California-Oregon Report Card

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

More postgame thoughts: Hydrotech at the Golden Blogs, The Bear Will Not Quit, Bears With Fangs, Oski Talk, Ken’s podcast from Excuse Me For My Voice.

Quarterback: To his credit, Riley was looking good out of the blocks after that “whaaa?” interception. Kevin converted all of his remaining third down opportunities into first down, first down, touchdown, first down. Just when it seemed he was ready to make the leap, WHAM. Oh well. Grade: B

Nate Longshore was adequate. 13 for 27 isn’t going to win him any awards, but he accredited himself well through horrid conditions. He could only manage one scoring drive for three points though, which does work against him, but he didn’t make any mistakes (although there were some wince-worthy moments). He’s going to have to do much more at USC if Riley isn’t able to go. Grade: B-

Running backs: Yeah, yeah, the weather conditions sucked, and it wasn’t hard to understand why Best and Vereen struggled. Still, three fumbles kept the Bears from breaking open the game. And although the Jet keeps on showing flashes of the acceleration that could make him a gamechanger on a complete Cal team, his hampered elbow and makeshift O-line won’t give him much of an opportunity to display that talent this season. His one big gallop ended in a fumble. Maddening bursts of potential followed by nothing.  Grade: C+

Receivers: At least one problem seems to be solved (emphasis on ‘seems’). Verran Tucker, Nyan Boateng, and Jeremy Ross seem to be our main options going into the third quarter of the season, as they gashed the hyped Oregon secondary. I’d like to think they have the potential to do the same to the Trojans, but can they hold onto the ball for two weeks in a row? Grade: B

Run blocking: Take away Best’s 50 yard gallop, and Cal rushed for 82 yards on 39 carries, or just over 2 yards per carry. It was obviously a hasty lineup slapped into place, so they get some benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, they move from facing the 8th best rushing defense in the country to the 3rd next week. Grade: C

Pass protection: Fairly good work against one of the strongest pass rushes in the Pac-10. Insert in Donovan Edwards and Justin Cheadle, and they only gave up one sack. Longshore and Riley did experience decent pressure all game, but that was to be expected. They’ll have to step it up a notch for the biggest game of the season and make sure the feared Trojan front seven doesn’t find the holes to knock us out. Grade: B

Run defense: What a surprise, the Ducks gashed us for 200 ground yards again. This seems to happen every season we play them, and it again has to be credited to solid O-line blocking. In the second half Oregon just ran, ran, ran, and our 3-4 couldn’t do much to stop them up front. It took that bailout penalty in the 4th quarter to stop them from taking the lead. Now they move onto face the dragon triad of Gable, Johnson and McKnight.  Grade: C

Pass rush: I was actually a little disappointed because Masoli should’ve been sacked a few more times, considering how effective we’ve been at getting pressure on the quarterback. To beat USC the Bears will need to pressure Sanchez next week with their three man rushes (with the occasional delayed blitz in stride) while having their aggressive corners play on the ball and break up passes in stride (the Bears are much better at breaking up passes than tackling at this stage). The Trojans are pretty good at preventing sacks and Sanchez is pretty good at eluding them, so Zach Follett might have to replicate his otherworldly performance from Saturday. We’ll need Worrell Williams, Mike Mohamed and Cameron Jordan too to replicate their efforts. Grade: B+

Pass defense: 11 for 32 is pretty effective against Masoli. Darian Hagan continues to grow into an outstanding corner, Sean Cattouse is starting to come into his own, and Ezeff and Thompson produced their yeoman work. Unfortunately, all five of our best performances have come at home. Will they get it together on the road against the deepest receiving corps in the Pac-10? Grade: A-

Special teams: Oregon’s special teams bad, Cal’s special teams not bad. That was the point difference in this game; it was a tied game if not for the Duck miscues. Grade: B

Coaching: If we take a lead this week, and Frank Cignetti starts running tailback plunges I’m going to start downing whiskey shots. If Bob Gregory drops seven back into coverage and plays soft defense I will do the same. And please don’t make me begin to think about Alamar. Grade: C+

Overall: Not an aesthetically pleasing game to watch, and like about half the Cal games this season felt terribly gimmicky (although it looked like a lot of fun to watch from in the stands). We are approaching an astonishing level of double digit leads that just disappear in the blink of an eye (Michigan State, Oregon, Arizona). Obviously this team is a work in progress, but we’re eight games into the season. Grade: B-

Watch Cal-Oregon Online

Posted by: Avinash on Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Online stream is available here.

