This is my first time attempting a blog, and as I'm still not sure what a blog is, this posting will probably be pretty rough...it's nearly 3am, I'm over-caffeinated & under-rested...so please just uh...Bear...with me. (ok, forgive the lameness, just read on)
First off, great win last Saturday. After yet another shaky start, the sturdy Golden Bears rebounded nicely and put a pretty firm stomping on the sun devils (see cleat marks left by Daymeion Hughes on Rudy Carpenter's ass). This was a very solid all around team victory, with big plays coming in every phase of the game.
Although the second half wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, the Bears made enough plays to keep the door firmly closed. Even though ASU was lacking the big play threat that they've had the last few years in WR Hagen and this year's top WR Rudy Burgess was out w/ injuries, you never want to let a team hang around. Just look at the disgusting collapse by MSU, or last week's comeback by the NFL Giants on the Eagles (and nearly again today against the Seahawks). Anyway, it was a big win to open pac 10 play, and better still, against a nationally ranked opponent.
But after watching the game, I got to thinking about what this Cal team needs in order to keep climbing back up the rankings and eventually come up roses.
Defense must lead the way
Due to the brilliance of Coach Tedford's offensive game plans, more specifically his ability to groom highly successful QB's, the Bears have been defined almost entirely by their QB play. While I'd be the first in line to applaud the efforts of the QBs (minus Ayoob's infuriating penchant for throwing games away, literally), this perception often belies the fact that the recent success of the Cal Bears is usually the result of brilliance at positions other than QB. Specifically, the OL & RB's were the true driving force behind the resurrection of Cal's football program. The truth for this incarnation of the Bears is that the defense is going to have to step up and lead the way, much like they did on Saturday.
Everybody's heard the maxim that defense wins championships, and it's never been truer than this year for the Golden Bears. Longshore is on his way towards erasing the nightmarish start to his career, putting the injury of last year's opener & the insult of this year's behind him. However, I think it's still way too early to expect a guy who's basically got 4 1/2 starts(1 1/2 against Div. IAA competition) under his belt to lead this team to Pasadena; especially when there's an earlier stop along the 110 freeway to take care of.
Now I know what some of you must be thinking; big #10 & Forsett bring enough to the table for the offense to go w/o putting the pressure on Longshore. While I wish that were true, the fact is that the Golden Bears don't play smash mouth football a la the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens. Under either Tedford's conventional two back offense, or this new hybrid spread/pro style, the QB has to make plays down the field in order for the offense to work. On top of all that, everybody and their mother is already keying on shutting down our explosive RB combo.
The way I see it, the Bears are super loaded with talent at RB & WR and have a promising but untested QB running the show. As I addressed above, the run game in this offense is opened up by the pass, and not even Jerry Rice could make an offense go w/o a QB getting him the ball. On the other side of the ball, the Bears have a talented (if somewhat underachieving) DL, tons of depth & speed at the LB position, and a secondary led by all-everything CB Hughes. If the DL starts to play more on the other side of the line of scrimmage, like it's capable of, and Syd'Quan Thompson keeps maturing, there's no reason that this can't be the best defense in the Pac 10.
The ASU game provides a pretty good blueprint for how the defense can lead the Golden Bears to the promised land this year. Longshore finished with some pretty gaudy numbers, but seemingly every TD was set up by a defensive big play. By giving Longshore a short field to work with, the defense allowed Coach Dunbar to call plays that went for ASU's jugular, and to the credit of the offense, they executed. This is pretty much the winning formula for any team, but with an inexperienced QB, forcing turnovers & winning the field position battle becomes even more critical.
Not only did the defense do those two things on Saturday, they also compensated for the rare miscues by the offense. The fumble by Stevens was soon followed by Hughes' second interception & returned for a TD. And the failed 4th down conversion attempt by Forsett was immediately followed by Pimentel's beautiful tip & pick 6. These plays weren't just highlight reel fodder. What they did was keep momentum firmly on the Bear's side & protect what I see to be as a somewhat fragile offensive spirit. Until the offense comes into its own (don't get me wrong, I think that they're well on the way), the Golden Bear's success will likely hinge on the continued dominance of the defense.
(On a side note, mother eff the AP voters for leaving us @ #20, and the damn coaches for moving us up only 1 slot. Effin Nebraska re-grows their cojones against mighty Troy after bending over for USC & they get moved up 2 slots?!?! Effin biases...)
Next post, Bear Essential #2 Creating/strengthening the identity of the offense.