a game of trading field goals… did you see how weak their kicker was?”  No, on 2nd down they have Forrest throw incomplete, surprising no one with his passing incompetence.  On 3rd down do they wise up?  No, they have Forrest throw again and it’s a ridiculously bad INT that was almost run all the way back.

Then the Bears lose when TCU kicks a field goal on their overtime possession.

Pathetic and disgusting.

It reminded me of everything that was wrong with the McIlwain experiment.  They have confidence in the wrong guys at the wrong time.  Instead of working with the obvious choice (Garbers) and working with his short-comings to hone in on an offense that is at least mildly functional without shooting the entire team in the foot, they go for a wildly high-risk plan with a QB who has shown time and time again to be even worse at the one thing we can’t afford (lot’s of INTs).

I just don’t get it.

Cheez-It Bowl preview

(Written by kencraw)

Just a quick one with the game starting shortly…

I think TCU is a bit turnover prone and with a young QB (3rd start I think), interceptions will be the difference.  But otherwise, it’ll be a defensive struggle with few points scored.  The key to victory is who makes the fewest mistakes and at a 2nd level, who turns those few possessions that get down the field into a TD or two, versus who is stuck with field-goals.

Bears win 13 to 6.

Ridiculously early thoughts on 2019

(Written by kencraw)

I posted a condensed version of this on CGB and thought I’d expand on my thoughts here:

Looking forward to 2019, even though it is ridiculously early to think about it (we haven’t seen the bowl game and whether of month of extra practice can help the offense see some rhythm, nor who gets injured in Spring ball or transfers or what sort of transfers the Bears get), here’s my best shot at a prediction.

I see a year of slight regression, at least on the win/loss ledger.

Let’s start with the non-conference games.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team lose at least 1 non-conference game. I think people underestimate how good UC Davis has gotten and N. Texas is no slouch, plus Ole Miss on the road won’t be easy.  All of those games will be winnable, but at the same time, tougher non-conference games have a way of causing an unexpected loss among them.  Particularly when Cal has to play UW in the middle of their non-conference schedule, it’s not hard to think the Bears may lose 1 of the 3.

Next up, in conference Cal switches from Arizona and Colorado to ASU and Utah.  If we had stayed with UA and CU, I’d be optimistic the Bears would gain a win from 2018.  Cal would have Arizona at home against a team they should have beat last year.  Add to this that Colorado is in rebuilding mode after letting their head coach gone and it’s reasonable to hope the Bears would go 2-0 where they only went 1-1 against this pair in 2018.  But ASU and Utah is entirely different.  ASU made great strides in 2018 and year 2 under their new head coach will likely be another step in the right direction.  Luckily that game is at home, so the Bears have a good shot at a win, but it’s not exactly going to be easy.  As for Utah, that’s a *REALLY* tough game and one has to fear a loss.  So that suggests at best the Bears repeat their 1-1 record against this pair, but going 0-2 is far too likely.

The remainder of the schedule are teams the Bears play every year.  I’ll start with the 3 teams Cal lost by more than one score:  Oregon, UCLA and Stanford.  All 3 games were at home in 2018 and thus all 3 are on the road in 2019.  Oregon is the one I think might be most likely to see a regression in 2019, with Herbert gone at QB, but going to Eugene is always very tough.  It’s hard for a realistic person to hope for a win from that one.  UCLA is on the rise and will be much better next year.  Stanford might be the best hope for a win from the 3 as Stanford stadium isn’t exactly a tough road environment.  But since Cal isn’t going to have a realistic chance to win against Stanford until it wins in the trenches, I don’t have a lot of hope for a win here.  (More on this later.)  So the Bears stay 0-3 against these teams in 2019 from my way of thinking.

Next up, Oregon State… that was an easy win in 2018 and there’s every reason to expect that stays the same with the game in Berkeley in 2019.  But since they won in 2018, it won’t gain the Bears anything win/loss wise, by winning again.

Probably the best hope for a flip to the win column is WSU, the last loss from 2018 left to be considered.  With Minshew gone and the game in Berkeley, that game could be a win.  I tell you what, let’s assume that for now and move on to the big problem spots, even though The Pirate seems to have WSU in a place where they can recover from losing a good QB very quickly.

