Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oregon Recap

A total team effort.

My advice to all Cal fans, particularly the angry mob: Think like a coach, or you will be miserable as a fan. Fans retch and self-flagellate over games like this because they focus on what the loss means about the season, about the disappointment, about how much worse the team might be than they thought, about the rankings, about all of the themes and platitudes that emanate from the media like radiation, leeching into the sports fan brain until the brain is "washed" of its sense.

Coaches (at least the good ones) don't think like that. The only 30,000-foot-view conclusion they draw is, "We're not going undefeated." Then they move onto looking at what went wrong and game planning for next week. Why? Because they know you're not as bad as your worst day on the field, and you're not as good as your best day. There are too many variables in the game of football for the extremes to tell you much. You're somewhere in between, and the coach's job is to make that "in between" fall as close to your best as possible, as many weeks during the season as possible.

Though Cal looked destined to struggle in this game pretty early on, for a variety of reasons which I will get to, the outcome (the score, how the team played, how much better Oregon looked) is no more indicative of how bad this team is, than the Maryland score was indicative of how good it is. Teams have really bad days, especially in the college game. And when those really bad days coincide with another team's really good day, especially on the road against a potent offense, the results can be ugly, and frankly, aberrant.

Do I think Oregon wins that game in Autzen this year 7 out of 10? Probably. Oregon had motivation, an offense that had been underperforming and was cocked and loaded for bear, and a great home field advantage. Cal had a target on its back and took Oregon lightly. Bad combination. Do I think Oregon is as superior a team to Cal as the way that game played out? No way. Same goes for Maryland and Minnesota.

Onto the game. I am going to start with the offense, because I believe that is where the fabric started to tear (and then the defense let Oregon blow the game wide open).

Play Calling

I admit when I first watched, I thought the offensive playcalling was unimaginative, that Riley was only looking deep or throwing it away, and they were just running Best into a pile. Anyone else feel that way?

But then I re-watched it and I have to admit I came away a bit less critical of the playcalling in the first half than I initially was (by the second half, Oregon was on a roll and Cal was a shell of itself, so I don't take much away from the second half). Much like the USC game last year, a lot of the calls were there -- the execution just stunk. And remember, there was no way Cal was going to come in and average 7 yards per play against this defense. So when I say "the calls were there," I mean there were a couple big plays mixed in with the usual 2-3 yard runs Aliotti's run-stopping scheme was yielding, that had they worked, could have kept the offense going.

First drive - ended in a FG. Not spectacular, but scoring on the first drive off a fumble recovery is a fine way to start the game.

Second drive - Tucker fails to make the catch on the laser from Riley over the middle. MacArthur, Lyman, Jackson, Hawkins, Jordan all make that catch. Tucker makes that catch 9 out of 10 ten times. If he does, Cal at least gets a FG and it's 6-0.

Third drive - Riley and Jones miscommunicate on a second down sideline throw where Jones is open and sure to get a first down (seemed like Jones' mistake, but not sure). Then Riley badly underthrows a slip screen to Ross, and the blockers whiff, leaving Ross with no chance. Two good play calls thrown away with poor execution.

Fourth drive - Well-timed play-action pass to Tucker gets thrown away on Tucker's unsportsmanlike penalty. That was exactly the play they went into this game trying to burn Oregon with. The defender was stride for stride but he was beat, hence the PI call. If Tucker keeps his cool, Cal's on the 15, again with at least a FG. At this point Oregon's got 11, so it's still a game. Drive ends with a second miscue, albeit more excusable - a long missed FG.

Fifth drive - Best fumbled handoff.

That's 5 drives, 6 unforced errors (and there were more errors on other plays, especially in the blocking).

Sixth drive - This drive started well, with Tucker getting a first down on a nice bubble screen. Great call, one I would have liked to see a few more times. Then Riley went deep off play action to Tucker on first down, which was another great call since Cal had been running on first down. Tucker had a step, but Riley badly overthrew it. More bad execution. Then Riley almost threw a pick trying to hit Miller over the middle.

