California-USC Report Card
Nate Longshore: Another strange performance. It wasn’t like Nate was bad, even though he had those two interceptions called back on bizarro penalties. Interestingly enough he seemingly replicated his 2006 USC performance with three nice rollouts. But the offense moved like it was playing in a mudstorm (three timeouts had to be called to avoid delay of game penalties), and Nate has to take some blame for that. Although his statsheet looked nice (11 of 15 for 79 yards, including 3-5 on 3rd down), Tedford probably assumed he’d gotten the most out of Nate and decided to go to Kevin to try and get the offense into the end zone.
Kevin Riley: Went 3 for 5 on his first drive, should have had the tying touchdown, then threw the interception into the end zone (great tip before then). After that, he threw seven incompletions in a row, not helped much by a few dropped balls and an occasionally bad receiver route. His accuracy was good at first, but then he started overthrowing his receivers. I still don’t know what to make of him. Obviously he’s in an awkward situation, but he hasn’t begun to prove he can sustain drives. If the Oregon State game can’t get him fired up–he should be the starter now that Cal’s Rose Bowl chances are kaput–then I don’t know what will.
Running backs: Jahvid Best did not look 100 percent. There was no explosiveness out of the box after the first drive. He doesn’t look quite set into his motions, often just running into a pile and kind of moving at 80-85% most of the game. He had a few good runs with runblocking, but in the open field he didn’t have quite the jets that he had earlier on. Shane Vereen wasn’t much better, although he did find the open seam to give the Bears what appeared to be a touchdown. The most impressive back was surprisingly Ta’ufo’ou. Sadly Cal’s offensive schemes predicate the fullback to block more than run, so we didn’t see more of that. It’d have been an interesting experiment though.
Receivers: Boateng and Tucker seemed to establish themselves as the two big receivers for the stretch run and going into next season, especially with their amazing catches to start Riley’s drive. There was a total brainfart on the crucial Vereen swing play, although he did have a nice “ooooh” leap play. There were drops of course, but they played at around the mean.
Run blocking: Tony asked where our run game went in his post-game column, and it really didn’t have anything to do with the running backs; the problem started up front. Alex Mack picked a terrible time to have his worst game of the season. A few penalties here and there, some iffy blocking, and the Trojan D-line just looked faster at the point of contact. The rest of the unit had a few flashpans, but they just weren’t on the same level as USC. Our offensive line was cobbled together and showed its greenness with penalties, penalties, penalties. Everytime Cal took one step forward they took two steps backward. Just that type of game. Against the Trojans it was too much to overcome on offense.
And as much as I love our linebackers, USC’s are just sick. It’s not even fair. Every year we provide a great unit somewhere on defense, the Trojans always seem to one up us.
Pass protection: See run blocking.
Rushing defense: Although the Trojans had some huge gains and generally dominated at the line of scrimmage, they were held to only 4.8 yards per carry and could not gain much penetration otherwise. The 3-4 for the most part held up, not relinquishing any huge yardage plays like in last year’s game and giving the Bears offense plenty of opportunities to tie the game. Follett’s huge forced fumble on Joe McKnightstalled one drive. The platoon of C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and McKnight only had 93 yards on the ground through their first seven drives, well below their average. Sadly, Cal’s offense sputtered and the run defense eventually caved.
Pass rush: Highly impressive. The 3-4 didn’t let up until the 4th quarter. Sanchez was hurried and pressured much of the time he went to pass, and even though there were occasions the blitzes were picked up, for the most part it was effective in stalling the Trojan offense from breaking through early on.
Pass defense: I was wrong about Mark Sanchez. He looks like a decided improvement over John David Booty, and is progressing nicely into Carson Palmer range in the resume of Pete Carroll era quarterbacks. If he can kick himself into Matt Leinart gear for next week’s game he’s going to be a terror to play against the next two seasons.
Gregory did the right thing and tried to get the pass rush on him while letting the secondary play conservatively. Hagan had a few nice plays, but otherwise we didn’t see the Bears take too many chances on Sanchez’s throws. Considering the Trojans weren’t trying to make any mistakes and kept their passes on the short side, this was effective strategy and kept USC out of the end zone. Well, except for that TD incompletion.
Special teams: I’ve always thought it was appropriate that our walk-on field goal kicker became Cal’s answer for kickoffs and field goals. This might sum up the Pete Alamar era in a nutshell when it comes to kicking. Anger did his thing, Syd’Quan had one solid return, and for the most part there were no huge returns given up. Yay, nothing to be said here!
Coaching: I’ve been frustrated with Cignetti at times, but it appears he called a solid game against the Trojans like he did in 2005. Gregory seems to have reestablished his groove. Alamar is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately, the mental errors abounded. Tedford’s stoic nature might have come back to bite him in this game; the green offense probably needed some raw emotion to charge them up for a huge “Rose Bowl on the line” game in the Coliseum. Riley’s insertion provided it for a bit. But the offense just looked slooooow getting into their progressions and the mistakes piled up.
Overall: Execution, execution, execution. If the Bears’s offense could have executed most of their plays correctly this is probably a tied game and then who knows what happens late. But once the drops and penalties accumulated the opportunity for upset grew dimmer and finally turned off by the fourth quarter. Cal’s offense again could not step up when the defense did their job, and while the result was close again, it was still a defeat.
Against any other team, a defensive performance like the one the Bears put up probably has them heading into the showers with a victory. Unfortunately, they were playing the Condoms.
Grade Cal’s performance in the poll sidebar.
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