Before we turn our attention to Utah next Wednesday (our pregame coverage starts a little earlier, look for it to start sometime this weekend!), I have a confession to make: I don't mind Jon Wilner. At the very least, I don't openly despise him the way many Cal fans (including those on this site) do. He's not the greatest sports columnist (blogger? journalist? What is he now?) ever, but he's terse enough to make his points and get you talking about what he writes. A bit of a rabble-rouser, but often he's far more practical than most of the columnists you see writing pablum.
Watching this team year after year, I’m starting to think that it’s possible to consistently win eight or nine games while having something systemically wrong with your program.
Now at first, I thought that this was hyperbole. After a little bit of afterthought though...
Cal was a few bad breaks away from being 5-7 or 4-8 this year. And they were a few good breaks away from being...well, 8-4. It was like the 2007 season in reverse--fortune smiled for us in our close wins and broke us apart in everything else. But we can't say this season didn't turn our stomachs plenty and made us a little uneasier about the future of Tedford's reign.
Discuss this in the comments. Is there something systematically wrong with our football program? Are we par for the course? Or are we overachieving given we've got? Vote and comment.
After the jump, let's explore some of the core causes for the maddening inconsistency of our team.
The conservatism of the coaching staff: We seem to have this discussion every year, every offseason (and we'll probably have it again)--does Tedford's conservatism filter to the team in crucial situations (And by conservatism I don't mean he takes out the King James Bible and start knocking Beau Sweeney on his noggin). Do his teams play not to lose instead of playing to win?
Now the point that you could argue is no stretch of conservatism could have saved the Bears from their faceplants, there are certain aspects that have been debated ad nauseum. RickySanchez wrote this after the Big Game victory, and I imagine this is what most Tedford-detractors gripe about...
I have never been angrier after a Big Game victory. The Bears’ players were gutsy, showed heart, and gave everything they had in that game. And the coaching staff just about cost them the game:
Tedford’s decision not to go for it on 4th and less than 1 to keep Stanford’s offense off the field (Predictably results in Stanford TD in less than 2 minutes)
Tedford’s decision to have Riley take a knee on third down on the Bears final drive, rather than attempting to sustain the drive and run out clock OR ice the game with a TD
Gregory’s decision to rush only 3 and drop into the usual zone on Stanford’s second to last drive, resulting in the long completion to Owusu.
These decisions are emblematic of why Cal can’t beat teams like Oregon St., Oregon, and U$C. This coaching conservatism is why Tedford will NEVER take the Bears to the Rose Bowl while the likes of Chip Kelly, Mike Riley, and Pete Carroll are around. All the pieces were there this year, and Cal missed yet another opportunity to take the next step. Until Tedford and Gregory start coaching to win (rather than coaching not to lose), this will be our lot in life.
A recurring theme, with the exception of 2008 and certain times in 2006, is that Cal lacks the proper mindset defensively. They go into games expecting to shut down the run, and they do it, because they believe in it. But they go into games ready to concede certain pass plays, and it shows. Gregory’s mantra is stop the run and the big play and give up the dink and dunk. That is telling your players something remarkable: “Let certain plays succeed.” As a defense, that should be anathema.
This puts tremendous pressure on the offense (which as I said annually lacks the QB to deal with that pressure). Defensive thinking has to be religion, not talk. It has to be a core belief that everything will be contested. Stopping the pass has to be given equal dignity to stopping the run.
And if it is, two things will happen. (1) You will force yourself to recruit better athletes on defense who can execute that objective. (2) Your game plan, practice, and play will reflect it
Tedford still struggling with the coaching side? Although some of us felt we were getting a little too much hype this year (Hydro especially, and he was proven right), some of the performances have been filled with terrible everything. dmo580 puts it succinctly:
I think he hasn’t been able to get us FOCUSED on the game especially after thriller victories or whatever. Our team seems to lose focus ENTIRELY. Like CGB said before. Our defense, offense, RB, QB, o-line, WRs… all of it collapses simultaneously. It’s not even funny. Ok we had some defense against SC, but other than that teams have been running over us. Is Tedford not getting the team energized and focused on THIS game like it is the only game that matters? Why is it that when we lose, we get completely blown out? I mean SC had some huge losses this year, but they kept it close with Oregon for a bit and with the Furd, AND with Zona and Washington. On the other hand, we just completely collapse or something.
Not very much like a Tedford-coached team. Of course, Hydrotech is quick to point out that this season has been an anomaly, not a trend, so it's not something to worry about. Yet.
I think a lot of coaches have problems getting teams to focus on the next game after winning a thrilling game last week. It seems to be a common problem for all coaches. As seeing that this problem is not unique to Tedford, I personally do not find this as compelling reason to criticize Tedford.
As for getting blown out in the losses, that is concerning, but to Tedford’s credit, this is something new and not a problem that we’ve been having since he’s gotten here.
Tedford is one of the most liked coaches in the Pac-10 by recruits. They always refer to him as a “player’s coach”. What has hurt us is the enduring image of the treesitters fiasco, our Div-II facilities, and the notion that we’ve plateaued as a program. These have all been widely discussed by the other Pac-10 coaches.
What happens is the recruit gets taken in by a visit and gets blitzed by these enthusiastic coaches and commits. In the case of Davis, he came to his senses when he realized what Cal was doing NOW, instead of LATER.
but as soon as our facilities are done, i expect recruiting to be much better. i think that+treesitters held us back much more than any sort of recruiting philosophy or coach we had in the past. in fact, i like evaluating players’ senior tapes more, but that’s just not the state of affairs.
[Whiteside] was blown away in the off-season. I think it will take a lot to sway him away. Even if you hear different things during the season. It’s always going to come down to the wire with Cal’s top targets until we get the facilities.
The successes this week point toward greater things in the distant future, but it isn't hard to believe that in 2010, and probably 2011, we'll be seeing the same old issues going into training camp. Until then, expect Cal football to be marginalized on the regional and national stage, as a man with a $70,000 toilet continues to charm a nation.
Do you agree or disagree that these are problems with Cal footbal? What other flaws or deficiencies have you noticed? Discuss.