Cal vs Colorado postgame thoughts

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Say it with me now. We are the bottom of the barrel.

In a few months, when the crack-like substance of recruiting has run out and spring ball is still far off, I'll be dreaming again of college football season, my favorite of any sport in existence.

Until that time, though, I will continue to wonder why I subject myself to this -- watching every game religiously, and unlike most people, usually rewatching them to put myself through all the agony a second time.

While I wrote something similar last week after USC, I actually ended up getting it out and sifting through the tape again for whatever useful information/observation I could find.

Not this time.

Not this week.

I have no desire to ever watch that abomination again.

In other words, I think I am going to allow myself one free pass each year, one game that I do not have to spend several more hours of my life reliving. If you're wondering why I'm referring to it in future terms like that, it is because I plan on being back in this Monday space next season, and, Twist willing, for the next several to come. [There, it's on the record, Twist. You don't have to worry about me taking my talents elsewhere just yet!]

Should I use that pass on Stanford? Possibly, but with it being the end of the season, there'll at least be some retrospective to write and stuff.

There's not much use in watching this loss, though.

It's one thing to lose to the middle tier Pac-12 teams like Arizona or Washington State or Oregon State.

Getting beat down by Colorado? The team that has struggled mightily to win anything in conference these last few years? To allow them season highs in damn near every statistical category and then lose by 17?

Well, there's only one sobering, sobering realization after that, and you don't need the tape to figure that.

We are the bottom of the barrel.

We are the new Colorado.

Short of having a postseason ban enforced for APR failure -- something that, unfortunately, remains very much in the picture -- or having the news that someone tore a groin muscle slipping on a banana peel, there's not a lot lower this thing can go.

I hope.

Now, that is not to say the team has lost my support -- they will never be without that, even at times like these. I find no pleasure in being excessively bitter, or in strutting around and preying on every opportunity to to spew my frustrations.

But damned if writing this column isn't hard sometimes, especially when being a rational and levelheaded fan is my schtick.

The scale: Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, Troll

Team grade: Troll+

The only things preventing the lowest grade possible:

  • For the first time since the opening drive against Northwestern, Brendan Bigelow showed signs of life. While I am honestly at a loss as to why, he has not been particularly successful at breaking tackles this season, nor nearly as fast, despite looking pretty good through most of camp. Whatever the case, Saturday brought a bit more success in both regards, as the former Fresnan became Cal's first hundred yard rusher on the year. Faster linemen or better patience on his part would have netted him a third touchdown run, too. I remain very hopeful as to what he can accomplish in his final season here, and I am trying very hard not to make some kind of remark about these being his first two touchdown runs of the year.
  • Decent protection for Jared, although in another year, the line should be in better shape and mobility for the screen game. Watching Crosthwaite, Okafor and Borrayo not struggle to get down the field would be nice.
  • There was some strong play in the middle once again between Viliami Moala and Deandre Coleman. Both created good penetration, stuffed up A-gaps, and in Coleman's case, directly forced an interception. They are pretty much the only two players on defense who have been near faultless all year, save for maybe Kam Jackson and Khairi Fortt, who has rarely caught my eye, but rarely given me reason to complain about him.
  • Jared Goff punted acceptably well, considering the fact that he's not a punter. The pooch kicks themselves did not particularly bother me, as they do prevent returns with the threat of actual offense -- opponents cannot drop a man back to return the kick without putting them at a disadvantage. Using them more often than we had to, however, did -- at least a few of the Goff punts should have been legitimate attempts to convert. Unlike last week, I'm not sure the gameplan was constructed aggressively enough.
  • For the third straight week, Kenny Lawler continued to be the best Cal wide receiver on the field. Did anyone see that happening at any point this year, if ever? And as another valid question, how much of that increased production is due to Chris Harper's reported hip pointer limiting him? I do not know. Still ecstatic to have the emergence of another wide receiver option, giving us a bunch of solid starters for next year, plus Trevor Davis should be effective as well.
  • D'Amato hit a tough 42 yard field goal into the wind at Folsom, so there was that, too. Dude has been money this year.

Everything else, though? Pretty much goddamned, unadulterated awful, and I'll present some thoughts to you in loosely organized fashion, as you've probably gotten used to by now.

We'll start on offense, where the playcalling and decision making were baffling at best.

On an afternoon when the wind and weather were clear factors, Tony Franklin elected to throw the ball 52 times, a healthy amount of which included deep shots in inclement weather, throws that I am sure Jared Goff is not very used to making.

Now, that would have been somewhat understandable if the run game were not working, as it hasn't been most of the year...except the Bears averaged a season best 5.8 yards per carry, and between their backs alone, that number was 7.4.

Take out the 55 and 23 yard runs by Khalfani - both of which made him look far more effective than he actually was - and the Khalfani/Bigelow still averaged 4.6 yards (107 yards on 23 carries).

Any way you slice it, not running the ball more was unacceptable. After the game, Sonny said that this was because Colorado had six men in the box a lot of the time, which wasn't the look that they wanted. But if we were beating them out in space and out running them with those unfavorable numbers, why not keep doing so?

Don't ask me. I don't get it.

Pulling Jared Goff was a justifiable decision. I don't think it was particularly necessary, because the team's real problems were in the secondary and due to the playcalling on Saturday, but it was justifiable, given the way the afternoon was unfolding under his control. He was clearly bothered by the wind -- there's no way Goff is that bad of a deep ball thrower.

Kline, however, proved to be only less effective, if even that, and how they handled the entire sequence was odd as well. Has anyone ever seen a starting QB get -- presumably -- pulled from the game, then reinserted due to his backup's worse level of play?

