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UW Preview

(Written by kencraw)

(FYI, I didn’t have a lot to say about the Sac State game… although I guess I should have said something. It’s just so hard to know what to say with FCS games…)

Now that we’ve got the non-conference slate completed, I’m finally starting to feel like I might be able to say something intelligent in a pre-game prediction post. Up this weekend is UW on the road.

Usually when we think of UW, we think of a top-tier Pac-12 team led by the legendary Chris Peterson and with a string of successful quarterbacks with very quarterback sounding names like, Jake (2x), Cody and Brock.

No longer…

While the pre-season rankings (20th) suggested that UW was still a good team, their performance the first two weeks clearly showed they are *NOT* who they used to be. After humiliatingly losing to Montana at home in the first week, in the 2nd week they were physically dominated in Michigan by the Wolverines. (They only managed to rush for 50 yards on 32 carries and gave up 343 yards on the ground.)

Week 3 brings *some* of that into question as UW dominated a quite weak Arkansas State. But how weak… Sac State weak? Or far weaker?

Here’s what I see…

I think this game will come down to the following things:

  1. Will the Bears dominate in the trenches like the statistics to date would suggest. UW appears to be very weak on both sides of the line and Cal, while not dominant, has held their own.
  2. Will the Cal secondary be able to do just enough to force UW to be balanced on offense.
  3. How well will Cal tackle?

I must admit, I have pretty serious concerns about the Cal secondary. This is *NOT* the “takers” anymore. While the scheme of the Bears defense is good and it seems reasonably well coached, their inexperience really hurts them and their talent level isn’t quite it used to be.

And I’ve make my concerns about tackling pretty clear.

But, long story short, I think Cal has a real shot at this game, yet at the same time there’s a lot of risk. And frankly, I feel like we have two teams trying to do the same thing: Improve quickly after an underwhelming start to the season.

I’m going to take the optimistic route and say the Bears win a grinder: 27-20

Sac State tickets anyone?

(Written by kencraw)

I’m not going to be able to go to the game on Saturday. Since the tickets are basically worthless to try and re-sell, anybody want them for free? If so, e-mail me at tickets@excusemeformyvoice.com

2nd winnable game lost

(Written by kencraw)

(Admin note… I wrote most of this on Sunday, but got sidetracked and forgot to publish it.)

Another disheartening loss, ugh! However (and before I get into the details) I think it’s important to remember there are different types of disheartening losses. There’s the “lost opportunity” loss… a game we expected a loss but the game was distressing close. There’s the blowout loss… a game where it was never competitive. There’s the “never should have lost to X” game… any loss to a team well below Cal. And finally, there’s the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” loss… a loss where victory seemed achievable minus a few mistakes/problems. Note that this is different than the “lost opportunity” in that it was a game where a win was far more likely to begin with.

And of those 4 types, the “lost opportunity” and the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” games, while just as disheartening in the immediate, shouldn’t be as discouraging for the rest of the season. The pieces are there. The team just hasn’t put them together yet. Of course the fear is that they never will, but one doesn’t have to be perpetual optimist to have reasonable hope that things could improve.

Big picture that’s where I see this Cal team right now. Onto the specific thoughts for the game:

