Fade to Black

Posted by: Avinash on Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Two years isn’t so bad.

People might have noticed my writing slow down to a trickle over the past several months, and with good reason. I didn’t really have a handle on how to build a Golden Bears community that could sustain itself, and my interest in writing for Bears Necessity diminished along with it. 

Also, information flows too quickly now in the Cal sporting world, and I couldn’t keep up with it running a one-man ship. And really, there are better places you can read about the Bears now, and I was just happy to be part of the second wave.

Most importantly, I never really had a clear focus of what I wanted to write for my site, and without that defined role it was too difficult to finish these goals. It’s something I came to grips with in the past few months, and I focused on writing only when the ideas came to me. That’s not something I can translate into a career though, and certainly not as a one-man site.

I’m not abandoning Bears Necessity, but its time as a Cal football site is done. I have other plans for this site that I think could be fruitful, and when I have the opportunity I’ll reveal them. Right now I have some other projects to focus on, but there should be a time in the future when I can get a chance to work on it.

However,

That doesn’t mean the end of my Cal sports-writing; it just means I won’t be flying solo anymore. I’ll be joining the California Golden Blogs (I’ve pretty much been an honorary member there for awhile) and will be contributing in a less exhausting, and hopefully more rewarding manner there. If you want to stay in touch with me, you can follow my movements over there. I’ll be writing there very soon (expect a post there in the near future), so just subscribe to the RSS feed there or my personal blog that tracks my posts on the SB Nation network if you just want to keep tabs on me.

I’d like to thank several people for their help. Several contributors (most notably Tony, who did a yeoman’s job), as well as danzig and The Play in CA have helped me during the 2008-2009 campaign. It was fun to interact with fellow Cal bloggers from CGB (now my partners in bloggery), Bears With Fangs, Excuse Me For My Voice, and Bear Will Not Quit. And I also have to thank lawvol for donating his time to creating this lovely design. If you ever need a website designer for your sports site (or any blog site), he’s a good guy to email for a quote. 

Finally, I have to thank everyone who’s commented, subscribed, read and absorbed (hell, even hated on) any of the ideas and thoughts that passed through my head and onto this site. I’m definitely a better writer and thinker than I was two years ago, and if it wasn’t for the support of you guys and gals I’d probably have quit early on. Now I feel closer toward embracing a Personal Legend I’d never have thought about exploring years ago, and you all played a small part in guiding me that way.

Hey, maybe Cal did change me for the better.  Who’d have thought.

Go Bears.

Inside The Huddle with Tom Schneider

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

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Tom Schneider is familiar to most Cal fans as our finest placekicker in the Tedford era. After getting injured last season and being denied another year of eligibility, he transferred to Northern Alabama to complete his time as a college kicker.  He blogged about his experiences as a D-II kicker in the South at his blog, Bama Tom.

He has also been working on other projects, most notably his in-depth look at the inner workings of Cal football titled Inside the Huddle. This photo book takes us inside the locker room and gives Golden Bear fans the opportunity to explore what it’s like to. I spoke to Tom to discuss what it’s like to be a kicker and talk a little about the book.

1. Describe what an average kicker’s training regimen is like, for those who aren’t familiar with it. Are there any new things do you have to pick up at the college level?
My training regimen consists of lifting, plyometrics, core training, technique training, and mental training. I enjoy cross training with other sports. At the college level I had the opportunity to practice yoga and pilates, which were instrumental in my development as a kicker, both which draw largely on body awareness, strength, and flexibility.

2. How big was the culture shock moving from a Division I big conference school in a place like Cal to a small Division II school in the heart of the Deep South?
The Division II school that I played at (University of North Alabama) is the Rolls Royce of D-II schools. We played in one of the largest D2 stadiums in the country. The biggest difference from my experience at Cal and UNA is the size of the staff. At Cal there is a separate Strength Coach, Academic Coordinator, etc. At UNA many coaches have dual responsibilities doing multiple things.

