Before we get to the actual game itself, let’s talk about the most important bit of information which is that Jahvid Best has been released from the hospital and is expected to miss at least one game from “just” as serious concussion.
At this point I’m sure everyone has probably seen the absolutely terrifying hit that sent Best airborne and straight onto his head and back as he had attempted to leap into the endzone. The resulting impact sent Best’s helmet flying off and Best laid motionless with his arms and legs awkwardly stiff at his sides.
It’s quite frankly one of the scariest things I’ve witnessed, as I found myself just continually mumbling, “Please just show some movement” over and over again as paramedics attended to Jahvid for nearly fifteen minutes.
Thankfully, all the initial tests have come back negative, and Best is reported to have all movement in all his extremities. Moments such as the one on Saturday remind us all of things that are far bigger than the outcome of football games or even football careers. My thoughts are prayers are with Jahvid, and here’s hoping for a speedy recovery, and for all the reasons not related to football.
In a Nutshell
Now moving onto the game itself, it can simply be stated that the Bears were dominated in nearly every facet of the game. The Bears’s worst fears on defense were nearly realized as they succeeded in containing the Rodgers brothers but failed to stop Oregon State’s passing attack. Moreover, the Bears’ offense again failed to put up points behind its besieged offensive line and simply fell out of the game too early to hope for any type of offensive balance or rhythm.
What was good on Defense
Again, the biggest plus that the Bears can take away from Saturday’s game is the job they did containing the Rodgers Brothers.
The reigning Pac-10 offensive player of the year Jacquizz Rodgers was held to just 67 rushing yards on 25 carries for a 2.7 ypc average. Take away Quizz’s long 24 yard rush late in the game, and Quizz was actually held to a 1.7 ypc average for just 43 yards. That’s incredibly impressive when you consider the talent the kid is at tailback, and the can of whuppass he’s opened up some of the better defenses in conference this year.
Similarly, the Bears also contained the elder Rodgers brother, as James Rodgers had 80 yards and a TD. While those numbers don’t seem particularly impressive, Cal fans are going to have take solace in that it could have been a lot worse for them facing off against the conference’s leading receiver. Rodgers also had 7 rushes for 31 yards. Again take away the 28 yard rush, had James had very little space on most of his fly sweeps that have been proven to be successful for the Beavers this year.
What was bad for the Defense
Pretty much everything else.
It’s unfortunate that as strong of a job as Cal did against the Rodgers brothers, they really missed out on some key opportunities to stop the OSU offense. Cal put themselves in some great 3rd and long pass defense situations throughout the game and killed themselves countless times with their lack of ability to pressure OSU QB Sean Canfield and effectively defend OSU’s receivers, namely TE Joe Halahuni.
Let’s look at some specifics.
Cal doesn’t have the pass rushers this year
While I wrote last week that the Bears needed to be judicious about when and how to bring pressure, I did so with the understanding that we’d get killed on middle screens if we decided to send the house every play. It didn’t mean I didn’t think we needed to blitz, I just thought we had to be incredibly careful as to how we did so.
Yes, I don’t think Cal pressured Canfield nearly enough on Saturday. There were far too many instances when we were bringing just 3 or 4 pass rushers, which simply isn’t enough for a QB who had been shredding up similar defensive packages all year.
Yet, I distinctly recall Cal having much more success with this last year, despite only brining three to five pass rushers specifically. Last year, opposing offensive lines were being beaten not just by linemen, but our linebackers who excelled at shedding blocks, disguising their blitzes, and jumping the snap quickly to put adequate pressure on the QB.
While the defensive line this year has played up to par as last year, this falls more on the absence of a strong pass rusher at the LB position. I really don’t want to hear too much about our defensive line struggling, because they’ve really been the rock of this defense this year. I think we severely underestimated the losses at LB, and not having the pass rusher in Zach Follett or versatile MLB in Worrell Williams is really rearing its head in games where we aren’t seeing the success we used to when we do decide to send one or two extra linebackers or linemen.
Many had expected Cal’s struggling secondary to have a potentially long day ahead against OSU’s potent passing attack, and well—they did. Sean Canfield was a sharp 29-39 for 342 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Saturday marked the seventh time this season that an opposing QB has thrown for more than 200 yards against the Bears (the exceptions being Maryland and Eastern Washington), and the fourth time that a QB has gone more than 300.
While the struggles in Cal’s secondary are head shakingly perplexing, some of it might be a lot easier to digest if you accept that Cal has struggled to field its four most consistent players in the backfield for this season.
While Syd’Quan Thompson has had his momentary lapses and battles with the injury bug, he’s still played like the preseason all-conference player that he is. The issue has been Cal’s inability to find the answer at the other CB spot.
