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Cal vs Stanford postgame notebook

Dissecting the Big Game and the Big War that followed.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

I. In which we intro

Amid a swirling ragestorm and welling frustration on Cal Twitter after this loss, there's me, who is only mildly annoyed, possibly because they weren't ever a great match-up, and that their players up front clearly outclassed ours. My relatively calm probably comes from not expecting to win in the first place.

You're well within your rights to be upset, by the way, and I share those feelings -- just to a much less intense degree.

Now, am I disappointed? Certainly. Stanford's better than us, but not 21 points better. But this is what happens when you play a mistake-ridden (on the players) and unacceptably called (on the coaches) game against an opponent with a marginal talent advantage. A blowout happens.

Axeless  as we may be, I've long said I'll judge this staff most on what happens next season, when the rebuilding job is closer to complete, or at least, should be. The same is true of their performance in rivalry games, which remains painfully unfruitful as of now. I plan on sticking to those promises, even in the awfulness of the immediate moment, because the staff's earned -- at least from me -- a passing grade for their progress from year one to year two. Debate about whether or not it's of their own creation if you want, but I am seeing it as barely passing, mistakes and all, and it'll still be a passing grade even if we miss a bowl.

Do not mistake that last paragraph to mean I'll defend the coaches to the death. Although I do have a personal investment in Coach Dykes and company working out -- Sonny was the coach I wanted in the original pool of realistic candidates, after Petersen was always a bit out of reach -- when they prove to me beyond a shadow of a doubt, and when there are no reasonable excuses left that they won't cut it, then I'll write as such (although I'd probably express that sentiment in more measured tones if it happened, since I think it's a bit crass to call for the firings of people I have met and actually like. No ridiculously inflammatory writing in this space, except the promo.)

These reasonable excuses...the talent areas that we've known couldn't cut it entering the season, and general youthiness. Neither will be applicable in 2015, when Sonny and company will have had ample opportunity to correct this. After that year, or perhaps even toward the end of it, we'll have a lot more clarity and an end to all the debating.

I'll tell you what, though; I fully, fully expect that we will win the next Big Game -- not in the shallow, optimistic, "we should win the Big Game every year" mindset that a lot of fans have, either. I mean that with the amount of talent we have coming back and the amount that Stanford has graduating, that this game should be ours for the taking in 2015.


II. In which we talk Bear Raid


  • Jared didn't play well. That's a really weird sentence to write. But he didn't.
  • The right side of the line, in particular, was horrible in pass protection, which is where a lot of the pressure came off of, including on the first Blake Martinez interception -- Rigsbee was unable to handle his man off the edge, allowing for Goff's ball to be whacked up into the air and into a textbook tip drill. That one, I can understand and don't blame on Goff.
  • The second interception was Peter Kalambayi reading Goff's eyes perfectly and in rhythm, getting his hands up for the swat. Generally speaking, this rarely happens to the Bear Raid Commander anymore, and I'm going to personally interpret it more as Stanford preparing well. Jared also almost threw a third interception right before halftime, which was ruled incomplete but would have been a big gain if the pass was an inch or two lower. Making that play maybe helps change the complexion of things a bit, because you continue a promising drive still having all your timeouts, with a good chance of cutting it to 14 or less. Very different feel from 17.
  • As an amateur tape evaluator, I counted at least four instances that can be traced to Rigsbee not playing very well, whether by missed block or being beat: the Martinez interception, a failed third down conversion and an eventual intentional grounding call among them. The first drive of the fourth quarter ended with Goff being flushed from the pocket and being tackled five yards short of the first down on what appeared to be pressure from the right side as well.
  • I love Rigsbee very much as a player. He's just not a tackle.
  • It's very fair to wonder if/how the Rubenzer switches messed up Goff's rhythm, on top of all the pressure, considering it was the most extensive usage of the 2nd quarterback to date.
  • Goff did look very mobile in scrambling for ten yards in the 2nd quarter, though. He's definitely got more wheels than Tom Brady did in juking Brian Urlacher a few years back, and he also did a better job in the 1st and 3rd quarters of maneuvering with rushers in his face, whether that meant a step up or not.
  • Felt like Lasco really played well, save for the fumble. I would have continued to give the ball to him, honestly -- he showed some beautiful, effective vision on the carries he was given, cutting back inside for yards, running with power...he was the same as we've seen him play this year, save for us not being utilizing him much out of the backfield.
  • In most weeks where the passing game struggles a bit, it's because we don't have an advantage in the slot. We did this week, though, between Anderson and Treggs specifically. Wish we had been able to get the ball to them more.
  • Not sure why Vic Enwere didn't get carries, or why we went away from the run so much with the game only two possessions out. Surprising levels of success and physicality in the run from this front, to be honest, with Alejandro Crosthwaite impressing me early on with how he blocked while pulling on power plays...
  • ...until he negated a lot of his positive play with some silly penalties. The same was true all around. Holds, unnecessary roughnesses, hands to the face, a post-celebration skirmish by Steven Moore...sloppy, sloppy job. Perhaps the function of frustration and an afternoon of getting beat up by Stanford.
  • HELMET STICKER: Mr. Stephen Anderson. Get that man a second scholarship, STAT. In the 4th quarter, he was still blocking the hell out of dudes, fighting for yards, fighting like hell in general...that's on top of scoring the touchdown and recovering the onside kick. Hard not to love him generally, to be honest. The touchdown was just a perfect job of him settling down in the middle of the Stanford zone, then bullying in.
  • Even without counting the garbage time Rubenzer pick, four turnovers is usually going to do you in. Duh.
  • There's a rumor going around that multiple receivers -- Bryce Treggs among them -- will be heading to the NFL next season. While I remain skeptical that Treggs will leave without his degree, I've long anticipated Chris Harper to be heading out, and possibly Kenny Lawler, too. If those are the two or three leaving next season, we'd still have a top receiving corps in the Pac-12. It's the talent after Powe-Harris-Anderson-Davis that has yet to establish itself. I'll leave that for the 2016 Nam to worry about, though.

