Halftime–Inside the Pac-10, Part I

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Despite my disappointment about Saturday’s result, there is a nice little caveat entering the midpoint of the college football season–the Pac-10 schedule looks very intriguing again. And that means MORE FOOTBALL, which can’t be a bad thing, right?

Let’s take a look-see at the ins and outs of a Pac-10 season that will probably only get wackier as the days progress. I’ll go from bottom to top.

“Is it time for March Madness?”
Washington State (2-5, 0-4 in the Pac-10)WashingtonState
Some people say, “What’s worse than being a Cal fan today?” I say, “How about pulling for Pullman?” My Lord. That Oregon game was a demolition. If you need an idea of the ineptitude of this team, just take a look at that first half.

The Cougars’ first six possessions went INT (resulting in a TD on the next play, 7-0), INT (resulting in a field goal, 10-0), punt, fumble recovery (resulting in a TD 20 seconds later, 17-0), 3-and-out, sack for safety (TD on the resulting possession, 26-0), 3-and-out (resulting in a TD 100 seconds later, 33-0), 3-and-out (resulting in a TD 30 seconds later).

40-0, halftime. And Cal fans think they had it bad on Saturday. Sheesh.

To be fair, Wazzu had a rough opening schedule–they’ve already had to play at USC and at Wisconsin, and they did manage to push ASU to the brink. But how do you explain away a 28 point beat-down administered by Arizona? Coaching errors have been rampant throughout this season, and it looks like Bill Doba will be sent packing. That game in three weeks could be very depressing.

On the bright side for poor Alex Brink, the Senior Bowl is in a few months.

WillieTuitamaArizona (2-5, 1-3 in the Pac-10)
They have no running game. None. Zero whatsoever. They had USC on the ropes for most of that game and couldn’t win because they couldn’t run the damned ball. It’s still mystifying how the Bears let “the master of the check-down” hang 27 on them. And it really doesn’t get much easier after the Stanford game: at Washington, UCLA, Oregon, at ASU to finish it up.

Knowing ‘Zona, they’ll play BCS buster again and beat up at least one of those last three. Perfect way for Mike Stoops to exit, middle fingers aligned squarely at the Pac-10. Thanks for nothing asshat. Hope you and your bro can spread your corruptive ways away from the West Coast.

ucladorrellUCLA (4-2, 3-0 in the Pac-10)
Schrodinger’s team, as EDSBS so kindly named them. It’s peculiar that UCLA goes here since they still control their own destiny in the Pac-10 race, but Bruins fans already are sure their head coach will dispatch even that wishful thinking. Evidence from Bruins Nation:

So I don’t really care about the upcoming Cal game all that much. I do expect a win because I always expect UCLA football team to win its games at home. To me that should be business as usual. And a victory over teams like Cal should never be worthy of some kind of extra credit.

What Dorrell does from here on out means nothing.

We are done with him. We are finished with him.

Oh, I am sure I along w/ others will be reading the stories during the game week. I may even get inspired enough to compile my notes on the Bears (no promises here). But honestly I don’t give a da*n about this upcoming game. And I believe I am not the only one. I believe there are thousands of us who are just going through the motions at this point until we get our program under a brand new football coach.

But don’t blame us for being so unexcited and lifeless when it comes to our football program. Blame the doofus posing as a football coach on our sidelines, embarrassing and humiliating the name of our alma mater on a yearly basis, turning it into one of the laughing stocks of college football.

We have simply moved on and are looking forward to our next coach. Until then all the football games that will still feature a clown like Dorrell as the UCLA head coach will mean absolutely nothing.

That sums up this team quite nicely. Of course, I’ll be happier when our game with them is done. Strange shit happens in Pasadena.

Battle for the Armed Forces Bowl.
UW (2-4, 0-3 in the Pac-10)

jakelockerIf the Huskies win three more games, put them in a bowl game. Seriously. Look at their schedule. In all of their four losses, this undermanned Washington team took USC to the brink, led Pac-10 leader ASU and the now de facto #1 Ohio State at halftime, and hung around with UCLA until finally being overwhelmed in the 4th. I love teams like this–teams that don’t have a chance to win (completely outmatched on both sides of the ball), but fight until the bitter end. Or maybe I’m just channelling the Bills old Super Bowl performances.

