The story of the game to me was not Chris Polk striding into the end zone on the final play of the game, although it was a fitting end to a very disturbing 2010 California Golden Bears football campaign. It was not Tosh Lupoi falling on his sword and biting one for the Cal program. It wasn't even the fact that Cal won't be bowling for the first time since 2002.
No, the story of the game for me was the Cal defense shutting down another opponent, only to see the Cal offense go out and waste every second of it.
- The Cal defense held the Arizona Wildcats to three points for fifty-eight minutes (and that drive went three-and-out, set up by a shanked Bryan Anger punt). The Cal offense put up nine points (Giorgio Tavecchio could've iced the game with a field goal or two, but one touchdown could've done the job just as well). Arizona came back to win with a ninety second drive that still makes my eyes bleed.
- The Cal defense held the mighty Oregon Ducks to one touchdown and managed to score one of their own. The Cal special teams gave up a touchdown and missed a field goal, but after the first drive of the game, Cal's offense could barely muster anything on Oregon's defense.
- The Cal defense held the Washington Huskies to one fluke touchdown pass and cancelled it out by generating a touchdown of their own. The Cal offense rewarded their efforts with six points, and the special teams gave up a huge kickoff return that set up a Washington field goal. UDub won on the final play of the game.
- The Cal defense got rolled by Oregon State, Stanford and USC because they seemed to lack any confidence the Cal offense could muster any points to keep them in it. They were mismatched, but falling behind by a combined score of 101-0 at halftime in those three games is just as much on the offense as it is the defense.
The Cal offensive ineptitude has wasted a lot of the great performances our best talents have put up this year. I feel bad for Vereen, who racked up one of the quietest thousand yard rushing seasons in Cal football history and has hardly anything to show for it. I feel bad for Kevin Riley, who would've certainly been capable of winning this game rather handily, has proven he can handle the Cardinal defense, and might've been the last ingredient to an upset of Oregon. I feel bad for Derrick Hill, Chris Conte, Mike Mohamed, and Cameron Jordan (the latter two combining for the last epic play of the season), four seniors who've played their hearts out all season and have to be mortified they ended up a 5-7 football team.
There are things that are seriously wrong with our offense, things that can only be fixed with big changes. It has devolved from effective to mediocre to horrible over the span of a season, and it's hard to see the upside going into next season unless there's an offseason overhaul. Let's take a look at the big problems.
Brock Mansion. So much for the hope Mansion could go out and grow himself into the future quarterback for next season. Other than a nice scramble, two nice throws to Keenan Allen and Michael Calvin to set up the 53 yard field goal by Tavecchio before halftime, and a good pass to Marvin Jones on the money to set up the second Tavecchio field goal, he was hopeless. He rewarded the Cal defense's fumble recovery by throwing an interception on the very next play. He nearly threw at least another two picks, one of which bounced off the chest of a Husky and could've been an easy pick-six. When the Washington defense lost all respect they had for Mansion and stacked the box, he got happy feet, backed up a few yards, and threw so many balls away the UC Berkeley police department cited him for littering after the game.
There are some guys who look pretty solid out of the box (Aaron Rodgers and Nate Longshore), others who need their kinks worked out (Kevin Riley and Kyle Boller), and others who are Section Eights (Joe Ayoob). I'm not sure where to classify Mansion, because he doesn't look unconfident out there the way Ayoob did. He just looks bad, like a backup who was meant to be holding a clipboard and signaling in playcalls for his entire Cal career. I wish him no ill, but I hope I never have to experience him lining up under center ever again.
Andy Ludwig. Oregon fans hated him. Utah fans were indifferent to him leaving after a 13-0 season. And I've given up on him. Two years of middling to inconsistent to broken offense speaks for itself.
I don't really have much to say about the playcalling anymore, although there were a few puzzling sequences.I do wish we'd focus more on executing a fundamental gameplan rather than keep on throwing out plays for the sake of throwing out plays (i.e. stick to one type of offense and run with it, stop trying to fit Mansion into a pro-style offense he clearly isn't capable of running), but otherwise my complaints are minor. Once Kevin Riley went down, this team's offensive ceiling caved in. That Ludwig adapted by giving Allen the ball as many times as possible was a nice sign, although I frankly thought he didn't give him the ball nearly enough given how cringe-inducing Mansion was under center.
But as the quarterback coach, Ludwig has a lot to answer for. Although Riley was serviceable and his mechanics definitely improved, his decision-making was bad and he made head-scratching plays out there Mansion looks dreadful; Ludwig must be seeing something different in practice, because he doesn't look at all like he should be throwing the football And the best part is that Sweeney is apparently even worse than Mansion, which begs the question of what exactly Ludwig is teaching these guys or saying to his QBs in-game.
He might be back because Tedford seems to mesh well with him. And then I suspect he'll be gone, because I don't see any reason he'll improve next season. In either case, don't expect the Cal offense to get much better unless Ludwig relinquishes complete control over our offensive gameplans.
Steve Marshall. The offensive line can't be as bad as they've played the past two years. Marshall has wrecked these guys. They're slow off the snap and don't leap into their stances quickly enough. The defenders seem to always be a step ahead of them, and the O-linemen don't fight on their blocks enough to keep pockets big and running lanes open. Mansion was bad, but the offensive line got in his face plenty of times to make his job even more difficult than it should've been. And Shane Vereen could barely keep his head above water in the second half, as he was smothered by pile after pile of unblocked Huskies.
