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What a Big Game!

(Written by kencraw)

Wow, what a joyful evening Saturday was. After the rust of 2 weeks off and lacking practice due to COVID in the 1st quarter, the Bears laid the wood to Stanford again and again and again.

If I was a furd fan (and could somehow rise above my ideocracy 🙂 ), I’d have been very angry with Shaw deciding to go for it on 4th and goal twice. The halftime score could have been 14-9 otherwise. But by the mid-3rd quarter one could actually see the wisdom in Shaw’s decision. He knew this game was a long-shot. He needed to get out in front and try to get the Bears to be one-dimensional.

Stanford is really terrible right now. While the records might be similar, the details make it clear that Cal is a much better team. Stanford keeps losing by much larger margins.

Now the question is: Can the Bears make it to bowl eligibility? And I have to say, that’s a tall order. That stinking Arizona game!?!

USC looks pretty vulnerable, so that game is for sure winnable. It’ll be even better if BYU can go into the coliseum this weekend and put an end to USC’s hope for bowl eligibility.

UCLA looks to be the tougher task. On the road. Thanksgiving weekend. Against a surging UCLA. That’s not going to be easy. Although when one does the common opponent analysis the teams look pretty even.

All the more reason to say: That stinking Arizona game!?!

Understanding COVID rules

(Written by kencraw)

(NEW NOTE: All of the below is likely meaningless. It turns out that it was City of Berkeley health department rules that drove all of this. In other words… Cal is playing at a disadvantage to other schools.)

(ORIGINAL NOTE: All of this All of the following is simplified based on the article I saw that indicated “99% of the Cal players are vaccinated”…)

So, why were 24 players missing? The people missing would meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have tested positive within the last 10 days
  • Have been exposed to someone in the last 3 days who has tested positive
  • Have been exposed to someone more than 3 days ago who has tested positive, but didn’t themselves get tested after 3 days

It’s worth noting that the exposure rules don’t apply “if assessment does not reveal high risk.” While I don’t know the specifics of that, I’m sure it means social distancing and masking and the such suggests they weren’t ‘close contacts’.

I think there’s two conclusions we can reasonably assume are accurate:

  • The positive COVID test happened within 3 days of the game. I have a hard time believing they wouldn’t do the follow up testing to clear players if the exposure was more than 3 days ago.
  • More than one person tested positive. It’s hard to imagine that one person had 23 other close contacts in the 3 days before the game.

What a bad break for the team…

Arizona – initial revulson

(Written by kencraw)

Obviously my preview post didn’t know the extent of the COVID losses for this game. 10 starters, including Garbers?!?!? How can one expect to win that one?

But somehow, despite all the personnel losses, the Bears still had a shot. And I guess a certain type of person would have an optimistic view of still having a shot with that many players lost.

Not me.

How can that be our backup QB? He’s not just bad, not just horrible, but unacceptably incompetently ATTROCIOUS! The number of completely mis-thrown balls. The bad reads. The slowness of execution… and it’s not like he had some running skills to offset that.

I’m sorry, I don’t care if the entire starting offense is out, that sort of offensive performance is unacceptable. And the lack of good play-calling. If you know your QB is crap and can’t throw a long ball, why are they calling a pass-heavy game? (29 passes, 24 runs). They should have been pounding the ball from the opening drive. Sure, it might not have bore fruit for a while, but run games take time to get moving sometimes and their lack of commitment to it was ridiculous.

And now the Bears have to do the near impossible… win their final 3 games where they’ll be the underdogs in at least 2 and 2 on the road. And that’s particularly true if the COVID issue affects their personnel next week.

Arizona preview

(Written by kencraw)

Today’s game is both very important (for bowl eligibility) and very dangerous. And it just got more dangerous:

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/32554434/multiple-cal-golden-bears-put-covid-protocols-ahead-game-vs-arizona-wildcats

We all know how much COVID shortages messed with the Bears in 2020… the big question is: Who’s out?

