Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oregon recap

If Charles Dickens were a Cal fan, he'd say it was a great game and an awful game. Even the haters had to come away from this game with a modicum of relief, if not optimism. Cal did all the things most people thought they wouldn't, and couldn't - they stopped the big play, they gave Mansion time to throw, they ran the ball with some consistency, and most importantly, they showed grit. They made the #1 team in the country look ordinary, not with trick plays, smoke and mirrors, or luck, but just good old fashioned hickory ass-whipping.

But they also colossally choked on the biggest stage, and those chokes were the difference in the outcome. Even the most delusional leg tinglers have to be in agony replaying the gaffes that cost this team what would have perhaps been the signature win of the Tedford era, if not the last couple decades since the Play. From the fumble, to the drops, to the missed FG, to the emasculating 9 minute drive to close it out, this game had some raw, un-hideable ugliness to it.

With that, some observations:


Finally, Pendergast did two things I have been waiting for:

(1) scheme around this group's speed, and
(2) drop the nonperforming 4th OLB spot.

It's still a player's game, and Pendergast finally found the right personnel group and highlighted their skill set well. He stayed with a 5th DB and got 8 fast players on the field behind the DL, turned them loose in man, and eliminated the read element. And while it is insane that it took this long to get the poor 4th OLB spot off the field, better late than never. Cal doesn't have a legit OLB opposite Kendricks who can stop the run, and it killed them in the losses this year against teams that attacked the edge. Let's hope we don't see it vs. Stanford, or it will be a blood-letting.

It also cannot be overstated the importance of having Mohamed healthy again for the first time since really the beginning of the season. He and Conte were everywhere and it made a difference. Mohamed was a shell of himself vs. Nevada, SC and OSU and got totally swallowed up in the wash in those games.

The DL also made the rest of the defense look good, by doing nothing more than being bigger, faster and stronger, and playing unafraid. Oregon's blocking schemes are about getting the defensive front moving and spread out, to create huge lanes and mismatches. When the DL smacks the OL around, it neutralizes the whole "space" element of Kelly's offense. Not too revolutionary, but still requires talent up front, which Cal happens to have. Again, coaches are important, but talent wins the day in the key matchups.

Finally, they played with heart. I still think this group is a bit flighty, but when they suck it up and lock in, they are impressive to watch. Glad that one showed up this weekend.

I actually attribute a lot of the flat play in the losses to how the early part of the game goes, particularly how the offense responds early. This defense clearly feeds off the performance of both offenses early in the game. While that is no excuse for a defense to fold early, Cal wouldn't be the first team to have that problem.

Which brings me to the offense...


Tedford better address the stench and rot coming from the offense this offseason with antiseptic and napalm, because it needs to be cleaned out and reborn. First off, the drops are no longer a fluke. They are a fixture of this offense, regardless of who's doing the throwing and who's doing the catching. And they have been for three years now. While clearly, there is a lack of natural receiver talent in terms of hands, there is also an undeniably consistent lack of the same skill across the corps, which indicates poor skills coaching. Daft needs a hard look.

Second, during the entire second half, the ball should have been alternating Vereen, Allen, Ross, with as little intermediary touching as possible, over and over again. I cannot understand how Allen and Ross had so few touches. Those guys are playmakers, but they need to get into the flow of the game. Ross' best plays in particular come after he's had a few touches. Ludwig made some great play calls that were blown up by poor execution, but he undoubtedly left yards and points on the field by leaving his playmakers in dry dock at the critical moments of the game.


I said before the SC game that because Tavecchio was not reliable, Tedford should tell the team all week they plan on going for it in the red zone. That would give everyone confidence that they had 4 downs to get their 10, and just needed to chip away slowly. As it turned out, that was never an issue vs. SC.

But it was on Saturday. I don't blame Tavecchio for this loss, for several reasons. First off, the most costly mistakes of this game, bar none, were Vereen's fumble and Hill's blown coverage on Maehl the very next play. Two total breakdowns that turned the scoreboard around.

Second, Tedford and Ludwig KNEW Tavecchio was not reliable. Yes it was a chip shot, and yes he should have made it, but he hasn't been making kicks. At some point, it's no longer a high percentage play. It's a crapshoot. And once it's a crapshoot, why go for 3 only? Go for 6, either by going for it, or by faking the FG. This game was the perfect game to fake a FG.

Finally, this game should never have come down to the kicker. Cal had so many chances to complete passes and rip off big gains, only to badly blow an assignment. I guess my point is this - having a kicker with the shanks is about like having no kicker at all. So stop using him, and tell the offense to operate as if they are going to have to get 6 if they want points. It's amazing what genuine need will do for motivation.


