I. In which we glean what we can from the loss
I've long believed that it rarely matters what happens against Oregon in the first half.
Now, you are free to keep it close all you like, and on the most miraculous of occasions, you may even lead them after 30 minutes of play.
All of that is great. Admirable, even, but almost always meaningless at the final gun. Only a handful of exceptions have ever proved capable of hanging with, let alone putting away the hyperdrive-speed, multiple-uniformed era Ducks after the halfway point.
Most eventually crumble in the face of an unrelenting offensive storm, unable to handle the pressure of having to throw up score after score just to pace. Look close enough, and you can almost always pinpoint the exact moment when the game gets out of reach for most (UO)pponents, their wills broken and their playbooks in tatters.
It happened in this game, too, at 8:52 in the second quarter, when Charles Nelson made a fool of the entire Cal special teams unit on the way to the end zone -- the third time an Oregon Duck has done so in two seasons, just FYI -- and pushed the score to 31-14. That should have been it.
But in complete defiance of what is essentially a college football axiom, the Bears stayed alive, refusing to succumb to premature declarations that it was already over...because it wasn't. It wasn't over when Royce Freeman restored the 17 point margin midway through the third, or when Pharoah Brown crossed the goal-line for the final Oregon score of the night, either. Instead of folding after that Nelson touchdown, like many would have, the Bears fought on to keep this game at a particularly special distance, giving us 40 minutes of football that felt both frustratingly, gettably close and unmanageably far at the same time.
Yes, they eventually faded and tapped out in a physical sense, too stressed for depth and no longer able to do much to stop the Ducks from flapping up further yardage, but dammit they fought, clawed, kicked-punched and punch-kicked til the bitter, triple-zeroed end, to make sure Oregon wouldn't run away with it. The game did not end immediately after the half, as is Oregonian custom. Nor did it ever get ridiculously out of hand, either.
For that, I'm proud of this team. I'm proud of their effort, prouder still of their progress, considering that a year ago, players were visibly giving up on plays in the Autzen rain. And yes, I know full well that games like these will offer very little comfort once results become absolutely necessary next year, that they are simply temporary granters of solace, not a permanent harbor. In the present, though, we wait, and we take comfort in what we can, not unlike what I wrote before the season.
And I am comforted, seeing the visible turnaround already in progress. Regardless of the continuing debate about Coach Dykes' long-term viability, there shouldn't be any doubt around the actual improvement he has begun to generate here.
Anyway, in keeping with the light Community motif, I'd like to close this introduction with a tweet from my #GQQN, Piotr Le. Kind of sums up the rest of the way.
II. In which the offense sputters its way to 41 points
- Jared Goff took some major, major shots in this game, and shrugged them off like they were nothing. Like, he didn't even look bothered. What a tough SOB. I feel like I praise or notice a different part of his game every week, and I'll add another in his improved ability to manipulate the rush. Not nearly as many passes being swatted at the line this year, which is as it should be. The one time that that did happen was a killer for us, because it came at a time when we absolutely had to have a third down conversion (right after the Mariota interception).
- I'm guessing there are a lot less complaints about Luke Rubenzer's usage after this one. I'm not sure I'll ever be all that crazy about it as long as we have #16 out there, but hey, it did help on this day.
- My issue with playing Luke hasn't ever been that it messes up Goff's rhythm or anything -- it's that the value of having our best offensive player on the field has usually far outweighed any benefits added by Rubenzer's mobility. That wasn't true on Friday, though, and you have to give both him and Tony Franklin credit for that. I certainly do.
- There was a stretch in the third quarter where Luke received a whole drive, which I would guess and attribute largely to tempo reasons. (Remember, we haven't gone super, super fast all the time yet, and didn't against both Northwestern and Sac State because of the QB switches, for example, information that came directly from the coaches themselves. Leaving Luke in for an extended set of plays allowed for that button to be pushed again. The other reason behind us playing slower is that defensive 2-deep is still not there quite yet...but we've written extensively about that.)
