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North Carolina Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Remember back when we feared North Carolina? They were going to be a tough test on the Cal schedule. Then we were exuberant when the Bears not only competed but dominated. The Bears must be really good! And while there were a lot of positives to take away from that game, it turns out one of them we shouldn’t have taken was that Cal could beat good teams… because it turned out UNC sucked last year. They went 3-9 and only beat one team in the ACC… Pitt (who themselves went 5-7). When your best win is a squeaker over Pitt, well, it’s a bad year.

Now part of that was injury.  The team that limped it’s way through the season was often compromised by injury.  But no matter how you slice it, UNC was just not as good as we thought when we celebrated victory last year.

But maybe with everyone back from injury, a year to get stronger and better, they’ll have improved more than the Bears, yes?

No.

Not only does UNC only return 13 of their 22 starters, they’re entered the season crippled by the loss of a handful of potential starters before the season even starts due to self imposed sanctions for NCAA violations.  Apparently UNC players were selling their school issued shoes.  As this is an (perhaps unintentional) end-around on paying players (imagine a team that gives its players tens of thousands of dollars of gear with the sole purpose that they sell it for money), it’s obviously a violation of NCAA policy.  A total of 13 football players are suspended, although it’s become a little less clear who will be suspended for the 1st game against Cal due to some planned staggering.  It looks like at least 2 starters will miss the 1st game, including the QB.

So, things definitely look good for the Bears who return most of their starters on both sides of the ball.

Here’s my prediction on how it plays out:  UNC will start slowly, unable to score on their 1st few possessions.  They are traveling cross country after all, and that rarely turns out well in the 1st quarter.  The Bears offense will have some success, but not overwhelming, think 10-0 by the mid-2nd quarter.  The reason will be that things will feel more equal than we expected, particularly in the trenches.  The Bears will struggle on both sides of the line, as this is where they are most depleted, talent and experience wise from last year.  However, as the game progresses, and UNC gets more desperate in their attempt to get back in it, the turnovers will start to pile up.  Cal’s deception on defense will net a few turnovers and widen the margin, so that the score is something like 31-10 entering the 4th quarter.  The Bears will give up some late points and the score will look closer than the actual result.

Bears win 38 – 24.

2018 game-by-game preview

(Written by kencraw)

I have to admit, I’m feeling less confident about my predictions than in any season in recent memory.  Which Cal team will show up this year?  Is it the team that had confidence and consistent solid execution early in the 2017 season?  Or is it the tentative, under-performing team that we saw in the 2nd half of the season?  The offense brings back most of its skill players, but how much better is it to have the same inconsistent guys from last year?  (OK, for the QB that’s almost always a good thing.)  The few areas I would be tempted to be optimistic based on the trends of last year, like the offensive line, are the areas with the most turnover.  On defense, I’m a bit more optimistic.  Lots of depth back, but their performance last year in conference was inconsistent after such a promising start to the season. Nevertheless, with an extra year in the system, I suspect they’ll be better.

But nevertheless, despite my unease I’ll soldier on and give it my best shot:

Cal 38 vs. North Carolina 24 – I’ll do a separate post for this one

Cal 20, BYU 24
I’ll be honest, this game scares the crud out of me. Most people think the Bears should win this one handily, and perhaps I would be inclined to agree in Berkeley. But this game is in Utah at 4600 feet. Call me crazy, but Cal’s history of going to the high desert, whether that be UNR, Colorado or Utah, has not been good. Add that to this team struggling on the road in general and I’m terrified. The wildcard is of course how good is this BYU team. Last year was a very weak one for them and many prognosticators don’t seem to be too high on them this year either. But they bring back a lot of their talent and lost a lot of close games last year. That’s a recipe for an under-appreciated team. Sadly, I don’t see the Bears going into the high desert and defeating an under-appreciated team. The offense struggles, particularly early, and the defense gets tired keeping the Bears in the game and can’t hold late in the game.

Cal 52, ID St. 13
The Bears romp in this one. In fact, I feel it will be ugly as there will be a lot of frustration to let loose from the prior week.

Cal 35, Oregon 38
This is another tough one to call. Perhaps I’m being too hard on the Bears for their absolutely pathetic performance last year in Eugene. And if this was 2006 or 2008 and I felt like the Bears would bring a compelling home-field advantage, I might be able to see myself to calling a win here. And there is the fact the Bears are coming off the bye where the Ducks will have just played a bruising game against Stanford. It’s also just after school started for the Ducks who are on the quarter system. So there’s reason for hope. But ultimately, I don’t think the Ducks will be intimidated, distracted or battered sufficiently and will again expose the weak spots of Cal’s defensive scheme and talent.

Cal 31, Arizona 35
Yet another tough one to call. The Bears have a recent history of playing ridiculously close games with Arizona and coming out on the losing side of it. I still have nightmares about last year’s game in Berkeley. If only that got rid of the nightmares of the Hail Mary in the prior game. Arizona is expected to be right about the same place they were last year, so if you have this game in Berkeley again, I might be tempted to call this on in favor of the Bears, but in the desert, our dreams will go to die again.

