I. In which there is an initial programming announcement
I apologize in advance for any egregious mistakes, errors, or oversights in the following column. A good chunk of it was written after indulging myself post-victory in the preferred drink of Pullman, Washington: Fireball Whiskey.
Cheers pic.twitter.com/WliVib00mq— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 5, 2014
Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, Troll
II. In which we get to the intro
Every once in a while, sports will completely and utterly defy our abilities to comprehend it, its narratives more unbelievable than any fiction the mind can pen.
One team set a single game passing yardage record, essentially holding a 60 minute routes-on-air drill, tossing it up at will to any spot on the field.
One team scored 59 points.
One team had a game winning 19 yard field goal attempt ready to go, the kind of distance and kick that is made maybe 98 out of 100 times. It certainly recalled the words of Omar Little: "At this range? And this caliber? Even if I miss, I can't miss."
That team lost.
Your victors? The white-clad visitors on the other side; the group that gave up a single game passing yardage record; the team that put on futile attempt after futile attempt at containing the receivers in front of them. That team survived.
So yeah, this is one of those aforementioned once in a whiles, the kind of game that leaves an extra set of wrinkles in my brain when I try to make any sense of the events.
Once is a blip. Twice is a trend...and I have to say, I like the one we have going, having now pulled W's in games we absolutely should not have emerged victorious in. This, too, boggles the mind -- and particularly anyone who has seen the last few seasons of Cal football, because it used to be that the "4th quarter's ours" chant was just bluster, false bravado.
But the guts and the attitude of this program continue to be remade, we're seeing a different lesson learned each week. At first, it was learning how to play with a lead, figuring out how to close games. Now? No game looks out of reach, thanks to a self-belief that is certainly a departure from squads past. Shit, I actually wrote this myself two years ago and still have a hard time believing it, but will take it all the same.
So, here we are -- apparently back and ready to compete among conference rivals, and perhaps even a bit ahead of schedule, all things considered. After all, many would have been happy with four wins, let alone four in the first five weeks.
And yeah, a little luck was involved both times. I don't mind having the bounces swing in our direction, finally. Do you?
@Cal @CalFootball pic.twitter.com/HPBN0mNbrd— Peter Le (@PiotrLe) October 5, 2014
III. In which we talk offense
Scored a touchdown every time we touched the ball in the second half. That's what you call efficiency.— Trigga (@BryceTreggs) October 5, 2014
- What the hell did you think I was going to give them? I mean, he's right.
- Not a whole lot to add about Jared Goff, who is playing even better than I thought he would, and I'm a guy who knew he'd be a stud. A year ago, there were folks convinced that because he won only one FBS game, that he would be passed over eventually, and so on and so forth. If we examined his freshman -- his true freshman -- performance in proper context, though, the odds were always more heavy on him taking a big jump in year two. What a long way it's been since.
- I understand the scoreboard made it difficult to establish the run with Lasco, since we were busy just not trying to be blown out, but it would have been really, really nice to have keep him a bit more involved. That being said, it was really nice to see him continue as a factor in the pass game, an area that he has had his hiccups in. NEED MORE LASCO.
- This was by design, I think -- Coach Franklin spent a large majority of the game stretching the ball to the perimeter with quick throws and screens in order to fend off a hard Washington State rush. They ended up hitting him three times and sacking him only once among his 53 pass attempts, and he didn't appear to be running for his life nearly as often, so you know what? I'll take it. The offensive line played pretty well against one of their stiffest opposing units to date. In full agreement with the guys at Cal Rivals though. This was a fantastic performance by that group.
- More on Lasco: his touchdown run in the early 3rd quarter was the kind of play he might not have made nearly as easily last year, as he showed fantastic patience hiding behind Alejandro Crosthwaite's pull block, then planted his foot and moved once he found the defender committing.
- Also, bonus points for saving a touchdown on special teams by the Texas product.
- Zero qualms with the gameplan, by the way, even when it wasn't working early on.
- Still glad Utah isn't on the schedule though. I got a look at those guys for a bit on Saturday, and they pretty much ate Brett Hundley with ten sacks. TEN!