  • If one wants the simplest explanation of why the Bears lost it was their refusal to just take the points given them. Both teams scored 5 touchdowns and nothing else. But going for 2 so early in the game was a *HUGE* mistake, as was not taking the field goal on the first drive. It’s a simple rule: No 2 point conversion attempts before the 4th quarter. Why is that so hard for Wilcox?
  • But just to make it blazingly clear, assuming everything else goes the same (a risky thing to do), the Bears would have been up 9-0 when they missed the extra point, if they had kicked the field goal to start the game. Then the next time they’re not tempted to go for 2, and are up 16-0 after the pick-6, and 23-7 after the teams traded TDs. The halftime score would have been 23-14. The Bears would have still been ahead, 23-21 after the TCU TD to start the 2nd half and up 30-21 after their early 4th quarter score. After TCU scores again in the 4th, TCU probably kicks the extra point to be down 30-28 and again when TCU does ahead 30-35 later in the final quarter. But the Bears go back up somewhere between 38 and 36 to 35 with their final score depending on whether they go for 2 on that last one to try to extend to a field-goal lead. Thus they’d win the game (minus a final FG attempt by TCU that should be considered as a possibility). But long story short, the game would have been so much easier to win with that early field goal.
  • A subject I’m not hearing discussed in many quarters is poor tackling, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the biggest problems on the field. The defense is being saved from themselves on that front by their exceptional rallying to the ball. When the first guy doesn’t get the ball carrier, they usually slow him down enough for guys 2, 3 and 4 to finish him off. Luckily guys 2, 3 and 4 are quick to arrive. But it’s leaving lots of extra yards on the field.
  • To get specific, the final 1st down by TCU was a result of poor tackling. The Bears might have had one last shot at a go-ahead field-goal if they could have made that stop. Additionally one of the two long TD runs, there was a tackle opportunity missed both early and late. Even the late one might have been enough to turn a TD into a field goal.
  • All of this is a long way of saying, I think more tackling drills are in order.
  • Some good news: Our punter is delivering. In the prior game against Nevada, I was pretty impressed with their punter who had really high punts (reminded me of Bryan Anger), so I wasn’t watching our punter all that carefully. But watching on TV against TCU (where unfortunately one can’t watch the height of the kick), it was clear how much hangtime Sheahan was getting.
  • Of course like everyone I was very happy with the deep-ball passing, particularly in the 1st half. But I will say this… in the first half it felt like the Bears chose to go deep at tactically wise times, but in the 2nd half, it felt more random and often poorly chosen moments. In particular, there was far too much of it on 3rd and not all that long. While I’m not against it to keep the defense honest, it is just too low percentage of a play to do over and over.
  • Back on the bad news side, what was with those two long runs by TCU? Never in my life have I seen a guy with so many defenders in their proximity somehow never manage to get a hand on them. And then the same thing happened TWICE! And because we had the 6th string TV crew who’s ability to get us multiple angle replays with any consistency was lacking, I never felt like I had a good understanding of what happened. Why couldn’t the Bears get a hand on them?
  • Speaking of which, I’m a little concerned about defensive team speed. There’s been just a few too many plays that didn’t go well because the defense couldn’t keep up. In particular, the cornerback Gamble has been exposed a number of times on 1-on-1 deep balls (although thankfully not all of them have been completions). And then the above mentioned long runs could have been secondary team speed issues. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As for the general situation… I kinda feel like there’s talent on this team, that the pieces are there, but the plan for staying sharp and succeeding through the pandemic was weak. While other teams had a year and a half of good practice, the Bears didn’t quite know what to do with their usual week-to-week routines so discombobulated. Having to make such massive adjustments in week 2 is not a sign of a well prepared for the season team.

But, for those who want to see the good news in that, teams that start the year underwhelming often have some of the biggest improvements as they figure out what’s wrong. That’s my hope moving forward despite how disappointed I am with this 0-2 start that should have been 2-0 based on the talent of this team.

Ouch! So painful I had to wait a few days…

(Written by kencraw)

Well that was not a good football game. I knew I had two choices for my recap post:

  1. Immediate raw rant
  2. Give it a few days for some perspective

I decided to do the latter. In any case, here are my thoughts:

  • Why does Cal ever schedule Nevada? They’ve been a thorn in our side for decades now. We only seem to play them when they’re at their best and it’s an all-downside affair. If the Bears miraculously were to ever win, the team wouldn’t get much credit for the victory. But Nevada is good enough the downside of losing to a “lower” team is ever present. Let’s not do this anymore… OK?
  • Nevada’s QB was exceptionally smart. Every blitz the Bears ran was easily defeated by his quick recognition of it and his strong knowledge of where to go with the ball due to the particulars of the blitz. Gotta give him credit.
  • At the same time, I think the Bears should have recognized this earlier and gone with ‘drop 8’ more often. The front 3 were getting good enough penetration that it would have been better to make the QB hold the ball waiting for an open receiver due to 8 in coverage. Instead they’d bring 5, who wouldn’t get there all that quickly all things considered, and give the QB plenty of throwing options.
  • I think this is particularly true because Nevada had a couple of WRs who were faster than the assigned DBs. When that’s the case you have to switch to a scheme were safeties are responsible for deep coverage and that generally means having more guys in coverage.
  • As for offense, I have to disagree with the consensus that the problem was the Bears didn’t run enough. Yes, it was more successful than the pass. However, we needed the variety for the run game to be successful. I think too much more running wouldn’t have been successful.
  • More concerning was the choice of pass plays. Not nearly enough that stretched the field and *WAY* too many that were trying to be “cute”. This seemed particularly true in the redzone.
  • I feel like Garbers is not really comfortable with this offense yet. He held the ball a long time quite often. He was staring down a lot of receivers. He took too long to get through his progression.
  • What’s with the plays were Garbers wasn’t in the shotgun? Was there some reason to tip off the defense it was a run play? (I don’t think they ever passed from under center.)
  • Tackling was a real problem. The Bears were good at flowing to the ball and making sure there was more than one guy there to make the tackle… but at the same time it was depressing how often it was the 2nd or 3rd guy who actually brought the Nevada player to the ground. The result was a number of plays that had a few too many “free” yards.
  • The last two offensive sequences were so atrocious that I think this might be part of the reason why so many of us are so upset. What was with that interception? Garbers way under threw it and the receiver made very little effort to come back to the ball, nor to do anything to prevent the interception. It was so bad that it was hard to believe that it could get any worse. But those last 4 plays did their best. Did nobody know they needed to get out of bounds, including Garbers who threw underneath on 2nd down? And it was the perfect cap that on 4th down the WR dropped the ball. Ugh!
  • But perhaps what was most concerning was the lack of energy. I’m concerned that the team is really missing Evan Weaver and other emotional leaders that help this team have such heart in years past. Last year they felt low-energy as well, but I was content to blame that on the pandemic. Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s something more fundamental to the team.
  • But to be fair… it could be that we’re still seeing some sort of “covid hangover”.
  • For another perspective on this, I think it’s important to remember that this team is nearly entirely made of players who weren’t around for the end of the Dykes era. We might be starting to lose the hunger of knowing what it’s like to be a losing team with little upside.
  • As much as the game was a real let down, I don’t think all is lost. There’s talent on this team. While the execution of the offensive scheme wasn’t great, I don’t think the scheme itself is without merit. The defense is still reasonably strong (particularly if they clean up the tackling) and I saw hints of their ball hawking ability of the past. Perhaps this will be the wake-up call they need.

