The All-Conference awards were announced today and some of your favorite Bears earn some much-deserved honors.
The big headline is senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks winning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Here's what the press-release had to say:
"Kendricks, a senior from Fresno, Calif., leads the Golden Bears and ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 8.0 tackles per game (96 total). He is also tied for third in the Conference with 13 tackles for loss. Kendricks has played a key role on a Cal defense that ranks 27th nationally in total defense, holding opponents to 339.42 yards per game, and has amassed 2.67 sacks per game to rank seventh. Kendricks has recorded three sacks for 30 yards this season. He is Cal's active career leader in several defensive categories including tackles (248), tackles for loss (35) and sacks (13.5). California's defense held seven opponents to 15 or fewer points this season."
A hearty and jubilant congratulations from BearswithFangs. I for one, certainly anticipated Kendricks earning all-conference honors, but was pleasantly surprised to see him win the big one. Kendricks had missed a game due to injury and Washington's Cort Dennison and Utah's Chaz Walker for total tackles in the conference. However, neither Dennison nor Walker were as disruptive, or came close to Kendrick's 13 tackles for loss or sack number. When you throw in Kendrick's two interceptions as well, you begin to get a sense of how well-rounded and impactful Kendricks was to this team and the congrats. A mighty congratulations to Kendricks. Well-earned. Kendricks is the first Golden Bear to win the award since Daymeion Hughes won it in 2006.
After the jump, check out the Bears' other accolades.
First Team All-Pac-12
WR Keenan Allen
As expected, Allen won first team honors with USC receiver Robert Woods. Both sophomores were easily the most dominant receivers in the conference, though Marquess Wilson at WSU made a strong case late in the season, and actually leads the conference in receiving yards and TDs. What a special season for Allen, who had the most receiving yards since Geoff MacArthur's record breaking '04 season.
The sky is the limit for Allen, and don't be surprised to see him take home more awards in what could be his final college season next year.
OT Mitchell Schwartz
I don't think Schwartz gets enough due. The guy has been solid and dependable for the past few years, and I don't think the guy has missed a single start. Pretty remarkable. He often goes under the radar, but that's because he's been so reliable and solid in all of his performances. Good to see Schwartz earn his spot as an all-conference tackle.
P Bryan Anger
This was Anger's third selection, the fourth ever for a Cal player. What else can be said about Anger? Despite the occasional shank, Anger has been one of the most dominant punters the Bears have seen. As Ray Guy finalist, Anger entertained many with his booming punts that could hit low flying planes. Like Allen, Kendricks, Allen and Schwartz, the guy's going to be playing on Sundays.
Second Team All-Pac-12
DE Trevor Guyton
Guyton never put up the type of gaudy numbers as previous first round Bears defensive ends, but was easily the most consistent defensive lineman for the Bears this season. He was stout, and he made an impact in nearly every start this year. Guyton had 11 TFLs and 5 sacks, helping to lead one of the more balanced defensive lines in a while for the Bears.
Isi Sofele. I thought Sofele should have earned second-team honors over Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. Sofele had more rushing yards (1270 vs. 1153), more TDs (9 vs. 8), and better yards per game (105.83 vs. 96.08). I remember reading that these votes are taken a few weeks before the season is over, which would explain why Taylor earned the nod over Sofele, who had his best performances down the stretch. It's a bit similar to Jahvid Best not earning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year back in 2008 over Jacquizz Rodgers, despite topping 1500 yards on the season.
Giorgio Tavecchio. Although USC's Andre Heidari, and Stanford's Jordan Williamson had a better completion percentage than Tavecchio's solid 86.4 mark, Tavecchio actually booted the most number of field goals in the conference this season, making 19 of 22. Again, the late season voting likely has an effect here, as Tavecchio made 4-4 in Cal's last game against ASU. For what it's worth, Tavecchio did Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the week honors. Forza Italia!
There are no other glaring admissions, though I do think cases can be made for DJ Holt for second team honors, and possibly Steve Williams for second team as well, though ASU game film might suggest otherwise for the sophomore who had an off night.
Congrats to all the Bears for their honors!
[Edit: Forgot to include the All-Conference Honorable Mentions]
DB D.J. Campbell, Sr.; DB Sean Cattouse, Sr.; OL Justin Cheadle, Sr.; LB D.J. Holt, Sr.; WR Marvin Jones, Sr.; TE Anthony Miller, Sr.; RB Isi Sofele, Jr.; OL Matt Summers-Gavin, Jr.; PK Giorgio Tavecchio, Sr.; DL Aaron Tipoti, Jr.;
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Monday, November 28, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Credit as always goes to TouchedtheAxein82 for getting the highlights up. Bask in the win, folks.
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Saturday, November 26, 2011
(AP Photo/Matt York)
On an evening in which Cal's defense struggled to stifle ASU's explosive offense, the Bears offense took advantage of a reeling Sun Devil defense to hang on in 47-38 shootout in Tempe.
It was the Bears' first conference road win of the year, and the victory moved the Bears to 7-5 on the season, ensuring a winning season and a likely higher bowl.
For this blogger, I think I speak for a few in the fan base when I say that it was validation of the sentiment that the Bears were improving. It is a huge momentum boost heading into bowl preparation, and into next season. Instead of questions of whether this team had made any strides this season, the team's play on offense alone the past several weeks provides some hopeful thoughts for the future.
Let's take a look at the game.
Maynard Express...All Aboard?
Zach Maynard continued his post-UCLA string of solid performances. The junior was 19 for 26 for 237 yards with one touchdown, and again, no interceptions. Maynard also rushed 5 times for 40 yards and a score, and often kept plays alive by buying time out of the pocket.
Maynard looked composed, and was more accurate with the ball than I've seen all season. Other than an poorly thrown swing pass, I can't think of many passes that were way off the mark.
He also pulled off what might have been the play of the season late in third quarter. Facing a 3rd and 4 at the Cal 26 yard line, Maynard was flushed from the pocket and began rolling to his left as he is prone to do. With his options limited on the right side, Maynard drew in two defenders, leaving RB CJ Anderson open just behind his defender. Maynard smartly lofted the ball over the defenders head right into the hands of CJA who ran the ball 74 yards for a score. Just an unbelievable play.
Maynard has shown a remarkable turnaround since the UCLA game which was easily both the team's and his nadir of the season. Since that game, Maynard is completing 67% of his passes, 5 TDs, just 1 INT and no fumbles. He's averaged a 149.5 QB rating, with season highs of 167.1 and 162.3 in back to back weeks.
In short, it's the type of performance Cal fans had hoped they would get from Maynard, an athlete with an ability to make plays. Most unfairly expected this performance from Maynard right from the season's get go, and many had lost faith in both Maynard and the coaching staff after some very painful growing pains in bad losses to Oregon, USC and UCLA.
Yet, credit Coach Tedford and Coach Arroyo for continuing to stick with and develop Maynard. Tedford and Coach Kiesau have done a much better job in the second half of the season in finding a formula that works for both Maynard and the offense. They've seen enough progress from the running game to help develop Maynard into a game manager, calling plays that suit his strengths as an athlete and passer.
And credit Zach Maynard for his growth and maturity this year. The guy is unflappable, and has bounced back from some tough games and criticism to really come on strong towards the end of the year. You can see his understanding of the offense, and his ability to go through his pre-snap checks improving with each game. If he can continue his growth, you have to feel a lot better about this offense moving forward.
