Oh, to be a Cal fan.
There really is nothing like it. Cal football continues to surprise. Elate and Destroy. Tease and Crush. Yet we march forward. Obstinate, we continue to traverse the path to which end we do not know, but hope contains some solace from this wretchedness that we call college football.
We are the California Golden Bears.
The Bears nearly shocked the college football world on Saturday, losing by just two points to the top ranked Oregon Ducks by a score of 15-13. After many praised the Ducks speed offense which had averaged nearly 55 points a game, the Bears put on one of the best defensive performances I’ve ever seen from a Cal football team. Unfortunately, the Cal offense and special teams units would eventually take away from what could have been a historical night for the Bears.
Defense’s Got Nothing to Hang Their Head About
Again, you can’t say enough about how well the Cal defense played tonight. They did just about everything you can ask for out of a defense facing a top ranked offense.
The Bears pitched a defensive shutout in the first half and with the exception of the blown coverage on Jeff Maehl’s 29 yard TD catch after a very short field, held the Ducks out of the endzone. Again, this was against one of the most prolific offenses in college football in at least the last 10 years.
The Bears showed excellent discipline in their gap assignments and were flying to the ball. I think the defense had the best performance of the season in terms of shedding blocks and getting to the ball carrier.
Also, another encouraging aspect of the defense was that they were plain nasty at times. They laid into Darren Thomas on a number of occasions each time he became a runner or held on to the ball a bit too long. The Bears even forced two fumbles, although they failed to recover either. Thomas is one cool cat, but you have to wonder whether the hits did force him to think twice about keeping the ball.
Shoutouts to the Defensive MVPs Tonight
Mike Mohamed had one of his best games of the season with 14 tackles and a sack. The guy finally looks healthy, even with a cast on his hand.
Mychal Kendricks recorded 10 tackles, and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Kendricks has a good chance to end the season as one of the top players in this category.
Chris Conte and Trevor Guyton also continued to have strong performances with 8 and 7 tackles respectively. Conte’s going to be missed at the safety position next year. Guyton has a good shot of battling for one of the starting end positions next year with Owusu and Coleman.
Plus, kudos to Derrick Hill for impressively swatted the ball out of Thomas’ hand and recovered it for a much needed score. He didn’t record gaudy numbers, but he was a difference maker in the trenches.
Offense Continues to be Offensive
While the Bears defense did everything they could to help win the game, Cal’s offense was another matter. Other than the opening scoring drive (which was huge for forcing the Ducks to respect the Bears ability to move the ball, at least initially), the Bears could get very little else going.
Much of it was the Bears’ anemic passing game, which falls on a few heads.
Some of it is on the line. Although I will say that I thought they had one of the better games of the season. This was a very athletic Oregon defensive front seven, and Vereen still managed to go for over a 100, and the Mansion didn’t get sacked once.
Some of it was the playcalling. I didn’t think some of the playcalls set the offense up for much success. With the odds stacked against the Bears, and the Oregon defense crowding the box, I was hoping for the Bears to get a bit more aggressive and creative with their playcalling. Instead, we had the same formulaic plays to little success. Even trying to include Ross and Allen on some more sweeps for misdirection runs might have opened things up a little.
Also, the Bears wide receivers continued their troubling trend of dropping some passes. With Mansion struggling all night, the dropped passes became all the more painful.
Speaking of Mansion, this deserves its own section.
A Much More Difficult Week for Mansion
It was a tough week for Mansion. It’s hard to expect much when you’re making your first home start against the top team in the nation, but it’s hard to ever be pleased with a 10 for 28 passing night for just 65 yards.
Last week I lauded Mansion’s propensity to simply let the ball rip and throw without hesitation. This week however, this tendency really exposed his inability go through his progressions. You could see him lock down on his receivers multiple times, while telegraphing most of his passes. By the time he let the ball go, there were often two Oregon defenders closing in on his intended target.
This also hurt in that he missed on connecting with some open targets on the opposite side of the field of where he directed his passes. Mansion’s quarterback field vision simply isn’t very big right now, and it’s hurting the offense big time.
