Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Brief UC Davis Observations

1. The Aggies. I came away impressed. Not with their athleticism - that was about what I expected, and they really were no match for Cal physically. But they were very disciplined, composed, well coached, and well-conditioned. When CaL was on offense, Davis was really only outfoxed badly on one play - the first TD to Vereen. That is a very tough play to defend, both because of the pump fake off the screen look, and because of the route combination downfield. As we all recall - painfully - SC was totally befuddled on a variation of that play in 2008, so no shame in getting beat on that one.

Facing Cal's defense, UC Davis picked up the pressure pretty well. In fairness, Cal wasn't mixing it up that much, but they were bringing pressure from a variety of placeS, on a variety of down-distance combos, and with a lot of speed. Davis never really missed on a guy, and no one every really got a totally clean shot on the QB.

I am by no means saying that this makes Cal's victory more impressive, as I will get to in a minute. I am simply saying that the Aggies deserve some serious credit for being a very tightly run team in all phases.

2. Let's not get too excited. And I don't think too many people are. Blowouts over FCS teams and lower echelon "C" programs in D-1 are always tricky in terms of being much of an indicator. On the one hand, you play whomever is on the schedule, and you accomplish your goal if you dominate them on the scoreboard and stat sheet. On the other hand, if all you do is out-athlete them, and blow them up with big plays, how much does it really say about how you'll play tougher teams down the road?

I don't take a lot away from this game in terms of how good our offense, defense and special teams will be. I really don't. The game plans on both sides were vanilla. Plays that were designed to go for 7 yards were going for 15. The lines up front were disrupting everything Davis wanted to do from the moment of the snap, before the ball even got into anyone's hands. And the performance of most of the players occurred on a cloud of confidence they won't have during conference play.

Let's enjoy the W, but in the words of Denny Green, let's not crown their ass just yet.

3. Pendergast's Defense. Again, can't deduce too much, as Davis wasn't running anything fancy, and rarely got Cal into any tough, pressure moments, like inside the 20 or 3rd/4th and short, or needing a stop badly to overcome a deficit. Those are the moments where you really learn about a defense. With that said, I liked the constant pressure on every series. At its basic level, it's less passive than a read and react defense. A defense should practice all week like they expect to control the game. There is nothing like a pressure defense to instill that.

I also liked the use of 2 down linemen at times. Rushing three is a waste of a player in many cases. I also liked how fast safeties and linebackers played whent they brought pressure. They looked possessed coming through the line which is what you're supposd to do.

4. Pass coverage issues. It's a little tricky to call those almost-completions failures on the part of the Cal defense. On the one hand, you have to think Andrew Luck completes some of those balls. On the other hand, the QB was either rushed or the WR was going to get punished on most of them. While I think the pressure will probably contribute to more than a few misses this season, I come down a little more on the skeptical side for now, because I still think this secondary lacks any true playmakers or blanket cover guys right now. And a good offense will exploit that.

5. Riley needs to stay healthy. I know Sweeney was a little nervous, but consider this. Longshore was exactly where Sweeney is now when he started the 2006 season. If Riley goes down tomorrow, do you see Sweeney putting up the following numbers over the next four weeks?

Minnesota 22/31 - (71.0) - 300 - 4 - 0 - 194.84
Portland St. 24/37 - (64.9) - 309 - 2 - 1 - 147.45
Arizona St. 18/26 - (69.2) - 270 - 4 - 1 - 199.54
@ #21 Oreon St. 22/31 - (71.0) - 341 - 4 - 1 - 199.50

Right now, I don't. Yes, things could change. And he's the best option Cal has. But this is not 2004 or 2008, where there are two viable options at QB.

6. Player performances of note:

JP Hurrell - The guy was an absolute animal on special teams. He was in on almost every special teams coverage tackle.

Tyler Rigsbee - After falling off the radar with the injury, you could finally see why he was so highly touted. His footspeed and quickness were impressive, and showed the kind of athleticism this you need (and frankly Cal doesn't have) at left tackle right now. It remains to be seen if he can dominate DEs in the run game, but in terms of getting downfield and in pass blocking, he looks good.