- As Head Football Writer Scott Chong and I tweeted several times during the game, Daniel Lasco has become a much, much more polished receiver out of the backfield, coming quite a long way from his original gaffe against Northwestern (not entirely his fault, but still) and his early season tendency to bobble and drop things thrown at him. Scott will probably have some closer looks at how they deployed Lasco, but I'll introduce some below.
- Cast or not, giving the ball to Khalfani Muhammad at this point is a win for the defense. It's harsh. And it's also true. Those are touches that now need to go Tre and Vic, man -- not too many so that Lasco's hurting for touches, but just more to those guys generally.
- It speaks volumes to the amount of receiver depth we boast that Kenny Lawler, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs all missed time with injury, and I still wasn't all that worried about the rotation, thanks to Stephen Anderson (who put a WICKED pivot move on the Oregon linebacker for his touchdown, by the way. I continue to love this dude so much), Darius Powe, and Maurice Harris, all three of whom would be starters elsewhere. I would not anticipate that all four of our top guys miss next week, by the way.
- Don't remember seeing Jack Austin do anything of note, although he did take Trevor Davis' #9 jersey for the week.
- From an offensive line standpoint, we did pretty well. Yeah, Jared took pressure, but the productiveness of the run game and the fact that the three sacks were spread out on 52 pass attempts make it pretty acceptable overall. Not much to add here, really.
- Well, I was right...they did throw the fade at Ifo, even though it wasn't complete (one play before Maurice Harris' touchdown).
III. In which we get a little bit concerned about game management
Last weekend, there were some really questionable choices, which not only appeared again against Oregon, but were joined by a litany of other odd developments, including:
- A first quarter penalty for illegal substitution, because we had 12 men on the field.
- One instance in which we didn't have the correct number of people for special teams.
- Not going for it on 4th and 1, down 52-35, but doing so on 4th and 12 later on, with the same score.
- Using Khalfani Muhammad on said 4th and 12 to try to catch a pass. He has one hand right now.
- Not doing anything to even try and generate an extra possession until it was already too late.
- I think some people online noticed the odd usage of timeouts, which didn't exactly pop out at me personally either time I watched the game, but I'll mention it here anyway.
All of this was not good, although this is really the first time I'm starting to have complaints about any of it, probably because last season, we were never even close enough to have game management concerns.
Let's keep tracking this as the year winds down, shall we?
Anyway, to me, the game was lost once we went three and out following the Mariota interception. Our inability to get a first down there -- even one! -- allowed Oregon to come back and push the halftime margin to ten, then 17 out of the break. And that was it. Can't beat the Ducks squandering those kinds of opportunities, really...which is why I wanted at least the attempt at an onsides earlier. It's not necessarily about not trusting the defense -- although we didn't really have a whole lot of reasons to do that anyway, on this evening -- but rather, giving ourselves an opportunity to win.
IV. In which we discuss defense
As for Cal D, each week I tell folks our D is full of frosh/sophs, and each week, critics think they should have magically turned into Jr/Sr
— email@example.com (@alpha1906) October 25, 2014
Actually impressed with the defensive recruits that Sonny got this season. Kearney, Westerfield, Johnson, Kelly going to be crucial next yr.
— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) October 25, 2014
- Of these four guys Avi mentioned, Kearney has obviously been the most impactful all year, Kelly and Johnson continue to come on more each week, and Westerfield has a great chance at being a good player -- wow, that's a weird grammatical construct -- in another year or two. Even though Johnson is getting more and more pressure each game and is constantly flushing opposing quarterbacks, it's Westerfield who's been the biggest surprise to me, really. Was not expecting him to be ready to play right now.
- Yeah, the tackling was bad, but I'm going to be a little more understanding of that than usual, due to Oregon just being really freaking physically talented. Royce Freeman...woo boy. He's going to be a Problem. Just repeatedly a challenge to bring down, for example. Same for Pharoah Brown and Dwayne Stanford. They're supposed to be matchup problems, and they are for most teams, not just ours.
