Thermopylae This Was Not: Cal-Michigan State Report Card

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, September 1st, 2008

In homage to Tightwad Hill (who started these awesome post-game analyses), the grades have been released for every Golden Bear element of Cal’s victory last Saturday.

Me: EPIC FAIL. First of all, I owe a huge apology to the people who woke up thinking they could watch the Cal game from Tokyo or Paris or whereever. The online feed was broken from the beginning, and scrambling could only get us the audio feeds for Starkey and what not. Sopcast can be unreliable since we never know who’s streaming the game; last year we got lucky and most of the games went uninterrupted.

That being said, ESPN gets a huge fail as well for their ridiculously stupid policy of charging cable companies for 360. Since Comcast didn’t ante up, much of the country (and Cal fans outside the state) was in the black for Cal-Michigan State, and everyone outside the West Coast and the Michigan area got saddled with a typical SEC blowing out ACC game.

You’d at least think they’d have the decency to simulcast it on ESPN2. Instead they were stuck watching a garbage Mississippi State-Louisiana Tech game, which was only interesting to people who are probably in hurricane shelters right now.

We’re going to fix this as quickly as we can. My campaign pledge will be to get all the Cal games that are televised streamed to your laptops across the globe. I’ll start the drive tomorrow.

Quarterbacks: Kevin Riley got off to a slow start, but picked up his stride around the second quarter and was particularly hot after Longshore’s disastrous foray. Perhaps most importantly he had two excellent touchdown passes near the goalline, one on the playfake that froze the defender and left Morrah wide open, and the anticipation of the pass rush that allowed him to dump off to Ta’ufo’ou who walked in untouched. He did not force the issue on too many occasions, although he threw some incredible passes to Young and the terribly impressive

He also displayed some personal leadership by urging the Cal fans to shut their traps. I wasn’t terribly anxious about RIley starting (I felt that he’d perform well given his past game experience), so I’m fairly pleased with what I saw this week.

Grade: A

As for Nate Longshore, we have to give him credit for his psychological acumen. Clearly Cal fans needed to resolve the quarterback controversy with their own eyes, so he threw those two picks to make those fairweathers feel better about themselves. This honorable sacrifice, so when he does get a chance to prove himself next time, his redemption will be all the greater.

In all seriousness, he had one great pass to Morrah. He had one good-looking pass that Otis Wiley anticipated outside of Longsohore’s peripheral vision. And he forced the issue on the second INT. It’s unfair to judge a guy on five passes (it went by terribly quickly), but you have to say one thing–every one of his passes found a receiver (3 receptions and 2 interceptions on 5 passes). His statline will look pretty bad, but I don’t think Tedford’s ready to bench Longshore yet.

Grade: D

Running backs: After the initial unsteadiness, both Best and Vereen picked it up. Best was an all-purpose machine the entire game, and his speed gives potency to the screen game that Cignetti likes to run. Vereen had his big run that broke the game open, although he was kept in check the rest of the game. Can’t be unhappy with 400 total yards though with both players debuting as starters.

Grade: A-

Receivers: Cameron Morrah was a pleasant surprise, making one important catch after another. He caught Longshore’s deep ball, he caught the playfake TD, he caught Riley’s prayer throw. He might be even more of a receiving threat than Stevens because of his cutting abilities.

Sean Young showed that he hadn’t gathered rust sitting on the bench and made solid contributions, including catching the lob fade from Riley late in the 1st half. On the other hand, Nyan Boateng’s handsĀ  seemed like they were encased in carbonite. You have to wonder if saying “Nate Longshore’s my guy” hurt his confidence when Longshore was not given the start, because he couldn’t handle Riley’s throws. Also hard to tell what LayRelle Cunningham is capable of after spending most of the past two seasons on the bench.

Grade: B

After the jump, you can view the offensive line, defense and coaching grades.

Run blocking: While Morrah might be a better pure receiver, he still lacks the blocking abilities of Stevens, so the defensive ends of the Spartans had an easier time getting to the edge. They had to rely more on the fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou on a few drives and had mixed results with Chet Teofilio starting at left tackle in place of the injured Tepper. The Spartan defensive line did manage to push the O-line back on a few occasions and the Bears had trouble getting into their run blocking schemes in time to spring Best and Vereen lose.