They’re going to give Oregon a battle this week, and I’m scared to death of facing them in Seattle. They have practically no defense, no receivers, and a mediocre ground game, but Jake Locker just doesn’t go down easy. They’re a team to look out for the next two years, if their recruiting is as good as people say it is.

treeStanford (1-3, 2-4 in the Pac-10)
This is a spunky little team. For those of you counting out the Cardinal from making a late run, the records of the teams they’ve played so far? 25-7. Until the Big Game? 11-23. They gave it a noble effort against TCU before faltering late, but expect the Cardinal to make a move against OSU, the Washington schools, and Arizona. I mean, come on, don’t you want Stanford to be a little competitive come December? It’s been sad being the bully the past five years–at least put some fire back into these games.

Side note: How sweet must Jim Harbaugh’s life be now? He could literally start meditating on the sidelines or dousing cold ones or wash his hands and no one would give a crap. The only thing the fanbase could possibly want that’s left on the schedule is The Big Game, but even with a loss, the season is success. Good times in the junior college.

Tomorrow: Contenders to glory.
Anything you guys have to add about the lower rung of the Pac-10?

Oh, You Pesky Little Beaver (Quick Hits, Cal-Oregon State)

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, October 15th, 2007

leaveittobeaver

Now that we’re all back from therapy, here are the leftover thoughts from the Beaver breakdown (please do not take my seven post madness as actual analysis–it’d be like using any of Bill Simmons’s articles as hard-hitting analysis). Keep in mind I’m still not 100%, so if this is rambling, so be it.

–Fantastic game for the Hawk, and definitely retook the mantle of top receiver this week. His 4th down and 17 saving catch and lunge would have immediately become my favorite play in Bears history if we won–there’s talent, and then there’s heart. It’s hard to judge his incremental value because his pal Jackson gets all the hype.

–Other than the fumble (which has been curiously redacted from some box scores) and the goal-line stand (we have to give credit to the Beaver front seven, who had a spectacular game and shut down the playmakers), Forsett still stumbled along for 150 yards and a TD. Very solid effort in the loss, especially considering the penetration the OSU D-line put on the normally stout Cal O-line.

–Because of the hype surrounding DeSean, I still don’t know what to think of his value. Yeah, he was being double-teamed with a safety covering him deep and a back shadowing him on the line of scrimmage, but he has only had one signature game at Oregon. Whatever, not really something to dwell on right now. The tape tells the tale, I’ll look at it play-by-play.

(Yeah, you heard me. Play-by-fucking-play. I’m going through this fiasco and dissecting it to the last number. I have no idea when it’ll be done. Maybe this week, maybe by December. Although for therapy I’ll even it out with Cal-Tennessee.)

Already praised Riley.

–Credit to Yvenson Bernard to breaking out in that 2nd half, accumulating another 106 yards in total offense and 2 TDs after being held for only 57 in the first.

–Other than finding Bernard, Canfield did have two crucial plays–the 3rd and 15 scramble to find Rodgers, and the 3rd and 9 throw up the middle to Brown. So he did step up when need be, as the O-line swatted aside our defensive line and empty pass rush.

–If there’s anything concerns me about the rest of the schedule (especially the next two weeks), it’s that the fast defense of OSU overpowered the fast offense of Cal. All the little tricks we employed (reverses, snaps to the tailback) were quickly snuffed, and the O-line did look vulnerable against mobile defenders. UCLA and ASU have similar defensive models. Let’s say the response at the Rose Bowl will be telling to the strength of this team. I’m not worried about our character, that’s never been a problem–just coming out and showing it (USC last year anyone? Bouncing back on the road has not been our strength).

–People chanting “We’re #1!” while losing to Oregon State? You people took the wrong lessons from LSU’s reaction to USC’s loss. Talk about a supreme jinx, right up there with the Red Sox painting the World Series banner on Fenway during the Grady Little game.