- Tough day at the office for Cameron Walker. Benched, blew a coverage on the 3rd and 21, got beat one on one for the first TD, gave up a PI, was at the heart of another 3rd down conversion when there was a miscommunication on a crossing route, got crossed up on another TD, and struggled to tackle generally. Honestly, probably his most noticeably bad game since 2013 vs Stanford. He's still on the small side, which is part of why he struggled a bit with the Oregon athletes (ironically, Stanford in particular), but we all know he'll continue to be a big part of our rotation going forward. Head up, young'n.
- Darius White's amount of snaps have increased each week, and outside of the initial Washington State debacle, I haven't found a whole lot of reasons to notice him again -- well, okay, he had two near interceptions, but you get what I'm saying -- which is one of the highest compliments you can pay a cornerback in general. As you know, I wasn't able to get a feel for him as a player since he injured himself so early on in camp, so I was a bit skeptical he'd be a contributor this year. Very glad to have missed on that.
- More on White: not entirely sure he deserved the unnecessary roughness penalty, but let's move on from there.
- Long-term, we're still looking for a nickel that can match up with opposing TE/slot players reliably. Been shuffling around here, and Caleb Coleman, one of the guys we've played in this role, was definitely of overmatched. He tried to jam Pharoah Brown off the line on Oregon's third touchdown, only to be completely swam over on the release. The rest is just smooth sailing for the Ducks, who would take a 24-14 lead after.
- (This is where we once again complain about the safety recruiting, because there are several players we missed on who would have done this job perfectly.)
- That being said, the safeties that we do have came up extremely well in run support and were largely responsible for helping to keep it even as close as it was -- they were behind both turnovers, for example. It wasn't a perfect night for either, but as far as Mike Lowe goes, this was one of the best games I can remember coming from him, just in terms of how noticeable he was and how quickly he reacted. He's been solid for us back there all season, which is what we hoped for, and he rebounded well from a poor performance tackling the last few weeks. The Admiral6 basically summed up my thoughts on him here.
- Let's give some love to Hamilton A'noai, who had the slant lane read and snuffed out perfectly. It was his tip there that allowed Stefan McClure to eventually come down with it.
- Todd Barr forced the fumble that was recovered by Lowe, but otherwise had a pretty meh game. Most of the line did. He definitely lost contain on Mariota to help set up Oregon's first score.
- Not sure why Jalen Jefferson has seen the field less these last few weeks. It isn't because of his performance, I think. I probably would have caught that.
- Despite their mistake heavy play, it's hard not to be happy with our defense's improved play-making capacities, particularly in the back seven. No, they're not all that great -- although the linebacking unit should be really, really good next year, as Avi pointed out last week -- but they're getting faster, and they're making things happen, which never was the case under Buh. Give it another year. Let's see where we are. I'll never, never expect them to hold teams to 14 points or less, but if they can make 5, 6, 7 stops a game, that should be enough in year 3 for us to make some real noise. It may not even take that many, to be honest.
V. In which there are some numbers
All statistics are unofficial calculations made by me. Take them for what they are. Raw data in the link.
6 of 16 (37.5%)
10 of 17 (58.8%)
Avg. Yards to go
Avg. 1st down gain
Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards to go that were successful)
Avg. Starting F.P.
AVG: own 31.53
MED: own 25 
AVG: own 35.46
MED: own 33 
Points Per Trip Inside 40
10:55 1Q: 7
7:10 1Q: 7
5:15 2Q: 7
3:31 2Q: 7
0:41 2Q: 0
9:54 3Q: 0
3:54 3Q: 7
11:43 4Q: 0
4:21 4Q: 6
8:49 1Q: 7
4:29 1Q: 7
13:31 2Q: 3
11:56 2Q: 7
1:56 2Q: 0
1:11 2Q: 7
7:24 3Q: 7
8:58 4Q: 7
Havoc (percentage of disruptive plays - TFL, picks, PDs, FFs, sacks - divided by total plays. 15.9% was average in 2013, with Navy last in the country at 9.3%.)
6 (2 TFL, 1FF, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Faced 76 plays
18 (4 TFL, 2FF, 12 PD)
Faced 93 plays
More things of note from the above table:
Had to update the note about Navy, since someone got confused last week as to why I keep including them in the side bar. It's for context about the statistic.