But the game was dangerous before that for a few reasons:

  • It’s a road conference game in a place that has always caused the Bears trouble. There’s something about Tucson. The last time the Bears won in Tucson: 2004 (That’s not a typo)
  • Winless teams are dangerous. They’re desperate for a win and they particularly bring out their best for the teams that seem vulnerable. And while the Bears play the last couple of weeks has raised the status of the team, I can guarantee you Arizona sees Cal as one of their few remaining “good” shots at a win (remaining teams: Cal, Utah, @WSU, @ASU).
  • Winless teams are lull inducing. While I’m hopeful this won’t be the case, it’s not too hard to see the Bears looking past them to the critical USC game behind it.

With that caveat aside, let’s do the common opponent analysis:

  • Both lost @ Oregon, Cal in a nailbiter, UA got blown out.
  • Arizona went to boulder and got blown out, Cal blew out Colorado at home.
  • Both lost a nailbiter to UW, Cal on the road, Arizona at home.

Only the last game suggests these might be comparable teams.

But I think this game comes down to heart. Does Cal come out ready to play and with no excuses in the back of their mind? And a big part of me thinks Wilcox has this team in a place where that’s a real possibility. I could see the Bears starting like they did against Nevada, but that being so demoralizing for a team already tempted toward despair and the Bears win a blowout.

I could also see a game where Cal comes out flat, gets down something like 10-3 at halftime and then has to battle their way back with an offense short a couple of key guys due to COVID. And I could see that not going well.

But my official prediction is that it’s a dog-fight where some might accuse the Bears of coming out flat but really it’s the missing players and Arizona coming out ready to win. But come the 4th quarter, the Bears run game wears them down and wins going away: 30-20

Program turning win

(Written by kencraw)

(Apologies for the delay… I wrote most of this on Tuesday but forgot to post it)

The Bears had some program turning wins in 2018 and 2019. The road UW win. The road USC win. The home UW win. These all told the world that the Bears needed to be taken seriously. They told the Bears that if they played to their potential, they could beat almost anyone.

Last Saturday’s win says to the conference: That Bears team is back.

They may have taken a COVID hiatus that lasted well into this season… but they’ve righted the ship. This OSU team is no slouch. They remind me of the Mike Riley led OSU teams that constantly tortured the Jeff Tedford led Bears.

In fact, since Tedford is on the mind (and was at the game), let’s do a quick Wilcox vs. Tedford comparison:

Tedford:

  • Brought the team back from the dead
  • Raised them to be the 2nd or 3rd best team in the conference for the bulk of his reign
  • But struggled with those important head to heads (vs. USC in particular)
  • And struggled with a couple of particular weaker teams (OSU and Arizona)
  • Dominated the Big Game

Wilcox:

  • Brought the team back from sub-mediocrity
  • Raised them to be competitive
  • Proved they could beat the best teams in the conference
  • But also more inconsistent
  • Unlike Tedford, it doesn’t feel like any team is his kryptonite
  • Finally got a Big Game win

It’s the bold one that I think had Cal fans so optimistic before the COVID downturn. Tedford’s struggles against the best left a bad taste. It felt like with Tedford the team could be very good, but never the best. That ‘Rose bowl before I die’ would be elusive. But Wilcox’s big wins said that while the team wasn’t quite there yet, there could be that magical season where we all get to spend too much money in Pasadena on January 1st.

I know I’m on a bit of a tangent, as OSU isn’t USC or Oregon or UW in a conference dominating position. But I think it confirmed that bold point… Oregon State is currently one of the best teams in the conference and Cal beat them.

And they beat them straight up, just like those 2018 and 2019 wins. It didn’t take any trickery or lucky bounces. Cal lined up, played hard nose football with a defense that kept getting the ball in the offense’s hands.

Last Saturday’s game had that same feeling.

OSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Well, last week was nice wasn’t it? And I won’t even point out that I just about got the Cal score right. 🙂

A month ago when people looked at the schedule, OSU was the middle game of a 3 game more winnable stretch. And while Colorado was and Arizona appears to be as weak as expected, OSU has exceeded expectations with wins over USC (on the road at well), Washington and Utah. They’re only conference blemish is a 24-31 loss to WSU.

Now a common opponent analysis suggests OSU to be a better team. They beat UW when Cal lost and put up a much better score against WSU even though both teams lost. (And it’s worth noting that OSU played WSU on the road whereas Cal had the “Wougs” at home.)