Cal 45 31, UCLA 17 27
This will be the most cathartic game of the season. Take it to the bank. I have more confidence in this game than any other one on the calendar. It was a disgrace that the Bears lost last year at the Rose Bowl. They play that game 10 times and the Bears should have won at least 8. Now, bring the game to Berkeley, put it earlier in the season, have a year-older defense, and a UCLA team that is wallowing in mediocrity and it’s a recipe for payback. This one will feel a lot like last year’s WSU game. I had completely forgotten that UCLA hired Chip Kelly. That changes everything. Now I’m quite worried about a revitalized UCLA. The good news is that game is at the part of the season that is trouble for new teams. Opposing teams have enough film (and time to review that film) to scheme for what has changed. The ‘new coach’ optimism gets a bit tarnished by the grind of the on-going football season. At this point, one of two things is true: Either UCLA upset both Oklahoma and Washington (and is over-confident) or they didn’t (and have come back down to reality). Being right after the UW game sets up nicely for the Bears. But now it’s not a blowout like I had hoped, it’s a squeaker.

Cal 34, Oregon State 30
Oregon State is picked last in the North. But the Beavers are always more dangerous in Corvallis than in Berkeley. Nevertheless, the Bears, who by my predictions will be 3-3 will be motivated to get on the positive side of the ledger and have the recipe for how to beat the Beavers down cold. Plus, I think as much as the Bears struggled last year on the road, by mid-season this year, I think Wilcox will have the team performing a lot better on the road.

Cal 38, Washington 42
Occasionally there are those games that are technically a loss, but one walks away from them with great hope. That’s how this game against UW will feel. UW will ultimately win, but the Bears will go toe to toe with them and the crowd will be into it big time.

Cal 38, WSU 27
This is one of the few that scare me that I’m going to pick a win. I hate it when the Bears have to go to the frozen potato patch in November. But this is going to be a battle hardened tough team by this point in the season. They also will have a lot of confidence in their ability to beat the Wougs. ESPN picks the Bears to win. Wilner picks the Bears to win. CGB picks the Bears to win. And the writers think Cal is a better team than WSU. I have got to go with the consensus and last year’s result over my fears of Pullman, WA in November.

Cal 13, USC 38
Someday the Bears will find the strength to beat USC. And I suspect when it happens, it will be a surprise to everyone. But until it happens, don’t expect me predicting the Bears to win, particularly in the LA Coliseum. As Wilner says, “I remember Cal’s last victory over the Trojans like it was 15 years ago.”

Cal 24, Stanford 20
This is the year gentlemen! It’s been a long time since I’ve predicted a Big Game win, 2014 to be precise. I’m not sure what I was thinking then, as the Bears got crushed. Nevertheless, Stanford is again over-appreciated this year and the game is in Berkeley. The Bears have played up to Stanford each of the last few years, even when the team didn’t have talent to compete. Last year showed the Bears are capable of going toe-to-toe with Stanford. This year they break through in Berkeley.

Cal 38, Colorado 24
If you’ve been counting, my predictions put the Bears at 6-5 and 4-4 in conference entering the final game of the season. The Bears will play much better against Colorado at home than they did last year at altitude. Very few people outside of Boulder expect much of the Buffs this season. The worst case scenario for the Bears is they are 5-6 and need that final win to be bowl eligible. But my guess is that they’ve already got the 7th loss and don’t have a lot of heart playing on the road on Thanksgiving weekend. The Bears will also be hungry for that winning record both in conference and overall and the improved bowl situation it gives them.

So there you have it, after an early stretch that is trouble, the Bears use a win over UCLA to catapult themselves forward and win all the games they should, plus knock of Stanford en route to a 7-5 (5-4) season and a bid to their first ever Sun Bowl.

Thoughts?

Back for another year…

(Written by kencraw)

It’s been radio silence here at EMFMV since the season ended.  Last year was one of the busiest of my life.  It was my final year of formation to become a Catholic deacon.  Formation weekends/retreats prevented me from going to 4 of the home games.  In addition, the academic courses took up lots of my free time.  If that wasn’t enough, it was the first year of me starting a new business.

The result was it wasn’t the best year for EMFMV.

I was ordained at the end of June, so my schedule this year will be very different and I’m hopeful that I’ll make all but one of the Cal games.  Heck, I might even get lucky and if we get a 7:30 PM start for the UCLA game and I can rush down to Berkeley after an all-day Church commitment.  Plus, without all of the academic classes, I should be able to spend more time blogging.  So, here’s what I hope do to:

  • Game by game predictions next week
  • Game preview every week
  • On The Road Again podcasts after every home game
  • Post-game thoughts every week
  • Game re-watch every week
  • Commentary on news as it happens

So, welcome back to another exciting season of Cal Football and Go Bears!

UCLA mid-game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

End of 1st Quarter:

Jeez, what a bunch of wasted opportunities.  The Bears are getting worse and worse and worse as the season progresses at finishing drives.  It’s unacceptable to have the ball inside the 30 twice and only get 3 points.  It should be at *LEAST* 10 points so far against this *VERY* uninspired UCLA team.  (The Bears aren’t looking particularly inspired either (on offense anyway))

Update early in 2nd quarter:  Yet another trip to the redzone, and only 3 more points to show for it.  *COMPLETELY* unacceptable.