- If we could keep Khalfani Muhammad under wraps each game until the second half, that would be great. Let him face a more tired out defensive front -- that'd give him a better chance for success, I think. At this point in time, he's not developed enough as a runner to be able to make guys miss or anything like that, so let fatigue help.
- Every week, it's a different guy leading this offense. How great is that? They can stop some of us, but they sure as hell won't stop all of us.
- Didn't see Luke Rubenzer this week, save for the reverse attempt. We kind of didn't need him, since we played from behind the whole way, and that generally means passing, not running.
- We really, really love the fade route to the field side, which gives the most space possible.
- Giving love to Stephen Anderson again, not only for his reliability in moving the chains -- he did so three times on Saturday again -- but for his blocking down the field. The coaches do read your tweets, by the way. They may not always respond, but I guarantee you they see them, because we sent some of appreciation to Coach Likens for his work with Anderson (technically an inside receiver, but whatever) and he favorited them after the game.
- It's been a quiet year for Bryce Treggs, but not because he's lost it. The ball just goes around everywhere. He was a demon after the catch and his usually reliable self tracking the ball in the air.
- Not going to spend too much time writing Trev, who obviously kept us in it. Trev is a baller.
- And the best part about this offense is that this isn't even their final form. Remember that. Despite their gradual improvement over the last year and a half, it isn't even playing at its best yet, with a right guard stuck at tackle, simply because there aren't better options at either position. What I'm trying to tell you is...get used to the scoreboard.
- Chris Harper said on Sunday during interviews that one of the key changes this year has been bringing Coach Franklin down to the sideline. I had noticed this earlier but wasn't sure why they had made that change, until yesterday. Essentially, Harper said that it allows the players to give feedback on what they think they can run or should do, giving them more immediate access and hands on the playcalling. And it's working.
- My perception is that the right side of the line continues to be noticeably more flagged than left side, although I could go back and double check if anyone really cares that much.
- We are now raising the motto to #drop60. The father of #drop50 Bryce Treggs demands it, so it shall be done. I'll do my job and just keep saying it until everyone accepts it.
IV. In which we write a lot of things about the pass defense
He Who Must Not Be Named (V)
Off the top of my head, only a handful of Cal unit performances have earned this grade -- the special teams against USC in 2013, and the 4th quarter meltdown against Arizona two weeks ago. It's not one I try to give out lightly, because it means you broke the scale with how badly you played. 734 yards! THEY GAVE UP 734 YARDS!!! I don't care if I already mentioned it up top.
Think about again that for a second -- in the history of college football, there had never been a worse game of pass defense put together. Ever. AND WE WON!!!!
Now, context is crucial when it comes to evaluation. We know the pass defense was bad. We also have to understand why, and what is reasonable to expect. These are my six explanations, with each issues interconnected and inseparable from the last.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE ONE] There was no Stefan McClure and Avery Sebastian, which forced our hand by bringing guys like walk-on David Garner into service. Now, with all due respect to their efforts, if we were to speak generally, walk-ons tend to be of a lesser talent level than their scholarship peers. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure you can all list some of your favorites over the years, guys who ended up contributing from out of nowhere -- Griffin Piatt is one of those guys, for example -- but the problem is that when you're forced to play a lot of these guys, a dropoff in play becomes more and more noticeable. Cormac Craigie and Patrick Worstell were pretty close to getting into the game too. That's four walk-ons at the back end.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE TWO] It's one thing to demand better -- it's another to accept that we simply don't have enough talent ready to go right now. We don't. We threw every single body we had out there. Literally everyone played in the secondary. Nobody helped. Trey Cheek went out there. AJ Greathouse -- who I'm a fan of, by the way; I think he'll be a player for us down the line --went out there. Caleb Coleman went out there. Joel Willis saw time. We're already dealing with a positional group that has nobody ready to go below the starters, a function of poor recruiting (particularly at safety, as Avi is always so prone to complaining about) and simply an inability to remain healthy whatsoever.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE THREE] This is a young secondary, with a redshirt freshman, a sophomore, and I believe a redshirt sophomore in Dozier seeing his first significant playing time among the top three starters at cornerback. They're competing. They're even in the right spots, too. They're just not at a point to finish all the plays yet.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE FOUR] There is no pass rush. We've sacked the quarterback 4 times in the last 210 dropbacks. No secondary is that good. We need help, and it's distressing to see us repeatedly chase guys and never actually finish them.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE FIVE] It's not necessarily schematic in the back end. Head Football Writer Scott Chong has paid pretty close attention to the coverages over the last few weeks -- I tend to take more a large view and am better at offense, as I've said before -- noting that Kaufman has tried pretty much everything. Man. Zone. Quarters. Cover two. Cover three. Not necessarily anything that's a magical fix. Sometimes, you just don't have the horses.
