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Cal vs Oregon State postgame notebook

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So. Many. Mixed. Feelings.

We survived.
We survived.
Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports

I. In which there is some perspective and introduction

I was trapped in a glass case of emotions after this one.

Early in the fourth quarter, when Terron Ward scooted into the end zone to put Oregon State up 31-27, I had already started preparing this space with angry words. Words that railed on Coach Dykes' and Coach Franklin's increasingly aggravating game mismanagement. Words that charted out the numerous ways we blew a win we simply couldn't afford not to have. Words that would have punted a dog off a bridge, had they taken human form.

...and, proving that I am not a very smart man, the team would make all of that pre-written prose go to waste, because Ward's touchdown seemed to jolt us back to life. We'd chip away at the dam 10 times over the next three and a half minutes, producing 75 yards and seven points that restored a slim lead. Two plays later, Caleb Coleman picked off Mannion, leading to three more.

And when Chris Brown was tackled short of the ensuing drive to give us the ball back again, game hero Daniel Lasco would make victory a mere formality, setting off LOUD NOISES throughout the Cal Twitter community with his third touchdown run of the night.

(I LOVE LASCO)

(NAM, ARE YOU JUST LOOKING AT PLAYERS ON THE ROSTER AND SAYING THAT YOU LOVE THEM?)

(I LOVE LASCO. I LOVE LASCO!)

Still, somewhere in the middle of this 12 minute sequence, I had to delete everything I had already written in the intro. I'm not a fast writer, so it wasn't much, but it still had to go anyway, in favor of something a bit more nuanced. Yes, anger lingers -- an anger you'll see reflected in many of the notes -- at how we nearly blew the whole damn thing, but...

At the end of it all, I find myself siding with exactly what @ricellis85 pointed out -- we won on the road against a legitimate FBS team, and we played badly enough in that victory to still feel frustrated. That precise combination of solid victory and dissatisfying performance hasn't happened in quite some time. Certainly not last season, when we had to dream for a lead we could lose.

That's part of how I know we're on the way back as a program. In spite of our best efforts to remain level-headed, the expectations each week are rising. The whispers, the quiet hopes of bowldom have become full-throated demands.

We have three more chances to meet them, using the same gameplan and guts that carried us to victory on Saturday. Keep calm and #drop50[*].

Hey, 55.55% of the time, it works every time.

[*] - #drop50 is merely a goal and a mindset for the offense. Literally achieving #drop50 is not guaranteed each week; some game restrictions do apply. #drop50 does not take precedence over actual winning. If your annoyance at this hashtag lasts beyond 4 seconds, please consult a local health care professional. It could be a result of a very rare but serious condition called not being able to have fun.

Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, Troll

II. In which we discuss offense

Unit grade: Acceptable | Rushing offense: Outstanding | Passing offense: Poor

  • I gave a passing grade...but it wasn't pretty. At times, this unit performance seemed like a pretty close paraphrase of one O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson: we fucked around and got 45 points.
  • ...which is exactly why I won't stop deploying the #drop50 tag. It's firmly in reach in any given week. Even the ones we don't play well.
  • Gonna minimize the amount of time I spend writing about the clear standouts on offense: Daniel Lasco, who I write about every single week, and Stephen Anderson, who had a career night with 9 for 117...and somehow ends up in this column every week too.
  • (ok fine one more on Daniel Lasco: he's just about on pace to sneak over the thousand yard mark after OSU)
  • Hadn't really realized it until this week -- or maybe I rationalized it away in my head as freak occurrence after freak occurrence -- but Jared Goff really does have a problem with holding the ball at least once a game, and in this one, it didn't even happen when he was hit. He's gone away from the glove this season, which I'm not sure is a great idea.
  • In the interest of fairness, the same happened to Sean Mannion.
  • Strong performance from Vic Enwere, too, in his limited time taking over Khalfani Muhammad's position as the no. 2 back, at least temporarily. There's a thought that we'll give Muhammad more carries once the cast comes off. Would you really, at this point? What's he giving you that the other guys won't?
  • We've had games where we've run. We've had games where we've outphysicalled FCS fronts. And then there was today, against an honest to god FBS, a Pac-12 opponent, where we imposed our will on the opponent, steamrolling the crap out of them, so despite the obvious, obvious flaws in pass protection (Dylan Wynn only had one sack but hit Goff way, way more times than that, giving us trouble all night) on Saturday night, I'd give it an overall Exceeds Expectations- performance for the War Pigs. They've come a long way. They have even further to go. Oregon State had no answer for Lasco getting out to the edge for consistent gain after gain, which speaks to some pretty bad play from their linebackers and safeties. Same reason why Stephen Anderson dominated the early going.
  • Let's use Jared Goff less on intentional keepers, shall we, Coach Franklin? He's a massively improved runner this year, but he's still quite a ways from even being *shudders* Kevin Hogan in that aspect.
  • I'm not above being wrong, nor am I above admitting it, so here I am doing both those things, Avi: we missed Trevor Davis and Kenny Lawler even more than I expected, and though there is plenty of depth without them, they add a vertical dimension that supercharges the offense beyond anything I predicted. I'd love both to get well soon. Or one. One would be good. Expecting to have Davis back after the bye.
  • Many, many jokes about Oregon State corner Larry Scott should go here.

