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Cal @ Oregon Post-Game Thoughts

(1) Jeff Tedford does not need to be fired.  I haven't seen a lot of this, or actually, anyone suggesting this on the blog.  However, I am sure there are other online forums where this idea is being thrown around.  It's ridiculous.  Shit happens.  Great coaches lose games on occasion.  On rare occasions, great coaches lose games by a lot.  It just happens.  Until Cal starts having consecutive losing seasons or .500 seasons, there should be no talk of firing Tedford.

(2) The defensive gameplan of making Masoli throw is fine so long as he's not throwing bubble screens.

We’re not respecting their outside receivers. They’re probably going to use trips and bubble screen us to get our defenders outside of the box.

by HydroTech on Sep 26, 2009 1:06 PM PDT (30 minutes into the game)

Making Masoli throw seemed like a fine idea prior to the game as since Masoli looked horrible all season.  But, quite predictably, when Cal started putting 7-8 defenders in the box to guard against Masoli's runs, Oregon used trips WRs and bubble screened out to them.  I warned this would happen a mere 30 minutes into the game once I saw what Gregory was doing.  Now, as bad as Masoli can be when passing the ball, even our very own girly TwistNHook can throw bubble screens.  In other words, making Masoli pass is a fine idea so long as he's passing down field, and not to the flats.  Once it became apparent that Masoli and Chip Kelly would consistently use and take the easy yardage from trips bubble screens, I would have liked to see Gregory respect the outside WRs more and trust in our linebackers and defensive line to handle the runs themselves without the immediate aid of the 8th or even 7th defender.  But Gregory kept defending against Oregon's run game, and Oregon kept burning us outside. 

Also, listen to Ken Crawford's On the Road Home Podcast.  Cal Defensive Coordinator Bob Gregory mentions that Oregon ran some new plays against Cal that the defense hadn't really seen much of nor prepared for (what these new wrinkles are, I'm not sure because I haven't had the time to scout Oregon).

(3) The way to beat the Cal Defense is to PUMP FAKE THE #^%*@ out of them.  This became apparent after the Minnesota game.  One of the problems with zone defenses, and especially aggressive secondary defenders in zone defenses, is that they're very susceptible to pump fakes.  The reason this is so, is because the defenders are looking at the QB, whereas when they are playing man coverage the secondary defenders are looking at the WRs and do not see pump fakes (unless the secondary defenders peek).  Minnesota took advantage of Hagan and Syd's aggressiveness, with pump fakes that led to touchdowns.  Oregon pump faked the @#$% out of our defenders too.  So how do you solve this problem?  Either play man coverage, or get a faster pass rush so the QB doesn't have time to pump fake.  Or the defenders can be less aggressive and not bite on pump fakes but that's hard to do and perhaps very ill-advisable.

(4) Offensive playcalling was bad.  Here's where I play couch offensive coordinator.  Take the following with 1 cup of salt because I suppose it's no coincidence that Andy Ludwig is an actual offensive coordinator and a chump like me is in culinary school (seriously! culinary school of all things!), but I would have approached things differently than Ludwig did. 

First of all, Oregon was stacking the box and begging us to pass.  They would have an 8th defender in the box quite often.  Safeties were creeping forward to focus on Jahvid Best.  So naturally, the way to defeat this with some playaction.  Although I haven't charted the game (been a bit too depressed to do that), I can't remember off the top of my head very much playaction at all early on.  Now, the playaction can come out of any formation that Cal runs out of.  Against Oregon, Cal used it's 12 personnel and 21 personnel quite a bit.  Cal has playaction plays out of the ace (very prominent in the pre-Dunbar offense), the twin TE ace (see 2007 offense), and the I-formation (always been a staple although we've seen less and less of it in the past few years).  But we just didn't see any playaction early on, perhaps not until the third quarter.  So until the third quarter, we were just ramming the ball into 8 defenders who were expecting the run and weren't getting the defense to be more honest by taking playaction shots down the field. 

I would have liked to see Cal use 22 personnel more (2 backs, 2 TEs, 1 WR) out of the big-I.  This would have put a lead blocker on the field, and provided the offense with balance (no real strength to the formation as since there is a TE to each side).  Out of this formation, Cal can use outside zone stretch to run Best to the outside, as well as let him choose his hole.  This formation is a great playaction formation too because it's a run formation and there are plenty of blockers who can stay in to block on the playaction (usually one of the TEs, the RB, perhaps the FB).  But we saw little 22 personnel against Oregon which was a bit of a surprise to me. 

Oregon was doing a great job getting to Riley, or the Cal OL was doing a crappy job protecting Riley.  Dropping Riley straight back on pass plays was not working.  The pocket was collapsing around him in less than a few seconds.  What do you do to get better protection on the QB?  Move the pocket!!!  Where were the half-rolls?  Where were the playaction QB bootlegs out of the fake outside zone stretches??? 