Cal's O-line also committed another three critical penalties in the fourth quarter that killed offensive drives, forcing them to settle for a long (and successful) Tavecchio field goal and a quick three and out punt that gave Washington ample time to drive the field. The offensive line has generally prided itself on being an error-free unit, but the blocking errors and penalties keep on piling up and damning our offensive line coach to oblivion.
Of the starters, I'd say only Donovan Edwards is probably overwhelmed. Kid tried his hardest, but he wasn't athletic enough to be a successful right tackle down-by-down. He was pushed into duty because. Mitchell Schwartz, on the other hand, is better than he's showed this season; he should definitely be playing better. Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin have as many bad plays as good plays, although they've been moved around so much this season it's hard to pin a lot of the blame on them. Chris Guarnero keeps on high-snapping the ball out of shotgun. The offensive line isn't exceptionally talented, but they're not a band of busts either. Marshall isn't getting these guys to execute well enough, and we now have a large enough sample size--they ain't getting any better.
Marshall's contract is up, so Tedford will do the graceful thing and probably not renew it. I saw Marshall wandering the sidelines on Saturday, looking already like he was ready for his next journey. I can only hope that next season will not involve him.
Kevin Daft. Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen put up some pretty good numbers this season regardless of the quarterback play (96 combined catches!), but after that the dropoff is considerable. However, Jones didn't play as well in 2010 as he did in 2009 (although he caught more passes, he also dropped a lot of makeable snares), and the guys behind them (Jeremy Ross and Michael Calvin) were barely involved in the offense (28 combined catches) and suffered from similar route-running problems.
I'm not sure what to make of him. Quarterback play has been bad, and sometimes you can't control receiver drops. I have no idea if receivers are running bad routes or are hamstrung by lousy quarterback play, but the timing always seems to be off between quarterback and receiver. I guess it's a good thing for Daft that Allen vouches for him being a great receiver coach. He'll probably get another year regardless, and improvement will be mandatory for him to stick around any longer than that.
Jeff Genyk. Genyk's primary responsibility has been special teams, and they've been somewhat better (emphasis on somewhat because they've regressed as the season's worn on). But as for offense, what exactly happened to our tight ends this year? They combined for only 20 catches this season (by contrast, Anthony Miller had 26 catches in 2009). Miller came into camp significantly overweight and has been a severe disappointment, Spencer Lander dropped a few makeable catches. I know Jacob Wark's injury hurt, but if we're relying on our fourth-string tight end to be the biggest receiving threat of the bunch, we've got ourselves a problem.
Tedford. I'm not holding him blameless for this. He hired these guys. He recruited our quarterbacks. I imagine he researched their pedigrees. And I know he still works with Ludwig on designing game plans, so he has to have some idea of what will and will not work with the talent we have. That our quarterbacks can look so bad and the guys coaching them can be so feckless falls at his desk. He has to go back and figure out how he wants to handle things.
1) Does he take back control of the offense and playcall again? While I know a lot of people would like us to see Tedford come back and be the main guy figuring out how to take down opposing defenses, I'm a little hesitant. He hasn't called plays for three years, and the landscape of the Pac-10 has changed drastically since then. If he's still designing gameplans with Ludwig, then he's clearly underachieving already. More involvement would not necessarily entail greater results.
2) Does he become the main quarterback coach again? I wouldn't mind this. Tedford has done nothing but good for his quarterbacks (excepting Ayoob) when he was working primarily with the offense, but additionally focusing on getting their games up-to-par. The Tedford who tried to run the entire program and focus on every aspect of the team hasn't seemed to produce great results on the field.
3) Does he hand over the reins to someone else who takes the offense in a different direction? In other words, does he try Mike Dunbar, Part II? Dunbar's offense sputtered at times, but it was the last time Cal's offense operated effectively game-to-game. Perhaps a tinkering in philosophy could do this team good, but Tedford seemed to resist the change last time. Then again, he's shown that he can find a defensive guy
There are a lot more directions Tedford can take this team. But until the offense improves, the team will be stuck at a ceiling of seven to eight wins.
In any case, it's safe to say it's going to be an interesting (and sadly, longer) offseason in Strawberry Canyon. We're entering an uncertain era for our Golden Bears at the worst possible time--ESP donors are grumbling and skittish over the football team and the athletic department cuts; safe to say another year of this (and it's looking pretty likely regardless of changes in the coaching staff) could put us in a tough place. Interest in the team is on a steady decline. Safe to say there'll be a lot of things to look at, analyze and break down on a micro and macro perspective. Not exactly going to be easy to do, but we'll shoulder forward.
Perhaps it is time to take a year off from Memorial Stadium and spend time across the Bay in the home of the World Champions. It's been fun Memorial, but i think I need a year off from you. Until 2012, adieu.
In addition, I'd like to thank the people who've been reading CGB, both active commenters and silent readers, for helping us grit our way through what had to be a tough season for all of us. Safe to say this season would've been unbearable for most of us to deal with alone, and it's good to know we all have a place to come and share our experiences as Cal football fans. It's been great, and I'm looking forward to another offseason full of productive discussions like the ones we've had all through 2010.
Here's to next year. GO BEARS!