Archive for the ‘Cal Bears Football’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Berkeley Bears Edition

June 1, 2009

Time for a look at the Berkeley Bears. Coming off a nine-win ’08 season that saw some major ups, including an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami, still something was, oh, I don’t know, missing. Maybe it’s because of the talent that Cal rolls out every week, which rivals only USC and Oregon for tops in the conference? Maybe it’s the super-genius tag applied to Jeff Tedford and his staff’s ability to recruit with the big boys, year after year? It’s hard to figure out.

The reality is that Cal is, quite simply, an upper-echelon program under Tedford. They’ve won at least seven games every year since 2002, including 10 wins in ’02 and ’06. Tedford hasn’t disappointed in bowl games either, now 5-1 in the postseason in his time at Cal. But while bowl games (and wins) are nice, still, you add it all up and there is one major thing left on the to-do list – a BCS bowl in the Tedford regime.

Will that change this year? Can they actually kick down that door to BCS fame-n-fortune? Or will they flirt with greatness, yet settle in once again to ten-nine-eight-win world? Read on for more…

2008: 9-4, 6-3 in the PAC-10. Started out pretty good, but hit some snags in early November, losing back-to-back games at USC and Oregon State. At 6-4, there were worries that Cal might be headed for a bit of a 2007 relapse, where the team folded up the tents after running into some mid-season adversity. But Cal rallied, winning their last three games, including the Emerald Bowl, to post a very respectable nine wins.

FANS ARE: Pretty pleased with where things are. They haven’t yet had a losing season with the current regime, and Tedford has built a top-shelf program. Outside of their 7-6 struggle of ’07, Cal is always rated right there with Oregon as the top threats to USC, yet still looking up with the rest of the world at the Trojans. But the fans are also ready for a BCS bowl. To keep things going in a great direction, a New Years day appearance would go a long way towards shortening the gap even more between themselves and the men of Troy.


OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Basically a pro-set with a fullback and tight-end, but a lot of different formations and looks. Cal might be a bit hot-n-cold in the passing game on a yearly basis, but their staples are always a strong, deep running game spearheaded by excellent offensive line play. While o-line coach/offensive assistant Jim Michalczik has moved on to UW, and then the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, things should still be business as usual. Let’s face it, the offense is Tedford’s baby, and regardless of coaching titles and such, it will remain his stamp on the program for as long as he resides in Berkeley.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 4th in the PAC-10 in scoring (32.6 ppg), 5th in total offense, and 4th in rushing offense. Not as great as many felt they would be early in ’08, but still, pretty impressive. The downside was the passing offense, just 7th in the league with 189.8 yards per game.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7, including top backs Jahvid Best and Share Vareen, and QB Kevin Riley.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This is a layup. Jahvid Best is the top player on the team, the top running back in the PAC-10, and a sure Heisman candidate. The stats are extremely impressive (1580 rushing yards, 15 TD’s). But the yards per carry were an eye-popping 8.1, a school record! Think about that. That’s just 1.9 yards short of a first down, EVERY TIME HE CARRIED THE FOOTBALL! (Obligatory Youtube highlight in three…two…one….)

He finished the year on fire, including an amazing 311 yards rushing against the hapless Washington rushing defense. But it wasn’t just UW who he skewered down the stretch. Best would total 698 rushing yards in his last three games. A decent receiving threat with 246 yards receiving, Best was number two in the country in total yards per game. Oh yeah, he also had seven runs of at least 60 yards last year, including three that went for 80+. The man just defines explosive.

Now, the bad news – health. I liken Best to Achilles.

