Burned Alive (Report Card, Cal-ASU)
I was only 7 years old, beginning my descent into perpetual sports agony. My Buffalo Bills were making their last Super Bowl appearance, and they were certain underdogs against a Dallas Cowboys team that ravaged them a year ago. Nevertheless, they rallied together for an inspired thirty minutes of football, taking a 13-6 lead and giving their jaded fans reason to hope.
But thirty minutes was all they had. The defense of the Cowboys slowly broke down the offense part by part, stopped the run, and shut out the Bills in the second half. The turning point? Emmitt Smith parting the Bills defense on a 15 yard TD go-ahead run that collectively let the air out of everyone watching the game. And we knew it was over.
I’m not about to compare Keegan Herring and Dmitri Nance to Emmitt Smith, but you have to admit that 4th and 1 play to put the Sun Devils ahead was the tipping point. The offense started fouling up, the defense began gasping for air, and you began to realize that this was the end of the illusion. That we were the benefit of a soft schedule and 4 turnovers in Autzen, and that #1 wasn’t ours to have at all.
And you begin to rationalize that it can always be worse. You could be UCLA fans, who have had the enthusiasm of every win drained out of them because they know they’ll falter to someone like Wazzu or Notre Dame. You could be USC fans, who are staring at the ghastly notion of a Sun Bowl and can’t even begin to fathom not playing in a BCS game. You could be Stanford fans, who are just happy to win one every now and then. I think in the state of California, we’re still the happiest Pac-10 fanbase around. It just makes the eventual climb to the summit all the more glorious. Every victory will be treasured that much more.
So there are a few modest goals left in this season. Beatdown Wazzu. Deal the final blow to a reeling ‘SC squad. Win in Seattle. Retain the Axe. All of these goals are attainable. And I’m sure after the tears are shed and the angst recedes, we’ll come back to this warm conclusion:
No matter what, we’ll always love our Bears.
Onto the report card (for those who love sunny optimism, you can skip the rest).
Quarterback: D. Look, I really like Longshore. I admire his effort and heart, playing on a gimpy leg for much of the night, and he did as much as he could before the ASU pass rush tightened, including displaying his best deep throw of the year. But I can’t ignore the facts. After a moderate start, his game descended into a shitshow. Even when he wasn’t under duress, his throws were grabass. He overthrew the deep and fade routes much of the game, and then those two game-breaking INTs in the 4th were definitely underthrown. That ankle is hurting him. If he keeps performing this way, he needs to sit down.
Running backs: C+. There were flashes from Forsett, who had some solid runs. But it’s hard to judge because he got so few touches, which was puzzling because we were doing pretty well with the run schemes. Not great, good. The tendency to pass a lot was puzzling, considering Tedford’s loyalty to the ground game a week ago. Jahvid Best was used sparingly.
Wide receivers: B. For the second straight week, another strong performance. Jackson made an excellent (albeit dubious) catch in the end zone to give the Bears their only offensive TD, and Hawkins, Jordan and Stevens all had their signature moments. When they got the ball they made plays with it. Although I’m still trying to figure out what the hell that Hawkins penalty was all about.
Pass protection: B. No sacks, and only a few hurries and knockdowns late when the offensive line tired and the confidence of the ASU defense grew. There were weaknesses in this game, but the offensive line was not one of them.
Run blocking: B-. At least a few holes were opened up by our offensive line for Forsett to push through. Again, very few carries to judge the overall performance.
Run defense: D-. Started out great, only to run out of gas when ASU got their vertical passing game going. Which was expected. That 2nd half was depressingly inevitable; I knew Cal’s defense had nothing left as the time of possession started swaying in the Sun Devils favor. You know your team is in trouble when you have no faith they can stop 4th and short, making Karl Dorrell’s decision from last week all the more moronic (naturally, we did something similar in this game with our offense too. Eesh.)
Pass rush: C. Good for the first half (gave us our first TD), gone in the second half. Apparently the reason Bob Gregory doesn’t employ a pass rush is to keep our thin defense from wearing out, and now with Davis out it grows even closer to breaking. Linebackers were very quiet.
Pass defense: D. Our secondary is like Mulholland Drive; it looks sensible for the first part, then descends into madness by the end. I’ve never seen a team get handed so many penalty gifts only to see them completely revoked by 20 yard passes up the middle.
Special teams: B. Outside of a blocked kick and a near fumble for DeSean (if that had been ruled a fumble this grade would be down a letter), they did their job. Jordan Kay had a good game, and Larson was back to normal. Nothing really to say, although I’m starting to wonder if Jackson is passing up an opportunity or two to return the deep punts to avoid the possibility of getting hammered.
Coaching: C-. Okay, just because I said you should get away from the run in the 4th quarter last week doesn’t mean you should proceed to bury it this time around. Longshore was clearly not 100% and the running game was averaging a modest 3.4 yards per carry (compared to the horrid 2.2 from last week). Why not keep at it to at least give your ragged defense a breather?
Kudos to getting the team fired up for the first quarter, but I’m still not sure if it was more due to ASU’s pension for slow starts than any extra effort we put in. As it is with these cases, probably a little of both.
When I saw Kevin Riley warming up, there was a brief flicker of hope. But alas, loyalty prevails, and Tedford allowed Longshore to continue to throw balls into the ground. Not sure it would have made a difference in any case, but we’ll never know…
Overall: D. Very good start to the game, but settling for those three field goal attempts early killed us; it kept the crowd motivated enough and the game close as opposed to a rout. Penalties shot us in the foot and allowed Arizona State to hang around until busting it open in the 4th.
Again, power running and fast defenses have been our nemesis. Thankfully, none of our final four opponents dispose of both of these, so we should have the advantage in the remaining schedule. Looks glum now, but at least we can finish the season on a high note.
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