Monday, December 03, 2007

Big Game Disappointment

Sorry for the lack of posts, work and real life got in the way. I have been traveling and was unable to find the time to post. (Though based on the teams performance of late, I can understand how some readers thought I abandoned this blog.)

So thoughts on the Big Game...

Heading into the game, I was genuinely excited. While the season was a disappointment to date, a big win in the Big Game was just the thing to pick up the spirits before the holidays. Say what you will about Cal football, but beating Stanfurd always picks up Cal fans. Sadly, my excitement was for naught.

Where to start...

1) Pass Protection
What happened to the O line? This is a unit that was 3rd in the nation in sacks allowed having given up only nine all season. But Longshore was under pressure all game. It was amazing to me how Cal was unable to pick up blitzes off the corner by Stanfurd linebackers. Longshore again did not have a good game, but the pass protection was a bulk of the reason for that.

2) Running Game
Solid first half performance by Forsett. But what happened in the second half. It was as if he did not even exist. Why abandon the run game so quickly? Perhaps it was an effort to make half time adjustments and throw off the Stanfurd defense? I don't really know. But it seems like Cal gave up on the run pretty quickly.

3) Defense
The defense played solid. Not great, not poor. Giving up 20 points should win most games. It was frustrating to see Stanfurd continually convert 3rd and long but the final scoreboard result was nothing to be disappointed about.

4) Coaching
Some may complain about the play calling. Other may wonder like I did about abandoning the run. But, if Cal executes, this game is a lot different. There were a lot of critical dropped ball on what were excellent play calls.

Ok, forget this list. What it comes down to is that the players were not fired up for this game and came out flat. Once they were down, they played scared.
Every shot of the Stanfurd sideline showed players hooting and hollering. They wanted it more and they played their hearts out.
Every shot of the Cal sideline was a stoic scene. Players looking off into space. Very little passion or even urgency.

Things that killed me

- The dropped balls. Hawkins was just off this game. He will be missed next year but he had a poor showing in his final game.

- The pick Longshore threw to Nick Sanchez. It is third down... throw it to the outside. Even if Jordan does not catch it, we still have another down. Protect the ball.

- The deep pass to Jordan when he knocked over the camera man. Jordan had 3 steps on his man and tried to catch the ball 5 yards out of bounds. That is a horrible throw.

- The penalties. Then more penalties. Then a couple more penalties. It seemed like Cal was trying to get called for everything. Holding, block in the back, block below the knees, defensive offsides, defensive holding, pass interference, excessive arrogance (for those at the 1997 Big Game, this joke will make sense.)

- The lack of DeSean Jackson. Say what you will about DJax, but his presence on the field makes a big, BIG, difference. Even if he does not catch one ball, he occupies at least 2 defenders on every play. This opens up things tremendously for Jordan and Hawkins.

- The lack of the tight end. Julian Arthur made some nice catches and I saw Craig Stevens make one great grab. But if the outs and corners are not open, shouldn't the middle be open for a TE to run down the seam. How can Stanfurd's defense blitz and cover every Cal receiver? Seriously, how can they do it?

- The lack of team chemistry. This is pure speculation based on watching the game on TV so who knows if any of this is true. But the offense just seemed like they did not believe in each other. Longshore was yelling at O linemen for missing blocks. Receivers were slow to the huddle. Frustration penalties were aplenty. That 3rd quarter was the worst offensive quarter in the history of Coach Tedford.

- The lack of passion. I am sure the players cared about this game. But the letdown of the entire season showed in their performance. Stanfurd wanted it more and hats off to them for playing to win.

- The lack of confidence in your team. After Follett caused that fumble in the 4th quarter I was jumping up and down. But deep down I felt that Cal was not going to capitalize. Since Coach Tedford came to Cal, I have never felt that way, until that moment.

More to come later on what to look forward to next year. Seriously, there are things to look forward to next year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Frustration Part II: Cal vs UDub

Wow, that was even more frustrating to watch. That game put me in a very reflective mood. Here are some things that I miss...

1) I miss being able to stop the run...

Against Cal's run defense:
USC's Chauncey Washington = LenDale White
UW's Louis Rankin = Reggie Bush/Adrian Peterson
If this keeps up, Stanfurd's starting tailback will look like the second coming of Bo Jackson.

2) I miss the days when a QB stat line of 3TDs and 250+ yards was always a win...