Half time:

I’m so ticked off with Cal’s effort right now.  It’s unbelievable that Cal has been inside the 30 4 times but only has 9 points.  I’m starting to lose confidence in Bowers.  He’s had plenty of time back there.  Don’t tell me there’s no one open.

The defense is doing better, but still seem to have inconsistent effort,  On some downs their dominating, but then they’re giving up too many long pass plays even after getting UCLA substantially behind the sticks.  One of the touchdowns came when the Bears had the punt, but then had a running into the kicker (for no good reason) give UCLA a 2nd chance on the field.  The score should be 20-10 Bears.

(Side note, I’m also sick of these UCLA biased announcers who don’t know an obvious targeting foul (against Cal) when one happens, among other idiotic commentary.)

Beginning of 4th quarter:

Wanted to wait to see how the end of quarter drive ended up.  Cal has now had SIX trips inside the 30 and only scored 17 and it required going for it on 4th down to get the touchdown.  Unbelievably bad short field offensive performance.  Bowers looks confused and overwhelmed.

Mid 4th quarter:

We’re up to SEVEN!?! short possessions and only 20 points.  The play calling from first and goal from the 5 was ridiculous.  UCLA was loading the box, and obviously so.  You don’t just stuff it into the middle twice and then have one shot at the pass.  If you’re going to run, you have to do some sort of mis-direction.  I’m getting more and more and more disappointed with the way this is going.  The Bears should be KILLING and I mean DESTROYING UCLA right now, particularly with Rosen out in the 2nd half.  Instead their down seven and are just now starting to show some urgency.

Urgency that should have been there from the opening snap.

End of game:

I’m so stinking ticked off.  There’s no excuse for losing this game.  UCLA played uninspired crummy football and Cal handed the game to them with horrible play of their own, starting with the coaching staff’s hyper conservative play calling and complete lack of urgency until mid-way through the 4th quarter.  It’s like they didn’t realize they were behind.  And guess what, tying it with 2 minutes left is a great way to lose the game (as what happened).

And don’t get me started on the over-aggressive play calling by the defense that left them open to big plays on the final drive.  There’s no reason to continue the strong blitzing game when the result can be 10 and 15 yard gains.  No, you let your 4 rusher try to get pressure and you keep the plays short and in front of you.

GAH!?!   What a ridiculous end to a season, that in many ways mimics it.  There was promise, but between bad execution at poorly timed moments and poor leadership from the coaching staff at critical moments, the team just couldn’t win enough of the close ones.  There’s no reason this team couldn’t have been 8-4 with just a little bit better play, game planning and coaching.

And someone, for the love of Pete, please tell Wilcox that ON THE ROAD YOU MUST, and I repeat *MUST* START THE GAME WITH A SENSE OF URGENCY!?!  STOP PLAYING SO TENTATIVE ON THE STINKING ROAD!?!

(and yet somehow, amidst my teeth grinding frustration, I’m optimistic about the future.)

UCLA preview

(Written by kencraw)

Well, it comes down to this: One game for one shot at bowl eligibility.  At this point, all of the missed opportunities (Arizona, USC, Colorado, Stanford and heck even Oregon (the Bears were only down by 7 early in the 4th quarter)), stick out like sore thumbs.  If just *one* of those went the Bear’s way, we’d already be looking forward to a bowl game, looking at today’s game as a can’t lose opportunity to improve our bowl situation.

Instead, the Bears have to go on the road to a place that has been the death of Cal fan’s dreams for generations.  From 1973 to 1989, the Bears did not win at all, much less in Pasadena.  Then their were the disasters in 2005, 2007 and 2011, all games in which the Bears were favored, but somehow laid an egg in Pasadena.  And don’t forget the 20th ranked Bears in 2015 (hard to remember that, huh?) lost in Pasadena as well.  Point being, the Rose Bowl has not been kind to the Bears.  Frankly, this is probably the opponent where home-field advantage has meant the most (UCLA fans have their long list of “I can’t believe we lost that one” games in Berkeley as well).  Add to this that UCLA is in the same boat: one win away from bowl eligibility in their final regular season game.  And while we’re piling on, the Bears have *STUNK* on the road this year (most notably Oregon and Colorado, but Washington wasn’t exactly stellar either).  Add it all up and it makes me very nervous about this game.

On paper it seems like these teams are similarly matched.  UCLA lost to Arizona and Stanford worse than the Bears, although not meaningfully so.  They lost to USC about the same.  They beat Oregon, but without Herbert at QB, so it’s hard to compare.  They beat Colorado, but did it at home.  They got throttled by Washington just like Cal did.  Put together, these results suggest fairly equal playing results.  Their strength is their passing game and Rosen is considered a pretty good QB.  But there’s reason to believe he can be confused the way Cal’s defense can do , particularly when the running game is easy enough to contain that the defense can be more aggressive in it’s swapping schemes.  So, while it’s not a slam dunk, I don’t think in a neutral field game versus UCLA, it would be unreasonable to think Cal would win.

Sadly, all other things being equal, I don’t think I could make the same argument with the game in Pasadena.

But then comes the *HUGE*(!?!) wildcard that UCLA just fired their head coach, Jim Mora, and are playing with an interim head coach (the offensive coordinator).

