Monday, September 27, 2010

Mouthwash

Just something quick to cover up that picture of the Stoops brothers dry humping the air, as I'll have more game thoughts later.

The irony of ironies in sports is that the worst losses are in the games where you left it all out on the field, even though you have so much less to be ashamed of as a team then when you get smoked. You should feel 10 times worse after getting embarrassed, but typically, as a team, those always seem to be easier to shrug off as aberrant.

I didn't give the team much of a chance, and figured their best hope was an AZ letdown or some big plays to neutralize home field advantage. And I don't think that was an unreasonable outlook. Instead they surprised me, and neutralized home field advantage the old fashioned way - with defense and running the football. That is what I have been looking for from Tedford's teams for years. The 2004 and 2005 teams showed flashes of it (not coincidentally, Tedford's best OLs and defenses).

The team did not play a perfect game. And obviously the result was an all timer on the list of stingers. But if that's the brand of football this team plans to put on the field every week this season, you won't hear me complain.

Yes, I've enjoyed the big-play oriented offense of the past five years. And that brand of football has been instrumental in putting Cal on the map in many respects. Who knows how much buzz this program would even have without the highlight reel plays, and big draft days, of guys like Lynch, Best and Jackson.

But I've always felt this program has been just a tad more finesse than I'd like since Dunbar got here. Yes Gregory's contain defense and the weak special teams had a lot to do with that. But the offense too seemed ill-suited to tight, physical games where they needed to be able to run the ball. The last four games against SC come to mind.

But the way they were grinding out yards in the fourth quarter on offense, and stifling Arizona on defense, showed me something different. It remains to be seen if this team can replicate that against USC and Oregon St, its two primary nemeses when it comes to having to grind rather than get the big play. But for the first time in a while, this team looks like might be tough enough to do that. If it is, it will be a welcome change from going into games hoping the team's superstars can come up with enough big plays to win, only to be disappointed when those players get shut down.

One last thought for now. As much as a good coach can change the fortunes of a college football program, as we've seen with guys like Carroll and Meyer, it's still a player's game. Great coaches set the table, but the players close the deal. In the NCG, Lendale White and the OL didn't close the deal on 4th and short for pretty much the first time all season. Then Vince Young did. All kinds of coaching moves could have altered that outcome, but no matter what, it will always come down to players making plays or not.

This is not necessarily to defend the Cal coaches' game plans, as I don't believe there is such thing as a perfect game plan or play call. In many instances, you call the number of your best player or dial up your bread and butter. And if it doesn't work, you take comfort that you played the odds. In other instances, you go to Vinnie Strang or John Paxson, the guy they're least expecting, and if it doesn't work, you tell yourself you were trying to break tendencies and make something happen.

But whatever you do, you're still basically throwing a paper airplane, reasonably sure of what should happen, but unable to actually control what does happen. Tavecchio missed. Jones missed. Criner didn't. Play it 10 times, the opposite probably happens more often than not.

Is that enough to make those calls (or any others in the game) the "right" call?

11 comments:

Dangn56 said...

TBWNQ your thoughts mirrored mine. If the last kick goes through, all is happy in Bearsville. The coaches helped put the players in a position to win, it just didn't happen. They played a great game against a really good team.
I share your optimism about the Bears to be a powerful team. If the O-Line keeps getting better...

abraham said...

SD,

I vehemently defended the decision to not go for it on 4-n-1 and the choice to run it on that critical 3rd down late in the game and it looks like we are in agreement. Questions: what did you think of the OLine against what was supposed to be a stout Zona Dline? why do think Miller, probably our best receiver, is being underused in the passing game? how come the short passing game not being used more often as an extension of the running game? what did you think of the two trick plays? Be very grateful to hear your opinion on this burning questions of mine. Thanks and looking forward to your review.

Anonymous said...

Is there any way to find out if the holder caused the wayward Tavecchio kicks? I never had any faith in the Tavecchio/Mansion tandem in critical situations and still don't, unfortunately. I hope they get another chance and come through in the clutch just once. Then i think they will be OK under pressure. As usual, thank you very much for your insights.

SD said...

Abe - thanks for the questions.

(1) What did you think of the OLine against what was supposed to be a stout Zona Dline?

As a unit I thought they played hit and miss. In run, there were plays where everyone did his job well and there were alleys. But there were still too many plays when guys got run out or whiffed. In pass, I thought they did about like I expected. They did not get tested with too many blitzes, so nothing too impressive there. But they did a decent job of keeping a pocket. While no sacks is good, holding penalties are almost like sacks. And Edwards had a few. Edwards, Guarnero and Schwenke still struggle too much. Schwenke gets a bit of a pass because he's young.

(2) Why do think Miller, probably our best receiver, is being underused in the passing game?

Arizona did a good job of taking him away as an option. On the pass he dropped there were three guys around him. Their LBs did a good job getting deep quickly, and the safeties had the middle of the field well protected (as they always do). I think one reason we had all those drops was the sound of footsteps. Not many balls stay caught against that secondary, especially when thrown late like Riley does.

Miller is also not really a guy that can create with speed and moves. He's more a big body who can catch and run in the open field. So if teams are intent on covering him, he's not going to get open the way a guy like Gronkowski, or even Morrah, could.