I flew off the handle with the defensive playcalling a little bit (I’m not starting up firebobgregory.com anytime soon), but I stand by the majority of the criticism. Sticking stubbornly to ONE defensive alignment of dropping seven back into deep coverage has never ever EVER worked on the college level through an entire season. It’s just not wise strategy that EVERYONE knows what your defense alignment will be weeks coming in–it’s just too easy to exploit. Any given Saturday, you can be beaten if you come up with the right game plan, and Mike Riley proved that.

–Although I know we don’t have the most talented defense in the world (despite our tendency to make plays, many of the turnovers we’ve forced have just fallen into our laps), I still think you have to take it to the weaker Pac-10 teams (and while OSU is not a weak team, they are certainly middle of the pack). You have to be ruthless with those below you, or you will never gain respect. Let our players make plays every now and then. Otherwise, this will not be the last time Cal goes down this season.

Calling All REAL Cal Fans…

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Last post of the millions)

Look, I just suffered through one of the worst weeks as a sports fan, with the Bills’ catastrophic Monday Night loss starting the week and the maddening pain of tonight’s defeat ending it. Mentally I felt like Joe Frazier after the Thrilla in Manila; completely battered, ruined and embittered beyond belief, isolated on an island. Even the Memorial fans had each other to console. I had nothing.
I’m sure most of you feel the same with just that one loss. But at least you all have each other.

Some of you have families, the rest of you have lives. In a few days, most of you will have healed the scars through alcohol, family outings, or the crazy turns of college life. The aches will subside when Cal wins again, or undoubtedly captures another Big Game. Your emotions run high and low, and that’s what makes you human.

But do not become like me. Do not live through the successes and failures (for me, almost always failures) of your sports teams, as I have tried doing for the past thirteen years. Do not isolate yourself to following statlines and ESPN talking heads and namecalling/trolling on message boards. Do not forget that there are people around you, everywhere in the world, who call themselves Cal Football Fans, who are proud to be Golden Bears, who would be happy to celebrate in their successes and mourn in their failures with you. And do not forget you have lives that exist outside of Tedfordism. Reach out and roll on.

If anything positive came out of this horrible weekend for me, it’s that I finally realized what a shallow existence it is to be so blindly devoted to something I can’t even begin to share. Even as Riley fell to the ground on 4th down, I wanted to cry. I wanted a hug. I just wanted words to come flowing out, so I could share what happened with someone. Anyone.

But I was alone for another loss. Again. And I just felt a curious emptiness inside. Every emotion had been totally suppressed; years and years of unbearable defeat with no victories at all (following Buffalo, Orlando, Sacramento, and Cal teams with zero champions) had left me a shell. And that feeling of emptiness sucks more than all the pain in the world. Do not fall into that hole. Fight through it and go to it. That’s what being a fan is all about. Don’t quit. That’s the pussy way out. If you really want to join a winning franchise in need for some self-validation, the Patriots and the Cowboys, the Lakers and the Yankees, the Trojans and the Blue Devils could always use more annoying bandwagoners. To experience the highest of the highs, you need to endure the lowest of the lows.

Wake up tomorrow, go outside, find friends, do things, commiserate, sob, curse out hippies, whatever. Then after you’ve detoxed long enough, come back and get ready to write a new chapter in this story. Because the journey is far from over. Go Bears.

“The darkest hour of the night comes before the dawn.” ~The Alchemist

Bending to Heartbreak (Why Gregory’s System Failed Us)

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post six of millions)

To be honest, I wasn’t terribly surprised when the defense folded on the two crucial TD drives in the second half. Want to know why?

The teams we’ve played the past few weeks have either been anemic on offense (Arizona, Louisiana Tech, Colorado State), or garnered towards high octane plays (Oregon and Tennessee). Our defense plowed through the weak offensive lines of the former and made the big plays against the latter, and it was enough to pull us through.

Yet we still spotted plenty of points to all our opponents, even rag-tag Arizona, who I’m still not sure has a tailback that understands the idea of off-tackle running. Hell, we were tagged the best “500 yard defense in the country” two weeks ago, that should have sent out the warning signs.