DJ Holt - Have to admit, I've been a skeptic, but I was pleasantly surprised. Seemed much less hesitant, more instinctive. He can't afford to be a step slow the way Kendricks or Mohamed can. Let's hope he's turned the corner.

Edwards - I think Edwards is a fine player, but this team needs MSG back in the lineup if it is going to dominate both sides. Edwards is a good pass blocker and has nice quick feet. But he's not a bulldozer.

Guarnero - See Edwards. Galas showed some promise, and seems a bit stronger than Guarnero, but his size still seems to hold him back like Guarnero's does. This team needs a more dominant center.

Top 6 DL plus Tipoti - As impressive a 2-deep at DL as I have ever seen in a Cal uniform. All these guys looked physically intimidating. The recruiting has been stellar at this position. And with guys like King and Kaufusi waiting in the wings, things look good.

Wilkerson - Everyone seems to have noticed this kid. He's got that electric way of hitting people that just catches your eye. Definitely a natural. I expect to see a lot of him this season.

7. And here I thought this was going to be a no-name grinder offense. In his first start, in one half, all Keenan Allen did was make two plays that no other player on that team could have made. It really shouldn't have come as a surprise - the last true freshman to start on offense for Tedford was Jackson, and we all know what he did in his first game. It should be fun watching Keenan do his thing the next three seasons.


Anonymous said...

Clearly we'll learn a lot more about the Bears after next Saturday.
A former Cal running back who sits behind me noted that Allen is not just a gifted athlete but a player who "knows what he's doing out there."
I was mostly pleased that our kickoffs were getting inside the Aggie ten, even the five.
Agree about Sweeny, he looks like he'd have happy feet and take off running under any pressure. Riley, if nothing else, has shown increasing patience over the years. In fact, Sweeny and Riley seem a lot alike.
Thanks as always for your excellent analysis.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I have learned a lot from you.

A question I have is do you think Cal's offense will benefit from practicing against the new pressure defense?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your assessments of Edwards and Guarnero. It's really hard to tell if these guys just can't execute the technique being taught, or if they're not being taught a technique. Either way, I don't see the o-line configuration as it was against UCD taking us too far. I hope MSG gets healthy and takes control of the RT spot.

david said...

Thoughtful review, thanks.

Agreed that it's wise not to get overly giddy about a big victory over an over-matched opponent eg Maryland 2009. But I concur that Davis should get props for playing disciplined ball from snap to final whistle.

The 2-4-5 was an interesting variation on the nickle D as it allows more options when bringing 4-6 pass rushers. Gregory used to drop a d-lineman on occasion in the nickle, but would end up rushing 3-4 guys. Toast.

I believe we have the athletes to have an effective back 4; Hagan was a playmaker as a soph and looks to be back in form. Williams has shown excellent cover skills in practice and the fact that Anthony is starting says much about Anthony. These three and Nnabuife who has been in the program and playing for 3 years, have a lot to prove, but IMHO have the physical tools to succeed.

I also like our safeties, even with the surprise starting tandem of Conte and Josh Hill. Cattouse was the favored starter, but has a fight on his hands to reclaim his position. None of the safeties are speed guys, but Conte and Hill are smart, and above average tacklers.

Nice call out of Rigsbee. So many on the boards are ready to bury guys who can't break the two-deeps as RS frosh. He's had a solid fall camp and looked like he has potential at the critical left tackle position. He looks well head of Demartinis who struggled at right tackle in relief of Edwards. That's part of the reason why I think MSG when healthy will play RT, with Edwards able to back-up multiple positions.

Papi said...

highlights were fun to watch, and your analysis is out of my league, as usual, but certainly, Keenan Allen was an obvious standout, though the stats say everyone was. Dominating a lesser opponent doesn't tell you much except that the team was prepared well and the execution says they were not mailing it in. I am hopeful for Riley as he has not lived up to his promise of a couple of years back. And Cal is on TV here in Philly, albeit on replay at 2 AM! Go Bears!

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