This is an open thread for the game, you can talk here or at CGB. Enjoy!

Time for A Change

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, October 31st, 2008

I’m about to drastically reduce the number of posts I make here at Bears Necessity. I’ve been pondering this decision for some time, and I’ve realized that I’m not really efficient (as a writer, as a reader, as a human being) blogging on a day-by-day basis. Most of what I’ve been writing feels pretty forced over the past few months, and I seem to be avoiding writing the things I’d like to be writing at the expense of creating six new posts every week (when I’m probably capable of two or three). I’ve been thinking more and more about turning this into a community, since I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain the zeal-like focus that has kept me going at this for eighteen months. There are other things I want to do, and not all of them involve Cal football.

CBS Sports Week 9 Blogpoll

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
Rank Team Delta
1 Texas
2 Penn State
3 Alabama
4 Oklahoma
5 Oklahoma State 1
6 Florida 2
7 Southern Cal
8 Georgia 1
9 Utah 4
10 Texas Tech 2
11 Boise State 2
12 TCU 2
13 Missouri 6
14 Ball State 3
15 Tulsa 3
16 Ohio State 5
17 Minnesota 3
18 LSU 8
19 Michigan State 7
20 Oregon 6
21 Brigham Young 2
22 South Florida 6
23 California 3
24 North Carolina 2
25 Florida State 1
Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#15), Kansas (#21), Northwestern (#22), Georgia Tech (#24), Boston College (#25).

The theme of the week? Impressive.

At first I had Georgia jumping up 3 spots for their bashing in Death Valley…

Then I realized Florida had done the exact same thing…

Then I realized Georgia’s other victories were looking less impressive by the week…

Then I saw the Gators were 6 point favorites in the Outdoor Cocktail Party…

So yeah, less impressed.

Also less impressed by Utah. Their victories OOC look worse every week. They’re still a top ten team, but the teams above them are going to have to lose one or two more before they can rise up for a title game appearance. They aren’t leaving the top 10 though.

Texas Tech’s beatdown in Kansas means a lot, but it doesn’t merit a huge jump in the polls. After a bizarre down year for the Big 12 South, it appears they’ve resumed their slapfest of their Northern rivals. Oklahoma, Okie State, Texas and Texas Tech are now 4-0 against Kansas and Missouri. One of these two teams will get one final shot in the Big 12 title game, but I wouldn’t start putting Tech up there with Texas (who have actually beaten the Oklahomas). 10th sound about right for them; a win over Texas would move them way up.

I do have an affinity for Missouri’s shutdown of Colorado though. They leap a lot, because frankly none of the teams that were ahead of them did much. Plus the fact that their two losses are to current top-five teams is a huge plus in their favor.

Yes, the Ducks and the Bears are ranked, although both of these teams are destined to lay road eggs. They go up here because the rest of the country’s two-loss teams have looked that bad. Frankly, I prefer Oregon State in the Pac-10 (two losses to top ten teams and a transition loss to the ‘Furd), but they might have to wait a few weeks when they notch more impressive victories under their belt.

While I’m less than impressed by either Oregon or Cal, they both seem better than the horrid selection of Big East and ACC schools. The fact that two ACC teams can enter the rankings each week and then lose to fall right back out is too exasperating to merit. Lucky for them, the trend will not completely continue: North Carolina is off. But Florida State’s turn in the chopping block has come (hi Georgia Tech).

Meanwhile Pitt gives up 54 to a three win Rutgers team and South Florida falls to Louisville, ending any interest the rest of the country has for the Big East. I’m tempted to kick both of them out, but South Florida stays for now. This bottom rung of the top 25 is like choosing between lepers and cripples to fight your wars.

California-UCLA Report Card

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Thanks to Tony for saving me for this weekend. It’s going to be a sporadic run to the finish.

Um, yeah, I went to the game. I was actually standing next to the CGB guys, which was as surreal as it sounds. It was made even better by the fact that I could barely speak. It was not made any better by the sun projecting directly into my hatless, sunglassless eyes. Brain cancer rising.

