I'm going to break my keyboard and will have a post up in the next day or so after it's replaced.
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Saturday, October 29, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
(If the Bears lose, I'm Van Damme palming somebody.)
The Bears are fresh off a rejuvenating win over Utah and head to LA to face a reeling UCLA squad. The Bruins are facing suspensions, constant coaching change speculation, and generally bad play on both sides of the ball.
If the Bears lose this week, it will be either be the result of an utter and complete failure by the coaching staff to prepare the team for the Bruins' best shot or because of a completely lackadaisical effort by the team.
However, the Bears should not lose this game. Could they? Yes, it's feasible as they've notoriously struggled on the road in recent years. But, let me repeat myself, they should not lose this game.
To be honest, I expect UCLA to come out bring their best shot. While the Bruins have been up and down for the past several years, they've done a decent job in showing up after larger losses.
However, something tells me the Bears aren't taking their baby brethren too lightly either, and will be ready to bring the goods.
Or at least, I'm hoping.
Here are the keys to the game.
Disrupt the Option
With UCLA facing a diminished wide receiver corps due to their suspended wide receivers, you can sure as heck bet that they plan on throwing the kitchen sink at the Bears in the running attack. The Bruins were always a run-first pistol offense anyway, so you know their focus on executing this week is already going to be at an all time high.
The Bears have defended well against the rush, but some of their most notorious defensive failures have come against option offenses.
I'm thinking the Bears take their chances with the secondary, and dedicate more players on disrupting the option. Crashes, slants, stunts, blitzes can all mess up the assignments for linemen and blockers, forcing the hesitation to reside on the offensive side of the ball. Gap integrity goes without saying, but the Bears need to focus on making UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince tentative and hesitant in his decisions, thereby decreasing the likelihood that he begins attacking the edges on QB keepers.
If the Bears shut down the run, they win the day on defense. Kevin Prince is not going to beat you through the air. If he does, I will eat a rattlesnake Van Damme style.
Go Up Big Early On
The game plan for the Bears should be a bit different from last week's affair against Utah. In that game, the Bears expected a defensive battle, and had to play it a bit more conservative in the early going. Fortunately, the Bears got some great field position due to some turnovers and defensive stops, and capitalized to gain an early lead.
On Saturday however, the Bears need to come out with all guns firing and ready to punch the Bruins in the mouth.
Like I wrote earlier, I expect the Bruins to be fired up for this one and ready to shake off the negativity surrounding their program. You let the Bruins hang around in the game, and they're only going to get more confident, and bad things happen to the Bears in the Rose Bowl when the Bruins play a chip on their shoulder.
Knocking the Bruins back with a turnover or a long drive can be huge in taking the winds out of their sails. If the Bruins find themselves in another early hole, and down big again for the second straight week, the more impossible it is to rally any unit on the field. Even for a charmer like Slick Rick.
Follow the Formula
Offensively, there is absolutely no reason the Bears can't move the ball against the Bruins. Check out these defensive stats for the Bruins:
- 11th in the conference in total defense (436.1 ypg)
- 11th in the conference in scoring defense (34.4 ppg)
- 12th in the conference in rushing defense (191.86 ypg)
- 7th in the conference in passing defense (244.3 ypg)
- 12th in the conference in opponent 3rd down conversions (55.96%)
- 12th in the conference in opponent red zone conversions (93.55%)
Those are truly awful numbers. I'm not going to even bother breaking down an offensive strategy here.
Look, UCLA has some talented players on defense. There's no real reason they should be playing this poorly. Things don't look any better with their best defensive player FS Tony Dye out with injury and their best pass rusher DT Cassius Marsh suspended.
Just don't turn the ball over. Seriously. As long as the Bears hold on to the football and Maynard reads his defense (at the very least knowing when the Bruins are disguising man and zone coverage), they should be able to move the ball and score.
If anything close to the focused offensive unit that showed up against the Utes shows up in Pasadena on Saturday, the Bears score, and they score plenty enough to win.
I swear to Jeebus, if Cal loses to UCLA, I...I don't even know what else to say. I'm even out of Van Damme pictures.
I fully expect the Bears to come out focused and ready to compete. If the defense play fast and smart against UCLA's rushing attack and the Bears avoid turnovers on offense, they should win. Should.
Cal 31 UCLA 17
Oh, and nevermind, I found anther Van Damme pic.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sorry for the delay in getting this out. I’ll spend less time talking about what happened last week and more about what is to come with this weekend’s upcoming slate of games.
There were quite a few surprises in the Pac-12 last weekend, not so much in the winners, but by how much some teams rolled others en route to big wins. There wasn’t a single close victory in any conference game. You could call it “blowout weekend” if you will.
Arizona 48 UCLA 12
Lowdown: What a mess of a game. The Wildcats played their first game without Mike Stoops, the they came out firing on all cylinders. Nick Foles was his usual efficient self, but the biggest surprise was how poor UCLA’s defense looked against AZ’s rushing attack which had been considered at best, poor all season long. The larger story was the embarrassing scuffle that broke out between both squads. The fight occurred while referees were distracted by a streaker who had been disguised as an umpire. You can’t make this up. The result were suspensions and a seat that’s scorching for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.
The Wildcats see if they can continue their winning ways as they finally settle into the soft part of their schedule. However, Arizona can’t be favored in their matchup against Washington at Seattle. I anticipate the Wildcats dropping this one, before possibly winning three of their final four games after. It’s a lost season for Arizona, but finishing 5-7 would be a nice finish for a once desolate squad.
UCLA has to find answers as they host our sturdy Golden Bears this weekend. On top of Neuheisel’s hot seat, the Bruins have to battle six suspensions, the loss of senior safety Tony Dye, and what was easily their worst performance of the year. How the Bruins play against the Bears will say a lot about their fortitude, and perhaps more tellingly, their ability to rally behind their embattled coach.
Oregon 45 Colorado 2
Lowdown: Poor, poor Colorado. A brutal schedule that includes 13 regular season games in 13 weeks. The suspension of most players in their secondary. The loss of their top two offensive players. This is how your write the recipe for a disastrous season. Despite the absence of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, the Ducks steamrolled Colorado. They could have started their second stringers, and elected not to pass a single down, and would still have pulled this one out.
Things get worse for Colorado. Much worse. They go to Tempe to face the Sun Devils, and then host USC the week after. Their only chance for hope next season, is to pull off two wins out of their final three games which include Arizona, UCLA and Utah. They should get receiver Paul Richardson back for that game, and even finishing with three wins would give fans in Colorado some hope that things will be better next year. I mean they have to, right?
Oregon will continue in their winning ways and improve to 7-1 when they host WSU this weekend. They will hopefully get both Thomas and James back for their critical three game stretch against Washington, Stanford, and USC. I think the Ducks are capable of winning all three, but without the aforementioned players at full strength, the Ducks are likely to drop at least one. Don’t be surprised if it’s to the Huskies next Saturday.
USC 31 Notre Dame 17
Lowdown: The Trojans shocked the nation in steamrolling the Domers for the bajillionth time. Most had thought Notre Dame had turned the season around and USC was showing signs of cracking at any moment. Most were wrong as USC made a statement game that they were still indeed capable of beating most teams. Notre Dame showed that BCS bowl talks were premature, and quite frankly, a bit ridiculous.
USC’s 6-1 on the season. And that win against Notre Dame was impressive. You have to give them that. But I still maintain that this is at best, a “good” team. This isn’t just sour grapes, and I think you’re going to see that over the next few weeks. The Trojans will still likely finish with 9 wins, but I think they get rolled by the Cardinal this weekend, and likely drop their matchup against Oregon as well.
Stanford 65 Washington 21
Lowdown: The biggest knock against the Cardinal was that they hadn’t played anybody of actual strength. Let’s be honest here, Stanford’s front schedule is incredibly soft. Then came along Washington, and the Cardinal rolled up 400+ yards on the ground and 65 points. It was Stanford’s most dominant performance of the season and reason to believe they are actual national contenders. WTF, Washington.