Now, many would think this to be a good thing, but history doesn’t back that theory.  Lots of teams have done better in this situation.  Often it is a burden lifted, particularly when the head coach wasn’t well liked.  Sometimes players feel like their jobs are on the line and they want to show up well on film in the last game, when the new staff arrives.  But on the other side, for well liked coaches there is the depression factor.  There’s the chaos on the sideline.  There’s the distraction factor of wondering what is to come.

So, which is it?  I’m going to go with disappointing distraction.  All of the various UCLA webpages are full of articles about whether Chip Kelly is headed to Brentwood (my prediction: No stinking way) and other coaching change related headlines.  You’d have to think that on a short week (with Thanksgiving in the middle) with all the reporters full of questions about Mora’s dismissal and his possible replacements are taking a notable toll on the teams preparation and focus right now.

And so I’m going to face the Rose Bowl demon straight in the eye and say “Not this year!”  I think Wilcox has learned from the troubles the Bears have had in previous road games and will have the team ready to play tonight.  He’ll have clearly put in their heads what’s at stake: Either go home and empty out your locker or get to play 4 more weeks of football.  I also think he’s going to have a good game plan to confuse Rosen (who won’t have been spending a lot of time preparing).

Bears win a cathartic one: 41-24

Big Game Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Stanford has been a bit of a baffling team this season.  They looked *very* beatable early in the season when they lost to San Diego State.  But they looked like the best team in the conference when they beat Washington last week.  Their other losses are a beatdown by USC in the 2nd week of the season and a nailbiter loss to WSU two weeks ago.  The other surprising game was a nailbiter victory over Oregon State 3 weeks ago.

But one piece of data dramatically clarifies their more recent struggles: Star RB Bryce Love was injured half way through the Oregon game.  He missed the following game versus Oregon State game and it’s reasonable to project that he wasn’t back to 100% for the WSU game.  Indeed he had his lowest number of carries since the loss to San Diego State and by far his lowest number of yards (69 vs. a previous pre-injury low of 152).

So my feeling is the narrative for Stanford be that they’ve improved dramatically over the course of the season, in part realizing how much they should build their offense around Love, but then struggled without him at 100%.  And if that’s accurate, Cal is in real trouble with Love back at full strength.

Cal’s only hope is to sell out to stopping Love and hope that the secondary can sufficiently stifle young QB K.J. Costello (and hopefully confuse into some interceptions) who has taken over for the mediocre veteran QB Chryst.  Costello has not really been an improvement throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception while completing just over 50% of his passes in his last two games as starter.  So if the Bears can actually stop Love while not leaving receivers dramatically open, they’ll have a shot of slowing Stanford to a degree to make the game competitive.

But that is not the Bears only problem.  Stanford continues to win with defense.  Indeed, the most points the team has given up outside of a head scratcher versus UCLA, is 24 points.  Cal is going to have to focus on a quick passing game, as it is hard to believe the offensive line is going to hold up to the Stanford rush.  It’s also going to have to find balance with the running game.  Cal will have to maximize their possessions, because this will likely be a game with fewer possessions than most (particularly those against spread/quick snap teams).

Is it possible that Cal wins?  Yes, it is.  In fact, far stranger things have happened in Big Game history.  I could see Cal holding Stanford to 16 points (3 FG’s and a touchdown) if they really are able to contain Love.  I could also see Cal putting up 24 points on Stanford if everything is clicking, perhaps even as high as 31 if a few turnovers help them.  But at the end of the day, that’s just not what I expect to happen.

Cal loses in frustrating form: 13-31

End of the season games setting up nicely

(Written by kencraw)

Cal is headed into its bye week, and while it probably would have been better overall for the bye to come a couple/few weeks ago to give Cal a better shot at Arizona and Colorado, being well rested before the Big Game will be nice.

Let’s take a quick look at how the last two games are looking, schedule wise:

Stanford has two tough games with Cal in the middle.  They’ve got UW, then Cal, then Notre Dame (all at home).  Beating UW will be tough for Stanford.  If they win, they could be exhausted, over confident or looking forward to their chance to beat #3 Notre Dame (and massively improve their ranking).  If they lose to UW, they’ll 6-4 and looking at another disappointing season.  Plus, as we all know, Stanford is always a bit thrown off by how many Cal fans are in their home stadium.

Plus, this team is vulnerable.  The only victory on their win list that makes it look unlikely that Cal could beat them is their beat down of Oregon.  But it’s worth noting that Oregon has been horrible ever since Cal knocked out their 1st and 2nd string QBs.  Other than that, Cal beat OSU better than Stanford did, lost closer to USC than Stanford did, and schlacked WSU whereas Stanford lost to them.  While a subjective analysis suggests Stanford is the better team, nevertheless, Cal can compete with them.  If Stanford doesn’t come with their best game, Cal can easily beat them.

Then there’s UCLA…

UCLA is having yet another disappointing season and things aren’t looking to get any better.  The odds makers would suggest that UCLA will lose its next two games and come into the Cal game 4-7 and out of bowl game contention.  That’s a great place to catch a team at the end of the season, after Thanksgiving.  While going to the Rose Bowl always worries me (the list of Cal flops down there is long and distinguished), this might be one of the best times to catch UCLA in quite a while.

