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Cal vs. Oregon Post-Game Thoughts

BERKELEY CA - NOVEMBER 13:  Darian Hagan #26 of the California Golden Bears enters the stadium for their game against the Oregon Ducks at California Memorial Stadium on November 13 2010 in Berkeley California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BERKELEY CA - NOVEMBER 13: Darian Hagan #26 of the California Golden Bears enters the stadium for their game against the Oregon Ducks at California Memorial Stadium on November 13 2010 in Berkeley California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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(1)  Tavecchio.  Football, unlike many sports, is a true team game.  It takes great performances from all players, all over of the field, and even away from the ball to win a play, to score, and to win games.  So it's very hard to often pin the blame on one player's mistake and say "he lost the game."  Nevertheless, after this game, I couldn't help but feel that if Tavecchio had made that field goal (or just not false started himself on the field goal he did make), that Cal would have won the game.  The way our defense was playing, and with the added energy and momentum of taking a 16-15 lead against the #1 team in the nation at home ... I just don't think we lose. 

But of course, it's not all Tavecchio's fault.  Cal had other problem areas too. 

(2)  Vereen's fumble.  Our captain of the team, our hero -- his mistake alone might have cost us the game too.  Cal needed to not have a single turnover the entire game.  Vereen's fumble gave Oregon a really short field to play with, and ultimately their only offensive touchdown of the game.  If Vereen doesn't fumble, Cal maybe drives the field, and takes a 14-8 lead to start the third quarter. 

But of course, it's not all Vereen's fault.  Cal had other problem areas too.

(3) Mansion's passing.  He was 10/28 on the day.  That's 35.7%.  That's horrible.  He did have a few drops from his WRs which wasn't helping him out.  However, he did also have some bad throws which weren't helping out his WRs.  Again, like against WSU, Mansion seemed to be throwing high on a lot of his passes.  Perhaps he was rushing things, shortening up his throwing motion, and getting under the ball a bit too much. 

Mansion also surprised us with some *killer* (good) throws too.  He had a few slant passes to Jones (Cal WR #1), and Allen (Cal WR #21) that were just MONEY.  They were right on target.  He also had a great pass to Calvin (Cal WR #11) on an out route, if I remember correctly, along the east sidelines when Cal was driving north that was just SICK.  It was a rocket pass right on the money... and Calvin caught it too! 

Anyways, for every great Mansion pass, there seemed to be a bad pass too.  Obviously, he's going to have to work on his consistency to really be an adequate QB for the next two games and next year, but I think he's showing some promise. 

(4) Did you see that rocket arm?  I've been watching Cal Football since 2002.  I've seen Kyle Boller.  I've seen Aaron Rodgers throw.  Those guys had rocket arms that produced blazing bullet balls.  Longshore wasn't on par.  Neither was Riley (although I think some of my fellow Marshawnthusiasts may disagree).  But Mansion is not too far behind Boller and Rodgers.  Some of those balls he threw tonight were freakin' lasers.  It was an impressive show of arm strength.  Now if he could just be a little more accurate too...

(5) Cal's two-point conversion play.  This one had me scratching my head.  A fade pass?  Really?  That's a bit low-probability, don't you think?  I mean, I get it.  Marvin Jones is our tall WR who can "go get the ball."  I know what Ludwig was thinking.  But fade passes in general are fairly low probability.  I would have rather seen a run formation playaction pass, or just a run.  I'm trying not to speak after-the-fact and with the benefit of hindsight.  If I was an offensive coordinator, the fade passes is one of the last plays I would think about running for a two point conversion.  Why?  I want a play with options.  A fade pass only has one option: the fade.  I'd prefer a bootleg pass where the QB has the option to pass or keep.  I'd prefer a zone read (QB has option to hand off or keep).  I'd prefer an outside toss or an outside zone where the RB has his choice of holes to hit.  I like options when it comes to two-point conversion plays. You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket (by choosing the fade pass).  I just didn't get that play call. 

(6)  Pretty class-less of the Oregon fans to boo injured Cal players.  I know, I know.  A lot of teams fake injuries to slow down the Oregon pace and allow for substitutions and water breaks.  But the Oregon fans have to give the injured players the benefit of the doubt.  Oregon fans shouldn't just instantly assume that the players are faking the injuries. 

I'm sure some of the Oregon fans might point to the fact that some of our players who were supposedly injured came back into the game later, or how one of the Cal defenders stood up and seemed fine after the play, only to fall down seconds later, as proof that the Cal players were faking injuries. 

That's possible.  But how many of us here have played competitive sports before?  I have.  Have any of us incurred significant injury during those sporting events?  I have.  I've torn a tendon.  For those of us who have received significant injury from these sporting events, what is your natural reaction after sustaining such an injury?  I'm sure I'm not alone here when I say: TO GET BACK INTO THE GAME. 

A lot of times, players will get injured.  They'll need a few plays off to collect themselves and allow themselves to recover, and then put themselves back into the game.  This is possibly what happened with some of the Cal players who came out due to injury, but went back in. 

Additionally, even when injured, a lot of players will try to play through the injury because they want to stay in the game.  I know I did when I tore my tendon.  I tried to stay in the game.  I stayed in for another play, and when I realized I couldn't run any more, I took myself out.  So that is perhaps what happened with the Cal player (I forgot who) who initially stood up, then fell down a few seconds later.  He might have known he was injured, tried to get up to play through it and the next play, but then realized he couldn't keep himself up and thus fell down. 