So guess what happens when you do play a conventional offense like Oregon State, that can (A) run the ball with an experienced tailback, and (B) have a QB that doesn’t kill himself with stupid errors? The gaps open up, the defense wears down, and eventually the spoon snaps in two. The Beavers converted six crucial third and fourth down plays on their way to 21 points, all of it capped off by one yard runs. On the biggest plays of the game, Cal’s defensive scheme came up short on a long field (and remember we did hold them to field goals on two of our three turnovers, so it’s not as if our gifts gave away the game on their own).

And I would like to point out to Gregory, that yes, pass-rushes do exist. In military history we call them encirclement maneuvers. Generally when you keep a QB enclosed within the pocket you put more pressure on him to release the ball, which forces more mistakes. Instead, Canfield was able to roll left and right, get out of the pocket, find the open man, get the first down without any serious pressure. (There was that one time he went past the line of scrimmage to pass and set up that field goal, but whatever, that’s griping).

So on the remainder of our schedule, we play one anemic offense (Washington State), one conventional offense with no QB (UCLA), one offense whose only weapon is the QB (UW), one conventional offense with no defense (Stanford), and two big-time conventional offenses with solid defenses (ASU and USC). I think you know who stands out here, and unless things change up I can see two more losses in our future.

Those of you sipping the Rose Bowl wine better not get too tipsy. Because Bob Gregory is still coaching our D, and he will be mightily tested these next few weeks with the most powerful offenses in the Pac-10 coming up.

Here is What Lost the Game

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post five of millions)

3. Cal had three turnovers (one fluky, one impressive, one disastrous) that led to 13 Oregon State points. All of these drives together netted under thirty yards. Pretty high yard-to-point ratio.
(Note: You know a loss really sucked for you when turnovers are only the third most important reason you lost)
2. After Cal’s go-ahead TDs at 14-10 and 21-20, the special teams proceeded to fall apart by (1) giving Oregon State a short field with 40 seconds left that allowed the Beavers to get within one before halftime on an amazing Serna 52 yarder, and (2) provided a short field for Canfield to knock it down our throats on a huge kick return. Bringing us to reason #1…
1. We broke. Anyone who knows Cal well enough knows what I’m talking about. (Reason #1 is the next post)

Here is What Won the Game

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post four of millions)

Cal on 4th and goal at the 1: 0-1, zero yards, turnover on downs.
OSU on 4th and goal at the 1: 2-2, two yards, two touchdowns.

Games are decided by inches. And this is the stat that shows you the Beavers wanted this game more. They earned this win. Congrats Oregon State.

“Tickets to the Rose Bowl Are So Much Cheaper!”

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post three of millions)

I mean, I’m not an alumni. I don’t know how damaging the Holmoe era was to your psyche. But seriously? Was this your thought after Cal’s most devastating loss of this decade? “Well gee, hun, New Orleans is just so far away.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s what happens when you get older–you get used to the way things are. But let me tell you something folks: This is not 1997. The old Big 10-Pac 10 rivalries (whatever they were) are dead.  Will you really feel happy about this season if you just get to Pasadena? Will you look back at this Beaver game and say, “Ahh, thank goodness we lost, otherwise I might never have seen this place. That national title bid just isn’t good enough for me!”

Secondly, how the hell is the path to the Rose Bowl clear? The only path to the Rose Bowl I see right now is next week, at UCLA (a game that now looks a thousand times tougher, and don’t give me this rebound crap–UCLA’s defense is just as good as OSU’s). I’m sure this is just a natural reaction to prevent yourself from emoting, but please.  Nothing is clear anymore.

And finally, the door is not closed on anything. Our national title hopes did not go out the window with one loss–do you seriously see Hawaii and South Florida duking it out in New Orleans? Calm down and put your heads on your shoulders. Anything is possible, from Roses to Oaks massacres. Looking forward to what you think will be yours is a recipe to getting burnt.

Just stop circling January on your calendars. Because school isn’t over yet.

Oh, Hey, Cal “Fans”

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post two of millions)

SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I’m not talking about the ones who are slowly drinking themselves to unconsciousness right now (that would be me if my abdomen wasn’t collapsing on itself), or crying themselves to sleep (that would be me if this hadn’t happened to me a thousand times before), or just sitting in a corner, mumbling utterances and hoping the sun shines tomorrow.