While two games on the road against talented opponents should never be looked at in too rosy a light, I can’t imagine too many scenarios that setup better than these do.

Oregon State Sunday evening watch

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s my thoughts on watching the game Sunday evening:

  • OSU sideline looks pretty pumped up to start the game.  They know this is one of their few shots at a win this season.
  • Bears sure looked fooled on OSU’s first play.  I haven’t done a detailed look, but it sure feels like for at least the last few games, Cal has not been well defensively prepared for the 1st few plays/possession.
  • It sure seems like the linebackers have been playing further back the last few games.  They’re playing a good 7-8 yards behind the line on this 1st possession.  Generally that’s good for underneath pass coverage but not so good for run defense nor for their “come from anywhere” blitzing scheme.
  • Wow, the Bears were sure fooled by the 2-pass touchdown play.  Not a very good defensive possession.  The Bears are going to need to start stronger defensively in their last two games if they want to win.  Bears down early: 0-7 with 11 minutes left in 1st quarter.
  • Bears offense in good rhythm early.  I liked Bowers reading of the pass coverage on 3rd and 7.  That looked like his 3rd read and the right decision to Wharton.
  • The Bears have been using the inside WR screen a lot in the redzone, generally with good results.  (Although in this case it was negated by a personal foul.)
  • Lots of penalties on this 1st Cal offensive drive.
  • Boy, Oregon State is sure leading with their helmet a lot on their tackles.  Have they not learned about the targeting rules?
  • Nice run by Laird for a TD with pretty good zone blocking by the O-Line.  Score tied 7-7 with 8 minutes left in the 1st quarter.
  • The Bears have sure been “lucky” with kick off returns against them being called back by penalties.
  • Overall good pressure by Cal D-Line on OSU pass plays.  If Cal can slow the running game and force OSU to pass, they’ll be in good shape.
  • Cal O-Line is opening nice holes and getting a good push against OSU.  So far very different than last year when OSU dominated the trenches on both sides.
  • Laird has good patience, which does him well most of the time, but he needs to learn in the redzone that holes close quicker and negative plays are more troublesome.  Down there, you need to pound it and do it quicker.
  • We haven’t seen as much of Enwere lately.  Even on some ‘pound it’ downs.  (although here he comes in now on 2nd and goal)
  • Holy smokes did 2nd and goal go bad!  12 yard loss.  But then Bowers throws a brilliant fade (his touch is getting better) to Wharton on 3rd and goal from the 14.  Great recovery after a disaster of a play.  Bears up 14-7 near the end of the 1st quarter.
  • Lots of drops by OSU receivers today.  They’re kinda shooting themselves in the foot the last couple drives.  This game could easily be a shootout if OSU could execute.
  • Another couple big Laird runs.  The way this is going, there is no reason to ever throw the ball.
  • Matt Anderson has been back to his old form after a tough few games to start the season.  Bears up 17-7 with 12 minutes left in 2nd quarter.
  • Bad decision by OSU to go for it on 4th down, even though they got lucky and got a good spot.  But they’re only down 10 in the early 2nd quarter and it’s on their side of the field.  I wonder why Wilcox didn’t challenge?  It seemed the evidence was pretty good to overturn it.  Probably just didn’t think it was important enough.  If the game got tighter later, you’d hate not to have that in your pocket anymore.
  • OSU doing a good job with their option running game on this next drive.  Cal’s doing a good job of assignment football, making sure all the options are covered, but it means there’s not as many guys to cover the main run threat.  Bears lead down to 17-10 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
  • Wharton has been getting a lot more attention from Bowers now that Noa is being double covered a lot by defenses.  That’s maturity by a QB to hit other WRs when his favorite isn’t open.  Bowers is still young, but is maturing nicely this year.  I’m hopeful that he could be really good in the future.
  • Cal is mostly dominating this game, but OSU is within 4 with 1 minute left in the half.  As a general statement, I feel like Cal hasn’t been very efficient the last few games.  Also, yet another game where the defense gives up end of 1st half points.  Bears only up 17-13 wit one minute left in the half.
  • Wow, great catch by Wharton.  That was an interesting scenario.  Did Bowers mis-throw it, or did he throw it to the hole in the zone coverage and force Wharton to come back to that hole?
  • And Cal steals back 3 points with another good Anderson kick.  Bears lead 20-13 at the half.
  • Bears again going back to the run game with success to start the 2nd half.  But again, the Bears are only up 7 despite statistically and visually dominating the 1st half.  Ever since the Arizona game I feel Cal has been “inefficient” on both sides of the ball.  Somehow the points just aren’t coming for the offense and somehow the defense is giving up more points than they feel like they are (the big play was a big part of that for Arizona and Colorado).
  • OSU really was putting their helmet down on defense.  It’s like they didn’t know about the targeting rules.  2 players out of the game, but there could have been a couple more.
  • Bears fumble in the redzone and give up the ball.  More signs of that inefficiency.
  • Bears force a 3 and out on the next possession, with a good job of corralling the underneath stuff to not go for many yards (although gets lucky with a missed catch on 3rd down).
  • Bowers has been doing a good job hitting the quick slants when the defense has been giving them with a soft safety coverage.
  • The offensive line is doing a good job picking up blitzes today.
  • But then Bowers makes the absolute wrong decision on a read-option for a “sack” (statistically).
  • And again, Cal not being efficient.  They get the ball well on the OSU side of the 50 yet just get a handful of yards and kick the field goal.  For how much the ball has been on the OSU side of the field, the score should at least be 30, if not more.  Instead the Cal lead is only 23-13 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • The OSU QB did a pretty good job finding the deep hole in the Cal zone and dropping a pass in exactly the right spot on their next possession.  That’s the first big play the Bears have given up all game, which is a nice change from the last couple weeks.
  • OSU uses the run game to get in the endzone.  I suspect Cal’s defensive redzone numbers aren’t that good either.  Cal lead down to THREE!  Considering the nature of the game, there’s no excuse for the score to be this close: 23-20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd.
  • The Bears have been running the ball surprisingly little in the 2nd half.  It sure doesn’t seem like OSU is loading the box and forcing Cal to throw.  Seems like the Bears have abandoned it a bit considering how well it has been working.
  • Bowers hits another deep fade to the endzone and Cal is back up by 10: 30-20 at the end of the 3rd.
  • I know it’s hard to be an announcer, a lot harder than it seems, but some times… how can the color guy be saying “that’s tough” for an obvious PI call.
  • The Cal offense is showing good balance right now.  They’re leading with the run and Laird, and then going to the pass when OSU starts to bite on it.
  • Cal finishes off a drive built on the run (with just enough passing to keep the OSU defense honest) with Enwere pounding it into the endzone.  Bears up 37-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.
  • It feels like the Bears have been able to extend so quickly because they’ve won the conditioning battle.  OSU can no longer give 120%, particularly on defense, and Cal is having their way with them.
  • Ahhhhh… it sure feels good to hear Nall only had 35 yards at this point in the game (and that’s all he got).  If you needed a reason to still feel good about getting rid of Dykes… (last year he had 221 against Cal)
  • OSU has been quietly building up a number of big plays, particularly as the game wears on.  A few of them have been because the Cal defense is playing soft to contain OSU, but still, it’s worrisome to see the big-play trend continuing into a 3rd game.
  • OSU kicks a field goal to close it to 37-23 with 6 minutes left in the game.
  • I’d have Laird out of the game at this point.  He’s carried the ball 30 times.  Give him some rest and save him from injury.  It’s not like we don’t have a senior in his final home game nor a couple of young guys who could use some more experience.
  • Cal never punted in the entire game.  One failed 4th down conversion at the Cal 40 and one fumble in the redzone were the only two drives that didn’t end in points.  Yet at the same time, 3 field goals and a missed redzone opportunity.  Games with no punts generally shouldn’t only have 37 points.
  • Overall, it feels like the score should have been 45 to 13 based on how the teams played and the stats.  Cal is going to have to be more efficient in their last two games to get that crucial 6th win.

