Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UCLA Recap


1. Game ball - Kevin Riley. The best part of Riley's performance Saturday wasn't 60-degree wedge lobs he was dropping into a cup all over the field, or the timely 6 yard scampers for first downs (though it was nice to see those plays again from him). It was the fact that Riley came up with those nails plays when his team needed him most. He almost had a bit of an edge to him the way he carried himself. Cal hasn't had its QB be that guy for a long time, especially on the road.

2. Good for Tedford and Ludwig for trusting Riley. With the way Riley has struggled the past two games, it would be easy to imagine the coaches puckering a bit and coming out with a bunch of low risk passes to play it safe until they could see how Riley was playing. But you could tell from the play calls that they had 100% confidence in him, and it showed in his demeanor.

3. Best's running style is severely hampered by injury. Bigger, straight-line or one-cut runners can play through injury a bit more because frankly, their top end ability is just faster and stronger, not necessarily more dynamic. But Best is like an Italian sports car. When he's fully tuned and running perfectly, he runs with a rare combination of speed, strength, elusiveness, and anticipation. But just like one of those cars, his blend of skills is tightly calibrated. The slightest injury can throw off the whole machine. Even injured, he's still at worst a Corvette. But in particular you could see that his physical limitations affected his vision and instincts. It was as if he didn't see (or wasn't looking for) the creases because he knew he didn't have the juice to get through them.

Given how much discomfort he was in, with the cramping and asthma, it makes the long TD run he had that much more impressive.

4. Egregious holding by UCLA. I don't recall seeing an offensive line commit holding so deliberately, so often, across the board, for an entire game, the way UCLA's line was holding on Saturday. It was almost like they were coached to do it, because they were giving bear hugs and grabbing cloth from the snap of the ball. Alualu must have been held three or four times trying to pursue the QB. Jordan was held as the RB went right by him on UCLA's long TD run. The list goes on.

As bad as the lack of pressure was (and it was pretty abysmal), this definitely didn't help. This made the hands to the face call on Alualu all the more absurd.

5. The BBDB defense is officially back. I thought it might have been retired, but apparently Gregory still has it on speed dial. That was as passive a defensive game plan as I've seen, against an offense that was begging for Cal to shut it down. Clearly, the plan was to take away the run and the deep ball and make UCLA dink and dunk their way up the field. While I don't have a problem with that scheme per se, if you're going to run it, you better have LBs and DBs who can close holes and cover ground quickly. This group just isn't playing fast enough this season to do that. When that happens, the result can be a steady diet of 4-7 yard pass plays being completed with ease.

And while Cal was able to keep UCLA out of the endzone, I would not get too excited about that. UCLA is in the bottom 10 in red zone TD% and 101 out of 120 in scoring offense nationally. This game was ripe for the defense to attack, sending guys from all over the place, and using delayed blitzes and mixed coverages. Instead, they played read and react, and the result was they let a bad offense run up 450 yards and 26 points, and frankly were a bad QB throw away from another Bruin comeback against the Bears in Pasadena. If Gregory dials up this Sally Ann defense against Arizona or Oregon State, they are going to get lit.

6. The special teams are officially an embarrassment. It has gotten to the point Tedford seems to have words with Alamar on every special teams play. It's abysmal, and totally uncharacteristic of Tedford's detail-oriented approach. I am not saying Alamar should be fired, as I am not privy to what other things he may do well for Tedford in the area of quality control, etc. But he should be moved off of special teams, and someone else needs to hired/moved over.

At this point, no excuses, statistical aberrations, or injuries can overcome the established trend on the field: middle to bottom of the conference kick and punt coverage for Tedford's entire tenure. See for yourself:

Conference rank 2004-present -
(1) Opponent kickoff return yards: 6,5,8,6,6,6.
(2) Opponent punt return yards: 7,7,2,2,8,10.

7. Good finishing blocks downfield. A lot of great blocks downfield extended long runs. Jones in particular drove his man backward for about 10 yards on Vereen's first TD. These blocks are not only the difference between a 7 yard run and a 27 yard run, but they are great indicators of effort. Teams that give up on downfield blocks leave points on the field.

8. Derrick Hill is quietly having a very good season. Before the season, I called Hill an "enigma." He started as freshman, which was promising, but he also started in Tedford's doghouse, which was ominous. Last year he showed flashes, but seemed to play a bit banged up. He's got great upside as a quick, penetrating 3-technique, but candidly, of all the players on the defense, I initially thought his talent would be the most wasted in a 3-4. So it was sort of hard to read him going into this year.

But it is now safe to say what he's done to transform himself into an effective, if disruptive, NT is downright impressive. He flat outplayed O'Dowd (a consensus All-American) in the SC game, and had his way with UCLA's OL as well. He may not get the recognition he should, but right now, he's doing everything you want out of your NT.

9. Tipoti and Guyton have bright futures. I was very impressed with the push both of these guys got. They both use excellent technique, in terms of pad level and use of the hands. And both guys were driving their blocker backwards repeatedly. Admittedly, they provide more depth than I anticipated coming into the season.

10. The gatorade bath says something. Say what you will about a gatorade bath after a mid-season win over a middling conference team. But Boateng's quote gives some insight into what the players think of their coach:

"I didn't know if it was a good idea because of what has happened the last two games," Boateng said. "But we just felt like coach deserved it because he's worked hard."

And according to Okanes:

Boateng said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig lit into the offense at a team meeting Friday night.

"He was very upset about what's been going on the last two weeks," Boateng said. "We felt like we had to step up and get this win for him."

Based on these and other post-game quotes, it sounds like Tedford and the staff not only lit a fire under the team, but they also rallied them together. I am reminded of all the bluster by the pundits about how Tedford's message wasn't getting through to the team, and how this was a defining game for Tedford and a make or break game (I actually do not think it was). I doubt these critics will ever be silenced, but I thought the team's response on the field and post-game was pretty telling.

