I understand some of the frustrations mentioned by many Cal fans after our CRAZY escape from Tempe. Our offense lost a lot of steam as the game progressed, and the game was a lot closer than many of us hoped it would be. Some legitimate questions are raised - why did we underutilize "The Jet" in key situations? Why did Vereen get so few carries? Why is Jones getting fewer balls thrown his way and finally, why aren’t more Cal fans outraged at this victory (although if you surf the interwebs, you’ll find, like, a bajillion). I try to get the root of our offensive mishaps in our recent trip, offer some thoughts, and call for Cal fans to UNITE, CHILL, and LOVE Cal football for what it is.
Best is The Flash in cleats. He breaks ankles and takes names. Why was he underused against the Sun Devils?
1. We tried the run - as a team, we averaged a poor 1.8 yards per carry on roughly 30 attempts. Best only averaged 3.5 YPC and clearly was not seeing much daylight against a "STOP DA RUN RAWR!" defense. So what do we do this in situation? You adapted and found other ways to get our playmakers (Best and Vereen) the ball in space where they can do some damage. Case in point – Best had a total of 63 yards on 18 carries VS. 61 yards on SEVEN receptions. Also note that Best's touchdown came from a Riley pass. Given the fact that Best got banged up toward the end of the game, we tried to get the ball to Best about 25 times. I think Ludwig actually did a GOOD job at trying to utilize Best as best he could.
Vereen is another offensive weapon who seemingly got no love! What's the deal?
2. Vereen not getting enough carries, in my opinion, is due to a couple of factors:
#1 – his running style, while somewhat different from Jahvid’s, is not RADICALLY different. Seriously, if he wore a "4" jersey out there, an uninformed football fan would not even notice. If we had Toby Gerhart on our roster, I could understand as Stanford clearly proved, a bruiser-type back could and did pick up those yards. Unfortunately, our running offense was not going to be dramatically different with either back in (that probably extends to Deboskie as well). Ludwig understood that we weren’t going to win this game with runs up the middle. Not with our personnel. Not with Vontaze on the other side.
#2 – in general, we ran fewer up-the-middle plays. And that’s a good thing. Without a bruiser like Gerhart, and without the ability for our O-line to get to the second level of defenders, no way that Best and Vereen do what they can normally do (i.e., make the cannon go BOOM!). But that’s not to say we didn’t try to get Shane involved – 2 catches for 20 yards, the wildbear plays, etc. I again believe Ludwig does a good job at getting him involved to a point (minus the super ultra controversial wildbear TD pass that wasn’t!)
We clearly have a #1 receiver as this point - why aren't we getting him the ball?
3. If I’m the DC for any team facing Cal, outside of Best and Vereen, I’m focusing on Jones and rolling the dice with the other Cal WR’s. Jones has hands of velcro, good speed, and phenomenal body/hand control. That’s oversimplifying it, but that’s prolly not too far from the mark. However, how do we prevent defenses from locking down our best receiver? We ensure the QB distributes the ball to a number of receivers (a la the dream team of Hawkins, Desean and Jordan). That way, defenses have to respect our other receivers (i.e. Tucker, Boateng, Lagemann, etc.,) which takes some heat off of Jones. Give our other receivers credit - Ross is great at picking up yards after the catch and Tucker also shows flashes of his playmaking ability. But Jones wasn’t ignored. Riley hooked up with Jones 4 times – this represents only 10% of his pass attempts, but isn’t a reason to worry unless Riley doesn't get the ball to other receivers. Riley, btw, completed over 60% of his pass attempts for 350+ yards, 2 TD’s and no picks to a WHOLE LOT of different receivers. Jones doesn't have to do it alone, the other receivers get some meaningful catches - smells like progress to me.
So, why did Cal's offense look so fugly during this game?
The main thing that really put the skids on our offense was the crappy EXECUTION on many plays. Too many penalties, too many bad tackles, and dropped passes than you can shake a claw at. Riley fumbling? Ugh. Ross dropping that one pass? Kill me now! Tavecchio missing two fairly simple field goals? AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! But that’s not the fault of playcalling, and can only be partly chalked up to coaching. There are a bajillion reasons why a team succeeds or fails on the field. Here are seven:
- Playcall is not optimal.
- Talent-level disparity.
- Loud crowd is loud.
- Bad Hair Day (helmet hair)
- Key Player is Not Even Playing
- Only 10 men on the field!
Obviously, I'm just kidding. But still, keying in on any one factor is harsh. I especially thinking our offensive playcalling is not to blame. Did Ludwig make some controversial calls? Absolutely – I think there is some merit to the argument that we should have never have attempted the WildBear pass or the designed Riley runs (both of which I liked FYI). But do I believe that the game plan was set up in such a way to exploit the ASU defense and put us in a good, no GREAT, position to win? Absolutely. Ludwig has done a good job of being our offensive coordinator by getting the ball to our playmakers, making Riley and the passing game relevant, and by calling some interesting new plays I’d never see us run before.
One last thought: Cal fans. It's been up and down, hasn't it? I know - I've been there. Walking out of the Coliseum alone with every hippie-laced insult known to man hurled at me. Not visiting ESPN.com for weeks at a time. Looking at Mack Brown's face - uf! Verily, I say unto thee - I've been there. But you know what? Cal is our kid. And guess what happened? Our much hyped and ballyhooed kid got put up on stage and got DUMPED on. Our kid, our BABY got called Fat and Ugly. But you know what, Cal fans? That's still your baby. And you'll be damned to quit on your baby. They said we couldn't win in LA! They said we couldn't win without our run game! And you know what? Your kid, your TEAM - they did it anyway. They're thinking right now about OSU and Rodgers brothers and how to bring home another W. So, Cal, if you want to debate the finer points of poor or weak coaching, execution, recruiting, chair ergonomics, whatever - please do! But, I've seen tons of criticism leveled toward this Cal team and I simply ask for some moderation. In my opinion, this team and its coaching staff don't warrant the level of criticism they've garnered so far. So chill on the ranting. Have some ice cream. Your team just won a close-one in the desert and you can feel GREAT for your team for at least another week.
I also have candy in the van! (via knowyourmeme.com)