Here’s where Stanford proves their mettle. They face USC this weekend, and finish their season against Oregon, Cal (rivalry game), and Notre Dame. The Cardinal should be favored in all three. There’s a very real possibility Stanford plays for the national title this year. I think Stanford is quite good, and a top 10 team, but I don’t think they’re national title caliber. The Pac-12 isn’t that strong this season, and their biggest threat Oregon, is another dislocated elbow away from being Alamo Bowl bound. The stars appear aligned for Stanford, it’s just up to Andrew Luck, I mean Stanford to take advantage of the situation.
Washington has been one of the biggest surprises in the conference this season, but showed they’re still a season away from challenging for the conference elite. They’re still one of the better teams in the conference however, particularly on offense. They face a suddenly dangerous Arizona team, and you have to think Huskies fans are already wringing their hands at the idea of Nick Holt’s defense facing Arizona’s passing attack. I’m thinking the Huskies finish with 8 wins this year.
Oregon State 44 WSU 21
Lowdown: Both teams battled it out, but Oregon State answered every time WSU made some attempt at making it a game. The Beavers played filthy on defense, and knocked out quarterback Jeff Tuel early in the game. The Beavers just might be finding that mid-season magic again, as their offense has found a way to score behind freshman QB Sean Mannion. They’ve averaged over 36 points in their past three games.
Despite their improvements, OSU is still just 2-5 over the easiest portion of their schedule. Their remaining schedule includes Utah, Stanford, Cal, Washington and Oregon. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Beavers slated to lose all of them. How they perform against Utah and Stanford will be critical. If their defense can continue to play aggressive, and if the offense continues to click under Mannion, this Bear fan will find himself weeping the week before and after the Cal game.
Washington State on the other hand is seeing a once-promising season swirl down the drain. The Cougars have lost three in a row in a critical three game stretch against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State. Bowl Eligibility depended greatly on the Cougars winning two, but at the very least one of those games. They enter in the toughest stretch of their schedule, and to be honest, I can’t see WSU finding three wins with Oregon, Cal, ASU, Utah and Washington lined up. Coach Wulff’s job might the least secure after Neuheisel in the Pac-12.
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Monday, October 24, 2011
In a much needed win, the Bears snapped a three-game losing streak and rolled the Utah Utes on Saturday at ATT Park to a score of 34-10.
Both teams had come into the game winless in the conference, with their respective season trajectories on the line. The winner would maintain course for bowl eligibility, while the the loser would have an uphill battle at salvaging their season.
Thanks to an inspired defensive effort, and a mostly mistake-free performance from Zach Maynard and the offense, the Bears recorded their first conference win in a somewhat surprising dominant fashion, forcing turnovers and stifling any offense attack from the Utes.
Let’s look at some of the specifics.
The Bears’ defensive performance on Saturday can’t be ignored any way you look at it. Many may point to the fact that Utah’s offense is pretty putrid right now having lost their starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, as well as their starting tight end and leading receiver headed into the game. Still, Utah featured a solid offensive line and one of the leading rushers in the conference in John White IV.
Yet, the Bears absolutely shut down any offensive output from the Utes, holding Utah to just 58 yards of total offense heading into the fourth quarter. To that point, John White IV had managed just two yards on seven rushing attempts, while quarterback John Hays had thrown for just 61 yards, been sacked three times and had thrown two interceptions.
By the time the final seconds had rolled off the clock, the Utes would manage to score 10 points mostly against Cal’s reserves, with just 178 total yards. White finished with 39 rushing yards on 15 carries while Hays managed 148 passing yards, but threw for 3 interceptions (one returned by Josh Hill for a score) and was sacked four times.
It was sheer defensive dominance.
Look, I know that right now, Utah probably has the worst offense in the conference. You have to feel for Kyle Wittingham and the Utes in that they couldn’t anticipate the rash of key injuries on offense. Still, it’s still pretty impressive when you hold any FBS team to less than 60 total yards and 0 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Cal’s defense has slowly been putting it together, and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast appears to have finally settled on his group of starters and his go-to sub packages. The defensive unit as a whole appears to be playing with much more cohesion and communication, and the front seven is doing a solid job of maintaining gap integrity and plugging up interior rushing lanes.
Most knew that it might take some time for the defense to really getting into the swing of things, with freshmen starting OLBs and new starters at other positions. While the Bears still have a few issues, if they continue to play the way they did on Saturday, they are easily one of the best defensive teams in the conference.
Maynard Bounces Back
Many wondered whether QB Zach Maynard could bounce back from his two worst performances of the season against Oregon and USC, in a must-win game against one of the better defenses in the conference.
Well it turns out Maynard didn’t need to be spectacular to answer such questions, instead he needed to simply settle down and and play mistake-free football. And that’s exactly what he did.
With the Bears’ coaching staff doing a much better job of utilizing Maynard’s skill set, Maynard had one of his best games in his Cal career, going 19-29 for 255 yards for a TD and rushing for another score and 36 yards.
Maynard isn’t ever going to be one of the most accurate quarterbacks, but his play is undeniably more crisp when he’s on the move, rolling out of the pocket and allowing his receivers to separate from defenders in man coverage. I thought the coaches did a great job in calling for more rollouts, without overdoing it and keeping Maynard as a legitimate threat in the pocket as well. But there’s not doubt about it, Maynard is a different quarterback when he’s moving around, and the offense becomes far more dangerous.
I also liked that there were more designed runs for Maynard, and he had his best day running the ball since the season opener against Fresno State. That zone read is becoming increasingly effective, and even though you did see a few instances in which Maynard made the wrong decision to keep the ball, he was smart in not trying to do too much to get out of a bad spot and minimized the loss of yardage.
You also saw a few more option pitch plays that had varying levels of success, but I like the variety I’m seeing in utilizing Maynard as a runner, and Isi Sofele has done a good job of making something out nothing in some of those situations.
All I ask is that Maynard slides a bit more. He looks like he’s going to explode every time he gets hit.
With the Bears defense playing as well as it is, the coaching staff needs to reiterate that Maynard simply needs not to press and manage the game in order for the Bears to be competitive in every game this year. Saturday was a very solid start.
Keenan Allen, No Surprises Here
Keenan Allen had his lowest receiving yard total of the season, catching 8 balls for 78 yards and a score, but the way he racked up those stats were no less impressive than some of his gaudy performances this year.
Allen showed why he’s emerging as one of the most balanced receivers in Cal history, showing freakish athleticism on a pass in which he leapt into the air, adjusted and one-handed a pass that was thrown well behind him. It’s the type of play I saw Calvin Johnson make with Georgia Tech a few years ago that made me go, “wow.” He also carried a cornerback on his back on a bubble screen for a score.
Allen may not have the breakaway speed that may make him the biggest deep threat, but he’s so insanely athletic that his play in nearly every other phase of the game shows why he might be a once in a generation type of talent.
Though no receiver topped 100 yards on Saturday, I was a huge fan of what I saw in the passing game. I’m a firm believer that the more weapons the a team can develop in the passing game, the more of a threat any one receiver is likely to be in any given game.
While Keenan Allen is still the unquestioned #1 receiver, Marvin Jones was his usual solid self, catching 5 passes for 69 yards. Jones quietly continues to have a very solid season that’s been lost a bit in the hubbub over Allen’s gaudy numbers.
What was even more encouraging was the emergence of Michael Calvin, who caught a career high 4 catches for 49 yards. While they’re far from great numbers, Calvin did just enough to emerge as a legitimate receiving threat to take some pressure off of Jones and Allen on the outside.
I’d love to see a similar type of distribution in catches continue, with perhaps a few more thrown in the direction of Cal’s tight ends.
Speaking of which...
Tight End Thoughts
I had all but given up on tight end production in the passing game until Saturday. However, there were a few things to make me think twice.
First, Anthony Miller still showed he could be a threat in the passing game catching a nice deep ball on a rollout by Maynard in which Maynard threw across his body towards the other end of the field. Had Miller’s legs not been tangled up with the defenders, he would have easily scored.
But you saw the tight ends used quite a bit in the passing game, with Miller and Ladner getting a decent amount of separation from defenders on dig routes or rolling out with Maynard. Maynard just happened to aim for his receivers who deeper downfield instead, which ended up usually being the right decision. However, the fact that they weren’t being left in primarily to block shows there are indeed some plans there for the tight ends in the passing game. In fact, in some spread sets, you even saw Miller off the line and lined up in the slot.
