Cal-Arizona Report Card
Nate Longshore: We’ve seen this script before. It’s the typical Nate Longshore game we’ve seen the past two years. Let’s move on before people start yelling.
Kevin Riley: Ditto.
Running backs: Just when it looked like Arizona was ready to run us off the field, Jahvid Best scorched the Wildcats and shifted the initiative back to the Golden Bears although he sat out the 4th quarter. Shane Vereen had a nice gallop in relief, but was stuffed on his remaining three carries. ‘Furd’s power back game tore up the Wildcats; Cal’s smaller backs were not able to make enough plays on their own to open up the passing game.
Because I reward process rather than bursts, this grade is probably a little bit lower, but we can’t discount the promise that Best holds as a gamechanger, all on his own.
Receivers: Verran Tucker was a bright spot, making some huge catches in stride with Longshore early in the game. Him and Morrah adjusted to make some brilliant touchdown catches. Sean Young was the most consistent in running his routes in stride. Nyan Boateng and Jeremy Ross spread the wealth.
On the flip side…dropped passes. They just keep on coming, and I’m not sure how much of that has to do with quarterbacks and wide receivers not getting on the same page, our quarterbacks throwing crappy passes, or the relative inexperience of our skill players. Then again, when the Bears couldn’t run the ball, and the Wildcats started dropping seven into coverage on 2nd and 3rd down all the time…
The lack of depth in the offensive line finally hit us hard. Neither Vereen nor Best were able to do much in the run game, as Arizona played tight up eight in coverage. The Bears couldn’t push the Wildcat defense back for most of the game, and there were only a handful of runs over four-five yards.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen California’s quarterback been pressured, hurried, broken up, fleeing for his life in the pocket. Only Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack have been consistent, and they were merely adequate in Tucson. Just like the weak defensive line caved in last season, the usually sturdy Golden Bear offensive line might be our Achilles heel in 2008. The yet-to-be-determined injury to Noris Malele, slowfooted as he was, does not help matters.
Very strong, some good blitz packages and Tuitama felt the pressure for much of the game. Sadly, the times Cal’s blitz packages were picked up, the pass defense got burned, so the results don’t exactly match up with how well the 3-4 did against the front line.
Run defense, pass defense
Aaaand…this is what happens when you get two weeks of effusive and excessive praise.
I examined enough in the Arizona preview about the spread offense and ways the Cal defense would have to protect against it. Unfortunately, none of this invovlved the Wildcats using their third string running back to gash us for 140 yards behind solid run blocking. Where has Arizona been hiding Keola Antolin, and how did they morph into a power run squad able to block out Cal’s supposedly vaunted 3-4 on the ground?
Add in the sloppy tackling, Syd’Quan and Marcus Ezeff getting totally manhandled in coverage assignments against Mike Thomas and Rob Gronkowski, and leaving Cal’s coverage on one-on-one schemes with defenders, and you’d have to say the secondary couldn’t handle the responsibility it seemed to earn. Their third quarter performance earns them a FAIL, which weighs down any of the good they did the rest of the game.
Special Teams: At last, a bright spot. Well, Pete Alamar got it together. Other than the kickoff coverage, which looks…rough, most of Cal’s issues seem to be working out. Bryan Anger’s leg might have been the MVP of this defeat, keeping the Arizona offense from gaining traction much of the first half and the fourth quarter. And with Giorgio Tavecchio asserting himself with two long California field goals, our special teams kickers might be set for the next three years. Syd’Quan Thompson is becoming a better returner with every passing week, showing a weaving ability to elude tacklers. One bad punt return and one missed field goal keep this from being perfect.
Coaching: Gregory’s schemes were pretty good but the players didn’t execute, and Alamar and the special teams seem to be back to normal. No, the biggest issue I had with Cal’s loss is something Hydrotech already noted. Something isn’t quite right with what I’m seeing from Cal’s quarterbacks. Longshore and Riley have played…below par, and their play continues to show little or no signs of improvement. No progression, just stagnation.
Overall: California and Arizona were rated at pick’em before the game, and aside from that ghastly third quarter, there’s no doubt the game could’ve swung either way. When you’re on the road, considering the inexperience of the offensive unit and the swings between good defense and bad defense, this game wasn’t awfully surprising. The swings went Arizona’s way when they needed to, and Tuitama and Antolin brought them home.
Factoring all this in, the Bears still seem on pace for the 8-4 season we expected from them. Tough loss, but we’ve seen much worse in the Tedford era.
Final grade: C-
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