It's hard to believe a single guard makes a difference, but Summers Gavin does. Schwenke is an upgrade over Cheadle on the right side, and Summers Gavin is an upgrade over Schwenke on the left. Plus, now Guarnero's poor blocking is book-ended by good blocking. I get that MSG needed to get healthy, but it is ridiculous it took this long to put him in at guard. But again, better late than never. I expect him to do some damage this weekend.

The OL deserves a tip of the cap. They put on a couple impressive drives running the football. And it is amazing this group only gave up one sack. Next year, with Galas at C, Rigsbee at LT, and Schwartz at RT (his natural position), plus MSG and Schwenke, this OL should actually be pretty good.

I guess my final thought is this. I never thought Oregon was as unstoppable as their stats have indicated. While I love what Chip Kelly has done to exploit some inefficiencies in the college game, I am not enamored with that offense. Option offenses always get stopped eventually. Good for the Ducks for getting their business handled, but for me, this game was ultimately about a team that is no more talented than Cal coming to Memorial and stealing a win, which really should not have happened. And it happened because the Cal offense - its head coach's supposed forte - wet itself on national TV.

This is all by way of saying what I said before: Tedford needs to take the offense back, train up his QBs the old way, and demand perfection from the group. Or else he needs to find an offensive guru and let him install his own system.

That's all for now. I'll try to get some thoughts about Stanford up later in the week.


Bear with Fangs said...

Nice post as usual.

A few thoughts:

1) Agree in that it was one of the o-line's better performances of the season. And in fact, I think the one sack surrendered was when Mansion tripped in the backfield trying to get the first down on a scramble. So you can't pin that one on him either.

2) You mentioned Vereen's fumble and the Maehl TD as the most costly mistakes. What about the punt return? I'm surprised you didn't make any mention of this.

3) I'd also like to hear your thoughts as to whether you're confident that this indeed isn't still Tedford's offense. Sure, he doesn't call the plays, but I still get the sense that the offensive gameplan and schemes are still very much Tedford and not Ludwig.

Bear with Fangs said...

Sorry, I meant you can't pin the sack on the o-line.

SR said...

The lack of a true emotional leader on the special team
resulted in a failure to call a timeout before Oregon could get their two pt conversion from an unusual formation. The Bears could have used a break to get their heads together.

Dickie V would have been yelling: "T.O, T.O Baby!"

Anonymous said...

After Tavecchio misses, camera shows him on the sideline with a football under his arm, just standing there, thinking and stewing about his miss...There's still time left and i'm thinking we may call on him again, and he's not going to be ready!! At least get him to practice kicking into a net--anything to get his mind off the miss. This is on the special teams coach and Tedford.

Anonymous said...


John Flores said...

I am very concerned with the lack of offensive production over the last three years. I agree that Tedford needs to really consider letting Daft, Marshall, and Ludwig go. Remember most Oregon and Utah fans weren't very sad to see Ludwig go and right now I can see why.

This is probably the best group of WR's that we have had since the Big 3 (Jackson, RoJo, and Hawk) and they still can't catch the ball. Plus, this is seems to be a reoccurring theme with all the WR's we have had since the Big 3 left which makes me believe it is due to a lack of quality coaching.

I am also very concerned with our backup RB position. I wasn't sold on Isi as our backup when the season started and I am still still skeptical of the kid. He did not get ONE carry last Saturday against Oregon. I thought he would get atleast one carry after the Vereen fumble.

Tedford needs to take over the offense again or hire a new young OC and give him complete control As you mentioned, Tedfords strength has been his offensive knowledge, yet offense has been inconsistent at best and a complete let down over the last two seasons.

I agree that KA, Jones, and Ross should have gotten the ball more. We were clearly having issues getting them the ball in the passing game, so why not try to get it in their hands in the running game. We had the one end around to Jones but never tried something similar with KA. How about a reverse to KA?

Has Tedford ever called a fake FG or punt while he has been our coach? People make fun of Les Miles all the time but he is willing to take chances with fake FGs and they have worked. As they say, fortune favors the bold.

I am not sure we can expect our offense to be any better next season, especially if we bring back Marshall, Daft, and Ludwig. Plus throw in losing Vereen to the draft (our only offensive play maker that is actually used) and breaking in a new QB is a recipe for another season of offensive ineptitude.

Anonymous said...

Great article. i REALIZED 2 THINGS, 1 HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO HAVE A GOOD KICKER. 2ND, Cal plays really well with their yellow jersies, especially against UCLA.

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