Cal vs. Arizona State Post-Game Thoughts

(1)  What a wild game.  In some football games, it seems like just a few aspects of a team impact the game.  For example, maybe one team's offense just blows out the other team leaving little else to be a factor in determining who wins the game.  Or maybe one team's defense locks down the opposing offense and the game ends up being a snoozefest.  But this game... this game.  Everything came into play.  Everything was a factor in this game.  Cal's offense blew up all over Arizona State's defense.  But then Arizona's State's offense struck back behind all-too-easy deep passes.  But then Cal's defense managed a few crucial punts and forced turnovers.  But then Cal's special teams turned the ball over.  And then the (crappy) Pac-12 refs continued to aid Arizona State's defense with some horrific penalties.  If it wasn't one thing, it was another.  It was a roller coaster.  Seemingly, anything could have happened in this game.  I feared at any moment the tide could turn for the worst.  And for a period of time in that second quarter, it seemed like the tide had turned.  But then...

(2)  Maynard Has A Great Game.  Statistically, he was 19/26 (73.1% completion rate), with a 9.1 yards per attempt, and zero interceptions.  Great game, statistically.  But I think what was most impressive about him was just his demeanor and decision making.  He was nailing most of his throws.  He looked decisive.  He bought some time with his feet.  He ran when he needed to.  In fact, he had 40 yards of rushing, 25 of which came on a fabulous zone read QB keep for a touchdown.  He threw the ball away when he needed to.  When Cal ran one of those fake WR screen plays, and the intended WR wasn't open, Maynard saved the play from a sack and to get rid of the ball.  Maynard looked like the QB we all imagined he could be that Tedford imagined he could be. 

By golly, was perhaps... Tedford right about the QBs once again?  I'm not sure.  Maynard's performance in the last four games have been nothing short of good if not great.  He surely hasn't been perfect, but he's been doing well enough to help Cal win games.  Barring any sort of disaster in Cal's bowl game, if Maynard can repeat his performances as of late, then I think it might be safe to say... once again... Tedford was right.  When are we going to learn to just trust this guy? He is after all, a very knowledgeable football head coach.  He sees the kids in practice day after day (but it is *just* practice! [sarcasm]).  He knows what they can do.  Who are we to question his judgment?   In Tedford we trust? 

(3)  In Ron Gould We Trust.   Once again, Sofele demonstrates his ability to be the #1 back.  It's almost a little silly that this is something which needs to be brought up considering Sofele has had prior performances this year (both in terms of the number of carries per game, and in the number of yards per rush) which should have silenced all the doubters.  Against the Sun Devils, he ran the rock 21 times for 145 yards (6.9 yards average).  He did it with some good blocking from the offensive line, and he did it with some bad blocking from the offensive line.  One of the most memorable runs from the night was when Cal was facing a 3rd and inches.  Cal ran a toss sweep (if I recall correctly) to the right side.  The OL blocking wasn't great, and it looked like Sofele was surely going to be tackled for a loss (by no fault of his own, really).  But then he somehow powered through the mess of defenders to gain a first down.  Amazing! On other plays, when there wasn't something inside, Sofele bounced the ball outside.  He then used his speed to get around the corner for large gains.

What is it about Sofele which didn't inspire people's faith in him?  I personally think it's his size -- or lack thereof.  It's such a cliche that a RB has to be either stupid-fast or BEASTMODE to be good.  Sofele is neither.  He's probably decently fast.  He's not going to truck people.  But the kid plays tough and hard.  Just ask Arizona State's cornerback #1 (Deverron) Carr.  Sofele took him out of the game with a hit.  Yeah, that's right.  An *offensive* player took out a defensive player.  Usually, it's the defensive players who hit offensive players.  Not in Sofele's case.  He's done this quite often.  Sofele is often the one who INITIATES the contact. 

Sofele still has to work on a few things though.  His ability to catch passes needs some work.  I'm sure most people have noticed that when Cal does want to pass the ball to a RB, Sofele usually isn't the one they're throwing to.  Either Anderson comes in (Cal RB #9) or Deboskie comes in (Cal RB #33).  Secondly, Sofele has to work on ball security.  I bring this up not just because he almost had a game-killing fumble this last game, but he does have a tendency to sort of let the ball get away from his body at the end of his runs when he's getting tackled.  Nevertheless, Sofele is a serviceable RB at the college level.  I'm not sure he's going to see playing time on Sundays, but I think Cal fans will be glad to have him back next year. 

(4)  Anderson Is a Mover and a Shaker.  He had 10 carries for 48 yards (4.8 yard average) and two rushing touchdowns.  That's very good.  But I think most of us are probably remembering him for that wondering TD reception.  I'm beginning to wonder how Anderson and Maynard seemingly have such a great connection on those scrambles.  Was Anderson getting in practice time with Maynard during the off-season?  If so, it seems to be showing.  And this isn't the first time Anderson has made a great catch from Maynard off a scramble either.  I think he's had a few others this year which have just Cal fans with their jaws dropped. 

Overall, Anderson has been progressing nicely.  As the year has gone on, he's gotten more playing time and has basically asserted himself as Cal's #2 RB.  He's demonstrated his ability to be a power guy, and even (quite deceivingly) being a guy who can occasionally make a guy miss.  In fact, if my memory serves me correct, he did make a few guys miss on a couple of his runs. 

I think Cal has its two top RBs penciled in for 2012.  It'll be interesting to see where Bigelow falls into the lineup.  Cal has never really had a three RB rotation before.  But if Bigelow progresses during the off-season, then Cal just might have to work him in more.  The problem is, where?  Sofele is the starter, speed guy, and outside guy.  Anderson is the backup, power guy, inside guy, and a pass catcher.  Bigelow might become that RB that Cal throws to instead of Anderson.  This year, Cal has already shown its willingness to throw to Bigelow out of the backfield. 

(5)  Offensive Line Has Most Complete Game of the Year.  I think this might just be the offensive line's most complete game of the year.  On the rushing side of the ball, they were opening up some good sized holes for Sofele and Anderson.  There were a few runs when things didn't go well, but for the most part, it was full steam ahead for both RBs.  On the passing side, the offensive line didn't allow a single sack.  Amazing!  A little credit goes to Maynard for using his feet when he needed to, but even so, there didn't seem to be much pressure on Maynard (credit given to Maynard too for getting passes off on time too). 

Has Coach Michalczik's magic finally started to settle in and unwound the mess left behind by Coach Marshall?  Maybe.  I mean, Arizona State's rush defense is average (ranked #64 out of 120 teams for yards allowed per rush attempt).  They're certainly not the toughest rush defense Cal has faced.  But the Cal offensive line seems to be coming into their own.  The one area of concern is still a few penalties here and there.  And more microscopically, Arizona State was getting a great jump on the snap with their defensive tackles.  On a number of occasions, their DTs perfectly timed their get-offs (reacting to the snap) to the point where they were probably actually anticipating the snap.  And thanks to their great anticipation, they were shooting Cal's A-gaps leaving Galas (Cal's center #65) with a tough assignment. 

(6)  Cal's Pass Defense Has Up and Down Night, Cal's Rush Defense Has a Down Night.   The secondary gave up a 37 yard completion, and then a 17 yard touchdown pass for Arizona State's second touchdown of the game.  But then the defense bounces back with a great interception by (Marc) Anthony (Cal CB #2).  But then on the next drive, (Steve) Williams (Cal CB #1) draws a pass interference penalty.  And then the secondary gives up a 35 yard touchdown pass.  And then they give up a short touchdown pass to the tight end.  But then they bounce back again and seal the game with a fantastic INT by (Josh) Hill (Cal NB #23). 

I think part of the problem was that McClure (DB #21) was out.  He got injured midway through the game, and thus (Kameron) Jackson (Cal CB #9) saw some playing time.  Jackson actually did pretty well and only gave up two passes, I think.  And actually, it was (Steve) Williams (Cal CB #1) who probably had the worst night.  Despite being Cal's best cornerback, he seemingly gave up pass after pass.  Part way through the game, I think Pendergast got sick of it to the point where they started playing Williams off the WRs basically as a safety, and instead having (Sean) Cattouse (Cal S #11) playing as a bump and run CB. 

As for the rush defense, usually, Cal's rushing defense is pretty darn solid.  Not last Friday.  ASU's RB rushed for a 6.8 yard average on 23 carries and two touchdowns.  Ouch! Luckily, though, Cal's offense kept the game manageable for the defense with plenty of points. 

(7)  Miller's After the Whistle Scuffles.  One thing I've noticed over the year is that Cal's tight end (Anthony) Miller (#80) is always always always scrappin' after the play is over.  I'm not sure if it's because he's taking that whole "play snap to whistle" mantra a little too far, or he just doesn't know when to stop, or he's a bit of a hothead.  But I'm pretty sure it's probably a mixture of the three.  Either way, it makes me nervous that Cal will get flagged for a personal foul.  And indeed, on one particular play, Miller could have been flagged for that (he continued to block a player out of bounds to the point where they were practically in the stands... okay, not quite that far, but close enough). 