Cal beat both UW and USC in 2018.  Who think’s they’re going to repeat that?  There is some good news on this front as UW losses their 4-year QB, as well as a number of other notable seniors.  And since the Bears get them in the 2nd week of the season, UW won’t have had much time to break in their replacements.  However, the Bears *barely* beat UW at home and now have to go to the very tough Husky stadium to play the game.  Again, that’s not as tough in September as November, but still, I’d feel much better about that game in Berkeley.

Then there’s USC.  USC has so much talent.  Cal caught them at a pretty good time in 2018.  The good news is that the Bears play USC in Berkeley, but if history is any guide, that’s of little comfort.  USC always brings their big annoying band and lots of alum show up.  The game often feels pretty 50/50 crowd wise.  So while there’s a chance the Bears win this one, it’s not going to be easy.  So again, winnable, but not easy.

So with two winnable but not easy games, the safe assumption is they split them.  Just for simplicity, let’s say the Bears beat USC at home and lose to UW on the road.

So, adding that all up based on just schedule and trajectory of the other programs, I’m predicting an extra non-conference loss, an extra loss from the AZ/mountain pair, and an extra loss from USC/UW, with one new win to offset that from WSU.  The result is the 7-5 of 2018 will become 5-7 in 2019 unless the Bears can find a way to win the Big Game.

But all of that analysis, I didn’t much consider how the Bears would change.  That was all based on how I see the opponents changing.  So how do I see the Bears progressing next year?

If there’s good news, the losses to graduation are mostly replaceable with one huge exception.  The toughest losses are Kunaszyk and Laird.  But behind them are a number of underclassmen who have gotten enough playing time in 2018 to show their potential.  I’m optimistic that the Bears have enough talent behind them to not cause a notable effect.  Losing Wharton and Ways at WR is troublesome, but again, there’s a lot of young WR’s who have potential, plus Noa back from injury.  One could be concerned about the the 3 seniors lost at TE, but that would only be true if those 3 guys were of much help in 2018.  Hudson never returned to his former glory after a year off from injury and Bunting, while the best TE, wasn’t exactly lighting up the field.  If anything, perhaps the younger guys waiting in the wings have the opportunity to give us a positive surprise.

But then there’s the offensive line.  OUCH!  The losses of Bennett, Ooms and Mekari are going to be hard to replace. It was immediately obvious how much the O-line is going to miss Mekari based on the O-Line play against Colorado and Stanford after his ankle injury.  And it’s not like Cal can assist a weaker O-Line with TE’s and our FB.  We already talked about the TE’s.  As for FB, McMorris did a great job of filling the gaps in the offensive line and he’s gone next year.  So summing that all up, I’m very concerned about the O-line next year.

I am optimistic about better QB play. Garbers will improve and Bowers will hopefully be back and in the mix. And McIlwain, while it may not be at QB, will probably find some way to contribute.  So the question becomes, can improved QB play be enough to offset the O-Line losses?  I”m having a hard time believing that.

Now, the defense looks like it’s going to be every bit as good as 2018.  The losses to graduation are minimal outside of Kunaszyk and Funches, and there’s a lot of talent behind them waiting to prove themselves.  Plus the existing starters are only going to get better.  So even if the offense stinks as much as I fear, the defense will keep the Bears in a lot of games.

Nevertheless, it feels more like a 5-7 season, with upside to 6-6.  Yes, if the offense can find some magic it didn’t have in 2018, the team could take that next step forward.  ASU, UCLA, Stanford and a sweep of UW and USC are all possible with a good offense.  That would be 9-3.  Yet I just don’t see that happening.  Frankly, I much more fear that teams realize what Stanford did… the key to beat the Bears is just not to let the Cal defense win the game.  Be conservative and win the game 10-6.  And if that happens, we could see the Bears losing to both USC and UW, as well as not flipping WSU to the positive side of the ledger.  That would be a terrifying 3-9 scenario.