Kudos Run Game
I'm getting real excited about the potential of Cal's running game. Like Jim Schwartz-Jahvid Best YouTube excited.
It's been a real pleasure to watch this offensive line grow under Coach M. It shouldn't be a real surprise given the proven commodity that is Coach Michalczik, but this unit has really started to gel and the results are showing. The Bears rushed for 247 yards against a pretty physical ASU front seven.
Isi Sofele has solidified his place as one of the top running backs in the conference. Last night he was impressive again, toting the rock 21 times for 145 yards and one touchdown. The speed at which he is able to cut it outside for more yardage is real fun to watch. He's also continuing to answer questions about being up to snuff as a physical back, as he is doing a nice job fighting for yardage. He even pulled off a mini-Marshawn last night, stiff-arming an ASU defender. How many 5'8 backs do that?
It's also been fun to watch CJ Anderson's development this season. Despite his limited carries, he's really developing nicely as a short yardage bruiser, and shows good nice hands as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. CJA rushed 10 times for 48 yards for 2 scores, and added the aforementioned 74 yard TD reception.
You have to feel good about their future. They complement each other well, finding a great balance of shiftiness and power. Throw in the running threat that is Zach Maynard, you've got a lot of potential to do some damage on the ground.
Defense Struggles, but Comes Up Big
There's no way of sugar coating it. The defense was torched last night. The Bears allowed a whopping 38 points (the most since allowing 43 to Oregon in week 5), and 477 yards of offense.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from a defense that had been shutting down some potent offenses in weeks past. Yet, on a short week, and missing key players to injury, the Bears looked lost at times in giving up critical conversions on 3rd and 4th and long.
The Bears were unable to create a consistent pass rush, though the Bears elected to often only rush four defenders, choosing instead to drop back into coverage. Therein lied a problem. Cal's secondary had its worst performance of the season, losing sight of their receivers, and making poor decisions about turning the head and looking for the ball. In all, ASU QB Brock Osweiller carved Cal's secondary for 264 yards and 3 scores.
On top of that, the Bears allowed a gimpy Cameron Marshall to amass 157 yards and 2 TDs. It was just a poor combination of bad angles, and inability of defenders to shed blocks to maintain gap integrity. The Bears have struggled a bit against that zone read rushing attack (see Oregon and UCLA) this season, but it was maddening given that Osweiller represented absolutely zero running threat in that look.
Yet, the Bears made plays when it mattered. They forced and recovered two fumbles including a critical fumble by Marshall late in the game. That led to a five minute drive that put the Bears up by two possessions with 2 minutes left in the game.
On ASU's ensuing drive, safety DJ Campbell applied a gigantic hit on Osweiller on a blitz, forcing the deep ball to land right into the hands of a grateful Josh Hill.
For all the things that went wrong for the Bears, they still compiled 4 critical turnovers, which just might have been the difference in the game.
I had predicted at the beginning of the season that Tavecchio would turn it up for his senior year. He had shown enough mental toughness during his first three years and history for Cal kickers had indicated that the lightbulb would turn on for the Italian Stallion this year.
I've been ecstatic to witness the type of season he's had, and last night was the exclamation point.
Tavecchio was 4-4 on the day, nailing field goals of 48, 27, 19, and 30 yards. None were bigger than the last field goal that gave the Bears a crucial 9 point lead with just two minutes left in the game.
Tavecchio is a spectacular 19 for 22 on the season, and his 86.4 completion percentage on FGs is good for 7th in the nation.
You have to feel good for a kid who literally walked onto the team a week before the season started, and immediately jumped into a starting role as a true freshman. He's gone through ups and downs over his career, and it's been a real joy to see him grow and see success this year.
Miscues Nearly Doom the Bears
A few notes on some issues that nearly drowned the Bears.
True freshman Richard Rodgers made the gaffe of trying to return a squib kick, and instead coughed up the ball, giving the Sun Devils a short field, and eventually the touchdown. The Bears quickly saw their 13 point lead disappear within 52 seconds heading into the half.
I was anxious (to put it lightly) to see how the Bears would respond in the second half. I really do think previous teams would have wilted in the second half, leading to the typical conference road loss. Instead the Bears outscored the Sun Devils 20 to 10 in the second half, and made the plays when they counted.
Oh, and for all the great things I've said about Sofele, I still hold my breath when I see him run. He fumbled again near the goal line, and had it not been for a heady play by fullback John Tyndall, the Bears would have given up a critical scoring opportunity.
You could have written the end of the season much better for the Bears. They have the opportunity to get some much needed rest, especially given some players are banged up at some critical spots.
Hopefully the Bears also give plenty of practice time to Cal's reserves, as some younger players have the chances to make some huge contributions next year.
But more than anything, the mood in this program right now is infectious. They feel confident and loose. This team bonded together at some of the toughest moments of the season, and feel good about where they're headed.
For a young team in transitioning year, that's huge.
So enjoy the rest of the college football action today. The Bears' regular season is over, and for the first time in over a year, we can watch knowing the Bears still have more action to come.
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Friday, November 25, 2011
Happy Black Friday all. Hope you've enjoyed standing in line for 14 hours for $6 thumb drives and $4 DVDs.
Gosh, it's already the last regular season game of the year for the Bears. LIke every college football season,this season has really flown by. Fortunately, the Bears have locked up bowl eligibility and will be playing at least one more game this season, so all is not lost.
This evening though, the Bears face the Sun Devils, a team with a similar 6-5 record, but one whose season trajectory is far different from the Bears. Cal is 2-1 over the last three games, having dropped a close battle to 9th ranked Stanford last weekend. ASU on the other hand, have dropped three in a row to teams they've all been favored to beat, in most cases by double-digit margins. Things are heated for both fan bases, but the Sun Devils are scrambling to find an answer to their recent woes.
In my Big Game Recap, I stated that this game against the Sun Devils is huge for the Bears in validating that this team truly has shown growth over the course of this season. This year has been all about making strides, and showing themselves as well as their fanbase that they've turned the corner, ready to make a statement in years to come.
Recent performances would indicate that this has been the case, but a loss to the Sun Devils would only affirm the increasing negativity surrounding the direction of the program. A talented group of players who are incapable of winning consistently in the conference, most specifically on the road.
To be blunt, this game is a statement game for the Bears. Win and you've got a lot of positivity going into bowl preparation and for next season. Lose, and well, you have to think it's more or less the same doses of mediocrity.
The game's only a few hours away, so I'll make my keys to the game pretty brief.
Protect the Ball
Ball protection is key in any football game. But the Sun Devils defense lives and dies by turnovers. On the season, ASU has 28 turnovers, second in the conference and lead the conference in overall turnover margin.
However, in their last three losses, the Sun Devils have only forced three turnovers, meanwhile exposing their defense for being incredibly mediocre in some regards, and porous in others. ASU was giving up 381 yards per game in their first 8 games of the season, which is hardly an impressive number. During their three game slide however, they allowed a whopping 515.7 yards per game.
This is an athletic ASU front seven, and they can be physical and vicious. They can also be undisciplined and miss tackles. If the Bears can protect the football, forcing ASU to get stops by limiting yardage and drives, then odds are the Bears will get their chances to move the ball.