Oregon State Preview

(Written by kencraw)

We’ve reached the part of the season where “the loops” start to appear.  Cal has a head-scratcher with WSU and Colorado (in chronological order):

  1. Cal destroyed WSU 37-3
  2. WSU destroyed Colorado 28-0
  3. Colorado handled Cal 44-28

Obviously there is at least one game in there that one or both of the teams didn’t perform as expected (either bad or good).  I think the answer to understanding where Cal sits is to accurately determining what those unexpected performances are.  Here’s my stab at it:

  • WSU had a bad game against Cal (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a great game against WSU (but would have won anyway)
  • Colorado had a bad game against WSU (but would have lost anyway)
  • Cal had a bad game against Colorado (outcome unclear, particularly on a neutral field)

In other words, these three teams are relatively equally matched if they all brought a strong performance and in my opinion the ordering is Cal over WSU over Colorado (but it’s all very close).

I know that is a pretty rosy picture, but now that Arizona beat WSU by a stronger margin than its victory over Cal (as well as beating Colorado), it’s showing that Arizona wasn’t one of the two easy games on Cal’s schedule like we thought it was.  Thus everything on Cal’s schedule makes sense if Colorado is the outlier.  And it makes particular sense when you look at last week’s preview where I talked about the Colorado X-Factor.

That’s just a really, really, REALLY tough place to play, particularly for a young team.

And then add this, with the above assumptions, the games where one would say Cal didn’t quite measure up to their capabilities, they’re *ALL* road games.  Oregon might have been a loss anyway, but Cal should have played them closer.  Washington would *definitely* have been a loss anyway, but Cal could have kept it closer.  And then there’s Colorado that had us nashing our teeth.

So, all of that is a long way of saying that I think Cal bounces back today against a more dangerous than we think Oregon State team.

Oregon State lost a close one to Colorado at home as well as a close one against Stanford at home.  This is a team that is playing above their potential with nothing to lose since their head coach quit mid-season.  If Cal had to make the trip to Corvallis, I’d be pretty worried right now.  Not that Cal couldn’t win that game on the road.  It just would be very dangerous.

As it is, I think Oregon State is in for a surprise.  They’re going to face a Cal team that is tired of losing games it could win and will take out their frustrations on Oregon State at home on Senior Day.