So there you have it, somewhere between 9-3 and 3-9 with 5-7 being my best guess.  Here it is game by game:

  • UC Davis – Win
  • @UW – Loss
  • N. Texas – Win
  • @Ole Miss – Loss
  • ASU – Loss
  • @Oregon – Loss
  • Bye
  • OSU – Win
  • @Utah – Loss
  • Bye (too close to the prior one, frankly)
  • WSU – Win
  • USC – Win
  • @Stanford – Loss
  • @UCLA – Loss (thinking about it, I have the Bears in the same situation as 2017, 5-6 going into a road game vs. UCLA in the Rose Bowl stadium.  We’ll see how much better UCLA is by then, but if they don’t take as big of a leap as I’m expecting, the Bears will be very motivated to pick up that win and might just pull off the upset and get to 6-6 that way.)

End of season thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

A handful of random thoughts now that the season was over:

  • Cheez-it bowl?  I liked the name a lot better when it was the Copper bowl or the Insight Bowl.  Nevertheless, I’m happy to see the Bears in a bowl game.  I think the outcome will be pretty important for the trajectory of the program.  8-5 looks a lot better than 7-6 and beating another Power 5 school in a year where the Pac-12 was pretty lowly regarded (not without cause) will be to Cal’s benefit.
  • When I look back at the season, I see a combination of both missed opportunities and a lot of good luck.  The missed opportunities start with Arizona.  I’m still not sure how the Bears lost that game, although I think it starts with the Bears forcing a turnover that somehow became a forward pass to Arizona’s benefit.  Add in the McIlwain experiment gone wrong, and it’s so disappointing Cal lost that game.  Then of course there is WSU, the other most obvious case of the McIlwain experiment sinking the Bears.  That’s two games that it would have been REALLY nice to have in the win column and there’s every reason to think that a couple of bounces/mistakes goes the Bears way.
  • At the same time, don’t forget how many times the Bears got just enough bounces to their benefit.  The USC win had a few.  What if Weaver ends up 3 yards short of the endzone against UW?  What if Colorado doesn’t spot Cal 14 points?  (Admittedly those interceptions are a combination of good defense and opponent mistakes.)  The season was a lot closer to being a big failure than we want to admit.  Cal lost 2 games (Arizona and UCLA) that based on how they finished, Cal can’t afford to lose to if they want to be a bowl eligible team on a regular basis.
  • Then there is the big question: Should Cal fire Baldwin and find a new OC.  I’ve thought about this a lot and my final conclusion is ‘no’.  I don’t feel very confident about that ‘no’, because Cal hides a lot of player information (most notably injury information).  But if we assume that Bowers was injured in week 1 and it really was the plan for him to be the 2018 starter, then it’s hard to look at Baldwin and say he should be fired.  As much as I was frustrated with the offense, there were enough things that broke the wrong way injury wise that one can be sure that Baldwin needs to be fired.  He deserves a chance at redemption next year.  He has enough history of HUGE offensive success at EWU as head coach that he deserves another shot.  Plus, one of the things that this team is building is a good culture.  I think having a former head coach as a coordinator is part of what is making that work.
  • But it is important to finish with the positives, because overall this season was a good one.  Wins over both USC and the eventual conference champion (UW) are hard to argue with.  The only think that kept it from far exceeding our expectations was the Big Game loss.  But a trip to a bowl game was the goal, and the team cleared that hurdle with a game to spare.

Big Game OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Maybe I need to re-title this podcast something like “The extremely late podcast” or something.  I’m sorry this year I was so late in posting so many of them.  In any case, here it is:

Big Game preview

(Written by kencraw)

I didn’t publish my first pass at the Big Game preview before the game was delayed, but I had mostly finished it.   So, what you see below is that version with the changes I’ve decided to make marked up (deleted in strike-through, new in bold blue)

One of the first things I do when thinking about an upcoming opponent is look at previous common opponents.  By the time the Big Game rolls around, there are generally a lot, although the way our cross-division scheduling goes, there are fewer than one would think as Stanford explicitly and purposely always plays the opposite of the two Arizona and Mountain schools that Cal does each year.  (in other words, if we play Arizona, they play ASU and vice versa.  Same goes for Utah and Colorado.)  Nevertheless, there are 5 common opponents at this point (in order that Stanford played them):