Find Mismatches in the Secondary
There's no gentle way to put it. ASU's secondary is bad. They allow 274 yards per game through the air, which is 108th out of 120 teams in FBS football. Having lost their best starting cornerback in Omar Bolden already put ASU behind the eight ball, but ASU's secondary has been pretty generous all season.
Again like the rest of their defense, the Sun Devils are a ball hawking group, notching a respectable 13 interceptions on the year, but like we've seen, when they're not forcing turnovers, this group looks very ordinary.
The Bears need to take advantage of their playmakers on the outside. With Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, they have one of the best receiving duos in the conference. There will be opportunities. The Bears need to be very intentional about getting their playmakers the ball, unlike the second half of last week in which Allen was held without a catch or a touch.
While there are some depth issues with Cal's receiving corps, here's hoping a returning Coleman Edmond and Jackson Bouza who emerged last week to make some nice catches, can do just enough in creating separation to take some of the pressure off of Allen and Jones.
Back to Basic in Tackling
Other than a few notable exceptions, I thought the Bears' secondary had an uncharacteristic showing last weekend against Stanford, often allowing some slower receiving targets to fly past them into some open territory.
That can't happen this week.
The Sun Devils have the 11th best passing offense in the nation, allowing 314 yards per game. Their offense is a classic air-raid spread, designed around spreading out opposing defenders and finding some open running and passing lanes. It's an offense that can quickly turn a dig route in 40 yard gain.
ASU's Brock Osweiller has solid QB vision, and a quick release, allowing the ball to get out in a hurry.
There are a few schools of thought about defending such offenses, as bring too much pressure opens up the passing lanes for QBs who don't need much time to get the ball out. Conversely, dropping back seven players gives the QB a lot of options as he waits for his receivers to settle into zones for easy passes.
I trust Clancy Pendergast will find the right blitz packages and moments to confuse Osweiller by disguising coverages.
Regardless of which route is taken and when, here's the bottom line: tackling needs to be impeccable. The Bears need to wrap up perfectly, and limit the yards after the catch. This forces the Sun Devils to dink and dunk up the field. This increases the likelihood for ASU's offense to stall, particularly in the red zone, where they've struggled the past few weeks.
This is an urgent note, because for as many good things that Cal's secondary has done this year, tackling hasn't been close to being the top on that list. Marc Anthony is easily the Bears' best tackler in the secondary. Steve Williams is the best cover corner we have, but he often takes bad angles, and has missed some big tackles.
The same can be said about true frosh Stefan McClure who I think actually tackles pretty well for a freshman corner, but he's still been victim to poor technique here and there.
Josh Hill can wrap up pretty well, but he's going to be counted on not biting after the first move in the nickel position.
If the secondary is disciplined in their assignments, ASU's offense can be stopped.
You want to think the Bears will roll in this one, as they face a reeling team in Tempe.
However, UCLA 2011 will remind us never to count on beating a team who looks winded going into the game. The Sun Devils have plenty to play for, with a Pac-12 Championship game berth on the line, and it being senior night.
I honestly look at this game as a must win for the Bears. I'm hoping the team does as well. If they're caught in the mindset of patting themselves in the back over a close Big Game losses, the Bears are doomed. Doomed, I say.
But if they use the past several games as confidence, play smart and loose, they've got a real shot at notching the upset. ASU's defense can be had, which just might be the key in scoring enough points to keep up with the Sun Devil offense.
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Monday, November 21, 2011
Despite a courageous effort, the Bears fell to Stanford 28-31 on Saturday in the 114th annual Big Game. Cal came in as 18 point underdogs, but continued to battle as they rallied back from being down 15 points in the 4th quarter. Their onside kick effort would fail however, and the Bear's comeback efforts would fall short.
I'm not one for moral victories, because at the end of the day the Bears lost, falling to 6-5 on the season and will leave the axe at Stanford for another year. That alone is enough to leave one incensed.
However, I'm damn proud of this team. It was evident to any mentally functional person in the stadium that the team laid it all out on the field, and went down swinging down to the final play.
Ultimately, the Bears were done in by some critical mistakes and some of the poorest officiating I've seen in a Big Game in years. But their loss was never the result of a lack of effort or heart. It was a performance to be truly proud of.
Now let's get into the details.
Quarterback Zach Maynard had his best performance of the season, going toe to toe opposite of Andrew Luck, and outshined the Heisman favorite in some regards.
Maynard started out hot, going 11-14 for 168 yards and a TD in the first half. Though his numbers dropped in the second half, he also made some brilliant plays to keep drives alive and keep the Bears in the game. His pocket presence was at its best all season, taking the sack when the play wasn't there and also finding ways to get out of trouble to extend plays.
The junior gunslinger was also more accurate in the pocket than I've seen all season and by and large, avoided huge mistakes.
That's not to say that there weren't any though.
Maynard mixed up the play call on the second play of the game, just moments after connecting with Keenan Allen for a 42 yard bomb down the sideline. He pitched the ball to Sofele who was expecting a handoff, which led to a Cardinal fumble recovery. It was a costly mistake that allowed Stanford to score on a short field.
And for as much as Maynard has improved in his reads the past few games, the final drive also highlighted some of the ways Maynard needs to continue to grow. He took a sack with less than a minute to go, forcing the Bears to burn a time out. While he was also accurate and correct in his reads, Maynard is still slow in his presnap reads, burning a lot more time than necessary in a two-minute drill with the game on the line. Don't get me wrong, you'd rather have your QB make the right reads and not turn the ball over, but Maynard isn't at a point where he can go through all his presnap checks without burning precious seconds on the clock.
At the end of the day, Saturday was the best Maynard has been all season and the QB the Bears hoped they would have all season. If he can maintain this level of play and not fall into the mental dungeon after mistakes, the Bears have a chance to be a really good offense, if not this year, then next.
Run Game Comes Up Short
The Bears finished with just 81 total rushing yards while Isi Sofele would manage just 84 yards on 22 carries.
Let's face it, the Bears probably would not have been able to manage this total early on in the season. This offensive line and rushing attack has made some strides and performed decently against a stout Stanford rush defense.
However, the Bears still struggled in their inside rushing attack, and I was a bit frustrated to continue to see the Bears not take advantage of getting the ball to the edges a bit more. The option attack was working brilliantly for the bears, and Sofele did pretty well when given the opportunity to bounce it outside.
Yet with the Bears rushing attack struggling, they failed to sustain drives and put any points on the board in a critical third quarter where the game was ultimately decided.
Red Zone Deficiencies Hurt the Bears
The same issue that reared its ugly head most notably in the Washington game but throughout the season, plagued the Bears on Saturday.
The Bears knew that in facing the 4th ranked scoring offense on Saturday that they needed to put up points. Cal likely had confidence in its defense that they could hold the Cardinal in the low 30 point range, but knew they'd have to execute on offense to give themselves a chance.
Yet the Bears had to settle for field goals twice in the red zone which is brutal when you're facing a strong offense. While settling for a field goal with 1st and goal at the 8 yard line is bad enough, getting stopped short at the two yard line is absolutely killer.
I'm not sure what it is, other than having the mental discipline and drive to say that "we're not leaving this field without a TD." The Bears did take advantage of their opportunities late in the game, but by then it was too little, too late.