Back for another season

(Written by kencraw)

I’ve been thinking over whether it is time to shutdown this blog. But, it’s not yet quite time. The day will come, I am sure of it, but not yet. For me, it is cathartic to write about the Bears. It also makes the games more fun and keeps me more engaged.

One thing is coming to an end… the ‘On The Road Home’ podcasts. Feedback from the family is they don’t like having to be quiet in the car while I do them and since I haven’t been going to any road games, it’s a less interesting podcast than back in the days where I traveled a lot.

But I will keep up the game reviews and once we’ve gotten a few games under our belt I’ll probably do some previews.

“No previews to start?” …you say? Yeah, I just can’t bring myself to pontificate when the data available is so scant. This team could be 9-3 good, it could also be 4-8 bad… heck, even 3-9 bad when one considers the potential risks in the non-conference games. So I won’t pretend to have any answers… at least not yet.

Here’s hoping the Bears come roaring out of the tunnel tonight and deliver a great win over a team that has been nothing but trouble for us, Nevada. Go Bears!

OSU game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Well that was… ummm… interesting. Here are my thoughts:

  • This game was so very winnable. And I’m not just talking about the final failed drive. The simple fact is that minus 3 plays, well 4 if you include the final long run after it was already over, the Bears dominated this game both on the score board and statistically.
  • But what was also clear, and those above 4 plays are evidence of this, is that the Bears are still quite rusty. They seemed to have faired worse for the time off and the delays in playing than other teams on both sides of the ball. One would think that a team that was installing a new offense would have been helped by extra time to prepare, but it appears that there’s no substitute for in-game experience.
  • Speaking of the offense, can someone find the playbook and rip out all the pages with these rollout passes? They were a disaster every time they ran them. Garbers was constantly under pressure and the receivers were thoroughly covered. And to make matters worse, his options were few as he only had one side of the field available to throw to.
  • What I’m most pleased with is the growing depth of this team. The failures didn’t seem to be related to missing players, just rust. The make-shift offensive line (do the Bears have any other kind of offensive line… that’s the question) was awesome and opened great running lanes. The RB depth is good. Same for the defense as a whole.
  • Back to rust, the worst unit, and this is no surprise all things considered, is the defensive line. Those few plays that they gave up huge runs were atrocious. But even some of the lesser plays, the defense line would get moved around a lot. I’ve never seen QB sneaks that go for 4+ yard before.
  • The other rusty area of note was the punting unit. Boy that was a rough day for them. 2 of the 3 easy scores were due to extremely short fields due to the block and short punt. And one of the other scores was a short field due to a long punt return.
  • While on special teams, Cal didn’t get the best breaks on the penalties on their own returns. One was marginal, but probably technically a foul. The other wasn’t a foul at all (and too far away from the play to matter), but the refs fell for the flop.
  • Cal did get a few makeup calls on pass interference though, some at critical times.

Overall, I find myself both frustrated by the opportunity lost in what should have been an easy win, but at the same time optimistic about the remainder of the season and beyond. Rust can be cleaned up (as we saw from week 1 to week 2). And the depth this team is building will serve it well in the years to come.

OK, I give up…

(Written by kencraw)

I’m just not going to be able to catchup on the old game watching, particularly not with real Cal football starting in a couple weeks. But for *some* amount of completeness, here’s the full list for the full season I was planning on (minus strong arguments from others for the possible alternatives):

  • Week 8: Substitution pick of week 5 2007 Oregon game
  • Week 9: 2018 UW. The game where the Weaver pick-6 is deciding score in a 12-10 win.
  • Week 10: 2008 Oregon – The rain bowl when the field was flooded. A game that showed the ‘Pain Train’ at his best.
  • Week 11: 2018 USC – The losing streak is broken… first win over USC since 2003 and first win in the LA coliseum since the big bang (or something like that).
  • Week 12: 2009 Big Game – Mohammed’s interception caps an upset victory.
  • Week 13: 2002 Big Game – Another streak breaker, this time 7-in-a-row to Stanford. (note: Although the Big Game is always (with one exception) the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Saturday before Thanksgiving is not always the same week of the season. It can be either the 12th or 13th depending on how early Labor Day is in September and how late Thanksgiving is in November.)
  • Week 14/15: 2008 Washington. Washington at their worst. Jahvid Best at his… uhhh… best.
  • Bowl game: 2006 Holiday Bowl against Texas A&M

So there you go. It’s impressive to me that despite being a couple of decades that didn’t have that many good years, just about every week of the season had one stand out game that will always put a smile on Bears fans faces.

