Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bears Nearly Get Rocked in the Rockies

The talent disparity between the 10th ranked California Golden Bears and their opponents, the unranked Colorado State Rams, just about equaled the difference between the academic rankings of the schools (Cal - #21 vs CSU - #124). Despite the huge gap, Sonny Lubick’s Rams were the ones that ended up schooling the Bears for most of the day. Today’s win taught these Golden Bears, youngsters and veterans alike, a lot about what kind of focus it takes to win each week. Thankfully the cost of the tuition wasn’t higher, and the Bears ended up surviving an unnervingly close 34-28 victory.

While the outcome never actually seemed in doubt, even when the CSU Rams started playing like the St. Louis variety and cut the lead to 6 points, the Bears never managed to put together a complete effort for any part of the game. The offense and defense both showed flashes of their potential and major lapses that are cause for concern. CSTV commentator Trev Alberts pointed out that the Bears somewhat got lucky in that the Cal Coaching Staff will be able to use this game as a learning tool for the team (just about the only good piece of commentary for the whole game).

Game Recap

First Quarter

The CSU defense definitely came out fired up. The Bears started with three straight passes, but good coverage, solid tackling, and pressure up the middle by CSU caused the Bears to go 3 and out on their first possession. CSU got pretty good field position to start their first drive, but were also forced to go 3 and out. A good punt & and even better (lucky) bounce pinned the Bears deep in their own territory to start their second drive. The Bears did a decent job of getting out from the shadow of their own goalposts, but the drive sputtered and they were forced to punt again. CSU went to their big playmaking RB Kyle Bell on 6 of 9 plays, including 4 straight runs to cap off the drive, and (aided by poor tackling by the Bears) got on the board first with an 8 yard TD run by Bell.
Cal 0 – CSU 7

The Bear offense showed a flash of potential #1 style by evening up the score on one play. A beautiful end around to WR DeSean Jackson who galloped 73 yards for the TD.
Cal 7 – CSU 7

However, CSU came right back with a big play of their own when WR Damon Morton ran 43 yards all the way down to the Cal 22 yard line. Reminiscent of last week against the Vols, the Cal defense stiffened up on the goal line. Backup DT Derrick Hill, starting in place of the injured Mika Kane, intercepted a pass on 3rd and goal from the 2 yard line ending the CSU threat. Cal again started from inside their own 5 yard line, and didn’t do much more than pick up one first down before stalling. End of the first quarter.
Cal 7 – CSU 7

Second Quarter

Back to back sacks of the CSU QB by LB Anthony Felder and DE Jordan Cameron quickly ended the next CSU drive, and a shanked punt set the Bears up on the CSU 47 yard line. Longshore connected on two big gains, 20 yards to WR Lavelle Hawkins and 22 yards to Cameron Morrah, and Forsett powered it in on the ground for the TD.
Cal 14 – CSU 7

The Cal defense just could not get off the field on the next CSU possession as they allowed the Rams to convert two third downs, and gave them another first down via penalty. The longest gain of the CSU drive was just a 12 yard completion, but nevertheless the Rams were able to even the score on a QB sneak.
Cal 14 – CSU 14

A big gain of 25 yards on a pass completion from Longshore to Jackson, and a nice 12 yard run by Justin Forsett had the Bears driving again just before the end of the half. But a sack and a blown up screen play ended the drive and backup kicker Jordan Kay put the Bears back on top by 3 with a 47 yard field goal. The half ended without much more action.
Cal 17 – CSU 14

Third Quarter

This time it was the Bear defense that came out fired up, led by DT Tyson Alualu who got his first sack of the season. With the defense starting to assert itself, Cal had a golden opportunity to put this game away here, but they were unable to take full advantage of great field position and ended up settling for a 41 yard field goal.
Cal 20 – CSU 14

Alualu came up big again for the Bears as he absolutely stuffed RB Kyle Bell with a monstrous clothesline, and shared a sack of QB Caleb Hanie with Matthew Malele. The next drive for the Bears was probably the ugliest of the day as they netted minus 1 yards. DeSean Jackson coughed up the ball while trying to spin away from a defender on 3rd down, but luckily he recovered the ball. Tedford decided to roll the dice and go for it on 4th and 1. Longshore connected with Robert Peele for a pretty 34 yard TD, but the play was called back on a holding penalty.

The defense continued to come on strong for the remainder of the 3rd quarter holding the Rams to just 17 more yards. LB Anthony Felder had a huge sack late in the 3rd forcing a fumble which was recovered by Cal’s Tad Smith.