Defense Up and Down
It certainly wasn't the Bears' best defensive performance of the season, but it was one that was good enough to win the game.
Unfortunately for the Bears' defense, they were a bit up and down. They made some huge plays, stuffing Stanford on a fourth down attempt and holding the Cardinal to a few three and outs in some short yardage situations. That is not easy to do against that Stanford offensive line.
What killed the Bears though, was their inability to defend the tight ends and fullback Hewitt out in the flats. It was frustrating to see because it was evident to everyone and their mother that those were Stanford's only real receiving targets, yet the Bears continued to let Luck hit his ends and backs on those playaction passes.
It was most evident on Stanford's final 7 minute drive in the fourth quarter that really decided the game. While Stanford would settle for the field goal, it would be just enough to hold off the Bears.
Clock Management Woes
Again, I know this might seem a bit ticky-tack given the Bears ended up scoring in the final minute to give themselves a to tie the game late in the fourth, but there were some very costly clock management issues by the players and the coaching staff.
The overall pacing on the final drive was far from urgent. I've already talked a bit about the speed at which Maynard made his presnap reads, but some of the decisions were blunders as well. Maynard hitting Miller in the flat when any tackle in bounds would eat clock was costly. I've already mentioned the sack in the red zone.
However, the most mind-blowing moment was the decision to huddle after CJ Anderson picked up the first down at Stanford's one yard with 30 seconds left in the game. A huddle?! In that moment you call a timeout, spike the ball, or at the very least go to your no-huddle goal line set. That decision cost the Bears 12 seconds.
Again, am I happy the Bears scored on that last drive? Absolutely. But consider this. They started that drive with 3 minutes to go. Had they been able to score in half that time instead of using nearly the full 3 minutes, they still give themselves a shot even if their onside kick attempt fails, given that they had two timeouts. It was a fun but frustrating way to end the game. That's mostly on the coaches.
Secondary Gets Lucky
No this is not an Andrew Luck pun, though he is relevant to this discussion. This game could have gotten out of hand early on had Andrew Luck been on because the Bears' secondary got absolutely lost on a few plays. Their eyes weren't on their receivers because some Stanford receivers were wide the hell open on some of those plays.
And Luck not sucked early on, it wouldn't have been a game. Seriously.
Fortunately, the Bears secondary recovered a bit later in the game, but still struggled with the aforementioned tight ends and fullbacks.
Worst Big Game Officiating
Although I could gripe about officiating more often, I usually don't, choosing to accept that our conference's officiating crews are just terrible.
But wow, was it bad on Saturday.
It wasn't so much that they often got calls egregiously wrong, but they were far from balanced.
The Bears were flagged for a late hit on Andrew Luck as he was sliding, while Cal's defender Deandre Coleman was already in motion. Bad call, but it happens.
Yet on Cal's very next series, Zach Maynard dives on a run, only to get hit by a Stanford defender with no call. What kind of double standard is that?
Shall I go on? Sure, why not?
Cal was flagged for sideline interference on Steve Williams interception return. He was already in the endzone and the FIELD GOAL UNIT WAS COMING ON.
Isi Sofele's fumble in the third quarter was perhaps the most egregious error in the game. Sofele steps out of bounds, gets hit helmet to helmet, causing a fumble, which he holds on to as he falls to the ground. As the whistle is being blown, a Stanford defenders snatches the ball out of a dazed Sofele. They had whistled the play dead!
The refs then proceed to ignore that Sofele was clearly out bounds on the replay, and award the ball to Stanford. Huh?
This is to not even mention the ticky tack holding and pass interference penalties. And that was not a block in the back on Luck on the interception return. Atrocious.
If you're going to suck at a ref, so be it. But suck both ways (eww) and not just for one team.
Would the absence of these calls have resulted in a win for the Bears? I'm not sure. Possibly. But why even let it become a possibility?
For all the great things Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has done for the conference, and he has done a lot, it amazes me that he still has been unable to rectify the poor quality officiating crews. It's an embarrassment.
At the end of the day, some costly mistakes, questionable coaching decisions, and poor clock management ended the Bears' chances at pulling off a monumental upset.
But consider this, the Bears hung with the 9th best team in the nation, and likely one of the best Stanford teams in forever. The Bears didn't lay down or quit, and they fought hard until the end. As biting as the loss is, I get the feeling most Bears fans are still proud of the performance.
I really want to believe this team has made strides and matured over the latter half of the season since the UCLA debacle. Signs would point to it after the Bears dominated WSU and OSU squads that have shown the ability to beat some decent teams. The close battle with Stanford might affirm this.
However, all this would be washed aside with a loss to ASU. To put it simply, if the underdog Bears can beat an ASU team on the road, then you'll have me really believing that the Bears have turned the corner.
Otherwise, the Big Game will unfortunately just be a bittersweet spike on an up and down season.
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Friday, November 18, 2011
(I hope this guy is still on Rally Comm)
It's Big Game Week, if you haven't heard. Vegas tells us the Bears will be crushed and Andrew Luck will piss his name into gold and pull off celebratory wheelies on a unicycle.
Here are some nice links to get you in the Big Game spirit.
First, be sure to check out Yahoo Columnist and Cal alum Mike Silver's interview on Murph and Mac. If there were ever a sports writer who can articulate all the things right about Cal football, and in this case, wrong about Stanford football, it's Silver. Check it out just for Silver's attempt at "hooking up" with Kate Scott. Rawr.
In terms of predictions, ESPN's Ted Miller predicts that the Bears lose 35-20.
Stanford 35, California 20: Stanford and Andrew Luck will bounce back with a strong performance in the Big Game. The Bears' chances hinge on QB Zach Maynard passing effectively and efficiently and he's been hot and cold all season.
That seems to be in line with other predictions, including Phil Steele's 38-17 prediction in favor or the Furd, and Jon Wilner's closer prediction of 30-24.
California Golden Blogs has some nice previews of Stanford's Defense as well as their high scoring offense.
[Edit: Videos Below]
Want to see a nice feature on the history of the axe? Check out a nice little feature on ESPN with Ted Miller and a mini-history lesson. The worst part of the video? Seeing the axe in Stanford's trophy case. Boo.
Here's Marvin Jones on CSN Chronicle Conversations, conversing about the Big Game. But among other things, Jones discusses his life as a father, student, and athlete. Quite impressive.
Also on Comcast Sports Net, a short feature with Cal players on the upcoming Big Game. Here's hoping Cattouse makes a play to make those forget his gaffe last year.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Oh it's the Annual Big Game. Home of some the best plays and wackiest finishes in college football history.
While the past decade's games will tell you that the favored team usually wins in this annual rivalry game, older and wiser fans know never to count out either team when it comes to the Big Game.
That's a good thing because the Bears head into this contest as a 20+ point underdog to 8th ranked Stanford.
To put it bluntly, things don't look pretty for the Bears.
But they have hope. Oh, do they.
Read on for the keys to the game.
Based on Cal's most two recent wins, conventional wisdom might state that the key to beating Stanford on Saturday might reside in their ability to run the ball. A physical rushing attack in Cal's win back in 2009 over Stanford might affirm this logic.