  • USC: Both Cal and Stanford won defensive struggles, with Stanford’s defensive performance being dominant in both halves.
  • Oregon: Stanford squeaked out a win they didn’t deserve (they were down 24 – 7 at half and 21 – 31 with 4 minutes left in the game) and Oregon blundered away, whereas Cal was never really competitive.
  • WSU: Both lost a one-score game, Stanford in a high scoring affair and Cal in a low scoring affair
  • UW: Stanford lost a one-score game whereas Cal won a one-score game
  • OSU: Both teams kicked the crud out of OSU
  • UCLA: Stanford won a shootout on the road, Cal got blown out at home

That’s a pretty even set of results, if one ignores UCLA.  But the UCLA games are so far apart, both in regards to how Cal and Stanford have evolved as well as how UCLA came to life but then also was more predictable.  As for the rest, UW goes in Cal’s favor, Oregon goes in Stanford’s favor.  The other three were pretty similar.

Both teams are also similar in that they generally win games through a strong defensive performance.  Both teams have “opportune” offenses that count on the defense giving them plenty of chances and shortening the game.

So how do you predict a game when the teams are as even as this when one thinks the teams are even?  You go to the emotional components… who wants the win more?  And so I ask you, who is more motivated:

  • The team that is excited about being bowl eligible or the team that team that has underwhelmed expectations
  • The team that just ended a losing streak or the team is losing to teams they are used to beating (UW and WSU in particular)
  • The team that is sick and tired of losing their rivalry game for 8 years now or the team that is a bit too comfortable with how easy it has been beating their cross town rivals
  • The home team or the away team

All signs suggest Cal is going to be the team that comes out of the tunnel ready to impose their will and Stanford will be the team that underwhelms.

Add to this, I think this is the week the Cal offense breaks out.  For weeks they were hampered by the McIlwain experiment.  Last week, none of the breaks went their way.  The fundamentals of this offense are better than we think (not that they’re great, just better than we think).  I say this is the week where the long Garbers runs don’t get called back by marginal holding calls or bogus fumble calls.  I say this is the week Garbers connects on a couple of long passes that have been just out of reach in previous weeks.  I say this is the week we realize that the future is bright behind Laird and and where Chris Brown breaks a couple of long runs (he is due).

But then the last two weeks the Stanford offense has found new life.  They’re going all-in on out-jumping defenses for big pass gains.  Bryce Love has (somewhat) returned to health.  As for the Bears, the offense seems to have regressed with Garbers having his weakest game of the season against Colorado.  On paper, all of a sudden, it feels like Stanford is in the drivers seat.  Stanford has just a good enough offense to suggest the Bear defense will struggle to keep them in the low teens and the Bear offense is not good enough that it’s reasonable to expect they get into the 20’s.  All of a sudden, on paper, it seems like the Bears are the underdogs.

So what does one go with… the emotional aspects that suggest the Bears have the advantage or the physical advantages of Stanford? 

I say this is the Big Game that most feels like 2002… a cathartic, joyful changing of the guard.

Bears win big: 31 to 10.

Unfortunately, as much as my heart wants to tell me otherwise, Shaw has proven season after season to have his team ready to play every week and a game plan that is pretty well suited for most every type of opponent.  The Bears put up a noble effort, but Stanford won’t make enough mistakes to let the Cal defense win the game.

Bears lose a close one: 10-16

(Here’s hoping I’m wrong.  To that end, if you want to hear what my heart wants to believe, read Mike Silver over at GGB: https://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2018/11/30/18119325/big-game-chat-with-cal-fan-extraordinaire-mike-silver)

Colorado re-watch thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Decided to re-watch, or more accurately watch the TV converage for the 1st time, the Colorado game.  Here are my thoughts as I watched.

