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The Sacramento Report: Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Praise be unto Coach Gould!
Praise be unto Coach Gould!

We all know that Cal fans are a loyal bunch, but even I was impressed at the crowd on hand for the last meeting of the year.  Despite the most demoralizing Big Game loss since the Holmoecaust and a meeting just a day before a major holiday a solid crowd of fans alums were on hand to talk a little football.  And they were lucky enough to hear from an excellent group of guests.

We began with everybody's favorite position coach, Ron Gould.  Coach Gould's incredible success with Cal's running backs has been well documented and earned him the respect and admiration of all Cal fans.  

For the Washington perspective the Grid Club talked to respected Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta.  But the highlight was hearing from Dave Lambros, a frequent and popular Grid Club guest.  Dave is a Pac-10 ref, specifically a back judge, and an all around nice guy - he quickly showed off his referee eyes by informing me that I had left my dome light on in the parking lot!  My wife (who came with me to the meeting on her birthday) immediately recognized him as the ref who taught some football rules at the Cal women's huddle last summer.  Unfortunately Dave only had 45 minutes or so to answer questions - I could have spent hours asking him to explain some 100 or so plays that have confused me in 17 odd years of football fanaticism.


Note:  As always, all guest responses are paraphrased based on my notes and best recollections.  I again extend my thanks to Calbear81, who was in attendance and allowed me to borrow her notes when I was interviewing Bob Condotta.


Ron Gould

Do you keep in touch with some of your former players?

Absolutely!  Justin Forsett just got my kids tickets to an upcoming game!

Thoughts on Cal's performance against Stanford

We're disappointed.  We didn't play our best game, we didn't execute, and we didn't rebound from a slow start.  We were watching the tape and we kept seeing plays and say 'this play should be a touchdown.'

How do you assess Cal's run/pass balance?

We always want to be balanced, so we're trying to come up with plays and formations to help out the passing game.  Brock is getting more and more comfortable and we need to do a better job protecting him.

Thoughts on Washington:

They have a very dynamic offense.  We have to contain Locker and control the ball of offense.  The kids are doing a great job, working hard in practice, working on specific formations we think will do well vs. UW.

On injuries on the running back depth chart:

My job this year is getting younger guys ready and keeping Shane and Isi healthy.  Will Kapp is a versatile back and can be used in an emergency situation.

What fundamentals and techniques do you focus on in practice that have made Cal's running backs so successful?

Kids frequently come into college with poor fundamentals, so it's something we have to really focus on.  We also have to work really hard to teach them to understand everything that's happening on the field, because when you understand what's going on you play faster and you play in control.  We really focus on balance and ball security.


Dave Lambros

Thoughts on Oregon's fast-paced offense:

I worked the Oregon-USC game.  One of my jobs as a back judge is to count every defensive player to ensure that a team doesn't play with more than 11 men.  Oregon played so fast that at times it was impossible to count.  Their players must be in incredible shape, and it's amazing they can run it so fast without committing fouls.

On fake injuries:

There are no rules regarding fake injuries, just coaching ethics guidelines.  There's nothing we can do, and there's nothing we want to do.  It's for leagues and athletic directors to handle.  We do have to record injury timeout specifics, including time of injury, the number of the injured player and when that player returns to the game.

On Giorgio Tavecchio's illegal motion penalty:

It should have been a false start with the play blown dead, rather than allowing the ball to be kicked and calling a live ball illegal motion penalty.

On unsportsmanlike conduct calls against coaches:

Any coach worth his salt will get flagged at some point - if he thinks his team is getting taken advantage of he should react - it's an emotional sport.

On judging if a thrown pass is uncatchable

Almost any ball is catchable.  If the pass interference slows the receiver down we give the wide receiver the benefit of the doubt.  I was used to calling lower division football games, and my conception of what was catchable changed the first time I called a Division 1 scrimmage.  I was following a player and as I saw the ball released I immediately thought it was very uncatchable.  But the receiver turned on the afterburners, dove, and somehow pulled the ball in.

We often use the sidelines, but it's a judgement call.  When one of us throws a flag, another ref will come up and say 'did you see the ball?' which is code for 'I think that ball was uncatchable.'  But ultimately it's the call of whoever threw the flag - if they're sure about their call it will get made because they have the best angle to make the call.