Finally, it appears like Spencer Ladner might have overtaken Spencer Hagan for the second tight end spot. I’m not sure if it was because Hagan got dinged up in the game, but you saw Ladner in quite a bit and he looked pretty good in the blocking game for someone who is coming off such a long rest from injury. Good to see.
Individual Defensive Performances
I continue to watch Stefan McClure’s development with such a watchful eye because I continue to be impressed with his play. Not because he’s been so spectacular. In fact, he had a bit of an up and down performance against the Utes. But he shows such good signs for a corner that you continue to be impressed that he’s just a true freshman.
McClure was picked on quite a bit and did give up gains on at least two deep balls from my recollection, but it’s not that the coverage wasn’t there. He was draped on his defender quite well, they were just nice plays by Hays and the Utah receiver to come down with the ball. And that’s what you like to see from a young corner. An understanding on passing downs, and the athleticism and skills to be in position to make the play, even if it’s not always made. His ability to jump routes and make plays on the ball will continue to develop, but I’m liking what I’m seeing from McClure.
It’s also worth noting that McClure had his first pick of his career after Dave Wilkerson absolutely crushed Hays for a shot put pass.
Speaking of Wilkerson, he had the best game of his young career, recording five tackles , 3 TFLs and 1.5 sacks. Wilkerson has been hobbled for much of the season, but like the rest of the defense, appears to be playing up to the potential that had coaches calling him unblockable off the edges in camp. I like the way the kid hits, and here’s hoping he develops into the type of pass rusher the Bears haven’t had since Zack Follett.
Finally, I think it’s worth noting Aaron Tipoti’s emergence at the nose tackle position. He’s really turned it on since the Oregon game, and in fact, I thought he was one of the best defensive players in the game. He doesn’t demand as many double teams in run defense as other gigantic nose tackles just yet, but he does a fine job in creating pressure in passing situations. He just causes nice disruption at the line of scrimmage.
Offensive Line Improving
While Cal’s offensive line is far from dominant (they still struggle a bit too much in short yardage situations for my tastes), I’m really liking the job that Coach Michalczik is doing with this o-line. The stats aren’t going to wow you, as they still give up the occasional sack and the rushing attack is still just decent at best, the Bears o-line just looks so much more consistent in most phases of the game.
While Utah’s offense was noticeably poor, this was a solid Utah defensive front seven. One of the best in the conference in my opinion. Still, the Bears managed a decent 129 yards on the ground and gave Maynard some pretty good time in the pocket. While some may be distracted by the two sack stat, watching the game, you never really got the sense that Maynard was under too much duress.
The line is still improving, but it’s still in much better shape than it was a year ago.
Special Teams continued to be a mixed bag, but had one of its better days on the season.
Giorgio Tavecchio had a nice day kicking the ball, averaging 62.7 yards on 7 kickoffs. In fact, one touchback went over the left field post for what would have been a homerun...if homeruns were kicked with footballs.
He was also 2 for 3 on the day on field goal attempts, though he was wide left on a 29 yard attempt. I’m not quite sure what happened there, as I thought it was blocked, but it might have just been poor contact with the ball from the get go.
All in all, Tavecchio still is one of the brighter spots on special teams along with Bryan Anger who averaged 46.2 yards per punt. The staff went to the rugby style punts later in the game, to...less productive results. Me no likey rugby punts.
Punt coverage was solid, and kickoff coverage was about the same until a few poor angles led to some big returns in the second half.
One point I haven’t touched too much on this year has been the poor blocking on punt and kickoff returns. It’s really been quite bad.
It seems that nearly every punt has the opposing team’s gunner running unimpeded towards Marvin Jones. On kickoff returns, Colemon Edmond and Brendon Bigelow literally have no shot, and are usually nailed inside the fifteen yard line. Not good.
Special Teams did some good things, but there are some areas that may simply not change this year. The Bears are going to have battle poor field position all year on opening kickoffs.
Overall, it was a solid performance for the Bears. There are still some concerns, and I didn’t even touch upon the penalty problem that plagues the Bears on Saturday.
But the Bears showed very well the type of team they could be this year: a defensively disruptive team that makes enough plays on offense when they minimize mistakes to win games.
The Bears passed their first test in a critical and very much winnable four game stretch that will define their season. Cal has found the formula for the Bears to be successful this year. They just need to play with the same level of focus to match their performance for the rest of this season.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011
These highlights come to you courtesy TouchedtheAxein82. Usual solid work.
I'll have the writeup for the game sometime this evening or tomorrow, but just know this Golden Bear fan was encouraged by a lot of things yesterday.
[Edit: Here is Cal Athletics' highlight reel of the game with Starky's commentary. What a bonanza!"]
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Thursday, October 20, 2011
In Saturday's matchup between the Utah Utes (wtf is a Ute?) and the Cal Bears, both teams face a must win scenario. Both are 3-3 on the season, and both are looking for their first conference win.
The Utes have had a tougher non-conference slate, though the Bears have faced off against three of the top conference teams, with two games having been on the road.
The Bears look to get back to their winning ways to cut down on their mistakes that sunk them in their last loss to USC, and they hope to look for more efficiency out of their quarterback Zach Maynard, who threw for a season-high three interceptions in last week's mistake-filled contest.
Utah brings a very tough defense, and QB issues of their own, and the season might change drastically for the victor in Saturday's game. Let's get to the specifics.
Get Back to Basics on Offense
Utah's defense has quietly been very solid this season.
They're second in the conference in total and scoring defense, giving up on average, 326.3 yards and 20.5 points per game.
The Utes are very stout in the trenches, and their rush defense is also second in the conference, giving up 94.5 yards per game. They held the nation's leading rusher, Pittsburgh's Ray Graham to just 46 total rushing yards, though Pittsburgh's usually terrible offense became even more one dimensional last Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Utes are very disciplined in all that they do, and are particularly adept in forcing turnovers as evidenced by the 16 they've forced this year.
Cal's toughest test will be to find consistency on offense against Utah's defense.
I do think the Bears have the weapons to take down the Utes. It will boil down to whether they have the consistency to do it however. The Bears need to find some type of identity on offense. If they choose to spread out Utah's defense, they need to get Maynard out of the pocket and find ways to get their receivers into space. If they want to go the ground and pound route, it's fine as long as they commit to it.
The Bears are very multiple in what they do, but they've had inconsistent results in nearly every offensive set. I'm not opposed to the Bears testing the waters early on with multiple looks, but they need to use the first quarter to find out what's working and ditch what isn't.
Personally I think the spread look might look better against the Utes, but if the Bears go this route, just remember to move the pocket for Maynard. He doesn't always have to roll out, but he's not at a point where he can just sit back and pick defenses apart just yet. He's going to get his hand stuck in the cookie jar, so just allow him to buy time in a moving pocket.
Make Hayes Beat You
Since Utah QB Jordan Wynn has gone down, Utah has had to rely on Jon Hayes (from Nebraska Omaha) to lead the offense. However, the real driving force behind this offense is Jon White IV who is currently third in the conference in rushing yards with 671.
However, I will say that in the short action I've seen Jon Hayes play in, he hasn't looked completely wide-eyed and has done a decent job managing the game.
In short, expect the Utes to try and wear down the Cal defense with long drives consisting of a consistent ground game and high completion throws to their wideouts and tight ends.
The Utes know they can't rely on White to run 40 times a game, and are going to have to get something going through the air. I expect the defense to turn it up a notch and dial in the pressure in attempts to stack the box and rattle Hayes. Give Hayes multiple looks to force some indecision in the passer. Utah's leading receiver Devonte Christopher might be out for the game, and the Utes have no other proven playmakers at the wideout position, so the Bears can afford to leave some of their defenders on an island in order to stop the run. If the Bears can turn the Utah offense into being one dimensional by stuffing the rushing attack and making Hayes try and beat the Bears through the air, I like our chances.
However, please, please be wary of the screen. Please?