Cal wins 38-20.

 

Free Oregon State tickets

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody want my effectively worthless Oregon State tickets?

If so, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll contact you about transferring them to you digitally.

(OSU preview coming by tomorrow morning)

eBay auction ends this afternoon

(Written by kencraw)

The eBay auction for my Oregon State tickets ends today at 3:22 PM PDT:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253232833908

Starting bid is $30.  Buy It now for $65.  For SEVEN tickets (2 adults, 5 youth)

 

Advice: After a loss like that, do something unrelated

(Written by kencraw)

After cursing all that I could think of throughout that debacle of a game I took a deep breath, went into the other room and proceeded to have a great afternoon with the family playing board games and cooking some burgers and dogs on the grill.

Sometimes the best solution to a tough loss is to do something else.

Disgusted

(Written by kencraw)

That was BY FAR the worst half of football under Wilcox thus far.  How do you give up a 3rd and 17 in the redzone!?!  How do you give up *ANOTHER* 3rd and 17 when you have them pinned on their goalline!?!  How do you give up two over the top plays for long yardage when on both 3rd and 17’s the reason you gave them up is you were playing too soft!?!

And the offense, how do you *NOT* know that it is VERY hard to throw over the top at altitude!?!

It’s a miracle the Bears are only down 13.

Colorado preview

(Written by kencraw)

I always hate predicting games against Colorado when the games are in Boulder.  The elevation has proven time and time again to be an X-Factor.  It really stresses the conditioning of the team and both the passing and kicking game are affected by the thinner air.  Nevertheless, I will plod on, hoping the X-Factor doesn’t become too prevalent.

Cal has 3 common opponents with CU at this point:  Both teams were dominated by UW (Cal on the road, CU at home).  Both lost close one’s to Arizona at home (more on this later).  And finally, Cal kicked the crud out of WSU at home and WSU throttled CU at home.  Obviously the WSU result is the lone differentiator, and it is *hugely* different, suggesting Cal is the better team.  But frankly, I think it is a mistake to put too much stock in the WSU game.  At the end of the season, I think it will be clear that it is the outlier in both Cal’s results and WSU’s results.

One could look at the CU vs. Arizona game and think it shows that the X-Factor won’t be that big of a deal.  If Arizona was able to have a similar result despite having to go into the altitude, perhaps it shows that CU isn’t as good in a neutral situation.  Unfortunately there are three caveats:

  1. Tate came in mid-1st quarter and was a complete unknown.  That was a huge disadvantage CU had that Cal didn’t.
  2. Arizona’s offensive game plan is heavily run-biased, which is far less affected by the elevation than the passing game.
  3. Most people don’t know this, but outside of the mountain schools (Utah and Colorado), Arizona and WSU are tied (effectively) for the next highest elevation at ~2300 feet.  All the rest of us are much lower.  I think Arizona has a bit of an advantage (as does WSU) over the other schools when going into the mountains.

All of the above says to me that Cal is either a slightly better team or they are pretty even, with the X-Factor looming as something that might completely overwhelm that analysis.

But I’m going to stick with my pre-season instincts and call this the “upset” game (in quotes because it is no longer an upset).  Colorado has been way over appreciated and unlike Cal is going to be very disappointed with their current situation of 1-4 in conference.  This is a team that barely beat Oregon State and that’s their only conference win.  All of their non-conference games were against real powder puffs (Colorado State, Texas State and University of Northern Colorado).  They have yet to beat a quality team (although they’ve come close). The talent level on this team is mediocre with their best position being WR.  They are a balanced team, which is definitely to their favor, but their statistics are mediocre across the board and are so despite a fairly weak schedule to date.

Cal’s defense will confuse and stifle their offense and get a couple of important interceptions.  The Cal offense will have good drives and bad ones, unable to sustain the rhythm that’s we’d like to see.  There will be at least one disappointing throw from Bowers that results in an interception.  But at the end of the day, the stifling Cal defense will prove to be the difference.

Bears win 23-17.

Oregon State tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve got them posted over on eBay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/253224951077

$30 starting bid.  $92.50 (half of face value) Buy It Now

What was Wilcox thinking!?!

(Written by kencraw)

I am sorry, going for 2 was a huge mistake, particularly at home.  Yes, the Arizona offense was rolling, but the Bear defense had some success in the 2nd half and the Cal offense wasn’t exactly struggling.  You kick the extra point and keep plugging away instead of the low percentage 2 point conversion.

HUGE mistake!

Anyone want free tickets to the Arizona game?

(Written by kencraw)

It’s ridiculous how little Cal game tickets are going for.  I couldn’t sell my *SEVEN* tickets for $30 total.  That’s $4 and change a piece.

And it’s not even a 7:30 PM game.

Anyone want them for free?  Leave a comment with your e-mail and I’ll get back to you and send them digitally to you.

Arizona Preview

(Written by kencraw)

Watch out!  We’ve all thought Arizona was going to be one of Cal’s easier games, but they’ve been quietly (and more recently, not so quietly) putting together a much better season than expected.  They’re sitting at 4-2 and tied for 2nd in the south division at 2-1 in conference.  Their big surprise comes from quarterback Khalil Tate, who took over 2 games ago when starter Brandon Dawkins went down on the 1st drive of the game.  But Tate so thorough turned the team around that a 5 minute search couldn’t even turn up whether Dawkins is healthy enough to play versus Cal.  Tate is the starter now and is a “dual threat” QB.