III. In which we note a myriad of management issues...and yes, Luke.


Man. A lot of different things to list, disagree on, and comment about this week. It was, quite frankly (and I suppose, quite Franklin) one of the worst coached games that they've put together since coming here, particularly in-game.

  • Why did we defer to the second half? We're at home, and we love having a spark with a hot home crowd. Odd.
  • The sequence beginning from 7:59, 2Q is where things began to spiral out of control -- it's 17 to 7 at that point, following the Lasco fumble, and we've gotten all the way to 2nd down at the Stanford 30 yard line, when Jared is hit while throwing, floating it right into Blake Martinez's hands. It's easy to say we should have ran the ball instead in this particular situation, given the results, but what bothers me more is what followed: a Darius White interception sets up...two more pass attempts from inside our own five...for one more interception. Stanford would pick up another touchdown following.
  • Scanning the play by play, those two plays are probably the best place for any specific argument that we should not have abandoned the run. Either them, or the opening drive of the second half, which went: run, pass for a first down, incomplete, incomplete (should have been a penalty, when Stanford tackled the crap out of Davis while the ball was in the air), and most painfully, a screen pass to Lasco that was a perfect call save for James Vaughters' instincts. If Lasco can shed that tackle or Rigsbee can make the block, he's probably off to the races. Neither occurs. Stanford goes on to score on the next drive to basically put the game away. Going down 24 points in the third against a running team is a death knell, essentially.
  • How about the continuing and maddening tendency to pull something weird immediately after any sort of turnover? The pick from White gives you new life and your immediate instinct is to call a pass play for Luke? Man. Then there was the onside kick, another sort of turnover, which we used to run a reverse for two yards. Tremendous.
  • Michael Rollins demanded that I put this above point in my column. Don't worry, I got you, buddy.
  • Though the touchdowns were called back each time, it appeared there was no consideration given on the sideline of grabbing a two point conversion to close the gap to 16. I'm not entirely sure why this is. Yes, a miss here makes it 31-13, which is a 3 possession game (TD, TD + 2XP, FG minimum). A regular extra point is 31-14 (TD, TD, FG). A make here is 31-15, which is two touchdowns and two two point conversions. Maybe they didn't want to be chasing successive 2-pointers or something, but this decision is a little odd for me. Ultimately not that huge in the grand scheme of things.
  • I looked it up later though, and the 2-point conversion chart that most coaches use indeed says kick the one here, so I'm willing to concede I may be wrong.
  • Not snapping the ball for an extra play right before the 4th quarter started. Why?
  • Now, the biggest issue: as I've written in the past already, playing Rubenzer has some merit, and against Stanford, he warranted a little more than 2-4 plays -- probably around 12-14 -- because he was clearly giving their defense trouble with his general elusiveness and speed. He should have played. I don't have a problem with that. It's more of how much, and when.
  • Like, for example, having him throw? Often? You really only have to look at the floating corner route to Treggs -- bracketed the entire way -- at 1st and 10 from the Stanford 25, 3rd quarter, and then the ball that was overthrown and eventually intercepted by Jordan Richards two plays later. Those will tell you pretty much all you need to know about where he is as a passer. He just isn't a serious threat in that area yet, and putting him out there for as many plays as we did eventually exposed him. A 2nd and 20, though? That's when you want to put Rubenzer out there?
  • Coach Dykes' postgame comments combined with the erraticness of how Goff subbed in every third and long in the third quarter smacked of general desperation, rather than anything tactics they saw happening. The game flow was just really, really odd, and I have no idea what Coach Franklin was trying to pull with this.
  • Goff remains our best option. He will be our best option next season, too. Taking him off the field any more than necessary -- and it admittedly was more than usual on Saturday -- becomes an automatic win for the defense. I do not think it has any long term effects on him though, as I have long assumed he would leave for the NFL after his junior season.
That is a remarkable, remarkable list of game management issues. It is not encouraging.

