Monday, November 17, 2008

Thoughts on the OSU game

This was the first time I have been dead wrong about how this team would perform all season. Of course what I (and everyone else) could not have predicted was a perfect storm of bad things: special teams snafus, drive killing mistakes at key momentum points, some really tough calls by the refs at key momentum points, and the o-line struggling as bad as any unit I can remember under Tedford.

This was one of those games where there were so many ill-timed mistakes and o-line struggles that you almost cannot use the game in judging where the team is and what it is capable of the next couple weeks. Play that game 10 times and I'd be willing to bet Cal wins 8 of them. Yes, Cal would have struggled to grind out the run game in all 10, but those big plays would still have been there (including the one that was called back), the special teams gaffes would not have been there, and all those balls would not have been dropped. If just those three things go differently, Cal wins.

Remember the Oregon State offense only mustered 3 points in the first half, and was pretty much corralled by Cal's defense. And in the drive following the Ross TD pass, after the defense got a 3 and out, Cal was inches away from taking firm hold of the momentum. 1st down - Cignetti goes for the jugular on the bomb to Tucker - drop. A few plays later, same drive, Morrah drops a first down pass. A few plays later, botched fake punt that was a sure first down if the snap and catch are executed. Had Cal scored there, its offense would have had the OSU defense on its heels. The pressure was on OSU with the Rose Bowl on the line, and a 3rd TD would have turned the pressure up.

The point is this: it is not time to sound the alarm, start jumping out of windows, or register This is a young team with a patchwork o-line and a QB who is still finding his way. All that finally caught up with the Bears. Young teams make mistakes - bad routes, dropped balls, missed blocks, bad reads, missed tackles, penalties. They also sometimes lose focus. Both have happened to this team (unfortunately in spades at times), and it has been the difference in 4 games. Nothing cosmic or abnormal about that.

Thoughts on Riley

I think he can't be blamed for all the pressure he was under Saturday. He made some nice throws. But he also held the ball too long at times, and made some unforced bad throws as well. Overall, I thought he played a mediocre game but a better game probably wouldn't have meant a win.

However, I have also long felt that Riley is behind where he should be in terms of comfort and grasp of the offense. He has regressed this season and seems overwhelmed at times. And for all those who say the open competition is to blame, my response is that is nonsense. A QB competition should not derail a young QB's absorption of the offense. If he can't raise his game in the face of a QB competition, then he doesn't have what it takes to be the leader of this team.

Nate Longshore, for all his other shortcomings, looked considerably more comfortable as a RS Soph in 2006 than Riley does now as a RS soph. And Longshore was in his first year of a totally new offense under Dunbar. If Riley can't find that comfort level by now, it is time to acknowledge that he may never have it.

That said, it is up to the coaches to recognize that and shape the offense accordingly. Personally, I think Cignetti's game plans have been very solid, and but for poor execution, they'd be blueprints for how to beat USC and Oregon State. But I am not sure Riley can implement those game plans.

It is an interesting chicken-egg conundrum with a young QB. Do you mold him to the things you think match up best against the opposing defense, or do you design the offense around his strengths even if that design is not ideally suited to expose the defense? And if the offense struggles, at what point does it become a problem of not calling the right plays for your QB's strengths, versus needing to work harder with your QB to develop comfort with the game plans that you as a coach believe are necessary for the win?

Cignetti and Tedford will need to answer these questions the next couple weeks, but from where I'm sitting, it does not seem like Riley is ever going to be like a second coach on the field, surgically cutting through opposing defenses and going deep in the playbook. That suggests developing some packages that take advantage of Riley's strengths rather than expecting him to execute the offense perfectly like Rodgers did.

Slow developing run game

There is no question that a young and banged up o-line makes it difficult to run the ball. But lately, I have noticed the run plays being markedly more slow-developing. By the time Best and Vereen hit the LOS, the safeties have already read run and are at the LOS. I am not sure if the RBs are playing too deep, if the QB is taking too long to run the handoff back to the RB, or what, but something doesn't look right. If this style of running continues, Cal will need a tackle-breaker to mix in with Best and Vereen, to throw off the defense's rhythm and timing.


It is time to re-think the high kick to the corner. The theory is a sound one, but only if you have the kicker who can execute it routinely. The time to establish that routine for first year kickers like Seawright and Tavecchio is spring, summer and fall camp, not during the season. It is clear both kickers are not there yet with this technique. Unless they are woefully incapable of line driving it into the endzone, that should be the technique from here on out.

7 wins, 7 years straight

If Tedford wins 7 this year, that will make 7 years in a row (including bowl games) - a first in Cal history. Anyone who has suffered through the dark days of Cal football knows that this will someday be talked about as among the great eras in Cal football. Yes, Cal has had some individually great seasons over the decades, but this consistent winning has eluded this program for the most part. So enjoy the ride.


Robert said...

I enjoy these articles very much. Informed, level-headed, entertaining reading each & every week. Outstanding break-down - keeping sanity & reason in the fore and the loaded pistol in the drawer. Count me as a big fan.

SD said...

Very much appreciated Robert. Let's take down some trees this week and put the Axe back where it belongs. Go Bears.

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