Week 8 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

(OK, I know I’m *ridiculously* behind on watching these… 3 weeks now. But the end of my week and weekend are free for the first time since mid-September, so I should be able to catch up by the end of the weekend.)

This might just be the weakest week of the season:

  • 2004 Arizona – Shutout of Arizona on the road
  • 2005 WSU – During one of WSU’s good streaks, a tough fought victory at home
  • 2016 Oregon – Probably the best choice. A win over Oregon in recent years is something notable. This is the last good win of the Dykes era.
  • 2018 OSU – Wonderful rebound game after the UCLA disaster the prior week.

So really nothing that jumps out. 2016 Oregon isn’t even a game with Goff. Is this the week we substitute in 2007 Oregon?

Week 7 choice – 2017 WSU

(Written by kencraw)

I had forgotten this was the smoke bowl. How can we not go with the smoke bowl?

Week 7 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

(Yes, I know, I’m two weeks behind again on watching games… I hope to catch up later this week.)

Here are the games to consider for our 2020 virtual season:

  • 2009 UCLA – The game that finally broke the losing streak in the coliseum. Also the first game of a 5 out of 6 winning streak that salvaged the 2009 season (the Bears were 2-2 going into this one having lost two *horrific* games to Oregon and USC)
  • 2017 WSU – In Wilcox’s first season we get a first glimpse of the defense to come when they beat 8th ranked WSU, holding them to 3 points, and putting up a fair number of points to book. And not to give away too much, this was the Bowers head-over-heals flip.

And really, that’s about it. Or is this the week we use the substitution pick of 2007 Oregon? Looking ahead, if we’re going to do it, it’s this week or next week. After that, there’s too many good games to pick from each week.

Week 6 choice – 2006 Oregon

(Written by kencraw)

This was an easy week. 2006 was one of the most remarkable games of the last 20 years. Sorry for the delayed posting of the choice (had a busy end of week prepping for a crazy weekend driving trip).

Week 6 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

(yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… I suck at being timely this year. I still haven’t done the week 5 game review and am late on the candidate games. I could pretend things are going to get better in the next week, but it doesn’t look likely.)

This week there are only 3 games that really stand out:

  • 2006 Oregon – For those who don’t remember, the previous few years had been hard fought, tough games between two up and coming teams in the conference. 2003 was the infamous ‘turn out the lights’ game where Cal was leading and then the lights “went out” at the Oregon stadium, and lost momentum and the game. In 2004 Cal won a nail-biter to stay on track for a 1-loss season. 2005 was a rain-heavy game where Cal couldn’t convert the end of game field goal that would have won it and then lost in overtime. What would happen in 2006?
  • 2012 UCLA – If you’re looking for a game from the late Tedford era (2010 – 2012), this is one of the few candidates. Cal was 1-5. UCLA was ranked. But Cal came in and dominated. A rare bright spot in an otherwise horrific season that got Tedford fired.
  • 2014 WSU – If you like points, this is your game. Let’s just put it this way… I’m glad I never have to say “remember that time we scored 60 points and lost?” And yet that nearly happened.

What are people’s preference?

Week 5 choice – 2003 USC

(Written by kencraw)

Well, as much as the choice is as obvious to me as it is to Katster, I don’t feel good about missing 2007. So here’s the plan… I’m going to put up 2007 Oregon as an audible in all future weeks. If we decide the offerings on the table are weak enough, we can substitute in this ‘out of order’ pick.

Nevertheless, 2003 USC might just be the greatest Cal win in my lifetime, so it gets the pick:

2020 Virtual game 4

(Written by kencraw)

Cal was 3-0, including a win over a ranked Washington earlier in the season. Could Cal continue to demonstrate that they were a team on the rise and live up to their #23 ranking? Or would the long distance non-conference game be their undoing like so many previous years? That was the backdrop for this 4th game of the 2019 season against Ole Miss.

