(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
I apologize for the delay in getting this out, but I’ve actually committed my last few days to non-college football related tasks for my own health and mental acuity, which has actually served me pretty well. I woke up Sunday morning and despite a few dreams that things went well for the Bears (including a fantasy Syd’Quan endzone interception), had a pleasant day resting and considering things outside of the Bears. Try it some time guys, it will serve you well.
As for the game itself, what can really be said? Quite a lot actually, but first things first: When you lose 72-6 in back to back weeks, something is very wrong. Whatever is going on right now, is not working. At all.
As it stands right now, it's hard to imagine that Cal was once ranked sixth nationally, despite that being just two weeks ago. Shoot, I'll be honest. We look like the worst team in the conference right now. It isn't even close.
But it became apparent watching Cal’s embarrassment in front of a sold out memorial stadium in their 30-3 lopsided loss to USC, that a lot of assumptions had been made about the Bears this year.
It was assumed that Cal had the quality, depth, and experience on the team to make a serious run not only for the long overdue Rosebowl run, but also potentially have the makings of a darkhorse national championship campaign.
And why not? The Bears had the ingredients for a great team, and would go on to roll their competition by a combined score of 146-41 in their first three games while picking up a gritty road win over Minnesota and padding Jahvid Best’s Heisman portfolio.
Yet more dangerously, it was assumed by many that all the reasons the Bears were supposed to break out this year would easily mask the Bears’ deficiencies in all other potential pitfalls.
Well you know what they say happens when you assume: you make an ass out of u and me.
A few assumptions:
Many assumed that Cal’s offensive line would be just fine after losing first round draft pick Alex Mack, All-Pac-10 honor OG Noris Malele and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik. While I do think the line is still deeper and more experienced than it was last year, I don’t quite see the overall performance or quality matching last year’s squad. The Bears have struggled heavily in pass protection, giving up 13 sacks already on the season, and constantly pressured enough to force Riley into inaccurate throws.
They’ve also stumbled in their run blocking going for just 216 rushing yards in the past two games. Granted, the Bears have faced the conference’s two best rush defenses, but it’s still disconcerting to see the results when pushed to the metal.
We also assumed that Riley and the receiving corps would step up this season, making last year’s passing inefficiencies a mere distant memory. And a number of efficient outings against overmatched secondaries early in the season would lead us to believe so. But Cal’s passing game has been at its absolute weakest in the last few years. We are bordering on Joe Ayoob versus the Trojans in ’05 level. And that is saying something.
Riley has completed just 27 of 71 passes (38%) for just 329 yards in the past two games. More eye-popping, the Bears have been held without a passing touchdown since the second quarter of the Eastern Washington game. That is more than 14 quarters without a passing touchdown.
And get this: Cal hasn’t thrown a TD pass to a wide receiver since the third quarter of the season opener. That is 4 consecutive games without a WR TD. Out of control.
Let’s be clear. It’s not all on Riley. The pass protection has been spotty, the receivers have struggled and had their share of drops. But Riley has really struggled with his mechanics and accuracy the past few games. He began the year incredibly poised and in absolute control of where he wanted to be at all times. And while he has still kept his confidence without forcing too many turnovers, he’s simply unable to complete some of the most basic passes in recent quarters. Balls are flying above and to the side of receivers an some critical downs. This was most evident in his inexplicable overthrow of Best on the critical 4th and 2 rollout. Tough, especially when it was just a few weeks ago that he hit Ross on that beautiful pass to convert the key 3rd down.
And speaking of the passing game, I think we all assumed that the receiving corps would be vastly improved with an entire season of experience of their belt. But with the exception of a few flashes of brilliance, I continue to be overwhelmed by the current receiving corps.
They continue to make critical drops and are showing difficulty in creating a lot of separation from their defenders. I’ve come to accept that our current receiving unit simply isn’t that great right now. They might be. But the numbers haven’t shown me anything to make me believe otherwise.
In defending the passing game, we all assumed that Cal’s highly touted secondary would somehow be able to match last year’s success in passing efficiency and interception totals (tied for 3rd). Yet the Bears’ secondary which returned all its starters, are sitting at just four, with two coming from linebacker Mike Mohammed. The Bears are also giving up 238 yards per game through the air, good for just 8th in the conference in this category.
Cal’s secondary, and its linebackers might I add, continue to struggle in zone coverage and are continually hurt by its tendency to leave the middle of the field open for athletic tight ends to really hurt the Bears. They give up way too much space to receivers and have been hurt continually by big yardage on third down passing situations, an area they excelled at last year.
I think we all assumed too that Cal’s running game would flourish because, well…we’re really fast and athletic. Right? But watching Best’s struggles in the back to back losses not so much on the ground (that’s to be expected against Oregon and USC’s rush defense) but in blitz pickups has pointed out more of his shortcomings than his absolute brilliance in nearly every other phase of his game. An NFL scout might have seriously walked away from watching the USC game, and consider Best a second round back on that quality alone. Scary, considering Best was receiving Heisman accolades and “Top 10” pick talk just a few weeks ago.
I think speak for nearly everyone when I state that I hoped that our special teams would have just been better. All around. I assumed that somewhere, somehow over the course of the past eight months, since the season ended that we might find a kicker who could kick the ball consistently inside the five on kickoffs. That our All-American punter wouldn't somehow regress his sophomore season to shank punts in back to back weeks. That our punt and kickoff coverage teams wouldn't again give up big yardage in the biggest of stages. I again assumed incorrectly.
I could go on...the rotating door that has been the offensive coordinator position, a number of whiffs on FB blocks, the overall lack of pass pressure by our outside linebackers,...but when it boils down to it, the Bears simply aren't as good as we thought they would be.
I don't mean to be disparaging, I just think it's important that we set realistic expectations moving forward. The Bears were beaten by better teams, quite soundly in these last two games.
Now, could the Bears have won these games? Maybe. But the results the past few weeks have been so atrociously dismal, I don't know how much I can believe it. It's important to keep in mind however, that again, the season is far from over. There's much football left to be played, and much time to right the ship. The Bears can still finish the season strong. It's just important that we see it for what it is, and keep any remaining assumptions out of the picture.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 9:20 PM