Three touchdowns and one pick for a little under 300 yards. Numbers wise that is a solid to great game. Many of the passes were on target and the three TD passes were all right on. The throw to Montgomery was a great touch throw.
But there was still a bit of frustration with the performance. On the pick, Longshore looked like he lost track of the linebacker who was playing underneath. It was not so much the pick as the timing of the pick. It was a huge momentum killer.
Also, the underthrown ball to Jordan was a sure TD. Jordan has at least three steps on the defender and had to actually come back to catch the ball. Of course the result was a field goal.

3) I miss being able to score from within the 5 yard line...

Three TD's were scored from within the 20 yard line and outside the 10 yard line. All on great passes. When Cal got inside the 5, things just went downhill, as has happened in the previous 6 games. While the UDub linebacker made a great play to destroy Forsett in the backfield on second down, it makes it a lot easier to do that when you are no blocked and have a free shot at the RB.
The goal line offense just astounds me now. I don't have the numbers but I would guess that in the past 6 games total yards gained on plays from inside the 5 would be negative. From now on, if Cal gets inside the 5, it should false start on purpose, to move the ball back to the 10.

4) I miss being able to return the ball at least once to start a half...

5) I miss DeSean Jackson (v. 2006)...
Let's hope that DeSean can make it back for the Big Game. There seem to be more and more DeSean haters these days but his presence on the field is better for Cal. Even when he is not catching the ball, he requires constant attention from the defense so it opens things up for the other receivers.

6) I miss Brandon Mebane...
His work rarely showed up in the stat line, but the way he was able to clog up the middle and take on multiple blockers is sorely missed this year. Inexperience and injuries have really hurt the D line. Lets hope that next year things get better.

7) I miss Desmond Bishop...
Though all three of the current LB's are better athletes than Bishop, his nose for the ball is sorely missed. Bishop rarely overpursued and usually made solid tackles.

8) I miss Daymeion Hughes...
I can't remember the last time a Cal DB had an INT. Hughes was a true playmaker who often times shut down half of the field. True, he gambled a lot and sometimes paid for it, but most times he made the right decisions.

9) I miss Marshawn Lynch...
Only because he was fun to watch. Forsett has done a fantastic job of stepping into Lynch's shoes and is really the only Bear playing consistently well.

10) I miss having a competitive Big Game...
For the last decade or so, the Big Game has been one sided. Maybe not always in score, but in the direction both teams were heading. I think more people will be tuned into this year's Big Game simply because no team is heavily favored to win.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cal vs Washington

- The QB Situation
UW QB Jake Locker is out. Well... Willingham is saying he is possible but reports say that Locker can not move his neck. Perhaps you should sit him this game Ty.
Cal QB Nate Longshore took full responsibility for last weeks loss to USC. Does that mean he will step up this game? Well, it will be wet and cold in Seattle so who knows...

- The Goal line Situation
There is some back and forth between two fellow Cal bloggers (Hydrotech and Ken) about Coach Tedford's conservative playcalling at the goal line. Both raise some valid points though I have to lean towards Ken.
My thought is that Forsett will simply take it upon his own shoulders to score once Cal is within the 20. He will not be taken down and thus eliminate goal line situations.
Side Note: Why not rotate in Riley for goal line situations? He might be able to run that QB option better.

- Cal Defense
Holding WSU and USC offenses to around 20 points a game, back to back, is a pretty impressive effort. Let's hope they keep it up.
Last year Carl Bonnell threw 5 picks against Cal but still let them to overtime.

- Weather
Rain and cold... that is the same as last week.
Forsett will go crazy. Longshore will have trouble holding onto the ball.
Result will be Cal wins by 10 in a game they should win by 30.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fun with numbers...

Take a look at these stats over 4 games...

57.1 7.51 2 3 1 64.3
60 5.25 0 2 0 34.4
65.2 5.65 0 1 2 61.9
63.6 4 0 3 0 32.2

Now take a look at these stats over 4 games...

64.7 6.82 3 3 0 77.1
50 7.64 1 2 0 61.7
66.7 5.46 0 1 0 69.7
44.8 6.86 1 2 1 50.8

One set is Dennis Dixon's stats in Oregon's 4 regular season losses last year and the other is Nate Longshore's stats in the last 4 Cal games.

Pretty similar... in that both are bad.

So if that progression holds true, next year Nate will be a Heisman trophy candidate leading his team to the BCS championship game. Awesome, maybe this is why Tedford is sticking with Longshore.