One problem though. Stanford may very well feature the best run defense in the conference. Through ten games, the Cardinal are giving up just 94.2 yards per game on average, holding opponents to just 3.32 yards per carry.
However, despite Stanford's stout run defense, capable rushing attacks have been able to move the ball on the ground against the Furd. USC's Curtis McNeal racked up 145 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. Washington's Chris Polk gashed the Cardinal 144 yards, 2 TDs on just 14 carries. Last week, Oregon amassed 232 yards and 3 TDs on a mostly dominant night running the ball.
To dispel any possible hope though, keep in mind that the Bears haven't been nearly as consistent in their rushing attack, and have only just recently put up solid numbers against mostly bad run defenses. Furthermore, it's worth noting that of the aforementioned teams, Oregon has been the only team to come out on the winning end despite good performances on the ground.
Why? Simply put, Stanford has been too efficient on offense that opposing teams haven't had the luxury to simply pound the ball and put the game away early on, forcing teams to move away from the pass.
The key on offense would then indicate offensive balance. Put simply, the passing offense is going to have to complete plays when it matters. The Bears are going to need to find their best offensive balance all season. While they can plan for longer, drawn-out drive, Maynard and the passing offense is going to need to move the chains when it matters.
While Stanford's secondary is fundamentally sound, they do still give up a modest 236.1 yards per game (good, not great), and have failed to make plays on the ball, notching just 4 interceptions on the year (worst in the conference). Long story short, there are plays to be made on the secondary. Not enough to scorch them, but enough to move chains and to take a few chances.
The Bears just need enough efficiency to keep Stanford respecting both facets of our offense. It's our only hope really.
This isn't really a separate key, but rather, an extension of the last one.
Stanford's going to score their points on Saturday. They're 5th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 46.4 points per game. Their lowest offensive output came against the Oregon Ducks last week, and they still put up 30 points.
If the Bears are going to stand a chance at notching the upset, they're going to need to keep the Cardinal off the field for as long as possible. And again, adding on to the last point, the best way will be to plan on longer, well-executed, balanced drives. Cal doesn't have the personnel right now to blow the game open the way the Ducks did on big plays.
But if the Bears can capitalize on their drives, and make a few defensive stops, it will do wonders in affecting Stanford's offense.
Which on that, the last key...
Get Andrew Luck to Pass
Surely, I jest? I mean, why on earth would I suggest that the Bears try and get one of the best collegiate QBs of the last decade to get out their slinging the ball.
Because, as has been shown this season, Andrew Luck, as good as he is, is only as good (partially) as his run game. That is, Luck becomes incredibly effective and dangerous when he isn't forced to sling the ball 40+ times a game. He's also much more of a threat on play action, which is only as good as the number of defenders you have dedicated to the run.
When the burden of the game goes on Luck's shoulders, and adequate pressure is applied, the bearded one shows he's mortal.
Don't get me wrong here. Trying to get Andrew Luck to pass is not easy to defend in the slightest. But it's a whole lot easier than trying to defend Luck while Stanford's running game is clicking.
So the Bears need to be effective on first and second down. Third and shorts will kill this defense. If the Bears can force more third and longs, they can dial up the necessary pressure packages to try and force an errant pass here and there.
And given what Stanford has done offensively this year, that's a huge win.
Things look as bad as the projected weather forecast of "dreary."
However, the Bears have shown enough in the past few weeks, and Stanford has stumbled just enough to force one to at least pause and consider the possibility of an upset.
The Bears will have to play their best game since, well, since the upset Stanford two years ago. As good as Stanford is, they can be had. The question always goes back to whether the Bears are capable of being the ones to cut them down.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011
Thanks as always to TouchedtheAxein82 for getting the highlights out so quickly. Enjoy a win over the Beavers!
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Saturday, November 12, 2011
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Look, I know that cynics and Cal Bear enthusiasts can find plenty of ways to scoff at celebrating a win over an OSU Beavers squad that was 2-7 headed into Saturday's game. The extreme negabear might also bemoan how low fan expectations have fallen that Bears fans should celebrate becoming bowl eligible.
Well, for today, forget you all. I may join you in shaking verbal pitchforks later, but tonight I am relishing this win.
Just take this in for a moment:
The Bears beat Oregon State for the first time "at home" since 1997, and snapped a four game losing streak to the Beavers after having lost 8 of the last 10.
Also, Cal improves to 6-4 season, ensuring that they play in a bowl this year. And though some might smirk at playing in a lower-tier bowl, getting an additional month of practice time for a young team is absolutely huge.
Finally, the Bears finish their home season 4-1, and send their seniors off with a win on Senior Day.
Seriously, regardless of expectations, if you don't allow yourself to enjoy these nights, why follow a college football team?
Let's break down the win.
Cal's Running Game Continues to Roll
The Bears continued their winning formula in establishing a strong running game along with a tough-nosed defense. Cal took advantage of OSU's porous run defense and rolled a season high 296 yards on the ground.
Facing a young Beavers defensive line, Cal's offensive line owned the day in the trenches, consistently opening up large holes for their rushers.
Isi Sofele was brilliant on the day, having a career game with 190 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. Sofele showed great burst in hitting the holes and is becoming an increasing threat in the open field. The diminutive junior has also carried the torch by breaking the 1,000 yard mark on the season. I've previously stated that Sofele has gotten better with each game, and he's answered every question in proving himself as a solid and reliable back this season.
CJ Anderson also had his best game of his Cal career, rushing 14 times for 96 yards. He unfortunately had two touchdowns called back on holding penalties which we'll address later. But Anderson continues to display nice balance and leverage on his runs.
Kudos to the entire offensive unit for a dominant performance on the ground. When the Bears can run the ball, they're a markedly different team in that they take the pressure off the passing offense from doing more than they can.
Penalties Were Brutal
The Bears continued a troubling trend on the season and nearly offset a fantastic rushing game with a ridiculous number of penalties. The Bears were flagged 15 times for 130 yards. Three long TD runs were called back on holding calls. Three. That's incredibly disheartening to an offense, but you can bet CJ Anderson is still shaking his head in the locker room right now.
I'll admit that at least two of the holding calls were ticky-tack, or might not have even been there. But the rest of them are atrocious and just can't happen, especially when you know the refs are gunning for you.
The pass interference calls were borderline as well. Usually, I'm a little more forgiving up PI calls on defense, as long as it fits in with the nature of an aggressive and physical defense. On one of the calls though, I had wished Steve Williams had shown a little more effort to lay off the backside of the player in making the play.
The rest of the calls were a mixed bag of head scratchers by the officiating crew and boneheaded penalties by the Bears.
It's just frustrating to see a Cal team play with such recklessness in some regards. It's so antithetical to some of Tedford's best squads, and was the most frustrating aspect of what was otherwise a well executed game by the Bears.
Defense Makes Big Stops in the Red Zone
Despite the Bears' dominance in defending the running game, holding the Beavers to just 27 yards on the ground, the biggest story defensively for the Bears was their ability to get some critical stops in crucial moments.
Cal held the Beavers to just 6 points on the day, thanks in large part to some key turnovers and stops. OSU started their first drive in Cal territory on the Bears 49 yard line, but were held to a field goal. On their ensuing drive, a sack on third down pushed the Beavers out of field goal territory and forced a punt.