III. In which we both marvel and moan about Jared Goff's Saturday

You caught me. I just wanted to break up some of the bullet point monotony. But, let's put the Bear Raid Commander's evening into some perspective, shall we?

  • By any and every statistical measure, Goff's worst games in 2014 have been against Washington, and on Saturday night against Oregon State.
  • Against these opponents, he has thrown a total of one touchdown to zero interceptions, for a ratio of 0.5:0. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are also his only games this season without multiple touchdown passes.
  • He is completing 60.2% of his passes and averaging 290 yards in this "bad" sample size, numbers that far exceed the play of any quarterback that has appeared in the years before him.

Even after accounting for our toss happy offense -- which is more of a mis-perception than anything -- do you realize the kind of standard he's performed at for us to be able to say he underperformed on Saturday?

I have to step back for a second to type this again, because it sometimes takes a game full of struggle for us to realize that Jared Goff is real freakin good, and that's without even having a single contributing senior skill position player.

You guys, the sky isn't the limit, here. The goddamn universe might be.

That being said, he looked jittery, confused, visibly bothered by OSU's pressure, and worse than any of the above, he didn't make the kind of solid decisions and routine throws we've become so accustomed to him making, although he got better as the night continued.. That was already obvious when he overthrew Chris Harper in one on one coverage early in the game.

One of those uncharacteristic errors: on 1st and 10 at 10:46 2Q, when he tried to force a ball that was nearly picked off, even though he could have run, or even drop it right into Daniel Lasco's hands right in front of him. He's shown a tendency to run more this season, rarely hesitating to pull the trigger when he had to. Just really weird moment from our guy.

Plus, you have to give some credit to Oregon State's Mark Banker and one of the better secondaries (40th in the nation in Passing S&P) we've faced. On my second run through with the tape, they definitely threw some looks at Goff that slowed him. A lot of disguised coverages, a lot of apparent rushers that end up dropping into coverage or spying, putting bodies in lanes that he doesn't expect to them, stuff like that. Very noticeable late movements, designed to mess with his reads, moreso than I remember from any team before us. The last play of the third quarter, when Goff threw into a dropping linebacker, stands out in my mind as a great example of this.

Considering there was some subpar play from the wideouts and not exactly a ton of vertical threat, Goff handled all of it just fine.

All in all, a pretty okay day, only judged as poor because of the tremendous standards the Bear Raid Commander has created for himself.

III. In which we examine game management

Now that I've started tracking these, I want to explain my philosophy behind this section. I'm not on some mission to prove that Coach Dykes is a horrible game manager or incapable or something like that -- you guys know damn well I'm rooting so hard for this staff to succeed, partly because they were the ones I backed in the coaching search in the first place.