If this team is not ready to fight for their lives -- and win -- against BYU, it's going to be a long and bitter offseason in the Cal community: back to back losses to our biggest rivals, a fifth consecutive Big Game loss, and a blown bowl bid? Yikes. That's going to erase a chunk of the good vibes we've built up, even from me.

Please make a bowl. I ain't tryna debate Coach Dykes' job security for the next eight months.

IV. In which we discuss defense


  • As soon as Michael Lowe was lost on the first play of the game, you could sense it was probably not going to be our day.
  • However, if you told me we would lose Mike Lowe and they would lose Ty Montgomery after the first quarter, that's a trade I probably would have made.
  • A few tackling problems, but nothing egregious, though, which is due at least in some part to Stanford's lack of top quality weapons. This is what I meant when I said this area has been largely improved as a whole all year -- there are largely less instances of teams wandering in the open, and it was promising that Ty Montgomery was barely a factor before he left with an injury.
  • For a defense that was largely outmatched line on line, I saw a lot of really great individual plays from this group, which comprises the majority of this section.
  • Take, for example, Darius White, who came up with a great sequence of plays in the second quarter, first forcing a cutback on the Michael Rector reverse, and then coming up with the interception from Hogan, which absolutely did not need to be thrown. On the former, Rector could have escaped down the sideline for a touchdown had it not been for White's quick recognition and maneuvering. On the latter, Hogan simply beat himself. Why he threw up the field rather than continuing the deep cross, I'll never know.
  • Finally looked a little like Avery Sebastian was healthy again. He was forced into action only after Lowe was ejected, sure, but he made a few of those shooting tackles that made us cheer him so much in the 2012 season, and helped mitigate the loss of our defensive leader somewhat.
  • As a whole, facing numerous opportunities, I thought the linebacking play was pretty adequate. Hardy and Barton both had some memorable missed tackles, but they all generally fought hard, and the holes never really opened up for Stanford. No second level stuff developed due to Jalil, Clark, Manley, and company.
  • Nothing to note from the secondary, really. A few throws that were really good from Hogan, a few times coverage was there, and twice in the end zone, they were bigger than us, so Stanford only needed to throw the fade and watch us struggle to defend it. Considering we didn't even trifle Hogan with the pass rush, I'm not sure how much better I hoped they would perform.
  • It's odd to me how little I've noticed Jalen Jefferson as the season has gone on. Although he started on Saturday, I don't remember seeing him pop out or making an impact play of any kind, which is so odd considering his initial heroics against Northwestern and even Colorado. The stats sheet backs me up somewhat, saying he had one solo tackle to end the half. Weird.
  • All in all, though, they kept it close enough after facing down five turnovers on offense. They didn't play well, so I couldn't assign a passing grade, but it was a competitive effort on their part until late in the fourth.
  • I've typed up quite a storm about how Devante Downs will be an impact player for us down the line. It's hard not to get excited when he does things like this, at least once a game. Kinda makes losing Ragin a little easier.