However, the Vereen touchdown scamper was a perfect example of the Power Play Run Concept. Uneven game, but we’ll probably see better as the new linemen gather experience.

Grade: C+

Pass protection: The offensive line also struggled protecting Riley a little bit more than usual. He was sacked once and knocked down on several occasion. The pocket also did close in on multiple occasions, forcing Riley to flush out. But we’ve been pampered by no sack games the past season, so it’s hard to criticize their pass protection as anything worse than “above-average”.

Grade: B

Run defense: Before the game, I said the key to beating Michigan State would be stopping Javon Ringer from finding the seams through the front seven. Ringer was afforded only a few opportunities to break out, with his longest rush going for only ten yards. The 3-4 defense flummoxed the offensive line all day long, focusing on keeping RInger in front of them and doing an impressive job on the Spartans’s premier player. You would have liked for Ringer not to have gotten those two touchdowns late, but you can’t really argue against a meek 3.0 yards per carry average.

Grade: A

Pass rush: Even with the suspension of Cameron Jordan, the Bears found ample opportunity to get pressure on Hoyer, as he completed only 42% of his passes. The Spartan offensive line initially managed to prevent penetration, but as the game wore on (especially in the 2nd and 4th quarters) the relentless pressure wore them down. Even rushing only three late in the game, Cal was getting through to Hoyer, forcing him into one fallaway pass after another. Tyson Alualu was a wrecking force for the entire second half. Anthony Felder anchored the linebackers all night long.

Cal’s front seven had as great a game as they could without getting a sack, forcing Hoyer to throw a pick to Thompson in the red zone and flushing him out of the pocket on multiple occastions.

Grade: A

Pass defense: Darian Hagan has been criticized in some circles for missing about four sure interceptions and gambling on the one TD pass the Spartans created, but I think his drops are more of a positive than a negative for his first start. It indicates that he can put himself in position to make plays on the pass, which is a good sign of things to come.

The star in the secondary was Syd’Quan Thompson, who broke up several more passes and came up with the interception at the end of the half to prevent the Spartans from scoring any points. Also not to be overlooked is Marcus Ezeff, who had 12 tackles and cleaned up the mess Brian Hoyer left on the field.

Despite giving up 321 total yards, it was on 48 attempts. Many of Hoyer’s passes were heaves, and he managed to find Mark Dell and redshirt B.J. Cunningham for some crazy connections. Cal’s defensive coverage was fairly tight. Michigan State just had better passes and catches.

Grade: B

Special Teams: There was a punt block for a touchdown. There was a slightly high snap by the reliable Nick Sundberg that gave the Spartans a short field and a TD. There was Bryan Anger booming punts 60 yards. There was that Giorgio walk-on dude short-legging each subsequent kickoff. There was Best returning over a hundred yards in kickoff returns. There was that flop by the Michigan State punter that forced a frivolous roughing the kicker penalty and set up another Spartan TD.

Yeah. Let’s start this one over next week, shall we?

Grade: C

Coaching: There has been Bob Gregory doubting on this site (some of it warranted, most of it probably unwarranted). However, despite the 31 points put on the board, this was the best defensive effort we’ve seen since 2006. Fairly sharp coverage and pressure all night long, and I liked how Gregory was on the sidelines this season.

Frank Cignetti’s debut was fairly strong. You saw plenty of running back swing passes and screens, keeping it safe and simple and letting Riley grow into his role as starting QB. With Longshore he let loose a little, but he returned to restrained offense with Cal. And you have to admire the audacity of the Vereen halfback pass to start off matters.

Pete Alamar must be steamed. Tosh Lupoi must be elated. Al Simmons should be pleased.

As for Tedford putting Longshore in the game with Cal up 10-0…well, you can debate that in the comments.

Grade: B

Overall: Could have been a bigger margin of victory, but with so many new players debuting for the Golden Bears on offense, 38 points is optimal on that side of the ball. Plenty of mistakes all-around kept the margin from being greater, but all-in-all a fairly dominating seven point victory.

Let’s make the margin larger for them Cougs.

Grade: B+

Agree/disagree with any of these assessments? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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