Archive for August, 2007

Excuse Me For My Voice!

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Passionate readers of my blog may remember some promises I made over Memorial Day weekend on this blog regarding plans for the summer.  Always being one to make sure I deliver on my promises, let’s take a look:

  1. Re-review of each game last season with an emphasis on what it means for this season.
  2. Coverage of the “Tree Hugger Trial” (date not yet known).
  3. Predictions for every Pac-10 game, including non-conference matchups in 2007.
  4. Improved online stat comparison tool (expansion of last years stats I provided).
  5. A Pac-10 prediction game (similar to a “pick’em” league but with more ways to compare participants).
  6. Re-design of visual layout of blog with a lot more data/info.

And how did I deliver?:

  1. Done… and it was pretty good if you don’t mind me saying
  2. Well since the trial was push back it was kinda hard… but I did post on the few announcements we had over the summer including the Sept. 19th trial date.
  3. Not done yet.  But I’ve still got 3 weeks before the seasons starts.
  4. Nope.
  5. Nope.
  6. Nope.

But WAIT!  Could it be that I’ve been hiding all the work I’ve done on numbers 4 through 6?  Could it be there is a new website out there waiting for all of you to discover!?!

Yes!  It’s true.  Not only does it have my new Pick’Em league for you to sign up for, it’s got a podcast section, an in-progress stats section, a Cal archive section, a 25th Anniversary The Play T-Shirt for sale and of course a new blog.  To make it even better, I’ve teamed up with the guys from Sturdy Golden Blogs to form an awesome megablog team.  So check it out and remember that the new home of the best Cal Football blogging is:

(For those reading this from the “main” blog section (without the cal. prefix), the new Cal site will free this site up to be about Catholic and family/personal blogging… for those lamenting the infrequency of that content, this is good news for you as well.  Expect to see more focused blogging there in the next couple weeks.)

But for you Cal blogging fans, the new site is the place to be.  Don’t forget to update your bookmarks and blogrolls to point to the new site!

Looking back on 2006: The Holiday Bowl

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

(Note to readers: Today we wrap-up our look back at the games in the 2006 season with the Holiday Bowl pretty much on the planned schedule of 2 a week between 6 weeks ago and today, the start of fall practice.  Did these help you last through the dry period?  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, UCLA, Arizona, USC and the Big Game).

The storyline:
In a game with lots of question marks before it started, Cal quickly answered on the field, routing an overmatched Texas A&M team 45-10.  Texas A&M was unable to move the ball after their first possession as Cal was able to decipher Texas A&M’s complex running scheme.  Cal also re-discovered its prolific offense that had been missing late in the season.

The reality:
The key to victory in this game was Cal’s ability to dominate the line of scrimmage.  On both sides of the ball it was Cal’s line that was able to control the flow.  Interestingly it was exactly the opposite on the first set of possessions.  But once Cal settled down, the game was all Bears.  This was particularly true in the 2nd half when Cal went up 21-10 as Texas A&M was forced to resort to its passing game, failing miserably.  In the end, it was not Cal’s 45 points on offense (really 38 minus garbage TD at end) that was impressive but Cal’s defense that not only held Texas A&M to 10 points, but held them scoreless in the 2nd half (and only 3 points after the first possession).

The forgotten:
Forgotten was how Texas A&M was able to shorten the first half and keep the game close.  Cal was only up 14-10 at the half because despite having multiple ineffectual drives, they were able to chew up lots of clock time.  Also forgotten was that Texas A&M had a horrible punt, netting zero yards, in their attempt to punt away from DeSean Jackson.  The resulting touchdown on the short field put the Bears up 21-10 and sent Texas A&M to desperation strategies.

The 2006 learnings:
With the season over, there was nothing more to learn.  Looking back, having such a dominating victory was a sign of just how good the Cal team was when it was playing at its peak.  Between the stout defenses of both Arizona and USC and the difficult conditions of the Big Game, it was easy to forget just how talented the team was.

The 2007 learnings:
Other than Forsett having another great game in relief of Lynch, most of the play makers in this game were the seniors.  If anything, this game showed just how much talent the Bears will need to replace in 2007.  Desmond Bishop had a monster game and it is going to take a team effort with Follett’s leadership to anchor the team.