Solid Special Teams
In a game that's likely to be a defensive slugfest, special teams and field position are going to be absolutely critical. What's been for the Utes is their kicker/punter Jordan Peterson, who pretty much does it all, handling both punting and kicking duties. He's done a fair job on both, and nailed 4 field goals in last week's win over Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately for the Utes, Utah has also given up five touchdowns on special teams, with Pittsburgh scoring their only two touchdowns on a kickoff return, and a block punt returned for a score.
The Bears have had their own problems on special teams, and although they've yet to give up any scores on the unit, have seen inconsistency on their rugby style punts, and have had a ridiculous 5 kicks (4 PATs and 1 FG) blocked on the season.
Overall however, Utah has typically had strong special teams, and is a well-coached unit. The Bears are going to have to be incredibly cautious in all phases, especially on kickoffs, with Utah's Reggie Dunn averaging about 25 yards per kickoff return.
The Bears can't afford to make too many chances on special teams, and just need to execute on basic assignments. If Cal's offense struggles, solid special teams might be the difference between decent field position, and terrible field position.
Early on in the season, I pegged this game as a loss. I thought Utah was coached too well and their knack for taking down AQ foes (including the Bears) led me to believe that the game was going to be a loss.
However, the Utes have shown a propensity to beat themselves, and their offense has become far more one-dimensional without QB Jordan Wynn, who wasn't exactly lighting it up when he was healthy either. I then began to believe. Beat a floundering Utes team at home? Hells yes.
With that said, Utah is still well coached (probably better than ours), and their stout defense has me scared.
It'll depend on which Cal team shows up. If the 5 turnover mess of a team shows up, I still maintain that that squad doesn't beat a single conference team all season. But if Cal can cut down their mistakes, I still think we have one of the more dangerous teams out there.
I think the Bears rebound and play a hard fought game.
Cal 23 Utah 17
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Sunday, October 16, 2011
Let me start by saying that at no point during Cal's 30-9 loss to USC yesterday did I experience the typical sadness that follows our annual game with the Trojans.
No, this time it wasn't sadness, but pure frustration and anger.
I love my Bears. And to be completely honest with you, I find myself liking this team a lot more than previous years' squads than probably warranted. Even in these losses I've never really felt like the team has quit or given up.
But yesterday, the Bears looked awful. Atrocious. Well, other than the defense. In fact, other than a few mistakes here or there, the defense played about as well as they could have.
The offense and special teams however were a completely different story. How could anyone watch the game objectively and not think the Bears looked like a mess on those sides of the ball?
This was not the result of teams giving up like many felt they did in previous losses. No, this was pure sloppiness to the nth degree. It seemed like every positive play was followed up by some boneheaded penalty, turnover, or miscue.
It's incredibly frustrating to watch because I really do think the Bears are a mediocre team right now, but they're playing like a terrible one. I can't think of a Pac-12 team we would have beaten last night. That's how bad it was.
Perhaps I'm making more of it than necessary, because there were a lot of good things in the game as well. But perhaps I haven't been making enough of it for a while now either.
Let's get to the highs and lows of each unit.
Sink or Swim with Maynard
First off, there were so many issues with the Bears' offense and special teams on Thursday, that no one in that their right mind could pin the loss entirely on Maynard.
With that said, Maynard was a huge part of the Bears' offensive failures against USC. Maynard was 25 for 43 for 294 yards, but was held without a TD for the first time, and more crucially, threw 3 interceptions in key moments during the game.
What's been so maddening about Maynard has been his propensity to do some great things, and then follow it up a play that will make anyone just throw their hands up in the air. His scramble to evade defenders and hit CJ Anderson while rolling to his right was just brilliant. His interception in the end zone in which he locked onto his intended receiver and threw in double coverage with a linebacker underneath was not. It's incredibly frustrating to watch.
There is no secret to Maynard right now. He's an athlete that has an ability to do good things, and can throw some nice balls when he steps forward in the pocket and sets his feet. He also throws a nice ball on the run or when he moves out of the pocket.
However, he's not an accurate passer right now, and I'm not sure he'll ever be. His mechanics break down quickly when he gets flustered in the pocket when he's weakest, as does his ability to read defenses and look off his receiver deconstruct. Simply put, the game is moving too quickly for him right now.
It looks like Tedford is going to stick with Maynard right now, knowing that the team is about to go through the softest stretch of the season. Over the next few games, Tedford will know whether Maynard will progress and get up to speed or if what we all see right now is what we're going to get.
Either way, Tedford is going to sink or swim with Maynard. If Maynard can settle down, go through his progressions and learn not to get rattled in the pocket, all signs looking positive for the following season. If Maynard continues to struggles however, the season is done and the Bears continue to have QB issues and the same disappointing story with Tedford's so-called legend as a QB guru reduced to nothing but a myth.
We're halfway through the season, and while one can see flashes of why Tedford went with Maynard so early, but at this point, it's also strongly possible that Maynard's downfall could very well to Tedford's as well.
Here's the good. Keenan Allen showcased why just might be one of the best wide receivers in the nation. The sky was the limit for this guy, but he's just flat out beast level right now.
Marvin Jones also shows flashes of good things, but his two drops are disheartening. He may have a hand injury though that most aren't aware of. Not sure.
I still continue to be increasingly content with Isi Sofele, though his numbers on Thursday weren't good. The Bears had to get away from the run again fairly early on, and the run blocking during the second half of the game simply wasn't there.
But the number of other mental mistakes for this team is brutal. Simply brutal. Drops, penalties, poor decisions...the list goes on. On one play late in the game, USC sacked the Bears with a two man rush. TWO. Against five. Matt Summers-Gavin was beat by his men while Cheadle and Galas stared off heroically in the distance.
On Cal's last possession, Michael Calvin had the first down on a 17 yard strike, only to run backwards and get tackled to end the Bears drive.
Galas continues to struggle with shotgun snaps and now he's getting penalized for them.
Oh, and the tight ends have become non-existent in the passing game.
While the biggest issues with the offense start with Maynard, it's disheartening to see so many mental errors in a game that appeared about as winnable as one has been in a while.
On that note...
USC = Mediocre
This is not an issue of sour grapes. Trust me, I've seen the Bears lose to some truly great USC teams. But after having watched this game, I'm convinced that USC is really mediocre. They're one dimensional on offense, and that defense is going to continue to get shredded by decent offenses this year.
This was just an issue of Cal looking awful on offense and special teams on Thursday.
Speaking of special teams...
The Bears have Giorgio Tavecchio and Bryan Anger going for them, and that's about it. Tavecchio continues to have a solid senior season, and Bryan is as well when he's not asked to rugby punt.
The continual decision to rugby punt is an indictment of the Bears' terrible protection in both kicking and punting games.
Speaking of protection, kick and punt protection is inexcusably bad. There's no reason a team should have four extra points and a field goal blocked in six games. Inexcusable.
Also, the Bears have no strengths right now in the return game, which mind boggling considering the athletes the Bears have on the team. Brendon Bigelow continues his struggles on kick returns, and Marvin Jones may not be the answer in punt returns. He had his longest return of the season on his 33 yarder, but again fair-caught a ball inside his own ten-yard line. Moreover, one could see him brush off Tedford's scolding on the sideline for his error.
Finally, I haven't read any explanations on the fake punt attempt yet, but it appeared like Coach Genyk allowed Anger to audible based on what he saw from USC, but that should never have been an option. I'm a fan of taking an occasional fake punt attempt, but not when you have to gain seven and you're that deep in your own territory. What an absolute blunder.
At this point, I'm hardpressed to come up with many reasons that Coach Genyk should be retained as special teams coach at the end of the season. I feel like I'm fighting every impulse in my body to give up on special teams at this point.
The One Bright Spot
I thought the defense played pretty well on Thursday. It wasn't perfect by any means, with the biggest issues being the missed tackles that could have been some big plays.
However, by and large the Bears defense had to battle some dynamic USC playmakers, terrible field position, and also had to deal with being on the field much longer than necessary due to the offense's deficiencies.
The played good coverage down the field, were sound in their assignments, and also did a nice number on the Trojan running game before their being on the field for so long just caught up to them.