Kevin Riley was fantastic in his first start. Yeah, FANTASTIC. He was cocky, he was confident, he was ready. We had no right being even in that situation without what Riley did. The Beavers had outplayed us, outhustled us, outmaneuvered us, outworked us to give themselves a ten point lead. Riley could have taken the rookie excuse and folded the tent.

Nope. He threw a dart to Hawkins that put us in position to be even close. Kept his feet upright in the end zone without taking a safety. Took us 70 yards in EIGHTY SECONDS. Just fathom what he did. That we were even in position to tie was astounding.
As for that last play, let me tell you something about being in the moment. Everything fades away. You want to be the man. You want to make the play. You want to be the hero. When you’re young, when you’re in command for the first time, when things are moving that fast, emotion overrides decision-making. Scottie Pippen will tell you about boneheadedness.

What Riley said after the game rings true. He just wanted to make a play. He forgot about what was at stake, and it’s not really his fault. He probably still doesn’t know what happened. Gladwell talks about the science of choking. Read it. You might understand a little more about what Riley did.

So if you pass by Kevin this week and decide to mock, deride, shit on him because of one play, ignoring the 20-34, 2 TD, 294 yard performance that came before it, I hope a homeless person beats you into the ground. You deserve it, asshat.

You are free to dissent with my opinion in the comments. I will listen to it kindly. And then I will ban you.

At Least I Wasn’t There

Posted by: Avinash on Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Post one of millions)

“What a lousy week to get sick.” I thought as my parents picked me up to take me home.

My tumultuous stomach gave out on me early Saturday morning, and I realized I was not going to make it to Homecoming. I knew this was punishment for my nine-hour blogging experiment last Saturday, which had sent me into perpetual crap mode the entire week (anyone who’s been reading knows this). I needed to get home and rest. I figured this might be the best time to do it. Turns out it was, of course in the worst way possible.

But I’m not one to count out that the queasy feelings in my body might have had something to do with bad omens. And these bad omens might have saved my life. Because I’m sure if I was at Memorial, I’d probably be dead or incapacitated right now. My heart would have exploded into smithereens somewhere on the walk back, or I would have started just flailing and hitting random fans and security guards on the way to an asylum.

So those are the two things that I have going for me tonight. Not being dead and not being locked in a mental institution.

Fuck me.

Coming Home Again (Cal-Oregon State Soliloquy)

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, October 12th, 2007

deseanready

One historic month has ended. Will another one follow?

Avenging Neyland and Tucson, surviving Fort Collins, conquering Autzen, growing and learning from all the mistakes–this is what the California Golden Bears accomplished this September. But October brings new challenges and new demons to exorcise. Every step to this team’s goals becomes harder and darker, and you just have to dig in and hold tighter, race faster, block harder, tackle stronger. Ride your skills as long as you can; let your heart take you the rest of the way. Dick Button couldn’t have phrased it any better.

We have already won two big games this year. But there are still many challenges ahead, with the meat of the Pac-10’s defensive stalwarts rising to challenge us. such as winning at the Rose Bowl for the first time in Tedford’s reign (UCLA might be roughened up, but strange things happen in the Rose Bowl). Or defeating what looks to be a very strong ASU squad, who will do their best to turn on the fireworks in the desert and bring more roadspun agony from the Arizona desert.

But that’s in the distance; this week brings OSU, a team that, to the common fan’s eyes, wouldn’t seem to give us trouble. Yet of all the Pac-10 teams, the Beavers have had the greatest deal of success in Memorial the past six years, taking the last three games from our homefield, the last two in especially heartbreaking fashion. In a year of taking chips off our shoulders, Oregon State is the latest pest we must swat.

So while it’s been fun looking ahead these past two weeks to what could be, it’s time to focus on the present, on the Beavers, to start making the dreams of the future reality.

(Note: I will not be posting Saturday, so consider this an open thread for the game and other college football/Bears-related action. If you haven’t commented on this site already, you’ll need to comment sometime tonight if you want your remarks to show up.)