3. Do you have any favorite moments as a kicker, either at the high school or college level?
I have a lot of great memories as a kicker. One that stands out was my first game playing football in my senior year of high school. It was my first time wearing football pads and I don’t think I could have had a more dramatic start. My high school (Las Lomas) was playing Napa in the opener and we were down by 2 points with 2 seconds left and I hit a 51 yard field goal to win the game. Fun, fun experience.

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4. You probably know that the Bears have struggled at kicker ever since you were injured last season. Do you feel some of the issues concerning the kick and punt units has been fair or unwarranted?
It’s difficult getting in there as a freshmen. Transitioning from high school to the bight lights of college football is a big jump. While these growing pains of young kickers is tough now, these kickers will continue developing physically and psychology.
5. Talk about the book. You and your fellow teammate Cory Smits both shared this passion for taking photographs during football practice. When did it become a full-time endeavor, and how did your teammates and coaches react to the whole experience?
I decided to make this a full time endeavor after I learned my injury was a season-ender. The players and staff are supportive of me and Cory’s endeavor. Many other players beside Cory and I contributed to the book through taking pictures and adding to the text. It’s cool because it’s a book “from the players perspective.”

6. You talk about how getting injured gave you this rare glimpse into the Bears locker room as a kind of fan insider, someone who saw what was going on but not quite being one of the guys. What were the biggest differences you had to adjust from being an active member of the roster to just being an observer of the process?

Sitting out the 2007 season was very difficult for me, especially with the way it played out. I considered myself one of the leaders on the team, and not being able to keep my finger on the pulse of the team was tough.

7. Do you have any funny stories to share about your experience as a Cal kicker?
During the spring we train early in the morning. During my sophomore season (2004 team) a group the older player decided to have a little fun after morning conditioning. They had prepared 40 water balloons and let loose on all the players walking out of the stadium. They had water balloon launchers and let loose on everyone.

8. Finally, now that your college kicking career is ending, what does your future look like?

This spring I’m training to kick professionally. Kicking is exciting, challenging, and rewarding and I will continue to play as long as I enjoy it. I’m not sure what I want to do after football, but I consider myself an academic late-bloomer and would like to go back to school.

If you can’t find Inside the Huddle on Amazon, it should be available at these local vendors!
Bancroft Clothing * Cal Student Bookstore * Analog Books * Orinda Books * Orinda Country Club * UC Threads

All images provided in this interview courtesy of Tom Schneider and can be found in the book.

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California 88, Washington 85 (3OT)

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

(Torrent is here; highlights of the final minutes of regulation and overtime are here, here, here & here; video tribute by danzig is here)

Only watched the game on my Blackberry last Saturday, so didn’t get time to see it until an hour or so ago. Here are the notes I typed up while watching.

Jerome Randle: Thomas’s play got a little bit in his head and he tried to outduel him a little too much early on as Cal fell behind. I’d say he was bothered a lot by players switching on him. Far more effective on the fast break but in the half court he struggled to do anything. He didn’t get much help from his teammates early on though, who sort of stagnated off the ball. He ended up playing much better late when he switched to the 2 and extended the game to the third overtime before fouling out.

Jordan Wilkes: He sets good picks. Mostly a finisher of plays, but the defense I’ve seen from him so far is basically putting his hands up in the air.

Jamal Boykin: Him and Wilkes can drive me crazy. For all the good things they do on defense they often get lost on offense. Too many times they got in the way of the scorers and crowded the shots of Robertson and Christopher or weren’t in position for Randle. I guess they’ll be more useful when the zone offense is moving more crisply.

Theo Robertson: Struggled creating his own shot early; was much more prolific with the catch-and-shoot. He didn’t look comfortable dribbling around the perimeter, but did finish the game with the go-ahead drive. Can go inside and shoot outside though, and that was all they needed in the third OT.

Patrick Christopher: The most complete player on our team. Can shoot the 3 ball, creates his own shot, moves well off the ball, has the speed to grab his missed shots. Still not sure about his defense though. Played like a man possessed in the second half and the third overtime. This could partly be due to the fact that no one on Washington could really guard him one-on-one. Also played great defense on Dentmon on the last crucial possession without getting called for the foul.