The Conclusion:
The 2006 season was one with so much potential that it is easy to look back and think of what might have been.  The expectations at the beginning of the season was predicated on USC having somewhat of a rebuilding year, giving Cal a one-year window to get to the Rose Bowl.  In retrospect, it turned out that USC didn’t rebuild, it just reloaded.  At the same time, Cal was very competitive with USC and could easily have beat USC with some better bounces or if the game had been in Berkeley.  With both teams returning similar percentages of talent, there is no reason to doubt that Cal has a realistic shot at winning the Pac-10 outright in 2007.

Looking back on 2006: The Big Game

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

(Note to readers: Today we continue in our look back at the games in the 2006 season with the Big Game.  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, UCLA, Arizona and USC).

The storyline:
In a game that was predicted to be a blowout, an uninspired Cal squeaked out a 26-17 win over the normally hapless Stanford. 

The reality:
While the game was far closer than it should have been, it was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.  Cal never trailed in the game.  Whether Cal played uninspired or they were merely out of their rhythm, perhaps because of the difficult wind conditions, is difficult to say.   What can be said is that, outside of some unlikely Stanford heroics that never came, the outcome of the game was never in doubt.  Additionally, Stanford scored far more points than their play deserved.  Outside of Stanford’s first drive that resulted in a field-goal, Stanford was never able to sustain a drive.  Stanford’s first TD was sparked by a kickoff return late in the 2nd quarter that gave the Cardinal a very short field (25-yards).  Their second TD, and the last of their scoring, was off of a deep pass where an offensive pass interference call should have been thrown for pushing off.  Otherwise, Cal’s defense stifled Stanford’s offense.  On the other side, while Cal was able to sustain a number of long drives, too often they stalled resulting in field-goals (they scored 4 and Schneider shanked a 5th), keeping the score far closer than it should have been.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was the nasty wind that blew throughout, although less so in the 2nd half.  This allowed both teams to emphasize slowing the run game without too much fear of getting beat deep.  Also forgotten was that Stanford’s first drive used fully half of the first quarter and that two additional Stanford possessions, although not very successful in moving the ball down the field, did take significant time off the clock, significantly shortening the 1st half and keeping the ball out of Cal’s hands.

The 2006 learnings:
By this point in the season, there was not much to be learned about the team.  About the only learning was a question: where was Cal’s prolific offense?  Now that we know the results of the Holiday bowl, the question has faded, but at the time, after both the Arizona and USC games, many were starting to ask questions after the Big Game.

The 2007 learnings:
Schneider didn’t have many field-goal attempts in 2006 because of the prolific Cal offense.  This was one of his few games to shine, including a 55 yard field-goal.  With him coming back in 2007, the kicking game continues to look in very good shape.  At this point, it wasn’t much of a learning but Zack Follett and Syd’Quan Thompson both had a great game.

The Conclusion:
In many ways this game was reminiscent of the Arizona game in that all that could go right for Cal’s opponent did.  Despite that fact, Cal was able to not only win, but also to never leave the outcome in doubt.  After 5 consecutive victories, many Cal fans have forgotten that the Big Game always defies expectations.  There have been more Big Game upsets of unbeatable teams than one can count on their fingers and toes.  In the Big Game, a win is a win.  Style points do not matter.

Looking back on 2006: The USC game

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

(Note to readers: Today we continue in our look back at the games in the 2006 season with USC.  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, UCLA and Arizona).

The storyline:
A superior USC team ended Cal’s bid at their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years in a dominating performance.  USC’s physical defense prevented Cal from getting their offense rolling while the USC offense continued in their successful ways.