  • What was Montez thinking on that 1st INT?  There were two guys who could have made that interception.  That had to be a case of having a pre-determined throw because he didn’t seem to have any thought behind that throw.
  • Now, that 2nd INT, I was a bit more sympathetic to Colorado’s plight when I saw it live, but on re-watch, that one was just as egregious.  Montez should have seen the safety.
  • You have to feel sorry for CU on the 3rd possession.  Could they possibly throw the ball again?  No.  So everyone knew it was going to be run heavy.  So it’s no surprise they had no success.
  • There was a targetting no-call on Cal’s 1st offensive play, but there was no notice of it on the TV coverage.
  • Penalties didn’t help the Cal offense much this game.
  • Jeez, I had forgotten that it was the very 1st Cal punt where CU fumbled it. They just couldn’t get out of their own way, could they?
  • Colorado was very committed to stopping the run through the whole game.
  • Garbers did a great job of getting off the pass to McMorris on that 4th and 1.  That was pretty impressive.
  • Why did CU take the holding penalty to replay 3rd and goal when Cal only got to the 5?  It’s not like a field goal from the 18 is particularly tough.  Instead, Cal gets 16 on a scramble on the re-try and then Cal converts on 4th and 2.
  • Nixon, the WR for CU, was *really* fast.  A few times he got behind Cal’s DBs and it was only because Montez didn’t have the right touch that they didn’t convert.
  • I was really impressed with Wharton’s after catch effort.  There’s a couple other receivers who could learn from him.  He doesn’t dance.  He doesn’t back-track.  He just runs hard and then when all that is left it to try and bowl over the DB, that’s exactly what he tries to do.
  • Cal had 2 defensive offsides early in the 2nd quarter on back to back plays.  I don’t have trouble admitting that I was livid in the stands.  And sure enough, 3rd and 12 ended up being a 1st down and from there CU drove the rest of the field to get their lone 1st half touchdown.  Small things like that can make a huge difference.
  • Boy have our TE’s been a disappointment this year.  Lot’s of dropped passes and not very good routes run.
  • That 2nd muffed punt return was a hugh momentum saver.
  • That Garbers slide wasn’t even close to a 1st down was it?  I take back what I said in the podcast.  There was no reason for Garbers to push it.  He wasn’t going to get it no matter what.
  • I’m disappointed there was no TV coverage of the hold the killed the 3rd interception return that cost the Bears 40 or so yards.  I sure as heck didn’t see it.
  • Ha!  I didn’t realize Cal’s only 3rd down conversion was a Garbers scramble.  It shows just how ineffective Cal’s offense was.
  • Can someone explain to me why Wilcox was calling timeouts on CU’s last 1st half possession?  Cal wasn’t going to get the ball back with much time left.  It’s not like the Bears had been very aggressive on offense.  Why?
  • On one of Montez’s 3rd down scrambles, Weaver looked like he had the positioning to get to him, but he held up like he had some zone assignment that he didn’t want to risk giving up a pass over the middle.  The next play CU scored their 2nd TD.
  • Cal’s 2nd field goal is yet again the result of an unforced error by CU, in this case a stupid personal foul after the play was over.
  • If I were Stanford, I’d spend a lot of time watching CU’s last touchdown drive.  They seemed to find the key to beating the Cal defense.  Perhaps it wasn’t Cal’s best effort, but CU marched right down the field on that one.
  • Why wasn’t CU given a penalty for “inadvertantly” snapping the ball?  That seems like illegal procedure to me.
  • Hicks made a big mistake on CU’s last touchdown.  He needed to protect the inside, not the sideline, but instead got caught outside of the WR making Montez’s life easy to complete the throw.
  • Wharton was the offensive MVP of the game for sure.  After that 4td down conversion, he got two big pickups by being really physical after the catch.
  • I was so ticked when Cal kept going backwards after 1st and goal.  3rd from the 18?  OUCH!
  • But bailed out by a REALLY stupid personal foul that gave Cal a re-do… a 2nd shot at first and goal from the 7.
  • And then both Garbers and Ways play the fade perfectly for the touchdown.
  • The two point conversion was a pretty good play if it hadn’t been tipped at the line.
  • Jeez, how many false starts were there on 3rd and short?  At least 2.
  • Oh that offensive pass interference was garbage.  Yet another 3rd down conversion lost to penalty.  (In this case not fair)
  • I can’t believe Mo Ways didn’t catch the ball on that 3rd down that would have just about ended the game.  That was a pretty risky call, a deep fade on 3rd and short.
  • Another bogus penalty on Cal on 4th and 17 with a PI call.  There was no way that WR was coming back to the ball and Bynum even got his head around and his hand up.
  • That lateral on the Montez scramble was somthing else, wasn’t it?
  • And Davis as a single high safety… gotta love how he plays.