Unfortunately, the Bear offense went into hibernation. Despite starting near midfield or inside CSU territory for each of their drives in the 3rd, the Bears never added any more points or even first downs. The third quarter came to an end with the score still
Cal 20 – CSU 14

Fourth Quarter

Continuing the trend of the 3rd quarter, the Bear defense came on strong again. This time they were led by the efforts of back up LB Justin Moye who intercepted a Hanie pass and set the Bears up on the CSU 42 yard line. Tedford then turned to the RB tandem of Best and Montgomery, and the Bears finally capitalized on good field position and scored from 2 yards out on a Montgomery run.
Cal 27 – CSU 14

CSU managed to drive into Cal territory again, but were turned away after good plays by Syd’Quan Thompson and Marcus Ezeff. The Bears caught a lucky break when, on 4th and 7, the CSU receiver dropped what would have been a drive sustaining pass, and the ball was turned over on downs. The Cal freshman RB tandem struck again, this time with Jahvid Best getting the score on a scintillating 64 yard romp. During the run he bowled over his own blockers, pulled out of some arm tackles, and sped away from the rest of the CSU defense.
Cal 34 – CSU 14

With the game seemingly in hand, the Bears started to rotate in more back ups on defense, and were quickly lit up by a game CSU squad that refused to quit. Hanie struck for a 66 yard TD pass to Damon Morton who just breezed past back up Darian Hagan.
Cal 34 – CSU 21

CSU recovered the ensuing onside kick, and streaked down the field again. This time the victim was Marcus Ezeff who failed to turn around and spot the ball that landed right over his head into the waiting arms of George Hill for a 44 yard gain. CSU pounded it in from 2 yards out and all of a sudden the Bears were back in a dogfight.
Cal 34 – CSU 28

After sharply turning momentum entirely in their favor, the CSU coaching staff decided to pooch kick rather than go for another onside. With just under 3 minutes remaining, Cal needed to pick up at least two first downs in order to clinch the game. The broad shoulders of redshirt freshman RB James Montgomery proved to be perfect for carrying that burden as he pounded out 25 tough yards sealing the deal for the Golden Bears. Final score
Cal 34 – CSU 28

Lessons Learned:

Ground Game

The biggest thing I saw is the most disturbing, and at the same time, the most reassuring. The last two games showed everyone in the nation that the blueprint to beating Cal is to shut down our ground game, and exploit our inexperienced defense. We here at RBBID, along with others, have always pointed out that what really powers the Tedford offense isn’t the gaudy passing numbers, but the smash mouth run game. Today’s game showed that yet again.

I’m not one to ever question Jeff Tedford’s coaching or play calling…hell, I don’t think I’d ever really question anything football related that the man does. But the results of today’s game are undeniable. The Cal offense relied mostly on the pass for the better part of three quarters, and produced very lackluster results. The lone big play of the first half was the DeSean Jackson end around, not anything pass related. When we went to a steady dose of the ground game in the fourth, we dominated the line of scrimmage and clinched the game. Forsett and Montgomery, the two RBs who got the bulk of the carries, both averaged just under 5 yards a pop…the blazing speed of Jackson and Best produced 151 yards on just 4 carries combined…and Cal gained a total of 245 net yards on the ground.

Granted, if Longshore wasn’t missing high all day, the passing game could have easily dominated too. But with the way the team is currently constituted, keeping possession via the ground game is the best thing for the Bears. We’ve got a good offensive line, anchored by a great center, a stable of RBs that rivals anybody in the nation including USC, and a defense that has yet to find its identity. It seems pretty obvious to me that the best way to protect that defense, while still putting up plenty of points, is to go to our ground game early and often. The reassuring part is that we showed today and last week that even when everyone in the stadium knows we're going to run, we can't be stopped.

With all the talented receivers we’ve got, it’s easy to fall in love with the quick strike potential we have. Like I said above, I don't question Tedford & I honestly think that he was just experimenting today...maybe he was trying to show other teams the dangers of taking away our run...maybe he was just trying to create the impression that we're pass happy in order to create more running opportunities, who knows. The truth is, Longshore had plenty of chances to connect with receivers that had beaten the coverage, and if he had, it would've been all gravy. But the bottom line for me is that until our defense gels and gets to the level where they’re consistently playing with the intensity they showed during the third quarter, the Bears should pound the ground game as much as possible.

Thunder and Lightning Unveiled

I delayed posting this recap until I could find out for sure why Justin Forsett was on the sidelines the entire fourth quarter, but seeing as how there isn’t any injury information…I’m just going to go on the assumption that he’s fine, & Tedford simply wanted to use the opportunity to see what his freshman RBs could do in the clutch…and I’m glad he did. The fourth quarter was the coming out party for the Cal version of the White/Bush combo that powered USC back into national prominence. While this year is still going to be the Forsett show, it was great to see Jahvid Best follow up his performance from last week with an even better showing this week. Almost as impressive as his TD run was the fact that Best did a great job as a gunner on punt coverage, showing that he’s putting his best effort into whatever role he’s handed. And James Montgomery came through big time in his first real shot at significant PT, especially during the last drive. Exciting.