The "Kline brings an immediate spark to the offense" argument kind of takes a bit of a hit after this one, though. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was odd and unfair to bring him in for only two drives, and agreed that he should have played the rest of the way as well, since the game was pretty much lost at that point. But treating him like he's the automatic answer or some guaranteed improvement clearly isn't right either.

Speaking of Kline -- and you might be able to correctly rationalize this by saying he hasn't had game experience -- there were several situations on Saturday when he had the ball and clearly froze, unclear on whether or not he was going to scramble or throw. Goff does not do that.

Again, what is the most impressive about our freshman starter to me is his sense of cool when all hell breaks loose. We saw it again on Saturday, when he had enough presence of mind to spin out of a sack to throw deep downfield. Incomplete, but you still appreciate those moments.

By the way, opponents, when are you going to respect Goff's wicked spin move? Dude is a baller.

Even if we may never know if he dunked on Bryce Treggs.

Cedric Dozier had the worst day of any Cal cornerback since Isaac Lapite against Washington State, and like most players we've trotted out this year, had tremendous trouble tackling. He hasn't necessarily lost himself the starting job opposite Kam Jackson or anything -- I still think he's the best option we have seen since we started shuffling in backups -- but it certainly was not a good game for the kid. Biting too far in on Spruce, failing to haul him in on a couple of other occasions, a pass interference penalty when he tripped, another long catch allowed where the wind kept the ball fluttering and he could have recovered...let's just move on.

Joel Willis saw some time out there and as far as I can remember, did a decent job, covering Paul Richardson pretty tight on a handful of plays. Framewise, he's a bit bigger than Dozier. Might have been worth a shot earlier in the game, since he's a decent tackler.

All in all, Richardson's performance was only secondary to the damage that Nelson Spruce did. Didn't really have a problem with letting him tally all the short yardage catches.

No sacks of Liufau and very occasional pressure of him at best allowed him to throw for a career high 363 yards, at least a hundred of which were gained after catch. Liufau didn't play that well, but the Bears made him look better than he really was. Because that's just what we do.

Tackling, tackling, tackling. If you took a drink every time we missed a ballcarrier this year, there's a good chance you're not actually alive to read this sentence. The most egregious example came on the touchdown that put the game out of reach -- Michael Adkins' 63 yard catch and run. Jalen Jefferson had Adkins pinned on the sideline and dove at him without using his hands, allowing Adkins to bounce off him and keep running.

I am doubtful that there will be much improvement in this area before Stanford, but perhaps next year...

Also baffling: Nick Forbes playing some snaps on defense this week. Why?

Am I the only one who is extremely curious at how the starting situation on defense will shake out next season, given the fact that some of the backups have played all year? Isn't it basically inevitable that some of those guys will come back and lose their jobs, like what happened with Jason Gibson?

One of Colorado's touchdowns was extremely impressive to me, and it was this one to Kyle Slavin that opened the second. If I'm getting it correctly, it looks like this concept outlined by Chris Brown called the Dash Read -- and not a power run, announcer guy.

Normally on the Zone Read, you read the unblocked backside defensive end, and depending on what he does, the QB keeps or hands off. The difference between that and the Dash Read or whatever you want to call it relies on you reading the playside end, though, and the benefits here, I'll let Chris Brown describe:

This is one reason why the play is so desirable as compared with the traditional zone read, which has the quarterback reading a backside player - the zone read is a good play, but all it is simply a traditional zone play to one side with an improved bootleg (because it's a read rather than a call in the huddle) on the backside.

So that's the advantage the linemen gain; it's the same one as can be found on a traditional veer play. The other benefit here - and the reason spread teams like it so much - is that it meshes with their personnel.

When the veer was originally drawn up, the "dive back" was usually the kind of guy you expected for that role: a surprisingly fast but still hulking fullback or inside runner. Many if not most "spread" runningbacks, by contrast, are smaller, speedier guys, whereas quarterbacks, while they still come in all shapes in sizes, have been getting bigger - just think of Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. Given Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow in the backfield, I'd rather have Harvin run to the outside while the quarterback runs to the inside: hence the name, the "inverted veer."

...

Moreover, as teams got better at this they learned that a key coaching point for the quarterback was to slide to the playside as he "meshed" with the runner. This means that, once the quarterback makes his decision, the defensive end should have committed.

What Colorado did was take it a step further by installing a pass concept on top of it. No one was covering Slavin once they saw the dash read action -- you'll see Walker, Barton and King all come up -- and as a result, he gets to slip right in behind the defense for a touchdown. Nicely designed. [Ohio State also ran a similar motion in their game against us this year. Interpret that how you will.]

There's three defenders to the offense's three, Walker, Barton and King against Slavin, Liufau and the running back. Even if one takes responsibility for each offensive option, the play should not progress that far.

But Walker bites on the run, which I think would be okay if there's a safety or something who is deep in coverage.

There is not, because it looks like man coverage across the board.

If someone wants to go tally up the number of redshirting freshman we have this year and go all Sherlock Holmes to figure out the culprit behind the Hale incident, that's on them. But let's go ahead and bed this particular rumor I've seen floating around, shall we?

Former Cal kicker David Seawright said afterwards he thought Colorado's onside kick was an accident and that they meant to squib it. Well, he would know better than us. Still, that kind of move is exactly the kind of thing I've been calling for, though, accident or not.

But of course, this being Cal, when we onside kick, other teams return them for touchdowns. There is no better way to describe what happened this year. That image will very likely be the lasting legacy of this season.

I was also very tempted to write nothing in this space this week and have just the .gif of the aforementioned play instead.

Quick non-Cal point: went to go see Peter and the Starcatcher this week at the Curran Theater. Really enjoyed it, highly recommend.

See y'all next week in Palo Alto.

I may be dressed up as a superhero with a cape and everything, so if you see and recognize me, don't say anything.

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