Darian Hagan has become a near afterthought after his solid sophomore season has been followed up with inconsistent play, injury, and a team suspension. The aforementioned items has sent him plummeting down the depth chart behind RS frosh Josh Hill, Chris Conte, and Bryant Nnabuife.
And while all four of these players have gotten nods at the second DB spot this season, none seem to have played with the level of consistency to make opposing QBs hesitate just a little about throwing the ball to their side of the field. In fact, their play has essentially screamed, “Open” at certain moments of the season.
Similarly, while I’m pleased with the decision to place Sean Cattouse at one of the safety positions (I think the kid might be the best natural secondary player we have next to Squid right now), Cal has also struggled in the safety position. The most recent revelation that safety Marcus Ezeff has missed practices over the last few years to finish his degree on time has partially explained why his play has essentially stagnated over the past season, if not slightly regressed. Brent Johnson has showed the ability to lay some devastating hits, but has also found himself out of position on a few key passing plays this year as well.
Bears Burned in the Middle
Cal has struggled all year to defend tight ends or receivers over the middle, and the story wasn’t any different with Joe Halahuni steamrolling the Bears for 6 catches and 128 yards. The Bears haven’t been able to find an answer at a coverage linebacker who can adequately match one-on-one with tight ends, and safeties have struggled to keep the tight ends bottled up once they’ve snuck out 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. It’s quite frustrating to see it happen time and time again, which makes you wonder if it’s a constant issue in execution (which might reflect coaching) or simply a lack of personnel.
I wrote that the Bears would be killed if they didn’t execute perfect technique in wrapping up OSU’s physical receivers, and sure enough, the Bears had one of their worst tackling performances of the year (save 2nd quarter WSU) against the Beavers. There were a number of plays, specifically on third down where the Bears got the look they wanted in forcing dump off passes five to six yards in front of the 1st down marker, only to have a Beavers receiver fight forward for a first down.
It was absolutely back breaking for this defense, again considering how well they had done in bottling up the running game and a number of the flanker screens. I really don’t have much of an answer as to why that continually happened, other than a lack of proper technique or beastmode like performances by OSU players. No offense, but it’s unlikely it was the latter.
Offensive Line Stumbles
All three of Cal’s losses have shown their offensive line’s penchant for struggling against physical defensive lines this year. The most distressing aspect of Saturday’s game was that Cal’s line really got manhandled against an OSU defensive front seven that had previously managed just 8 sacks on the year, with 4 coming against Washington State alone.
While the sacks are slightly misleading, OSU’s inexperienced front seven was far from being the defensive tour de force that showed up on Saturday. Cal’s o-line got absolutely zero push in their running game and was constantly pushed back in pass protection. OSU knew Cal’s line was struggling and dialed up blitzes, not really making too much of an effort to disguise either. They were going to bring it, and bring it hard.
Again, I think many have underestimated the youth at the offensive line, with two new guards, a center that had played just four games prior to the start of the year, and a sophomore right tackle. And Avinash over at CGB appears to think new o-line Coach Marshall has a lot to do with it. Possibly and probably. But the bottom line is that it simply doesn’t look like Cal has the offensive line this year to really push them into the top tier of the conference when matched up against the top defenses.
Other Offensive Tidbits
Alex Lagemann continues to impress. Other than that one drop, Lagemann was our best threat to make tough catches down the middle and should be penciled in on most third down passing situations moving forward. Can’t wait until he has a chance to show us what he can do after the catch.
Surprising to see that that was Verran Tucker’s first TD of the season. And it was a beauty. Riley absolutely lasered the pass and Tucker sucked it in right into his mitts like it was cotton candy. Tucker has had a really quiet season, but broke out for 6 catches for 74 yards and score.
As a whole the receiving corps certainly looks improved over last year, but continues to be plagued by some dropsies. It’s accentuated by the fact that they appear to always come on critical third downs. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve made more than their fair share of critical conversions on third down, but until we see fewer of these, it’s going to continue to hang over this corps, fair or not.
Yes the game was frustrating to watch. While I didn’t expect the Bears to lose, I’m certainly not surprised that they did. The manner in which they lost was frustrating, but the whole evening was thrown off track by Best’s injury which really gave the entire game a chilling funky sort of feel.
Again, with just three games remaining in the season, Cal fans have seen how strong the Bears can look over inferior opponents, and just how much they can faceplant against the conference’s elite. I don’t think they’re quite as bad as their performances in their losses would indicate, nor are they as good as their performances in their wins. They’re probably somewhere a little in between, which leaves us with a team that has a chance to be anywhere from pretty good to fairly ineffective.
The ineffective team reared its head on Saturday, which was unfortunate. What’s even more unfortunate though, is the unnecessary reminder in Best’s injury of how much more can be at stake than our expectations of a collegiate football team. At the end of the day, the Bears lost the game, but could have certainly lost a whole lot more.
Monday, November 9, 2009
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 10:02 PM