Before I crawl back into bed, here’s an abbreviated report card. Why so short? Because I think I’ve written the same report card for ASU AND CSU AND MSU. This is a pretty easy team to review. Great at home, terrible on the road. What should we put the USC-Cal line at? -21 sound reasonable?

Quarterback: B (11 for 22 isn’t great. Some of it’s on the receivers though, but it did take that flea-flicker to break out the game. Three slow quarters will earn us double digit defecits in our next three games. But he played much better than he did against Colorado State or Maryland. Everything seemed more controlled, but the receivers could not reward his progression.)

Running backs: A (Best was great as usual–everything about that TD run lived up to the moniker of “Li’l Bush”. Vereen had his patented volume run at the end, and even Slocum showed signs of improvement in his limited touches. Won’t be that easy against Oregon though.)

Receivers: D- (I don’t know what to do. Send these guys to parental care classes? “Treat the footballs like they’re babies. Hold onto them for dear life.”)

Run blocking: B (Better. Noticed a lot of running to the left side or right behind Mack. Guess you can figure out where our weakness is on the line.)

Pass protection: SUCKS (Oregon, USC and Oregon State’s defensive plans: Rush 8 on 1st down. Rush 10 on 2nd down. Drop back 11 on 3rd down.)

Run defense: A (The longest run of the day: 8 yards on a quarterback keeper.)

Pass rush: A (Battered O-line folded like a house of cards. Won’t be so easy for them against Oregon)

Pass defense: A (Tony noted how great our defense was, but I have to say it’s really easy for the secondary to earn an A when Kevin Craft is throwing the ball right to you half the time)

Special teams: C (Anger good, punt block awful, kick coverage sucking, Tevecchio solid, typical schizo performance)

Coaching: B (It’s funny, as the offense stagnated, I was thinking the Bears needed some gadget play to get them loose, and through the third quarter I thought a flea flicker would open the game up. Lo and behold. Can I be the OC now?)

Cal Band: GREAT, UCLA Band: FAIL

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Overall: B. The score is illusory. Although it was an enjoyable fan experience, I still think we’re miles away from playing complete football. And we need complete football games against our next four opponents to notch a few victories under our belt. It needs to come together now.

UCLA Observations

Posted by: Tony on Sunday, October 26th, 2008

The Bad

Drops and pass protection.  The former may improve, but so far it isn’t trending that way.  I was particularly disappointed to see Morrah continue to drop catchable balls.  We know from experience that he has great hands– may they reappear during the rest of the season.  Pass protection is less likely to improve.  We’ve been plagued by injuries on the line all season, and with two RT’s leaving the game with injury, there will be even more holes to patch.  Here’s hoping for swift recoveries.  Oh yeah, special teams sucked too.  Let’s pretend that’s a fluke. 

The Good

Cal D great!  FUCLA sucks, but forcing four picks (two pick-sixes among them) and holding any team to 16 yards rushing is a triumph.  It was great to see Ezeff and Mohamed get theirs.  Mahamed’s pick was especially satisfying because he’d missed an easy take-away on the previous play. 

The Misleading

I remarked throughout the game (mostly in a drunken mutter) that both teams were showcasing some of the most pathetically anemic offense I’d seen.  But the stat padding and scoring bonanza in the fourth quarter made the final numbers look ok for the Bears.  Ultimately, I was shocked to see SportsCenter award the top two spots on Top 10 Plays of the Day to Jahvid’s TD scamper and The Flea Flicker respectively.  Most of the world didn’t see the game and, apparently to them, Cal is a scoring juggernaut.

The Encouraging

Last Spring, I wrote a post on what I termed “the California State Championship.”  I noted how, historically, Cal’s Rose Bowl fate has always been contingent on our ability to sweep the three other California schools.  FWIT, one down, two to go.  Surprisingly, with ‘Zona’s loss to U$C, Cal and OSU are the only teams presently controlling their Rose Bowl destiny (hat tip to Ken Crawford for beating me to the punch on this).  So buck up Cal fans.  As I said in my last post, the Rose Bowl depends only on what it always depended on:  Cal winning. 

The Odd

So far this season, Cal is 5-0 when not ranked in the AP top 25, and 0-2 when ranked there.  We’re presently #27.  Is there any way we can beat Oregon and not move back into the rankings, but it’s apparently a curse!

