Rolling Into the Bye Week (Cal-Oregon Recap)
First of all, I can’t be happier that the bye week is here. As much as I enjoy watching Cal football, our team is so battered that we need all the time we can get to get things back into working order. It’ll also help smooth the transition before Homecoming (buy your tickets!) and prevent any sort of mental letdown for the Beavers, which screams trap game before the big UCLA/ASU road trip.
But something feels different, and it’s a good feeling: Cal football seems to have finally gotten used to the big stage. I don’t know if they win this type of game last year, and certainly not before the Neyland debacle. But tough road losses and blown leads the past two years have begun to harden this team for games like yesterday’s. The 2007 California Golden Bears haven’t exhibited offensive wizardry with deep balls and 70 yard scampers, nor have they displayed overpowering defense to shut down juggernauts. I’m sure that’s underwhelming to fans looking for quick scores and hits, the way we used to run business.
But our Lord and Savior, Jeff Tedford, has learned that the problem with this explosive ability is that if you let it out too quickly, you’re prone to letdown when you have to dig in and win. This happened with Arizona and USC last year, this happened with Oregon and UCLA the year before that. We made big plays but couldn’t sustain time-killing drives when we needed to and allowed big plays on the other side.
The point is we’re able to collectively close games now, offensively and defensively, without making the mental errors that would cost us in the past (no turnovers for Cal yesterday, compared to four for Oregon, all in the 4th quarter and two in the last three minutes in the red zone). Which is why I wasn’t terribly worried when we went down and stayed down for nearly all of three quarters. I knew we would come back. I just felt it.
Previous to this year, I hadn’t been completely confident during the last fifteen minutes of a ballgame, unless we had a huge lead–we’ve blown too many 4th quarter leads to hope for that. But in the big games this season, the 4th quarter has indeed been ours.
Onto the hits.
–What a difference a ground game makes. Take a look at Tedford’s playcalling and
On punting drives: 2 pass, 1 run for -14 yards; 6 passes, 3 runs for 41 yards; 2 passes, 1 run for 3 yards; 3 passes, 0 runs for 6 yards; 2 passes, 1 sack for -whatever yards; 4 passes, 2 runs for 26 yards; 3 yards for 6 runs.
On FG attempt/TD drives: 6 passes, 6 runs for 66 yards; 4 passes, 5 runs for 70 yards; 6 passes, 2 runs for 59 yards; 3 passes, 2 runs for 50 yards; 3 rushes for 21 yards.
If you add them up separately, you probably won’t see too much of a difference in playcalling between runs and passes, since we had one successful drive predicated on excellent Longshore throws and another based on Forsett punching it in. But analyze them case-by-case and you can see that when the Bears got away from the run in the first half (namely because Oregon was focusing on shutting down Forsett) and became pass-dependent, the offense stalled. But the moment they went back to it in the 2nd half, the Ducks defense started opening up. The only scoring possession of the first half predicated off of off-tackle runs and short passes to the sides, and the first possession of the the 3rd quarter everything finally broke loose.
In other words, balance is the key, and the Bears offense found it in the 2nd half. After relying too much on Longshore to heave us to victory, Cal started rushing it up the middle, forcing the linebackers back in to shadow the running game…and allowing for more comfortable one-on-one coverage with a secondary the receivers could outrun on their routes.
–Longshore was fantastic. Made practically no mistakes, all his passes had zip on them, and carved up the secondary when the defense wasn’t exclusively looking for the pass. He will be overlooked because of Desean’s brilliance and Forsett’s awesomeness, but it’s a very good sign going into the meat of the Pac-10 schedule in October and November.
–Only one stupid penalty today–the late hit–and a few minor ones that killed first half drives and the 4th quarter holding that could have put things away. But only five penalties in all, added onto the zero turnovers. A relatively mistake-free game on offense.
