Turf Wars: How Much Does the Surface Affect Cal?

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, March 28th, 2008


I conclude this week by talking about grass. No, I’m not talking about the bums on Telegraph, although that would make for great interviewing. Is there something in the grass fields of college football stadiums that slows our players down and eventually knocks our team out?

I bring this up because Cal football is a mysterious and painful 0-6 on grass the past two years during the regular season. I repeat: WE HAVEN’T WON A SINGLE GAME ON GRASS THE PAST TWO REGULAR SEASONS. Arizona, Tennessee, USC, UCLA, ASU, Stanford. Three of these teams were good, one was so-so, the other two flat-out stunk. We’ve managed to win our last two bowl games on grass, but it was not typical Cal football in those two games–we utilized a great power run game to throttle A&M and needed a miraculous comeback speared by Kevin Riley to take down Air Force. Neither of those games was decided until the 4th quarter (and yes, Cal won the Holiday Bowl by 35). So it’s safe to say we’ve been struggling on turf.

At least we’re partly able to explain two stats that must continually bite at Coach Tedford:
Rose Bowl: 0-3
LA Memorial Coliseum: 0-3

Perhaps this LA curse now has a partial explanation. Both the Rose Bowl and Coliseum are grass surfaces.

The 2006 season looks a little disconcerting in retrospect. Cal on turf? 9-0. Cal on grass? 0-3. The terrible Oregon State loss was compounded more by the fact that we had to go to the Rose Bowl and Sun Devil Stadium and lose two more–both grass fields. The Bears this season on the natural stuff were 0-3, stagnating on offense late in each of the three games. Since Tedford arrived at Cal, in the Pac-10, here are his records on turf and grass.

2002: 6-4 on turf, 0-2 on grass
2003: 5-5 on turf, 3-1 on grass
2004: 8-0 on turf, 2-2 on grass
2005: 6-3 on turf, 2-1 on grass
2006: 9-0 on turf, 1-3 on grass
2007: 6-3 on turf, 1-3 on grass

Note that in 2003 and 2005 (offensively sluggish, defensively solid years for the Bears) were the only years Cal football teams finished with winning records.

After the jump, a possible explanation of the disparity between the two surfaces.

The Cal offenses of the earlier stage did not rely so much on their speed but instead drew on a more physical presence that battered. A turf is a fast track, and the advantage was not utilized until 2004 when faster athletes like Lynch, Arrington and McArthur carried the burden of the snaps. Our defenses were also much stronger at the beginning of the Tedford era, so they were suited for trench warfare on the grass plains.

When Cal reformed itself after Rodgers, we had one more physical year of defense before turning into the explosive speed unit that brought so much talent to the table in the Pac-10. In other words, let the defense force punts and let the offense take care of the rest. Fine strategy which has worked fairly well at home (13-2 doesn’t lie, and one of those losses was in pouring rain) and on the fast tracks of the Pac-10 (wins at Oregon, Oregon State and Wazzu the past two years, places we don’t usually win).

On grass though? The players can’t cut as well, the field is tougher, and you have to absorb hits. And to be honest, the Bears offense outside of Forsett and Hawkins was…vulnerable to hits. Lynch got hurt, Jackson and Jordan got hurt, and their lack of production was noticeable.

And I must get to Nate Longshore, because I think everyone’s been waiting for weeks and given up all hope that I’ll ever mention his name again.

Nate Longshore Field Stats Games Comp. % Yds/Game Yds/Att TD INT Record
2006 on Turf 9 62.9 252.8 8.8 21 6 9-0
2006 on Grass 4 54.2 186.5 6.3 3 7 1-3
2007 on Turf 8 62.9 223.1 6.9 11 6 6-2
2007 on Grass 4 53.6 195.3 6.2 5 7 1-3
Overall Turf Stats 17 62.9 238.8 7.8 32 12 15-2
Overall Grass Stats 8 53.9 190.9 6.3 8 14 2-6

It’s important to note that Longshore did not participate after the second quarter in Cal’s only grass win this year.

You can see that Longshore struggles on grass, whether it’s due to decreased offensive production or inability of receivers to adjust to the turf. It’s hard for me to believe that Nate changes much on grass; it seems more like a sluggish run game also cost us in these games (Forsett’s numbers are way down on grass). And while you might think a more appropriate measure is to examine home and road splits, Nate has actually performed about the same at home and on the road this year.

We’ll know pretty early how much the field surface impacts Longshore’s playing, and it’s not just the “at Arizona”, “at USC” dates in late October/early November. Because guess what type of field Maryland plays on.

(Numbers are from the otherwordly CFBStats.com)

NOTE: We’re going to try and upgrade the site again, so this weekend there’ll be no posts. I’ll be back on Monday, upgrade or no upgrade. Should be near the end of this.

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