Remember, Our Window Has Not Yet Closed

Posted by: Tony on Friday, October 24th, 2008

 

A couple days ago, Avinash wrote about the slowly-diminishing probability that the Tedford era will deliever on its promise.  In the face of yet another very disappointing loss, Avinash quite reasonably wondered whether the window of opportunity was closing on Cal’s potential to reach the Rose Bowl and/or genuinely contend for national relevance.  The Arizona loss was all too familiar — right down to the fact that, as in 2006, the bar I was in featured a single, highly vocal, mentally-challenged Arizona fan (this year’s edition was insisting that Arizona’s 15-point lead constituted a “three possession game”).

But let’s look at where we are.  After the 2007 season ended, we all looked back and thought how silly it was that we despaired after the loss to OSU.  Yes, it was a devastating setback that took us out of national title contention.  But the real damage was yet to come.  If Cal had rallied after the OSU loss, just about anything — including, most obviously, the Rose Bowl — was still possible.  Instead, both the team and the fanbase lamented what could have been and let the season slip away one loss at a time. 

Guess what.  That’s where we are right now.  2-1 in the Pac-10, a half game out of first place in the conference, and still yet to play the conference favorite.  This is a position we would have killed to be back in during the doldrums of November 2007 — or November of almost any year for that matter.   As fans, it’s important to remember that a strong finish, including the Rose Bowl itself, is far from out of the picture.  For the most part it requires only what it required at the very beginning of the 2008 season:  that Cal win.  It’s that simple.  

I do not mean to suggest that Cal is likely to win out or likely Rose Bowl-bound.  But in my opinion it’s a little early to be writing obituaries on our season.  Success would require a series of highly unlikely events.  Fortunately, college football is a carnival of unlikely events.  Every season.  Every week.  

Tomorrow, Cal has the opportunity to set the second half of the season on the correct course.  It’s not too late until it’s too late.

How to Watch UCLA-California: Game Thread

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, October 24th, 2008

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In all likelihood I’ll be at the game tomorrow, so no liveblog this time. And real life has interfered with blogging, so there will be a slower set of posts for the next few weeks.

Alaska and Hawaii are getting #1 Texas vs. #6 Oklahoma State and I am terribly envious of them. Good for them. They don’t get to watch good ol’ public UC football, fine. WE DON’T NEED THEM.

Announcers on ABC: David Norrie, Terry Gannon. They will be broadcasting Oregon too.

Bars that regularly show Cal football and UCLA football are shown here. I’ll put up online streams as soon as I find them.

Sorry for the light week, but things have been hectic right now. CGB, Bears With Fangs and The Bear Will Not Quit have picked up the slack anyway. Stick with them for the near-term. Report card coming Monday. Enjoy the game.

Can Jeff Tedford Keep Cal Football’s Window Open?

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

We are halfway through what’s shaping like another modest California football season–decent rewards with moderate fulfillment. Naturally, only in college football would a 4-2 start get fans groaning. Coming off a head-scratching loss to an offensively potent but inconsistent Arizona Wildcats team, the murmurs of discontent grow louder than ever.

The loss, by the measuring stick of losses in the Tedford era, wasn’t excruciating, although it did provide a horrifying third quarter defensive meltdown the likes of the Rocky Top debacle. Three plays went for over 30 yards, and two of those accumulated fifty yards or more, all leading to the three offensive touchdowns that put Arizona ahead to stay. The Cal defense, which had looked so good during the first half of the season, missed tackles, blew coverage assignments, and gave up high volume plays that doomed them to defeat. They played pretty well otherwise, but those breakdowns torpedoed the game right into the hands of the Wildcats, who ran away in the desert with a share of the Pac-10 lead.

Despite the Nate Longshore pick-six interception, Cal’s immediate problem has been their offensive line. Injuries to Chris Guarnero and Mike Tepper have left the offense handicapped all season, forcing the o-line coach Jim Michalczik to mix and match most of the season. After solid starts, the usually reliable run blocking seems to fade, as Shane Vereen and Jahvid Best have been stuck at the line of scrimmage, lacking the space or gaps to break out for daylight. Pass protection also has broken down in recent weeks, with Riley and Longshore constantly getting flushed out of position and forced into throwaways or high risk passing plays. And the receivers continue to struggle to fit in.

Although we entered the season with moderate expectations, deeming an 8-4 season satisfactory, it isn’t likely that the conclusion to this season will leave a happy aftertaste in the mouths of Bears fans. Sitting at 4-2, we seem right on pace for that goal, but many of us hunger for more. It’s the nature of the beast, and I’m sure Tedford understands it as much as anyone.