Seventh drive - Nice 6 yard pass to Miller on second down. Then Cal hurries up to the line on 3rd and 2 in a double tight formation with receivers tucked in, showing obvious run. This was the first disappointing call of the day. Cal hadn't been able overpower Oregon's front 8-9 guys all day. 2 yards is a long way to go with that matchup. That was an opportunity for something tricky.

However, even with that, if Holley doesn't totally whiff on his block, Best likely gets the first down. This was a standard power run and Holley just missed badly, and his man blew it up.

Eighth drive - Only 56 seconds left in the half.

On rewatch, the play calling wasn't terrible. Play action on first down, a nice bubble screen, couple nice TE passes, couple end-arounds, and some open receivers on missed completions. It wasn't great, but it was good enough to have yielded more than 3 points had the execution been there.

That said, there were some things I thought were missing from the play calling. First off, they should have moved the pocket around, and rolled Riley out a bit more, just to slow down some of the blitzing and change the look up a bit. He can throw well on the run, and it would have added a different dimension to the passing game and the play action game.

Second, they should have attacked with curls and flat routes more. Oregon was giving them this all day. These might have gotten Riley in a bit more of a rhythm.

Third, they should have used the fly sweep action, even if just for fakes, more. When they did, it worked. It's worked well all season.


I said in my preview this game would tell us more about Riley than probably anyone else on the team, simply because Oregon's defense was going to be the first one to be good enough to put the onus on him. What I saw is a guy who's play started to suffer when things that should have worked were not working. I am not ready to say he's incapable of overcoming those types of situations, but he certainly did not show that he's a guy with nerves of steel who can just block it out. I also think it's now clear he tightens up on the road.

I still like that he hasn't thrown a pick (though he almost did again). And I like that he made some good decisions in throwing it away, buying time with his feet, and managing the offense. He looks like he knows the playbook and is in command out there. I don't think Riley is going to be the second coming of Rodgers, but I also expect a better game from him this week, coming back home, and motivated to right the wrong. But he's going up against another tough defense, so don't expect a metamorphosis. We'll learn more about him this week.


These guys simply have to do a better job. Between the drops, not getting separation, and at times missing blocks, this was a total step backward for this group. Cal needed a go-to receiver Saturday and there was none to be found. I am a concerned this team may not find that guy this season.

Offensive Line

Much like Maryland last year, the offensive line got handled Saturday. A lot of it was guys just being a step slow, or looking lost. But guys also got physically beaten a few times, which made me cringe. Guarnero got abused time and again, to the point where I am now officially concerned that he cannot handle bigger DTs who have speed. Cheadle whiffed a bunch and got blown up a few times. Tepper looked bad in pass protection. I hate the cliche of "guys took turns messing up," but this group really did just make mistakes across the board. Most of the mistakes though were just guys being out of position, but there were also guys just getting handled too.

I still think this unit can be very good, and but Saturday was as sloppy as it gets.

Special Teams

I like the way D'Amato kicks. He gets great air under the ball, nice true spin, and he doesn't look like he's trying to murder it when he kicks. No way to know, but he has the look of a good kicker.

Also, the coverage was good. Great play by Moncrease on the kickoff, and solid punt coverage.

A Bit About the Team's Psyche

Someone asked about this in the comments. I am not worried. I really believe when they watch this film, the players are going to say, "No way we are that bad. We had a bad day, the game got away from us, and that was that. Time to move on."

My reasoning is that this team has to know how good it is. They know the talent they have on the field. The defense knows it's got guys like Syd and Tyson. The offense knows it's got guys like Best. They see what they're capable of every day in practice. They know they're better than 42-3.

And that is why I don't think Tedford is going to lay into them. Good players know when they have screwed up badly. They don't need a coach to rub their face in it.

But what they do need, and what I am concerned about, is some ass chewing about details. Guys were sloppy and the coaches need to ride them hard this week about every little thing. They need to be reminded that those little things can kill a drive or break the other team's back, depending on how they are executed.

And Verran Tucker, Sean Cattouse and Darian Hagan need to have their butts reemed for all the jawing they are doing. Cattouse did a little taunting again. Hagan's always chippy. And Tucker just plain lost it. Act like you've been there, and act like you are humbled to wear the jersey and play the game.

I'll talk about defense later.