Harper Kamp: He’s very good at those backdoor passes, and has excellent defensive skills that make him valuable down the stretch. He breaks up passes in the paint, can bother his man in the post, etc.

D.J. Seeley: Might end up eating into Knezevic’s minutes down the road, simply because he plays better defense and can shoot the 3. His fast break defense was especially notable. Oh, and let’s not forget the clutchness.

Jorge Gutierrez: Strong defender (really bothered Thomas in the last few minutes) and plays well in the system on offense, had a crucial drive to the lane in the third OT, even has a nice pass; Montgomery allowed him to ball handle at times, showing how much confidence he has in him playing spot point. All you ask for off the bench. He’s the kind of player the fans of opposing teams will love to hate. That swipe across the face of Thomas is a perfect example.

Didn’t pay as much attention to Washington, but here are my quick (and probably biased) notes.

Isiah Thomas: Very strong point guard, and does remind me of the real Isiah at least in terms of the way he attacks the basket. I love aggressive point guard play, and off the dribble he was unstoppable much of the game. Cal really doesn’t have anyone who can guard him–their point guards are too small and their big men aren’t quick enough. It’s going to be interesting when the Bears face good point guards down the road and how they deal with him; my thoughts are zone-zone-zone. Of course, I don’t know what the hell he was doing reaching in on Seeley on that final shot.

Jon Brockman: Another big awkward white dude. Of course he has that hustle and rebounding that most journalists drool over in college, but has too much Hansbrough in him (and even Tyler can make his free throws).  A good eleventh man on an NBA team before people realize he’s kind of useless.

Justin Dentmon: Made some absurd shots. Also works well off the ball and had some good rebounds off his own shot (Randle was switched onto him after Guiterrez took over defensive responsibilities). The senior dominated the second and third overtimes and nearly took them home. Got Randle fouled out too drawing the charge.

Venoy Overton: Great penetrator to the inside.

Justin Holliday: Nice block.

Quincy Pondexter: Lives up to his name. Did a lot of quizzical things in this one (not closing out on his man, not finishing his shot, travelling trying to turn around in the paint, etc.)

Matthew Bryan-Amaning: Like every Euro player, can’t believe he’s ever committed a foul in his life.

Buy tickets for Montgomery’s return to Maples, or get ready for the first home games of the spring semester at Haas against Oregon State and Oregon!

Add your thoughts of Cal’s dramatic triple overtime win in the comments.


A Nod To the Future: Pac-10 Football in 2009

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, January 12th, 2009

Fall 2009 is a long way away for a Cal football fan, but it’s really hard for Golden Bears not to be anticipating the possibilities of next season. The Bears have made plenty of runs after the Rose Bowl fiasco of 2004, but there were always good reasons as to why Cal never were able to make the leap to the Rose Bowl.

However, in 2009, the cards might finally be falling in our favor.  A look around the Pac-10 amplifies those hopes.

Washington State

Oh god. It doesn’t get more barren than this, does it?

Pros: Uh. Their home games are easier this year. So they have that going for them. Wulff’s recruits might finally start seeing PT at key positions, so the Cougs shouldn’t be as thin at every position as they were this season.

Cons: They go to Memorial next year. That takes care of this one.

Conclusion: If that game is even close next season, something has gone horribly wrong. Best not to think about it.

Washington

You can only go up from bottom right?

Pros: Jake Locker is back. That’s enough for two-three wins right there, as long as he stays healthy. And this was a young team, which explained many of the tough losses all season; you’d expect with a year under their belt the new coaching regime would get these players back into working order after the mess of the Willingham era.

Cons: This team won zero games last year. Bagel. Empty. Nada. Nothing There is a lot to work on, and there are no quick fixes.

This year LSU, USC, Cal and Oregon all come to town, plus a trip to South Bend. Their schedule is even more brutal than last season. To expect the Huskies to rise up and win more than five games is a little unrealistic.

Conclusion: They’re a little bit more of an uncertain commodity than Wazzu because their coaching staff should be way better, but I still have no clue. Nevertheless, the Bears still have yet to face Locker, and he is not to be underestimated (as BYU can attest).

