Buckle up. This one's the longest post-game thought column yet. _______________________________________________________________________________________
In which we try to examine this game in context
As the grumbling starts and some people are beginning to declare Sonny Dykes a bust or demand Andy Buh's head, let's remember something, okay?
We are where we thought we'd be.
It's easy to get mesmerized by the profilic offensive display that has unfolded so far and say that we should have more wins. I understand that feeling, since most of us have never seen anything like it.
Still, we've faced one of the most difficult schedules in the country, and with a 1-2 record, we are where we thought we'd be.
The argument can be made we should have beat Northwestern, but saying that we should be much better than we are right now is difficult to say in regard to this one. Yes, we outscored Ohio State 34-31 in the final 54 minutes, a stat has been printed pretty much everywhere. The problem is that they count those opening six just as much, and spotting a team like that a three touchdown lead is an open invitation for a loss.
They were simply better. Faster and stronger. Definitely faster.
There's no shame in admitting that, nor is there any in losing 52-31 to the No. 4 team in the country.
So, everybody needs to keep calm, because It is going to get at least a little bit worse in the near future - with No. 2 Oregon waiting around the corner, the overwhelming odds suggest that Cal is going to stare a 1-3 start in the face.
The success of this season - beyond making sure these growing pains actually turn into something for future years - rests on what they do after that 1-3 start, and we would do well to remember that fact.
If there is one thing to be mad about, it's the absolutely pitiful attendance from Cal fans to this one, which essentially lost us a home game. It may make no difference in the books since the money is all the same color, but for a game that featured the biggest out of conference opponent since Tennessee, it was a sad, sad display. There should never be that little Blue and Gold in Memorial Stadium.
I still don't understand why there was more red than blue in our stadium yesterday— Lucus Gingold (@Uncleluke10094) September 15, 2013
@AGuyNamedNam if Cal fans want an elite program, and a Rose Bowl, this is unacceptable..— Isaac Williams (@berserkinberk) September 16, 2013
I am definitely very happy with the team's effort and refusal to give up - after being punched in the face to start, they did respond well, continued to pull every trick they could think of to try to win the game, and even forced several near goal-line stands.
In which we ponder our bowl chances
Ah, the bowl question...there are five more wins that must be had before Cal reaches the magic number of six.
Post-Oregon, it looks like there's a good chance at five out of this group: USC, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona and Colorado. None of them are sure things - not even Colorado, which has been decidedly feisty under Mike MacIntyre - but all of them are winnable. It goes without saying that in the best case scenario, we will sweep all of those games, although expecting it might be a bit of a tall order. Three or four seems realistic.
To finish the job, Cal will more than likely need one out of these game in the W column, all of which are on the road: UCLA, Washington, Stanford.
In short, not good.
In which I say some things about the offense
I try not to spend too much time writing about Jared Goff - as the quarterback, he already receives more than enough press, scrutiny, analysis, and general attention. Still, I would be amiss if I didn't mention that he played impressively again. He isn't perfect, of course. Goff came agonizingly close to hitting several throws that might have made the score look much different - this is where we cringe about him missing Darius Powe and Kenny Lawler by about five combined inches - but he should only get better going forward. It's exciting to think of what he could be a year from now, let alone two, or three. When's the last time we could really say that?
There was one major mistake, and I'm sure you know it just as well as I do. After Ohio State committed their only turnover, Goff threw the subsequent flea-flicker right into bracketed coverage - Chris Harper was covered, and then had safety help up top. Horrendous decision.
I disagreed with how Tony Franklin called that sequence, too, and that isn't just in hindsight - I felt exactly the same way as I did after Alex Logan's interception against Northwestern. There isn't a need to rush and take a major shot down field when you're down two scores in the first quarter, or when you're down a touchdown with three minutes to play. Seems a bit overaggressive to me, especially knowing time is rarely an issue for these guys.
Accuracy and completion percentage are both a tad lower than they should be right now. By next year, Goff will be completing over 65%, I bet. Some easy, easy drops hurt him, and Ohio State safety Christian Bryant almost picked him off about three times, by himself.
Shouts out to the tiny blue trash cans they always throw into at the end of practice, which have definitely helped refine Goff's fade-throwing ability. When we run that route - especially down in the red zone - I rarely have doubts it will be successful.
Matt Cochran laid out the first defender trying to tackle Chris Harper on the throwback screen. Touchdown. Perfect play call in that situation, using Ohio State's aggressiveness against them.
It's worth wondering now - what's wrong with Brendan Bigelow? Though Ohio State keyed in on him - several white jerseys were around him every time he touched the ball - that cannot explain it all. The Fresno Flash looks just a step slow and hesitant, and not to mention just worse in general than either of Lasco or Muhammad at this point. Maybe he's still working into game shape, but that missing step is crucial.
Khalfani Muhammad is starting to remind me of a faster Isi Sofele. ALWAYS runs hard, always keeps his feet moving, and he can pass pro pretty well for his size.
