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2011 Cal vs. Fresno State Post-Game Thoughts

(1)  Maynard -- A Promising Work in Progress.   Maynard sure was exciting to watch.  The guy can run, and he can pass.  I don't think Cal has ever had a QB with Maynard's athleticism in the entire Tedford Era.  But while Maynard was exciting to watch, it didn't come without a few moments of frustration.  It seemed to me, that on some of his shorter passes, that he was lacking the accuracy or timing to hit his WRs in stride ... or at all.  There are a few causes for these short range accuracy problems.  For example, the defensive line could be getting in his passing lane, he could be overgripping the ball and hooking it, his timing was off, or his accuracy was just plain off.  I'm not sure exactly what it was.  It was hard to tell from my seats (and I haven't reviewed the game on film yet either).  On one occasion it clearly looked like he just hooked his pass by overgripping it.  Often, QBs when rushing their throws will shorten up their throwing motion, just grip it and rip it, and slam that ball into that tight window.  But by rushing things they lose their form and the ball doesn't quite go where they want it to. 

But on the other hand, Maynard did have some positives.  He can run.  Duh.  The guy is fast, and from my seat it looked like on most of his zone reads he was making the proper decisions when it comes to handing it off or keeping it.  And then there are Maynard's deep balls.  I think this is the strength of his passing game.  The scrambling off-balance TD pass to Jones (Cal WR #1) comes to mind.  His nice pass to Allen (Cal WR #21) on a seam route over a defender's head comes to mind too.  Not all of his deep passes were perfect.  There was one pass to Allen -- whom had his defender beat -- which was underthrown and could have been a touchdown.  But for the most part Maynard's strengths seem to be getting the ball vertically down the field.  I was also particularly impressed with Maynard's ability to throw the ball around the sideline areas.  He seems to have a good awareness and ability to hit WRs on the outside areas of the field.

Tedford recently was quoted saying Maynard has a bit of that "cool cat" attitude and I think we saw that a bit.  Shotgun snap a little off to the side?  Use two hands to grab it?  Nah, he just uses one.  Getting pressured in the pocket?  Throw the ball away?  Nah, he'll just scramble for a gain or a touchdown pass.  There's a bit of a "school yard" football attitude to Maynard's game.  I think the perfect example of that was the hail mary pass right before half time.  Do you think Tedford liked what he was doing there?  Probably not.  Maynard violated a lot of Tedford's do-not-do rules.  Maynard ran backwards.  A lot.  He didn't throw the ball away.  He risked a sack, losing 20 yards and putting Fresno State in hail mary range.  But what did Maynard almost do?  He almost got a mail mary touchdown.  He waived his WRs into the back corner of the endzone and just unleashed his bomb into that corner.  Two Cal WRs were in the vicinity uncovered, and the ball was just out of their reach.  That could have been a crazy touchdown right there. 

Overall, I think Maynard gives Cal big-play ability.  He'll get Cal some crazy plays which we're not used to getting, and he might make some mistakes which we've seen all too often.  He's still got to improve his game, but he has potential to be pretty good. 

(2)  Cal's passing game seems more surgical and pro-styled.  It's a bit hard to describe this thought.  But in the past few years with Riley as our QB, Cal's passing game seemed very ... targeted.  As in, it's purpose was to get *ONE* guy open.  Cal would do a lot of playaction passes and just chuck it deep to that one guy streaking down the sideline.  Or Cal would fake the bubble screen, and pass it to the WR streaking down the field who typically blocks the bubble screen.  Of course, on these plays the QB did have multiple options, but it just always seemed like the offense was looking for that one guy to get the ball to on that certain play.  However, with Maynard out there, it seemed like Cal wasn't trying to force the issue and get a certain guy open any more.  It seemed like Cal was just dialing up passing plays, and trusting that Maynard would find the guys who do get open against the defense. Why might we be seeing this difference?  Because of Maynard.  He can read the defense.  He can see who is getting open. 

(3)  It's nice to have a dual WR threat for once.  So Allen (Cal WR #21) and Jones (Cal WR #1) both went over 100 yards this game.  They both had 5 receptions or more this game too.  Cal hasn't had a WR tandem like this ... probably since 2007 when we had Jackson, Hawkins, and Jordan.  When an offense has multiple WRs (at least two) who are true threats to the defense due to their hands, speed, and range, it really forces the defensive secondary to be honest all across the field.  I'd really like to see a #3 WR step up somewhere and also be that guy who can catch balls when Allen and Jones are drawing coverage. 

(4)  Cal WR Bryce McGovern sees significant reps.  Cal might have hit gold by getting McGovern.  Here we have a true freshman playing at WR.  Tedford doesn't play freshmen WRs unless other guys get injured (hasn't happened yet to Cal thus far) or those freshmen WRs really are good.  In McGovern's case, I think it's the latter.  Who were some of Cal's other WRs who also played as freshmen?  Allen, and Jackson.  Those guys are talented.  McGovern might not quite be on the same level as Jackson, or Allen, but he's been praised for his hands, and route running skills both of which are hard to come by.  McGovern will be an interesting player to watch develop over the years. 