Anonymous said...

Great...can't wait to hear about the know more about football then I ever will but it seems to me that when Gregory plays soft like that we get killed. Sure, you can see the details more so than I but when we are aggressive and mix in some man to man it seems like we dominate.. either way, the OL stunk and part of that has to be on Marshall..I'm not giving the coaches a free ride on this....if receivers aren't stepping up then the coaches aren't teaching the right things.. and with NO discipline, I see that as a coaching error too...

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for the breakdown and perspective.

Anonymous said...

This is great stuff, many thanks for the cool-headed analysis. I tend to think only like a long-suffering fan, so it helps to get this perspective. I look forward to your further thoughts.

Ken Crawford said...

Well, when you started into it I had a tough time thinking you were going to convince me about the 1st half play-calling but I must admit, you make a very compelling case. Very poor execution.

Great points about thinking like a coach as a fan.

SD said...


I was pretty surprised myself when I went back and looked. However, two tough questions remain unanswered:

(1) what do you do to limit those mistakes in the future? I think the answer is largely a question of focus. When you're not focused, you miss by an inch. And that's all it takes most of the time.

(2) (the tougher question) at what point in the game do you start accepting the mistakes are going to keep happening, and start searching for different plays to try and find something that works? It might seem obvious, but this is risky too, because if it isn't part of the game plan, it could turn out even worse.

However, I do think that when you see that between Riley and the receivers, the long ball and pinpoint stuff wasn't there. Do you keep going back to the well, or do you start getting him in rhythm with short stuff?

And with the OL getting beat at the point of attack, I think at some point you acknowledge they are not going to get it done with the bread and butter stuff, and you have to take some chances with different run looks - counter sweeps, end arounds, reverses, etc.

dc said...

This is a great analysis and I can't wait to read about the defense. However, I have to agree with SD that one of the major issues was the fact that Cal was a 'shell of itself' by the second half (for the sake of this, I include Oregon's last drive in the 2nd quarter as part of the 2nd half, since Cal had already given up).

Execution mistakes will happen in college football. When you have teenagers playing in high-pressure situations on the road in a hostile environment, mistakes are bound to happen. I believe a large part of success in college football is driven by how coaches and teams respond to these inevitable setbacks. Remember how Reggie Bush single handedly won the USC game against Fresno State in 2005 by refusing to quit and racking up >500 all purpose yards, or how Vince Young returned the favor by throwing for almost 300 yards and running for 200 against USC that same year? Both teams and players faced adversity and made mistakes but found a way to overcome.

It appears that in Saturday's game both the coaches and players were shell-shocked and didn't respond to the realities of the game, which is how a manageable deficit turned into a blowout. While not desirable, a 2TD half-time deficit wouldn't have been insurmountable. But the team gave up, surrendered a final TD in the first half and continued to implode in the second half.

I think that after this game, you may need to rename the blog, because it's obvious that on this occasion the Bear Did Quit. Putting this game in the past, how do you decide the next time you're behind by 2 TDs whether to stick with a game plan that's not working or take a chance with some play you've been saving for a special occasion? It seems like many coaches make such adjustments at the half, figuring that what didn't work in the first half is unlikely to work in the second.

Anonymous said...

Gregory need to go and it should be easy to trade up from Tedford after the stadium is complete.

SD said...

DC -

See that's the beauty of the slogan - it always references the future, so it's never wrong. Ha ha.

I think you bring up a great point about the coaches just never responding in a way that could have kept the game close.

I think part of the problem was that they were so sure their game plan was the right one, that they didn't want to abandon it until halftime. But by then, the damage was nearly irreparable.

Gregory's plan was to shut down the inside run. And for much of of the first half, he bottled it up pretty well. He would've had to tweak that in order to stop everything else they were doing, and I think he figured he'd wait till half-time.

Same goes for Ludwig - I think he figured they'd go with more max protect, be stubborn with the run, and try to burn Oregon deep. The plays were there too, which in part is why I think they kept sticking with it.

But the lesson here for future games against Oregon's quick strike offense is you better have a backup plan, because if you come in with the wrong plan A, you aren't going to get much time to fix it.

Jacob said...