You know, just a fabulous specimen capable of pretty much anything you can conceive, yet he has that one soft spot on the heel that can bring him down. And health has not been Best’s buddy, with various ailments over the last couple of years that have somewhat kept him in check. Best missed spring ball with foot and elbow surgeries, but he should be ready to roll in August. A healthy Best could be the difference between the likes of the Emerald Bowl or something much, much bigger in ’09.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A tricky defense led by former Coug Bob Gregory, Cal throws tons of different looks at you. Most likely you’ll see a lot of 3-man fronts, with zone blitzing, etc.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: #2 in the PAC-10 in scoring defense, 4th in total defense, 3rd in rushing defense, and 5th in passing yards per game allowed. They were #3 in sacks with 35, and led the conference with an impressive 24 interceptions. An aggressive, upper-division defense.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: An impressive 8 starters return from last year’s defense.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: There is a lot of talent here, however there are some big shoes to fill. Top linebackers and leading tacklers Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder have all moved on from Berkeley. Follett’s loss could be enormous, as he totaled 87 tackles, an amazing 23.5 for loss with 10.5 sacks last year. He won’t be easy to replace. But all that said, corner Syd’Quan Thompson is back, and one heck of a talent. Not just a reputation as one of the top two or three defensive backs in the PAC-10 returning this season, but he’s a pretty good special teams guy as well:

Thompson had a big year in ’08, with 70 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and a team-high four interceptions. But the best part is that Thompson will have plenty of help next season. The entire starting secondary is back, so you have to believe they’ll continue their ball-hawking ways in ’09.

1) Can the defense overcome the loss of the big-time linebackers in Follett, Williams and Felder? Normally this would be a big concern, but maybe not so much for Cal. Why? Well, for one, they are super-deep at defensive line. Literally everyone is back up front, and that will be a huge boost to keeping the linebackers free to flow to the ball and make plays. As many people know, the linebackers on any defense are often only as good as the talent in front of them. If you have push-over defensive linemen, then the opposing offensive linemen can get out and put their hats on the linebackers. But if you have strength up front, the linebackers can do what they do best – run and hit. And while they will have three new faces at linebacker, they might not be in a better situation to break in as starters than what they have up front coming into ’09.

2) Is Kevin Riley going to take a big step forward this year? Or is he the true “Achilles heel” for Cal’s ’09 season? Riley was, to be fair, inconsistent in ’08. He averaged just 123.6 yards passing per game last year, which is not exactly top-notch. He took care of the ball, throwing 14 TD’s with six int’s. But even with that strong running game and an outstanding offensive line, he still completed barely more than 50% of his passes. Needless to say, but that isn’t getting the job done.

Riley also shared the job with Nate Longshore, but Longshore has now graduated. Besides, it can be hard to get a strong feel on how a QB will do when he isn’t looking over his shoulder every time he throws an incomplete pass? But even with Longshore out of the way, there is some uncertainty surrounding the QB spot coming into the season. There wasn’t a ton of ringing endorsements for Riley coming out of spring. And there are some younger QB’s who will push him, with the huge sophomore Brock Mansion and talented redshirt frosh Beau Sweenety. So like it or not, it is sink-or-swim time for Riley.

3) What is with the schedule? They open with Maryland at home, which is a game they will probably be favored to win, revenge-style from last year’s thrashing in the Terps’ backyard. After hosting Eastern WA in a likely “stat game”, they face a tough stretch, where they’ll go to Minnesota and at Oregon, in a game that could go a long way towards the PAC-10 title. And that game at Minnesota might be tricky. You know, changing a few time zones and facing an opponent they might not take too seriously with Oregon looming the following week? You think about what happened to Cal at Maryland last year (35-27 loss) and you have to wonder a little bit. But after Oregon, they open up October with the biggie, a home showdown with USC. All told, Cal has five PAC-10 road games, so it could be a tough road to the top.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Earlier this spring I wasn’t so sure about Cal. Maybe it was the loss of the top linebackers, or the fact that Riley at QB wasn’t a sure thing. But after looking at them deeper, they look good. REALLY good.

While they lost some really good offensive linemen, and their top play-making linebackers, they still have a ton coming back on both sides of the ball. In fact, it could be said that of the likely top three in USC, Cal and Oregon, Cal has the most coming back for next year. That stretch of at Oregon and then hosting USC in back-to-back games is rough, but will be a huge two-week stretch in deciding who takes the PAC-10. After that October 3rd game with USC, if things go according to plan, Cal should be favored in every game the rest of the season (yes, I’m including the 10/24 game where they host WSU!).

I’m not exactly picking Cal to win this thing….at least not today. But if there IS going to be a year where USC fails to win the title for the first time since ’02, this could be the team that does it.