Really, I'm just noting two things: preventable errors, and decisions that I disagreed with (not because of result, but because of process). I'm hoping to see as few of them as possible each week and write all of this understanding full well that there will never be a perfect game called. I'll only point out great game management in exceptional situations, since we should expect optimal or near-optimal decisionmaking as the norm.

This week, the following things stood out:

  • Special teams penalty involving two players wearing the same number.
  • UNINTENTIONAL delay of game on a punt. How does that even happen? We KNOW we're punting! It's 4th and long!
  • Punt on 4th and 1 in the first quarter from the Cal 46. Even with the defense playing well -- they had driven OSU to two consecutive three and outs at this point -- a yard was well within reach. Lasco had had three carries at this point: 10 (wiped out via penalty), 9, and then no gain the play before, so you can't have known he would completely dominate the rest of the way, but it was definitely gettable.
  • Strangely called drive after the Mannion interception, resulting in a three and out.

Plus points for the ballsy decision to throw on 3rd and 2 in the 4th quarter that would basically seal the game. I definitely wouldn't have had the guts to call that, and I'm not sure how I feel about it besides joy that it ended up working. No weird use of timeouts this week, either.

Rub routes are one of the newer additions to the playbook this season. Don't remember seeing any last year, although it may just be me getting smart enough to recognize them now. In any case, the extra traffic from Bryce -- basically tiptoeing on the defender in a reeeeeealllly close rub route -- springs Anderson, so...

IV. In which the defense does just enough

Acceptable-

  • If this -- tackle well enough, make the key stops, hold the line for the offense, come up with one or two big, game-changing plays -- is the kind of stuff we continue to get from the defense next year, it'll be good enough to win a lot of games with. Like I said last week, being on some Steel Curtain type mimicry isn't important anymore. Just force a fistful of punts, and we can work with that. The game has evolved enough to make low scoring grind-fests an oddity, not the norm.
  • Be happy with Coach Kaufman, man. He doesn't even have a full two-deep of scholarship players, but even without getting into too many X's and O's, you can tell the difference between this year and last quite easily. OSU's trademark screen game, their jet sweep stuff? All snuffed out. No guys running wild and free through the turf of Reser Stadium, even though they tried a ton of misdirection and presnap motion. We looked prepared for all of their signature looks, and I have to wonder what the defense will look like in year two with some better guns in the arsenal.
  • Proof of that better preparation: Michael Barton singlehandedly ruining two OSU third downs, and in fact, snuffing out one of those aforementioned screens to Terron Ward by getting in front of the back and forcing Mannion to look elsewhere.
  • For now, we look like a lot of bend but don't break bunch, and on this night, it did really well, because the more plays college offenses have to run in order to score, the higher chances they have of messing it up for themselves. We definitely saw that from OSU. Not a ton of point in blitzing a ton, when we don't have the personnel to get there anyway.
  • Shoot, if you look at some of the player comments from last year's OSU game, things look way better just reading those alone. Hardy Nickerson was just standout levels of awful last season against OSU and was plenty serviceable this go around. That's progress...right?
  • Caleb Coleman has started to come onto the field more as the season's continued -- from what I could tell, he took the most snaps at the nickel this week -- and he hasn't always played well from when I've noticed him, so it makes me happy to write that he had the game's two biggest plays, honestly.
  • Not really great work up front this week, where the cutback lanes were plentiful and their running backs got right into the secondary far too often.
  • Apologies to Sean Mannion, who became the second QB to break a record against us and lose. We are two, in ZERO AND TWO. *Paul Heyman voice*
  • Well timed article, Grant. Just as we begin to notice Jonathan Johnson more and more, he comes through with two of the biggest contributions on Saturday, alongside Coleman. He won't be enough to fix a thoroughly terrible pass-rush, but for at least one game, he gave us enough. Barely enough.
  • Still think Takkarist McKinley might have been more inclined to choose us if school hadn't already started..
  • Saw more of Jalen Jefferson this week than the last few, with Jake Kearney a late scratch. He didn't stand out much, and while his injury (if it is one) hasn't been publically disclosed, it's clear he's kind of working his way back into form.
  • The Beavers took their first touchdown when Darius White slipped and knocked an oncoming Michael Lowe out of the play too, allowing Storm Woods to thunder down the field for 49 yards. They'd score on the next play on a slant route against man coverage. The first of those plays, though, honestly looked like the kind of thing we would have seen in 2013. Like, four or five times a game.
  • Cameron Walker with noticeably better work this week. although he's still having some trouble with tackling...at times, our corners make me miss Marc Anthony, who I recall fondly -- hopefully accurately -- as a run stopping force.
  • Oregon State's wideouts aren't nearly the physical threats their in-state rivals would present. Jordan Villamin had 9 catches for 140 yards, but never seemed to present us with the same kind of constant danger as Brandin Cooks did on every snap. If it's possible to have a quiet 9-140, I feel like he kind of did.
  • Oh...and...the pass rush isn't getting better, y'all. Guys are just going to have to win their individual matchups. That's all it is. I wouldn't be expecting Brennan Scarlett back the rest of the year, and even if he does hit the field, I'm not sure how much impact he'd actually have.