That said, there are a bunch of caveats.  The first is the softness of Arizona’s schedule.  A non-conference slate that “features” Houston, UTEP and N. Arizona… oh, and they lost to Houston (admittedly with Dawkins at the helm).  Their signature win was over a suspect (in my opinion) UCLA squad.  They lost to Utah (again, the Dawkins caveat) who lost to USC in similar fashion to Cal (a close one).  Utah has gotten some ranking hype, but the reality is they haven’t beat anyone of note either.  Utah’s signature win is without a doubt over Arizona (and so the comparison loops go).  Simply stated, their highest ranked opponent Utah, would be the 4th toughest game on Cal’s slate thus far and the non-conference comparison is a joke (obviously in favor of Cal).

Next up, the emergence of game film… there’s a long history of a backup QB coming in and looking awesome for a couple games, but then tailing of dramatically.  Why?  Because they’re unexpected and there’s very little game film on them for a couple weeks.  Frankly, Cal benefited from that all the way up through the Ole Miss game as the opponents didn’t have much to look at for Cal.  It’s no surprise Cal didn’t look quite as brilliant starting with the USC game (better opponents obviously played a part as well).  But the point is, Tate was a *COMPLETE* unknown against Colorado and then there was only one game’s worth of film for UCLA, who didn’t know for sure whether Dawkins or Tate would be starting.  Thus UCLA had to prepare for both and do so for Tate with limited film to work with.  Cal is not going to have that problem.  Dawkins is out and Tate is the known starter with nearly two full games of film to look at.

Then there’s the “dual threat” QB thing.  He threw only 13 times against Colorado (but admittedly did very well with 12 completions) and another 13 versus UCLA (admittedly with another respectable 9 completions).  Need I remind my readers that Cal just befuddled and confused one of the best passers in the nation last week?  Arizona has two choices: 1. Continue to heavily bias the play-calling toward the run game or 2. Make the *VERY* risky decision to let a guy with less than 2 games experience try to read Cal’s defense.  Frankly, I hope they pick #2.  I’m pretty confident that dual threat means that he can pass the ball when the defense is forced into difficult coverage scenarios as they attempt to slow down his run game.  If he ever had to be a pocket passer, all bets are off.

So this game will come down to whether Cal can shut down Tate’s running game without having to give up reasonable pass coverage.  In that regard, there’s bad news, Downs is out for the season (the injuries are starting to pile up).  Nevertheless, Cal did pretty well without him in the 2nd half last week.  Downs is good, but there is more depth on the Cal defense than we think.  Cal has been doing a lot of substituting to keep the defense fresh throughout the season.  One of the upsides of that philosophy is that your 2nd and 3rd string guys get a fair amount of playing time before they end up first string guys due to injury.

Thus there are two scenarios I envision.  #1, the Cal defense struggles to contain Tate’s running game.  Everything else opens up from there and Arizona puts up enough points to win (I’ll leave it as an open question whether Cal can score a fair amount of points, but in this scenario, how ever many points Cal can score, it’s not enough as Tate runs all over the Bears).  #2, Cal shuts down Tate’s run game and Arizona is forced to the passing game.  Things will go haywire for Arizona from there and Cal will win BIG, similar to the WSU game.  Frankly, I think it’s a 60%/40% chance on which one will play out as there have been times I’ve been a little worried about the Cal run defense and with Downs out, that may be more trouble against a more formidable run offense than WSU.  I expect Cal to play a lot of zone defense and will allow the safeties to play pretty aggressively to come up and stop the run.

All things considered, I’ll stick with the 60% scenario.  Cal wins big: 38-13.

EXACTLY 10 years later

(Written by kencraw)

Anybody know what happened 10 years to the day before Friday’s upset win over Washington State?

If you guessed the #2 ranked Bears lost to Oregon State on the infamous Kevin Riley scramble that cost the Bears a shot that the game tying field goal… you’re right!

That game was a *HUGE* inflection point in Cal football.  Before that moment, the Tedford era had been one of constant ascendancy.  Every year the team got better, with a slight interlude in 2005.  Going into that game, the Bears were poised not only to go to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years (at the time) but also felt like real national title contenders, not just that year, but into the future.

Yet, after Tedford threw down his play card and his headset, the team was never again the same.  There were moments in 2008 and 2009 that suggested the team might find some of it’s former glory, but they were mirages.  The team continued down and down and down, eventually resulting in a 3-9 effort in 2012 that lost Teford his job and the 2013 season where the Bears were back to a one win season for the first time since 2001, the year before Tedford was hired.  The cupboard was bare and there wasn’t much reason to hope.

But exactly 10 years later the Bears did something remarkable, something they’ve never done before: Beat a top-10 team by 30+ points.

Perhaps it is just false optimism, but why do I feel today that this event, exactly 10 years to the day after that terrible moment, could be another inflection point for the program, but this one in a much more positive direction?

WSU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s my On The Road Home Podcast for the WSU game: