We've got the Axe!
So I guess we'll start off with the good. Note: I haven't re-watched the game at the time of writing this post.
(1) Run blocking paves the way for the win. Best had a 10.6 yard average today. Even if you take away his longest run of the day, he still averaged 7.8 yards per rush. Best tallied two bucks and a cent on the ground. Dude just torched their defense. As for Vereen, Vereen had a 4.7 yard average. Not quite BEAST MODE, but still very good. The RBs had pretty good holes to run through today and the OL was getting downfield for their blocks. (If only our OL could pass block as even half as well as they run block...)
(2) The stable of runningbacks trample the Furd defense. See above. Additionally, all the RBs ran very well once past the the initial defenders.
(3) Cignetti has a simple, yet effective gameplan which wins the game and gets a few style points in the process. The plan, take advantage of Best's and Vereen's speed. Early on, Cignetti called quite a few toss sweeps. Then the fake-fb dive flip play. Then the end around reverse... Cignetti was definitely stretching out that defense and seeing if they could defend the edge. Didn't quite work. Later, Cignetti started working in some play action after the run-heavy playcalling. The playaction helped set up Riley's TD pass to Morrah.
The hook and ladder was ridic. My first thought as the ball was in the air and I saw the defenders closing in was (i) this is going to go for negative 10 yards; and (ii) something doesn't seem right. I can't say I predicted the hook and ladder playcall coming as the ball was in the air, but something inside of me just said something was different. Something was wrong. After peeking at an ESPN highlight, I realized why I felt that something didn't seem right and why something felt wrong. The reason was because we faked the screen out of a formation and personnel group which we never screen out of. It was completely unorthodox to fake screen out of the strong-I out with base personnel to the narrow side of the field. Nevertheless, despite never setting up the hook and ladder with a screen out of a similar formation earlier in the game, the play just screamed "screen" from the start and I'm willing to bet it fooled EVERYONE in the stadium.
Finally, Cignetti was safe and smart. While "conservative" isn't a word that a lot of Cal fans like to hear, it worked. We ran lots and passed little. Why pass so little? May I remind you of how inconsistent and porous our pass blocking has been? So I think it was a good decision to just put the game on the shoulders of the OL's run blocking and RBs while using a few passes to compliment things.
Continuing on with the good...
(4) Gregory makes some good 2nd half adjustments. Early on, Gregory's gameplan was simple, rush 3 to 4 men, and drop back in zones. Stanfurd responded by hitting the short seams and hook zones. For a while, the Furd was just eating us up working the hook zones. Furd was also killing us with completed passes against our zones because the lack of QB pass rush.
So what does Gregory do? Exactly what I thought he'd do:
Zone blitz and bring a 5th defender on pass rush.
In the second half, Gregory began zone blitzing by dropping the NT into the hook zones which began taking away those short over-the-middle completions that were eating us up earlier. Gregory also began sending a 5th pass rusher which resulted in sacks.
Frankly, I'm a bit surprised Gregory wasn't more aggressive earlier - specifically regarding bringing a 5th pass rusher. But I guess he wanted to play it safe and not give up big plays and momentum-changing plays to Stanfurd. Thus, he protected the defense from confidence deflating big plays, and required the offense to drive the length of the field go score. So I guess the gameplan wasn't that bad to start the game, but I'm especially happy with the second half adjustments to what the Furd was doing in the first half.
(5) Lack of Penalties on Cal. The team only had 3 penalties for 25 yards today. This is a huge improvement from the usual 4 false starts, 2 snap infractions, 5 holding, and 2 illegal formation penalties we usually have per game.
(6) Huge Defensive Stops on Critical Downs. Our defense kept the Furd to a 3rd down conversion rate of 4/13 and came up with a nice 4th and short stop. The defense also saved a touchdown right before halftime with a crucial 3rd and Goal stop. Defense really rose to the occassion on critical situations.
(7) Execution, execution, execution! I'm not one to peruse many chat boards. I still don't. But a friend of mine told me that some people are wondering why it took so long for Tedford/Cignetti to open up the playbook. Additionally, people are wondering where this playcalling was all season.
I'm really not sure what these people are talking about because this is the same playcalling. There is nothing really different.