But as the saying goes, it's always the retaliator who gets flagged.  On one particular instance when Miller was scrappin' with another ASU player after the whistle, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict came over to stop Miller and Burfict ended up getting flagged.  While I'm glad the penalty was called on Burfict, it probably should have been called on Miller.  And I just think that Miller has got to stop this stuff.  Penalties can stall drives.  Just look at that one Cal drive where the team accumulated a 10 yard holding penalty, then a 10 yard block in the back penalty, and finally another 10 yard holding penalty which negated a couple of fabulous plays and resulted in Cal punting the ball. 

But on the whole, Cal didn't penalize itself too much this game.  Cal only suffered five penalties for 60 yards, and a couple of those calls were pretty questionable too. 

(8)  Forza Italia.  Cal doesn't win this game if Little Italy doesn't nail field goals from 48 yards, 27, 19, and 30 yards.  And not to mention he was also 4/4 on PAT attempts (which is also a testament to special teams blocking).  For a guy who has had his fair share of troubles, but also taken some flak for stuff which isn't his fault (poor blocking on his PAT attempts), I think Tavecchio definitely deserves a round of beers from all us Cal fans.  The kid was clutch. 

(9)  Tedford Achieves This Season's Expectations.  I don't think I've seen (in my relatively short time as a Cal fan) so many Cal fans so happy to hit 7 wins.   And I don't think these people are apologists or satisfied with only getting 7 win seasons.  But I think it's safe to say that for everyone who is (more or less) happy about this season, it's because Cal, under the guidance of Jeff Tedford, met season expectations this year. 

Every year, Cal should aspire to go 13-0.  But I think we all knew that this season probably wasn't going to be that magical 13 win season, or even a 12 win season, or even an 11 win season, or even a 10 win season.  Most of us figured Cal would probably have anywhere between 6 to 7 wins this season with a fair shot at 8 wins.  So with this 7th win, we're right where we should be.  6 wins would have been a mildly acceptable season given the current team and because we'd also be bowl eligible, but we all wanted that 7th win because it's a legitimate winning season. 

So can we be happy with this season?  For the most part, I think we can be.  I think the only difference between how most Cal fans predicted the season:

FSU - W
CU - W
PRBY - W
UW - L
UO - L
USC - L
UU - W
UCLA - W
WSU - W
OSU - W
SU - L
ASU - L

and the way the season ended up:

FSU - W
CU - W
PRBY - W
UW - L
UO - L
USC - L
UU - W
UCLA - L
WSU - W
OSU - W
SU - L
ASU -W

is the fact that the win and loss against Arizona State and UCLA were switched.  I think most of us thought we'd cream UCLA and then get pummeled by ASU.  Aside from the fact that the UCLA loss was one of the worst losses of the Tedford era, if you look at things from a sheer W/L viewpoint, then I guess Cal did just about as well as we thought they would do.  They'd drop a game they should have won (ucla game), and they'd win a game we perhaps shouldn't have (ASU game). 

But what if... oh, what if.  This Cal team isn't the most talented team in the Pac-12 but I think not a single game that we lost was not winnable.  The UW game was winnable with a little better offense and a little better defense -- we certainly weren't crushed.  The Oregon game was winnable with more offense and if our defense could have held out for the second half of the game (they might have had a better chance if the Cal offense had done better that game).  The USC game was totally winnable if we just avoided turnovers and instead scored points.  The UCLA game should have been an easy win, but alas wasn't that winnable thanks to a non-existent run defense and turnovers galore.  And finally, the Big Game was another winnable game if our offense just got a few touchdowns instead of field goals. 

Call me crazy, but this team could have gone 11-1 with some better execution in those losses.  The talent is there.  The coaching is there.  The execution... isn't always there.  And if only it was...

So with this season coming to a close, and after a day of careful consideration, I find myself endorsing and supporting Coach Tedford for the upcoming 2012 season.  Regardless of how the bowl game goes (and assuming it isn't an epic disaster), I think Tedford has earned himself the right to play for the 2012 season.  He exceeded my expectations of this team.  I had predicted this team going 6-6.  Clearly, I know nothing about football and am a huge negabear.  But in the last few games of this season, I liked what I saw from their play, the development of the QB, and the upward trajectory of the team. 

In Tedford I Trust.  Tedford for 2012.

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