(Photo by Harry How)
In the world of college football fandom, the line between perspective and emotion is often blurred. One’s emotions often get the best of fans, and often cause us to make more of certain wins than we should, and conversely make more of losses than warranted.
For the sake of some clarity, let’s discuss both my emotion and perspective from Cal’s 23-31 loss to the Huskies on Saturday separately.
From an emotional standpoint, the loss yesterday was obviously a tough one. Here’s the distinction between the brand that is Cal football and any other football team in the nation. Normal teams find themselves down 23-31 late in the fourth quarter and convert maybe one first down before eventually falling short on fourth down at their own 40 yard line or so. They put the game out of reach without raising any hope. But no, not Cal.
We lose with style.
No, the Cal Bears will find a way to put together one of the most harrowing, exciting 86-yard drives possible (complete with three third down conversions) with the chance to do what Washington did to the Bears the previous year--punch it in for a score at the goal line. But the Bears, facing a 1st and goal from the 2 yard line, would find a way to come up empty-handed once again while Washington’s defense celebrated madly over their “accomplishment.”
If that isn’t a cosmic injustice specific to Cal football, I don’t know what is.
After the loss, I sat silently while I finished my beer, and watched with the disgust as the douches in the table next to me pathetically tried to get my female friends inebriated enough to appear charming.
But afterwards, I forced myself to forget about the game, and enjoyed a nice steak dinner out on the town with my wife and friends and woke up this morning having rid myself of most of the terrible emotions from yesterday’s game. Instead, while I still find myself annoyed and frustrated with the loss, I believe I have a sense of perspective mostly unaffected by such anger.
At the end of the day, the game is what it was. The Bears absolutely had the chance to pull one out in Seattle, but fell short due to critical mistakes in the redzone, and the inability to stop the Huskies from making some clutch plays down the stretch. They showed promise in some exhilarating moments, but their youth and inexperience at certain positions also reared their ugly heads in others. Questionable playcalls and coaching decisions will undoubtedly leave blogs and forums abuzz for the next few weeks in what will be the unending second-guessing in the game of “should haves” and “what ifs.”
It was a game that the Bears could have won, but failed to make the plays down the stretch to do so. It’s a game. It happens. Does it bode well for the future? Probably not. But then again, we knew this team was going to take some lumps this year. Is it frustrating? Hell yes it is. But let’s continue to balance our levels of emotion and perspective.
Now let’s break down some of the details.
Red Zone Woes
Overall, I was pleased with the offense’s ability to move the ball. The Bears outgained the Huskies 457 yards to 409 in total offense, and didn’t commit a single turnover.
However, the offense that was so proficient in moving the ball down the field sputtered in the red zone. Of Cal’s five trips to the red zone, they settled for field goals in three of them, before being blanked in their last and most critical red zone visit to finish the game.
The reasons for such ineptitude in the redzone can be attributed to many things, but it appeared to mainly fall on playcalling and passing inaccuracies. The playcalling simply tightened up in the redzone, and the Bears found themselves in far too many third and long situations. And when Zach Maynard did have a chance to step back and pass, he was simply off in his passes, putting the ball just out of the reach of his intended receivers.
If the Bears score touchdowns on three of their five red zone visits, instead of just one, they win the game (even though the score would have been effectively tied). I think the strategy on both sides of the ball change, if the Bears are able to better capitalize in the first half.
More Clear with Maynard
It’s becoming increasingly clear what the Bears have with Zach Maynard. Statistically, he’s going to rank on the lower end of the conference standings in terms of passing efficiency. And it’s true. Maynard isn’t an efficient quarterback.
But the guy is a gamer. Maynard passed for a career high (with Cal) 23-43 for 349 yards and one score. His missed opportunity to pass for 350 is what is most painful though.
His ability to stand tall in the pocket and zip some passes in some crucial situations have been impressive. He’s shaken off some bad mistakes and has bounced back with some terrible looking drives with better ones.
He’s still inaccurate, and his receivers still have to adjust to the ball a few times too often for my taste. But he isn’t missing on too many routine throws, but still needs to work on his touch with his deeper balls and fade routes (see Cal’s last play Saturday).
I still don’t think the coaching staff has effectively utilized his running ability just yet, but I think both them and Maynard are ok with that. At this point, Maynard is too valuable to consistently risk getting injured, and you can tell Maynard is trying hard not to take off and run when he sees his receivers have blanketed. His best throws this season have come when he’s been able to buy more time and allow his receivers to get open.
All in all, while I don’t think Maynard is the second coming of anyone or anything, I have more confidence in this passing offense than I’ve had in some time. While I don’t necessarily believe that the Bears have the capability to drive down the field on any team in any situation, you have to admit that you at least allow yourself to believe Maynard behind center. I’m liking it so far.
So might as well talk about it. Facing first and goal from the Washington 2 yard line, the Bears had an opportunity to score a TD and go for two to put the game into over time.
The above situation was by no means a gimme, but you had to think that the Bears could find a way to at least score.
Here’s what transpired.
V 1-G W02 Pass incomplete to 80-Miller, Anthony.
V 2-G W02 20-Sofele, Isi rush for 1 yard to the WASH1.
V 3-G W01 20-Sofele, Isi rush for loss of 1 yard to the WASH2.
V 4-G W02 Pass incomplete to 21-Allen, Keenan.
Most are likely going bananas over the playcalling as well as the decision to go with Sofele in that situation as opposed to CJ Anderson.
In regards to the RB decision, I think you have to put in CJA there. Let me state that Isi Sofele had been the better back all day, no question. Sofele had his best game of the season in my opinion and had rushed 15 times for 98 yards. CJ Anderson on the other hand, had rushed 7 times for just 9 yards. Sofele was more consistent and was showing more burst.