-  - Just a reminder for everybody who said the Bear Raid couldn't work in the Pac-12, 6.0 YPP -- one of our worse games this year -- would still place in the 61st percentile of all FBS teams, and that's once again factoring in that we didn't play extraordinarily well. On the other side of the ball, Oregon essentially had their way with us, but they essentially have their way with everyone, with a 7.45 YPP average this year.
-  - I was expecting this stat to have a wider gap than it actually did -- it felt like we were facing third and long far, far more consistently than Oregon, and the numbers reflect that once you take out the 21 yarder (the only time Oregon faced a 3rd and longer than 10 all evening, and therefore a bit of an outlier) out of the equation. Without that in play, the Oregon average 3rd down to go actually drops to 4.4 yards, which seems about right.
- [2 & 3] - So, what's else is there to draw from a discussion about this week's 3rd down data? How about the fact that we could only convert third and short, all game long? Per my unofficial numbers, Cal's average successful 3rd down conversion was 3.8 yards versus Oregon's 7.1, meaning that when we did get it done, it was because it was from a length when we should be moving the chains. Oregon didn't care, as you can probably tell.
- [2 & 3] - Also, Oregon consistently got themselves into third and short situations, thanks to stellar first down play. Like, tremendously, tremendously good first down play. If you can get about five on first down, you're golden, since you're maintaining a great Leverage Rate (Bill Connelly's term). They averaged seven, and at that point, even if you get ZERO additional yards on second, you still reach 3rd down with the luxury of a larger playbook. It's a run or pass distance, compared to 3rd and 5, 3rd and 6, or 3rd and 7 -- just 2-3 yards of difference -- which huge decreases in efficiency, since defenses know the ball will likely be thrown. Stefan McClure said afterwards that they didn't do a good job getting off the field on 3rd, but that's only half of it. A lot of the work on 3rd begins really on first down. With Oregon's aggressiveness and short yardage excellence, giving up third and short is almost always going to result in bad news. It did on Friday.
-  - Vic Enwere looks like he'd be a spectacular short yardage back, but he isn't yet, so you can probably guess I hated the call to leave him in there on 4th and 1 at our own 48. Admitting the small sample size and all, the numbers don't support it this decision in any way, shape, or form, and him being stuffed inside the goalline several times against Washington -- just TWO weeks ago! -- should be a good reminder of that. On top of this, a runner that can make somebody miss, or is a threat catching passes out of the backfield has a leg up in this situation, giving the defense one additional wrinkle to worry about. Enwere isn't yet at a point where he does either, although he did convert his other opportunity.
-  - Another ugly category. Oregon started only three drives in Cal territory, but their return game absolutely wrecked us, while we couldn't get anything going anywhere. After making the decision to kick away to Devon Allen early, Marc Tommerdahl finally decided to reverse course and return to squibbing, which is fine -- concede some field position in exchange for not getting your kicks taken back, I get it. What confuses me is why this wasn't in play from the start.
-  - An 8 yard gap in average field position doesn't seem like much, but that adds up over the course of the entire game, possession after possession. Bill Connelly calculates this as Adjusted Yardage Margin, although I don't include it here usually because I can't tell if I'm doing it correctly myself. In any case, you can kind of guess what this means: 8 x 15 possessions = 120 extra yards over the course of the game for Oregon.
-  - Accounting for the zeroes on Cal's side: missed 47 field goal, long 4th down not converted, and the Hail Mary attempt before halftime, which technically only counts because it came from exactly the 40 yard-line. The numbers here would say we did a very average job capitalizing on scoring chances, but that's not quite true -- removing that Hail Mary halftime drive raises our Points Per Trip Inside 40 to 5.12, which is way, way better than average. In short, examining this in a more accurate context leaves me really satisfied with how we performed offensively. No major mistakes or anything...took advantage of chances that were given to us, even though we still needed one or two more to get any closer. Simply put, Oregon was just better here...and they usually are. Hell, we did great just to grab the interception, Mariota's first of the year.