Final thoughts:  The offensive performance wasn’t quite as bad as I thought.  Just some random stupid mistakes that need to be cleaned up.  I’ll admit the lack of O-Line push was troublesome, but other than that, what was wrong was very fixable.

Colorado OTRH podcast

(Written by kencraw)

OK, still not exactly on time, but a heck of a lot better than last week:

Sunday morning ‘what idiot?’ thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Some random post-Colorado victory thoughts, not so much about the game itself, but tangential:

  • What idiot is it who thought that spotting the ball where the QB initiates the slide will increase safety?  It’s going to decrease safety.  Garbers (and others) will eventually figure out they have to push things much further to get the first down.  They’re going to have to risk a major collision, perhaps going head first, to get that extra yard or two they used to get by leaping into their slide.
  • Who was the idiot who started playing ‘4th quarter blowout songs’ in the 2nd quarter over the stadium PA system?  Sweet Caroline in the 2nd quarter?  Are you freaking kidding me!?!  I think a significant part of the reason Cal played so soft in the 3rd quarter was because the environment around them was telling them the game was already over.
  • How can Berkeley still be so idiotic that Scenic Avenue has never been repaved?  That road is an absolute disaster and has been for as long as I can remember.  The patches have their own patches and the the potholes are developing their own potholes.  I can’t think of a worse street in Berkeley, and that’s saying something.
  • What idiot hasn’t figured out that it is time for Lee Grosscup to retire from the radio post-game show?  I’m generally pretty tolerant of former Cal greats being announcers, but Grosscup needs to figure out where John Madden has retired to and go join him.  He’s staining his otherwise great legacy.

Not sure why I’m full of ‘what idiot?’ thoughts this morning… perhaps it’s because that game was an odd combination of joyful and highly disconcerting.  (That performance is *NOT* going to cut it against Stanford.)

Colorado preview

(Written by kencraw)

I felt a lot more confident about my Colorado prediction before they fired their head coach, Coach Mike MacIntyre.  Although it’s not nearly as intense, I feel similarly about MacIntyre as I did when Tedford was fired.  While one might quibble with the timing, it was a reasonable decision to let him go.  But MacIntyre is a man of integrity and it’s disappointing to see such a good guy let go.

So the question is, how does the team respond?  Do they try to ‘win one for the Gipper’?  Or perhaps it is the opposite, and their frustrations of a tough season are released now that MacIntyre is gone?  Yet another factor: Does the interim coaching staff change anything significant making it hard for the Bears to prepare for a team they’ve got no film on?  Never forget that an interim staff sees moments like this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are ready to coach at the next level.

On the other side of the ledger is that this could be a team that lost their heart when MacIntyre was let go.  It’s already been a tough season, how could that makes it better?  Or perhaps the new coaches are just introducing chaos that won’t help.

And to add to all of that is the fact that the Buffs are one game from bowl eligibility with just this game left.  It amplifies all the above possibilities.  They could have a lot more fight or they could be ready for the season to be over.

It’s really hard to tell.

But let’s for a moment pretend that all of this weren’t true and this was just a regular mid-season conference game.  How do I see it playing out?

First off, I see a Cal offense that is ready to have a breakout game against a mediocre Colorado defense (lowest point total given up during their 6 game losing streak: 27 to UW).  Their best performance all year was probably against ASU, who they played at home and beat 28-21.  All 3 of their below 20 points surrendered games were against far lesser teams (remember that the UCLA team they beat was still early in the learning process).

Second, I see a Cal defense that is going to thrive.  Look at this point totals for CU.  7 against WSU.  13 against UW.  20 against USC.  (I’ll even ignore the 7 against Utah since Cal hasn’t played Utah and the game was in the snow.)  This is not a particularly good offense from CU and it’ll make the Bear defense’s job easier.  Plus, I see a team that is going to try and “play loose” and try things they don’t usually try.  That’s got ‘4 interceptions’ written all over it.

