(1) Too Painful and Disgusting to Watch. I may say something which is outright ridiculous and hard to believe. But since I've started watching Cal Football -- going on 11 years now -- I have not ONCE ever stopped watching a game early. No matter how bad the loss. No matter how painful it was to watch. Yes, I've sat through the drubbings we received from Oregon in 2008 and 2009. The USC losses where we were competitive for about half a quarter. Watched all that bullshit. Except for this game. For the first time in 11 years I turned off the TV and went about the rest of my life like a Cal Football game wasn't on. It was that bad. It was so fucking bad that even HydroTech, one of the toughest Cal fans out there, who has broken down film of horrific Cal losses, couldn't even stand it any more. Crazy huh?
(2) Bridgford's Touch. It seems like for the first time in a long time, instead of having a QB who overthrows receivers by miles, now we have a QB who actually underthrows receivers. I think this is a product of Bridgford trying to fit balls into the receiver over the underneath coverage -- not because he lacks arm strength. In fact, that is the reason why. Being a good QB isn't all about just firing balls across the field like lasers. Tedford has always taught his QBs that certain throws need air underneath the ball. Cal great Aaron Rodgers grasped this concept. Nate Longshore grasped that concept. So does Bridgford. Unfortunately, Bridgford seems to misjudge some of these throws a bit and ends up shorting the ball resulting in passes defended, interceptions, and lost opportunities. Oh well. Hopefully he gets it fixed by next year.
(3) Fumbles. Why so many fumbles on shotgun zone read mesh exchanges? Because the QB is trying to pull the ball too late. Both Maynard and Bridgford commit these errors. Basically, this is what happens. The defender being read hesitates for a moment waiting to see whether the QB hands off the ball or not. The defender knows that by hesitating for a moment, the QB's correct read is to hand off the ball. The defender, after a moment of waiting, begins to bite down on the RB. The QB, seeing that the defender is starting to bite down on the RB, changes his mind and instead of handing the ball off to the RB, he begins to pull the ball to keep it. The RB is trying to clamp down on the ball thinking he's getting it, and the QB is pulling it out of the RB's grasp thinking he's going to keep it. This results in the muffed meshes and fumbles. We saw this with Maynard, and we're seeing it with Bridgford. Hate to say it but Chip Kelly could probably give our players and/or coaches a few pointers on how to perfect this. (Which basically comes down to the QB deciding whether to give or keep the ball IMMEDIATELY and following through with that decision even if the defender starts doing the opposite of what you expected, because by changing your mind mid-mesh you risk the possibility of a fumble.)
(4) Targeting Penalties. This one pisses me off. I'm not pissed at our guys for committing the penalties, but just pissed that these penalties are being called. I'm all for preventing concussions, blah blah blah. But sooo many of these plays are occurring by accident. Or, in other words, the helmet to helmet hit is INCIDENTAL. And if it's incidental and not intentional, then I don't think it should be a penalty.
Nine times out of ten, what happens is that the receiver catches the ball and sees the hit coming, so he ducks his head to cover up for the hit, thereby putting his helmet right into the defender's helmet. The defender's helmet is often -- initially -- below the receiver's helmet; the defender lining his shoulders to the receiver's body. The receiver essentially just puts his helmet/head right into the way of the defender's helmet thereby causing the helmet to helmet contact.
Just like refs have to deduce on pass interference plays whether contact is incidental versus intentional, I think they (meaning the rules committee) have to change the rules and instruct the refs to start only calling those hits if they think the defender is purposely targeting. Now, I know it's hard to tell whether the defender is purposely targeting. But ask any of those defenders if they're targeting for the helmet with their helmet and I bet you 99% would say "no." Instead, they would all say that they're just trying to line up a big hit and to break up the play (by jarring the ball loose). Is that deserving of a penalty? No.
