As you can tell from these photos I took, it was hard to observe much of anything.
I've never sat up there for a game, but I feel pretty confident that Tightwad Hill has a comparable view of Cal Football to what I had in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night. Anyway, Hydro has already covered much of what I would have to say about the game, but here are a few thoughts of my own:
• Phantom Touchdown II? I couldn't say for sure. I don't know what you guys who watched the game on TV were able to see on the reply, but I'm sure it was a darn sight better than what I could see from my seats. And I've got better than 20/20 vision, so I really feel for all the people sitting near me without excellent eyesight.
I can say that the in-stadium replay angle wasn't really conclusive; I remember it being mostly behind the receiver, where his body shielded us from seeing whether the ball hit the ground or not. It was definitely questionable, and I would have liked to see some other angles, but if that's all the evidence Tedford had to go on if he was deciding to challenge, I can see where he might have hesitated. Of course, by the time I got a text from a friend watching back home saying "Totally not a catch on that TD...", the extra point had long been kicked.
I will commend the LA Coliseum staff for consistenty showing replays in the stadium, even after questionable calls where the home team might have benefited from an oversight. I've been to more than a couple stadiums that refused to show a replay precisely when the visiting crowd wanted to see it most (Arizona comes immediately to mind), and their accomodation was much appreciated, especially given my distant vantage point.
• Reading the postgame threads after I got back Sunday night, I saw a lot of carping about how bad our offense was. Backs, receivers, linemen, everyone got grief. And there's no way to sugarcoat this: Cal's offense was not good. 3 points, even against a defense as fearsome as the Trojans, is pretty unacceptable, and not many games are won with a solitary field goal (Auburn's 3-2 "masterpiece" over Mississippi State being a glaring exception).
Still, I think you have to give a lot of credit to the Trojans' defense; Cal will not face a better D all year, and there are good arguments to be made that USC has the best defense in the nation. Cal's running game, which looked to be at least decent against a solid Oregon defensive front, got absolutely nothing going against USC, as Cal's makeshift line was pushed around and pressured all night, leaving very little in the way of running room for Best and Vereen. Forced to go to the air, Longshore was accurate if unspectacular (lots of screens and swing passes that, while complete, didn't go anywhere), and while Riley at least kept USC's secondary more honest, a combination of good coverage and scattershot throws kept the Bears from sustaining much second-half momentum.
Of course, no effusive praise of the 'SC defense can excuse the numerous unforced errors by the Cal offense: drive-killing (and touchdown-negating) penalties such as false starts, illegal snaps, and illegal formations. If you're going to beat a team like USC (or even Oregon State) on the road, these sorts of mistakes are simply unacceptable.
• I'm a big fan of the 'Block "C"'. Too bad my camera only has a 3x zoom.
• Speaking of ineffectual offense, perhaps the biggest theme of the night was that Cal was playing catch-up in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations all night. By my count the Bears had 23 1st down plays Saturday night, and they gained a total of 1 yard on those 23 plays. 3 sacks hurt (as did Nate falling over for a loss of 5 yards), but simply handing off the ball wasn't much better. Excluding Nate's dive, the Bears ran on their first seven 1st downs, gaining a total of 10 yards. Faced with this lack of production, Tedford/Cignetti then turned to the air, running a passing play on 10 of their next 15 1st downs, but 6 of those passes went incomplete, Riley was sacked 3 times, and just 1 pass was completed for a gain of 5 yards, for a grand total of -16 yards. With putrid results like these, Best up the middle for 2 yards doesn't seem so bad.
Even worse, the Bears commited 6 penalties on 1st down, leaving them with far too many 1st and 15, 1st and 20, or even 1st and 25 situations. Fortunately, the Bears were able to pick up another 1st down in 3 of those cases, each time due to a USC penalty that resulted in an automatic 1st down.
In all, the Bears gained more than 3 yards on 1st down just 3 times all night, and not once did they gain 10 or more to pick up another 1st down. Ugh.
• The flying wedge to begin the Cal Band's pregame show.