Arizona

Mike Stoops is barely safe once again. Took all his effort and a senior quarterback and Texas Tech’s old offensive coordnator, but they finall put a winning season under their belt. Good for them. Let’s hope they revert to sucking.

Pros: This is a young team with a lot of returning starters. Antolin and Grigsby will both be back, as will their tight end Rob Gronkowski. More importantly, their defense (lose five starters) and O-line  (lose two) will return mainly intact with plenty of seniors manning each group.

Cons: Willie Tuitama is gone. So is Mike Thomas, and thus half of their offensive production. Considering Tuitama has been the de facto starter for nearly three and a half years, it’s hard not to see Arizona taking a step back in this game with one of the freshmen quarterbacks taking the reins.  Their offense is entirely dependent on a good QB game, so we’ll have to see how well they adapt to their surroundings.

Conclusion: They will be much like Cal next year, albeit weaker at the skill positions. However, they do come to Memorial, so the Bears should have the advantage in this one.

Arizona State

Danny Sullivan or the Elway kid? Rudy Carpenter is now gone (up to you to wonder if that’s a good or bad thing), and the jury’s out on whether Dennis Erickson is washed up–my guess is he’s over the hill, but I’ve been wrong about these things before. We’ll know when they go to Georgia what type of team they are.

Pros: Carpenter’s gone, which can be good if you really hate Rudy Carpenter. It’s Arizona quarterback battle II this offseason, as Danny Sullivan fights for the right to start his senior season, although he might take a backseat to the frosh as well. Also only three seniors on the defense leave, so this squad will escape 2008 relatively intact (which can be a good or bad thing).

Cons: That offensive line was terrible last year, was worse this year, and doesn’t show any signs of changing this year considering only two of those players graduate. This team is going to have all sorts of trouble adjusting to Cal’s 3-4 front.

Conclusion: Dangerous game in the desert (all of them are), but it should be Cal’s easiest in the last four trips to Arizona.

Stanfurd

AXE.

Pros: Gerhart is back, and he was tough to take down all year, so it’s going to be tough playing him straight up. Also the O-line is in place, so you have to expect Harbaugh to power run up the gaps for most of the season.

Cons: The ‘Furd loses eight starters and five more backups on defense. Let me repeat, they lose THIRTEEN of their primary and secondary defenders. Jahvid Best could very well march for 250 on them in the Big Game.

They lose Pritchard, who at least showed signs of competency. We have no clue what Alex Loukas or Andrew Luck or even Josh Nunes will do or whether a clearcut #1 will emerge.

Conclusion: We’re going to have to see what Jim Harbaugh’s recruits can do as most of Walt Harris’s recruits move on. If they excel, the Big Game will be tough, but if they are merely adequate we’re keeping the Axe.

UCLA

I would like to say this team is an easy out, but it all depends on Kevin Craft. Will he really develop into the QB that Neuheisel thinks he’s capable of becoming? The other options aren’t pretty.

Pros: UCLA loses only two offensive starters–their center Micah Reed and tailback Kahlil Bell. For all the misery they went through last season, the Bruins should be much improved going into 2009 with plenty of experience under the belts of the youngins. Their defense  loses more, but they should be solid, depending on who they hire to replace DeWayne Walker.

Cons: Uh…quarterback play (am I sensing a trend here?). Craft murdered them in several of their losses. If he can just tone down the interceptions they could be a dark horse pick to challenge for the Pac-10 crown (their home schedule is favorable with Cal and Oregon coming to town).

Conclusions: If we have good quarterback play, we will end our miserable road record in Los Angeles. If we have bad quarterback play, we probably don’t.

Oregon

What is it with the Ducks? Almost every season they find a way to mirror our exact struggles the season before. The Ducks went 10-2 but were denied a BCS berth and sunk in the Holiday Bowl in 2005 the season after Cal got jobbed and did the same. Oregon collapsed in 2006 after our matchup, we collapsed in 2007 after our matchup. Now in 2009, they face the same issues Cal did in 2008 by losing a ton of senior talent. And I mean a ton.