–All Justin Forsett does is close games; his busting through a solid Oregon defense at the beginning of the 2nd half shifted momentum back to California. After the Ducks managed to penetrate or push back Cal’s offensive line in the first half, they seemed solid and ready to sit back to wait for the Longshore throw. Good for Justin, who went for about 80 yards in the 2nd half and pushed through the line to give the Bears the winning score.
–The Bears looked to get it into Desean’s hands quickly and early, and he was happy to oblige. As opposed to his buddy Antoine last week, who did a great job of coverage, Oregon’s corners were happy to concede Jackson a few yards here and there and let him get his catches. Of course, this led to him building his confidence and breaking out for the huge plays in the 2nd half, and nearly had a back-breaker at the beginning of the 4th. I guess all that shit-talking the Hawk gave him got him pumped plenty. He’s coming up on some average defenses, so we’ll see if he can continue to pump out the numbers.
–On the other side, Dixon was valiant for almost the entire game (although he’ll definitely rue that short pick he threw to Feldner). Stewart was also very good, although Cal completely shut down the option plays in the first half and kept the running game at a low tempo in the second (about half as many as the first). Bellotti exhibited his typical trickery (a few reverses, fake handoffs, one guy running behind), but it was mostly held in check–the simple plays were the ones we struggled holding onto.
–I’m pretty sure this was the best defensive performance by a team who gave up over 500 yards of total offense. Pretty sure. Remember the Bears were missing plenty of starters, and everyone was up on Oregon’s ability to move down the field at will. Well they did run all over the field…just not enough into the end zone, thanks to timely stops and crucial turnovers. Those turnovers were scrappy from a team missing several defensive starters, but more playmakers were born today (Alualu, Felder, and the redemption of Marcus Ezeff, which will be made into a documentary one day by Bears diehards). They bent as far as they could go, but no breaking today.
–Are you happy that the Oregon duck has learned its lesson? I certainly am. Thank you, wise old sage in barbershop. Please tar and feather on your way out!
–The apartment where I was watching got pretty loud when that fumble occurred, so I can’t confirm whether the ABC broadcaster/Ducks alum Dan Fouts hyperventilated and collapsed when he realized it was the Bears’ ball. I can’t wait for the USC game when they bring in Keyshawn Johnson for commentary and Marcus Allen for sideline reporting. It might officially make the Trojans the most hated sports team in America (and I’ll get to USC’s craptastic performance later).
Some quick criticisms and things we need to work on this off-week.
1) Broken tackles; I shouldn’t be roaring at the fact that we can make the initial hit and drop the guy, but it’s starting to come to that. There were so many missed tackles that turned losses/early gains into 20-30 yard Duck gains. I’m not sure what the problem is, but Cal defenders still struggle wrapping their arms around offensive players and taking them down. Although I was glad our team made the plays at the end to win, and the “bend not break” style technically worked, there are some fundamental flaws in our tackling.
I guess I should give credit to Oregon’s potent offense too and their ability to evade the rush, but I’d say broken tackles contributed to at least one-fifth of the tonnage of yards they picked up.
2) Also didn’t like the prevent defense at the end of the game with about 90 seconds left. As TMQ says many times, the only thing that a prevent defense prevents is punts. Sure enough, about 40 seconds later the Ducks were in the red zone, pretty much a repeat of the previous drive that ended in an INT. Just keep with the covers defense that has kept the 50 yard play off the board (save the one deep hole in coverage in the 3rd quarter, when all the linebackers played a little too shallow trying to prevent the dumpoff). I’ll take annoying 10 yard first down dinkers if it doesn’t mean breaks in coverage.
3) I kinda wish they’d let Best loose a little more, just to see what he could do–but in a big game on the road, it was probably smart to reel him in and forestall the possibility of an inexperienced mistake. And I’d be a hypocrite to criticize the Bears for this sort of thing, since this is exactly what I’d hoped they do. And I forgot that Best did make a play–that fumble recovery on the kickoff that ate up time.
I guess old habits die hard. But the 2007 Bears quest for greatness lives on.
(Most images courtesy of myBearTerritory)
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