That’s it for today. ENJOY YOUR MONDAY, and GO COUGS!

2009 Schedule Now Complete; Pac-10 Good After All?

January 5, 2009

After some delays and speculation, including the “future” schedule just showing the 2008 season from the WSU website, things are finally complete. June Jones’ SMU Mustangs will come to Pullman on 9/19, completing the three game non-conference slate for the upcoming season.

SMU pretty much stunk in ’08, rolling out a 1-11 season in their first season under Jones. We’ll take a closer look at them this spring for our fish wrap series, but they struggled big-time. They did hang in there against bowl teams like Houston (44-38), Memphis (31-26) and Tulsa (37-31) but 1-11 is 1-11. Awfully bumpy. SMU was the only Conference USA team to not win a conference game, going 0-8, with their only victory was against Texas State, an FCS school out of the Southland conference.

The schedule also includes the news that Hawai’i will be the Seattle game opponent on September 12th. I don’t think this is a surprise to many, as it was rumored for some time that they would be the match-up in Seattle.

Here’s a question for you – Do you like the Seattle game? Hate it? I have to admit that I loved it at first and have liked it less over the last few seasons. But I think it is a necessary thing now and is here to stay. Even in some down years they have been drawing a decent crowd to Qwest, and it does give a lot of west side alums a chance to see the team. In these tough economic times, a trip from Seattle to Pullman might be harder to pull off next fall. Having the team come to Seattle makes sense, maybe more than ever. I just hope we never see a conference home game in Seattle. Make the conference travel to Pullman!

So that makes it Hawai’i, SMU and Notre Dame at San Antonio for the non-conference games. Then in the Pac-10, we have home games against Stanford, ASU, UCLA and Oregon State, with road games against Cal, Arizona, USC, Oregon and UW. Most likely opening up with Stanford in Pullman on 9/5, but that’s all we know right now. Dates and times TBA.

Moving on, so, how about that weak Pac-10? 5-0 in bowl games, including USC destroying Penn State in the granddaddy of them all. Speaking of USC, did you see what Rey Maualuga did to Erin Andrews before the game??

Whatever. EA ‘s taken a lot of crap for being attractive on the sidelines, from blogs to broadcasters to athletes. But it has to be said – fair or not, it more or less comes with the territory in the testosterone-elevated world where she works. It’s not fair, obviously, but it’s true. We’ve even made fun of her a few times, but nothing too bad. We like her. Quite a bit actually. But that wasn’t a real classy move by Rey. Remember, Maualuga once claimed “he owned the police” after an incident a few years ago in LA. To come up behind her and shimmy, with thousands of people watching? Again, whatever.

But anyway, the Pac-10 went 5-0 in the bowls? How could this happen after such a national beating the conference took in 2008? I think a big part of it is that, quite frankly, the Pac-10 was much, much better at the end of the season than it was in the beginning of the year. And the biggest reason? The QB situation. Think about it for a moment:

1) USC was starting a brand new QB in Mark Sanchez after John David Booty graduated. USC walloped Virginia in their opener, then beat an incredibly overrated Ohio State team in LA. But then they had to travel to Corvallis on a Thursday night and got beat by a fired-up Oregon State team. At the time that loss looked bad, and Sanchez was rather ordinary if not bad for about three quarters of that game. Yet Oregon State turned out to be a win away from the Rose Bowl. It wasn’t looked at as a “good” loss at the time, but by the end of the year it didn’t look too bad. That early-season road loss was their only blemish on their season. Mark Sanchez settled down after that first month of the year, and SC was rarely threatened the rest of the season. And a MAJOR hat-tip to Pete Carroll and USC. Did you know that they just had their SEVENTH season in a row with at least 11 wins!?!? A few years ago we ran with our media guide saying how great it was to win 10 games three years in a row. But 11 wins seven years in a row?? Unreal.

