Whenever Cal suffers a painful defeat, I always fear that attendance will dwindle at the next Grid Club meeting. If watching football isn't fun, how can talking about it be? But then again, Cal fans have learned to cope with occasionally unpleasant results on the field, to laugh them off as if it's just another thing that happens every fall. And of course there's nothing like the prospects of victory over USC, no matter how unlikely, to get people excited. Thus I was happy to see a packed house show up to talk football, and recruiting, as our guests have extensive knowledge on that subject.
Our call-in member of the Cal coaching staff was recruiting organizer Andrew McGraw. Ryan Gorcey from Bearterritory.net joined us in person. And Gary Klein, USC beat writer from the LA Times called in to help preview things down south.
Thanks to the wonderful CalBear81 for her excellent notes, allowing me to better paraphrase our speakers!
How has the team been adapting to the back-to-back Thursday games? Has it been a challenge?
Not so much for the 2nd Thursday game. We're basically just going through our usual one week of preparation routine, so it hasn't been a problem.
With the bye week just past and another weekend without a game this week, has this been a busy time on the recruiting front?
Yes, it's been an opportunity for our coaches to get out across the state and watch some of the best high school talent in person.
Will there be lots of kids on official visits during the USC game?
No, because it's a Thursday game high school kids can't really come out - they have school and they're preparing for their own Friday night games. We are hosting one JC recruit this weekend.
So which game are you looking at for hosting official visits?
We should have a few kids out for visits for Oregon State, but we're trying to move away from having kids visit during games, especially this year. It's better for the kids when they can come up in, say, early December after the regular season, to get more attention when everybody isn't preparing for a game. And with games in San Francisco it's not really representative of the stadium atmosphere we'll have back in Memorial.
How does the staff figure out who to recruit? Scouting services? For example, how do you know to go after someone like Keenan Allen out of North Carolina?
It's all about relationships. Whenever we recruit somebody from outside of our usual areas (California) it typically means one of our coaches has a relationship with a coach from that area. For example, Kenwick Thompson has lots of relationships with people out in Texas.
How closely does Cal look at academics before recruiting somebody?
It's the first thing we look at. We get 5,000 names from recruiting services, and that list gets cut in half immediately because we take off the names of kids who won't be able to qualify.
Will Kaelin Klay ever play this year?
My impression is that the team and Klay are both frustrated. I'm not sure exactly what the issue is. Maybe he didn't get everything he needed in summer school classes. He's a bright kid, and I don't think that he's not eligible - but there is some sort of academic quagmire.
How many silent commits are there and how good are they?
How much do teams and recruiters pay attention to kids in remote areas? There are teams in those places winning state titles - they must have talented players!
It's hard for recruiters and teams to even hear about them. That's why we run recruiting seminars . And great high school teams don't necessarily have elite talent, because winning is often due to coaching. It's hard to tell in high school whether the team is good because of the talent or the coaching. Take De La Salle for example. They send players to Division One schools, but they don't typically have the elite, elite 5 star type of talent that others schools have. Yet they're one of the most dominant high school program in the state, and that's because of their coaching and their culture.
Do you think coaching is as important in college as it is in high school?
I think it can go one of two ways. You can get great athletes and basically get out of the way and let them do their thing, or you can run a great system and recruit players to specifically fit into that system. I think Tedford more does to former. That's why you see these really talented young players like McCain, Whiteside and McClure playing. And sure, they're freshmen and they're going to make mistakes. But they're the best athletes and you need your best guys on the field.
It's been interesting. Going for it on 4th down, throwing long on 3rd downs instead of running plays - I think we're seeing Kiesau's influence on play-calling because that's not what Tedford has done over the past few years. It's showing the confidence Kiesau has in Maynard and the WRs.
On Zach Kline:
I asked Tedford what it would take to play a true freshman at quarterback. The only thing he said is that the player would need to come in to school in the spring to learn the offense . . . well, Zach Kline is coming in the spring. And sure, he'll say he doesn't expect to start, and that he's just trying to learn and get better. But he's a competitor and it wouldn't surprise me if he gets a look.
What do you expect to see against USC?
Lots of passing. USC has a poor pass defense. But if I were Cal, I'd run the ball. USc has been inconsistent up front, and Isi and the line have looked good lately. USC wouldn't expect it, and that will open up play action and soft spots under the coverage. I'm still predicting that USC wins 37-24 though.
How do you defend against Andrew Luck, short of breaking his legs?
(pause) Break his arm?
Why is Tosh such a great recruiter?
He has tremendous energy. A number of recruits have said 'When I first met him, I thought he was a player!' He's young, very fit, and full of energy. He asks players to be their absolute best, but he doesn't ask for more than what they can do. And defensive line coaches rarely become coordinators because you need to deeply understand secondary coverages, but he could do it.
Why haven't we had more success recruiting in basketball?
Well, how do you define success? I define it as winning, and in that sense we've succeeded under Mike Montgomery. But if you define it by recruiting stars, then Cal hasn't. Monty wants guys who will stay two or more years and guys who want to get better, so that means we aren't taking guys who already think they're Jesus in sneakers. He doesn't want players who barely get a 2.0 for a semester or two just to stay eligible before the draft. Monty doesn't want to compromise his values, and I admire that. But you have to make some compromises to get success. I think John Montgomery, Mike's son, is a little more flexible in that regard.
How much trouble will Oregon be in with the NCAA?
How much trouble will they get into, or how much should they get into? The NCAA is toothless. They'll get a slap on the wrist and nothing will happen for 5 years. But they should be hammered.
How much success will Cal have throwing the ball?
USC has a cornerback injured, and Arizona picked them apart, almost beating them. Arizona State had lots of success throwing to the edges. It's something Cal could exploit.
Robert Woods - is there any way to shut him down, or is it just a matter of containing him and stopping all of the other USC weapons?
He can be contained. If you can slow him down and let everybody else try to carry the load, that's the way to go. Opposing defenses haven't really tried to shut him down and make other players try to beat them, and I think that's the way to go.
Have the sanctions impacted USC's depth in any way yet?
No. Kiffin has done a good job of working every loophole to get a big class in last spring. Over the next three years that will be a problem. but this team is not struggling due to the sanctions.
How much of an impact will George Farmer have?
Hard to say. They moved him to running back two weeks ago, and the coaches have talked about how it takes time to learn the position - things like pass protection. USC has been kid of desperate for a home run guy, and they think he could be it. But at the same time, they've talked about how much a certain player is going to play only to see him get very limited action when the game rolls around.
How can Cal's offense best exploit USC?
Allen and Jones are dynamic. I haven't seen yet that Maynard can pick apart a secondary . . . but this is a secondary that is ripe to be picked apart. They try to avoid long plays, and it means that shorter plays are available. If Tedford can get the running game going that could give USC trouble - they haven't seen a team good at both the run and the pass yet.