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Archive for September, 2021

Another winnable game lost

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

(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?

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

2nd winnable game lost

(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…

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

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!