Most specifically, I was pleased with the job the Bears did on USC playmaker Robert Woods. Holding Woods to 36 receiving yards is pretty remarkable. I don't think this would have been the case had Barkley had a better game, but the Bears applied enough pressure in the pocket to rattle Barkley just a bit and force him to be a bit off with his throws.
McClure's Starting Debut
All in all I think true freshman Stefan McClure did an outstanding job in his first start. He had a tough task against both Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. An unfairly tough task in fact. And sure he got beat a few times, but in those one-one battles, the offense usually wins out. I do wonder where the safety help was on a few instances as well. But again, McClure was usually in position to make plays, and appears to be a pretty sound tackler for his age as well.
He's got some more tough battles ahead, but the future looks bright for the talented frosh. McClure has all the makings for a very talented cover corner.
Coming into the season, I looked at our first six games and thought that a 4-2 record over that stretch would be ideal, a 2-4 start would be disastrous, and a 3-3 record would be about in line with preseason expectations of a young team breaking in new starters at key positions during the toughest stretch of the year.
The Bears have fallen in line with those expectations by dropping their last three, but what has been so concerning has been the ways in which we've lost the last two games. Washington was very much winnable had the Bears been able to execute in the red zone, and while Oregon was still a stretch, that could have been much more close had the Bears offense not stalled in key stretches of the game. As for USC, we've just discussed that.
The Bears enter a very, very winnable stretch in their schedule that will define their season. Few expected the Bears to be in the upper tier of the conference this year, but the hope was that the Bears would rise above the mediocre teams this year. Taking the next four games, or at the very least, 3 of 4 will help the Bears achieve just that.
However, Thursday's game was a step in the wrong direction. Because again, another performance like Thursdays, and it will be hard for the Bears to be considered even mediocre.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011
(Robert Woods - This MoFo can fly.)
I've been doing this whole blogging thing for a couple years now, and I must say, there's no "Keys to the Game" feature I hate writing more than the USC one.
Why? Because every year in breaking down and previewing the Trojans, I inevitably come to the conclusion that beating the Trojans is very much possible. And nearly every year I walk away from their annual matchup disgusted and empty.
Case in point, excluding a cop-out prediction in 2008, I've predicted a Cal win every year. Sweet Jeebus that's just masochistic.
Regardless of my emotions on the matter, the Bears have a prime opportunity to show that this team is different from years past, and more importantly different from the team that was drubbed 45-14 at the Coliseum last year. The Bears have never started conference play 0-3, but may fall to just that dubious record in a tough matchup against the Trojans.
While USC isn't anywhere close to the dominant team they had been in years past, they're still arguably the most talented team in the conference, and it's no secret that the they've had the Bears' number since 2003. That's nearly ten years.
Fans may not be too optimistic of the Bears chances after Cal has exhibited inconsistent play and youth on both sides of the ball during their 3-2 start.
But fear not, Cal fans. There's hope. Here I go again.
Let me start by saying that USC receiver Robert Woods is one of the best collegiate wide receivers I've seen in a long time. And we've seen some good ones.
He's abused every secondary he's faced, and is putting up All-World numbers.
It'd be easy to say, just double cover Woods and pray. Triple cover him if you need to.
But here's the problem with double teaming Robert Woods. USC knows opposing defenses will try to double Woods, with a corner sticking to Woods and the safety helping up top. Knowing this, they often overload that side of the field, or find a way to get their slot receiver open on wheel routes or the spaces where the safety would normally be.
The Trojans also have a legit threat on the other side in true frosh Marqise Lee who is begging for one-on-one matchups on the outside. USC also likes to bring their fullbacks and runningbacks in wheel routes to try and get a mismatch with a linebacker, knowing that the extra defenders in the secondary are hawking Woods.
Still, Woods is as good of a wide receiver as I've seen for the Trojans, and at the end of the day, you can't just commit one defender to guarding Woods. He'll drink feast on opposing secondaries. Throw in the best cover OLBs and trust them against the tight ends and backs, and commit your cornerbacks and a safety to Woods and Lee. And pray.
Keep Barkley in the Pocket
Last year the Bears were abused when they showed an inability to keep USC QB Matt Barkley in the pocket. Barkley is the most dangerous when he's rolling out of the pocket, and the Trojans design a lot of these roll outs with Barkley taking his pick of a WR running a dig route across the field or a runningback or tight end that has been released on the side that Barkley rolls out on.
The Bears need to continue to work at incorporating a few more contain packages and some delayed blitzes to create pressure after Barkley has made his decision about getting out in space. Blitzing and leaving yourself one or two less defenders in coverage isn't always the answer. But just make sure Barkley doesn't get outside.
Pass Protect to Beat the Cover 2
Here's what I wrote last year about USC's Cover 2 Defense:
"The Cover 2 typically allows for the cornerbacks to play press coverage for the first five to ten yards which allows for the two safeties (the cover 2 so to speak) enough time to cover the back halves of their field. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers cover the flats while the middle linebackers are responsible for the middle zones.
The Cover 2 can be beaten when vertical routes are run to stretch the coverage, causing indecision among the safeties. Similarly, zones can be “flooded” when multiple routes are run in hopes of pressuring the backers, typically the middle linebackers."
The Bears were incapable of executing such a strategy last year because of the inconsistency in their pass protection, which really negated any type of passing game. The Trojans were content to stack the box and pressure Kevin Riley all day, and you can bet that they will likely do the same. In fact, USC Coach Lane Kiffen has already state that they have gameplanned on containing Zach Maynard and doing all they can do minimize his much overstated ability to run, and to pressure him in the pocket.
Cal's pass protection has been better this year, but they will have their hands full with a USC d-line that doesn't have the stats to back up their talent. Expect to see Isi Sofele in a lot of passing downs as he's the Bears' best blocking runningback. Most importantly, Maynard has to avoid the same type of jitters and happy feet he had last week at Oregon.
I'm not going to do it. As much as I want to, I'm not going to predict another Cal win. And trust me, though I don't think the Bears should win, I absolutely think they can. The Bears defense has typically played USC well at home, and Cal has a few more flashes on offense this year to keep up.
But I'm not going to jinx it.
Cal 24 USC 28
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Monday, October 10, 2011
Beavers and Wildcats: "PILLOW FIGHT!"
Oregon State 37 Arizona 27
Lowdown: In a Desperation Bowl Part Deux (from ESPN’s Ted Miller), the Beavers held off the the Wildcats to notch their first win of the season. They used a big first half in which they took a 27-6 lead, before Nick Foles and company made it a game as only their passing attacks knows how to do. A critical goal line stop kept the Beavers from going 0-5 on the season. Both teams now have a "win," and are a combined 2-9 on the season.
Despite Arizona’s dangerous passing attack, they’re looking like one of the worst teams in the conference this season. They’ve lost five straight and their lone win this year is over Northern Arizona. It’d take a miracle for them to be bowl eligible at this point, though wins over upcoming UCLA and Washington would be a starter. But first off, they have to be beat BYE this upcoming weekend, and that’s no lock either.
Oh and for the record, this is the one year Cal doesn’t face the Wildcats, and their win over lowly Colorado is a non-conference win. Greeeeaaat.
As for Oregon State, this officially marks their second half revival. I’m only half joking here. Anyone else see them possibly winning their next three against BYU, WSU, Utah, playing Stanford close, and then rolling the Bears at ATT? Anyone? *Looks for hands.*
Arizona State 35 Utah 14
Lowdown: The Sun Devils kept it close with the Utes, before capitalizing on (to the Subway five dollar footlong tune) “five, five, five Utah turnooooovers, many many many...”
Utah struggled without starting QB Jordan Wynn and lost a critical third quarter (Cal fans know the pain of 3rd quarters all too well) and let the game slip away from them. At one point, I believe the Utes had 3 turnovers in 7 plays. Egads!
Up Next: Will somebody from the Pac-12 South please stand up? We all knew that the Pac-12 North was going to be markedly better than the South division heading into the season, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. ASU and USC are the only teams with winning records in the South, and with a win over both USC and Utah, the Sun Devils are basically shoe-ins for the conference title game this season. While the Sun Devils aren’t quite an elite team, they’re more than quality enough of a squad to be heads and shoulders above the rest. Just picture ASU Brock Osweiller towering over Matt Barkley and you get the idea.