Great analysis of the worst Cal game I have seen in the last few years. I still remain concerned about offensive play calls. On a day where the pocket seems to be made of paper-mâché, with a QB that is talented at making plays on the go, why keep the QB a stationary target? As for our wide receivers... no, I wont go there.

Jim said...


First, always a pleasure to be able to come here and get a good, level headed assessment. Thanks.

The reference made to 'giving up' has already been made in regards to the Oregon game. What is particularly discouraging to me is this is the first time I've ever seen a Tedford team lay down and die. Even against Tennessee in the '06 opener, they fought till the end, even in the face of sure defeat. Worse yet, it seemed EVERY member of the team gave up, 'went through the motions' and lost concentration. From Anger's punting to LBs getting pinned on blocks, to DBs letting receivers run free, the focus was gone.

Tedford seems to almost purposely 'remove' himself from the emotion of the game. It is his temperment. He'll never be a 'rah-rah' type of coach. Gregory seems to be the same way. The problem is, football is a very emotional game. I was kind of hoping to see him with the OLs exhorting them to play better. Or, join the secondary or LB corp to and get a fire started. I'd also like to see a player(s) be that 'emotional' leader(s). But, I don't think this team has a Follett type guy who can assume that role. If a player can't, shouldn't a coach (i.e. Lupoi) or, more appropriately, the head coach?

My greatest fear is that this team has/will lose its confidence and no one on the roster or staff will be able to provide that emotional spark needed to stem the tide. Tedford seems 'disconnected' to this aspect of the game. Remember these aren't 'professionals'. These are 18-22 year olds who, with everything else going on in their lives, might need that extra motivational push.

I'd be curious as to your thoughts. Thanks for your time.

SamoBear said...

This is the best and most level-headed thread/analysis on Bear Football to date...most everyone has some good perspective that I had not thought of, especially last post (Jim). Hopefully, we wont be infiltrated by the irrational fanatic from other boards. (Probably just give this thread the kiss of death).

In addition to the previous post, I would like to add that there appears to be a lack of apparent chemistry within the coaching staff due to two new key hires. We all acknowledge that Jeff is not that emotional/rah-rah type of guy. Any great leader will refrain from hiring clones, but bring in people with different experiences and leadership styles. Those type of individuals (who may be able to play that emotional role) could be Ludwig or Marshall but we wont know about their leadership styles until they have more experience with the program. Last Saturday seemed like a case where the leader and team were circling the drain and Ludwig/Marshall did not have enough 'credits' with Jeff to assume more of a leadership role in recommending changes within the context of what was happening in the game. While this could be plausible explanation for the offense, this doesnt explain the apparent lack of leadership on display from Gregory and his unit last weekend, who has been with Jeff from the beginning.

Go Bears!

SD said...


I do think you are onto something about Tedford. He is not an emotive guy. He is intense, but he's not demonstrative. The question is whether that demeanor is somehow holding the program back.

Though at times I wish his teams showed more toughness in pressure road games, I think for a lot of reasons his demeanor is not holding the program back.

First off, there are plenty of more no-nonsense coaches in college football who have been pretty darn successful: Tressel, Spurrier, Osborne just to name a few.

Second, I've seen Tedford get plenty animated, but he picks his battles. Random example: Remember when Dante Rosario stepped on someone's back on the punt return in the 06 Oregon game? He just about took the referee's head off. Or how about his words with Levy on the sidelines in the Holiday Bowl, or his many friendly exchanges with Alamar during games.

Third, call me old school, but I don't think it's the head coach's job to get the players fired up during a game. I'm not a big Gipper speech guy. The players should have that intensity and wired in long before they take the field. And if they get popped in the mouth during the game, it's up to their leaders (and to a lesser extent the assistants) to summon them and get back on the horse. If they can't come together as a team in the locker room and on the sidelines, nothing Tedford does or says is going to make a difference.

That said, I know for a fact Tedford lights into his team plenty in the locker room, when he thinks it's warranted. I heard after the UW game, it wasn't pretty.