Tedford came in at just the right time in 2002. Washington State was peaking as a program under Bill Doba and beginning a tumble to the bottom. Oregon was in rebuilding mode.  Dennis Erickson was about to leave the Beavers adrift. The Dorrell era was on the horizon in UCLA.  The familiar Keith Gilbertson would soon turn Washington’s glorious Rose Bowl campaign into a seasonal exercise in futility.  The ‘Furd was beginning a downward slide to the bottom of the conference under Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris.  John Mackovic and an inexperienced Mike Stoops would spend years losing football games in Tuscon.  Dirk Koetter would spend most of his time getting wrecked by top 25 teams.

Not to take away anything from Tedford’s first three years at Cal, which were glorious, but he was accumulating winning seasons in a Pac-10 conference rife with turmoil and transition. Back then he was playing with house money. He wouldn’t be questioned, he could be innovative, he could take more risks. Anything was better than the Holmoe drudge.

But as the years have passed, things have settled down and our worldview of Tedford has grown more realistic.  The Mike Dunbar spread offense, despite its hiccups, kept Pac-10 defenses on their heels for much of 2006 and was set to become a cornerstone of Cal football, but there was no secret that Tedford never agreed with him about the spread’s role. Now at Minnesota, he has helped the Golden Gophers stand at 6-1 and bowl-eligible.

Since then, his coaching decisions have been at best questionable. He tried to install a power offensive system with some spread elements in 2007, but lacked the type of personnel (smaller receivers, smaller backs) to go to this type of system as the season wore on. The quarterback debate loomed large over everything, as Tedford trotted out Nate Longshore week after week when his ineffectiveness in late games wasn’t just dreaded but assumed. All this imploded into a collapse none of us want to remember anytime soon.

The grumbling at another Rose-less season is coming, even though to expect to achieve such a goal this year would probably have been unfair. And although some of the shortcomings are inevitable due to player diffusion and inexperience, some of it is merited. The quarterbacking corps has never looked worse, as Frank Cignetti seems to be doing to Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley what he did to Alex Smith–turning them into ineffective quarterbacks with predictable play-calling.

In short, Cal’s window near the top of the conference could be running out. The rest of the Pac-10 is starting to rise.

For the third time in fourth years, the conference is fielding plenty of competitive (if not talented) squads. Although USC is clearly the favorite to win the conference, seven other teams are in the hunt to go bowling. And it’s uncertain where the Golden Bears will end up, and whether it’ll be good enough for the coaches, the players, the fans.

With Rick Neuheisel in UCLA and Jim Harbaugh at the ‘Furd slowly building up blue-chip recruiting lists, with spoiler Mike Riley established in Oregon State and Mike Bellotti continuously fielding competitive squads at Oregon, with the Arizona schools likely to remain competitive for years to come, AND we haven’t even mentioned the monolith in Los Angeles, who’s to know how long this will last?

While Tedford has done much good, he is not beyond criticism. He has done a lot in the past six years to earn his lofty status among the coaches of California Golden Bear lore (if you are one of these people, please go play in traffic). But his decision-making the past several years merits reasonable questioning. How far are we going to go before everyone starts pulling the window shut behind us, leaving the Bears a notch down from their once prized status?

These next few weeks will go a long way toward telling us this.

CBS Sports Week 8 Blogpoll

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008
Rank Team Delta
1 Texas 1
2 Penn State 1
3 Alabama 2
4 Oklahoma
5 Utah
6 Oklahoma State 2
7 Southern Cal
8 Florida 2
9 Georgia 4
10 LSU 2
11 Ohio State 3
12 Texas Tech 2
13 Boise State 2
14 TCU 12
15 Pittsburgh 9
16 South Florida 1
17 Ball State 1
18 Tulsa 3
19 Missouri 8
20 Minnesota 6
21 Kansas 5
22 Northwestern 4
23 Brigham Young 14
24 Georgia Tech 2
25 Boston College 1
Dropped Out: Michigan State (#19), North Carolina (#20), Vanderbilt (#22), California (#23), Virginia Tech (#25).

I have no strong feelings about this ballot. USC rocks/Pac-10 rocks cocks. We’ve heard it all before.