It didn’t help either that Mansion continued to struggle with his accuracy. Even when he made the right read or found an Oregon defender out of his position, he continued to sail or underthrow balls. A lot will come with increased repetitions with his receivers, but a lot of it will need to come with more composure in the pocket.
Final note on Mansion, Cal’s been pretty poor on selling the play action for a while not, but it’s gotten a lot worse with Mansion. Again, not piling on the guy, as it’s just his third game, but it’s something that needs to be addressed in practice this week.
Quick Note on Vereen
All in all, Vereen was his typical hard working self, but you’ve got to be extra concerned when your best offensive player fumbles in Cal territory to start the second half.
Vereen still managed 112 yards on 26 carries, and is just two yards short of breaking 1000 yards for the first time in his career. My friend pointed out that two of those yards were lost on his attempt to punch it in on 3rd and 2 for the go ahead score.
Ahh, that hurts.
On a semi-related note, I wonder why Sofele wasn’t given a single carry. I know the coaching staff is wary about giving the ball to Vereen as much as they did tonight.
Kicking Proves to be the Difference
Look, I’m not going to pile on Giorgio Tavecchio, so if that’s what you want to read, I’m sure there’s plenty of that floating around the web. Try the BearInsider Forums. They’re always a good source of venom and ranting.
There’s really no need other than to try and make oneself feel better, because trust me when I say that no player in that locker room feels more terrible right now than Tavecchio. For the second game this season, a missed field goal essentially cost the Bears heavily. On a 24 yard chip shot attempt from the left hash mark, Tavecchio mistimed his step and fluttered before knocking the ball through the uprights. He was flagged for his illegal motion however, and had to rekick the ball from 29 yards out. A 29 yard field goal to put the Bears up over the top ranked team? Any good old Cal fan will tell you how that’s going to turn out.
A missed field goal is usually no big deal when losing to the Ducks because of how big of a margin most teams usually lose by to them. But a 15-13 loss stings even more knowing that few teams are ever going to get that close that late in a game. You can’t shoot yourself in the foot like that and expect to win.
[Note: I think it's also important to note that you can't really say that a field goal would have won with the field goal. The Ducks were in field goal range on their last drive, so you never know how things would have turned out. I'm simply saying it would have put the Bears up, which would have been critical in terms of momentum.]
As for what this means moving forward, it beats me. It really is a situation where the Bears need to address what’s going on with Tavecchio or take a shot with another kicker. The inherent problem is that the coaching staff has been so sold on Tavecchio, that it’s unlikely that another viable option is on the team. So again, you’re stuck with addressing what to do with Tavecchio, but it’s fairly apparent right now that he’s not getting it done, regardless of how confident this staff might be with him. It’s a lose-lose situation.
I guess you could just try to gameplan for always going for it on fourth down. But then it comes back to the issue of this offense. Blah.
Other Special Teams Woes
The Bears followed up with their worst special teams performance last week to WSU with a game filled with two costly mistakes. The aforementioned missed field goal and giving up a Cliff Harris punt return that would be Oregon’s only points of the first half.
Overall, I thought Anger and the coverage team had one really well on their punts. I thought the Bears executed what they wanted perfectly with their decision to hang all their punts, thereby preventing Harris a chance at any returns.
Until they had to punt out of their own endzone in the second quarter. As soon as the ball came off Anger’s foot, I knew the Bears were in trouble. Needing to go for distance rather than height, the Bears outkicked their coverage, leading to two gunners out of position to make the tackle. The ensuing coverage was poor, and the Ducks had equalized, just like that.
Again, as a Cal fan, you’ve got to be both frustrated beyond belief, yet still clap your Bears off the field. They played their hearts out there and pushed the top ranked team like no other team had done all season. I for one have my head in my hands, yet know well enough to take a deep breath and applaud what was still a gutsy performance, particularly from the defense.
At the end of the day, it’s important not to lose perspective from expectations headed into the game. The Bears were expected to get pummeled. To come out and put on that type of defensive performance has to give a real confidence boost headed into next week’s Big Game. The loss is heartbreaking for a number of reasons, but there’s still enough football left to be played that the Bears can’t let it negatively affect what they have to do. Do the Bears have severe questions on offense and special teams? Absolutely. But most major overhauls will have to be addressed in the offseason.
So we march on…
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 9:42 PM