  • On their first drive Ole Miss has some success, using some late pass-run choices to get down the field into field-goal range, but ultimately misses the kick.
  • Cal has a pretty surgical drive down the field led by Garbers throwing the ball, including a couple of critical 3rd down conversions. The result is a 6 yard TD pass for an early Cal lead: 7-0
  • Ole Miss has similar success on their next drive, again mostly through the air, but this time execute better in the redzone. The key play is a one-yard run on 3rd and 1 from the 2, that sets up 1st and goal from the 1 where they easily punch it in and even the score: 7-7
  • On a 2nd and 6, there’s a significant blocking breakdown for Cal, setting up a 3rd and 15 where the Bears can’t convert and the Bears have to punt back to Ole Miss.
  • A developing trend for Ole Miss is success on the QB keeper on read-option plays. It got them into the redzone on the previous drive. It scored the TD. And it converted a 3rd and 1 on their next drive.
  • On the next play Ole Miss completes a 30+ yard pass down the seam, get again get the ball well on the Cal side of the field, just outside the redzone. But from there the Cal defense stiffens and forces the field-goal attempt, which they make. Cal in a 3 point hole: 7-10
  • Garbers is very much on his game today. On 3rd and a long 12 from just outside field goal range, he perfectly lobs in a ball on a crossing route to convert and get into the redzone.
  • And on yet another 3rd down a swing pass to Chris Brown gets all the way into the endzone. Key execution on 3rd downs, even from longer distances out, give Cal back the lead: 14-10
  • So far, this is not the defensive struggle one would expect. 5 drives, 4 scores (and the 5th had a field goal attemp). Both teams are having good success throwing the ball and not so much success running, particularly inside.
  • A backwards pass that is dropped (but fell on) and false start sets up 3rd and 18 for Ole Miss. The Cal defense plays it smart, gives up the underneath pass that is well short and Ole Miss must punt.
  • Cal has been aided by a couple of pass interference calls on Ole Miss’s young corner. Garbers makes use of another such opportunity on another 3rd down, this time deep in their own territory. The key for Cal thus far has been 3rd down execution by Garbers.
  • Garbers mis-reads the defense and tries to squeeze in a pass down the seam, which is intercepted around mid-field and runs it back to the Cal 35. Definitely one the great Keith Jackson would have called an “ill advised decision”.
  • Ole Miss had a great touchdown opportunity on a 3rd and 8, but the QB puts it over his outside shoulder making for a much more difficult catch which is dropped. Ole Miss settles for the field-goal off of the turnover and the Cal lead is cut to one: 14-13
  • Ole Miss has gone to a tighter coverage strategy and its paying off. Cal has to punt again after only getting one first down. Ole Miss will have just over 2 minutes to get a score in before halftime.
  • Ole Miss hurting themselves with penalties and negative plays. They are generally being offensively successful, but these occasional problems setup another long 3rd down and the Bears will get the ball back with 50 seconds left.
  • But a great punt gives Cal the ball at the 5 yard line and Cal decides to take a knee to end the half and take the one point lead into the locker room. A wise decision considering they have a lead and get the ball to start the 2nd half.
  • On a 3rd and 10, Garbers hold in the pocket for a LOOOONG time and then airs it out to Nico Remigio for a big gain down the Ole Miss 23.
  • And then another big 3rd down conversion on 3rd and 14 keeps the Cal drive alive and into the redzone. Man… imagine this game without the 3rd down heroics!
  • Garbers throws a back-shoulder TD pass and Cal extends the lead:21-13
  • The Cal defense asserts itself on 3rd and 1 and stuffs the inside run. Ole Miss has to punt, giving Cal the ball back after a 3 and out.
  • Wow! A quick seam pass to Tonges and a couple of missed dive tackles turns into an unexpected rumbling 60+ yard TD catch and run. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Cal have any ‘quick strike’ ability. A great way for Cal to extend the lead to 15: 28-13
  • Cal’s defense is starting to assert itself. They give up one 1st down and then Ole Miss has to punt. The “I’ll pretend I haven’t seen this game before” part of me thinks this could be the moment Cal puts the dagger in and opens an insurmountable lead.
  • After yet again well mixing pass and run to start the drive, Ole Miss brings great pressure two plays in a row and gets back-to-back sacks to set up 3rd and 21. To add injury to insult, Garbers is injured on the 2nd sack and Modster has to come in for the long play. A wise wide receiver screen pass (both safe and something that can pick up big yardage) gets Cal to 4th and 5 at the Ole Miss 37. After thinking about going for it, Cal decides to punt. Sadly, it only nets 12 yards (that’s why teams so frequently go for it at this point of the field).
  • On their first play of the next drive Ole Miss breaks their first big pass play down to the Cal 35. But a sack and 2 dropped passes sets up 4th and 12. Ole Miss decides they’ll go for it from the 37 (perhaps after having seen what happened to Cal punting from the 37). But then a false start penalty causes them to change their mind. Their punt team does a much better job of it and Cal is forced to start from the 11 yard line.
  • Garbers returns to the field, but can’t convert on 3rd and one on a delayed QB run inside (which may not have been a designed play) and Cal has to punt on the 1st play of the 4th quarter.
  • Ole Miss goes run heavy on their next drive, particularly using the QB off of the read-option. All of a sudden the Cal defense looks tired and the Ole Miss offensive line is getting a good push. But a broken play on 2nd and short sets up a 3rd and 6. Cal almost gets a sack but the QB Corral escapes and gets just enough for the 1st down.
  • Ole Miss goes for it on 4th and 6 from the Cal 22 (I would have kicked the field-goal to make it so no 2-point conversion would be needed on future TDs) and converts. Now they have 1st and goal inside the 5 yard line. After they are stuffed on 1st down, a bad snap forces the QB to fall on the ball at the 12 yard line. After a bat down on the 3rd down pass attempt, Ole Miss settles for the field goal attempt… but then they shank it! OUCH for Ole Miss! Cal still has a 15 point lead with under 10 minutes left.
  • Cal goes a bit too conservative and two small runs up the middle plus a delay of game when they try to milk the clock too much. But then on 3rd and 8 Duncan has a GREAT catch, high pointing a fade pass from Garbers, getting his toe down inbounds and extending the drive.
  • But Cal can’t convert on the next set of downs and punts with 6 and a half minutes left.
  • Ole Miss goes for it on 4th and 10 from deep in their own territory. An underneath pass looks like it will be well short, but somehow the receiver splits the defenders and is just slippery enough to convert and extend the drive.
  • Ole Miss’s QB gets injured and a true freshman comes in. Somehow he busts a long run (that QB has some wheels) and runs the ball down into the redzone. The stunned Bears are caught off guard and then Ole Miss goes hurry up and a read option to the RB goes into the endzone to close the lead to one score with 4 and a half minutes left: 28-20.
  • Cal changes up the offensive strategy, going away from the safe run-first, grind out the clock strategy. Instead they pass on first down for a 12 yard gain. Then a designed QB run for 8 yards. Dancy comes up inches short on the 2nd down run and Ole Miss calls timeout (one left) with 3 minutes left. A first down would make it so Cal could bleed most of the remaining clock.
  • But of course they don’t get it and Ole Miss uses their last timeout before the Cal punt to keep most of 3 minutes for a potential game-tying (with a 2-point conversion) score. The Cal punt is a good one, forcing Ole Miss to need to go 90 yards.
  • Ole Miss is still using the true freshman and the Cal defense looks very uneasy with this unknown quantity. So they play a little soft and force Ole Miss to work the clock. It works for a while, they’re only at mid-field with 1:15 left. But a long pass over the top has Ole Miss inside the Cal 10 with a minute left.
  • And then all hell breaks loose! Ole Miss for whatever reason manages to run 4 plays, all in bounds, and the clock runs continuously. First down is an inside run stopped after a 2 yard gain. Then the QB runs out to the right for what looks like a pass play, but decides to run it down to the 4 or so… but in bounds. Then comes the controversial 3rd down pass where the receiver dives and catches it falling on the goal line… but the ball was on his front side and in the field of play. With only 10 seconds left and the clock running, they don’t have time to review it (although later reviews showed the play would not have been overturned on review… it would have stood) and finally they try a QB sneak on 4th down, which failed. Phew!