I guess a lot of Oregon fans haven't played sports before.  Because this insight I'm providing here, isn't really insight at all.  Anyone who has played competitive sports can easily imagine the aforementioned scenarios, or perhaps even experienced one those scenarios themselves.

Anyways, I think the booing is a real show of lack of class by the Oregon fans who did boo.

(7) There were some positives to this game.  Now that I've hit on some of the negatives, I'll try and hit on some of the positives.  Sunshine pumper haters and negabears can stop reading now. 

(8)  Dude, we just help Oregon's offense to one offensive touchdown on the day.  And that was due to a short field from a turnover.  Can the Cal defense get a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T?  The Cal defense played LIGHTS OUT.  It was unbelievable.  I'll admit, I was expecting us to give up points, and give up points often.  I was thoroughly surprised. 

Even USC's head coach Lane Kiffen couldn't believe the score when he heard Cal only gave up one offensive touchdown to Oregon

Lane Kiffin's eyes nearly popped out of his head when heard the Oregon score. "Are you sure Cal didn't have 15 guys on the field?"

So how did Cal do it? 

On Friday, prior to this game, in a gmail chat with one of my friends, I said this:

3:01 PM me: if i were playing Oregon, I'd pretty much just play Man free
 me: Man free or Cover Zero

 me: If doing cover zero, I'd have one DB per WR, then everyone else is in the box
  one on one
  with strict instructions to the DBs to not get beat by play fakes
  so no peeking
 me: have faith that the other guys will stop the run
  let the guys in the box stop the run
it's basically just 11 on 11 football
  cover zero, or cover one
  everyone has a guy
  just win your positional battle

Basically, in my incoherent shorthand gchat talk, I'm saying to beat Oregon you just play either Man Free (Cover One), or Cover Zero.  The CBs have to play on islands with little to no safety help, because the safety will be in the box assigned to his respective man.  The CBs have strict instructions to not peek at the play immediately after the snap to see if it's a run play and help out with run support because Oregon can playfake and beat you deep.  Thus, the CBs/DBs just have to play their WRs who are taking them down the field, and have faith that the rest of the defenders in the box can stop the run themselves. 

What did Cal do to stop Oregon?  Cal safety Conte (Cal DB #7) explains in this article:

"All the rest of the Pac-10 can take notes right now," Conte said. "We played zero-coverage the whole game. I was responsible for the quarterback. They do all that zone-read stuff, and my sole job was to be on the quarterback, and then, if I can help out late on pass, then help out. Everybody just accounted for a man. That was the key to success, right there."  (emphasis mine)

Basically, Conte is saying Cal played Cover Zero (aka zero-coverage) the entire game, which is a man defense where there is absolutely no safety help in the secondary.  The safeties are instead playing their own assignments within the box.  Meaning the CBs are playing on islands -- by themselves and 1 on 1.  Every defender had his own guy he was assigned to defend, hence the 11 on 11 football ("everyone just accounted for a man").  There was no doubling up on offensive players.  There was no "reading" offensive players (which is what Gregory's defenses did).  Thus, when Oregon runs its zone read, no Cal defenders read the play to see who gets the ball.  The defender assigned to the QB just immediately goes for the QB.  The defender assigned to the RB immediately goes for the RB. Having this strict assignment defense, rather than a read and react defense, quickens the defense.  They just go.  Get your guy, and have faith that your teammates will get their guy. 

It's not hard to scheme against Oregon's offense, it just takes execution.  And that's what Cal's defense did so well for 90% of the game.  They executed extremely well. The defensive line was getting FANTASTIC push against the Oregon offensive line.  Cal defenders were doing a great job solo tackling.  Cal defenders were playing tight coverage on the WRs down the field (except for the TD pass and two other passes downfield where the Oregon QB missed open WRs).

Playing Nevada earlier this year helped prepare the Cal defense for Oregon.  The concepts run by Nevada and Oregon are similar.  Nevada just runs down-hill (north/south) more, and Oregon runs laterally (east/west) more.  But they basically just run zone reads and options.  I have little doubt, that if Cal had to play Nevada again this year (perhaps for a bowl game?), that the Cal defense would be extremely prepared and we could expect a similar shut-down performance of their offense by the Cal defense. 

(9)  The energy in Memorial was amazing and crazy.  I haven't felt that kind of energy in the stadium since the 2006 Cal/Oregon game -- a game which I think had even more energy than the 2007 Cal/Tennessee game too.  Prior to the game, Tedford came over to the student section to briefly rally the students.  The students, were loud and persistent the entire game.  They never tired out or stopped with the noise.  The Cal players on the sidelines were really getting into the game too.  They'd jump up and down, motion to the crowd to be louder, and emphatically cheered on their teammates.  You could just feel it in the stadium, that and upset was brewing (until Tavecchio missed the field goal).  Despite the loss, this was one of the most electric atmospheres I've felt at Memorial stadium during the Tedford era.  This game is definitely up there with the 2002 Big Game, 2003 Cal/USC game, and 2006 Cal/Oregon game. 

(10)  I'm much more confident going into Big Game.  If the Cal defense, and the Cal crowd can produce the same results next week against the top-ten ranked Stanfurd, then I wouldn't be wholly surprised if we upset Furd.  We'll need our offense to score more than one touchdown though, but I'm liking our chances against Stanfurd.