2) Oregon started over at QB, losing Heisman hopeful Dennis Dixon, and it was a big QB roulette early on. They blew it at home vs. Boise State when they played three different QB’s and didn’t even have the starter coming into the season, Justin Roper, due to injury. They were also hammered vs. USC and lost on the road vs. Cal, a team they never seem to beat. But they did end up going 6-1 over their last seven games, including the embarrassment in Corvallis and the Holiday Bowl shootout over Okie State. Oregon was considerably better in the last month of the season, and a ton of their improvement can be attributed to Jeremiah Masoli taking control of the QB position.

3) We know the tale of the Beavs. Two losses to start the year, including their pants being pulled down to their ankles vs. Penn State. But after starting 2-3, they finished with their usual kick, winning seven of their last eight games. We should also consider their tough three-point loss at Utah, a game by all accounts they should have won. The same Utah team that just completed a perfect season by trouncing the uninterested Crimson Tide and Nick Saban. But the Beavs had QB issues early on with some erratic play, including some injury issues from Lyle Moevao. Yet just another nine-win, bowl-winning season for Oregon State. Ho-hum.

4) Cal kind of slogged through the meat of the season, at one point 6-4 and looking pretty shaky. But they would win their last three, including their bowl game over Miami, to finish with an impressive 9-4 record. That said, their QB play was up-and-down all year. Some games they had Kevin Riley looking like the MAN (remember how good he looked vs. WSU?) and then other games, Nate Longshore would split the time, and there were moments where they both would kind of wander through games. A weird year for them, but they closed it out on top.

5) Finally, Arizona. They were the only team of the Pac-10 bowl teams who actually had a seasoned starter in Willie Tuitama. After a hot 4-1 start, they almost blew it, at one point at 6-5 and a showdown with ASU looming in what could have been a winner-take-all bowl bid (although that is unlikely. The Pac-10 didn’t fill all their bowl slots this year, so, any Pac-10 team with six wins was going to the post-season). But the Mildcats beat ASU for the first time in four years, and then won the Vegas Bowl over a bored BYU team to finish 8-5.

So there you have it. While the bottom two teams were pretty much automatic wins for every other team in the conference in ’08 (and we know which two teams were in the bottom ten for the majority of the season?!?), the end-result for the conference was pretty damn good. And all five bowl teams finished with a kick. USC 11 wins, Oregon 10 wins, Oregon State and Cal both with nine wins, and Arizona with eight. Not so bad is it?

That’s about it for a Monday. Enjoy your week, and GO COUGS!

Have Ya SEEN the Line?

September 2, 2008

Some quick things to get your week started after the holiday weekend.

  1. Have ya seen the betting line this week? Basically anywhere from 13 to 13.5 points in favor of Cal. Not sure if you follow betting point spreads, but to think the home team automatically gets three points out of the chute, they are saying that the action is on Cal winning by at least two TD’s. I know we see some crazy early-season lines, but even with just one game in the books in which we looked pretty inept for 3/4ths of the game, this seems pretty out there.

    To put it in proper context, we have only been this big of a home underdog twice since the turn of the century. In 2004, we got an amazing 24 points against USC, but they still covered in a 42-12 romp in the sleet and rain. But in 2006, we were a 16-pt dog to USC in Pullman, and only lost 28-22. And if you really want to dig in, we are 6-2 against the number in our last eight home games as a home underdog.

    But, then again….Vegas seems to know what they are doing, don’t they? They aren’t in the business of losing money. And truth be told, they aren’t saying that 13 or 13.5 is what they actually think Cal is going to win by. They are setting that number where they think they will get a lot of betting action on both sides of the line. So we’ll see, but this bears watching as the week rolls on.

  2. Speaking of Cal, they looked impressive week one, but they aren’t exactly USC are they? They did cough up 31 points at home to Michigan State, a Big 10 team that went 7-6 last year and returned only 13 starters, third fewest of any Big 10 team. However, MSU was bringing back their leading rusher and starting QB. But sophomore WR Mark Dell, who went off for over 200 yards receiving, had just 20 catches all of last year. If you are looking for something to feel good about offensively for this week, maybe this bodes well for Brandon Gibson??
  3. All the NFL stuff shook out over the weekend as final cuts were announced. Bumpus, as we thought, made the practice squad in a move that wasn’t a big surprise. We also heard some good things about Jed Collins, and sure enough, he landed with the Eagles practice squad. Finally, MKB made the Jags practice squad.