V. In which we note a just a few scheme things

For space reasons, I've chosen to link to some plays, and embedded some here in the body of this post. Just click as you will.

1Q, 2nd and 5 from the Cal 35 - Khalfani Muhammad rush right, 23 yards, 1st down

For a very long time, I've said that the best way to use Khalfani is to get him to the edge or a clear lane but not have him have to make very many moves, since he's not good at that, and here's a play demonstrating. It comes from 12 personnel, with Stephen Anderson covered by my DVR bar, and two receivers I can't identify at the top of the screen. Khalfani's the one in yellow, and Daniel Lasco's in red.

Lasco's going to go and cut a guy, Borrayo tries to pull and cut but misses, but that's alright, because they do just enough. Due to depth issues with Kenny and Trevor Davis out, they used Anderson at outside wide receiver a little bit this week too, including on this play, where he puts a great block on the corner to help spring Khalfani. Our little back has nothing to worry about except to run. Turns the corner, and that's it.

Khalfani's other carry came out of this same 2 back formation at 2Q, 2nd and 10 from the OSU 14, but they went inside with Lasco lead blocking, instead of to the edge. (They have used Lasco in a similar capacity with Luke Rubenzer.)

Other stuff:

  • Seriously, is Lucus Gingold hurt, or something? This week's big premiere was an 8 OL formation with Jordan Rigsbee in the backfield as the FB/Bone guy, Matt Cochran, Aaron Cochran (!) and Brian Farley up front. I am choosing to interpret this as a huge development on the Aaron Cochran front, since he's now in the mix as one of our next offensive linemen up, after not having been in rotation at all to start the year. Still not sure he plays next year, but his odds of cracking our top five look better than before.
  • This look appeared about four or five times during the game, with the biggest gain actually being a 25 yard pass to Chris Harper to start our drive at 14:13 2Q. The only wide receiver on the field, Harper eventually curls back taking advantage of the massive cushion granted to him, and Goff is on exactly the same page in passing it out to him. The run fake freezes their linebacker long enough to stop him from dropping back into the throwing lane -- his assignment looks like it's to cover the area the ball is eventually thrown to, but biting on the fake makes him too late to get over.
  • When we ran the Bone formation again, it was Bradley Northnagel and Jordan Rigsbee, not the more common set of Ray Hudson and Lucus Gingold. Really interesting. This play was blown up because Dylan Wynn pushes Crosthwaite back two yards and into Lasco, and then a pulling Chris Borrayo can't clear the hole against one of the LBs who stepped up into the gap. Great stand by OSU. (I can compliment them, can't I?)
  • Neither of the above points resulted in anything groundbreakingly big, but we'll file it away as things we noticed, in case they ever pop back up again. It's important to keep a record. Or at least, me and Scotty think so. The rest of you just have to suffer through us geeking out.
  • I do agree with what Coach Dykes said about them introducing one or two new things a week. Keeps the defense guessing as to when they might return. Remember how early in the year, we used a ton of wide receiver motions with Bryce Treggs, threatening fly sweep stuff or wide receiver handoffs, for example?
  • At Lunch with the Coaches II, someone wanted to know about how we teach wide receiver blocking, and Coach Likens said that we don't necessarily need receivers to block all the time (although they do a pretty serviceable job at that when asked). Here's an example play of that -- look first at the slot receiver here, Khalfani Muhammad, run an out route to occupy the linebacker in front of him. By dragging that guy out of the box, that leaves six men to handle Lasco, with a backer too slow to catch him, and a safety who comes over too late.
  • This play was eventually called back, but we had great success attacking off tackle against their linebackers all game long. They just didn't seem prepared or ready to get after Lasco.In fact, the first guy to whiff here is a linebacker.