That game went from a bit sleepy to over the top rushed in just one play. Boy is my heart racing… and I even knew what was coming!

What a game!

2020 Virtual Game 3

(Written by kencraw)

The choice (as announced previous) is the 2015 Texas game. This was the height of the Sonny Dykes era, with Jared Goff in what turned out to be his final season (he went to the draft a year early). The Bears had won the previous season’s match-up in Berkeley and now had the much more difficult task of going to Austin, TX to try and sweep the home and away series.

  • Man can the Texas place kicker boom the ball. The ball landed 4 yards out of the back of the endzone.
  • The Bears get a 3rd and 1 through to fairly predictable but productive plays on their first drive, but then have to punt after Texas stuffs the 3rd and 1 run.
  • Texas has one big pass play, but then goes for it on the next series’ 4th and 1 when in that ‘dead zone’ between the opponents 40 and 35. (too long to kick a field goal and hard to net that many yards with a punt). Hardy Nickerson comes up with a big stop and the Bears get the ball back with relatively good field position.
  • Goff breaks a surprisingly long run on a broken play and all of a sudden the Bears are just outside of field goal range (I say this like I’m forgetting how quickly the Sonny Dykes Bears would score.
  • It’s only 5 minutes into the game and I’m already sick of ‘I’ve been working on the railroad’ (In Texas they call it “The Eyes of Texas”).
  • Goff efficiently passed his way into the endzone over a few plays (with a few unproductive run plays in between). Bears up early 7-0.
  • Texas muffs the kickoff reception and the Bears recover the ball… it would have been awesome had one of the inside guys not been offside. So instead the Bears have to kickoff again. (It’s funny how one forgets important bits like that.)
  • After forcing a 3rd and 20, the Bears give up a HUGE play. How do you fail on 3rd and 20? This was what was so frustrating about the Bear defense during this era. Even when they’d mostly play well, they’d give up big plays to undermine the good stretches.
  • A couple plays later Texas is in the endzone. All tied up at 7-7 10 minutes into the game.
  • Their QB Jerrod Heard showed off his running skills on the TD run. The Bears defense did a pretty good job of defending the zone-read play, but Heard had just enough in his legs to power into the endzone.
  • The Bears drive the entire field (mostly on the back of a bevy of screen passes), but then Mohammed gets hit really hard at the 4 yard line and coughts up the fumble giving it back to Texas. That cost the Bears at least 3 points.
  • Cal gives up another 50 yard pass p\ay. They seem to have a really big problem when they play cover-2. The safety either is occupied by some other receiver or doesn’t know they need to cover the outside receiver.
  • The Bear run defense is doing pretty well. Almost all of the notable plays are pass plays and they’ve even forced a few for loss when UT runs the ball.
  • Cal holds in the redzone and give up only a field-goal. Bears trail for the first time (now early in the 2nd quarter): 7-10.
  • Cal relies on the pass to get down the field to inside the 25. But then on 3rd and 5 goes for a run play??? Surprising. Then they go for it on 4th down and a classic Goff to Lawler fade into the endzone both converts the 4th down and scores at TD. Bears back on top: 14-10.
  • Wow, weak kickoff return (both deciding to take it out of the endzone and going mostly sideways) results in Texas having to start at their own 5 yard line.
  • And then one of the standout moments of the game happens. The QB runs, appears to cross the line of scrimmage, then comes back, then passes the ball, which is then runs for a big gain. Luckily, the review booth takes a look at it and it’s brought back. It doesn’t cost them much already inside their own 5.
  • On the next play QB Heard has his first big run play, fooling the defense on the read-option, then sweeping around the outside for a 30+ yard gain.
  • After ANOTHER big pass play where the Cal DBs are yet again outclassed, Texas punches it in on arun play. Texas re-takes the lead: 14-17.
  • Cal’s offense has a lot more balance than Texas. Enwere busts a big run as part of it. It feels like the Bears are alternating series: Heavy on pass one, heavy on the run the next.
  • Cal faced with another 4th and short and look to go for it, but then a substitution penalty forces them to kick the field goal. Sadly, the 40ish yard field goal is missed.
  • Cal forces and punt and get the ball back with just under two minutes left. However, a sack on Goff forces a fumble and one play later Texas rumbles into the endzone for a 10 point lead: 14-24
