BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Keenan Allen #21 of the University of California dives but the pass is just out of his reach in the first quarter during a game between the Nevada Wolf Pack and the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(1) Bridgford Starts; Maynard Sits (only for a little bit). Well, this was a surprise. At least all those people who have been clamoring for Bridgford over Maynard got to see him get meaningful playing time. Unfortunately, he did not look good. At the end of his brief stint as starting QB, Bridgford finished 1/8 for 8 yards. It seemed like he was never truly comfortable out there and it showed with many of his throws being slightly off target. Perhaps his biggest error was his failure to hit Keenan Allen on a deep south-bound throw along the west sidelines. The pass was under-thrown, causing Keenan to slow down, the defender to catch up, and the pass to ultimately be dropped.
On the plus side, he did look like he knew what he was doing. He was running the offense. He was going through his reads and progressions. I remember seeing one great video replay showing him checking his first two options, seeing that they weren't open, and immediately throwing to his third option. The guy does seem to know the offense.
Bridgford still might be better than he looked. He probably had some "OMG I'M STARTING?!?!" jitters. Had he stayed in the rest of the game, he might have calmed down a bit and gotten into a rhythm. Evaluating him on barely a quarter of play and eight passes probably isn't completely fair so I'll try to withhold complete judgment of him; however, without much other playing time to evaluate him on it's hard not to judge him based on this brief performance.
(2) Should Tedford Have Told Bridgford and the Team about Maynard Being Benched Earlier? Probably. I don't see why he couldn't have. Keep the lines of communication open. Why keep everyone else in the dark? To protect Maynard? There was a lot of talk about Maynard possibly being ineligible to play the first few games of this season, and perhaps that's why Tedford wanted to keep this decision under wraps -- he didn't want to put even more negative light on Maynard. But by not telling the team earlier it seems as if he's keeping secrets from them and betraying them too.
(3) Was it an Error to Not Give Bridgford More Reps in Practice this Week? Maybe. Hindsight is 20/20 and since we lost, it seems like Bridgford could have used more reps with the first team. On the other hand, had Cal won the game we probably wouldn't be as concerned about this issue as much. Since Maynard was going to play for 3/4ths of the game then to me it seems fine to give Maynard the majority of the practice snaps.
(4) Pass Pass Pass. Where did the run game go? I thought for sure, with a new QB out there, that Cal would pound the rock early. But instead Cal passed a lot. Why? I guess the coaches saw something in the defense that they wanted to exploit. Tedford's offensive coordinators have done this before (jumping right into heavy passing despite being in situations where one might expect the team to ease into things by running more often). Tennessee 2006 comes to mind for me. I remember after that loss people were wondering why we passed so much so early. Tedford's explanation was that they saw something in the film room that they thought they could exploit against Tennessee. I'm assuming the same explanation applies here.
Tedford and his coaches have always had the utmost faith in their players. They'll have their guys just come out doing what the coaches want to be done, expecting the players to be able to execute. As a player I'm sure it's certainly nice to have the coaches' confidence when they decide to do that. But on the other hand, maybe the rest of us, having less faith in Bridgford, would have eased him into the game by running more often than not. Perhaps it would have made a difference. Perhaps not. Hindsight is 20/20 and since we lost, so we sure as hell should have ran the ball more (75% sarcasm, 25% not).
(5) The Diminutive Sofele; the Diminished Anderson. Sort of related to my previous thought, where did these two guys disappear to? Most of us thought we had one of the better pairs of RBs in the conference. Most of us thought we'd see a lot of equal usage of Sofele and Anderson. But in reality, we didn't see a lot of either of them.
Sofele only had five carries. Anderson had 14 carries. That seems a bit light to me.
What was also a bit unusual is that we also saw a bit of role reversal between Sofele and Anderson from last year. Last year Sofele wasn't our "receiving" RB, instead that was Anderson. But this game, it seemed like we were using Sofele more as our "receiving" RB and Anderson was the every-down back. I'm not sure if this will continue through the rest of the season but I think it's worth keeping an eye on.
(6) Sofele and Anderson Share the Backfield ... On the Same Plays. You guys asked for it, and the coaches listened. (Joking. The coaches don't listen to us.) Sofele and Anderson both were on the field for a LOT of plays. Sometimes Anderson lined up in the backfield like a fullback. Sometimes he was split out wide like a WR. Sofele, on the other hand, would usually just line up in the back field.
This tactic is a bit of an interesting twist. From the defense's point of view, it probably keeps them off-balance. Who is going to get the ball? They won't know until the offense lines up in their formation. On the other hand, splitting Anderson out as a WR -- although still a threat to catch the ball -- isn't quite as dangerous as an actual WR.
This new wrinkle to Cal's offense might be worth keeping an eye on.
(7) Cal Goes No-Huddle. This wasn't a big surprise, but it was interesting to see. I personally don't mind the no-huddle because it makes it harder for the defense to substitute. Either the defense doesn't substitute, or they have to be very quick when they do. Remember, if the offense doesn't substitute personnel, the offense doesn't have to give the defense a chance to substitute too. In other words, if the Defense doesn't feel comfortable quick trying to substitute in fresh players and the offense doesn't substitute players, then the defense is stuck with those players already on the field to defend the next play. This can be extremely problematic for the defense as their players tire out and/or they have the wrong personnel out on the field to defend the offensive personnel.
(8) Check-With-Me Offense Remains. In case you don't know or don't remember what that is, it's when Cal lines up at the LOS, and the QB pretends to call for the snap but instead the offense doesn't run a play. The offense will then look to the sidelines for further instructions from the coaches on which offensive play to run.
One more elderly gentleman around me kept cursing the coaches when we did this, exclaiming that such action "only helps out the defense."
Thank goodness people like him aren't the ones running the football team. No offense meant to that gentleman, but honestly, he had no idea what he was talking about.
The Check-With-Me offense has become quite standard in college football. The benefit of the offense is that it allows the offense to trick the defense into revealing its defensive play. If the defense does reveal its defensive play, then the offense can choose an alternate play from their arsenal to defeat that defensive play. Oklahoma does it. Oregon does it. Those teams owe a significant portion of their success to this strategy. Tedford is no dummy for attempting to implement it.
(9) Maynard Has Had Better Days. For all the hype surrounding Maynard's off-season turnaround, this performance was a little underwhelming. I think he would agree. He had some throws which were a bit off causing the balls to be dropped. He didn't see (and thus didn't throw to) a wide freakin' open Richard Rodgers south-bound down the middle of the field for a sure-fire touchdown pass in the 3rd or 4th quarter (can't remember). He also didn't see a north-east bound Keenan Allen in the northern endzone on a post route against 1 on 1 coverage which probably would have been a touchdown too. Instead, Maynard was focused on Richard Rodgers in the corner of the endzone and threw an incompletion to him. (Although, in Maynard's defense, I believe the reason why Maynard was looking to Rodgers first was because he was an earlier read on his progression list.)
Maynard did look more comfortable out there though. He didn't throw any interceptions or ridiculously bad passes. He's got to just protect the ball a little more when he runs so he doesn't fumble.
(10) Subtle Deception. This is something which most people will probably miss when watching the game, but this year Cal has added some very slight pre-snap formation deception to its offense. Often times when Cal is running its no-huddle, to confuse the defense, the running back will align directly behind the QB but two seconds before the snap of the ball he will quickly move over to one side of the formation causing the defense's linebackers or whomever has coverage responsibility on the RB, to quickly recognize this shift in formation and properly execute the coverage exchange.
The players are well-versed on how to do this little deception and its obvious because the QB, RB, and offense will pause for one second after everyone on offense shifts before the snap of the ball. This is because there is a rule which says you can't have more than two men in motion at once and immediately snap the ball -- the offense must be set for one second. So you'll often see Cal players slowly moving around during the no-huddle (confusing the defense), and then immediately set for one second (satisfying the football rules), and then the ball is snapped.
It's minor stuff, but an interesting tactic.
(11) Bryce Treggs & Chris Harper Wows. Baby Treggs didn't disappoint in his first game. He showed the speed, hands, and moves to get open. And he's only a freshman.
Chris Harper showed good hands and elusiveness as the third WR. It looks like he's probably going to be our "screen WR" too. All in all, I was pretty impressed by these two freshman WRs.
(12) Defensive Letdown. I was pretty disappointed by the defensive performance. It wasn't so much the results which I found so disappointing, it was the scheme. I know I'm not a football expert (although I know my arrogant ass acts like it a lot), I was saddened to see us not using more Cover Zero (or as Cal calls it "zero coverage") against Nevada. I've said it many times, I believe the Cover Zero is the best defense against these types of zone-read/option offenses. Instead, it seemed like Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was having the linebackers read-and-react to the handoffs. This can work, sometimes, but often such a defense will leave our defenders flat-footed as they wait to see what happens; whereas with a Cover Zero defense they can play aggressively and they're not waiting to see who gets the ball.
Cal also seemed to be playing a lot of zone coverage. Perhaps we were too afraid to go balls-to-the-wall man coverage on the outside with no safety help (Cover Zero). But taking that one extra defender (a safety) away from run responsibilities was clearly hurting us.
I know Cal's offense was having its own problems during the game, but its going to be a lot harder to win games with our defense giving up 31 points a game.
(13) If We Only Played 1 More Quarter. I had the feeling by the end of the game that if Cal and Nevada played one more quarter of football, that Cal would have won. We had a slow start. We (more or less) spotted Nevada 14 points in the beginning of the game due to our inept offense and lethargic play. But by the time the third and fourth quarters came around, we seemed to be in a better rhythm. We were scoring, and the crowd was getting into it. Cal just ran out of time to put the game away.
I think that if we were able to take the game to over time, we would have won.
(14) Late-Game Special Teams Shenanigans. I'm talking about that Keenan Allen pass to Isi Sofele on the final kickoff return with about 0:30 seconds left in the game. At first I was pretty upset about it. Why? Because getting all fancy and desperate with 30 seconds left in the game wasn't necessary. We can just return the kickoff like normal, and we would still have enough time to run four to five plays to get a hail mary touchdown.
But after letting it sink in a little bit, I'm now not so upset about it. Why? Well, doing such a crazy nutty thing at that moment in the game was totally not necessary, which is why doing it gave the play more chance to succeed. Think about it. The defense probably wasn't expecting Cal to try something so crazy and desperate so soon with 30 seconds left on the clock. It's not like Nevada was kicking off and there was only 3 seconds left on the clock. If there was only 3 seconds left on the clock, that's when you DO do something like that. So Cal running that play at that moment gave it an extra surprise factor.
People have always wanted more "creativity" from Tedford. People have always wanted Tedford to be more aggressive and more like Les Miles. You know you could totally see Les Miles doing something like that too. Well, Tedford just did it too. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Oh wellz. At least Tedford was creative and gambled though. Gotta give him credit for that.
(15) Time to Move on and Concentrate on Winning the Rest of the 11 Games. Yeah, it sucked. Dwelling on it isn't going to help much. Just got to move on. We still have the rest of the season to play. Let's not write off the team so soon.