Does anyone know if Longshore can hit a curve ball? We got to get him out to a minor league camp this summer like Dixon did if we really want to see a turnaround.

(Answer: The top numbers are Dixon 2006 and the bottom numbers are Longshore 2007.)

Monday, November 12, 2007


Man, that game was frustrating. Actually, the last 5 games have been extremely frustrating. It always seems like Cal is just a couple plays away from winning these games.

Here are some thoughts on the USC game:

QB Nate Longshore
- The first interception was the result of a miscommunication. The receiver, Jordan, ran an out, while Longshore threw it in. Based on the coverage, it seemed like Jordan made the right read because the DB and safety were playing inside. But there appeared to be a DB or corner underneath the out route so I am not sure the play would have work either way. But if there are 3 guys covering that receiver, shouldn't someone else be open or in man coverage? Frustrating...
- The fumbled snap is something that happens in rain games. Booty had a couple and Longshore was bound to have one in those conditions. But the timing of Longshore's fumble was a momentum killer. Frustrating...
- The second interception was where the frustration comes in. Jordan was open on the wheel route. If the ball had more loft or arc, that would have been 6 for Cal. Also, it looked like DeSean had a step on the safety on his post route. A very well designed play called at the right time. The execution just was not there. Frustrating...
- Hawkins makes a great catch for a TD, but that was unnecessary if not for an overthrown ball. Frustrating...
- Sideline passes. I can recall four only one of which was completed. The deep ball to DeSean near the end of the half. The other three actually gave the receiver no chance because the ball was thrown out of bounds. Frustrating...
- I am trying be more diplomatic with this analysis, because there is plenty of ranting and raving about Longshore elsewhere. Longshore did make some nice throws at other points in the game and was able to covert some key third downs. We tend to only remember the picks and final stats in a loss, so that is what we dwell on.

The Running Game
- Justin Forsett was the man. He was hitting the hole hard, breaking tackles, spinning left and right. The man could not be stopped. It was great to see him have a huge game after a couple weeks of sub-Forsett performances.
- Big ups to the O-line guys. They opened some big holes for Forsett in the running game and they also kept Longshore upright with the exception of 1 sack (which was on an overloaded blitz on the blindside).
- I have not seen any updates on Jahvid Best's injury. Let's hope that it is not serious and that he is back for the next game.
- The best run by Forsett was when he ran for a first down but the line was called for holding. So on the next play Forsett runs for 20+ yards. The man could not be stopped.

The Wide Receivers
- Overall a solid game. They got open and caught the ball in difficult conditions.
- They are also tough guys. There were a couple passes where they got hung out by high passes and were crushed by USC's safeties. Craig Stevens took a brutal hit and Hawkins also took one over the middle.

The Defense
- Run defense was not very good. Chauncey Washington is not an elite back. Even USC fans will admit to that. He is tough to bring down but there were times when the Cal defense made him look like Marshawn. Frustrating...
- Overall, the defense played well and made plays when needed. DeCoud had a huge hit on Washington to cause the fumble near the goal line.
- Follett played a good game but there were a couple plays when it looked like he was in position to tackle the runner for a loss but he just missed the tackle. Frustrating...
- Booty scrambled for 2 first downs against the Cal D. This is a QB who some say is more immobile than Longshore. Frustrating...

Special Teams
- It looked like USC was willing to kick to DeSean and had excellent coverage on those plays.
- Either Ronald Johnson is going to be the best kick returner in the NCAA next year or Cal needs to shore up the kick off return game a little. He never broke one for a TD but it was mighty close a couple times. Frustrating...

Inside the 5 offense
- Cal was inside the 5 once during the game. And the result was a field goal. The short yardage running plays near the goal line just aren't working. Frustrating...
- First and goal from the 2. Forsett is dropped for a 3 yard loss. Frustrating...
- It was almost a relief (almost) when Cal got pushed back for the false start. Obvious passing situation now and Longshore has been good on the short passes and the receivers are getting open on their breaks. But alas, it was a draw to Forsett. Frustrating...

Final result... Frustrating...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rain or Shine

Forecast for tomorrow's game shows a 70% chance of rain. How much does this affect the game? Well, let's take a look.

Cal Offense
- Cal has been having trouble throwing the deep ball so the rain might just completely eliminate that option. (Though this would decrease the potential for interceptions on those deep balls)
- Cal receivers could break something big on the shorter routes while defenders are slipping and sliding around.
- The running game could suffer with USC stacking the box with all eleven defenders.