The Bears also tipped a would be touchdown pass into a Cal interception. Later, they held the Beavers out of the endzone after they recovered a fumble on a handoff that never got to the OSU back.
Part of these turnovers could certainly be attributed to luck, and there's no denying that the score could have been much closer. But kudos to a heady Cal defense that made plays when it mattered.
Predictable Defensively Otherwise
I tell ya, playing Oregon State is a completely different story when they don't have a running game. In years past, the Bears have been burned by a running threat or even the threat of one. Seriously, I almost went into epileptic shock when the broadcast showed highlights of Jacquizz Rodgers from last year's game.
With Oregon State's running attack sputtering, the game was put on the shoulder of redshirt freshman Sean Mannion who I think has impressed in his first season as a starter. The guy's going to be a real good one and a pain for the Bears in years to come, and had Cal's secondary back on its heels in this game. Mannion was 25/39 for 247 yards, but most critically threw for no TDs and was picked off twice.
You have to like what the Bears were able to do in following their gameplan by taking away any running threat and putting the pressure on the freshmen. And again, they made the big plays when they needed to.
Maynard Has a Quiet Day and That's Fine By Me
Like last week, with a competent rushing attack, Maynard wasn't asked to do much and put up quiet numbers going 13 for 19 on 128 yards, 1 TD and a pick.
While Maynard was up and down on the day, with his interception being poorly underthrown, I thought he was solid overall, and made some nice passes when he needed to. The coaching staff cut back on the number of his rollouts, as OSU had nicely gameplanned to send in a blitzing linebacker off the edge a number of times to cut off Maynard's rolling lane, and Maynard showed a bit more comfort in sitting back in the pocket. His TD strike to Michael Calvin was perfectly thrown, and his post-pattern pass to Keenan Allen was similarly accurate.
While everyone on the coaching staff will tell you that they prefer balance on offense, almost anyone in stands or at home will tell you the team is a heck of a lot more fun if they can be dominant on the ground, while allowing Maynard to let the game just come to him.
His worst performances of the season have come when he and the offense have put themselves in situations where they need to press. But when the running game comes to the Bears like it has the past few weeks, it opens up the playbook so much for Maynard to be utilized more effectively as a passer. I'm ok with the Bears continuing what they're doing. Quite ok.
Special Teams Annoyance
There were actually quite a few positives for the Special Teams. Other than the opening kickoff return, the Bears were pretty stout on their coverage and avoided any huge returns from what had been the top ranked punt return unit in the conference.
Giorgio Tavecchio nailed a nice 32 yard field goal, and Bryan Anger had a nice 54 yard punt as well.
But just once this season, I'd love to have a game where I'm not pulling my hair at something Cal's special teams does, whether it's a careless penalty. Or a huge 44 yard return. Or a missed extra point attempt...for the sixth time this season.
I will say this though. In the third quarter, the Bears sniffed out a fake punt attempt by the Beavers, getting the ball back at midfield. Those are exactly the types of plays the Bears would have given up to the Beavers in years past. It's so quintessential Tedford-Riley. It's nice to have the Bears end up on top in that one.
Boy that loss to the Bruins stings even worse now doesn't it? The Bears could be looking at a 7-3 record headed into the Big Game.
No matter. The team and scratched and clawed to bowl eligibility this year, and for all the ways things could have turned out disastrously for the Bears this year, going to a bowl should be celebrated.
Now the Bears look forward to the Big Game this week where they'll undoubtedly be underdogs. However, if the Bears can continue to play the way they have, don't be shocked if the Bears steal one of their next two games. Just saying.
Enjoy the night, and enjoy the win. Go Bears.
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Friday, November 11, 2011
Oh sweet Jeebus.
It's the time of the year I hate the most. The one time of the college football season that I actually find myself looking for a corner to hide in, or a bosom to rest my head.
It's Oregon State Beavers game time.
What about OSU's 2-7 record has me quaking in my boots might you ask?
Everything that is the essence of Oregon State in relation to Cal football. That's what. Because no matter how well or how poorly the Bears are doing, the Beavers always find a way to beat the Bears. And not only beat the Bears, but eat our souls in the process.
Consider what I wrote last year before our game,
The Beavers have taken part in some of the worst and most heartbreaking losses under Tedford. From the 2007 Kevin Riley run to Jahvid’s terrifying fall last year, you just get the sense each year that something bad is going to happen. The Bears have lost 9 of the last 11 to OSU, and have yet to beat them since 2006.
And what happened in that very game? Kevin RIley was injured on a late hit, ending his season, and ensuring that the Bears would have their very first losing season under Tedford.
In fact, I'm even going to use last year's photo to encapsulate my thoughts about this game.
Certified, unimpeded, assured doom.
Now let's break down the keys to the game!
The strength of the Beavers' offense is in its passing game. The Beavers have little running game to speak of, ranking 113th nationally in rushing yards per game, and a large part of that is due to their low number of rushing attempts. However, they simply haven't been able to pave the way for any of their backs to be effective consistent rushers.
Fortunately for the Beavers, redshirt freshman Sean Mannion has been decent for the Beavers, throwing for 2,447 yards, 11 TDs but 13 INTs.
Despite their attempts to become a pass happy offense though, the Beavers move the ball the best when they have that balance. Having backs like Jaquizz Rodgers, Yvenson Bernard and Steven Jackson is what made OSU's offense go.
When they become more one dimensional, they'll put up some yards through the air sure, but they become far easier to defend.
Plain and simple, if Mannion is given time to sit back in the pocket to allow his talented receivers in Marcus Wheaton and James Rodgers get open downfield, it's going to be a long and miserable day for the Bears. The freshman can be pressured into doing bad things when pressured, and the Bears need to bring multiple looks in their pass attack. The looks don't even have to be too complicated, but diversity is key here. Last week Marshall Lobbestael became rattled and inaccurate against the Bears' pass rush, getting hit particularly hard on delayed blitzes.
Here's hoping Clancy Pendergast has some nice things dialed up, especially with Cal's best pass rushers Chris McCain and Dave Wilkerson possibly out with injury.
Pound the Ball
For all of the Beavers' issues on defense, giving up 391.8 yards per game on defense, they have been very good against the pass. I was very impressed with Oregon State's cornerbacks against Stanford's receivers last weekend, and they have shown solid bump and press coverage skills all season long.
Although I have a lot of confidence in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, the Bears aren't going to be able to slice and dice it a whole lot through the air. Even if they get some one on one matchups, the Bears are going to need to provide QB Zach Maynard plenty of time to sit in the pocket (or out of it) to hit them accurately. There won't be too much leeway.
However, the Bears may have discovered the key to their offensive success last week in their running game, and witnessed how much it did to open things up for their passing game as well. Fortunately for the Bears, the Beavers rank 10th in the conference in rushing defense, giving up 171.22 yards per game. The Bears need to be creative in their running game, as the Beavers have shown a propensity to give up large yards off the edge, so expect the Bears to continue their run of tosses and fly sweeps.
If the Bears can establish a run game, it will do so much to keep the pressure off Maynard and the passing offense. The less the Bears feel pressured to try and move the chains through the air, the less likely Maynard will force passes and turn the ball over.