So I'm just so sick and fucking tired of this rule. I hate it in the NFL. I hate it in college. I think it's ruining the game. I think it basically does not allow defenders to play the game of football and break up a pass over the middle. I mean, seriously, all the receiver has to do is jump to catch the ball (thereby making him "defenseless") and if he's pretty much hit at all the refs are going to throw a flag for either a helmet to helmet hit or targeting a defenseless player. Pretty soon college football is going to be flag football.
This rule sucks. This rule sucks even if Cal wasn't getting flagged for it.
(5) Offensive Identity. You know, I've been pondering for the entire season whether Cal's offensive woes are really because it lacks a so called "offensive identity." The line of thought goes that Oregon's offensive identity is zone read, speed, and more speed. Stanfurd's identity is power run, power run, playaction to the tight end. Washington State is spread the defense out and slice and dice through the air.
But what is Cal's offensive identity? Presumably, it has none because it doesn't do anything well or that much at all. Is that really the problem though?
The more and more I think about it, the answer is no. The answer isn't that Cal doesn't have some style of offense that it sticks to, like Oregon for example. The answer is just that Cal isn't doing anything well on offense. An offense doesn't need an offensive identity to be good. It just needs to ... wait for it ... EXECUTE. And that's really what Cal hasn't been able to do this year on offense.
Look, when you're able to execute and do something well, most teams will stick to that and just grind the opponent to death with that one thing. Oregon, for example, will zone read you to death and do it by running one play every 18 seconds. Stanfurd will power run, power run, power run, then throw in a playaction pass. They all do that one thing really well. But an offense can be just as successful doing a little bit of everything, so long as it can execute those plays. That's what Tedford wants to do. And ideally, if an offense can do that, it's INFINITELY better than an offense that can only do one or two things really good. Unfortunately, this year, Cal just can't do anything on offense well. So that's the problem. Not some lack of offensive identity.
I know, I know. So many of you are probably thinking: well, isn't that the problem with Tedford's offense? Because it's so diverse that the team is forced to learn too much instead of just getting good at one thing?
I suppose that's one way of looking at things. But how many different basic run plays does Cal have? Hmm. About five? Inside zone, outside zone, toss sweep, draw (not really the type of play you want to rely on though), and inside power. And was Cal any good at any of these? Not really. The offense was hit and miss depending on the game and the opponent. I mean, seriously, excluding formational differences, you have about five different styles of running plays and the offense can't really do any of them that well? The problem isn't so much the offense being too diverse; the problem is just the offense sucking.
All you really need to do is get good at a few of these run plays (preferably some sort of outside and inside run style -- whether it be a man or zone blocking scheme) and just pound away at the defense with those plays, and you'll win games. In 2004, Cal basically ran power man blocking all day and won games with it. The defense knew it was coming and just couldn't stop it because the offense executed. In 2006, it was the same way. Pretty much power all the way. Pull the backside guard into the playside C-gap and have Marshawn Lynch shove that rock up the defense's shit. It's not that hard.
Look guys, I know it's kind of fun to conjure up fancy phrases to try and explain why Cal is losing (like Cal lacks an offensive identity, etc., etc.), but that's not why Cal is losing games. Cal just isn't executing. It's either a talent or coaching problem. Considering Cal has run this well with Coach Tedford and Coach Michalczik, it's quite clear to me that it's not coaching but a talent problem on the offensive line. As I understand it, we've had some unfortunate injuries on the OL and it looks like some guys aren't panning out. It happens. Not every rock is a diamond. And not every rock can be polished into a gem. Sometimes a team has more rocks on it than diamonds and gems, and when it does, you're going to lose games.
(6) Stuff Needs to Change. If Tedford is still the coach next year, whatever he's been doing has to change. I know he says he evaluates each year after the season and changes things to help better the program. But whatever has been going on the past three years needs some serious... tweaking. I mean, here's the time to start getting bat shit crazy and doing all sorts of nutty stuff to win games. Whatever it takes. He's got nothing to lose any more. If it means he has to go back to playcalling then do it. If it means he's gotta hire someone else (or have a different coach) keep a "pulse on the team" then do it. If it means he's gotta be QB coach again and hand-tutor all our QBs, then do it.