V. In which we poke around at the numbers

As always, unofficial raw data compiled by me. UNOFFICIAL UNOFFICIAL UNOFFICIAL








5.4 [1]

6.1 [1]

3rd Downs


6 of 14 (42.8%)

5 of 10 (50%)

Avg. Yards to go

8.428 [2]

4.7 [2]

Avg. 1st down gain

5.84 [2]

6.625 [2]

Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards to go that were successful)

1 of 1 - Rubenzer [3]

1 of 1 - Wright

Field Position

Avg. Starting F.P.

AVG: OWN 33.3

MED: OWN 25 [4]



Points Per Trip Inside 40

6:26 1Q - 0

15:00 2Q - 7

7:59 2Q - 0

9:16 3Q - 0

3:10 3Q - 3

15:00 4Q - 0

4:16 4Q - 7

2.42 [5]

15:00 1Q - 7

11:21 1Q - 3

14:19 2Q - 7

2:54 2Q - 7

13:10 2Q - 7

12:24 4Q - 7

0:49 4Q - 0

5.42 | 6.33 [5]


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%.)

3 (TFL, INT, PD)

68 plays faced

4.4% [6]

15 (3 TFL, 1 FF, 4 INT, 7 PD)

76 plays faced


Of further note:

  • [1 and 2] -- Stanford's YPP ended up being larger than I expected it to be from watching the game live, since it was all very dink and dunk stuff running the ball and the occasional pass just to keep things spicy. That being said, the Cardinal ran on 81% of their first downs for an average of 5.42 yards per carry, which, if you think about it, kind of begins to make our defense on Saturday  look worse in retrospect. Knowing a run is coming and not being able to do more to force losses is not encouraging.
  • [1 and 2] -- When Kevin Hogan is able to throw when he wants to throw, he's a much different quarterback. Unfortunately, there weren't very many of those situations, since the average 3rd down he and the Cardinal bastards faced was a very manageable 4.7 yards. That's still well within the range of another mediocre Remound Wright carry, dammit!
  • [1 and 2] -- Where Hogan really hurt us was 2nd down, because from my sheets, it looks like he went 5 of 6 for 71 yards on third down, and 2 of 3 for 17 yards on 3rd down. Using my handy dandy calculator, that leaves 8 of 11 for 126 on 2nd down, which is where a lot of the longer conversions came: 14 to Ty Montgomery, 21 to Cajuste, 14 to Cajuste, 16 to get the point.
  • [1 and 2] -- Combining these observations together with the average first down gain statistic, I draw the conclusion that even when we did force Stanford into a longer 2nd down -- 7, 8 yards, as opposed to 5 -- we were spectacularly ineffective. Hogan had time to pick us apart, again and again.
  • [1 and 2] -- 8.88, 5.57, 5.125, 3.85. Those are Cal's average first down gains by quarter. The trend -- and what we saw on the field -- suggests we got out-gameplanned and out-adjusted on this side of the ball, especially after halftime, with the problems only becoming much more pronounced because of the score. I don't remember seeing them send the house or blitzing too much, so it's not necessarily that they got more aggressive with the pass rush, but they were certainly able to expect a certain type of playcalling once we were down.
  • [3] -- This continues to be a fine enough reason to let Rubenzer see the field, even with the emergence of Lasco. He converts short yardage even better than our lead back, no matter how incredulous the Fox Sports 1 announcers get.
  • [4] -- Surprised that this category ended up as even as it did, since we never got a single kick return due to Jordan Williamson's bionic leg. Guess the difference makers were the presence of the punt return game and the onside kick.
  • [5] -- Dreadful. Just freaking dreadful. A step up over Washington's 1.4, though, surprisingly! Here, the errors were: Lasco fumble; interception; interception; turnover on downs. Four trips into Stanford territory that went for nothing. Uncharacteristic, some. Others, a function of getting manhandled up and down the field.
  • [5] -- Worse, take a look at what Stanford did -- they somehow found it in them to score the full seven on every attempt, which sucks even more because of how bad we know their red zone offense to have been all season. On two of those scores, there was a pass interference call, which helped give extra chances, but this was simply awful. I split the data here to account for the fact that they probably could have scored again if they wanted to, late. Instead, they knelt.
  • [6] -- The Stanford offensive line was vulnerable, they said. The Stanford offensive line was overrated, they said. Well, we still didn't get anything going against them, in what was the most frustratingly ineffective performance of the season from our defense. I don't even have to check the previous tables to know that 4.7% is the lowest Havoc number, since I started tracking it midway through the season. Fred Tate has his work cut out for him, y'all, with his top priority probably finding a way to turn Jonathan Johnson into a three down player, or developing Noah Westerfield further. Mekari isn't a disruptive enough end, nor Wilfley, but those are the guys we had to trot out there anyway. There just isn't anyone good enough right now, even with great in-season coaching. Hopefully Ude or Zeandae Johnson can make an immediate impact too.
  • [6] -- I'm not going to bother covering too much how Stanford did in the Havoc category. You know damn well. Some people are going to blame this on an inherent flaw of the Tony Franklin System or the two point stances or whatever they feel like. Not me -- one, because I know enough to know I am not an offensive line guru, and two, because I also know that the line talent isn't good yet.