Then why was the offense so much more spectacular today than in previous games? Because of execution! Because we were playing a less talented team than compared to Oregon State and USC!
The Cal offense didn't suddenly explode because Cignetti got the mental block out of his head and realized he needed to start calling X play or Y play. He's always been calling these plays. Nothing I saw at the game was new except for the hook and ladder. Cignetti has always used the RB swings, always used goalline misdirection (the TD pass play to Morrah), the RB toss sweeps, the reverses, etc. It's all the same. The only difference is that we executed.
Okay, so how about the bad....
(8) Doing The Wave is NOT cool. The mic-men should seriously be ashamed of themselves for orchestrating or helping orchestrate the Wave in the 2nd quarter.
Mic Men - You just told the football team that the game was boring. You just told the team that watching a visual illusion go around the stadium was more exciting and interesting than the football game, the Cal/Stanfurd rivalry, and everything the team has done to prepare for this game. Inciting the wave was a huge disrespectful slap in the face. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should apologize to the team and Tedford.
I don't care if students begged you and offered you their first-born child for your help. I don't care if you thought you were being considerate by doing it during a timeout. Everyone knows that if (Tedford forbid a wave is started), it will survive through the timeout and into the game and the fans will be distracted by it. Today for example, I think a wave was started while we were on defense in the 2nd Quarter. Thus, the students instead of making noise and watching the game in the south endzone were all watching the wave go around the north endzone. It was dead silent during that play for the Stanfurd offense and it shouldn't have been.
And Cal fans, please don't participate in the wave. Respect the team, respect the players, and respect the game. Don't do the wave. Don't follow your mic-men if they attempt to incite a wave.
(9) Non-existent Pass Rush in the 1st Half. Wondering why the Furd was picking apart the deeper parts of our zones? Because we didn't have a pass rush.
A couple frustrated Cal students a few rows behind me would scream "COVER HIM!" when a deeper pass was completed against our zone. Well, when the Furd QB gets 5 second to throw the problem isn't the coverage, the problem is the pass rush. So the correct frustration-inspired sentence to yell is "Where's the pass rush?"
Part of the problem was that we were only sending 3 or 4 pass rushers. Ideally, you'd like to get a good pass rush with just 3 to 4 guys. If you can't... then you have to send more and roll the dice that the risk doesn't outweigh the reward.
(10) Failure to recover an onside kick. So Stanfurd scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter. They are down 37-10. What are they going to do? ONSIDE KICK!
But for some reason our players didn't look to be expecting it. And when the ball was in the air, the Cal players failed to protect our man who went up to attempt to recover the ball. Essentially, if the onside kick can't be recovered by you, you either (i) block a player on the other team so the player on the other team can't recover the ball; or (ii) you cover-up your teammate who is attempting to recover the ball to prevent it from being knocked out or stripped.
Huge brain fart by Alamar and the kickoff return team.
(11) Defense lets their guard down early? Stanfurd picked up two scores pretty darn quickly and easily in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Cal defense let their guard down. The game was 37 - 3 prior to Stanfurd's two scores. It's hard not to let one's guard down when you're winning by 34 points. But the speed and ease of which Stanfurd scored sparked some concern in me. In me! Imagine that! I wasn't here through the where-anything-can-happen Holmoe-caust. I can only imagine that those of us who have lived through those dark days were sort of slightly freaking out deep down inside. In fact, I met TwistNHook after the game and he said he actually wet his pants a little when the Furd started scoring in the 4th quarter. My suggestion to you, Twist, adult diapers.
(12) Riley not so great. He wasn't completely bad but he wasn't exactly good either. Sure, he had 2 TDs (Statistically, Riley is given credit for the hook and ladder touchdown and thus the stats show he threw three touchdowns). But he had a horrible INT and didn't see a gaping wide open Tad Smith down a gaping seam. He had a few overthrows. He had another should-have-been INT that was luckily dropped. He got sacked for a loss of a bagillion miles when he should have thrown the ball away. Only one pass was completed to a player other than Morrah (who only had that one one-yard touchdown catch), and RBs. If I had to give Riley a grade, it would probably be about "C."