All in all, this was a salty win and a cathartic streak-breaker. Questions abound on defense and special teams (which I will get to in my next post), but it was nice to see the offense and the swagger make an appearance again, especially on the road.


Anonymous said...

Any comment or word on why Cal appeared to have had only 10 defenders on several plays on the clinching interception drive?

SD said...


I was planning on addressing that in my next post, but I'll do it here. My comment is, "That was ridiculous and inexcusable." If UCLA had scored on that play (like they did in 05 when our punt cover team had only 10 men on the field, thank you Pete Alamar), people would be calling for Gregory's head even more than they already are.

But the worst part is it happened more than once. Every coach is entitled to bad day here and there, but that's kind of a rookie mistake for a guy like Gregory.

Again, I'm not big on recommending someone be fired, because I am not knowledgeable enough about the ins and outs of the staff, etc. But just from the product on the field, I really feel Gregory's coaching job the past three games has been plain poor. It does not bode well for the Arizona and Oregon State games.

SR said...

I thought Anthony Miller had a pretty good all around game. Glad to see him more and more into the offense.

Jim said...

Here are some of my thoughts about the game and what the future might have in store:

The Good: 1)Run/Pass balance. Even discounting the success the Bears had on the ground without Price in the game, as you said, it was an impressive performance on the road against a statistically sound defense. 2)Riley's mechanics. Good feet, balance and follow through. I can hardly recall any egregiously bad throws. Even the incompletions were 'in the ballpark'. 3) Vareen's performance. As Best continues to be hampered (probably for the duration of the season), he is going to be needed to play a bigger role. I would have liked to have seen him more in our possessions late in the game when it was obvious Best wasn't himself. 4) The return of Marvin Jones. His best game since Maryland. Two great, difficult touchdown catches. 5) Tedford's work on the team's psyche. The use of Dr. Edwards, having the offense stand and root for the defense (according to Best) and other team building initiatives he employed. Job well done. 6) Bryan Anger. Nice to see the old Bryan Anger return especially after his first shank.

The Bad: 1) Special teams. I whole heartedly agree. The kickoff coverage is terrible. I think it's personnel and scheme. They're slow to get to their containment lanes and too bunched up. 2) Zone pass defense. Paulsen was WIDE open on the Kendricks pick. There wasn't anyone even paying attention to him. For a team that relies on zone so much, they aren't very adept at it. 3) Giving up the big play. This has been a problem the past 3 games and a disturbing trend. It's one thing if it happens to an aggressive defense. It's another when you're playing 'soft'. 4) The defensive scheme/style. The 3-4 by it's nature is supposed to be a more athletic, attacking defense. Where are the blitz packages?!? I'm just dumbfounded watching the defense get worse and not better.

Where will this all lead us? I think we beat WSU and have a decent chance to beat ASU on the road. But if Cal doesn't radically change it's defensive philosophy and improve its execution, Arizona and Oregon State are going to beat us and beat us by 2 touchdowns. It seems so long ago that the defense was flying around making plays against Maryland...

Todayistheday said...

I am the first to admit I don't totally understand the rule these days on holding:

However it is my impression that the offensive player cannot have his hands around the BACK of the man he is blocking.

I replayed the long TD run by Franklin multiple times and noticed several Bruin OLineman with the hands on the back of our DLinemans shoulders.

Not just one blocker doing this but at least two. Isn't that supposed to be holding?

SR said...

Is there a reason almost all of Cal's success running the ball was to the left of their formation? Even Best's big run started left.

Anonymous said...

I know Best was cramping and having problems with his asthma, but take out the 93 yard run and he had 9 yards on 17 carries, very concerning.

Also, regarding special teams, all of their kickoffs seem to barely get to the 10 or 15 yard line. Is it that hard to find a kicker that can reach the end zone? If your special teams can't contain, it's a real killer when you can't at least put it in the end zone.

SD said...


Agree with all your points, especially the point about the current passive game plans belying the purported reason for the 3-4 in the first place: pressure, as in where did it go?

Also, you are absolutely right - if you can't stop the big play with 7 or 8 in coverage anyway, why not at least bring a couple blitzers and try to force a mistake?

The only thing I can think of was that Gregory has seen enough in practice to know that either (1) he doesn't have a LB who is fast enough to get to the QB, or (2) his defense is not good enough to cover its own back if the blitz doesn't work.

But even some basic stunts and delayed blitzes a bit more often couldn't hurt. Eddie Young got a sack on a delayed blitz the one time we ran it. Why not do it more?

Finally, yes, we are toast if we try to defend UofA and OSU that way.

SR -

I don't know why they had such success going left. From what I have seen, Tepper is not looking any better than Schwartz, and the TEs and WRs are not limited to one side. It could just have been coincidence, or it could be the personnel and formation matchups on those plays happened to be better. But I will look back and see if I see anything.

Todayistheday -

Yes, that is holding, plain and simple. The only explanation I can think of for why they didn't call it is that UCLA was doing it so much that the refs became accustomed to seeing it. Sort of like all the grabbing certain teams do in basketball (coincidentally Howland's UCLA teams) - they can't call it on every play, and if you do it all the time, eventually they stop noticing.

But that doesn't make it the right call.

Papi said...

Much better QB play and some big plays by the talented backs and receivers made a great difference, but we still needed the luck of a bad throw by Prince that could have been 6 the other way to seal the deal. A fun game to see, but not one to indicate confidence in future outcomes against tough teams. Nevertheless, credit the players and coaches for a terrific psychological comeback from what could have been devastating losses the previous 2 games. It was a "hot" game in every way!

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