Discipline on Returns
The Bears coverage units have been fairly solid this year, but have a tough assignment against OSU's return game this Saturday. Cal has been burned by Beaver returns in the past, and face a unit that leads the conference in average punt return, averaging 18.13 yards per punt and 2 punts returned for TDs this year.
In a game as potentially as horrific as this one, the last thing the Bears need is a huge return to turn the tide to give the Beavers some unnecessary momentum.
What can I say? The Bears are favored by nearly 10 points, but all that goes out the window for me when it comes to the Beavers. OSU will find some way to drink Cal's milkshake and then beat us to death with a bowling pin afterwards.
At least, that's what the cynical fan says in me.
The fact remains that the Bears should beat the Beavers if they show any semblance of the team that dominated a decent Utah squad a potentially dangerous WSU squad. If the Bears can get pressure on Mannion and put themselves in situations on offense where they don't have to force the ball through the air, they should handle the Beavers. Should.
But we all know where it could turn out as well.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Sorry for the delay in getting this out. I'm still fighting off this sickness, but I wanted to get this out here so we can all finally look forward to our annual clusterf*ck of a matchup against Oregon State.
The Bears pulled together in a much needed bounce back 30-7 win against the Washington State Cougars on a dreary and rainy affair last Saturday. Cal dominated on both sides of the ball from the get go, and pulled off one of their best team rushing performances of the season.
Cal's defense also went back to their aggressive and dominant ways, holding WSU to one of their lowest offensive totals of the season in just 224 total yards.
It was an all around effort that the Bears hope will give them the momentum to reach bowl eligibility this week. But before that, let's get to the details.
Ground Game Dominates
The Bears had their way on the ground in a way much reminiscent to the stronger Tedford teams of past lore. Cal combined for a whopping 288 yards on the ground and nearly everybody got in on the action.
Isi Sofele rushed 23 times for 138 yards and a score. I think Sofele has really improved with each game this season has become quite a capable back for the Bears. He showed another dimension of "make-em-miss" type of elusiveness on Saturday, including one of the more impressive 13 yard scampers I've seen in a while. I'll be the first to admit that I had strong questions about Sofele as a featured back at the beginning of the season. While he still shows some limitations as a runner, he's answered the call in nearly every regard and is well on his way to following the strong tradition of backs for the Bears.
In a surprising move, walk-on Mike Manuel ended up taking a lot of the second-back snaps, in front of CJ Anderson and Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson. While I wasn't really wowed by Manuel, he hit the hole hard and showed good pad level and a nice north-south type of direction as a runner. It's good to see him contribute after all we've read about his success in spring ball. Manuel rushed 6 times for 28 yards.
CJ Anderson scored another TD on Saturday while also ripping off a nice 34 yarder late in the game, his largest run of the season.
And who didn't feel good for Will Kapp who scored his first career TD? Facing a 4th and 1, Kapp broke a tackle and then ran untouched and smiling the remaining 43 yards into the endzone. Good to see for the younger Kapp.
At the end of the day though, most of the credit has to go to the offensive line who really stepped it up in their run blocking efforts, and could be seen getting a very visible push in the trenches. This too, without starting left guard Brian Schwenke who was out with a late illness, and credit goes to Justin Gates who filled in quite admirably in Schwenke's absence.
Maynard Does Enough
Many had questions on how Zach Maynard would bounce back from his four interception performance against the Bruins. It turns out he wouldn't have to do much. Maynard was efficient in his 10-17 for 118 yard performance, throwing for a touchdown and avoiding any turnovers.
The coaching staff got back to what they knew worked for Maynard including designed roll-outs and shorter, and safer underneath routes to get Maynard into a confident rhythm. Kudos to the coaching staff for focusing on some of the basics. Like I've said before, we all know that Maynard is a completely different quarterback when rolling out.
Maynard still needs to work on his accuracy in the pocket however, and missed on several occasions when simply dropping back and trying to hit either Jones or Allen on deeper post routes. He still has a tendency to flutter his feet which causes him to throw earlier than needed, or not put enough air underneath the ball. The coaching staff, and everyone else likely, is hoping this is an element of Maynard's game that will eventually come to him in time.
When the Bears enjoy an early lead, there's Maynard becomes a far different quarterback in managing the game and minimizing turnovers. When the Bears falter on both sides of the ball however, he begins to press and out goes his judgment and accuracy. Saturday was a prime example of what we need from both the offense and Maynard to becoming a strong offense.
It's good to see Maynard bounce back after what had to be a tough week in terms of outside distractions from detractors. Good for him.
I thought the defense did a fine job overall on Saturday. This was a dangerous and at the very least, competent Washington State offense. Granted, the Cougs looked pretty bad in the rain, but the Bears compounded Wazzu's issues with a steady dose of a heavy pass rush and solid press coverage.
Cal's secondary did pretty well against what could have a been a nightmarish day against a potent WSU passing attack. But the Bears worked primarily in a nickelback formation and all of Cal's DBs held their own.
Cornerback Steve Williams is by far the best cover corner the Bears have right now, and his job on WSU's Marquess Wilson was fantastic. Wilson, did catch 7 balls for 85 yards, but two of those were on some pretty great receptions where the coverage was there.
Cal wouldn't have been able to hold WSU to their season low in passing yards without applying pressure to Marshall Lobbestael. While the Bears "only" recorded 3 sacks, they got a fair amount of pressure on Lobbestael for him to be errant with his throws, and often did so without committing any of their nickelbacks on coverage. Solid job.
Special Teams are Special
Just a few quick notes here: Will Kapp is the best gunner on this team. Period.
Secondly, I don't know what the NCAA record is for most blocked kicks in season, but I think we're going to break it. Yeah, Bears, baby.
Bryan Anger showed in one game what has been characteristic of his career, great leg strength and the occasional head scratcher of a punt. But mostly pretty darned good.
After nine games into the season, the Bears find themselves in a familiar situation as last year, needing one more game for bowl eligibility with three games remaining.
It'll be tough sledding, especially with the OSU Beavers coming into town. In the same way we've owned WSU over the past few years, OSU has owned ours.
We all knew it was going to be a tough year, but few should take for granted that we haven't completely fallen off the wagon in beating teams we should beat. I said completely. If anything, Cal's win gives the teams some much needed validation, and avoids another week of depression over losses to UCLA AND WSU.
This upcoming game is a whole other basket of issues for reasons I'll get to, but for now, a bounce back win is always better than another week of frowney faces.
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Sunday, November 6, 2011
Here are the After the Game Highlights to last night's game to those who weren't able to catch it on TV or chose not to attend the game in a tsunami.
All football glory to TouchedtheAxein82.
Will have a writeup later.
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Saturday, November 5, 2011
(Lobbestael has been solid Tuel's absence.)
I'm going to make this real quick since the Bears kick off against the Wazzu Cougars in less than six hours.
After one of the most disappointing losses of the past decade, the Bears must regroup against a WSU squad that is more than thrilled to be out of the conference basement. Both teams are still fighting for bowl eligibility and desperate for a win.
The Bears are favored, but after last week I've learned never, ever to get all high and mighty.
Finish in the Red Zone
With the Cougars ranked 11th in passing efficiency in the conference, I'm confident the Bears will be able to move the ball down the field.
However, where the Bears have struggled this year has been in the red zone. Cal is seventh in the conference in red zone efficiency, scoring on 29 of 35 trips, with 20 touchdowns and nine field goals.