- [PASS DEFENSE ISSUE SIX] All of the last three teams we played are really good passing teams. This is by far the flimsiest excuse, but does explain some of the degree of the success they've had. Washington will definitely be a bit more normal. I hope.
- Stefan McClure is expected back next week, which would help a lot more than Sebastian as far as in the pass game goes.
- In fact, I goddamn guarantee you we won't give up 700 yards passing again. Or even 500!
- There were more than a few plays where I thought I was watching the 2013 squad again, though, and for all the surprise that Piatt has given us, I've noticed him struggling to chase down some of the receivers in the open field, or particularly covering the corner route. His foot speed just isn't the best. Rough night for him overall, easily his worse since becoming a starter. Gave up a long TD on a corner post, biting hard on Cracraft's move, missed several other tackles in the open field. Washington State went right at him.
- One of the relatively nice things -- if you want to put it that way -- is that our guys are at least in the position to make plays. There aren't guys just streaking through the secondary untouched, for the most part...but that's grasping at straws, I know. The numbers do say we're a ton worse.
- Darius White didn't have a tremendous evening in his debut, and it looked a lot like his one day of camp I saw, to be honest -- a couple of killer mistakes and nothing else super distinctive. We may have to wait a bit longer before we get anything substantial out of him, which is why I wasn't expecting immediate improvement as soon as he was inserted. He was much better in the second half, though.
- This problem has persisted no matter which defensive backs coach we've put out there, whether it's been Stewart, Ambrose, or now, Burns. We simply do not turn our heads.
- You know well as I do that Connor Halliday only broke the record because he got two extra possessions.
V. In which we talk about OTHER defensive things
- Aisea Tongilava, who we were probably hoping to redshirt, made his debut, becoming the 11th true freshman to take reps this year. He made a tackle for loss in the 2nd quarter with a beautiful shed of the receiver trying to block him, then coming up decisively for a stop. Tongilava was one of the guys I really liked in the 2014 class on tape -- I was actually confused as to why he wasn't more heavily recruited because of what I saw. Of all the defensive recruits, he and Downs from last class are probably my favorites.
- It looks as if Hardy is beginning to turn the corner, healthwise. His snaps are going up, and he took the start at MIKE -- on our first snap, we showed 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers in the box, and Jalen Jefferson out in the slot with 4 DBs, it was him, Unc, and Kearney as the three backers. Michael Barton did not appear until later in the game. Not sure what it means, but it sure is interesting.
- Back to Hardy for a second -- he's definitely becoming a regular force in the run game again and looks to me like he's moving much better in space just generally. Last season, he always seemed steps too slow against the pass. A bit less now, although it's not like he's Patrick Willis or something with his mobility.
- Avi said all game that Connor Halliday usually throws a couple of terrible balls a game, and he's kind of right. It's something that I've noticed plenty of when it comes to him -- he'll miss some very, very makeable throws. This comment was made after seeing him sale a wide open corner route over the head of his receiver at the end of the 3rd quarter. Drops didn't help him, either.
- These reps are going to help the guys in years to come. They will. These guys will get better in the years to come, because of nights like this, although they really could use the second mini-bye soon.
VI. In which there are some really really weird numbers
Take with a grain of salt. They are hand-calculated, and may contain a few errors for that reason. Raw data in the link.
5 of 12 (41.6%)
7 of 15 (46.7%)
Avg. Yards to go
Avg. 1st down gain
Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards to go that were successful)
0 of 1 (Enwere)
3 of 5
Avg. Starting F.P.
23.30 | 33.53 
Havoc (percentage of disruptive plays - TFL, picks, PDs, FFs, sacks - divided by total plays. 15.9% was average in 2013, with Navy at 9.3%.)
