Cal – Arizona State Report Card

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Quarterback: Feels like we haven’t discussed this topic enough, eh? Longshore did enough to win the game, but he didn’t do enough to distinguish himself from Kevin Riley. On one hand, the Cal quarterback kept things simple with swing dumps and screens early. On the other, Nate floated a few passes that took some adjustment by the receivers to get and underthrew a few others.

Although he started steady and solid, again his efficiency dropped quarter by quarter, drive by drive. By the 4th quarter the Cal offense was stagnant, and to Longshore’s credit he did not screw it up by any means (probably because Cignetti put the clamps down).

The interception makes more sense watching it on TV, as the designed screen play seemed to break apart as Vereen ran into a waiting defensive end. But it reinforces prior notions about Longshore that we already knew coming in, that he is interception prone if the designed play breaks down. All you can do is shrug and hope both quarterbacks keep on working toward getting better, although you have to wonder if either will actually gain the true starting spot.

Grade: B

Running back: Shane Vereen had some nice runs today, but obviously slowed down by the end. He also got plenty of screen passes early, and one could argue that taking the full mantle from Jahvid Best really faitgued him after the first half.

I was puzzled by the absence of Tracy Slocum, who didn’t touch the ball once (nor touch the field once, at least from what I saw). I have my suspicions though, and it might have something to do with this. It would have been interesting if Tedford would have used the redshirt freshman Deboskie in relief, but thankfully Vereen was effective enough.

EDIT: Slocum did return one kick though. The mystery deepens.

Grade: B+

Receivers: LayRelle Cunningham had a few more drops. One touchdown pass was just out of another receiver’s hands. But the old guard (Nyan Boateng, Cunningham and Cameron Morrah) all stepped up and made solid contributions, making some good catches and making some of Longshore’s less-desireable throws look better. Two of the touchdown passes required some adjustment by Boateng and Morrah, but they eventually found the seams.

Grade: B+

Run blocking: I grow more worried about the offensive line every week. The injuries to Guarnero and Tepper are going to take their toll as the season winds on. Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack are the only two reliable guys out there. The jury’s still out on Boskovich (first start, probably had his highs and lows), but Norris Malele and Chet Teofilio have not been up to the task.

A majority of the penetration in yesterday’s game came from not only the guard areas but the right side, as Arizona State kept on finding holes to plug Vereen in. The ebb is worrisome, and a good Pac-10 defense will exploit those mistakes and freeze the defense in their track. Yesterday’s performance was acceptable given the 10-17 point lead. It won’t be acceptable in future conference games.

Grade: C+

Pass Protection: Same concern. Arizona State only sacked Longshore once (who showed some nice evasive manuevers in avoiding going down), but they forced him out of the pocket enough to make him uncomfortable for much of the second half. Unlike many of the skill positions, the offensive line cannot make many more adjustments. It’s pancake or be pancaked.

Grade: C+

Run defense: You can never be unhappy with allowing only 2.2 yards per carry. Tyson Alualu forced a huge fumble. Derrick Hill and Mike Mohamed fared well in making tackles, and Cameron Jordan was everywhere (more on him in the next section). Only a few rushes went over 10 yards and the majority were under five. It’ll be interesting if the loss of Davis eventually affects them long-term; they’re off to a good start so far.

Grade: A

Pass rush: Exit Rulon Davis, enter Cameron Jordan. I thought we’d miss Davis a lot, but you could hardly tell the way Jordan was making Rudy Carpenter his personal hugbuddy. Add in Follett pain training Carpenter and you can’t be happier with the way the Bears took advantage of the Sun Devil offensive line…without much of a pass rush.

Grade: A- (for some missed sacks and broken tackles, much due to Carpenter’s tendency to bail out of the pocket rather than looking for a throw).

Pass defense: Am I actually gushing about a Bob Gregory pass defense? Forget Allotti’s overhyped Duck defensive backs; Darian Hagan and Syd’Quan Thompson are emerging as the class of the Pac-10. The Squid’s in a class of his own, breaking up four passes, including a few routes that would have like been touchdowns. Chris Conte was the victim of an iffy PI call, but he made up for it with a huge interception on an excellent read of Rudy Carpenter’s throw.  Sean Cattouse saved a Carpenter touchdown in much the same way. Only one bad read by Thompson kept the defense from posting a passing shutout on the scoring front.

(EDIT: The Bear Will Not Quit has a nice comment that elucidates what happens on the first Arizona State touchdown: “Iit wasn’t a lapse by Syd that led to the TD. It was Cattouse at safety. They were in zone, and Syd stayed with the guy till he went deep, at which point Cattouse was supposed to pick him up. He reacted terribly late, and then took a bad angle. The main camera angle didn’t pick it up, but on a couple replays you could see it.”

The good performance this week probably means Willie Tuitama and Sonny Lubick will drive me nuts next time around. I’m scared to death of going back to Tucson.

Grade: A

Special teams: I definitely deserved Blue Hen Bear’s wrath for ignoring this: Bryan Anger is going to be special. His 72 yard boom effectively ended the game, because it pinned Rudy deep and he could do nothing with it. Two and a half crucial minutes past and the window Arizona State needed to succeed became too narrow for them to squeeze through.

As for coverage, I have nothing much to say about them. That’s a good thing.

Grade: B+

Coaching: Frank Cignetti’s playcalling tendencies were charted long before the season started, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by the sterilized second half offense. Play conservative, run the most predictable sets, and score. I won’t gripe today since it didn’t cost us anything. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this play it safe strategy cost us in the future.

Grade: B-

Overall: You have to be impressed with the way the Bears defense smothered Rudy Carpenter in one of his worst performances since the 2006 season. For the first time in several seasons I feel fairly comfortable with the defense on the field (fairly, not totally), although it remains to be seen how well they fare the deeper they run into conference play.

But the offense is now nearly at the halfway point of 2008, and we STILL have (1) no solid picture of who our quarterback will be, (2) a beaten up offensive line that will only get tested further, and (3) inexperienced receivers dropping balls, running several bad, routes, etc.. They’ve had solid quarters, solid halves, but no solid games.

A win’s a win. But how much has Cal proven by going 4-1 considering the quality of their opponents? Arizona State is looking like a shell of their 2007 success and only Michigan State can be considered a true quality victory insofar. They’ve still got a ways to go before they’ve proven anything, and more hiccups along the road are to be expected.

Grade: B

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