-  - Damn near rubbed my eyes in disbelief. 12 passes defensed by Oregon, with four coming from Troy Hill, who we attacked most of the game. If that's actually inaccurate, well, I took the numbers from the official Cal stats. As far as our own defensive effort goes, you have to like the fact that we got some turnovers again, which is a clear, clear improvement over last season. The rest was not so good, but we've discussed the pass-rush issue at length already. Let's not forget Mariota did a superhuman job of avoiding a few of the tackles for loss too, including one when Michael Barton just went flying by haplessly, thanks to an absurd change of direction move.
VI. In which the special teams regresses wildly
@AGuyNamedNam you always say that. Lol
— Luc Bequette (@bigbeq12) October 25, 2014
- Thanks, Luc. Now, if you weren't following me during the game, I thought about or called for several onside kicks, as I usually do, especially to open the second half. Here's my thinking: down more than two scores against Oregon, asking for one stop is fine, but your chances at getting multiple are quite slim, to be honest. To close the gap, you're going to need more possessions, and with creating another via a 3rd turnover looking like it was too much to ask, the onsides is as good a ploy as any, no?
- One of the few saving graces here was the outstanding punt by Cole Leininger that hit the three yard line. Otherwise, that was about it for this group.
- Several average returns by Tre Watson, and as expected, Bryce Treggs did take first crack at returning alongside Watson, only to exit early on and force Khalfani Muhammad back into service.
- When he returned later, Treggs would take over punt returner duties after Chris Harper's injury, fumbling away one of his attempts because he tried too hard to make a play late. Understandable, but still frustrating. The Ducks would score on the next play, essentially sealing the game.
- Can't fault Langford for missing from 47. That's a toughie.
- The rest of the special teams play was largely not very good. I wrote up top about how I didn't understand the squib kick strategy not making an appearance this week.
- Amazingly, I tweeted this about 30 seconds before the Nelson TD. Attribute it to the Nam Le Curse if you want to.
You feel it too, right? This game is sliding out of our grasp right now. This is usually about when Oregon starts dusting teams.
— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 25, 2014
VII. In which we take a look at a couple schematic #WRINKLES this week
Besides the increased usage of Rubenzer, the two major offensive wrinkles put in this week involved the usage of multiple linemen sets, and the return of some of the stack looks we pulled out last year, but hadn't used this season. (It is my personal theory that we don't use multiple linemen more often because we don't have that many guys ready to play consistently yet. Consider that we don't have a true right tackle, for example.)
A quick look at the first multiple lineman play, which came on the first drive:
Pistol + 7 OL. Extras are Matt Cochran on the right (top of screen) and Farley on the left (bottom) pic.twitter.com/nNbxFcGqb6
— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 26, 2014
Here, they run power left behind Crosthwaite, with Moore pinning the defensive end inside, Farley hitting a linebacker, and the pulling Crosthwaite getting the linebacker outside of Farley. All the blocks are good, leaving Lasco to go one on one with the safety, who he can't quite shake. Doesn't matter too much, though. He gets five yards, and he does his job. (They'd return to this same formation, and I think even the same play, with Enwere in the backfield for the second touchdown. Scotty will have that one for you tomorrow, though.)
The offense would return with consecutive stack looks on the next two plays, wk,ith Rubenzer behind center for each, and it's here where I want to throw some more praise Luke Rubenzer's way, starting with the second of the two stack plays.
Here's why we burned Luke's redshirt -- on 3rd and short, he's by far our best guy at making something happen, and he did just that against DeForest Buckner, who has the play dead in the backfield, only to see our freshman pull the ball, slip, and still cut away at the last second to get the first down.
Impressive piece of ad-libbing by the freshman, and actually the first of several plays where he gave Oregon fits in this one with his legs. He changed direction really, really impressively.
Now, as far as Lasco goes, he began really making noise starting in the second quarter, when they began running him in motion with wide receivers set up in front of him, just to swing it out his way. Here's one, as an example, where the wideouts run a little bit down the field to give him further breathing room:
I don't think it's designed to go to Lasco specifically, since you can see the inside receiver turn on a curl, but because no one followed him out to the flat, that's where the throw is. This isn't a new look or anything -- just a really simple motion that they've run here and there this season, from non-stack formations too -- but they clearly felt like he had a good match-up against the Oregon linebackers, and he proved them right by tearing it up as a receiver.
