The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

2020 Virtual Season Game 2

(Written by kencraw)

For week 2, we’ve chosen a recent one: last year’s (2019) UW game. For those who don’t remember, the Bears had upset the Huskies at home 12-10 in 2018. It was a very physical defensive struggle. Washington fans felt they should have won and some bad in-game decisions by the coach had cost them the game. But of course the Bears felt otherwise (and I think felt a little disrespected by that talk). Could the Bears go on the road to Seattle and prove Husky fans wrong by beating 14th ranked UW (they had been ranked 15th in 2018)?

To add to all of that, this was what our family jokingly calls “the lightning bowl”. You’ll see why in a bit…

Commentary when watching:

  • After a long kickoff return (to about mid-field), the Huskies go 3 and out. That was capped by a 3rd down QB run where a relatively new rule (one that would loom heavy throughout the season) cost the Huskies a potential first down. The new rule is that when the QB slides, the ball is marked where he “gives himself up” (which is usually a couple yards behind where the knee hits the ground). The result was a 4th and 1 where UW lined up to go for it, but when they saw the defense, they did the QB pooch punt thing.
  • I’ve said this before, but the justification for that rule change is ridiculous. They say it is to “protect the QB”. But what it really does is encourage QB’s to dive head first to get the yards they need for a first down.
  • The Bears get a couple of first downs and then have to punt. Yet again the Huskies get a good return and are already back at mid-field again.
  • And with that, the game is delayed by a couple hours. The video I have cut out the two and a half hours of delay, so the built up nerves and anxiousness isn’t really there. Also how late it was. The game was already a 7 PM (or was it 7:30 PM) start, so with the delay the game was REALLY late. They didn’t restart until 10:30 PM and it was still early in the 1st quarter
  • The Huskies get a first down and then go for it on 4th down and fail giving the Bears the ball back at their own 35.
  • The Cal offensive line is not holding up well. Garbers has already been sacked twice and even when he wasn’t sacked, he was frequently hurried. The Bears punt again.
  • The UW run game is working reasonably well. There are holes to run through most of the time. However, just frequently enough the Bears are getting a stop for no gain and forcing the passing game, which was not working so well for UW.
  • After a QB sneak on 4th down works, the Huskies have to sub in the backup QB because Easton’s helmet came off. The Bears get a big sack with a corner blitz that is too much for the inexperienced QB. A very wise defensive decision that puts UW well behind the sticks on a 2nd down. The result is they force 4th down and a field goal. Huskies score first and the Bears are down a field goal: 0-3
  • The Bears continue to struggle offensively and in the punting game. After a 3 and out and 19 yard put, the Huskies get the ball at mid-field for the 3rd time.
  • But this time Bynum jumps the receiver’s route and gets an interception. The Bears get the ball back quickly, although deep in their own territory.
  • While the Bear run game starts to show some progress, a holding call kills another set of downs and the Bears punt again.
  • UW gets themselves into yet another 4th and 1 on the Cal side of the field. This time, over pursuit by the Bears inside (perhaps since the last two successful conversions were up the middle they felt the need to over compensate), opens a bit hole outside and Ahmed (UW RB) scores an easy 20+ yard TD. Bears in a big hole midway through the 2nd quarter: 0-10
  • A swing-out pass (kinda like a screen pass to the RB) results in a big 20 yard gain with another 15 tacked on for an illegal block on UW. With that, the Bears only take one play to get to the UW 32 yard line.
  • The Bears run game continues to Bear fruit. Brown breaks a 10 yarder, then a read-option gets Garbers down to the 5 yard line.
  • But between a false start and a bad play-call on 2nd down and the Bears are forced to settle for a field-goal. Bears back within a TD: 3-10
  • After a first down by UW, Weaver sacks the UW QB and forces a fumble. The Bears get the ball back on the UW side of the field (33 yard line). That’s two turnovers and they’ve most definitely helped keep Cal in the game.