I'd also like to see more Daniel Lasco. Like, a lot more. He ran very decisively, and cut up field when needed, something he hasn't always been doing. I know he's still working back from a hamstring, but Bigelow looks remarkably behind those two so far.
Remember how I said we probably weren't going to change the line, but likely do a lot of schematic stuff to try to work in the run game? BoehmCat was another one of those schematic changes. Worked pretty well for what it was - a short yardage package.
High snaps were very rare in camp, so I'm not sure what suddenly happened for Chris Adcock to do his best Brazinski impression in this one. Three or four snaps almost went over Goff's head. He's 6'4.
No Bone this week, but two TE stuff with Rodgers and Bill Tyndall. Bigelow had a long run that was called back by penalty out of this formation.
Hey, only five penalties this time!
In defense - haha - of Buh
No, I do not think the level of play that has been seen thus far has been acceptable. The numbers - damn near worst in the country in every statistical measure - look plenty bad, and the actual on-the-field product has largely been worse than that.
But I also think that demanding we fire Buh is unreasonable right now. There's a very, very small sample size against two ranked opponents, and there were five missing starters for this one. A converted wide receiver played cornerback. A converted linebacker took reps at safety in the second half. Through three games, Cal has yet to even trot out all 11 projected starters even once, and will not even get a chance to this year.
Maybe it should be better than what we've seen, but not by that much.The best thing we can do is be patient and examine his season as a whole once it is over. I would be very, very surprised if they fired him before then.
Claiming that there must be scheme changes or firing Buh is not going to change the fact that a bunch of the players we have right now should not be playing at all, and uttering the word "scheme" repeatedly is not going to change that either.
Plus, I think he's a bit more prepared than people are giving him credit for - I saw at least a few times where I thought we had the right play called, but we just couldn't make the play in general. Second half, Kyle Kragen had Corey Brown stuffed for a loss on a reverse, which Brown manages to turn into a gain anyway. Camporeale had Kenny Guiton completely bottled up on one of his roll-outs, only to lose him because Guiton was much more athletic. Both times, scheme was in the right place. Both times, the player was in the right place too. Just beaten.
One other quick example I saw - I'm rewatching the game and writing this column all out of order - came on a 1st and 10 from the Cal 17. Ohio State runs what I believe is a veer option to the left, and when we commit to Dontre Wilson, Guiton pulls the ball out the other way. Though blocked, Kragen does a good job of angling himself so that Guiton must stay inside, where Stefan McClure is already in the correct position to take the QB..unfortunately, he is also blocked, and that allows Guiton to run right by him. Players in the right place. Just not making plays.
For what it's worth, Scott thought the same, and we all know he's pretty damn smart. I'm anticipating that he and/or Liffey will have more on this soon.
@AGuyNamedNam Didn't feel like we were out-schemed. Opponent was talented, well-coached. Our guys competed, but made some young mistakes.— Scott Chong (@kodiakcgb) September 15, 2013
In which we observe the actual defense
We are all very aware that safety has been an issue this season - with Avery Sebastian and Michael Lowe now down, the secondary has more holes in it than the plot of an average M. Night Shayamalan movie. Knowing what we know about this secondary, the next sentence is about to look really, really crazy...but I think Saturday brought a potentially encouraging development in that area. After the first couple of drives, the Bears spent most of the game with Cameron Walker at free safety, because Alex Logan reportedly left with an injury. Well, whatever it was, the pass defense looked remarkably more stable with Walker - and to a degree, Joel Willis - back there. No long gains to be given up.
I realize that Ohio State ran the ball essentially at will, because we couldn't do anything with the front seven, which is why I have prefaced the previous statement with the word "potentially".
One tradeoff by having Cam Walker out there at safety is that he is also far too small to be effective at run support right now - at cornerback, we might be able to get away with that, but Ohio State had a great time running directly at him, because Walker simply is not big enough to get off blocks. He played mostly deep to prevent big plays, but this struggle in run support can be seen during the first play Walker appears on tape - at about 5:40 in the first quarter - he comes up and whiffs on the run, and for sure again when he tries to chase Guiton on 4th and 1 at 12:38 in the 3rd.
A little more on that 4th and 1 play - Guiton ran a speed option right, and Jalen does the right thing in covering the running back. Unfortunately, no one was able to reach Guiton before the first down marker, because Hardy Nickerson was blocked out of the play, and the nearest defender after that - Walker - get blown up by an offensive lineman. A lot of that was happening all game.
It's admittedly a small sample size, but the door seems open for us to convert him in the long term, if he gets some weight. Jason Gibson also appeared at safety in the second half for run support, and while he didn't make any major mistakes, he wasn't particularly distinctive either.
It seems pretty apparent now that Forbes and Lowe were only listed as available/possibly playing to force Ohio State to prepare for them. Lowe barely played at all, and I don't remember seeing Forbes at any point.
Major loss not having Michael Barton for this one. Barton is the most athletic of the LBs, and it would have helped to have some extra speed out on the field.