The good: Oregon’s got three exciting quarterbacks competing for the starting position. Although Masoli played very well in 2008 and starred in the Holiday Bowl, you can expect him to compete again with Justin Roper and the sophomore Darron Thomas. Why can’t we have a positive QB controversy like that?

Also, that monster LaGarrette Blount is taking over for Jeremiah Johnson, so the spread attack should be just as potent as it always is. Also returning are the cornerbacks Thurmond and Byrd, and Byrd seems to be coming on for the Ducks.

The bad: Oregon’s two centers are graduating, including Max Unger (heralded to be just as good as Alex Mack). Three guards and the starting tackles are also gone. Terrence Scott and Jaison Williams are on his way out with Jeremiah Johnson. They also lose six defensive starters (including Chung and Boyd), but I never know if that’s a bad thing for a team like the Ducks that never seems to get it together on that side of the ball.

Peachy.

Conclusion: If this game were at home Cal would probably win handily, but since this is an Autzen it’ll be our second or third toughest game on the schedule, depending on how you view the next two opponents. The Ducks are never an easy out though, and their O-lines never seem to drop off, so we’ll have to see how their team adjusts to their new trenchmen.

Oregon State

I hate playing these guys, and I’m sure Tedford does too. The Bears have losing records against two Pac-10 teams since he arrived, and against Oregon State he’s a grand 2-5. They’re a well-coached team that keeps on spitting out upset after upset. And their defensive coordinator doesn’t get hired anywhere for no apparent reason. Drives me nuts. It’s looking like we’ll have to deal with him again this season.

Pros: Moevao and the Rodgers brothers return, and you’d figure that offensive talent will be enough to solidfy them. Darrell Catchings should slide in to replace Morales. McCants is a solid backup in case Rodgers gets hurt.

Cons: Their offensive line loses four of their main men including two starters. I would say losing three of their defensive linemen or their entire starting secondary are huge losses, but the Beavers lost their entire front seven last season and came within one win of the Rose Bowl. I don’t know. I’m terrified of this game. Couldn’t they have scheduled it for June?

Conclusion: The Beavers are coming to Memorial, and even though we’ve lost the last two, we were at our weakest and they were at our strongest in both of those matchups. You’d think we could have this one, but they could clamp down on Best and force Riley to win this one. Who knows whether he’ll be able to do it or not.

USC

The kings, and rightfully so. Everytime you count them out they come marching right back and start scorching Earth. While Pete Carroll’s teams are not as invincible as they once were in the Leinart-Bush-White era, their potency cannot be questioned, and you’d be a damned fool to underestimate them. They are the champs of the Pac until someone dethrones them…and doesn’t subsequently fall apart.

Pros: If the Trojans are going to repeat as Pac-10 champions, they will have to do so behind an experienced offense led by senior Mark Sanchez. Other than the loss of Patrick Turner, the transfer of Hazelton, and the graduation their guard Ross Byers, the entire offense returns. C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight will have another chance to try and distinguish their play from one another or face another platoon type system. Damian Williams is starting to develop into a star, and Ronald Johnson is a decent second option. Anthony McCoy will be featured prominently.

Cons: For the first time in a long time,there are a lot. Other than Everson Griffen and Averell Spicer, the Trojans lose everyone on their front seven. Clay Matthews, Kyle Moore, Fili Moala, Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiva, Maualuga, all gone. Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris are also on the way out, and Taylor Mays might be joining them. That is nearly 85 percent of their starting corps. Although the Trojans will have the talent they usually have that can fill in, this is going to be a significantly weaker team than the one that just gangbusted Penn State.

Not to mention the coaching. This post will probably be updated when the sitution is figured out, but right now USC is without offensive and defensive coordinators (given that Petie runs the defense, but still). The Trojan identity for next season remains very much cloudy, and we won’t know for certain where they’re going until summertime.

Conclusion: The October matchup in Memorial is already looking like the biggest of many battles for the Pac-10 crown. USC’s offense will be facing a tough Cal defense that held them to 17 in LA, and they will be just as experienced this time around. So for the fourth straight year it’ll come down to the question of whether Cal’s offense can break through against USC’s defense. Will the Bears’s O have enough experience and savvy to finally notch the win against the Men of Troy?