VI. In which we quickly break down some Rubenzer usage

Due to the over-run of the Oklahoma-Kansas game at Fox Sports 1, my replay started in the second quarter, and I only had time to make it to the start of the 4th before I had to leave for my flight. (I would have finished, but, sleep called.)

Thusly, I've decided to focus most of my efforts on the thing that stood out to me more than anything else, since we were so devoid of general highlights: the new wrinkle with Luke Rubenzer.

I don't yet have a catchy name for it yet, but go ahead and take a look at these two screenshots:

In the first one, they use BONE blockers, but this week it was modified with a jumbo set, with Rigsbee and Borrayo both in good spots to pull or lead -- the former is best utilized in this fashion, as we already well know.

Here's a look at what how they used Rubenzer specifically in this new package, between the 2nd and 3rd quarters:

  • ~6:00 2Q, 15 yards, run -- first play keeper with Borrayo getting up to second level as a lead blocker.
  • 3:25 2Q, run/pass option (?) -- Luke sees 8 in the box, with both receivers outside apparently singled up. (A safety here is off screen, I think, I only count ten defenders). He drops back to pass to see neither receiver having turned around -- or maybe they're not on the same page on what they're seeing? -- but Rubenzer ultimately is flushed out when Matt Cochran loses the block, though, forcing him to scramble for ultimately a loss of one yard.
  • 5:13 3Q, run/pass option -- Throws for a fade to Davis, picked off. Appears on tape that Luke was fooled into seeing single high safety, only to have Stanford bail late and take away the one on one matchup he thought he had. Still a bad ball thrown.
  • 2:37 3Q, option -- Khalfani Muhammad comes across on the fly sweep motion, Luke keeps and charges toward an apparent touchdown the one yard line; called down at the 1 after 11 yards.
  • 2:33 3Q, option -- Run right, stopped at the one yard line.
  • 2:03 3Q, option -- Lasco could have taken an option handoff and walked right into the end zone, but Luke keeps for a touchdown no gain again.

He saw more plays than this, of course, including a lot of looks out of a five wide set, but this is what they had installed for him out of the new formation. At this point, it's very, very obvious that what we have prepared for Rubenzer don't involve handoffs at all -- or if that option is installed, he doesn't often choose to -- which sucks, because it was very obvious that Lasco could have scored.

Perhaps, though, this is by design, because it must be said that Rubenzer excels at finding his own holes as a runner when his number is called, and he showed it again against Stanford. He very rarely ends up in the wrong place and knows how to reach daylight almost instinctively. The option game, the zone read game may not be necessary with him, since he's so effective a runner by himself.

Only restraint and better, more calculated usage by Franklin is.