In 2007, when Cal was at Oregon, 41.9% of the passing plays that Jeff Tedford called were max protect plays/half-rolls (18 out of 43 total pass plays).  Cal went on to win that game, perhaps one of Cal's greatest road victories, without the QB being sacked or pressured a lot.  Ludwig should have taken this approach earlier once it became obvious that the Cal OL decided to play like crap.

And where was the offensive diversity that we had seen against Minnesota?  There was very little variety to begin the game.  No flysweeps (although perhaps that's because Sofele sort of got injured) or fake-flysweeps to help open up a backside cut lane (the offensive player doing the flysweep freezes the backside defenders who must guard against the potential flysweep, and thus if the ball is handed off it creates a backside cutback lane for the RB). 

Again, I'm no offensive coordinator.  When I was at Cal working my job, I only stood around, drank Gatorade, watched the team practice plays five days a week for 2 hours, learned plays, learned terminology and hand signals - so in other words I really didn't learn very much at all, but holy hell, I really disliked the playcalling very early on.  By about the second quarter I was wondering what the heck was going on. 

In summary, and in my amateur opinion, the playcalling:

(a) Needed more running play variety;

(b) Needed more outside zone stretch to give Best a shot at the outside, plus it utilizes his great vision and allows him to hit cutback lanes that appear in zone blocking.  Plus, these plays carry the threat of a QB bootleg whereas Cal's man-blocking schemes do not.  The added threat of a QB bootleg can help control the backside defender and pursuit, and open up things for the running game.

(c) Needed more playaction.  Needed playaction with the 12 personnel and 21 personnel by booting (bootleg) the QB and dumping the ball to TEs and FBs in the flat.  Playaction bootleg out of 22 personnel Big-I Formation is a good possibility too.

(d) Needed more half-rolls to move the pocket (move the launch point). 

(e) Needed more trips bubble screens (with the zone read fake) to get Oregon defenders outside of the box.  Oregon wasn't respecting the pass.  If you don't use playaction, then use trips WRs and bubble screen to the receivers.  Such short passes might have gotten Riley into more of a rhythm too.  Also the trips bubble screen is a great way to set up the trips fake bubble screen bomb - which was essentially the play that Oregon used against us for a touchdown.

(f) Needed perhaps a throwback screen.  Oregon defenders were aggressive.  Ludwig tried to counter with Cal's typical slip screens/jailbreak screens with little success.  An alternative is the throwback screen.  Throwback screens will roll the QB out, and draw defenders to the other side of the field away from the screen receiver.  I like the throwback screen because it's slower developing and actually looks more like a pass because of the rollout. 

(5) Execution was bad.  While I didn't like the playcalling during the game because I felt like the changes that needed to be done didn't happen early enough, had Cal just executed properly then the playcalling wouldn't have mattered as much. 

Tucker dropped a ball that might have been an early touchdown.  Side note: I think that one play could have changed the game and set a different tone had Tucker caught the ball and gotten a touchdown.  I think Tucker again got that stupid taunting penalty in the endzone.  The pass blocking sucked pretty much everywhere along the line.  Riley's passing was hit and miss.  The pass to Tucker that was dropped was a beaut.  But he also threw a would-be INT, a critical 3rd down pass out of bounds, and missed another would-be touchdown to Ross.  There was a muffed draw handoff too.  Not the greatest day.

(6) Ball security doesn't just apply to the offense but the defense too.  Josh Hill recovered a fumble.  Great.  Now protect the goddam football.  One of my pet peeves is how reckless, flashy, and pretentious defenders can be once they got the football on a turnover.  They refuse to protect the football with points of pressure when tackled.  They carry the ball in the crook of their arm swinging out away from their body just asking to be batted out.  They carry the ball in their hand, like it's a little rock and waive it around for everyone to see.  It makes me fuming mad.  I know what the defenders are thinking.  They're thinking touchdown.  They know that there are 5 fat and slow offensive linemen on the field who have about a 1% chance of stopping him collectively.  There is also another slow QB on the field (in most cases, but not Oregon's case) who can't tackle a statue.  Thus the defender is thinking there are only 5 other offensive players on the field who can stop him from getting a touchdown.  So he gets all reckless and ambitious while sacrificing ball safety.  It makes me so mad.