What are your thoughts on next season and our matchups with our Pac-10 conference foes?

Final Blogpoll Ballot

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, January 9th, 2009
Rank Team Delta
1 Florida
2 Southern Cal 1
3 Texas 1
4 Utah 3
5 Oklahoma 3
6 Alabama 1
7 TCU 4
8 Ohio State 1
9 Penn State 3
10 Boise State 2
11 Oregon 3
12 Mississippi 4
13 Texas Tech 5
14 Oklahoma State 4
15 Georgia 2
16 Oregon State 4
17 Iowa 8
18 Virginia Tech 5
19 California 7
20 Florida State 6
21 West Virginia 5
22 Georgia Tech 9
23 Missouri 1
24 LSU 2
25 Nebraska 1
Dropped Out: Cincinnati (#15), Michigan State (#18), Pittsburgh (#19), Brigham Young (#21), Ball State (#22).
I’m sure there are plenty of issues with this one. Let me know if anything catches your eye.

A Very Longshore Engagement

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, December 29th, 2008

Nate Longshore

It’s weird to think three of my formative Cal football years have been spent agonizing over the play of Nate Longshore. And the agony was perpetual; he never seemed bad enough to be benched, but never good enough to be lauded. He was the perfect polarizer, someone who eternally frustrated you, yet never seemed entirely deserving of blame when we came up short. It’s like the cousin who always gets Cs; you just shrug and keep on trudging until he gets a job.

In the early Tedford years, Cal ran their offense through dynamic quarterback play. Aaron Rodgers was rightly regarded as Cal’s greatest modern quarterback; he could throw the deep spiral, check down his routes, go through his progressions, turn secondaries into his personal arcade. It was almost too easy for him. And we never wanted it to end.

Now it’s shifted the other way. We have been blessed with such a plethora of talent over the past several seasons that you wonder if the dynamic has turned; we’ve become stagnant in our quarterback development whereas every other facet of our game has grown. We’re sending running backs, wide receivers, o-linemen, defenders, special teams players to the NFL on a yearly basis, and there’s no denying that this trend won’t continue in future seasons. But for once, Tedford, the QB guru, is not going to be seeing a successful amateur turn pro.

Sometimes even the fanbase can lose perspective; we saw a season of effortless quarterback play that isn’t likely to be replicated anytime soon, yet we keep on thinking our quarterbacks should replicate that play. And so far the replacements haven’t been up to the task or even close to the task. It’s something we’re going to have to wrestle with.

Read the rest of this entry »

And Now We Wait Again: Cal Football Resurgent

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Twelve games, fifteen weeks. How quickly the time goes.

Football is one of those sports where you can ride the highs but escape the lows without feeling like you’re wasting an epic proportion of your time. If you sense a down year coming, if the season goes south, you can quit it easily and not look back. The time commitment is short, the moments you have to spend paying attention to it are minimal. The diehards will always obesess manically, but for the majority of Cal football fans can hang it up, get ready for a bowl game, then prepare for the eight month interlude where there is nothing but hoops and hockey.

California’s 2008 campaign didn’t really pick up on the theme of redemption many were hoping for. Many of the seniors did assume the mantle of leadership and ensure that dissent would not be a problem this season. Nate Longshore settled into an uneasy relationship, never quite part of the experience yet never quite being able to associate with it either (three starts, seven game appearances). Kevin Riley never became starter de facto, bouncing around with average efforts followed by clunkers

This season was more about rebuilding identity for the new wave. It’s about figuring out where we want to go the next three years rather than discovering about where we were bowling in December. There were glimpses of promise followed by frustrating letdowns. But these things were expected from a mainly raw offense and an emerging defense.

Obviously you can’t be totally happy with the way the offense, whose strategy seemed to be ‘hand ball to #4, he knows what’s Best’. Although Cignetti’s offense had a few gimmicks that opened up the offense a few times during the home stretch, this was clearly Jahvid Best’s offense from Arizona onward. When he had a great game we won, when he had a good game we were always in it, and when he struggled we did nothing. A battered offensive line and an uncertain rhythm between quarterback and receiver plagued every facet of our game, and we struggled every Saturday to get going without Best unleashing.