A few plays later, same stacks, opposite side, this time he runs a little Texas/angle route right in front of the LB. This would be a 52 yard gain, after Lasco does what he does best.
- The Dwayne Stanford touchdown before half looked like it was a sort of rub play -- they run the inside receiver deep on a go to get some traffic, then sneak the outside receiver behind him on a slant, making the corner have to maneuver from behind. Walker can't, and it's another TD.
VIII. In which there are notes
- No changes to the Schedule Matrix. Right now, we MUST beat Oregon State, whether that's in Corvallis, Berkeley, or the goddamn Thunderdome. That's all there is to it. Don't expect me to be so upbeat if we blow that one. There's a part of me that really feels like a bowl-less year would be acceptable if we picked up a win over USC or Stanford, though. It's a small part, but a part none the less.
- It might be kind of chilly at night, but Levi's is a beautiful, spacious stadium, even if it is located in the middle of nowhere. I can't wait to chant CENA SUCKS in it next year for Wrestlemania.
- The previous joke was stolen from my best friend, Artem Romanov, and this note is for proper attribution.
- That being said, the beer/food prices are just unreasonable there, forcing me to hold an informal hunger strike in protest. I cannot share any notes or thoughts I had on their services in this area, nor can I rate them on the /19 scale for that reason. Plus points for working stadium-wide wi-fi, though, which I used to tweet during the game. I usually don't when I'm attending live, so I hope you at least enjoyed a look at my brain.
- Still ain't Memorial though. There's something unhomely and empty about the modern stadium, just generally. I'm not sure what it is.
- #drop50 will continue to be tweeted, obviously (and we came goddamn close to doing it on Friday, proving that it's not a tremendously stupid phrase, just a little bit of one), but I'm starting to think the shirt is bad mojo, man. We're 0-2 since I started wearing it to games. Props to the three gentlemen I saw wearing them.
- On the trip down to Santa Clara, it looked like there were going to be loads more Oregon fans than Cal ones. Not sure if it stayed that way once kickoff happened -- I got to my seat at 2 hours before gametime and wasn't at a good angle for observing how the ratio actually worked out. Estimates on my Twitter feed say about 65-35.
- Unrelated: SDBear asked in another thread if my opinion on Anu Solomon has changed. Didn't get to see the Arizona game, but it's very possible that he has just improved massively...and also that Washington State isn't all that good. They've allowed something like 18 TDs: 0 INTs to Pac-12 QBs this season.
- Finally, shout out to CGB, because we not only got press box privileges -- have had them since last year, actually -- but we also got to use them at an NFL stadium, when few thought we ever would.
And they said we didn't have editorial integrity. Hahahahahaha. WE MADE IT pic.twitter.com/C3Hh3BjjCD
— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 25, 2014
IX. In which the promo returns
We have long memories, Oregon State. There isn't a Cal fan who has successfully escaped the trauma of 2007, let alone any of the horrible, horrible sequels to follow.
You've had our number. You've beaten us, you've tormented us, playing perfectly the role of Halloween villain -- appearing once a year to ruin everything.
But this time, that debt gets paid, because we'll let you in on a little secret...listen close. We're putting together travel plans this December. It's time we get a vacation, and we've worked too damn hard to be denied one, let alone by the likes of you.
The first item on our itinerary, though...it says right here, in size 72 font: storming into Corvallis and taking a W by force. Oh, yes. We'll be exacting and returning the years of beatdowns owed, not just because you've had it coming, but because you sent our last coach out -- a man we loved and still do here in Berkeley -- in just about the worst fashion imaginable. We owe you a little something for that, too.
It'll still be Halloween weekend when we arrive in Corvallis, but you won't get a choice between trick or treat.
You will, however, get a bagful of points dropped on you, courtesy of the Bear Raid and its machine-like efficiency. There's a horror story waiting at the end of this one, authored by our hand this time. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Oregon State...we're coming. Expect us.