Saturday, September 6, 2008

When will they figure it out?



Eventually someone is going to get the memo. If you play the run straight up against this team, they are going to kill you. With Best and Vereen in there, run plays designed to go for 5 yards are easily capable of going for 90. I said before the game that if Wazzu wanted to beat Cal, they had to sell out to stop the run, and force Riley and the unproven receivers to beat them through the air. Well they tried it some, but not until Best and Vereen had ripped off two long rushing TDs. And even then, too often they continued to play straight up. I am not saying Riley won't end up making plays with his arm, but I think it is time to respect our run game as the thing you must take away early and at all costs, even if it means bringing up a safety and leaving your corners all alone.

GOOD THINGS I SAW

Barbaric run defense
This team now officially has a good run defense. One game, you could say maybe they were just jacked, had all summer to prepare, etc. But two games, you can say they play the run well as a team, even if the second game was vs. a so-so offensive line. Alualu really looks like a complete player on the defensive line. His hand technique is freakishly efficient, his pursuit is rapid, and his gap control ability is formidable. And he in only a junior. This kid will be a good one for the Bears for the next two years.

Excellent pass protection
Cal has done a fantastic job protecting the passer in both games. Riley also does well stepping up in the pocket to buy time. But at this rate, it looks like most teams are going to need to blitz to get to Riley, which is a big advantage.

Calvin and Boateng - the beginnings of a well-rounded receiver corps
Calvin made a really nice catch, and showed very good strength after the catch. He seems like "big" receiver Cal needs (and hasn't really had under Tedford). Boateng finally caught some balls, and just like vs MSU, he almost always had space around him. He seems like the long, athletic guy we need, like Lyman was. And I really like that he didn't get chatty after his catches the way Jackson used to. And Young seems to be turning into the sure thing, possession guy. Riley was off the mark on a few passes to these guys when they were open. If they can get on the same page, this group could become dangerous.

The emergence of two corners who make plays on the ball
I'm not ready to anoint him a "shut-down" corner, but Thompson has quickly shown he is a formidable defender on his side of the field. And the difference is he is making plays with his hands, not just his feet. Teams are going away from him, and they will continue to do so. He almost had a 3rd pick. And he is a ridiculous open-field tackler. Glad he's only a junior too.

And Hagan is clearly a ballhawk. If anything, it's his feet that need work. I thought that PI call on him was bush--it was a great play, the kind that has been missing for two years. He is an instinctive corner and I see him developing into a very good player over the next three years.

I've been saying it for 2 years, and I'll say it again: with so many non-seniors playing at a high level, this team is going to be scary in 2009.

The added dimension of Riley's mobility
Though an obvious advantage, it was nice to see the coaches call a design run resembling more of a West Virginia veer style. It was just briefly, but it gave future opponents something to prepare for.


THINGS THAT STILL NEED WORK

Run blocking against unconventional or unbalanced fronts
As they always seem to do, the Cougars found some loose screws in Cal's whirring offensive machine. More than a few times, Wazzu brought LBs up in a gap, shifted fronts, and tried to throw different looks at Cal. This seemed to frustrate the blocking schemes. This may seem picky given the ridiculous success Cal had on big run plays. But against more talented defenses with bigger d-linemen, Cal may not get the big plays it lived on today. In those games, Cal is going to need to be able to grind out the run, even if defenses throw different looks at them. This is where Riley and the receivers need to pick up the slack.

Lack of rhythm on offense
Something is undeniably missing from the offense, numbers aside (many of which came on big plays and in garbage time). I can't put my finger on it, but if it were food, it would be meat and potatoes. There were times when the Bears needed to put together a couple first downs, sustain a drive, make gains on first and second down, and eat some clock, but they couldn't do it. I noticed this especially when Cal had the ball deep in its own territory twice. This "need" was relieved by big plays and quick scores, but those aren't always going to come. To keep with the eating analogy, right now, the Cal offense is speedballing its calories right into the vein whenever it gets hungry. At some point, against far better defense, it's going to need to sit down with a fork and knife and feed itself.

Riley's performance definitely fell off after he took some hits
I won't even begin to criticize any kid who plays QB, especially in Tedford's offense, and Riley still played within himself and the offense, which showed great poise. Maybe this is more something the coaches need to focus on. But Riley's throws were definitely off a bit after he took some licks (late hits though they were). Just an observation.

He also seems to keep his longer throws too low at times, which led to his overthrows. I noticed he adjusted this in the second half, but with new receivers, if they are too low, the timing is not going to be there. The higher the arc, the better early in the season. This is critical when corners are playing press coverage and Cal is going over the top. He has overthown 4 or 5 sure TD balls in the last two games.

Safety pass coverage
Ezeff and Hicks just aren't that good in pass coverage, especially man to man. Ezeff does not turn around and doesn't make plays on the ball. He's great in run, so we need him in there, but you can bet teams are going to send a third receiver at him to test him. And Hicks continues to whiff on tackles and be late coming over. He did get a pick, but overall, our free safety position needs work. Also, once again, a team sent a player right into the middle of the zone, and once again he caught it with 4 Bears watching him. They need to close these holes in the zone.

OVERALL KOOL-AID CONSUMPTION LEVEL: I HAVE SIPPED, BUT AM STILL SWISHING

Ok, ok, so I sipped it. There is no denying that virtually any criticism of the Bears today is just picking nits. This was a game where Cal looked like bottled TNT, blowing Wazzu's face off every time they made a mistake, in all three phases of the game. This team looks scarier than any team Tedford has had. They seem capable of going off at any moment. But they are still young and unproven at a number of key spots. What I am still waiting for before I begin consuming copiously: tighter pass defense and more balance and consistency in the passing game.

4 comments:

Bears Necessity said...

Biggest reason why USC keeps on beating us and Oregon State comes in and upsets us at home is stopping Ron Gould's power run schemes. They usually have the physical talent and speed in the front seven to bend back Cal's O-line and keep those holes from forming.

SDGldnBear said...

BN,

Very true. Versus USC, especially in Tedford's offense, it takes a sharp QB to keep the USC defense, especially their linebackers and SS, honest. We haven't had that since Rodgers.

OSU is a bit different story, but you are right, it's the same result. OSU truly sells out to stop the run, often having their d-lineman diving to create piles and force the runner outside to their speedy linebackers. While this really befuddles Cal's running game, it also leaves OSU very vulnerable over the top. Unlike USC, they don't have a lockdown back 4 that can handle this. When Cal's QB and receivers are on, they can destroy OSU, as they did in 2004 and 2006. Let's hope we see a repeat this year.

Bear with Fangs said...

Funny, I was thinking that Riley actually puts a LOT of air underneath some of his long bombs. Some of them look like punts. He still overleads the receivers on those throws, but Riley is going to have to find a balance between roping those throws, and giving defenders time to get underneath the ball.

SDGoldenBear said...

BWF, he did both, you are right. But for example vs MSU when he had that overthrow down the sideline, it was too much on a rope. And he had one of those early vs WSU. Then he threw one too high. In a way, these play calls are a bit of a new look, so maybe that is why Riley is struggling a bit with it. I know that those passes are a big part of what everyone expected Cignetti to bring - a truly vertical element to the offense (though he is still a run-oriented coach).

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