However, we did discover that there was more than one way to win than an explosive passing game. discovered how to win using the other side of the ball too.

Although the 2004 Golden Bears had a monster defense, it was far from their trademark; we knew the team for its offensive machinery rather than its defensive efficiency. This season would have been lost though without the weapons on the defense stepping up. Sure, there were occasional lapses, as to be expected from a weak 3-4 and an anemic offense not doing its part, but the Bears D more than did its job for much of the season, and will always remain a bright spot for the future.

All in all, 8-4 is what reasonable fans expected, and that is what they got. Four closely contested losses, eight very strong wins. It was satisfying in a way to get exactly what we expected, especially considering the chaos of the past season. It was a welcome relief to the usual pain that accompanies a California loss (the Bears lost the three games they were expected to lose and only had one well-explained stinker in College Park), and provided a quiet reflection before being plunged back into the sea of expectation.

Next year the Bears will again be thrust into a position where they are expected to challenge for the Pac-10 crown. Best returning for what could be his prime season. A hopefully healthy offensive line returning under the stewardship of left tackle Mike Tepper. A defense that will be stronger and should fill in many of the gaps our seniors leave behind. USC coming to town to October. At the moment, outside of Eugene and Minneapolis, what is looking like a very anemic road schedule. If only the quarterback issues could be resolved, we’d have a competitive conference contender. For now we can only wonder.

There are reasons to be brimming positivity. The potential for great things is just around the winter, spring and summer.

Grades for Cal-Washington:
Quarterback: B
Running back: A+
Receivers: B
Run blocking: A
Pass protection: A
Run defense: B+
Pass rush: A
Pass defense: B+ 

Inside the Civil War Playbook: Oregon 65, Oregon State 38

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Days later, the entire Pac-10 continues to reel from the obliteration of Oregon State’s vaunted defense in the Civil War. With a Rose Bowl berth on the line for Mike Riley’s Beavers, how could the Ducks march into Reser Stadium and torch them in such spectacular fashion?

Sample notes extracted from Oregon’s coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly reveals the grand master plan that he laid out to wreck such havoc on his rivals. Strangely the playbook was only four pages long. Yet if you’ve seen the gametape, you’d understand that was all that was needed.
 

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If Only There Were Trees To Cut: The Big Game Experience

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

So I attended my first Big Game on Saturday, and it was quite pleasant. Figures that I’d go four years of undergrad without attending one Big Game. I even passed on the 2004 one when we all thought we were chomping on roses–probably for the best, since I’d probably have been in a coma after the Mack Brown fiasco. 

For many years the Big Game was an afterthought. Cal was very good and the ‘Furd were turd farmers. No longer. Last season put everything into perspective and gave every game added meaning, especially to the young Tedheads. So this game had a sense of urgency that most others lack.

Still, even I feel distasteful considering this a true rivalry, only because of how clueless the majority of ‘Furd fans seem to be about their football team and the nature of the game in general. Victorious Cardinal fans revel on the field for a half hour and then go off to talk about how great their alumni are–I’d be stunned if half the students could name anyone on their team. I still am still dazed by that disorganized mass of humanity that they call a band; it’s like the MST3K version of Moulin Rouge, except Tom Servo would blow his circuitry out by halftime from the sheer incompetence.

Stanfurd fans cheered so loudly when they scored two garbage-time touchdowns that you felt like they didn’t even know the rules of the game. Awesome guys, you’re down 21. You don’t get extra points for scoring later in the game. They did have some pretty cool coordinated movement near the end, kind of making me pine for the day when California fans could execute South Korean synchronized cheers. Far better than the Wave.

But other than the bizarro sea of red, the game was a pleasant affair.  The Bears played even for the first two quarters, and then put together a dominating display in the third to put the Axe back in safe keeping. Tedford has made the rivalry game pretty easy for us–in his six wins the Bears have won by a combined score of 189-65. Strangely, he seems to have Cal play much looser in the biggest game of the season for most alum; you don’t usually see those tricks pulled in other games.