  • The good news is Cal gets the ball back with 1:32 left, which we all know is plenty of time for the Cal offense (at least in this era). And then Cal “left foots it” and runs the ball. Mohammed breaks it for 50 yards and right away the Bears are in striking distance.
  • Another Lawler pass (which doesn’t quite get in) and a goal line run gets the Bears back within a field goal with 52 seconds left in the half (that was quick): 21-24
  • The Bears intercept the ball! After the runback the Bears have the ball at the Texas 30 with 24 seconds left. What a huge gift by the Longhorns. I know we gave them the fumble in the redzone, so I guess it’s good manners to give a return gift.
  • But the time is too short for a touchdown and the Bears settle for a field goal. It’s all tied at halftime: 24-24
  • Apparently Texas is still in a giving mood after halftime. Now it’s their turn to have a QB fumble. So effectively the Bears get the ball to start both halves. (and this time they’re on the Texas side of the field.)
  • After surgically marching down to 1st and goal from the 3, the Bears run it 3 times (the final time being so close it requires a review to have it stand) and don’t get in. They go for it on 4th down and yet again run the ball (talk about trust), but this time Enwere leaps over for a TD. Bears back in front: 31-24.
  • The Bears defensive line asserts itself on the next series and when combined with a personal foul for blocking after the whistle to force 4th and 24. The Bears get the ball back after the punt.
  • Bears do a lot of running on their next drive and yet again efficiently drive it down the field. This time on 1st and goal they keep Texas guessing (again) and do the pass to Lawler thing. Bears up by two scores with 20 minutes left: 38-24.
  • After Texas punts again (more Cal defensive line domination) Mohommed breaks a big run up a surprisingly small hole in the middle for a 74 yard Cal touchdown. Cal is up big now with just over a quarter left: 45-24
  • Wow, Looney does one of the worst facemasks I’ve ever seen. Luckily Heard (Texas QB) is fine. But it seems to fire up the Texas offense, particularly the linemen.
  • If you’re looking for pivitol moments in this game, the next Texas TD is one of the biggest. Despite the Cal defense forcing 3rd and goal from the 13, and the pass defense holding up well, Heard somehow scrambles himself into the endzone. (A sign of things to come.) Bears lead cut to 2 scores: 45-31
  • Cal goes the too obvious route of over-emphasizing the run up the middle and has to punt relatively quickly.
  • The Cal defense has a more uneven performance on the next series, but two sacks, including one on 4th and 17, give Cal the ball back around mid-field.
  • Cal goes 3 and out and only takes about a minute and a half off the clock. With seven minutes left, Cal is punting back to Texas with a 2-score lead.
  • Cal defense plays it right for a full 3 minutes. They keep things in front of them and UT has only reached mid-field. And they still keep the clock running and the Texas players inbound and down to 3 minutes with the ball at the 27… but then they give up an all too easy 27 yard touchdown run on a read-option where the RB takes it. 3 minutes left and the lead is down to 7: 45-38
  • Texas tries the onside kick and fails.
  • Texas is wise with their timeouts. They don’t call it on 2nd down, so the Bears run again. But before 3rd down (a predictable 3rd and 7 when doing the obvious run late in the game), they call the timeout leaving 2 minutes and forcing the Bears to decide whether they want to pass the ball.
  • Cal decides to pass it and Anderson drops the pass! Ugh, what a bad memory. From my seats I saw this SOOOO clearly. I jumped up anticipating the catch and then buried my head in my hands. How could he drop that?!?… Ugh!
  • I must admit, the Cal defense has seemed a lot better to me than I remember at this point when I was watching it live. My “I’ll pretend I don’t know what happens” brain thinks the defense has a good shot at stopping this last minute drive.
  • But this time the dink and dunking of Heard works much better. In 30 seconds they’re at the Cal 45.
  • And then comes the big play… the Heard QB scramble for a TD. Something I didn’t remember (or perhaps even notice) was that Heard called an audible when he saw the Cal defense setting up for a blitz. He audibled to a QB draw. That was a great call on his part.
  • Nevertheless, Texas scores the TD but4 as we all know, Texas missing the extra point. The Bears cling to a 1-point lead: 45-44.
  • The onside kick attempt fails (out of bounds) and the Bears take a couple of knees to win the game.