    Not so good for Alex Brink however. He was released, as the Texans are keeping just two QB’s, and at last report had NOT been signed to the practice squad. It’s too bad, because initially the buzz was pretty positive that he looked like a guy who could have an opportunity to at least stick with Gary Kubiak’s west-coast offense in Houston. But it wasn’t to be. Hopefully he’ll find his place in the NFL, but if not, well, good luck to the “BIG APPLE”.

  4. How about that Rick Neuheisel?? Our own Longball went out on a limb and picked them to win, 28-24, missing by only a point, while I went with the rest of the national media and was convinced Tennessee would smother the Bruins. Sure enough, even though Kevin Craft had a miserable FOUR-INT first half, he played great after halftime and the Bruins snuck one out.

    Still, you have to wonder how many of these types of games they can actually survive. Just 29 yards rushing, only 288 yards of total offense, four turnovers and they still win? Maybe there’s an issue with Tennessee opening up out west, where they lost for the second consecutive year (remember their loss at Cal last year?).

    UCLA didn’t escape the game unscathed, losing three big-time seniors in Kahlil Bell, Marcus Everett and Logan Paulson. Basically their best skill-position guys on the team. But yet again, we see that there’s actually a reason they play the games! Hardly anyone saw this coming, so, good call Longball.

That’s about it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with a full recap of Coach Wulff’s radio show tonight, plus some other stuff. Enjoy your Tuesday, and GO COUGS!

Is There Really That Much Improvement in Week Two?

September 1, 2008

For WSU, it’s time to look forward. Saturday’s loss is gone, and hopefully lessons were learned. The coach-speak of week one to week two will be on full display this coming Saturday, so, let’s see what happens.

Speaking of week one to week two improvement….is it actually true?? Mmmm, sort of. I looked back at the last five years of our games, starting with 2003, and in some cases it IS true, some, not so much.

2003: Beat Idaho 25-0 in Seattle, then lost to Notre Dame 29-26 in OT.
Note – They were sluggish at times vs. Idaho in Kegel’s first start since 2000. Lots of field goals in this one as the team struggled in the red zone. This was Cody Boyd’s first appearance and he looked great, blocking a couple of Idaho field goal attempts to preserve the shutout. Things were better early vs. the Irish, in a game they sprinted out to a huge lead but couldn’t hold on…in Ty Willingham’s first game at ND, and, current Seahawk RB Julius Jones ran wild in the second half vs. a tired WSU defense. But overall improvement? Not really.

2004: Slogged through a comeback win at New Mexico 21-17, then lost to Colorado 20-12 in Seattle.
Note: Swogger rallied the Cougs in his first-ever start vs. New Mexico, throwing two fourth-quarter TD’s. But the next week it all fell apart, as the WR’s dropped an amazing amount of passes in the first half (reportedly 8 or 9 true “drops”) and Swogger lost his cool. Brink comes in, gives them a spark yet also fumbles twice and throws an INT returned for a TD. Improvement?? NO.

2005: Struggled a bit with Idaho, winning just 38-26, but then went to Nevada and destroyed the Wolfpack 55-21 in week two.
Note: This might be the biggest example of how much better a team can look from week one to week two. The Idaho game was a weird one, with two TD’s in the first three minutes of the game for a lightning quick 14-0 lead. But then Idaho snuck back into it and made it interesting before WSU pulled away. But the week two blowout on the road was huge. Brink went crazy, the defense made plays, basically everything went well. The other side to the coin? That was also Nevada’s first game of the season, and they looked off in every way. What people forget is Nevada would go on to a bowl-winning season in 2005, looking absolutely nothing like the team we played in their season opener. Just a classic example of how different things can look from week one to week two. Improvement?? YES!