If the Sun Devils get knock off Oregon next week, they’ll prove to everyone that they’re not just the best team in the South, they may be one of the best in the conference. But I actually wouldn’t bet on it.
As for Utah, even in down year, they’ve affirmed the difficulties of playing in an AQ conference and how challenging it is to go through the grind of playing competitive teams week in and week out. Utah fans who thought they’d come in and walk into a division title are likely seeing the error of their ways. The Utes head East to face Pittsburgh and travel to Cal the week after.
UCLA 28 Washington 25
Lowdown: Both teams really needed a win. UCLA to salvage their season and WSU to declare that they had fully arrived out of the Pac-12 basement. In the end, UCLA ended up making more plays when it counted, and showed signs of life that they are still planning on making it a season. The Bruins still likely lost their starting QB Richard Brehaut for the year to a broken left leg (a Bruin QB injured? Get out!) and rode the arm of Kevin Prince (straight face) to victory. WSU’s Marshall Lobbestael still played well enough, but threw a critical interception on WSU’s final drive.
Up Next: The Bruins have a chance to tout a winning record for the first time this season, as they face hapless Arizona in two weeks. Then comes a critical matchup against the Bears in the Rose Bowl the week after. Suddenly, bowl eligibility looks like a real possibility again.
The Cougars have to gather themselves as they host Stanford this weekend. As improved as they are, they don’t have much of a chance here and can only hope to stay healthy enough to get the much needed win over Oregon State the week after. Despite WSU’s impressive start to the season, they’re going to hover around the .500 mark all season and will need to kick it p a notch if they’re going to fight for bowl eligibility as their second half of the season is pretty darned tough.
Stanford 48 Colorado 7
Lowdown: The Cardinal unsurprisingly rolled poor, poor Colorado, as CU Coach Jon Embree can only shake his head. The Buffaloes suspended players from their already weak secondary, and Andrew Luck and Tight End U relentlessly dismantled the Buffaloes. In even worse news for CU, they lost their best playmaker in WR Paul Richardson to a few weeks to injury. Poor, poor Colorado.
Up Next: As I’ve been saying, the Cardinal will likely be 7-0 when they face USC at the end of this month, and quite realistically 9-0 when they face the Ducks next month. The conference is just that weak right now, and Stanford has benefited from a soft early schedule and consistency in every phase of the game. Those hoping for David Shaw’s early downfall have to be griping about Stanford’s weak non-conference schedule, missing both Utah and ASU this year, and oh, Andrew Luck.
As for Colorado, thanks for playing and we’ll see you next year. Seriously. I don’t see a possible win on their schedule until Nov. 12 at the earliest when they face Arizona. It wold take a miraculous run for bowl eligibility, and most signs are pointing to a possible two or three win season for the Buffaloes. Welcome to the Pac-12.
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Saturday, October 8, 2011
It’s been a few days now, and as I watch Oklahoma beat down Texas in the Red River shootout, I feel like I’m in a better place of mind to wrap up my thoughts on Oregon.
It amazes me that there are so many complaints (from myself included) about a game that the Bears were expected to get stomped in. Having such a solid first half will do that to you.
Let’s break those down, but also look at what I thought were some positives from the game.
One of biggest reasons for Cal’s deficiencies on offense on Thursday night falls on Zach Maynard’s struggles at QB. Maynard was 20 for 41 for 218 yards and a touchdown in what was the junior QB’s worst performance of the season. Maynard struggled with his footwork and mechanics, and found himself throwing inaccurate balls all over Autzen Stadium, but usually not within the immediate vicinity of his intended receiver.
It was a bit of a perplexing performance in that Maynard actually had decent pass protection, but his happy feet led to him occasionally escaping the pocket before necessary, and often throwing himself off balance with his passes. I’ve noticed a troubling trend all season of how poor Maynard’s footwork gets when he senses pressure, not only throwing off his backfoot but even having both feet leave the ground on some occasions. I’ve stated that despite Maynard’s inaccuracy issues, he still completed many straightforward throws such as passes in the flat. On Thursday though, we saw even those passes sail.
Maynard is also still developing his field vision and hasn’t completely shaken his tendency to lock onto his primary receiver. Maynard’s missed some receivers underneath again which led to some stalled drives.
Maynard isn’t ever going to be the most accurate quarterback. His body of work demonstrates that pretty clearly. I still maintain though, that he has “enough” gamer in him though to do some nice things at the collegiate level. When Maynard has an off night however, his inability to create plays leaves him and the offense pretty empty.
Bridgford Enters...and QB Controversy?
After getting knocked out in the game partway through the fourth quarter, sophomore Allan Bridgford entered the game and went 8-19 for 103 yards. I liked that the coaches pretty much had him pass nearly every down, though they had little other choice.
All in all, I don’t think Bridgford did enough yet to suggest that he’s immediately ready to supplant Maynard as the starter, but there’s a lot to like there. He seems to be inherently more accurate, but you can tell the game hasn’t completely slowed down for him just yet. On one instance, I observed Bridgford throwing into triple coverage (which he actually completed thanks to Allen), then double coverage, and double coverage again. There were a few near picks in there as well.
Mechanically, Bridgford appears to be much more sound with his footwork, though he isn’t nearly as much of a running threat as Maynard. He does have a bit of a windup, and has a tendency to sidearm the ball a little on some of those deeper throws. He shows some nice zip and arm strength, and some nice touch on deep balls though.
A lot of fans are probably already crying out for Bridgford, and you could make the case. I do think however, that you have to let Maynard take his lumps and grow up a bit as a passer. It’s a bit too early to be calling for a short leash on Maynard, especially given that it’s obvious that Bridgford is still a bit green. If Maynard continues a string of poor performances after USC however, then we’ve got a real discussion.
Next to Keenan Allen (which we’ll get to), the biggest star on offense was easily Isi Sofele. Sofele had his best performance of the season, rushing for a career high 120 yards on 12 carries for a really nice 9.9 ypc average. The commentators seemed to take a real shine to Sofele, and for good reason, Sofele showed great vision and wiggle in getting to open space. While he still lacks to the speed to consistently take it the house (it’s a bit unfairly worth noting that Best or Vereen would have likely sprung one of his runs for a TD), I really liked his ability to cut it open for large gains.
Keep in mind that Oregon’s run defense is flat out mediocre, but it’s encouraging to note that Sofele has been getting better with each game, despite the increase in opposing teams’ quality. Sofele is really starting to own his role as the starter.
Keenan Allen...Best WR in the nation?
Not sure about that just yet, as Robert Woods probably has something to say about that, but Allen is flat out savage. Allen again topped the century mark, catching 9 balls for 170 yards and the Bears’ only touchdown.
Allen has 667 yards this season and is on track to possibly top the 1500 yard mark. Loco.
A lot of it has to do with Allen being targeted quite a bit this season, but if this guy has a shot to come down with it, chances are he will. Keep going to Allen.
Offensive Line Slowly Improving
I think it’s been a bit understated the past few weeks, but I’m starting to like what I’m seeing with the offensive line. By and large, they’re getting decent push on the ball and are protecting Maynard pretty well. They’ve also cut down on the number of penalties, when just a few weeks ago it seemed like they were responsible for nearly half of Cal’s flags.
There are still mistakes here and there, and on a few occasions I saw their most reliable o-lineman Mitchell Schwartz lose his footing and let his defender right through.
Still, I’m quietly encouraged by what I’m seeing and am more eager than anything to see how they hold up next week against USC. That will be a much better test for where Michalczik is with this team at mid season.
Defense Can’t Keep Up
In the first half, the Bears’ biggest deficiency on defense was their inability to contain the edges. It was what most of us feared with starting freshmen at both outside linebacker positions, but the Ducks really exploited LaMichael James’ speed in getting to the outside. Cal’s safeties also made matters worse by taking some pretty bad angles in assisting with the contain.
Fortunately for the Bears, they excelled in nearly every other aspect on defense in the first half. I was most impressed with Cal’s defensive line who could visibly be seen blowing up Oregon’s offensive line on any play not involving LaMichael James ripping up huge yardage on the outside.