6 (5 TFL, 1 PD)
10 (3 TFL, 7PD)
Points Per Trip Inside 40
7, 3, 3, 7, 7, 7, 7
3, 7, 7, 0, 7, 7, 7, 7, 0
Of further note from the above table:
-  Normally, the team that wins both yardage and yards per play -- even if it's by the tiniest 0.1 of margins -- is more likely to win the game. On paper, it looks like Washington State took both of these categories, until you favor in kickoff yardage, which left us actually out-gaining Washington State on the evening. I actually thought I was tripping out or something when I saw the second return, nearly identical to its earlier twin. Glitch in the Matrix, I guess.
-  I can barely believe it either, but the numbers say the defense got better on first down as the game went on -- Washington State averaged 19.33 yards on first down, then 6.9, 5, and 3.53. Check the data yourself, it's in the link above. To me, that fits the narrative of half-time adjustments. It's not like they ran the ball more, because the ratios are still heavily pass skewed as you continue through. Not that it completely mattered, since they did their work on 2nd down, a lot of the time.
-  They really killed us on a ton of third and longs, with a pair of conversions -- 30 and 37 yards -- that not only netted the required distance, but a chunk beyond it, too.
-  Below average field position for Cal if you take out the Davis returns, but I'll talk a little more about that when we get to the next section. Once again, not too many drives that began in opposing territory, although it doesn't really matter when you can get touchdowns from your own 5, does it?
-  And now we should be really, really concerned. Even with an offense as good as ours is -- and it is good -- there's going to have to be a point when we come up with stops. This kind of close call thing isn't sustainable, even though it is enjoyable as all hell.
-  For the second straight week, in this number is where we find the difference between winning, and losing. Like against Colorado, we didn't come up with nearly as many opportunities inside the 40, partly a function of long scores, and partly one of sporadic inefficiency. And yet, we emerged victorious both times thanks to doing just enough. One miss late by Quentin Brashears, and one unconverted 4th down made all the difference.
VI. In which I notice a few schematic things/details to get you ready for Head Football Writer Scott Chong's Golden Spotlight on Wednesday
This is the section where I might break down a couple of plays, or really just mention some things that I saw and you may have missed. I am not a professional scout.
I'll explain what I see here in Monday's column. Just need the photos. pic.twitter.com/4IhfI7tcnh— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 6, 2014
- Cal ball, 3rd and 7, 10:57 1Q -- result of play: Lasco catch for 5 yards, punt. Remember when I talked about the gameplan trying to fend off Washington's defensive line by throwing away from it? You'll see it in action here, as they bring Treggs in a jet sweep motion to the left (yellow), and then also drop Lasco into the right flat for a screen himself, giving Goff two designed quick throws over the pass rush. My guess is that Coach Franklin hoped Treggs would pull the further linebacker (red circled) out with him in motion to give Goff a little extra time, but he ends up rushing hard and drilling Goff...only he's already too late, because the ball is already out and he's already found Lasco. This play might have resulted in a first down, and perhaps should have, except Adcock and Borrayo both block the same guy (orange), and Lasco doesn't exactly help things by dancing around a little after the catch. I'm not sure what the blocking scheme calls for, but it's probably converted if Borrayo turns and grabs that safety instead.
- Wazzu ball, 1st and 15, 9:17 1Q -- result of play: 90 yard touchdown to Vince Mayle. My read of this is a pin route concept with the two receivers on the left side versus I think our quarters set up. Piatt comes down on the dig, and when left alone against Mayle on the post, White is already beaten right after the release. That's a no-no, per Matt Bowen. The rest is just chucking it up for a foot race. I do not know if Piatt was supposed to stay deep or not -- teams have different calls/expectations/preferences for how they want their safeties to play in any given coverage.
- Cal ball, 2nd and 10, 14:33 2Q -- result of play: 27 yard touchdown to Trevor Davis. Same as the one by Lasco, just a quick tunnel screen action where Goff needs to get the ball out and away from rushers. Once he does, Davis receives it in space, Bryce Treggs puts a good block down, Davis sheds two guys, and it's -- guess who? -- Stephen Anderson coming from the other side with the last block needed to spring him for the score.
- Scrapped most of our Bone packages for this one, probably because Gingold was unavailable during the game. We also didn't see a whole bunch of short yardage situations, so it wasn't even needed.