As such there’s no doubt that this will not be an easy game for the Bears. I think we have to consider OSU the favorite. But what I see is a Bears team that is continuing to improve and lost a lot of close games that could have gone the other way… and they’re playing a good but average talent team that has won a number of one-score victories against teams the Bears could have beaten.

Additionally, OSU is all about their run game and that plays into the strength of the Cal defense. Their QB is young and if Cal can force OSU to pass, the ball hawking ability of the Bears (which is improving and slowly getting back to form) could shake his confidence.

So I see this game coming down to the trenches. Can the Bears slow the OSU run game? Can the Cal offensive line hold up and open up the down-field passing game? (Notable add-on issue: Will Cal’s improved tackling show up again this week?)

And when games come down to the trenches, except in the extremes, it comes down to heart. Does OSU come out strong with determination to continue their impressive season? Or do they come to Berkeley a little bit over-confident after a good stretch? Do the Bears continue to build on last week’s momentum? Or do they lose the hunger that finally got them back in the win column now that they’ve won one?

These are the questions that will determine the winner.

And I refuse to make the trip to Berkeley as a pessimist. Bears win 27-24.

Colorado preview

(Written by kencraw)

The fundamental question one has to ask themselves when considering the strength of Colorado is: “How bad is Arizona?” This is particularly so because the Bears and Buffs have no common opponents… which is kinda rare for conference foes this late in the season. But the one conference team Colorado beat (Arizona) has two common opponents with Cal.

So we’re going to completely abuse the transitive property today…

  • Arizona lost 41-19 @ Oregon. Cal lost a nailbiter in Autzen.
  • Arizona hosted UW and lost 21-16 in a game where UW started really flat, but once they got up to speed rolled over Arizona. Cal lost in overtime on the road.

So there’s no doubt that Cal is a lot better than Arizona when doing a common opponent analysis… but then when you look at the Colorado vs. Arizona game and see 34-0 it makes you think that Colorado is probably better than the both of them, right? And that’s bolstered by the fact that all of their losses are to pretty good teams. Texas A&M, a strong Minnesota, ASU (the class act of the conference this year), and even USC ain’t bad.

Well, not so fast.

The level of blowout of those losses should be quite concerning for those trying to sing Colorado’s praises. They didn’t just lose, they were blown out by all of them but A&M. So my gut is that Arizona is *REALLY* bad and we shouldn’t put too much stock in that blowout win over Arizona.

My thinking is that today we have two very similar teams… they have just enough talent to be dangerous, but enough holes and problems to be on the weak end of things. So in the end it’s going to come down to who wants it more. And frankly, that scare the crud out of me. I’ve seen too many games where I’m not feeling a lot of passion out of the Bears.

But I refuse to make the trip to Berkeley so pessimistically so I’m going believe that the Bears bring a strong effort today and their slight talent edge combined with home field advantage is enough to finally get Cal back in the win column.

Bears win 27-13

Will the real Bears stand up?

(Written by kencraw)

I left the WSU game utterly despondent. That WSU team was sub-mediocre and the Bears looked downright pathetic. What has happened to Garbers? (His accuracy and decision making were horrible.) Why can’t this defense tackle? (a big on-going problem.) Why is it the offense always seems good the first few drives but stinks after that?

But then Cal put up a pretty good fight against a pretty good Oregon team. Sure it was still a loss, but at least it was a step in the right direction, right? So I turned off the TV last Saturday with some optimism.

But now I’m thinking maybe the real Bears are a team with more potential than they show, but they “play to their opponent”. What’s worse, is they play just below their opponent.

So who is the real team?

WSU preview

(Written by kencraw)

Ever since the departure Mike Leach, WSU has been headed the wrong direction. There’s no doubt that Leach gave the Wougs some recruiting credibility as well as his offensive style fit them well.

It’s not that much of a surprise then that new coach Nick Rolovich is struggling. There are already serious calls for him to be fired (see: https://www.cougcenter.com/wsu-cougars-football/2021/9/21/22682390/wsu-cougars-vs-usc-trojans-football-monday-after). WSU is 1-3 this year, like the Bears, but their losses were far less encouraging. Both conference losses (USC and Utah) were against teams that themselves are struggling and themselves have troublesome losses. And they haven’t been losing by single scores margins.