2006: Hung tough but blown out late, 40-14 at Auburn. Stormed back to crush Idaho 56-10 in week two.
Note: The end-result was great, sure. Week one was one of the worst-ever performances by Brink at WSU, just 11-for-24 for 67 yards (sound familiar to Gary’s line on Saturday?). We looked overwhelmed by the SEC speed. Idaho’s defense must have looked like statues compared to Auburn, and the results showed. We had over 300 yards of offense at the HALF, and would go on for an amazing 56 points and 637 total yards, including 344 rushing yards. But there is no other way to say it, other than Idaho was a BAD football team. This was Erickson’s first season, and they had a lack of talent and depth across the board. And let’s face it, that 2006 WSU team was one of our best non-bowl teams in recent history. Improvement? Yes.

2007: Hung tough with Wisconsin before getting blown out late, 42-21. Bounced back with a runaway victory in Seattle over San Diego State, 45-17.
Note: Just 328 total yards vs. Wisc but a whopping 654 yards vs. SD State, another huge offensive improvement. Brink had one of his best stat-games, throwing for 469 and 5 TD’s, as well as a school record 38 completions. The WR’s were unreal this day, as Gibson, Bumpus and Charles Dillon all went over 100 yards receiving, and made several spectacular catches along the way. Obviously the quality of the opponent has to be taken into consideration. Wisconsin was an excellent football team last year, while SD State? Still rebuilding, to put it kindly. And oh yeah, SD State’s season opener was our second game, and they did not look good. Improvement? Yes.

Bottom line: Week one to week two, at least in recent times, does look promising. But the quality of the opponent and the timing of when you play them has to be taken into consideration. Cal is a quality, bowl-winning team from 2007, just like Okie State. This isn’t Idaho or some other weakling to improve or shore up some issues. It’s out of the frying pan, into the fire this week.

Plus, let’s not get too excited after only one game. Beano Cook said it best on Saturday night, in that it is very easy to overvalue or undervalue things after just one game. You have to give it a few weeks and see how things settle down. Some teams look like world-beaters early on, but will come back to the pack over the next week or two. Meanwhile some teams look like they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but things can change in a big way the next week. It happens every year, so why should 2008 be any different?

Speaking of this week, let’s take a quick look at Cal to start off Labor Day.

Last week: Beat Michigan State 38-31. Offensively Cal was impressive, racking up 467 yards, including 264 yards passing and 203 yards rushing. Balance has been a staple with Jeff Tedford’s offense, and this was no exception. Cal’s young skill position guys were impressive, as both Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen went over 100 yards rushing. Vereen broke MSU’s heart with an 81-yard TD run with just over 4 minutes left, right after State cut the lead to seven, and that was the ballgame.

Cal’s QB controversy appears over, as Kevin Riley was in complete control with an efficient 17-for-24 for 202 yards and a couple of scores. Nate Longshore was 3-for-5 with 62 yards and a couple of INT’s, including one in the end zone on a throw he tried to force into triple coverage. Expect Riley to go the whole way this week, other than maybe one or two series out of Longshore just to keep him fresh.

The Cal defense was less than impressive however. Cal has switched to a new 3-4 defense, and MSU looked pretty good, with 23 first downs and over 400 yards of total offense, including 321 yards passing. Sophomore WR Mark Dell lit up the Cal secondary, catching nine balls for 202 yards, averaging 22 yards per catch.

He almost had one of the best TD catches you will ever see, but upon replay, they took the catch away as he didn’t quite have control of the ball. But he was unstoppable for much of this game.

One word of warning – Cal’s special teams could be a huge problem. Jahvid Best had over 100 yards in kickoff returns, including a long of 35 yards. He’s a home run threat anyway, every time he touches the football, but he’s the last guy you want to see getting a kickoff and blockers in front of him. Plus, Cal got a TD on a blocked punt for the first TD of the 2008 season, something that really fired them up. Finally, the Cal punter, frosh Bryan Anger, was amazing, with a net of 48 yards on four punts, including three downed inside the 20 and a long of 59.

As we all know, special teams can be the tipping point in a tight ballgame. Let’s hope things are cleaned up, fast, or else we could be in some big trouble.

Finally, hopes and prayers are sent our way towards the New Orleans – Gulf of Mexico area. Let’s hope the levees hold up. Thank God they evacuated so many people in advance, and the lessons learned from Katrina appear to be saving tons of lives. Good luck to you all.