I guess some people will probably read that last paragraph and be like: HydroTech is just NOW saying this?
Well, no. After each year there is certainly opportunity for change and tweaking -- especially if you don't meet what you believe are reasonable goals and standards. But I guess I wasn't quite so willing to proclaim the ship as sinking as early as so many others were. In my opinion, 2007 was more an unfortunate circumstances of our QB getting injured, some locker room antics, and some tough losses. 2008 was the product of more injured QBs (Longshore with his torn pectoral muscle, and Riley with his hurt confidence issues). 2009 was alright with some hit and miss games thrown in there. 2010 was bad. 2011 was disappointing but not downright horrible. And then 2012 was just horrible.
I mean, sure, perhaps things started trending downwards as early as 2007 from a pure win/loss standpoint. But, if you guys know me by now, I'm not one to simply look at simple wins/losses. I tend to look at things more from an analytical execution, Xs & Os point of view -- not saying ya'll are stupid or anything. But by looking at games from a football point of view rather than a W/L point of view, I think you sort of tend to see losses not so much as simply "oh we lost the game we suck" but as fuck-ups here and there throughout the game caused us to lose. And if you've been reading my post-game thoughts most of this season, that's what I've been saying. If we don't mess up here and instead we score a touchdown, if we don't turn over the ball here and even get a field goal, blah blah blah, it's a game.
I've said this before but the line between winning and losing is so microscopically small. It really is. So naturally, you're going to win some games and you're going to lose some games. It happens. If you're fortunate, maybe you have a good team and some good luck and you win a lot more than you lose. Sometimes it goes the other way too. But what's really concerning is when you start losing a lot more than you can attribute to bad luck or just a couple of dumb individual errors here and there. And, unfortunately, even I have to say it, it's been starting to happen far too often the past three years or so. So yeah, things need to change. Whatever it is. Perhaps it's a new coach. Perhaps it's just some drastic new responsibilities for existing coaches. Perhaps some positional coaches need to be fired. I don't know. I'll leave that up to the Athletic Director and/or the head coach.
(7) If Tedford is Gone... I still appreciate all he's done for the program. I think most of us were rooting for the guy to do well here at Cal, and to go out on his own terms -- ideally with a Rose Bowl win or a National Championship.
I think it's safe to say that Cal Football is probably in a better place now than it was at the end of 2001. We've had a taste of victory. We've had a couple of awesome teams (2003, 2004, 2006, and even the first half of 2007). We've seen an uptick in quality of recruits. We've got some nice new facilities and a shiny new stadium to play in. We couldn't have done it without Tedford. So for that, I am grateful.
On a more personal level, I'm grateful for Tedford for all the things I've learned from him as someone who got to see him, his coaches, his team, and his players on a daily basis. I've learned a lot about football, team chemistry, players, and college football fans from not only working for the team but writing on this blog. I wish Tedford the best where ever he goes next. I presume he'll definitely get a shot somewhere as an offensive coordinator or perhaps even as a head coach again. Hopefully he'll have more success again -- except when he ever plays Cal again.
(8) As for Me... I will probably step away from the blog indefinitely -- as I already announced in the second week of the season. And, I may be done with Cal Football too. I'm actually contemplating not buying season tickets next year. Not because I don't believe Cal can't become a winning team again whether we have a new head coach or if we have Tedford again next year. But my financial situation has become one where I could probably use that money I'm paying for season tickets for more important things. (I can't even afford cable TV any more!) Yeah, for once I have to admit that Cal Football is no longer the most important thing in my life. Being the chef-extraordinaire that I am, I have a couple of other things baking in the oven which I have to take care of. Real life, ya know?
Anyway, it's been real, Cal fans -- for better and worse. Don't stop believin'. Maybe some day, before we all die, we'll see Cal win a Rose Bowl or a National Championship. Some day.