- Hated the last play of the half, which was the fade to Maurice Harris on the field side, in 1 on 1 coverage. Took a bit too much time off the clock, even though we had two timeouts. The result was a Langford FG to keep at 24-13 halftime, rather than 24-17.
- Cal ball, 1st and 10, 14:55 3Q -- Remember last year, when nobody was really breaking tackles in space? Well, that's no longer happening. Stephen Anderson tosses the defender a grown man stiff-arm, and he's off for 55 yaards. Probably could have had a few more yards if Kenny Lawler doesn't trip and fall.
- Wazzu ball, 2nd and 10, 13:06 3Q - Brennan Scarlett as the 4th rusher from a standup position. Pass goes incomplete. Showed last week, and again here. Did it again on 1st and 10, 9:10 3Q. That was a pressure that forced Halliday to throw it away.
- Was very, very ready to get angry at the toss call on 2nd and goal to open the 4th quarter, which was blown up for a loss. Good thing we scored next play.
- Loved the reverse attempt on 4th and 1 -- that's a fantastic job of self scouting, because Rubenzer had taken almost all of our short yardage attempts in the first for games, plus rarely ever handed the ball off. That's what the defense was expecting...more of the same. So, what do we do? Flip the ball out to Harper, our best athlete in space, perhaps rivaled only by Lawler. Key first down.
- All credit to Halliday from 1st and 10 and the Cal 21 with 1:10 left in the game. This is one of the two or three times I recall a DB blitz from the secondary during the game, and even though he got absolutely WRECKED, he hung in long enough to complete the first down, all the way down to the 3 yard line. I thought the game was lost at that point.
VII. In which we try to figure out the special teams
Some really good. Some really bad. You tell me. Let's go over it from the beginning:
- Again, not to pick too much on Khalfani specifically, but the criticism is all valid. He has pretty much struggled the entire season, and against WSU, his special teams play was under fire too. He took a few kicks out of the end zone that didn't need to be taken, and at least one return where he slipped and fell without being touched were a huge contributor in Cal losing the field position battle. Per Connelly's data, the average starting field position is about 29.8 yards, which we fell well short of.
- Two of his returns were definitely not his fault, though -- I didn't catch it until my second watch, but someone waved him up, which is why we ended up getting tackled at the 17. The same thing happened on the 2nd half kickoff, too. Stopped short of the 20 again. Still didn't play well, but I'm absolving him a bit.
- Looks like he did get pulled in the second half on KR, with Tre Watson lining up next to Trevor Davis.
- Also bad: getting an extra point blocked. Like, really? Really?
- Both those things aren't nearly as concerning as us being completely blowing the concept of onside kicks for the second time this season, though. The Arizona debacle has already been well covered, and this week, we failed to convert our own onside kick -- a call I supported, by the way -- while Washington State's kicker recovered his own because we were so off-guard. That's just poor planning. Poor awareness.
- Counterpoint to the above: Trevor Freakin' Davis.
- Counterpoint II: The removal of Davis on punt return and a switch from him to Harper, which was a smart move overall by Tommerdahl. Trevor's not untalented by any means, but you can't have a guy who's indecisive back there taking punts, which he has been over the last two or three games. I thought Harper was the best punt returner candidate last year, too.
- In conclusion: ??? PROFIT
VIII. In which there are some notes that don't fit elsewhere
Week 6 matrix: SHOULD WIN: BYU, OSU COULD WIN: UW STEAL ONE OF THESE AND MAKE MY GODDAMN YEAR: UCLA, USC, OREGON, STANFORD— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) October 5, 2014
- You're reading that right, ladies and gentlemen -- a bowl berth is FIRMLY. IN. PLAY. Changes this week come almost exclusively from the unfortunate injury to Taysom Hill, which has swung the BYU game firmly in our favor. If we can pencil that in, then we'd only need of the remaining six games to go to the postseason. I like those odds. Don't you?
- Of course, almost none of us wants to be in a position where we have to beat BYU for a bowl. The sooner we can hit six, the better. Ideally, it'd happen against UCLA.
- I saw a six win ceiling preseason, only if everything absolutely broke right. The last two games certainly are making it look that way, right? Right?