VI. In which we poke around at the numbers

Raw data here. All calculations unofficial. I don't math well.

Cal

Oregon State

Basics

Possessions

13

14

Yards/Play

5.8 [1]

6.9 [1]

3rd Downs

Conversions

11 of 19 (57.8%) [2]

3 of 11 (27.2%) [2]

Avg. Yards to go

6.84 yards [2]

5.63 yards [2]

Avg. 1st down gain

6.07 [1]

7.11 [1]

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

6:23 Q1: Lasco - no

2:33 Q2: Lasco - yes

1 of 2

None

Field Position

Avg. Starting F.P.

AVG: OWN 30.07

MED: OWN 25 [3]

AVG: OWN 28

MED: OWN 27 [3]

Points Per Trip Inside 40

15:00 1Q: 0

10:25 1Q: 0

3:46 1Q: 3

14:18 2Q: 7

6:38 2Q: 7

2:33 2Q: 3

12:23 3Q: 7

12:02 4Q: 7

7:48 4Q: 3

3:53 4Q: 8

4.5 [4]

15:00 2Q: 7

9:57 2Q: 3

8:42 3Q: 7

2:49 3Q: 7

15:00 4Q: 7

1:39 4Q: 0

5.16 [4]

Defense

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%.)

9 (4 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD)

68 plays faced

13.2% [5]

11 (5 TFL, 6 PD)

94 plays faced

11.7% [5]

Further notes:

  • [1] - If we look at these two statistics, plus [4], we probably shouldn't have won this game. To get so consistently and thoroughly outgained on a per play basis, and then having Oregon State take better advantage of scoring opportunities than us...yeah, most weeks, that's going to lead to a loss. Don't get me wrong, I'm taking the W all the same, but it doesn't mean we outplayed them much.
  • [2] - Like, just look at this figure right here. They consistently faced shorter third downs than us, they outgained us, and while you'd like to say that that's because we stiffed up when it counts, that's not entirely a true narrative. At least three OSU conversions were nullified due to drops, including four points on a Jordan Villamin drop, plus two more conversions were thrown short of the sticks, and the game ending 4th down. But, all in all, that's where the game was lost for the Beavs -- just a few of these go the other way, and it's probably a different one altogether. .
  • [2] What I did love here was that three different third and longs were converted by run for Cal, though, including a touchdown. Huge stuff.
  • [3] - Special teams didn't do much for us in this one. We were set up with average field position throughout -- average is about 30 yards -- and even then, that much was due boosted by a drive that began inside the Oregon State 26, post interception.
  • [4] - There were at least seven points left on the board, thanks to a couple of uncharacteristic Jared Goff overthrows. Most nights, he's going to hit those, and we crack the half century easy. You could argue Oregon State should have gotten a touchdown on every trip too, taking out that last second drive.
  • [5] - You would think that I'd be excited for our defensive Havoc numbers to return to just mediocrity, but you have to kind of take this with a grain of salt. Oregon State came into the game ranked 73rd in the country in offensive S&P+, making them essentially a below average offense. They're also a pretty mediocre defensive team, too, so all things considered, getting pleased with their defensive Havoc rate might be a mistake too, even though it's our best showing in this area in weeks (Oregon, Washington, and UCLA all averaged over 16% Havoc, and close to 20). Let's just call it a wash.