VII. In which we discuss the special teams

Exceeds Expectations-

  • HELMET STICKER: The only area that performed without real complaints is first led by Bryce McGovern, who came to play. He blocked a punt. He took time on defense adequately, considering he's switching to safety after Piatt already went down. He laid lumber, leading the team in tackles. He held on kicks. He did it all, after coming here originally as a walk-on to play receiver four years ago. We've rarely called his name in his time here, and as a senior, his time'll come to an end next week (or maybe a month from now, hopefully), but in his last Big Game, he came up, well...BIG.
  • First two punt returns of consequence this season generated by Trevor Davis, and then Chris Harper, who ran right into the Stanford punter to take away a sure touchdown. This dragged down my evaluation by a whole minus, although it was a beautiful block by Daniel Lasco to spring him free.
  • Adequate kicking job from James Langford, I suppose. Even though he absolutely should not have had to come out late in the 3rd quarter, a miss there would have doomed our chances even more. Then there was the great job with the surprise onside kick, which I called for in the stands, and actually was granted!
  • Jordan Williamson has a goddamn leg. Zero kicks were returned by Watson, with touchback after touchback after touchback nailed. Thought I might have been watching a shower at one point.
  • Sorry, lame joke.

VIII. In which we have other notes

  • Props to the students, who showed up early, and in force. This has rarely been the case, and the players have noticed and complained in the past. Not Saturday. They were live.
  • A crazed lady in Section QQ ripped a Stanford fan's shirt after demanding him to take it off, and he didn't. There's also a second hand report from Manny that we made a child cry. (Me, I don't mind participating in the chants for a bit, but there's a time and place. Not when we're down 21, and not incessantly or to the point of being obnoxious. I remember we did this to one of the sideline reporters once, too. Think it might have been USC 2013. My memory is failing me here.)
  • No real problems at the Stanford player who took a shot at Goff after one of the turnovers. He didn't see that it had been stopped, and on defense, you're taught to go and get the quarterback after one of those. I'm not too mad. Clean play? Not fully. Typical? Yes.
  • Secretly wondering to myself if the Stanford band isn't actually an endorsement for how tough the school's academics are. Clearly the students must be studying, since they sure as hell aren't practicing music.
  • Way too much complaining about the referees for my taste. Giving back one of the touchdowns instead of a field goal in the third quarter gets us four points closer and maybe another minute and a half on the clock. It doesn't win the game. Losing Lowe on what appeared to be a correct, by the letter of the rule call hurt far more, but that too, wasn't a miss. The only thing off the top of my head that was a complete botch by the refs was not giving the offense yardage after Trevor Davis was mugged/targeted to open the third quarter.
  • Please, please stop bringing it to my attention every time someone says something about #drop50, or pokes fun at it. They're entitled to do so, and I've written plenty on what I think it means alternatively, so I'm going to keep using this as long as I feel like it (which will be as long as the offense is capable of achieving it). By the way, there's this exchange on Twitter, which should end the speculation of beef Mike Silver has with me.
  • Was able to get a thumbs up from Coach Yenser at the March to Victory, while Coach Likens -- who ordered me to yell at home before the game -- was preoccupied with his son on the walk up. I then waited near the field for a whole hour pre-game with Manny and Piotr, but apparently the position coaches don't actually come out for a while.
  • Stanford fans didn't really even show up. That was the only empty part of the stadium. Next weekend, I will probably be able to tweet during the game. Don't expect much for attendance purposes.
  • Quick shoutout to the above Rosemarie, who celebrated her birthday this weekend, and to my good friend and high school valedictorian Betty, who got engaged to her boyfriend Eric one day before the Big Game! Sorry we couldn't get you a nice engagement Axe.

IX. In which we promo

The end is nigh, my brothers.

The 12 weekends we wait for all year are growing fewer and fewer. Soon, there will be nothing left; nothing but the promise of the incoming freshmen class, strength and conditioning, and more camp to hold us through the coming months. Nothing but a reconfigured depth chart, with departing seniors and returning underclassmen and question marks and fretting and worrying.

And that is why what awaits us at 0:00 this Saturday is still precious, still meaningful. The Axe has returned South, and there will be months to seethe over that injustice.

In the immediate moment, though, we have a tempting consolation prize: an opportunity for one more battle together. Friends, we have one more chance to send the graduating off right. One more chance to delay the offseason, and the waiting that follows.

It's right in front of us. Ours for the taking...if we want it enough. We cannot fail in this endeavor. Devastated, beaten, struggling; the Bear will not quit. The Bear will not die.

Nor can we. Nor will we, BYU.

We're coming. Expect us.