(7) Magic numbers and season outlook revisited.  Kevin Riley's stats have dropped to a 56.9% completion percentage.  In my Season Outlook and Some Magic Numbers post, I made a prediction on Cal's season based on the QB's completion percentage.  If Riley stays at this percentage then my prediction model suggests a seven win season.  The way the Pac-10 is looking this year, with Stanfurd, UW, and UCLA being pretty competitive, a seven win season is very possible.  We should be bracing ourselves for that possibility.  It's very possible this team has been overhyped by much of the mass media.  Most of us knew this team had a lot of questions.  We sort of forgot about all the question marks on this team due to our pwnage of Maryland, and EWU.  But EWU isn't even FBS.  Maryland  needed overtime to barely beat James Madison (FCS school); Maryland also lost to Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers.  In other words, Cal really hadn't seen a quality opponent until Minnesota.  Things got a little nerve-wracking against a mediocre Minnesota squad.  Now Cal is hitting the meat of its schedule against tough Pac-10 teams (Oregon, USC, UCLA...). 

I think, and I hate to say this, but Cal might have been exposed as a pretender.  I hope I'm wrong.  I really do.  The next three weeks with games against USC, the bye week, and UCLA should really reveal whether this Cal team is a 10+ win team, or a 7-8 win team.

(8) There's a bit too much psycho-analysis going on in the Cal fandom.   It appears as if everyone is a psychology major and has a Ph.D or whatever.  "Tedford needs to go to a sports psychologist."  "Tedford doesn't get emotional enough."  "Tedford doesn't fire up the players."  There's a lot of that going around and I don't like it.  NOBODY has a better pulse on the team than Jeff Tedford.  All this second-guessing of Tedford's decisions are pretty f-in ridiculous.  Just as ridiculous as all the people who think they know should start at QB in 2007 and 2008 although they don't see practices, they don't know the plays, they don't understand a bit of what's going on on the football field, and they had no knowledge of the underlying facts that weren't made available to the public.

Now, I know a lot of fans are looking for ways to criticize and critique the game because it's cathartic, and the easiest way to do that is by critiquing the psyche of the team since that requires no actual knowledge of whats really going on in their head (just a mere accusation of what's going on their head).  But really?  As fans, we have no f-in clue what the hell goes on in the program or in most of the players' heads.  We like to think we do, but 99.999% of us don't.

Have any of you been in the locker room during pre-game and halftime?  Do you even know what goes on?  Unless you have, I don't think you're anywhere near qualified with the insight to say what the coaches are doing psychologically is right or wrong. 

So I know a lot of us are pissed and looking for answers.  But please, let's stay within reason and within our knowledge.  As since most of us don't have the knowledge of what's going on, most of us need to STFU.

(9) Oh, and Jeff Tedford doesn't need to be fired.  Let's finish out the season and see how things go.  In 2006, Cal lost to Tennessee in pretty bad fashion (although not as bad as against Oregon).  People were calling for Tedford's head after that game.  Little did people know that the 2006 Cal Football team would rebound from the tough loss, compete for the Rose Bowl, earn a share of the Pac-10 title, and destroy Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl 45-10.  Nobody was calling for Tedford's head after the end of the season.  The 2006 season has been the second most successful season behind the 2004 season.  The 2009 season could still be a very successful season - perhaps even as successful as 2004 if the team turns things around and wins every game out - which they certainly have the potential to do.  So all this "fire Jeff Tedford" talk is quite premature and ... well, actually quite ridiculous.  It's actually very disappointing and embarrassing how graduates of such a fine university who are all fairly smart can act like such radical idiotic non-level-headed fringe knee-jerk bone-headed SEC-like fans.  Some of us are a disgrace to all Cal fans.

Some words from a level-headed Mike Silver:

It’s very tempting to take this opportunity to rip my beloved California Golden Bears, who got their pants pulled down (figuratively! … at least, as far as I know) Saturday by the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Bears got eviscerated 42-3, a shocking outcome given their No. 6 national ranking and increasing hype as a national-title contender. Instead, however, I’m going to rail against some of my own: Cal loyalists who, in reaction to the debacle, are acting like affronted aristocrats and assuming that the sky is falling. Hey, it may be falling – in terms of the Bears realizing their lofty 2009 goals – or it may not be. But the program is most certainly not going back to the sustained run of ineptitude that plagued it for the better part of five decades, most unbearably in 2001, when Cal went 1-10 and arguably had the worst program in the country.Then Jeff Tedford arrived and the Bears became instantly competitive and put together a run of excellence that, in normal times, would have produced multiple Pac-10 titles. However, the run coincided with USC’s return to dominance, and Cal instead developed a national reputation as a tantalizing tease that inevitably disappointed in truly big games. Fine. Saturday’s result seemed to confirm this label, and I think it factored into Cal’s severe drop (No. 24 AP/No. 19 USA Today) in the polls. But this whole "We’re a joke" thing I’m hearing from some Cal fans? And that "We need to fire Tedford" email I received? To borrow from the great philosopher John McEnroe … You cannot be serious.

Seriously.  It's not Jeff Tedford who needs to be fired.  Some of us Cal fans need to be fired.