The Cougars are going to score some points in this game, so the Bears have to be able to match them when their opportunities comes.
Stay Poised in the Pocket
Let's face it, Maynard is a completely different quarterback out of the pocket, than he is in it. He's much more confident and accurate, and has a chance to make something positive happen.
But the Bears are not going to be able to win any games this year if they can't complete throws inside the pocket. The entire field needs to be opened up, and the defense needs to be used which only happens when Maynard stays in the pocket.
Here's hoping this is the week that Maynard, or whoever Cal's QB is this week, settles down, stands tall, plants his feet and delivers the ball accurately.
The Cougars are averaging 33.3 yards per game, most of that due to their efficient passing game. They're able to move the ball, and I'm already jittery about their ability to chuck the ball all around the field against our defense that has given up large chunks of yards through the air at times.
The Cougars are most vulnerable at offensive line however, in that they've given up 25 sacks this year. The key to slowing down WSU's passing game will be to disrupt Marshall Lobbestael and the passing offense.
Bottom Line, the Bears need this game, badly. If the Bears lose, bowl eligibility becomes all but unlikely.
A must win situation pushes the Bears to rally and take down the Cougs by a field goal. And just for giggles, I say Tavecchio nailed a 19 yard field goal after the Bears are unable to punch it with 1st and goal at the 6 yard line.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Despite some suspicion that I've avoided blogging because of how distraught I was over the UCLA loss, I've actually been MIA this week because I've been deathly ill. Well deathly is being a bit too over dramatic, but I was rocking a 103 degree fever and sinus infection.
In fact, it's so bad that I'm missing a chance to see Conan live in NYC. Yes, that's right. I'm skipping one of my bucket list items to get back to full strength.
But enough about me, let's quickly recap the UCLA game. Actually, if you watched Cal's 31-14 drubbing to the Bruins, this is probably one of the last things you want to talk about.
Let's make this quick.
Last Saturday's loss to UCLA was one of the worst losses of the Tedford era.
Other than the Presbyterian Blue Hose game, I'd be hardpressed to come up with another game this season that I had been so confident in the week prior. As mentioned in my Keys to the Game, the Bruins were reeling, with constant coaching speculation, injuries, and suspensions to six players. And this was on top of the fact that UCLA was already by far one of the worst teams in the conference defensively, and was clearly one-dimensional offensively.
However, as a Cal fan we're left with the question most may not want to answer: If UCLA is one of the worst teams in the conference, what does that make us?
What's a Bruin anyway?
Let's get to a few specifics.
End of Maynard Era??
That's got to be on the mind of many, including Coach Tedford, as Maynard turned in a performance nearly antithetical to last week's efficient game against Utah. The junior gunslinger was 14 for 30 for 199 yards, but most importantly threw four interceptions and fumbled the handoff to RB Isi Sofele as well.
Maynard led the Bears' efforts to all but give the game away to the Bruins, who scored 24 of their 31 points on Cal's five turnovers.
Since Cal's 3-0 start, Maynard has completed 54% of his passes for 3 TDs and 7 interceptions. His QB Rating for the UCLA game was an abysmal 75.7.
At this point, I'm at point where I almost don't know what to say anymore. My message hasn't changed much since the beginning of the season, but in Maynard we have a player who has a maddening ability to do some great things on one play, and do something to make you throw your hands up in the air the next.
Despite all of his flaws, I felt like he was worth getting the benefit of the doubt as long as he continued to evolve as a game manager and avoid turnovers. However, when he isn't doing that, how can one objectively watch a performance like Saturday's and not think of Maynard as a liability at this point? No level of great things is worth a 4 turnover performance, let alone twice in three games.
As of now, it looks like Tedford is sticking with Maynard for the time being. He appears convinced that Maynard was making the right reads, but was just off in his throws. I find that even more discouraging. Progressing through reads is something that can be learned over time. I am of the school of belief that accuracy is one of those things that a quarterback either has or doesn't. Sure they can increase their completion percentage numbers over the years, but that usually comes with being more efficient and being smarter about making the right throws. If Maynard knows where he needs to go with the ball, but his footwork when pressured in the pocket is causing him to miss wildly, I'm not sure how much that will change at this point in his career. It was an issue that plagued him at Buffalo, and it's an issue that's rearing its ugly head at this pivotal stretch of games this season.
I said at the beginning of the season that Tedford was going to live and die by Maynard's performance. With Maynard struggling, it's no coincidence that the criticism of Tedford is at an all time high. Coach Tedford will either need Maynard to shape up quick, or see what else he has available on the bench because the support from the staunchest supporters is fading fast.
Missed Execution Kills Bears on Defense
Watching Cal's defense was just as, if not more painful to me as watching Cal's sputtering offense. Initially, I found myself unable to believe that the Bears still had yet to develop a gameplan to defend UCLA's zone read pistol offense.
But the more I watched the game, the more it became apparent that it wasn't that the Bears weren't assigning players to UCLA's QB Kevin Prince, it's that the Bears were just being incredibly undisciplined and sloppy in their execution.
It isn't coincidental that the youth of Cal's outside linebackers shows the most when facing option offenses. Time and time again, you saw Cal's young OLBs take turns biting on the handoff, and crashing the interior only to see Prince bounce outside for major yardage. Even when the Bears were assigning a safety to spy on Prince, the defenders took bad angles or got sloppy with their tackles. I believe I saw Sean Cattouse out of position on two very makeable tackles.
It was infuriating to watch because everyone and their stepmother knew how one-dimensional the Bruins were on offense on Saturday. If Prince completed an occasional 8 or 12 yard curl or out route, so be it. I can stomach that, because I sure as hell know that type of performance can't be sustained over the course of a game. Prince simply isn't a great passer, and the Bruins were featuring walkons at WR for Crissakes.
But when you load up on the run and you still allow 294 yards on the ground, it's hard to find many if any positives.
I'm still convinced this defense is one of the better ones in the conference. But it's this type of performance that makes me realize how far they are from being elite, because quite frankly, elite defenses don't have such issues with execution.
This Team Doesn't Quit, but is Very Sloppy
There hasn't been a single point this season where I felt like the Bears quit. Ok, maybe USC's last touchdown after Maynard's third interception. But hell, even Winston Churchill would have let USC's RB waltz into the endzone at that point.
For all of Cal's issues this season, I do feel like they're a squad that continues to battle until the end. And for that, I like this team more than previous years'.
However, I'm astounded at how sloppy this team looks at certain moments.
A part of me feels like there might just be a focus issue. I don't see the team approaching each game like it is the only thing that matters for the next three and a half hours. There are far too many missed assignments, too many moments of miscommunication, and the penalties, oh gawd, the penalties.
The Bears are a lowly 117th out of 120 teams in the nation in penalties yards per game. There was a time when Tedford's squads were known for being disciplined, focused, and more for their ability to overachieve than to falter at critical moments with superior talent. That's just how far we've fallen.
Sorry for the negativity. This is honestly one of the more negative posts I've written in awhile, finding very little if anything, to say positively about the Bears after last Saturday's game. And really, can you blame me?
I suppose I'm just that distraught after Cal's loss. It was simply an inexcusable game on so many levels, but I'm ready to move on. Here's hoping the Bears are too.
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