VII. In which we talk special teams

Poor+ | Acceptable-

  • I don't know who blame for the special teams penalties should fall on, but they are a factor in this unit's grade, which is carried largely by the kicking efforts of James Langford, whose miss from 50 yards can indeed be written off.
  • The drop off between Trevor Davis and Khalfani Muhammad/Tre Watson is steeper than expected. Trev, by the way, leads the country in kickoff return average, although he's only had 10 attempts and a majority of the yards came against the special teams disaster that is Washington State, meaning he's probably closer to an above average returner than he is the best guy in the country. Still, take those two TDs out and he's at 21.37 yards per attempt, which edges out Khalfani (20.64) and Tre (20.17).
  • As mentioned in the statistics section, once again, no punt returns of note, although the flip side of that is found in Oregon State not benefitting from field position either. Can't mark them down as a unit, since they didn't hurt, but they certainly didn't help.

VIII. In which there are notes

  • Context for the above tweet: Coach Yenser was run over by Tre Watson on the sideline during the game, which was absolutely hilarious. Good thing he too, has the bye week to recover, because he's earned it. At least it ended better for him than it did Sean Payton.
  • We'll be double digit dogs to SC. Probably won't win, either. Don't care. I said earlier this year we're beating them, and I'm sticking to it, goddammit.
  • Stanford lost to Oregon 45-16. We lost 59-41. Transitive property says...
  • I'll be giving away two -- possibly more! -- Big Game tickets next week via contest in our bye week column (aka, this space, next Monday). That's your incentive to read again, even though we don't have a game. Since I've started holding down this space, I've never taken a season week off, and I don't plan to start now.
  • Even though it was nice not to have to travel all weekend for once, I will say that I miss the #GQQNS very much. See you guys at Stanford.
  • Russell Ude scouting report runs later on Thursday.
  • Think about where we are for a second. We're fighting for a bowl bid in a season where the average preseason win prediction could still be measured on a GPA scale. I thought we might have a chance at a December trip somewhere if everything broke right, but we have five victories and that's after a 2-2 record in last second games, plus a patchwork, oh-my-god-we-have-converted-wide-receiver-playing-safety type of secondary.
  • Last bullet point spells this undeniable interpretation: the team's ahead of schedule. In every way.
  • Still really, really want to see this team beat someone that's not in the bottom of the Pac, though. We've come close at that twice in Arizona and against UCLA, so it's not super, super far off, I'd hope. Winning one of those games would make me feel a ton better about our luck this year, ridding me of the occasional thought that we're more fluky than good. Doing it in a decisive fashion would be preferred, but it'd be a next nice notch in our belt regardless, kind of like the way that Stanford knocked off USC to announce their arrival to relevance years ago (a run that, thankfully, looks like it might be waning a bit).
  • Also, a big, big congratulations to congratulations to the aforementioned Mr. Ellis, his new wife Sydney, and his future child, due next July. You may go to school in Cowboy country, Ric, but you're still a Cal Bear at heart. Trust me. I know all about that.

IX. In which there is a promo

Over a decade, you have hunted us. Over a decade, you have bested us.

Legendary Bears teams. Terrible Bears teams. All the same. Victims, before your blades and crafted gameplans.

Ten days from now, we enter the Coliseum again in a 3-on-1 handicap match, searching for the same victory that eluded each of those squads before us.

Oh yes.

Even though the schedule reads Cal vs USC on ESPN, we know full well our opponents are more than just you who stand across the field from us. Our opponents are equally the legions in the stands walled around us, and the stench of losses to you that we have yet to shake. We ride in to your stadium that evening, knowing we will have to battle the weight of history.

And we will emerge conquering all of it --  for the prizes that await us, the prizes we fight for are two fold: an end to a streak we have waited too long to snap, and a promise for bowldom, the next stepping stone in our path back to glory. The oddsmakers, the wisemen, the pundits...they will say we have no chance. That much is not new.

You say Fight On, but those are merely words you chant at each other emptily, having had the privilege of facing little doubt, and even less adversity.

And Thursday, November 13th, you'll face a team who actually lives that motto, a team dying to make the Coliseum run red not with Trojan jerseys, but with Trojan blood.

We're coming. Expect us.