• Overall, I was quite disappointed at the amount of vitriol U$C fans directed towards me. Usually, I run into a number of moronic trust fund babies who've been shotgunning haterade all day and love to yell at me and my friends all sorts of nasty epithets that aren't worth repeating. Not this time, though. Instead, I got a lot of "you guys played a good game" and such, as though a whole lot of people are reading Conquest Chronicles or something. I don't get it; what happened to the '$C I knew and despised?
In fact, the worst display of fan behavior I saw came from Cal fans. I was at a burrito stand called El Chanos on South Figueroa after the game, where you're litereally on the sidewalk when you're ordering. A number of USC fans were there also (as well as a couple local cops), so it wasn't really a surprise when a car full of Cal fans sped by and drunkenly shouted obcenities out their window, followed by a "Go Bears!" Real classy, guys. It's onr thing to trash talk opposing fans, even after a loss -- I have no problem with that -- but I find it quite disappointing when it's done from a fast-moving car towards people on the sidewalk. Such people seem like cowards who can dish it but won't even stay to take it, and that's only if their drunkenly garbled trash talk can actually be understood, which isn't always the case.
As it turned out, one of those $C fans was, in fact, QB Mark Sanchez (who's an authentic Mexican-American, so you know the burrito place had to be good). He had a few friends with him, but oddly enough (so soon after the game), no teammates. He was nice and patient, however, with all the fans wanting pictures with him while waiting for his celebratory post-game burrito. In fact, he agreed to take a second picture with a female fan after I inadvertently walked in front of the first one. Somewhere out there, there's a picture of Mark Sanchez and a female admirer, dominated in the foreground by the side of my head; I want that picture. In any case, Sanchez seemed like a nice guy, and no, he didn't seem phased by the Cal fans telling him off as they drove by. Once again, USC foiled my attempt to feed the flames of my hatred for them. DAMN YOU, TROJANZ!!!
• For some reason, the Oregon State flag on top of the Coliseum was flying upside-down. Still bitter at the Beavers much?
• I think that, given the opponent, Cal played a pretty good game. Maybe the Bears might have taken a couple fewer false start penalties had they been playing in Berkeley, but I don't feel that the outcome would have been drastically different. Overall, however, it's hard to ignore the Bears' struggles on the road. Under Tedford, Cal is 33-9 at home, but on the road, they are just 19-19. Over the past three years, the divide is even more stark; the Bears are 16-2 in Memorial Stadium, but a mere 5-10 in their opponents' house. Tedford's teams have thrice finished with a winning record on the road, including 2002, when they were nowhere near as talented as they are now, and 2005, admittedly a tough year all around, but have failed to do so since. I can't claim to know the reason, but the Bears, if they're going to take the next step, have to play better on the road.
For me personally, it hasn't been very rewarding either. I have always traveled with the team a fair bit, and while it's never been great, it's been getting worse. Under Tedford, the Bears are 12-3 in road games that I don't attend, but just 7-16 when I do make the effort to travel (including 0-7 in Los Angeles). And it's been getting worse. Over the past 3 years, I've attended 10 Cal road games, and the Bears are 1-9 in those games. So why do I keep going? Why do I keep making the effort, when I'm so little compensated? Well, that one win over the past three years was the epic victory at Oregon last year. As time passes, the losses fade into the background, but wins like that stay with you forever. When Marcus Ezeff caused the fumble into and out of the end zone, thanks to my terrible seats in Autzen Stadium, I was in perfect position to see it. I knew immediately that it was a touchback. The hugging and the screaming and the gleeful chants of "That's Our Ball!" are the things that keep you going as a Cal football fan.
Just so you know, though, I'm not driving to Oregon State this weekend. For this reason, I fully expect our Bears to come away from Corvallis victorious.
• I'll finish up by posting a few pictures that should give you a panoramic idea of how far from the action my seats were. Notice, in particular, how my seats are not only behind the end zone, but almost behind the makeshift bleachers holding the Trojan band behind the end zone. And I didn't even have the worst seats in the Cal rooting section. Terrible.