While Aaron Tipoti excelled at nose tackle, defensive end Ernest Owusu had his best game of his career, blowing up the line, swatting down passes, and recording seven tackles, including two for a loss and a sack. It’s the type of production that Bears hopeful had been hoping Owusu could do on a consistent basis.
With Cal’s defense disrupting Oregon’s o-line, the Bears blanked Oregon’s offense in the second quarter, holding the Ducks to just 14 first half points.
The second half was a whole other story however.
With Cal’s offense unable to sustain any drives, the Bears’ were worn down physically and could not duplicate the same level of disruption, and with that the wheels really just fell off. Oregon adjusted their game plan at halftime, and decided to attack the interior of the line more, with Cal’s front seven unable to push the Ducks back.
QB Darron Thomas also took advantage of his increased time in the pocket and picked apart Cal’s secondary who inexplicably continued to play man coverage. Cal’s secondary had the advantage in speed over every Oregon wide receiver except one, DeAnthony “Black Mamba” Thomas who abused Cal’s secondary all night. To be honest, I didn’t think the coverage was all that bad, the Black Mamba was just that good in his route running.
I very rarely find myself b*tching about uncalled flags, but the refs’ inability to call holding plays on the Bears was inexplicable and infuriating. I understand that if the blocker has his hands on the inside of the defender’s jersey that it’s a no call, but there were some blatant holds Thursday night on some of those Oregon rushes on the outside.
I get a sense that in the same way that Michael Jordan got the benefit of the doubt and got away with some plays, the Ducks probably get away with a lot of holds and know just when to release their blocks in order to not get caught.
Again, those were some blatant holds however.
I like Stefan McClure. A lot. I think he’s going to be a hell of a corner for the Bears. But he got picked on abused quite a bit on Thursday, and things are only going to get tougher with Marc Anthony out with a separated shoulder.
I thought in the secondary as a whole, each player took turns making mistakes and each had one head shaking mistake.
Excellent interception by DJ Campbell though, who read Thomas’ eyes the entire way and made a nice athletic grab for his first pick of the season.
Special Teams-All Giorgio
Giorgio Tavecchio continues to back me up in my theory that the senior kicker would have a breakout year. Tavecchio was spectacular on Thursday night, nailing three of four field goals including a career long 54 yarder.
His lone block came on broken protection in which the Ducks defender made a pretty nice dive to just get enough on Tavecchio’s kick.
Which brings me to this point: field goal protection has been unacceptably bad this year. No duh, right? But, it’s absolutely atrocious that Cal has had four kicks blocked this year in three different games. I’ve already spoken enough about it, so I won’t go into too much here, but just say, “yuck.”
The Bears will look at some game tape and try just to get better. Things don’t get much easier, as they host USC in another Thursday night ESPN game.
The games are two games into their toughest stretch of the year, and are so far 0-2. If it means anything, the next two are very much winnable, but things don’t look rosy unless they can find some answers on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Bears need to execute better in the red zone, and Maynard has to learn to settle down and set his feet with his throws.
Defensively, Cal has to grow up quick on the outside and wrap up better, as the number of missed tackles and missed assignments are hurting the Bears.
There’s plenty of promise, as the Bears are answering the call in some areas and you really can see flashes of a good team in there. But as the case has been for many previous years, it’ll be about putting it all together.
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Friday, October 7, 2011
[Note: I will try to have more detailed thoughts some time this weekend, but I wanted to get my overall feelings out there while they were still somewhat fresh.]
Despite taking a 15-14 lead into halftime, the Bears were run out of Autzen Stadium in the second half and fell to the Ducks by a score of 43-15.
The first half likely came as a shock to many, but the Bears were doing so many good things on both sides of the ball. Other than their failure to contain the edges which led to some huge runs by LaMichael James, the Bears controlled the line of scrimmage and forced Darron Thomas to be a non-factor early on. Offensively, the offensive line dominated and opened up a productive running game, though the passing offense failed to find a rhythm, mainly because of Zach Maynard's struggles with accuracy. It was the starting QB's worst performance of the season.
The second half however was all Oregon. I've read a few quotes from some smart football minds that state that games are won or lost in the third quarter. That was most certainly the case here as the Ducks rolled 22 unanswered points and kept Cal's offense off the field, forcing Cal's defense to simply run out of gas.
So while the Bears were unequivocally routed last night, they made it a game for the first half. I'm not one for moral victories, but I will say that it's much different when you let a game get away from you in the second half after keeping it close, rather than being thrown through the meat grinder through the getgo.
Cal showed flashes of promise, but also showed how behind they are in key areas. The Bears' defense is still very young and green in key spots, and the secondary will struggle all year. Cal's offense needs to find better consistency in the passing game and more urgently in the red zone.
Finally, while yesterday's loss was tough, let's not lose sight of our initial expectations.
My perspective of this team doesn't change at all after this loss, and it probably won't after next week's game against USC. We knew this was going to be a young and inconsistent squad and we knew they were going to take their lumps this year. Bowl eligibility was going to have to be earned, and there was going to be some major growing pains. But this season was always about finding answers and trying to get better. I believe it's most disappointing when you see a particular aspect of the Bears take a step back.
Last night's game showed that Cal has promise, but until they mature in certain key areas, will simply be a mediocre but competitive team this year. Am I content with "settling" for just that? No, but I'd rather be real about the situation than setting myself up with unrealistic expectations and emotionally throwing myself off a cliff because the team lets a game against the 9th ranked team get away from them in the second half.
More to come this weekend.
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Thursday, October 6, 2011
Follow me on Twitter as I keep up with the Cal Oregon game.
We'll see how long it lasts before either excitement or depression hits me. Either way, you can keep up with it here.
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Monday, October 3, 2011
LMJ will eat your soul.
There are a few games each year that don't really require much of a writeup. These instances are usually reserved for opposing teams who pretty much bring the same dish to the table year in and year out, with little mystery to try and crack.
Oregon is one of those teams. Their dynamic offense is fairly straight forward, but incredibly difficult to defend. It takes incredible focus and discipline in all assignments to slow Oregon down, and it requires consistent, chain-moving production from the offense to keep Oregon's offense off the field. And then there's Oregon's special teams. Egad!
Still, let's go over the basics and throw out a few things that fans should keep in mind as they watch what could be the another "Autzen Atrocity." (copyright BWF).
Match Speed On Defense
Almost everyone knows just how special Oregon’s offense and all the things they do well. Their scheme is set up to spread out opposing defenses for large enough lanes for their speedy playmakers to get into space. They’re also masters at the zone read, forcing defensive fronts to account for gap responsibility with interior rushing lanes as well as containment on the edges.
What Cal succeeded with last year was first setting up the right personnel to counter Oregon’s spread attack. Instead of Cal’s typical 3-4 front, the Bears typically kept five defensive backs on the field, and generally had eight of their fastest players backing up their three-man defensive line front.
The defensive line is critical in keeping Oregon’s offensive line from moving around too much to create running lanes. This is one of the main reasons that Oregon have struggled the most against teams with mammoth defensive lines like Auburn and LSU. Once the defensive line stays puts and holds Oregon’s offensive line at the point of attack, Chip Kelly’s spread scheme begins to sputter.
The Bears also played a lot of man-man defense last year, which helped eliminate some of the danger in the zone read. This also involved a spy on Ducks QB Darren Thomas (FS Chris Conte last year) who was phenomenal in neutralizing Thomas from being a legitimate running threat.
Now, some are hoping that the Bears will repeat last year's performance in which Cal held Oregon to just 13 points, and just one offensive touchdown.
Let me just say this: That ain't happening again.
Let's just be clear about how special last year's defensive performance was. It was one of the single greatest defensive performances I've seen from a Cal squad ever. Each and every defensive player played out of their bloody minds that game, and it showed.
Quite frankly, while Cal's defensive line has been solid, they've been unable to match last year's ability to disrupt opposing offensive lines and that's going to show in this upcoming game. Moreover, Cal's safeties have a hard test if they're going to match the same level of focus and production that Sean Cattouse and Chris Conte had last year.