I was fairly happy with the way the team played, letting Jahvid Best run the football to death and letting Kevin Riley sit back and watch after the lead grow to two scores. Even though the ‘Furd played like they were the better team early on just like they did against USC, they couldn’t overcome their own mistakes. The Cardinal had the chance to make this a game early and took themselves out of it with only three points on three red zone trips early on, even overcoming Bryan Anger’s monstrous punts. You can’t screw up opportunities like that, especially in a road atmosphere (Cal learned that lesson in every one of their losses). Then the defense stepped up, behind Follett and Felder, Syd’Quan and Rulon, Mohamed and Worrell, etc. etc. and the points kept on coming. No bowl for the Cardinal.

More importantly, barring a bizarro Washington finish, it wiped away the last stains of 2007. That season can finally be buried in the hatchet. We’ve reestablished ourselves in the upper echelon, and pretty much guaranteed another top 4 finish in the Pac-10 (our fourth in fifth years). We’re going to be a fine team these next few years, and we’ll get many good opportunities to compete for the Rose Bowl as long as our coach is around. And that’s all you can ask for in the era of Troy.

Oregon State is one win away from achieving what was once thought impossible. Guess what their record was the year before? 8-4. 

You can only ponder what’s coming next. But for now, we’ve got the Axe. And one full year of ruling the Farm.

Report Card
Quarterback: B-
Running backs: A+
Receivers: Incomplete
Run blocking: A
Pass protection: B
Run defense: B+
Pass rush: B
Pass defense: C+
Special teams: B
Coaching: A 
Overall: A 

California Soul

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, November 21st, 2008

(For information on watching The Big Game countrywide or locations of the ten thousand national meetups, click here)

It hasn’t been your typical Tedford season. Expectations have been low from the get-go, infused with a brief sense of hope for several games, only to be dashed by our team’s shortcomings and inexperience. No one really knew what to expect, so we just plowed ahead, hopeful that our team would rebound and vanquish the ugly memories.

So it’s back to basics: like Tony says, time to hate your neighbor. Now we’re at our rivalry game, standing at 6-4, hovering between modest success and another letdown season. And for the first time since 2004, beating the ‘Furd matters.

Oh, I’m sure taining the Axe has been important, and it’s meant something for Cal fans jockeying for position between Vegas and San Diego, but every year from that magical ’04 campaign onward, a Bears win over the Cardinal was treated with certainty rather than with jubilation. There was an arrogance to the way we watched each passing Big Game, as if we were judging the merits of those victories based on past (and superior) performances. We didn’t just want to win, we wanted to win with style?

Remember that uncomfortably close 2006 game, where the Bears struggled to do anything and slogged to a 13-10 halftime? After losing both a BCS berth and the Rose Bowl, the Big Game didn’t seem so big anymore. If the Cardinal had been marginally better that day, they could have won outright. But their incompetence doomed them to another loss. Their revenge would come a year later.

Strangely, even though we lost last year, even that Big Game didn’t feel like anything more than an afterthought. No one knew what to expect as we lost, and lost, and lost again. Relinquishing the Axe made me feel more numb inside than pain; the Bears had already lost enough in the previous few months that we were used to the feeling. It couldn’t get much lower than that.

But now the ‘Furd are back. They’re not a doormat anymore; they’re a few fourth quarter defensive stops from being 7-4 and right up there with California. As it is they’re 5-6 and hovering at the edge of bowl eligibility. As discussed at CGB, there are bigger stakes to beat the ‘Furd this time around. The Bears cannot lose three games in a row like they did last season or risk another offseason of depressing second-guessing.

Letting them win in Memorial would be devastating, right on par with Oregon State last season or Arizona the year before. It would build up the Cardinal for their own Rose Bowl campaign of next season (all the signs are pointing toward an 8-9 win team in Palo Alto in 2009). It would reinforce the idea that Tedford can’t win big games in November anymore and that our program has gone as far as it can go under his stewardship, baseless as those accusations would be. 

So for once, this game matters to both sides. It’s not just to win the battle for each other. It’s to keep our place on top of the Farm. Memorial sleeps Golden Bears. Wake up to reclaim the prize.