2011 Cal vs. Colorado Post-Game Thoughts

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) Zach Maynard #15, Keenan Allen #21, Isi Sofele #20 and Chris McCain #40 of the California Golden Bears celebrate their 36-33 overtime victory over the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on September 10, 2011 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

(1)  An ugly win, but an inspiring one.  In past years it seems like when the wheels were starting to fall off on the road, they really fell of fast and furiously.  But against Colorado it seemed like the wheels were starting to fall off and yet the Bears kept it together just enough to keep themselves in the game.  I think this shows the team's resiliency.  They seemed to keep believing that they were still in the game (which of course they always were), and they didn't seem to get too affected by the fact that the momentum late in the game was clearly shifting in Colorado's favor.  If the Bears continue to show the ability to bounce back from errors and 3rd and 25s, then this could be a very exciting team to watch. 

(2)  Cheadle is notifying Galas of when the QB is ready for shotgun snaps.  So here's a little something new which probably has gone unnoticed by most viewers.  Remember against Fresno State we were having tons of difficulty with the shotgun snaps?  The problem there was that the center (Galas) was unable to hear when the QB wanted the ball and would be snapping the ball at the wrong times.  Galas is always looking forward so he can't see behind him to see when the QB (Maynard) is ready to receive the snap.  Now though, Cheadle looks back at the QB on shotgun snaps to see when Maynard is ready.  When Maynard is ready, Cheadle gives Galas a little poke with his left arm and probably says something too -- thus letting Galas know that it's safe to snap the ball.  Looks like Coach Michalczik has recognized the problem and has installed a system to prevent the error.  And what do you know?  As far as I recall, Cal didn't have any premature shotgun snaps this game unlike against Fresno State.

(3)  Maynard needs to step up into the pocket.  When Maynard threw his INT, everyone saw the problem -- he threw a jump pass.  Obviously, jump passes are bad.  You lose power and accuracy because your feet aren't set.  Last week against Fresno State, it seemed like Maynard also had a few fade-away passes (retreating off his back foot while throwing).  Again, fade away passes are bad too.  Maynard needs to avoid all those throws.  But the REAL reason why Maynard is making those throws is because he isn't stepping up into the pocket.  I know, I know... on some plays pressure was coming up the middle so of course he isn't going to step up into the pressure.  But there have been plays where the pressure is coming from outside... and I actually believe on the INT play it was coming from the outside.  On those plays, the QB has to step up into the pocket to help out his OL. 

Maynard's problem isn't uncommon for a lot of QBs.  QBs don't like getting hit.  Thus, it's only natural that they want to move away from the pressure.  Longshore, as a sophomore in 2006, would often have this problem.  It took him a year to grow out of it.  Maynard is going to have to grow out of it too.  He's going to have to learn to manipulate the pocket protection by staying in it when he can.  If he steps up into the pocket and has faith in his OL, then he'll get better protection.  But if he bolts from the pocket, he gives himself up to pursuit by defensive ends and linebackers.  Right now, Maynard is getting away with things because he's faster than most of the defensive ends, but this won't always be the case as Cal starts to play higher quality Pac-12 competition. 

(4)  A less aggressive gameplan by Pendergast.  Everyone is complaining that there was no pressure on Colorado's QB.  And there wasn't.  The DL wasn't getting great pressure at all.  But part of the problem was also that Pendergast wasn't blitzing as much as he normally does.  Why blitz less?  Well, Colorado was showing that they were going to screen us.  Early on they executed the RB screen at least four times and burned us pretty bad every time.  When an offense shows that they're going to screen a lot, you don't blitz.  That's one of the main rules for defensive coordinators:  *don't blitz into screens.*

In fact, Pendergast said pretty much exactly this in a post-game interview with Rivals.com:

"You know, [the Colorado QB is] very good getting out of the pocket, and they were very good at throwing to the [running]back out of the backfield, which neutralized some of the pressures that maybe we normally would have liked to have run," said Pendergast. 

...

"We didn't want to come into this game with a lot of different pressures just because of the nature of their playmakers, and you know, they did a nice job."

I think a lot of Cal fans were sort of upset about the fact that Cal didn't sack Colorado's QB after what happened last year (Cal sacked him like a million times), and because Hawaii sacked Colorado's QB like 7 times last week.  But fans also have to realize, playing defense isn't always just about blitzing five to seven guys and being aggressive every down.  If playing defense was that simple then everyone would do it, and everyone doesn't do it because it has its downfalls.

(5)  Cal gives up like a whole mile of yardage through the air.  Did Cal even have a gameplan?  Of course it did.  Maybe just not for Richardson who amassed 284 yards.  Cal CB #1 Steve Williams said:  

"We didn't really have a game plan for him (Richardson). We didn't know he was going to be as good as he showed us today. We had a lot of film on him because he's their go-to guy."

So it looks like Cal just got caught by surprise by a guy who decided to have a phenomenal game (along with Colorado's QB too).  Pendergast certainly knew Richardson was Colorado's go-to guy and even tried doubling Richardson later in the game:

"We actually did in the second half. We doubled him a good bit, not so much on the long touchdown he had, but some other instances. We had a safety over the top and a corner underneath him, you know, probably a handful of times. Because we obviously knew that's where they were going to go with the football. He still made some plays and the quarterback made some throws."

I guess everyone can breath a collective sigh of relief that Pendergast saw the problem and was trying to fix it.  I suppose though, some fans might wonder why did Pendergast only double Richardson "a handful of times"?  Why not double him all the time?  Well, when you start doubling a guy all the time then the defense is now down one defender on the field.  In other words, 9 Cal defenders are left to cover 10 Colorado offensive players.  Does that math sound favorable to you?  No, it doesn't.  I talked about that exact concept in my 2010 Cal vs. Oregon analysis.  Oregon would often have its WRs or TEs block Cal's safety, in effect, occupying two defenders.  This gives Oregon a numerical advantage across the field which allows their offense to be so successful.  If Cal doubles Richardson, they are essentially conceding to the offense one less defender to account for, and giving Colorado's offense a chance to be more successful elsewhere on the field. 

So that's why Pendergast didn't want to double Richardson all the time.  That and...

We felt like that, you know, our matchups with our corners were good going in. We had some technique breakdowns. We just have to get better at it. [Richardson is] a very talented player, and he's a big-play guy, and they did a nice job getting him the ball.   Rivals.com

Eh, I can't really blame Pendergast there.  Sometimes you think your guys are better.  Maybe they are.  Maybe they aren't.  Maybe the other team's guy is just having a great day.  As a defensive coordinator, you ideally always want to play 1 on 1 football across the board and not have to resort to doubling a guy. 

One other alternative Pendergast could have taken was to place Cal CB #1 Williams on Colorado WR Richardson.  Williams is arguably Cal's best pass defender.  For most of the day, it seemed like Richardson's success was mostly coming against Cal CB #2 Anthony.  But Cal didn't do this.  Cal, seemingly, plays its cornerbacks as LCB/RCB (left cornerback and right cornerback).  Meaning that each one always lines up on their respective side of the field (except when the defense is playing man coverage and the offense comes out in twin WR formations on one side of their formation).  Anthony is Cal's LCB, and Williams is Cal's RCB.

Interestingly, towards the end of the game, Colorado had Richardson on Cal's right side and lined up against Williams.  Not surprisingly, these were the plays when Williams swatted away a couple of passes to Richardson.  If I were Colorado's offensive coordinator, I probably would have tried to keep Richardson on Cal's left side so he was lined up against Anthony. 

(6)  The Family Tree.  It's great that Maynard and Allen have that connection which allows them to make passes which perhaps some QB/WR combos probably can't, but at the same time I am worried that Maynard might be looking for Allen a little too often and not always checking some of his other options. 

But man... when the Family Tree is connecting... they sure are exciting to watch. 

(7)  Blocked PATs.  Okay, so I thought perhaps Fresno State was a fluke.  You know, Tavecchio is kicking on grass which is different than kicking on turf -- which is mostly what Tavecchio is used to.  Also, perhaps Fresno State just gets some fluke penetration because of AALLLLLAAAAAMMMMAAAARRRR.  But then Cal also has its first PAT attempt blocked against Colorado?  Hmm... this could be a sign of greater problems. 

Ironically, Cal might have won the game because of that missed PAT.   If Cal had made that PAT, then Cal would have been up 4 points late in the fourth quarter.  Colorado would then be forced to go for it on fourth down.  Perhaps they convert, and perhaps they score a touchdown.  Then Cal would have been down 3 points with only like 30 seconds to go.  Who knows if Cal can get within field goal range with one timeout in 30 seconds but it seemed unlikely. 

Instead, Cal takes it to overtime and wins the game. 

As for the blocked PATs, they seem to be mostly protection problems and not Tavecchio's fault (aside from the first blocked PAT against Fresno State).

(8)  Tedford's decision to take it to overtime.  Speaking of overtime, it was a little disappointing to see Tedford take a knee to take the game into overtime.  I know that's the completely 100% safe thing to do so you don't lose the game in case your last second fourth quarter hail mary is pick-6ed.  But I prefer to at least run a run play.  On the 1% chance that your guys break open a big run, you could suddenly find yourself in field goal range or you could just score a touchdown.  Of course, if Cal had run the ball, in typical Cal fashion there probably would have been a fumble and a scoop-n-score by Colorado.  That is, of course, one of the risks of running the ball before the end of regulation -- and on any run play for that matter.  Alternatively, if Cal does fumble and Colorado recovers, they are looking at a short field with a chance of a field goal with like 25 seconds left.  That's plenty of time to take a few shots down the field, or move the ball forward 10-15 yards for a long field goal.

So clearly, Tedford's decision was conservative.  The reason why I thought this was surprising because last week against Fresno State we saw Tedford go for it on fourth and 1 from the opponent's like 3 yard line instead of kicking a field goal, and we saw Tedford dial up a hail-mary play before halftime.  If Tedford is willing to do that one week, I don't really see much difference in at least calling up a run play instead of kneeling the ball to go to overtime.

Overall though, I'm not upset or anything about the decision.  I see the logic in kneeling.  I guess I'm just not as conservative as Tedford.

(9)  Everyone loves the power back.  Everyone is loving Cal RB #9 Anderson, right?  Everyone wants to see Anderson get more snaps, right?   He did have a good touchdown run.  He broke tackles and he earned himself about 1,000 new Cal fan man-crushes.  Seems like everyone is loving Anderson right now and "eh" on Sofele.  It's understandable, but I'm not sure if it's right.  Sofele, again, was dealing with tougher running lanes most of the game.  Anderson had a HUGE hole on his TD run.  It's very arguable that Sofele could have gotten a touchdown too if he had been in instead of Anderson.  I'm not discounting what Anderson did, but I just think that it still might be a little premature to expect Anderson to unseat Sofele as the #1 back any time soon.  On that note, Ryan Gorcey of Rivals.com is reporting that Anderson and Deboskie (Cal RB #33) are now co-#2s on the depth chart.  This isn't a complete surprise.  Deboskie didn't have a great showing against Fresno State last week (on his lone rush he left his feet which is a no-no), and was -- quite interestingly -- a no-show against Colorado.  Deboksie didn't even get one carry.  It has to make you wonder if he's already getting passed up by Anderson.

(10)  Maynard's statistics.  Let's take a look at Maynard's statistics thus far this season. 

QB rating:  134.9  (57th nationally)

Okay, the QB rating isn't bad but QB rating is a horrible way to evaluate QBs since it gives huge bonuses for touchdowns.  Better measurables are a QB's yards per attempt, completion %, and interception %. 

Yards per attempt: 7.5 (54th nationally out of 120)

Completion %: 49.3%  (106th nationally out of 120)

Interception %: 2.86%

These better measurables are... okay.  The yards per attempt are fine.  That's about average.  But the completion rate is poor.  It's worse than Riley.  In Maynard's defense though, there have been some EASY drops by WRs and TEs this year thus far.  I'd really like to see that completion rate go up to 60%.  As for his INT%, it's okay.  You'd really like to see it down in the 2% range at the most though. 

On the whole, these statistics are suggestive of the fact that Cal is a big play passing team; hence the average yards per attempt despite the low completion rate.

(12)  Cal's season outlook.  Well, the win against Colorado gives me more hope that this team can: (1) face adversity on the road and win against evenly matched opponents; and (2) pull out a win against superior opponents at home.  With wearing slightly tinted blue colored glasses, I could see this team actually pulling out 8 wins to the season.  This is, on the hope and assumption, that for the most part things go Cal's way.  Meaning that Maynard improves, and the team fights hard throughout the season.

Presby:  W
@Wash:  W
@Ore:  L
USC:  L
Utah:  W
@UCLA:  W
WSU:  W
OSU:  W
@Furd:  L
@ASU: L 

Final record:  8-4.

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