Friday, November 14, 2008

Bears vs. Rodents

Beavers: Persistent and resourceful. Like Mike Riley.

You have to hand it to Mike Riley. No one does more to debunk the recruit star-rating and ranking systems than him. People are tempted to say he does more with less than any other coach in college football. And insofar as he gets more out of players than the recruiting services gave them credit for, those people would be right. But like Tedford, Riley sees talent where others are blinded by measurables or positions played. And he goes to schools other people have overlooked. Exhibit A: Yvenson Bernard from Florida. Exhibit B: Jacquizz Rodgers from Texas. The list goes on.

And then there's coaching. Riley and his staff coach 'em up as well as any in the conference. I won't get into the numbers, but suffice it to say, the statistics bear out his sound coaching methods, particularly running the football and playing salty defense. Bear fans know all too well the success Riley has had against what have arguably been more talented Bear teams who were favored to win.

But that's in the past. This year, the tables are turned. Oregon State is favored (opened at -3, basically homefield advantage). They are the ranked team, and the team being talked about for the Rose Bowl. Jacquizz is the toast of the conference (deservedly) after torching USC and leading the conference in rushing. The only thing big about this game in the media is whether OSU can keep its Rose Bowl hopes alive. No one is talking about Cal, Jahvid Best, or Cal's defense.

Personally, I think that is the best of all worlds for this Cal team. As I've said many times, Tedford's teams seem to play better when they are out from under the spotlight and high expectations.

But while the spotlight is not on them, I think this is in many ways the game of the year for this team. If they win this one, they can officially say they've gotten two monkeys off their back: winning a meaningful road game, and proving they can overcome the malaise that afflicted last year's team.

Onto a brief look at the matchups:

Cal back 7 vs. Jacquizz Rodgers

Not much to say here besides the Bears have to tackle this guy with vengeance. He is strong, he keeps his legs moving, and he is shifty. This defense tends sometimes to want to go for the knockout blow, particularly Brett Johnson and Worrell Williams. You can't do that with this guy - he will just slip out of it.

They also need to box him in. OSU runs a lot of zone read runs where Rodgers will run laterally and sit behind the LOS waiting for a crease and then take it. Because he's so small, he can be hard to see. Rather than trying to overplay him, the Bears just need to play gaps, contain him, and then swarm to the ball.

Edge: Cal. Cal did have trouble with a smaller back in Antolin, but I think that was largely due to not being ready for him, and also just having a tackling lapse in the 3Q (as this defense has tended to do on the road). When Cal is keyed on a RB, they tend to have success shutting him down.

Riley and the receivers vs. OSU's pressure and jamming

Riley will be under pressure, and the OSU corners love to jam receivers' routes to try and throw off timing. This has been disruptive to Cal when it has lost to OSU, although last year Cal seemed to adjust to it in the second half. Riley has been pretty good when he's been able to roll out, but when he's tried to stay in the pocket under pressure, he tends to throw high (not being able to follow through with a guy coming at him).

Edge: Cal. I think the coaches will call some things to slow the pressure down - screens, sweeps, quick outs, and rollouts. I also think Boateng, Ross and Tucker are better at getting off the line because of their size than Cal's smaller receivers in the past (though in 2006 Cal had no trouble with this).

Cal secondary versus Stroughter and Morales

These guys get the ball a lot, are always open, and Stroughter in particular is dangerous after the catch. OSU will bubble screen and slant to these guys all day long. Cal is not going to be able to pick these balls off. What they have to do is limit yards after catch by swarming and tackling. These are bread and butter plays for Oregon State.

Edge: OSU. I think Cal is going to be so keyed on run that they are going to get caught sleeping a bit on these quick passes. Morales and Stroughter are underrated receivers.

Other things to watch:

1. Cignetti going for the deep ball. For two reasons, I think we'll see this and I think we should see this. First, if Cal gets up on these guys, I think the Rose Bowl slipping away will cause them to get down on themselves. And I think Cal wants to take that away from them early. Second, Oregon State can be had deep. They always have been vulnerable there, and Cal took advantage of that in 2004 and 2006, and in the second half of last year. Plus, I think Riley and the coaches know they were millimeters away on a few deep balls last week and want to right that ship.

2. Cal using the pass to open up the run. I wouldn't be surprised if Cal tries to get the offense going by throwing it early. OSU is going to sell out to stop the run and force Riley to pass. I think the whole Cal offense wants to finally make teams pay for that.

3. How Cal plays in the 3Q. Cal has had its chances on the road in the 3Q this season, and it has not looked good. It let UofA back in the game, it allowed a quick score vs. Maryland, and it fell apart vs. USC. Cal may well have a chance to put the Beavers away in the 3Q. If that chance presents itself, it will be interesting to see if Cal can take it.

Prediction. I predict a decisive win for the Bears. Riley's teams have never played well under pressure. Even if the offense takes a bit to get on track (though I think they'll go for the jugular early), the defense and punting will keep OSU in check long enough to allow Riley to get warmed up. I think the receivers are primed for a break out game and this team feels like it has something to prove.


California Pete said...

I agree that the 3rd quarter has been critical for the Bears this season, and will likely be so again in Corvallis.

But they "fell apart" vs. USC? I actually thought the Bears played very well in the third last week, and that they were oh-so-frustratingly-close to taking control of the game. The defense absolutely shut down the Trojans, and the offense moved the ball as well as it did all game--which is to say, not particularly well, but not god-awful. The key drive was obviously the called-back Vereen TD, which ended in a somewhat-unfortunate tipped-ball interception. Had the Bears tied the score there, we could very well be talking about an altogether differently significant matchup against the Beavs.

Go Bears!!

SD said...

Pete - I admit I sort of paused when I typed that they "fell apart" in the third quarter, because on that first drive of the 3Q they looked so good, only to barely miss. But it was my first instinct, and upon further reflection, it remains my take, for precisely the reason you pointed out. Yes they were so close. Yes they moved the ball better but then they just missed in the red zone. But they still missed.

5 years ago, looking good and coming close, but not quite sealing the deal, wouldn't have felt like falling apart. But we're better than that now. We're not just hoping to hang with SC. We're hoping to put those punks in their place. And if you're going to do that, you have to take them down when you have a clear shot. Cal had that shot in the 3Q and they stepped on their dicks. After that, the door closed. To me, for this team, with this talent, that is "falling apart."

I'll admit that those near misses gave me some optimism going forward. But I still think if this team believes it is ready to knock of USC, it has to consider that 3Q a failure. Let's see if they can turn that into some motivation.

California Pete said...

Fair enough. We basically agree, and there is no question that Riley and Co. "fell apart" by anyone's definition after throwing that pick. But the defense kept the game balanced on a knife's edge well into the Fourth.

Here's to FOUR FULL QUARTERS of good football this afternoon in Corvallis. Go Bears!!

P.S. You're doing a GREAT job with this blog. Bravo.

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