The reality:
This was a VERY close game until the 4th quarter and just about every pundit who thinks that USC won this game convincingly either didn’t see the game or has forgotten the game they watched.  The story of this game was three-fold.  One, turnovers killed a couple of sustained drives early for Cal.  Two, USC showed both patience and aggressiveness in their 4th quarter play calling.  Three, Cal got desperate when USC went ahead 16-9 in the early 4th quarter.  What was most surprising in contrast to the popular opinion of this game was just how effective both Cal’s running game and Cal’s middle depth passing game were in the first 3 quarters of the game.  Unfortunately for Cal, everything turned on them when they were unable to convert on a crucial 2nd/3rd and 1 late in the 3rd quarter that forced them to punt on a 3 and out.  The defense was clearly tired on the ensuing possession, allowing USC their first TD of the game setup by a long run play that should have been stopped far earlier.  On the ensuing Cal possession, it was clear despite the fact that Cal was only down by 7 with 13 minutes left in the game, that panic had set in.  Despite having success running the ball on their proceeding possessions, Cal threw the ball on their next 7 non-punting downs, spanning 3 possessions including 2, 3 and outs.  Showing their effectiveness in the running game, on the 8th play, Lynch ran for 9 yards.  In the end, it was the over-predictability of Cal’s offense in the 4th quarter, both by always running in obvious running situations and passing when trailing, that sunk them.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was that there was that on USC’s 1st possession of the game, Cal ran back a would-be fumble for a touchdown.  The would-be fumble was ruled an incomplete pass that was not over-turned by the replay booth despite some evidence that Dwayne Jarrett had cradled the ball for a full two steps.  While the call was marginal and could have gone either way, it would have proven to be a big boost for Cal and would have completely changed the tempo and momentum of the game.  Also forgotten was the two turnovers by Cal in USC territory on back-to-back possession in the 1st quarter.  These put the brakes on a Cal offense that was moving the ball.  Considering that the USC defense always gets better as the game wears on, these lost early opportunities were similarly crucial.  Finally, although Bear fans will remember this, pundits seem to have forgotten that the Bears led at halftime 9-6 and the game was tied going into the 4th quarter.  Even with all of Cal’s mistakes, the game hinged on a very precise TD pass by Booty and a gutsy 4th and 2 call by USC that went for a TD, both in the 4th quarter.  Otherwise the game was very evenly played.

The 2006 learnings:
This was the first game that Offensive Coordinator Dunbar was put on the hot-seat.  To some degree, the criticism was built up from the shaky Washington game and the Arizona loss and therefore the criticism reflected the frustrations from that game.  In many ways that criticism was misplaced in this game.  Cal was able to effectively run the ball, something lost in the criticism of the hybrid spread.  If anything, it was Cal’s reliance on the run that was problematic.  The lone touchdown was the result of a drive that emphasized getting the ball to the WR’s in the middle passing game.  (As a side note, it seemed the USC safeties played soft and the corners played tight, an unusual combination that made both short and long passes troubling, but opened a number of 15-20 yard passing opportunities.)  The point at which criticism of the game plan was valid was not until the 4th quarter when the Bears trailed, when it did seem that Dunbar’s play-calling relied too heavily on passing the ball.  The learning for this game would be that Cal is vulnerable to panic based play-calling when trailing.

The 2007 learnings:
This was yet another game when Syd’Quan Thompson shined.  In many ways, although Hughes showed a great ability to sniff out interception opportunities, he also was prone to taking unnecessary risks.  It should be noted that the corner who got burned on the 4th and 2 TD play was Hughes, not Thompson.  Watching the play carefully, Hughes was clearly following his instinct to stop a run play and didn’t properly cover his receiver until it was too late to not get caught in traffic by a crossing receiver and covering linebacker.  Syd, on the other hand, had a solid game all the way around.  While he’s not the interception magnet that Hughes is, he is a solid corner.  On the other side, this is a game that should make Forsett fans nervous.  Lynch did a great job making 5-8 yard gains dragging defenders with him.  Had we had the more nimble, yet more easily tackled Forsett in his place, the run game may have been far worse.  Additionally, this game should be the prototype in 2007 for teams looking to punt away from DeSean.  USC was able to both contain DeSean with directional punting and also keep a fairly good punting average.  Finally, looking forward to the USC game in Berkeley this fall, there is no reason to doubt that Cal can win this game, particularly late in the season when the defensive replacements for Hughes, Bishop and Mebane will all have the majority of a season under their belt.

The Conclusion:
In many ways, the 4th quarter of this game was a mini-replay of the Tennessee game.  Cal’s opponent was able to score and the wheels fell off of Cal’s bus for a while.  By the time they had regained their composure, the game was sewn up.  In the end this game should be viewed as both an example of how good the 2006 Bears were (USC was the consensus number 2 team in the country after all) and as a missed opportunity to get to the Rose Bowl.