Almost every team in college ball has letdown games, even the ones with the winningest coaches. SC does it almost every year. Florida lost to Ole Miss at home last year. It happens. But good teams bounce back. And with the exception of 2007 (where we had a QB with a bad wheel and shattered confidence, and a swiss cheese defense), Tedford's teams have bounced back really well.

And Samo, I really can't address whether Gregory or Marshall have enough credibility to sort of rally the troops during a tough game, because I don't know what their relationship is. I've definitely seen Gregory get pumped on the sidelines plenty. And Tedford almost completely delegates defense to Gregory, so I think Gregory can do what he wants. As for Marshall and Ludwig, I don't know, but I have to think Marshall has the ability to rip into his linemen if he feels it's necessary. I have to admit though, it's an interesting question that I don't know the answer to.

My last thought on this is you can't change who you are fundamentally. Tedford hasn't built Cal into a perennial winning team with talented but high character kids (despite crappy facilities, weak alumni and booster support, little institutional support, and academic hurdles) by being someone he's not. He's done it the way he's most comfortable, and it's worked pretty well.

He's gotten this program to the cusp of a conference title twice despite one of the most dominant dynasties ever in USC. The old saying, "Dance with the one who brought you," sort of applies.

California Pete said...

I think this team needs to find its identity on offense. And I think its identity is run, run, run the ball. Kevin Riley has demonstrated that he can avoid the interception and make the occasional big play. Let's not ask him to do anything more.

I'm glad we've moved past the cliche of blaming play calling to focusing on poor execution. But I've lost confidence in this team's ability to consistently execute in the passing game; Riley's not accurate enough, the receivers aren't sure-handed enough, and the O-line (and backs) struggle with pass protection. What I think they are capable of, however, is to run the ball against anyone with a complex mix of zone and power-man blocking. Put 8, 9 guys in the box, we'll still run it against you; that should be Cal's offensive philosophy this year, IMHO. Rather than a 50:50 balance of run and pass, I think this team's balance in more 70:30 run to pass.

And if you don't think Best is durable enough to carry the ball 25-30 times a game, then let Vereen, DeBoskie, Sofele, et al. carry a heavier load. Oregon did not stop Cal's running game on Saturday, at least not in the first half. Cal stopped itself by going to the air far too often. That first possession was a microcosm of the whole afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the game review, you do your blog title proud.

Here's the nut as they say. Tedford built the Cal program and unless I'm wrong, I think he is the reason Cal recruits so well. In the post-game interview he said "I love these guys" which shows the relationship he has with his players. Players (and Parents) pick Cal because they know Tedford will take care of them. And that's a good thing.

The bad thing (in terms of football performace) is that he takes care of Bob Gregory and Pete? Alomar as well.

Let's just look at how Stanford got the wheels back on their program -- a guy called scott shafer. Harbaugh hired him sight unseen to be the defensive coordinator. Stanford was able to use his defensive schemes for the first 2 years while Harbaugh got his offense lined up.

my point is that Cal is FREAKIN LOADED with speed and talent on the Defense. Hire a Shafer, Stoops, Tomey DC with an attacking defense and see what happens -- unlike offense teams can have huge 1-year turnarounds with the right guy in the booth. Sorry Bob, you had a great 2004, but after that Cal's defenses have been about individual effort in a passive defensive scheme. The cal defense was completely out-schemed last saturday and chip kelly isn't going anywhere soon. Who really thinks Gregory can stop the Ducks next year without a torrential downpour and 3 nfl-caliber LBs?

Cal's special teams have always been a weak spot (remember the blocked punt against USC in 2004? the failure to contain Maurice Jones-Drew in 2005? the missed end of half FGs against OSU, Washington, Stanford in 2007? The runback by James Rodgers to start the 2008 game? And finally Brian FREAKIN Anger's 5-yard punt that gave the ducks the end of half TD in 2009? ENOUGH ALREADY.

Tedford will keep getting the quality players, Ludwig is a nice upgrade from 07 and 08. Gould is a stud backs coach, Daft is a stud secondary coach. GET A NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR. GET A NEW SPECIAL TEAMS COACH.

That's how big time programs succeed, the head coach brings in the talent and he has a great staff to take care of the game plan. Cal wants to beat USC? then maybe it should have a coaching structure like USC.

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