  • But Bears go 3 and out and give ball back to UW with two minutes left in the half, but UW is unable to drive the field. They punt from mid-field with just over 30 seconds left at their own 11 yard line. They just take a knee. Halftime score: 3-10.
  • Bears have a good drive, mixing power runs from Brown, safe passes from Garbers and a big run from Dancy gets them well into UW territory. Then Dancy finishes the drive off with a 20+ yard TD run. Bears tie it up on the first drive of the 2nd half: 10-10
  • UW drives the field, mostly through running (although they convert a frustrating 3rd and 18 pass), but then the Bears stiffen and stop them on 3 consecutive plays inside the 5 yard-line. Huskies convert the field-goal to re-take the lead and put the Bears in an FG sized hole: 10-13
  • One thing that was definitely notable was how much quieter the crowd was than a normal game in Husky stadium. The 2 1/2 hour delay definitely thinned the crowd, and then it thinned further in the 2nd half as public transit options forced people to leave before the last train/bus.
  • Dancy playing a larger role now that he’s proved himself on the previous drive. Something about his running style is better suited to the UW defense. But after the Bears need a tough yard, they bring back in Brown and he not only gets the first down, but a few plays later breaks a bigger one to get the Bears down near the redzone.
  • But it’s Dancy who gets the TD after Brown comes out for a breather. Bears on top for the 1st time near the end of the 3rd quarter: 17-13
  • UW has yet another 4th and 1 and yet again converts. Both the Bears and Huskies have a terrible 3rd down conversion rate, but the Huskies have 3 or 4 4th down conversions to supplement that. It really kept a lot of drives alive.
  • And it happens AGAIN at the 2 yard line. Another 4th and 1. And again the Huskies go for it, but just before the play there’s a false start. With that, the Huskies kick the field goal. The Bears lead is narrowed to 1: 17-16
  • Wow, they just did a wide view of the stadium. There can’t be 15K there at this point.
  • Bad throw by Garbers on third down means the Bears go 3 and out and the Huskies get the ball back pretty quickly and a bit less than 6 minutes left. We sure the Bears win this one? Why am I nervous?
  • The Huskies are pretty methodical driving down the field. Nothing big ever, but lots of 4 to 6 yard gains to offset the few times the Bears come up with a stop. UW gets to the Bears 32 with 2 minutes left. But then 2 incomplete passes brings up 4th and long. The Huskies at first plan for a 4th down play, but then change to the field goal. It appears to be smart as he sneaks the 50 yarder inside the upright and take the lead. Bears need a two-minute drill down 17-19.
  • Two back to back fade passes net a bunch of yards, one on a completion and one on a PI foul. The Bears are down to the UW 30 with 1:30 left.
  • Then a big gain on a WR screen to Crawford gets the ball to the 4 yard line. That was a brilliant call after the last two passes. It had the safeties playing wide and going to a cover-2. It opened up the middle of the field for a play like that. Now the Bears are in a commanding position with just over a minute and in easy field-goal range.
  • On 2nd down the Bears center the ball at the 3 yard line to setup the game winning field goal on 3rd down on what is as close to an extra point as conceivable.
  • But then the Bears do the unexpected and run an inside with Brown. He appears to get over the goal line and score, but the linesman calls it short. There’s no good replay angle and the play stands. But the downside of the play is now the FG attempt isn’t straight on. Yet they do make it and are up with 8 seconds left 20-19.
  • The Huskies of course don’t convert and the Bears upset the Huskies 2 years in a row. Woohoo!

Week 2 choice – 2019 UW

(Written by kencraw)

As much as I have an affinity for the 2008 WSU game, it wasn’t a very important win. WSU was in quite a drought at that point and the Bears were close to the top of the Tedord era. So yeah, it was fun… but I want more than fun. I want important too!

So this week’s choice is last year’s “lightning bowl”:

Tune in tomorrow for my notes from watching it.