The defensive line rarely was getting pressure of any kind - very rarely did they bother Guiton, and rare also were situations where they made plays in the backfield at all. We tried a bunch of things, flipping McCain around, whatever. These guys were nearly invisible in the pass-rush, for the most part.
However, I do think that Viliami Moala and Deandre Coleman played reasonably well - Ohio State did have much success running up the middle at all, and when they did, it got stuffed in that area quite a bunch. This kind of thing doesn't show up in the stats a lot, but they did decent work in the middle.
There was also a look in which we went with 3 down linemen, and Kyle Kragen standing up at linebacker. He got slightly sucked in on an option fake and outran to the corner by Jordan Hall.
Tackling was MUCH better this week. Joel Willis did really well out there in that regard. Among the guys who I thought played decently were Kam Jackson and Stefan McClure, with the other linebackers having only moments of excellence. Like in the play mentioned up top, that unit had a lot of trouble getting off of blocks.
Ohio State's second touchdown to after halftime was a clear mismatch - they got stuck with Jalen Jefferson on Philly Brown on a corner route. Ugh.
A lot more 4-3 looks coming out of the half.
Kenny Guiton opened the game by waving his arms around, a gesture that I interpreted as him taunting Cal to raise the volume. This was not shown on the game broadcast.
In which we "look" at some plays to try to figure out what happened during the first six minutes
Links are to the plays. Best I could do.
After an opening four yard screen, Cal gave up 90 yards through the air to Devin Smith, and I am pretty sure it came off a breakdown that came from either Damariay Drew or Isaac Lapite. I believe it's Lapite, because he flat out leaves his man outside to crash on the bubble screen entirely, even though Stefan McClure had it smothered. Bad decision on his part, since you'd much rather give up the quick gain underneath. This is one of those examples Scott and I are referring to about a player making a young mistake, and not necessarily a schematic one - Lapite was basically seeing his third career start, after never playing before then. Some blame could also be put on Damariay Drew for looking in the backfield a beat or two too long, but I think most of it should fall on Lapite for forgetting the receiver.
Joel Willis says "our main issue is our eye progression. We keep losing eye progression, not looking at the No. 1 receiver"— Ryan Gorcey (@RGBearTerritory) September 15, 2013
To open the second drive, they ran Dontre Wilson on to the edge on a sweep - Ohio State was faster than us, and they knew it very early on. They would also run a reverse on the third drive, testing us on the edges. Alex Logan comes down but gets blocked into oblivion. Lapite follows his man too far inside, which is all Wilson needs to explode for 26 yards. Nobody was fast enough to stop him from getting the corner, even though you can clearly see Campo and company in pursuit.
Next play, another touchdown. Cal lines up in a 4-2-5 nickel package against Ohio State's 11 personnel (1 TE, 1 RB, 3 WR),with Stefan McClure in the slot. You already know the result of the play, but it happens because Isaac Lapite got beat in coverage on the outside. There's no safety help to give him on this play, since our coverage demanded that Drew watch Philly Brown out of the slot. In essence, our safety is occupied.
I think this is another example not of a scheme breakdown, but just of us losing a matchup based on personnel, because Lapite still lacks the foot speed to keep up with Devin Smith downfield, despite that ten yard cushion. He was pulled soon after this one.
Maybe you could have shaded Drew toward Lapite's guy, and then trust Stefan on Philly Brown on this play, but that takes another man out of the box against the run...defense is a constant game of adjustments and trades. I don't know that there's a perfect one that exists in every given situation - you ultimately give up some things to defend others, and hope that your pieces are better than theirs are, based on how you position them.
The third had several plays, but the TD came on fourth and goal when Alex Logan can't quite catch his man Chris Fields, who runs into the flat. Ohio State had trips right, and we matched their three with our three defenders. Out of the first three TDs, this would be the first one I would say could be improved schematically. Zone coverage might have actually worked better, since there's so little area you need to actually defend in the red zone - Logan wouldn't have had to run to the corner in that case, and Lapite would have picked up Fields instead.
In which we continue to praise Mark Tommerdahl
This week, we don't need numbers.
First off, a big shout out to my friend Michael Rollins, who has been joking over the last month that we should run a fake punt with Goff, since he shares the same number with Cole Leininger and a similar body type, to boot. We did exactly that on Saturday, at exactly the right time, and it worked fantastically. The same can be said for the little lateral motion we ran to spring Khalfani for a 42 yard kickoff return. Bryce Treggs looped behind Muhammad, and while he didn't actually lateral or flip it over, that moment probably got Ohio State to freeze just a half second. It was a bit less creative than putting your quarterback out on special teams, the small twist worked just about as well.
Tommerdahl/Dykes/whoever have been imaginative, aggressive, and consistently excellent in this area all season, and I have no problems with how they have executed whatsoever. Good on D'Amato to hit all his kicks, too. The only unfortunate hiccup in this one was not being able to recover the onside kick, that's all - I actually figured we might try it coming out of the half.