So there’s no getting around that this is a must-win game for the Bears if they hope to have any shot at respectability much less bowl eligibility.

I see this game coming down to whether the Cal secondary can keep the game from being a “shoot out”. I put that in quotes because I don’t mean to imply that there’s any prospect of a classic Cal-WSU 60-59 style shootout. But a game where neither team can much slow the other and an over/under of 80 perhaps being appropriate is in play.

My instinct says Cal comes out strong, WSU is already feeling the mid-season grind of a failing team and Cal wins moderately easily. The Cal secondary will have it’s struggles, but the improvements we saw in the 2nd half of the UW game will intermittently work to keep WSU in check.

Final score: Bears win 34-20.

Another winnable game lost

(Written by kencraw)

How many times are we going to do this before the season is over? It’s not hard to imagine that this Cal team with a few less mistakes could be 4-0, not 1-3. I might add that my prediction (27-20) would have been darned near right had the field goal at the end of regulation went through (27-24 would have been the score).

In any case, I’ll do this the bullet-point way as per usual:

  • Yet again the mistakes were killer. The fumble in over-time. The botched snap on the early missed field goal. The stupid penalties. This team is just not nearly as refined as early Wilcox teams. It still feels like the chaos of the pandemic still has some rust that has yet to be eradicated.
  • On the positive front, it feels like the defense really turned a corner in the 2nd half. Something must have clicked in their half-time adjustments. In the first half, they were OK, but just enough mistake prone and just a little too slow to be disruptive. In the 2nd half, they finally broke through on what it meant to be confusing to the QB and disruptive so that UW only scored 3 points before overtime.
  • Tackling is still a bit of a weak point throughout though. While it wasn’t as obvious in the 2nd half, it reared its ugly head in overtime again.
  • Speaking of overtime, I’m 100% convinced that UW didn’t get in on 3rd and goal… the refs just didn’t have a *single* angle to prove it. But if you put together how early his knee was down from the rear angle (before the RB made his final lurch forward which included him raising his shoulders/head as a time reference) and how late the ball crossed the plane from the front and side angles (long after the lurch as his body was falling to the ground and long after raising his shoulders/head), then it was clearly not a TD. It made me wonder if the replay booth has the ability to do two synced angles. It appears not.
  • Garbers was not very accurate in this game. His first interception was most definitely not where he intended to throw the ball. (The 2nd might have been, but the receiver didn’t come back to it.) And there were a number of balls thrown behind.
  • At the same time, Garbers was starting to get back to being himself: A throw-first QB who can extend plays and pick up gains with his legs when the planned play doesn’t work out.
  • While the first one didn’t work out, the few well QB-run plays were a nice addition to see.
  • Another improvement area… I’ve been complaining about the QB under center plays for the entire season. They were always obvious run plays. Well, that changed. I didn’t keep careful track, but about half of them were passes in this game. And sure enough, once balance was established, even the run plays under center were more successful.
  • One wonders if this was a “long haul” deception plan. Was it the plan to always run from under center in the non-conference games so that the film our conference foes would study early in conference play give the Bears a counter-tendency strategy?
  • Not really a pro or con, but the end of regulation clock management cracked me up. It’s funny how one converted 3rd down changed everything. First Cal was trying to make the most of the clock, but then a poor 1st down and a penalty had them trying to run out the clock and UW angry the clock ran after the penalty. Then Cal converts on 3rd down and is back to trying to preserve clock. In each moment I agreed with both coaches desires, but at the same time, taking a step back it seems like silliness.

Looking forward, while the frustration of the missed opportunities makes it hard to think this way, I see a lot of positives. UW was better than their early losses make it seem and Cal nearly went on the road and beat them. They showed a lot of heart to battle back from 14 points down in the 2nd half.

If Cal can play like the 2nd half of Saturday’s game, it’s reasonable to think the Bears still have a real shot at bowl eligibility. Home wins over WSU, Colorado and OSU all are very doable, as are road wins over Stanford, USC and Arizona. (The road games against Oregon and UCLA are far less likely.)

Let’s see if they have it in them…

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.