(3) How come the short passing game not being used more often as an extension of the running game?

First off, I think they did enough of it given the personnel limitations. Riley doesn't have a lot of touch, especially on the road. He also telegraphs a bit, which is not good against a quick secondary. And the only real playmakers on catch and runs are Vereen and Allen, both of whom got a few design plays. They tried a few more that failed - to Sofele and Vereen.

I think when Allen is healthy, you'll see more of that.

(4) What did you think of the two trick plays?

Liked them. About 2 a game is good. Mixed in with some misdirection, it keeps the defense honest.

abraham said...

SD,

Much appreciate your prompt and satisfactory responses to my questions, though I am disappointed to learn that the OLine wasn't as impressive as I thought from watching the game. After reading your responses one question came to my mind, does this teams have a bread and butter play?

abraham said...

SD,

I know I have been asking too many questions and I apologize, bottom line this is I have no faith in no other blog. Anyways I was also hoping to read in your upcoming review about your thoughts regrading a position that seems to be neglected by everyone in all the talk about our OLine, FULLBACK! From what I have seen so far Eric Stevens has not been a very reliable blocker at all, down right mediocre in my opinion. Again much appreciate your work and look forward to your review. Thanks.

Papi said...

Your comments are always inciteful, and stimulates more thought - - here is a little that come to my mind:
Cal deserved to win, but the offense was a little too conservative, I think. OK, we don't have the same big play talent in full bloom yet, and QB is still an average position for us, but we need to open it up more. We aren't a grind it out team, and shouldn't try to be - - it isn't our character and it leaves too much on the shoulders of the placekickers - - not a good thing for any team usually, and not really 'football americana', more like 'football italiana', no pun intended on Tavecchio! Anyway, as an Cal 'newbie' fan on the East Coast, forced to watch on delayed recording or online, I was pleased to see how well Cal played D and hung in there with a good team at home - - nice recovery from the Nevada disaster which I did not see. Go Bears!

SD said...

Abe -

No need to apologize. As long as I have time, love to answer questions.

Re whether this team has a bread and butter play, I'd say right now, the closest thing I've seen is the zone run with a cutback option, and in terms of pass, the horizontal sideline pass to Jones in one-one-one coverage. Those don't work great, but they seem to be used consistently, and they seem to get the desired yardage more often than not.

Re the fullback position, yes, I'd say there are some growing pains there. I've noticed Riley needing to correct him in lining up at times, and he's definitely had his share of misses on blocks. I do think that in this offense, poor TE and FB blocking can really be an achilles heel.

That said, it's rare to see a guy be a dominating blocker at FB at Stevens' young age. He's definitely got the quickness for the position, and has no problem sticking his nose in there. If he can get better at his technique, he seems like he'll end up being fine.

SD said...

Papi --

Ben detto. Grazie per il tuo commento. Come ti piace il mio italiano? "Google translate" funziona abbastanza bene, non credi?

I am on the fence on this issue. The Arizona game obviously left a lot of fans feeling like the offense, by being more methodical, put too much pressure on the defense and kicker. And unfortunately, when you do that, you tend to squander hard earned confidence.

On the other hand, against some of the more quick strike offenses, you almost have to be able to grind clock unless you are supremely confident you can match them score for score. I don't this offense can trade scores with Oregon or Arizona, thus I think it probably needs to grind a bit more against those teams. Otherwise, you risk going three and out and getting down more scores.

But against most of the rest of the conference, I need to see more data on this Cal team. If they can find ways to wear teams down in the second half, or if they think they've got a defense they can trust in crunch time, then yes, I think they should take more chances on offense.

But as well as the defense has played, it still gave up a game winning drive against AZ. If I'm Tedford, I am not sure I trust that defense to close out a game just yet. Not sure I trust my kicker, or my QB for that matter, either - yikes.

I think right now, I trust Shane Vereen and OL the most. Not sure where that leaves us, but I think we'll know more after UCLA.

Jacob said...

Random thought of the day: Riley used to be an ok runner his two first seasons. How would the "Pistol" fit Cal on offense? We have great depth at running back, but not quite enough talent on WR. Would the pistol make it harder for opposing teams to cover Shane Vereen et. all?

J

SD said...

J -

I really see three questions there.

1. How would the pistol fit Cal on offense?

My answer is I think it would fit decently well if they decided to put it in after this season, although not 100% like Nevada. I could see it being effective as a large part, even the majority of, their base run package. Cal has some quick, mobile QBs, and its OL has some athleticism as well. Meshed with some of its pro-style elements, I think it could make the offense much more difficult to defend on first and second down.

2. Is Riley a good fit for it?

Not really. You need a guy who can accelerate quickly if he's going to run. Riley is a scrambler, but he's not what I'd call quick. Also, it's way too late to add that into the mix. The pistol takes time to get comfortable with. I could see a few plays here and there, much like the option package Cal used to use in goal line.

3. Would the pistol make it harder to defend Vereen?

Yes, if the Cal QB that ran it (hypothetically) were a legitimate running threat. If the QB rarely keeps, everyone will just key on Vereen. Cal would need to show that the QB run needed to be respected in order for Vereen to break free.

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