With that said, CJA has shown the ability to grind out tough yards this season. The Bears weren’t looking Sofele’s 5.8 ypa there, or a big play like Sofele had shown. They needed just two. And I think the CJA was the better option to do that with four downs.
Also, Cal’s inability to gain two yards in critical speaks a volume about their runblocking in critical situations as well.
As for the playcalling, I’m just going to say I didn’t like it. It’s one of those situations that if Cal had scored on any one of those plays that no fan would be complaining. But Cal didn’t, so now everyone’s a critic. While I’m not going to get into too much of what Cal should have done, I do think the Bears needed to have committed to either pounding it up the middle for 4 consecutive plays (if necessary) to score, or have tried instead to get Maynard into space to either get his receivers open or score with his legs. But again, I’m not going to play armchair offensive coordinator and just state that I wasn’t a huge fan of the philosophy.
Keenan Makes His Case
Keenan Allen had a career day, catching 10 passes for a ridiculous 197 yards and a touchdown. It was obvious to everyone watching that Maynard was locking onto his brother, yet no one could do anything about it, even when Allen was double covered. Absolutely ridiculous stuff.
His first catch, a 90 yard scamper into the endzone in which he eluded and shook off defender is one of legends and the longest in Cal history.
Keenan Allen is doing things that few Cal receivers have been able to do in their sophomore season and he’s doing it with style. Through four games, Keenan Allen currently leads the nation for receiving yards with 498 and 3 TDs.
While such production will be difficult to sustain throughout the season, I wouldn’t doubt it if he did.
Marvin Jones also continued his solid senior season, with 6 catches for 79 yards. While I thought that Cal might boast one of the best receiving duos in the conference this season, I’m wondering if they might in fact be one of the best in the nation. I’m eager to find out.
Saturday’s performance will be marked as an up and down day that ended on a sour note due to Washington’s final TD and the game’s outcome.
Schematically, I felt the Bears were able to get decent pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price. Credit Price for his ability to elude defenders and buy extra time for his receivers to get open. But the Bears really missed some key sacks in the game when Cal’s rushers were unable to wrap Price up for the sack.
Overall, the Bears did a very good job with Chris Polk, who I think is the most complete runningback in conference. The Bears held him to just 60 yards on 20 carries, but were burned when the Huskies found a mismatch with him against linebacker DJ Holt on the game deciding 70 yard touchdown reception.
Speaking of big passing plays, the Bears again surrendered big yardage through the airs, with Keith Price passing for 292 yards and 3 TDs. While I was pleased with the play of Cal’s corners, I’m getting increasingly concerned with the coverage abilities of Cal’s linebackers and safeties. Most of Washington’s big passing plays were on them, and they were often out of position and unable to blanket Washington’s receivers like Steve Williams and Anthony. While that’s to be somewhat expected, you can tell where opposing offenses will attack us in the future.
Linebackers Chris McCain and Cecil Whiteside showed great athleticism in penetrating the line, but took bad angles and went for KO hits instead of wrapping up and allowed Price to make some critical passes. It’s one of those things that happens when you have two freshmen playing at both OLB positions.
Still, I like what I see out of McCain and Whiteside, and I think their play will settle dwn as the season progresses. McCain caused constant pressure in the backfield, and Whiteside’s forced fumble was a real momentum changer in the second quarter. Fans just have to be used to take all their explosive plays with the missed ones.
The loss also masks a fantastic performance from Mychal Kendricks who turned in 14 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Other noteworthy individual performances include defensive end Trevor Guyton’s. I thought he had his best game of the season with two sacks and four total tackles. Guyton has quietly emerged as the most consisted defensive lineman and will need to continue to be the anchor for the D-line.
Special Teams Episode IV
The special teams was “oooo-kay” on Saturday. Bryan Anger averaged a respectable 49.7 yards per punt, and Giorgio Tavecchio averaged 63 yards on his kickoffs. Tavecchio was also good on all his extra point attempts as well as nailing three field goals.
Still, Cal lost the field position battle with poor coverage on some returns, including a 53 yarder that set up a Husky score. Tavecchio should not be the leading tackler on special teams.
Brendon Bigelow, fresh off being named “Pac-12 special teams player of the week” struggled in his limited roll on kickoffs, averaging just 18 yards per return. Bigelow looked hesitant and indecisive in his returns, often failing to even get to the 20 yard line.
All this having been said, I realized on Saturday that I have absolutely no confidence in our Special Teams. Sounds ridiculous right? Especially given that they weren’t that bad this game. Surely after all Cal’s special teams have put me through over the years, it’d be ridiculous to say that the Washington game was the one that broke my back.
No. It occurred to me that as I watched the special teams unit, that whenever they stepped on the field I found myself always expecting the worst. Every extra point attempt, every kickoff, I just felt like the worst could happen. And I don’t think I’m unwarranted in this.
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again. This was a critical game. The Bears really needed that one to establish themselves in the Pac-12 pecking order and it would have been an important divisional win.
On the bright side, the Bears have 8 other conference games to redeem themselves. Furthermore, I still continue to think that this team is still a bit different. There were plenty of opportunities for the Bears to completely face plant at certain points of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m content with Cal not being blown out, but I’m happy with the Bears’ resiliency to battle it out to the very end.
Fans need to face the possibility that the next 3 game stretch of Oregon, USC, and Utah has the chance to be pretty brutal. But I think the Bears have shown me enough to think they’ve got a chance to still make it a decent season and build for next year.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
(Photo by Harry How)