- Don't worry, that's not me being revisionist. I said four, and we got four, so even though everything from this point going forward is pretty much all icing on the cake, I'll admit I underestimated the team. On the flipside, it's almost impossible to get disappointed with the results, no matter what happens! Huzzah! God, I do want a bowl though, in the worst way.
- Lightweight toying with the idea of begging you guys for bowl funding. We'll see. NO I DON'T ALREADY HAVE MY BAGS PACKED FOR A TRIP YOU HAVE YOUR BAGS PACKED SHUT UP
- There's no formal section for game management, but yes, there were some definite quibbles to be had in this category. The odd decision to punt on 4th and 2 in the middle of the 2nd could have come back to bite us. Our refusal to let them score -- and yes, there were two or three opportunities to do so -- was another one, depending on how you feel about that. I'm on Team Let Them Score, as you can tell.
- #FASHIONWATCH: Rigsbee has himself one of those beastly facemasks with a design on it. It's a good look.
- Childish Gambino's STN MTN | KAUAI mixtape is dope. Go check it out. Top five dude working right now, for me.
- First week of school was great, thanks for asking. (All joking aside, I'm actually really, really glad I chose to break away from home and trip down here. I wrote a little more on my first month at my personal blog, if you care. Still to be determined how my studies affect my ability to write this column in the weeks to come, although all I can do is promise I'll try goddamned hard.)
- We -- and by we, I mean myself, Josh Toyofuku, and Manny Perez -- told Coach Likens that there were whispers of a 4-1 start in the fanbase 3 weeks ago. Boy don't we look smart?
- Back to Berkeley this weekend. See you there. Say hi to me in QQ. Join the Goons. Or don't. Up to you.
- Burying this at the bottom of the column, but I'll be giving away at least a few Big Game tickets next month at some point. Cal Athletics, in all their generosity, has granted me some extras, so whatever I don't use on my friends, I'll be giving out to y'all in one form or another.
IX. In which I cut a promo
YOU THOUGHT US HIBERNATORS.
YOU THOUGHT US CELLAR-DWELLARS.
YOU SCREAMED FOR DOOM BEFORE THE SEASON HAD EVEN KICKED OFF, PREDICTING PINS COUNTS -- ONE, TWO, THREE -- FOR WIN TOTALS.
AND YOU WERE WRONG, BECAUSE HERE WE STAND. YOUR KINGS IN THE NORTH.
THE CORONATION BEGAN IN PULLMAN, AND THIS WEEK, THE CROWN IS COMING HOME.
NOW, IF YOU WANT WHAT SITS ATOP OUR HEADS, WASHINGTON, YOU WILL HAVE TO CROWBAR IT FROM OUT OF OUR GODDAMN PAWS.
YOU WILL HAVE TO BEAT US LIFELESS, SEND US SENSELESS, AND THEN EVEN BEYOND THAT, BECAUSE AS LONG AS THERE IS BREATH IN OUR LUNGS AND FIGHT IN OUR SOULS, WE WILL NEVER, EVER CEDE IT TO THE LIKES OF YOU.
DO YOU PLAN ON WINNING THROUGH THE AIR, THE WAY YOUR IN-STATE RIVAL DID, TOSSING PASSES UNTIL OBLIVION COMES?
DO YOU THINK SUCH A THOUGHT INTIMIDATES US?
SIR, WE SCARE NONE AND FEAR LESS.
WE HAVE WEATHERED A RAIN OF AERIAL STRIKES WORSE THAN ANY YOU CAN MUSTER, ONLY TO EMERGE VICTORIOUS. OFFENSIVE RECORDS WILL NOT SLOW US; YOUR TOUCHDOWNS DO NOT DETER.
THE BEAR RAID LAUGHS AT YOUR SCORING OUTPUTS, SPITS IN THE FACE OF YOUR SCHEMES.
AND IT WILL NOT BE STOPPED. EXPECT TO FIND OUT THE HARD WAY ON SATURDAY AT 3PM, WHEN YOU ENTER OUR 63,000 SEAT DOMAIN, ONLY TO FALL FIRST VICTIM TO THE DEFENSE OF OUR CROWN.
WE'RE COMING. EXPECT US.