Why do you sometimes see a ref run and stand over the ball before it is snapped?

The ump will stand over the ball to allow time for the defense to substitute.  As soon as the ball is spotted by a ref the 40 second clock starts and the offense can snap the ball, but if the offense makes substitutions then the defense must be given time to make their own substitutions, so the ump stands over the ball to prevent the offense from snapping until the defense has made their changes.

On celebration penalties:

It's a big problem nationwide.  When the rule was first enforced we were shown tons of different videos on everything that constitutes an illegal celebration, so much that you could call it on nearly every touchdown.  The result is that everybody interprets it their own way.  I do my best to prevent players from getting into situations when they could be flagged.  I called the penalty against Keenan Allen against UC Davis.  On his first touchdown I stopped him as he moved towards the crowd and moved him back towards the Cal sideline, but on his second touchdown he got to the crowd first, and it's very clearly written in the rulebook that contact with the crowd is a 15 yard penalty, so I had to call it.

Other times players on the bench will try to get all the way into the end zone to celebrate with a player, which is also against the rules, but I try to get between them and tell them to get back to the bench.  We try to do what we can to prevent having to call unsportsmanlike penalties.

Do you not call holding penalties that have no impact on the play?

Yes - if a hold occurs 40 yards away from the runner we won't call it, although there is a rule that if a player takes down another player while holding we are required to call it, and we get dinged by the league if we don't call it, so there are exceptions.

On helmet-to-helmet rules:

I agree with the direction the rules are going for player safety, but it's almost impossible to tell what is and isn't a penalty at full speed.  For example, a defender can make a completely legal tackle with his shoulder, but if the runner lowers his head before impact that same tackle can become illegal because now there's helmet to helmet contact.  I use the 'OOH' rule, which basically means if I watch a play and it makes me go 'OOH' then I call a penalty.

Any funny stories you have from this year?

No, not really - it's been a rough year for the Pac-10.  One crew was suspended for an incorrect rule interpretation, and the ref that made the mistake took the year off.  That same crew has another ref injured and out for the year, which means they have had two substitutes the entire year, which is really difficult.  The nice part about having a consistent crew is that you get used to how everybody communicates and what roles and responsibilities everybody has - it's something you can't pick up in one pre-game meeting.

After the meeting I asked Dave if having a new Pac-10 commissioner was changing things for refs and he said 'not yet, but it will be very soon.


Bob Condotta


On Washington's season so far and the team's mindset going into the game:

The preseason goal was to make a bowl game, and now UW must beat Cal and WSU to achieve that goal.  The team is still highly motivated to get there, even if the season has been a bit of a let down.  Jake Locker hasn't had the season tat people expected and the offense isn't as dynamic as it was last year.  Meanwhile the defense wasn't expected to be great, but allowing 138 combined points in a three game losing streak to Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon was unexpected.

On Jake Locker's injury:

He will definitely play despite his broken rib, and he's taking all of the first team snaps in practice.  Against UCLA he didn't run much to avoid getting hit.

How will Washington attack Cal's defense?

Washington will probably look to isolate their wide receivers in space on the ends, similar to what Stanford did.  UW has excellent WRs (Aguilar and Kearse) when they are healthy, though injuries have limited production.  They will still try to run the ball, and it's likely that Locker will run more than he did against UCLA.

Cal has relied on Shane Vereen - how has UW been against the run?

Everybody except for UCLA has run well against Washington, and UCLA struggled because there was no threat from the passing game.  UW has given up 21 running TDs in the Pac-10 alone, and 6 more against Nebraska, worst in the conference, so Cal should plan to run the ball.

How much time will Brock Mansion have to throw the ball?

The Husky pass rush has been poor all year.  Cal should be able to give Mansion time.  2 of 4 d line starters are out with injuries, and the line has struggled to get pressure sending just 4 linemen.  They have been sending more and more blitzers to get any pressure.

Washington has been up and down this year - how would you describe Sarkisian's development of his team?

Well, other than perhaps the USC game UW has beaten the bad teams they should beat and lost badly to good teams.  USC was the anomaly, but it was Jake Locker's best game and USC blew it at the end on a missed field goal.  When Locker decided to come back it immediately raised expectations, so the team's struggles have been concerning.