Week 2 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

Alright, week 1 is behind us. It was a great victory over Tennessee. If the team keeps playing like that, this could be an undefeated season! Could this finally be our year?

Here are the games from 2002 to 2019 I think are worth considering for week 2:

  • 2006: After the disaster at Tennessee in week 1, the Bears come home and stick it to Minnesota.
  • 2008: Bears travel to WSU and absolutely destroy them. This one has a fond place in my heart because I was there and it was part of a memorable road-trip that lasted all the way through the following week’s game at Maryland (which will *NOT* be an option for next week).
  • 2010: Blow out over Colorado at home
  • 2011: Nail biter overtime victory over Colorado on the road
  • 2018: Solid win over BYU on their turf
  • 2019: What I affectionately call “the lightning bowl”… the win over UW in Seattle, preventing UW from avenging the previous year’s upset Cal Bear win.

So there’s actually a pretty good slate of games to pick from. While I will reserve the right to make the final selection, I’m all ears for which game people would prefer and your rationale for that pick.

What game to people want to see?

2020 Virtual Season Game 1

(Written by kencraw)

Tonight we re-watch the 2007 Tennessee game. The Bears had gone to Tennessee to start the 2006 season and been humbled. They were ranked 9th and the Vols ranked 23rd. Nothing went their way and a number of early big plays made the game a laugher, despite the more respectable final score (35-18). The Bears went on to have a great season in 2006 despite the weak start and were yet again ranked above the Vols to start the 2007 season. (#12 vs. #15) But because of the previous season’s game, there wasn’t a lot of confidence the Bears were the better team. That set the stage for a great game:

  • One forgets how full Memorial stadium was at this point in the Tedford years. Full to the brim and the crowd was very loud right from the get-go.
  • The Bears send the now legendary Zack Follett (he was young then) and hits the Vol QB in the back just as he went to throw the ball. Worrell Williams (another Cal linebacker) scooped and scored for an early Cal lead: 7-0.
  • Based on today’s standards, that would have been a personal foul on Follett for spearing. How the rules have changed.
  • Looking at the scores scrolling at the bottom of the screen, there are SOOOO many big schools that schedule weak opponents for week 1. That’s one thing I love about the Bears. We’re rarely afraid of a big week 1 match-up.
  • Tennessee pretty methodically drives down the field and scores a matching TD. The final play was particularly troublesome as a number of missed tackles turns what should have been a 2-3 yard gain into a 13 yard TD catch and run. Score tied: 7-7
  • Wow does Tedford look young in 2007. Kinda like being president really ages a guy, so does being a head coach (or at least for a lot of them).
  • People remember DeSean Jackson for his speed, but this was one of those games where he showed his other talents. He held on to a catch when he got drilled just as he caught the ball. That was very good hands.
  • Forsett was now the starting back after Marshawn Lynch went early to the NFL. A lot of plays he was easily stuffed for little game, far more so than Lynch, but his shiftiness and speed gave him some pretty night runs. A great juke on the Bears first drive gets the ball into the redzone.
  • A Cal QB sneak on the goal-line results in a TD. Bears back up 14-7
  • But Tennesse has a big kickoff return and is in the Cal redzone right away.]
  • For those who don’t remember, 2007 was in the middle of the tree-sitter era. They had a couple of pretty funny special interest pieces about it. Kirk Herbstreet was so confused. He just couldn’t imagine it.
  • Tennessee finishes off the drive with a short run of their own. Tied again: 14-14
  • After trading punts, well, really on the 2nd punt, DeSean Jackson does what he does in one of his most iconic punt returns. “The wizard of returns!” Bears back in front: 21-14
  • After Tennessee goes 3 and out, Tennessee purposely punts it out of bounds. The crowd was not pleased…
  • Tennessee gets a 44 yard pass play on a busted coverage and back into the Cal redzone again. A couple plays later a well designed swing pass evens the score again: 21-21
  • Jahvid Best came into the game as a true freshman on the next drive and breaks a big run on his 3rd carry to get down to the Tennessee 5 yard line. The beginning of a great career at Cal.
  • A screen play (a bit odd in the red-zone, yes?) gets Cal back in the red-zone and back to a TD lead: 28-21
  • Both teams are having pretty good luck on their kickoff returns. The ball always seems to get out to at least the 30, if not the 40 or more.
  • After Tennessee fails to convert on a 4th down at the Cal 30, Cal runs a brilliantly schemed screen to Forsett with a minute left in the half that gets down to the Tennessee 20 yard line.
  • But Longshore has 3 bad throws near the goal-line and the Bears settle for the field goal just before halftime. Bears up by 10: 31-21
  • And that’s the halftime score.
  • DeSean is given the ball on a reverse and gains 20+ yards on the 1st drive of the 2nd half.
  • Something about that run play really loosened up the Vol defense and Longshore makes 2 quick passes to get into the endzone. Bears up big now: 38-21
  • Tennessee breaks a long run down to the Cal 3 yard-line, but then Cal has a great defensive stand to force 4th and goal. Tennessee goes for it on 4th down (I’d say it was a bit early to get that desperate, particularly when down by 17 and a field goal is helpful). The Bears break up the pass and get the ball back without giving up any points.
  • Bears get enough yards to flip the field before having to punt after 2 bad snaps in a row result in a bad sequence.
  • The Bears defense does a pretty good job of forcing Tennessee to chip away underneath so as to lengthen their drives and stop the quick scores. However, Tennessee takes what the Bears give them and drive the field for a TD. Back to a 10 point margin: 38-28
  • Bears go 3 and out and give the ball back to Tennessee awful quickly. I remember this was a moment I started to get nervous. Tedford appeared to be going to one of his worst habits: Getting conservative offensively too early to try and run out the clock. Although I must say, the 3 plays weren’t all that conservative: 2 passes out of 3 downs.
  • Bears defense again keeps things in front of them and this time it works more like planned. The Vols use a lot of time and only get a field goal out of it. Nevertheless, the score is down to a TD: 38-31
  • And I’m exhibiting a classic Cal fan syndrome. I’m feeling nervous even watching a game I know the outcome for.
  • After the Bears punt, DeCoud (safety) misses an easy interception when he doesn’t see the ball. Nevertheless, Tennessee goes 3 and out themselves and give the ball back to the Bears with 10 minutes left.
  • Bears actually stick to throwing the ball quite a bit on these drives. They finally get a good completion and convert a 1st down for the first time in a few “drives”.
  • Forsett has a nice run, weaving his way through the linebackers, for another Cal TD that seems to be the one that demoralizes the Vols hope for a comback. Back up 14 points: 45-31
  • After Tennessee has to punt again, the Bears commit themselves to the run game. Forsett has a number of good runs, and most definitly shows his toughness, grinding out some tough yards and breaking tackles.
  • Boy, I forgot about that Tennessee injury where the defender went head first into the back of another defender. I can say this now because I know he was eventually fine, but boy did he go down like a sack of potatos and then didn’t move *AT ALL*.
  • After driving the length of the field Longshore fumbles on a QB sneak at the 1 yard line. Not only do they not get the score, it’s called a touch-back (which was marginal at best) thus giving Tennessee the ball at the 20 yard line.
  • What a great defensive play! Vols try a screen play on 1st down and the Bears both put pressure on the QB and sniff it out, causing a 7 yard loss.
  • It kinda feels like between the team mate injury and the 14-point lead, Tennessee’s heart was not in it at this point with 2 minutes left.
  • The Bears force a 3 and out and are able to run out the clock after getting one first down.
  • Final score: 45-31
  • Redemption!

Best Game in week 1 – 2007 Tennessee

(Written by kencraw)

Week 1 is an easy one, at least as far as I’m concerned:

I hope to watch it this afternoon and post my thoughts before I go to Church to do live-streaming this evening.

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.