The Bears will benefit by adding safety Michael Coley and Stefan McClure to the five DB front, along with Josh Hill. However, both Coley and McClure are still freshmen, and it'll be the first time seeing the level of speed at which Oregon operates. Beware!
Move the Chains
Some are making more of Oregon's defensive deficiencies than quite warranted. The Ducks are giving up a huge chunk of yards each game (389 ypg, 77th nation), but mainly because they're usually up by so much early in the game and teams are going to the air to play in catchup mode. The defense isn't as good last year's squad however.
They've also been a bit weak in the interior of the defensive line, having lost two starters from last year's squad. It's hurt the Ducks' rushing defense and Oregon is giving up 181.25 yards per game on the ground. The Bears are going to have to be able to move the ball on the ground to move the chains and give themselves a shot in this game. Cal doesn't need huge plays for large gains. They're going to need longer, chain-moving drives to keep the Ducks' offense off the field.
More clearly, the Bears are not going to win in a shootout with the Ducks. The Ducks have too many weapons on offense, and the Bears don't have as many answers at every position on the offensive side of the ball. The longer the Bears can keep the Ducks off the field, the more the defense has enough rest to stay sharp with the Ducks' offense, and the better chance the Bears have to keep themselves in it.
Avoid Large Returns
Don't kick to LaMichael James. Seriously. Just don't do it. It's not worth whatever gain you think you might gain from doing so.
Last year, the Bears were burned when they outkicked their coverage and had Oregon DB Cliff Harris return a punt for the deciding touchdown in the game.
LaMichael James has been an even greater revelation at the position, averaging 22.8 yards per return and a touchdown. That's Desean-esque. Would you punt to Desean? Didn't think so.
The Ducks are favored by 24 points. There's a side of me that certainly feels like this is reasonable. In fact, it's quite possible the Bears make that number look paltry and end up face planting in even more spectacular fashion. Let's face it, the situation is ripe for such a situation. They have far more questions on defense than they did last year, even if Cal's offense has been better.
Yet, I also think it's not too far-fetched to see the Bears make this a matchup. If Cal's secondary can be disciplined and shed blocks against Oregon's offense, and if the Bears' o-line can control the point of attack and open up a legitimate rushing attack, then I absolutely think the Bears could shock the world.
I just see some more fight in this team than in years past. More than anything, I think that even if the Bears go down, they go down swinging. I also have a sinking feeling that there isn't a single player in the locker room who isn't going into this with the attitude that they put Cal back on the map on Thursday.
Who knows, make it competitive and we'll see.
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I missed writing last week’s Round Up as I took a bit of a bye week from blogging, but did follow most of the action over the past week. Here’s the breakdown.
USC 48 Arizona 41
Lowdown: The Trojans survived a shootout with the Wildcats. Although USC was never truly in danger of losing the game, Arizona always found a way to fight back with a touchdown to put themselves back into a puncher’s chance. The offensive numbers in this game were absurd, with Nick Foles and Matt Barkley going for a combined 893 yards and 8 touchdowns through the air. Both secondaries didn’t seem to be able to defend a lick either as both fanbases are getting increasingly frustrated with their respective defenses.
Up Next: The Wildcats have survived their brutal opening stretch, if you can call a 1-4 start “surviving.” Arizona has faced a Top 10 team three weeks straight, and have lost by a total of 178-96 points. They’ve got a much easier test coming up this week against hapless Oregon State. While it should be easier, the game is an absolute must win for Arizona if they want to give themselves any shot at sparking a dream run at bowl eligibility this season.
The Trojans are off this week before their Thursday night matchup against your Golden Bears. A week off before preparing for their annual shellacking of their Nor-Cal rivals may be just what the doctor ordered for the Kiffen kin.
Washington St. 31 Colorado 27
Lowdown: You’ve gotta be frustrated if you’re a Colorado fan. You knew your team had some tough games on the road this season, but you had to figure that you could at least win two of three very winnable home games against CSU, Cal and Wazzu. And the Buffaloes looked like they were going to do just that, sporting a nice 10 point lead with just three minutes to play. But Wazzu rode the arm of backup QB Marshall Lobbestael to a comeback win with two late touchdowns.
Washington State is alive with hope again sporting their shiny 3-1 start. It is worth noting however, that WSU’s opening schedule has been pretty darn soft, and get another manageable matchup against UCLA this week, although it is their third straight road game. While Washington State is far from a contender this year, they’re definitely going to be competitive in most games, and a win over UCLA should put them on a safe road to bowl elgibility.
Colorado on the other hand has to be beside itself with its 1-4 start, which will likely move to 1-5 after their upcoming road trip to the Farm to face Stanford. You can actually easily see that changing to 1-9 with games against Washington, Oregon, ASU, and USC following immediately afterwards. While it may be too early to say, I’d be shocked to see Colorado finishing with more than 3 wins this season.
Washington 31 Utah 17
Lowdown: In one of the more surprising outcomes in the conference, Washington capitalized on Utah’s turnovers to roll the Utes in the second half. While Washington’s defense is still mediocre at best, they’ve shown signs that they may be rounding the corner. Keith Price and Chris Polk continue to shine for the Huskies. Meanwhile, Utah shook their head in disbelief after watching their starting quarterback Jordan Wynn leave the game with a sagging shoulder.
Up Next: The Huskies are rocking their best start in years at 4-1, and have a chance to be that much closer to bowl eligibility with an upcoming game over Colorado. The Huskies are making a strong case for being the third best team in the Pac-12 North, and possibly the fourth or fifth best team in the conference.
As for Utah, you have to think that a 2-2 start is on the lower end of preseason expectations for the Utes. The Utes are finding the Pac-12 much tougher waters than the Mountain West. Although the upcoming matchup against Pac-12 ASU has lost some of its luster, it’s still the premier matchup in the division this season with USC ineligible for the Pac-12 title. Win, and Utah is right back into the thick of things to win the Pac-12. Lose, and I’d say Utah finishes at best 8-4 this season. At best.
Oregon St. 20 Arizona St. 35
Lowdown: The Beavers had a tough test in front of them against ASU and actually took a 13-0 lead to start the first quarter. A stunned Arizona State squad redbounded however, giving up just 7 points the rest of the way while scoring 5 touchdowns. It was a sloppy game however, with both teams combining for 9 turnovers.
Up Next: Things are dreary in Corvallis, with the Beavers off to their first 0-4 start in years. I still think the Beavers respond as the season wears on, especially once their quarterback (whoever it is) begins to settle down and the team sees key returns from injury. With that said, the Beavers are playing like the worst team in the conference right now. It’s not WSU 2008-2010 seasons bad, but it’s pretty bad right now. OSU faces Arizona next in what is a must win game for both teams looking to get out of the divisional basement.
Arizona State is flying high after rebounding from their loss to Illinois, and is the hands down favorite to win the South. With USC ineligible and Utah stumbling, the Sun Devils can begin painting their ticket to the Pac-12 championship game with a win over Utah this Saturday.
UCLA 19 Stanford 45
Lowdown: The Bruins made it a game for most of the first two quarters, but stubbed their toes once they couldn’t punch a touchdown in from Stanford’s one yard line. After that, it was all Stanford as the Cardinal put together their most complete game of the season. Most are talking about Andrew Luck’s ridiculous one hand grab (you read that right) which will make nice highlight material for Luck’s Heisman presentation. The Bruins have to be admired for putting up some fight, but still looked like a team going through the motions for the rest of the game once things got ugly.
Up Next: Suddenly a game against the Cougars doesn’t like so much of a gimmie for the Bruins. In fact, I’d have to say the WSU has to be favored here, despite UCLA playing at home. The Bruins are going to have to beat WSU and pull off an upset or two to keep fighting for bowl eligibility.
Stanford continues to yawn through their comfortable opening slate of games, and things will get incrementally harder before their Oct 29th showdown against USC. The ‘Furd face Colorado this week, play at WSU the week after, and then host Washington. They should be favored in all three, and again, I’d be shocked if the Cardinal weren’t 7-0 and in the Top 3 before they face USC, another team they’ll likely beat.
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