(5) Cal uses the pistol.  This didn't come as a surprise to the CGB overlords since our sources have been telling us this all off-season.  But I admit, when I first heard that Tedford was having the team use the pistol I was shocked.  It just didn't seem like Tedford.  It didn't seem so pro-style.  I figured perhaps the team would experiment with it, but it wouldn't actually make it into the playbook come game time.  But using the pistol with Maynard also just makes sense.  It gives Cal the threat of running inside with the RB, but it also preserves a shotgun passing option.  Hell... it even gives Cal the option of throwing in some option or triple option stuff.  I'm definitely interested in seeing how much Cal continues to use the pistol, and what other plays they might use out of the formation.

(6) Area of Huge Concern: Penalties.   Holding.  False start.  False start.  False start.  Leg whip (although, I've been told this was a horrible call and it wasn't actually a leg whip).  What other penalties can Cal accumulate?  Oh, illegal formation -- which I saw coming since I was sitting in those high endzone seats.  On that play, either Jones or Allen should have been up on the line of scrimmage.  But good god!  Cal had 11 penalties that game.  I think we even had three or four penalties IN A ROW.  I just can't understand why Cal was having false start problems.  Fresno State only had perhaps 20,000 fans there max.  They weren't even that loud.  And Cal practices using crowd noise to simulate these situations.  Cal shouldn't have been making THREE false starts in a row.  I could understand one false start here and there.  But three of them in a row?  And another false start resulted in Cal giving up a touchdown???   Which, I'm actually of the opinion that Sofele should have just given up the safety to ensure Cal gives up 2 points and not 7 points.  (This play wasn't actually a penalty "false start" but it essentially was one since the center mis-snapped the ball)

Cal can't keep playing games and drawing all those penalties.  Cal was actually -- and miraculously -- able to convert some of those 2nd and longs, and 3rd and longs resulting from the penalties due to Maynard.  But better teams will capitalize on those penalties.  It'll be harder to convert against them. Cal will lose games due to penalties if it keeps this up.

(7)  This game shouldn't have even been close.  I was surprised when Cal was favored by 10 points at the beginning of the week.  But by the end of the 1st quarter, I was thinking that it actually should have been Cal favored by 21 points.  When Cal was clicking, it was clicking.  Cal's offense basically just gift-wrapped Fresno State two touchdowns.  One was from Maynard's INT, and the other was from Sofele's fumble in our own endzone.  Fresno State didn't actually score their own un-gifted touchdown until 3 minutes left in the FOURTH QUARTER.  Cal had TWICE the amount of yardage than Fresno State did which is a testament to Cal's defense and offense.  If Cal just avoided the turnovers, and avoided the penalties, Cal wins by the tune of 50-ish to 7.  Seriously. 

(8)  Props to Pendergast.  Again, Cal's defense looks like it might be decent to good.  I know stats are a bit misleading, but they do a nice job summarizing things.  So let's look at the statistics.  FSU had 210 total yards.  They averaged 4.3 yards per pass attempt which is HORRIBLE (average should be around 7 yards per pass attempt).  They had 2.7 yards per rush attempt which is HORRIBLE (average should be around 4.5 yards per rush attempt).  Cal just locked them down.  In fact, one might say Cal's defense won the game.  Cal's offense certainly did score its share of points, but while it was often going backwards, the Cal defense was stopping FSU stone cold to keep the game manageable.  Props to the defense.

(9)  Cal's running game is not so good -- and the problem isn't Sofele.  I know a lot of Cal fans are concerned with Sofele being our starter.  And since his average this game was a weak 3.5 yards per rush one might think he's got problems (an average RB should have a rush average of 4.0 to 4.5 yards or so).  But did you see how many times Cal's rushing lanes closed up so quickly?  Did you see how many times Sofele had a guy in his face the moment he took the handoff?  It was ugly down there.  Those problems aren't indicative of Cal lacking a good RB, those are signs that Cal is having problems blocking at the point of attack.  Those are OL problems.  And dammit, that's scary.  If Cal doesn't have a rushing game then it has to rely on its passing game.  While Cal's passing game might actually be stronger than its running game this year, I'd prefer to rely on a rushing game than a passing game.  Why?  Playaction.  A weak run game limits the effect of playaction on the defense.  So here's hoping our OL gets better.  Cal will be facing much better run defenses throughout the season.  God forbid we start seeing Sofele's rush average drop to 2 yards per attempt because then Cal could really be in trouble.

(10)  Cal looks to be 6 win team.  Based on PURELY Cal's performance against Fresno State, it looks like Cal is a 6 win team.  This is, of course, because of Maynard's low completion percentage (less than 50%), Cal's numerous penalties, and player errors.  But there is room for improvement.  Despite facing tougher competition, if Cal improves, avoids turnovers, avoids penalties, makes a few more throws, catches a few more passes, a few more passes broken up, then this could be a 8-9 win team.