Cal Defense
- Those heartbreaking third and long conversions with long passes should decrease in the rain.
- Missed tackles can now be blamed on the rain.
- Bend but don't break defense is great for the rain. Keep everything in front of you and wait for the offense to mess up.

USC Offense
- The 2 biggest problems with the USC Offense.
1) QB John David Booty has been inaccurate, missing receivers
2) Receivers are dropping the passes that are on target
- Rain usually affects the passing game and the ability to hold on to the ball. Advantage: Rain
- The rain might actually provide USC an opportunity to use all 18 of its 5 star running backs.

USC Defense
- Aggressive defenses can be caught "slippin" in the rain.
- USC's defensive line is very good and rain games are usually won in the trenches.

Conclusion: Who knows? But rain or shine, Cal takes this one at home. (Eternal optimism is a good thing.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Longshore Update

Cal QB Nate Longshore will start this week against USC. Here are some excerpt from an article in the Daily Cal.

On why Longshore will start:
“I would say if he continues to look like he did in pregame, he will continue to start,” Tedford said. “Unless something happens throughout the week—he has a set back or something gets worse—then that would change. If he stays the way he was this last week, then he would be the starter.”
No problem. Longshore is the starter, he has struggled, but if he is healthy enough to play, he should play.

On the ankle injury:
Tedford said he does not think that Longshore’s ankle will ever fully recover and that it may be a lingering injury that the junior quarterback will have to play through the rest of the season.

“It’s probably something that’s going to stick with him here,” Tedford said. “It’s very difficult to let something completely heal like that. Maybe in a couple of weeks, when we get a bye, it’ll let him recover a little bit. But I don’t see him recovering that much in the next couple of weeks.”

Ok, a little confusing. Is he healthy or is he not healthy? This is a little disconcerting. Hopefully, Coach Tedford is prepping Riley in case the ankle flares up again. Don't want to pull a Karl Dorrell and be putting your backup into the game with no prep.

Those of you calling for Riley, it appears that the die has been cast. Here are some reasons why you should to feel good about Longshore starting.

1) The game is at home. Longshore is solid to awesome at home. Perhaps, we will see some vintage Nate a la Arizona St or Oregon last year at Memorial.

2) Real game experience is very important against a very talented and aggressive defense such as USC's.

3) The last four games have been an elaborate scheme. Cal is trying to fool USC into thinking that the Cal offense is sputtering. In reality, Coach Tedford has a separate, even larger laminated play sheet, specially crafted for the USC game.

Look for some crazy things. Double nay triple reverses. WR options back to the QB. Forsett and Best in the backfield together in the Wildcat formation.

Not crazy enough, what about these. DeSean running a go route. Passes down the middle of the field. Screen passes that result in first downs. A pass longer than 20 yards. A passing play on 1st and goal. A pass play on 2nd and goal. A running play on 3rd and goal that gets in the end zone.

Ah yes my friends, the trap has been set. Very clever... very clever...

Random Midweek Notes - U$C

What happened to this game???
The Cal vs USC game was hyped as the game of the year for the Pac 10 conference. It was easily seen as the best game of the week and was supposed to get national Saturday night coverage on ABC.
So I checked the schedule and it looks "undecided" what will be shown out here in NYC. Great, so now I might be treated to a big time match up of two ACC teams grinding out to a 10-7 finale rather than a classic Pac 10 battle of 2 ranked teams.

USC Offense
- Freshman tailback, Joe McKnight, has finally learned
1) how to hold onto the ball and
2) which direction to run
and it only took him half a season. This is not good news for Cal.

- USC's best running back, Stafon Johnson is also healthy now. More bad news.

- John David Booty's finger is better and he will be leading the USC offense. JDB or Mark Sanchez, neither has looked remarkable this season. If Cal can get in his face, Booty can be forced into a poor game.

USC Defense
- After getting only 20 sacks for the year, the USC defense got 9 against Oregon St. OSU not playing their starting tailback might have something to do with that stat, but it is still worrisome.

- USC linebackers are playing well but not up to their preseason hype where some publications had all three as first team All Americans. Injuries and two losses have faded some of the luster but they are a solid core. Keith Rivers is an excellent tackler and in always in position to make a play.

- Post-Aaron Rodgers, Pete Carroll and the USC defense have been able to stop Cal's passing attack. Jackson has been shut down in both previous games. USC has the speed on defense to cover well and has a D line that can generate pressure on the QB without help. Coach Tedford might have to get a little more creative this year.