Cal continues its trend of shutdown defense at home against weaker opponents, preventing UCLA from ever finding much of a rhythm. As I predicted, the combination of pressure, ballhawking zone coverage and an erratic Kevin Craft created turnovers and three and outs, and pretty much put this game out of reach for UCLA. Combined with an impressive emasculation of UCLA's run game, the defense's game plan worked to perfection. Game ball to the defense.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Some other observations:
1. Tedford obviously loves to rope-a-dope UCLA's defense with play-action deep passes - but this one was also payback for last year.
Did I not predict Tedford and Cignetti would bust out some gadgetry for this game? For the second year in a row, the Cal offense got the UCLA free safety to bite on play action, unleashed a play we haven't seen all year (and probably won't again), and it went for 6. But did anyone catch that it was almost identical to the flea-flicker UCLA ran against us last year, that accounted for one of their only two big offensive plays in the whole game last year? Fantastic call, especially at that point in the game. All the naysayers about our predictable playcalling should be happy after the game Cignetti called.
2. It's about time they put Best and Vereen on the field at the same time.
I also predicted we'd finally see this combo this week, and the coaches came through. I have been waiting for this combo all season, and surprise, surprise, it went for a TD on the Best end around run in the first half. You can imagine the possibilities with these two guys - play action to Best, throw to Vereen in space. Or line Vereen up in the backfield and play action to him, send Best over the middle out of the slot to pull the defense over, and hit Morrah on a deep flag route. It goes on and on. I think we're going to see more variation the next two weeks.
3. Norris Malele had his lunch eaten all day by Brian Price.
No shame in that - Price is undisputedly the premiere defensive tackle in the conference, and will be an All-American before he graduates. But he absolutely terrorized Malele all day long. I mean, there were times when Price was already in the backfield as the ball was being handed off. In fact, on the flea flicker, had Longshore been in there, Price would have sacked him before he got the ball off. Riley was nimble enough to step forward and barely get the pass off, which is probably why it hung in the air a bit long.
In fairness to Malele, Price smoked Mack too on at least one play I noted. In the second half, Mack was supposed to block down on Price, who was over RG. Mack snapped it and Price was so quick off the ball that Mack never even got a hand on him, Price was already in the backfield.
4. Mike Mohammed should be starting.
The guy is all over the field, can cover stride for stride better than any linebacker on our team, is a great tackler, and just seems to know where to be. He has made great plays in special teams for two years, and he's the second leading tackler on the team despite being a backup. I am really impressed with this kid.
5. The offense is still well below Tedford's standards, which does not bode well for the next two games.
First off, you can knock 14 points off that 41, for the defense's two pick 6s. And you can knock off the last TD pass to Morrah (pretty as it was), because UCLA had thrown in the towel at that point and the game was already out of reach after the second pick 6. That leaves 20 points for the offense. Pretty bad for a Tedford team at home.
What was perhaps most disturbing was the third quarter, where this team has struggled mightily against the last two conference opponents. When the offense really needed to drive and score while the game was very much up for grabs at 17-10, it completely sputtered. Troubling to say the least. Plus, the number of points they left on the field, repeatedly failing to capitalize on turnovers, dropping passes, and making careless penalties, has got to be driving Tedford nuts.
6. Riley looked as comfortable as I've seen him all season.
He was calling out plays at the LOS repeatedly, knew where to go with the ball, and made some heady plays under pressure (notably the throw out of bounds when Vereen didn't emerge on a screen - eerily similar to the play Longshore threw a pick on vs ASU). And of course, he made a couple of his signature athletic plays while eluding pressure. That pass to Ross to the left sideline was a thing of beauty.
There is no reason why Riley shouldn't remain the starter if he practices and plays like this the rest of the way. Though if he plays like he did today, it won't be enough versus Oregon and USC. Oregon and USC are not going to give Cal's defense the gifts it got today. Cal is going to have to put pressure on those teams by scoring points, as well as playing tough defense.
But Riley still presents a bit more potential for playmaking than Longshore. The thing holding Riley back has been comfort with the offense. He showed that today. If he can keep that up, he gives Cal a better chance to win than Longshore because of his athleticism and playmaking ability. If he cannot, Longshore should continue to start. In year 3 in the system, you don't deserve to play if you don't know the offense cold. Thankfully, it looks like Riley might finally be over that hump.
Overall, great total effort, and great job by the defense making big plays in the second half to take over the game.