Wow, what a game. Definitely worth the (delayed) re-watch.

(The week 4 game will wait until tomorrow.)

Week 5 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

(OK, I know I’m now two weeks behind. The goal is to watch both finish week 3’s game and watch week 4’s game tomorrow…)

It’s on to week 5… what game should we watch?

This week we’ve got two games that are among the biggest, most consequential games of the last 20 years:

  • 2003 USC – Triple overtime thriller of 3rd ranked USC that I’m sure everyone remembers
  • 2007 Oregon – This game was remarkable when it happened, although it lost some of its luster after the season took a nasty turn due to Longshore’s injury. Nevertheless, this was a great game.

And then add to that two games that in a normal week would be contenders:

  • 2014 Colorado: 59-56 victory at home. The first of two back to back games shootout games of the highest variety
  • 2016 Utah: 28-23 victory at home. The one time a Dykes coached team won with defense.

What do people prefer to watch? (If it helps, next week’s game is likely an Oregon game.)

Week 4 choice – 2019 Ole Miss

(Written by kencraw)

I don’t like the fact that half of the games thus far are from last year, but I promise that trend won’t hold. It’s just that two of last year’s biggest wins were early in the season.

Nevertheless, last year’s Ole Miss game was a great one:

(And yes, I know, I still haven’t posted the week 3 re-watch thoughts… still working on it…)

Week 4 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

(As an FYI, I’m still working on watching the week 3 game. I didn’t manage to finish squeezing it in over the weekend (I’m currently mid 2nd quarter) and I’m in the middle of a critical project with a deadline tonight at work. I should have time tomorrow or Friday to finish it off.)

OK, we’re already in week 4. Not that we’re going to pick one of these, but week four has some awful games. Between 2009 and 2014 the Bears never won their week 4 game including the very demoralizing losses to Oregon in 2009 and USC in 2012. It also includes 2002 loss to Air Force. This might be Cal’s most inauspicious week of the season.

So the number of good games is not large… but luckily includes at least one gem. Here are the candidates:

  • Blowout of ASU in 2006
  • 2015 UW: First win in Husky stadium in a decade and sign that a Sonny Dykes team may have what it takes to be bowl eligible.
  • 2019 win at Ole Miss

That’s really about it (there’s only 3 other wins at all and they’re nothing remarkable) and as far as I’m concerned, that makes it an easy choice: Ole Miss.

Anyone disagree?

Week 3 choice – 2015 Texas

(Written by kencraw)

Well, it was as I thought, the two popular ones were 2002 Michigan State and 2015 Texas. And frankly I probably would have picked MSU since I feel like the final list will be a little too recently biased… but I ran into one problem: No full game footage of the MSU game. I personally have just about every game from 2006 onward in my collection, but online I was only about to find the 1st to 3rd quarters of the MSU game.

So Texas it is:

Check back for commentary by the end of the weekend.

Week 3 candidate games

(Written by kencraw)

As much as I enjoyed last week’s game, I have to admit it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Without video of the delay, it was void of the unique emotion that delay caused. Still, hard to argue with an upset over a top-15 team.

Here are the best candidates for week 3:

  • 2002 @ Michigan State: The Bears opened the Tedford era with 2 dominant wins over weak teams. But week 3 required them to go on the road to Michigan State, who was ranked 15th at the time. Could the Bears really have improved so much in so short a time to go on the road to a ranked Big-10 team and win? Impossible!
  • 2009 @ Minnesota: A game full of Jahvid Best highlights.
  • 2015 @ Texas: What is it about week 3 and big non-conference road games?
  • 2016 Texas: The return game back in Berkeley. To me, this one is not nearly exciting as the previous year’s game. But again, that may be because I have an emotional attachment to the 2015 game as my wife and I went to it (usually I would take my boys on the road trip games).
  • 2017 Ole Miss: Any win over an SEC team is notable, but it is worth noting that this is the home game in 2017, not the more memorable road game in 2019 (that game was in week 4)

No shortage of good games to pick from, yes? What tickles your fancy? What one do you want to watch?

(Selection will be made Friday afternoon/evening.)