Grid Club Reports of the past: Week 1
Every week the Grid Club has a video playing of the previous week’s game, without commercial interruption and with the time between plays cut out. It’s a pretty wonderful way to watch a game, though it reminds fans of how little actual football gets played between the endless advertisements, timeouts, clock stoppages and hamster-dance-helmet shuffles.
This week I couldn’t bear to watch. I knew what that video would show. Snap after snap of Kaepernick running wild, with nary a break in between each play for viewers to collect their thoughts and gird their loins for more punishment. Sure, I’d love to rewatch Shane going bonkers and Marvin doing his best Geoff MacArthur impression. BUT I HAVE MY LIMITS. So I took the cowardly way out. I didn’t show up until after the film review. Those who did show up and relived the nightmare deserve much praise. I can only hope that Cal will turn in a performance in the desert that I can look forward to rewatching.
This week the Grid Club heard from Mike McHugh, Cal Director of Football Operations and Protector Of The Uniforms, Cal alum and Chronicle beat writer John Crumpacker, and Arizona Daily Star writer Ryan Finley.
Note: As always, all guest responses are paraphrased based on my notes and best recollections.
Regarding Cal's experience in Nevada:
Mike felt that Cal was treated very poorly by Nevada. He emphasized that none of the following incidents had any impact on team performance - his job is to ensure that none of the details impact the players. But the decision to play the game on Friday night (Tedford hates non-Saturday games) was a decision Nevada and ESPN made unilaterally without consulting Cal. Because of this move Cal couldn't do their usual pre-game walk through. Also, Nevada didn't provide a police escort, so the Cal bus was stuck in a 30 minute traffic jam getting to the stadium.
Regarding preferred start times:
The players and the team generally prefer 12:30 start times. Late games mean that the players have to spend most of the day stuck in a hotel room anticipating the game. A 12:30 start means they can get their day started early without all of the waiting around.
On various snafus that the Director of Football Operations must deal with:
One Grid Club member recalled that in the 1970s Cal traveled to Tempe but discovered 24 hours before kickoff that all of the uniforms they brought had been stolen, which meant the Director at the time had to find a way to fed-ex replacement uniforms from Berkeley over night. Mike wasn't directly familiar with that story but said that many similar problems crop up all the time, and that he and other Directors from the past could probably write a great book with all of their war stories.
For those who are unfamiliar, John has been a sports reporter since his days as a Cal undergrad writing for the Daily Cal in the 70s, and throughout his speaking appearance I was impressed by his knowledge of Cal history. He was easily able to call back to many different eras of Cal football. This was particularly interesting during discussions on the changing role of the fullback in college football and Cal’s long history of excellent play from wide receivers.
On halftime adjustment:
I thought he raised an interesting thought: In the NFL halftime is only 12 minutes long, and halftime adjustments are much less common. With Pendergast having spent the majority of his career in the NFL, perhaps he’s not used to making halftime adjustments?
On the backup running back situation:
He expects Shane Vereen to get spelled as little as any starting running back in the Tedford era because no backup has exerted himself.
Is Tedford 'losing it?'
No, but he's finding out just how difficult it is to stay near the top in an increasingly elite conference, and his past success has raised everybody's expectations.
Is there any temptation to cheer in the press box now that you're covering your alma mater?
30 years of press box etiquette has taken that urge away, but he still quietly pulls for the Bears when they need a big 3rd down conversion.
When asked to give his general thoughts on the Cal – Arizona matchup:
Cal and Arizona have seemed to face each other at strange times and the series has produced some excellent games in recent years. Iowa was a huge win for Arizona and excitement for Arizona football has not been higher in at least a decade – some people are even starting to use the ‘R’ word.
Without being prompted Ryan identified Shane Vereen as easily Arizona’s biggest concern entering the game, and he predicted that the Wildcats would almost certainly sell out to stop the run and dare Kevin Riley to beat them over the top. This was the same strategy that Arizona used against Iowa, and in a sense it was very successful – the Hawkeyes only managed 29 rushing yards and Ricky Stanzi attempted 33 total passes. But Stanzi found enough success through the air to bring Iowa back from a 20 point halftime deficit.
When asked about Arizona’s strengths as a team:
The defensive line is easily the strongest unit on the team, anchored by two elite senior defensive ends who thrive as strong, fast edge rushers. The defensive tackles were expected to be a work in progress to start the season but redshirt freshman Justin Washington is actually currently leading the Pac-10 in sacks (5). That isn’t expected to continue, but getting any production from the DTs with their experienced DEs is a major plus.
Nick Foles is Arizona’s other strength. Admittedly, he won’t beat you down the field, but he’s so accurate at close range, he’s not mistake prone, and he will fit balls through windows you wouldn’t believe – like the game winning touchdown against Iowa.
On Arizona’s team weaknesses:
They have really struggled to run the ball, and it’s something that the coaching staff is really troubled by. Also, their cornerbacks have struggled in coverage thus far – Iowa threw the ball with success and their defensive backs picked up lots of pass interference calls last week. Additionally, their special teams units, particularly punting and punt returning, are prone to errors.
Special question from John Crumpacker: Any advice on the best desert hot dog spot?
El Guero Canelo at the intersection of Oracle and Grant. (I must admit, that looks pretty tempting).
When asked if Juron Criner, who is currently questionable, will play:
Ryan would be shocked if Criner plays considering he has a shoulder injury and turf toe. Arizona has a bye week after Cal and will almost certainly look to give Criner two weeks off to heal. If he is out Cal dodges a major Wildcat weapon because Criner is a big, tall physical receiver who was Arizona’s best deep threat and probably their best returning wideout.
When asked how Arizona’s new linebackers have done replacing last year’s graduates:
They have been a pleasant surprise so far. Linebacker was easily the biggest unit of concern entering 2010, but a couple of JC transfers have stepped up big time and there hasn’t been much drop off so far.
Has replacing both the offensive and defensive coordinator caused any difficulties?
Not yet. Mike Stoops made it a point to hire new coordinators that would essentially run the exact same systems in place the year before, so their wasn’t much teaching that had to happen to begin the year.