Clutch Kicking

How huge were the two 40+ yard field goals by back up kicker Jordan Kay? These weren’t simple chip shots, and they proved to be the difference in the game…great great job.

Note to Gregory, keep bringing it

It’s always tough to gauge when a team has had enough, and you never want to see starters get injured during garbage time…but using that 20/20 hindsight, it’s pretty clear that we let up too early on defense. Not going to be too critical here, because I’m pretty sure everybody figured the game was over…and nobody would’ve thought that the plodding CSU offense was capable of going deep so easily. Maybe we just need to wait until we’re up 28 w/ 5 mins left next time.

Defensive line showing signs of life

The young D line showed more signs of growth today, picking up 3 of the 5 Cal sacks on the day, and getting good pressure several other times. Maybe it’s just the hair, but I love Tyson Alualu’s motor, and seeing #97 flying around and making plays brought to mind Andre Carter…hopefully Cameron Jordon develops quickly into the player that Carter was for Cal.

Linebackers lead the way

It’s no secret that the strength of the defense is the athletic LB corp. But the leadership of the LB’s was on display in today’s game in the good and bad sense. Tackling seems to be the single biggest problem on the Cal defense, and MLB Worrell Williams had a completely forgettable game today. Good thing for the Bears that the other LBs all had good games. Zack Follett had 5 tackles on the day, 4 solo, and forced the bad throw that was intercepted on the goal line. Justin Moye had 3 solos, a tackle for loss, and an interception in just spot time. And Anthony Felder led all defenders with 13 tackles, 9 solo, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble.

Secondary still needs work

I’m convinced that as long as the tackling problems get fixed soon, and the front seven continues to mature into a group that puts steady pressure on the opposing QB, the Cal secondary will be good enough to keep us in the thick of the Pac 10 title chase. The passing defense gave up big numbers to both opposing QB’s thus far, and that will have to be corrected. However, something to keep in mind is that Erik Ainge is a veteran SEC quarterback who had similar numbers today against Southern Miss (64% completions, 276 yds, 2 TD’s), and Hanie went 75% for 229 and 3 TDs against Colorado last week...so @ least it's not just our defense...

Intensity

It really felt like today’s game, despite the miscues and the late charge by CSU, was never ever in doubt. And that’s what the problem was. Everybody and their mother knew all about this being a trap game, and all week long the Bears said the right things about how serious they were taking the Rams. But that didn’t stop this game from unfolding exactly like a trap game…the Bears came out playing far below their level of ability, they kept an inferior opponent in the game with their own mistakes, started to put the game out of reach, relaxed too early, and luckily were able to reassert themselves enough at the end to hold on for a win.

Everyone knows how full of cliché’s the game of football can be, and now that we’ve survived one cliché, it’s time to use this game as another…the motivation cliché. The biggest lessons that the Bears take away from this game are that you can never take anything for granted, you can’t play half speed, and you can never let your opponent up off the ground; things that the Bears have all known since their pop warner days. Still, you can be sure that the coaching staff will use this game as a reminder of all those things, and as a motivation tool to keep their guys fired up and focused on each game. We’ll see how well these Bears learned their lesson next week against a La Tech team that gave Hawaii all it could handle tonight.

Go Bears!!!

3 comments:

fairviewbears said...

I'm pretty sure that there's a ton of typos...I wrote this post during the commercial breaks of the other exciting college football games on today/night...& I'm too lazy to proofread. So apologies in advance if I wrote something like Nate Forsett ran for 10 yards.

A said...

I like the Thunder & Lightning nickname for Best and Montgomery. So what does that make Forsett? Zeus. Someone needs to make a poster with Forsett at the top of the triad and Best and Monty on either side.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post very much. While I understand the basics of football, I'm far from an expert when it comes to the mechanics (offensive packages, defensive reads, etc.) of the game. I've never played it and, although my family has been going to these games since before I was born, it's only been in the last decade that I started to really pay attention to the game.

What I saw yesterday had me very nervous for conference play. The coverage breakdowns, missed tackles (same thing?), penalties, etc., all had me thinking that we stood no chance at Autzen or the Rose Bowl (the stadium, not THE Rose Bowl, although, I felt we'd have a hard time getting there, too.).

Your post helped put it in perspective and that feeling that we really have a shot at something special this season has returned.

When we let that huge lead dwindle down to just six points, I really wondered what they were doing...now I'm not so anxious. (Not to mention the fact that Louisiana Tech really took it to Hawaii yesterday...but then I remembered that Hawaii loses much of its mystique when playing off the islands.)

Anyway, thanks for that jolt of clear-headed perspicacity.

(Don't they already call the Clemson two [Spiller and the other guy] "Thunder and Lightning"? I know that Oregon, with their bright yellow uniforms [and fan t-shirts], uses "Lightning Strikes"...at least they did when I was living up there four years ago...)