Finally, here’s the common opponent analysis (in order of Colorado playing them):

  • UCLA: Colorado won big, Cal lost big (both at home)
  • USC: Colorado lost by 2 scores, Cal won by 1 point (both in LA)
  • UW: Colorado lost by 2 TD’s, Cal won by 2 points (CU on road, Cal at home)
  • OSU: Colorado lost by a TD after a horrific meltdown, Cal won big (CU at home, Cal on road)
  • Arizona: Both teams lost by about a TD (both in AZ)
  • WSU: Colorado lost big, Cal lost close (CU at home, Cal on road)

With the exception of the UCLA game, which comes with the huge caveat of how much UCLA improved between when Cal and Colorado played them, Cal did better in every game (albeit just slightly against Arizona).  And this is true despite the fact that Cal had the worse of the home vs. road matchups in that series.  So it’s hard not to look at that list and conclude that Cal is the better team.

So, if you had me pick this game without the emotional aspects of it, I think Cal wins something like 20-13.  But the more I think about it, the more I think the Bears are going to come into this game ready to make a statement and Colorado is going to come into this game wishing they had gotten more turkey on Thanksgiving.  Add to it the likelihood that what little extra effort they bring is likely to play right into Cal’s ball hawking tendencies and I think this game goes further in Cal’s favor.

I think it gets ugly by the 4th quarter and getting worse for CU every minute until Cal calls off the dogs.

Bears win 37 – 6

13th man

(Written by kencraw)

(Another ridiculously late post, but this one closes my USC thoughts.  I probably wouldn’t have posted it at all had it not been for wanting to get the podcast published and I figured if I could still do that, there was room for one more ridiculously late post…)

Everyone knows the ’12th man’ on a football team is the crowd in the stands.  But perhaps there should be a ’13th man’ as well: The band.

To this end, USC probably is one of the best bands in this regard.  Their highly repetitive, frustratingly banal set of 3 songs is often a point of snearing by opposing fans (the lady next to me at the game 2 weeks ago was obsessed on the topic).  I must admit, the USC band really gets on my nerves.

But that’s the point.  It can really get inside one’s head.  And if it can get in our heads, don’t you think it affects the players too, just the way the crowd can?  And unlike the Stanford band that is only worth snearing at during their ridiculous halftime performance (their in-game antics although similarly as juvenile are of little consequence and get little attention from either fans or players), the USC band is constantly prattling on throughout the game, doing it’s “magic”.

And in this regard, the Cal band deserves some recognition for their performance at USC.  Not once throughout the entire game (sans pre-game and halftime shows) did the Cal band let the USC band play uninterrupted.  Whenever the USC band would start up, the Cal band would get up and play.  They were fearless.  They were relentless.  They were NOT going to let the USC band dictate the sound environment of the game.

Well done Cal band.  Well done!

USC OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

OK, I realize this is *RIDICULOUSLY* late, but I figured I’d publish it anyway.  I recorded it on the drive home from LA and I had a lot of things that needed to be edited out (kids with questions for their dad, etc.) and so it took me longer than usual to find the time to do it.  In any case, I hope people enjoy it, despite its lateness:

Re-viewing of USC game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

I re-watched the game (or said another way, watched the TV coverage for the 1st time since I was at the game).  Here are some thoughts from that:

  • What a game Beck had!  Tackled the kicker on the fake field-goal attempt.  Had a 3rd down pass breakup.  Had a very nice tackle for loss.  And of course the key interception that setup the go-ahead touchdown.
  • I hadn’t noticed that Wharton was missing in the 1st quarter from the stands.  That’s one of the harder things of being at the game.  Minus the QB and the running back, it is generally tough to see who’s missing.
  • The holding call on the long run play of Garbers was pretty marginal.  Yeah, it was probably technically holding, but only in the ‘if you were to call every hold, there would never be a play without a penalty’ sorta way.  The lineman disengaged pretty quickly and didn’t seem to meaningfully slow the progress of the defender once he had turned away from the legitimate block, particularly from the perspective of the likelihood he gets to Garbers before he gets downfield.
  • While on the topic of long Garbers runs that were for naught, the fumble call was complete BS.  The replay clearly shows his knee was down and his arm is still around the ball.  Was the ball “starting” to come out?  Perhaps.  But his arm is still around the ball.  It makes me want to look up just when the precise moment a fumble has happened.
  • Not that anyone was doubting this besides the TV commentators, but going for 2-points when up 15-14 late in the 3rd was the right call.  If this was Dykes Cal vs. WSU, then I get the “not until the 4th quarter” rule.  But this was a defensive struggle.  It was late enough in the game not a lot of other points were likely to be scored.  (Which turned out to be true)
  • The game had more dropped passes on the Cal side than I remembered.
  • To give one concession to USC, the personal foul that extended Cal’s final drive was pretty harsh.  I know I wouldn’t have been happy if it was the other way around.  No pushing or shoving, just something he said from a few feet away.  Yes, the USC guy should have been smarter and stayed away from the Cal sideline.  But at the same time, unless he said something incredibly egregious, that’s a pretty harsh call on USC.
  • In the podcast (yet to be published) I talked about how the 1st USC touchdown was a really good play call, putting Bynum in a really tough spot to cover the WR.  What was noticeable on the re-watch was that Cal changed from having the DB follow the receiver to doing a “shift” of receiver assignments when USC brought one across the formation (most of the time).  A wise decision.
  • Something I forgot to mention on the podcast… boy was that stadium quiet starting at about 7 minutes left in the game.  The USC fans were stunned!
  • Another forgot to mention in the podcast… another game where the opponent wasting timeouts in the 2nd half came back to bite them.  And both were really stupid.  Why would they go for it on 4th and 2 from that point on the field?  You can’t get in a play call in 40 seconds?
  • USC really did leave a lot of points on the board.  The fake field goal.  The fumble in the redzone.  The score should have been at least 20-0 if not 24-0 at halftime.
  • For some reason it was more obvious to me watching the game on TV how much the field-position game was not in the Bears favor in the 1st half.  They really shot themselves in the foot a couple of times, particularly that horrible kickoff.

More thoughts to come…

Content coming…

(Written by kencraw)

I had a *VERY* enjoyable weekend at the game and at Disneyland, but I’ve got good news and bad news:

The good news is I’ve got a bunch of content to post about the USC game.

The bad news is I’m very much in “recovery mode” right now.

Hopefully I’ll get one or two things posted today and the rest before the weekend/big game.

USC preview

(Written by kencraw)

I’m sick of watching the Bears lose to USC.  I’m sick of watching USC look more and more beatable, just to get their act together just when the Bears come to town.

Part of me thinks that’s exactly what is going to happen tomorrow.  USC has been struggling all season but seems to be figuring out some of their problems and ways to solve them.  Make no mistake, this is a talented team.  They’re the only team that has beaten WSU.  If they play to their potential, it takes a very good team to beat them.  Frankly, if USC plays to their potential, it would take an absolute break out game from the Cal offense for the Bears to have a chance.

But it’s not a given that USC will play to their theoretical potential.  If we assume they play as they have been all season, head to head match-ups suggest the Bears have a real chance:

  • Cal beat OSU by WAAAAY more than USC, both playing in Corvallis
  • USC won a tight game at Arizona whereas the Bears lost a close one in the same stadium
  • USC won a squeaker one over WSU at home whereas the Bears lost a tight one on the road

Perhaps the straight up results suggests that USC is the slightly better team, but when one adds the subjective, particularly the home and away, and the Bears are pretty evenly matched.

For me this game comes down to whether the Bears can win in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  While I’m less concerned about the defense, USC is one of those teams with offensive lines that can make good defenses look mediocre.  They can grind out 4 to 6 yard runs all the way down the field and put together 3+ TD drives where there’s nothing the defense can do to stop it.  And while this isn’t USC’s best offensive line, the talent is there.  Cal can’t let that happen if they want to win.  But as I said, I’m more optimistic about this than the other side of the ball.

On offense, the Bears need to finish what they start and they need to hold onto the ball.  They absolutely can not afford to give USC free points.  They need to be prepared to play a slog of a game and not get desperate.  My fear is they will get desperate and the result will be costly turnovers they can’t afford.

But the thing is, this USC team can be beat.  This is the year.  With the possible exception of Stanford, they haven’t seen a defense as good as Cal’s.  I’m not going down to the LA Coliseum for the first time in a decade to watch the Bears lose.  I’m going there to watch them win!

Bears end the streak: Cal 24 – USC 20