I. In which we make sense of things
For two seasons in this space, and even longer on Twitter, you have seen me write again and again about taking the long view. About keeping things in perspective. About remembering that 2015 is the real year to judge this staff.
Well, it is now 2015, which started on Saturday at about 5PM PT.
The debate will rage all offseason as to whether or not Coach Dykes deserves a third year, or what the expectations should be, but the reality is, he's getting it regardless: another slate of 12 games that will really tell us about his long-term viability. True, there will be some who have made up their minds on that topic already, and a disaster like this one makes them seem quite a bit more correct -- something that seems obvious to say, but is, I think, a serious concession from someone who insists only on reasonability and levelheadedness.
Truthfully, there aren't a lot of people anywhere that can spin this individual performance as encouraging. Against an opponent with nothing to play for, an opponent already missing their starting quarterback, starting running back, and number one wide receiver, we were outschemed and outcoached from basically wire to wire.
It was, in no uncertain terms, unacceptable. And without better results next season, keeping Coach Dykes for much longer might be too.
We'll find out soon enough.
In the moment, though, all we have to dwell in is the same thing many of us predicted we'd feel at this point anyway. Bowlless frustration. Yes, the staff -- whom I love and am actively cheering for -- still exceeded expectations in 2014 simply to get this far...but they have left us heading into the months to come with much, much more to be desired.
Some weeks, watching the tape is just an exercise in futility. This was one of them, since I saw everything I needed to see right there from the Student Section. Also, I'm tired. Like, really tired. Limping into the end of the season, not unlike our own squad.
Time to get ready for September 5th.
— Aaron Cochran (@Cochran_Aaron) November 30, 2014
II. In which we discuss the Bear Raid
- They had close to 600 total yards. They completed close to 60% of their third downs. They had only one turnover, despite seeing their average first down gain drop from 7.63 in the first half to 3.75 in the second. Regardless of the end result, the offense passed. They scored 35 points, which is enough to win. That is why they receive this grade.
- The official stats sheet says Jared Goff was hit only three times, which is a blatant falsehood if I ever saw one. He was hit four times on our last drive alone, with BYU. Just a ridiculous inability to protect him the last few games of the year, from all sides of the offensive line, and I'm really glad he didn't get seriously hurt. Good lord. Otherwise, he played as well as usual, to be honest. 63% completion, 6.6 YPA, four scores. Close to 400 yards through the air.
- Congratulations to him for the record. Means little in a loss. But we sure do have a good one. The Kline camp has pretty much fled, now.
- BYU did a really great job in the second half of at least slowing him down some, though. As Scotty noted, they were able to get pressure without nearly as much blitzing in the second, so with that extra body to play coverage, BYU saw success dropping for coverage. They had our route patterns scouted out cold, and had someone either right there, or close to the throw. Jared just happened to fit it around them, or they failed to haul in a few easy interceptions -- and they did, with at least two in the final half that should have gone for scores.
- The one mistake of Jared's that they caught was a post route where the corner could recover and undercut the pass.
- Generally happy with how the game was called this week from Coach Franklin. No odd moments to question him about. We felt like we had a good shot at out-physicalling the BYU front in the run game and it worked somewhat well, as we played with an extra offensive lineman or two on many plays on Saturday, pounding the ball for almost 200 yards on the ground. This was fine. The game was not truly lost on the offensive playcalling, as it might have been a week ago.
- If this is the final college game from both Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler -- and I fully expect it will be for at least one of them, if not both -- then they sure as hell left it all out there. They combined for nearly half of both the receptions and the yardage for Goff in this one, with the former shredding both deep down the field and in the short game, while Lawler remained the red zone threat he normally is. The only difference is this week he wriggled free on many a conversion, too, bothering the hell out of the Cougars on curl routes. Really ran hard after the catch, too, which he had shown in practice but not always in games.
- The last four targets of the game going to Lawler should say plenty to you. Same as it did against UCLA. Easily the best game he's put on in a Cal uniform, although he would be well served, I think, with another year of seasoning. I'm also pretty selfish. Of course I want him back. I want all the receivers back.
- Lasco cracked a thousand yards somewhere in the first quarter, which is a huge accomplishment this year. No one thought we had a thousand yard rusher in us. Marc Tausend -- not to single him out; more so because I respect his opinion so much -- guessed maybe 800 yards, and maybe a thousand between he and Muhammad.
- He does have to stop leaving his feet so much, though. It's one of the things holding him back as a runner, and it makes people audibly gasp each time. Too many flashbacks of Jahvid.
- Said earlier this year that neither freshman back is really ready for prime time yet, and the gap between them and Lasco grew only larger during the season. Many Watson runs, for example, seemed tentative and indecisive, with far too much reliance on moves, rather than hitting the space that was actually there. This is fine, though. With the Woodlands, Texas native Lasco likely returning next season, they'll have plenty of time to grow into the players we hope they should be -- both Tre and Vic. Lasco was once guilty of many of those same things himself. Look at him now. Look at him now. He's getting yardage.
- Yes, that was a Chris Brown reference.
- The Watson touchdown, which gave us a temporary seven point lead, was made possible by Maurice Harris' heads up thinking -- he slid in and screened off a few BYU defenders just enough to let Watson cross the pylon. Blocked without blocking. That's some zen shit.
- Absolutely killer penalty by Trevor Davis. Unfortunate, since it forced us to burn our final timeout to avoid a ten second runoff.
- Spotted Ray Hudson on the sideline in sweats. Must have suffered an injury that we didn't get out on the record.
- Looking ahead to next season, the only sure departures are at center and right guard, with possible early entrants at wide receiver. We'll be back, guys. Yes, this group stayed pretty healthy all year, but I don't anticipate much regression here as a unit in general. Think we've proven at least the offense works at the Pac-12 level. Plus, Jared'll be at the helm. For now, though...
Just might be the worst day of my life.
— Trigga (@BryceTreggs) November 30, 2014
III. In which we take a look at game management
- 4th and 1, 2:52 1Q, Cal 41: It was early, and we didn't yet have any idea that we could run on them essentially at will. The previous three rushes had gained a total of nine yards. We didn't want to give them the ball deep in our own territory in an already tie game. Those are about the only rationales I can come up with for not going for it here, and I'd still disagree with the decision not to try. We're in a game in which there should be no stops left. A bowl bid is on the line. You have absolutely nothing to lose, with every play to date thus far having gone for positive yardage or better. But you punted. Fine.
- 4th and 1, 4:27 4Q, Cal 34: This one's even dicier than the first, based on field position, but is a mismanagement in terms of game flow. At this point, you have not stopped the BYU offense all half, so kicking and trusting the defense is a foolish proposition at best. It's essentially hoping someone's going to come up with a big play, versus trying to get one yard you almost damn near know you can get in the run game. I mean, Lasco has proven beyond any and every expectation that he can be an effective short yardage back, plus you've pushed them around and around for three quarters, so there's not as strong an argument for not. The CGBers watching this game -- and there were a huge chunk of us in Student Section -- were completely unanimous in screaming for Coach Dykes to go for it, by the way. Each of us saw it as a concession, and I sat down knowing that the game had essentially been lost. And a few minutes later, it was. We played scared in this moment, sticking with conventionality on a team and an offense that has played itself up to be anything but. Egregious. Cowardly. Nonsensical. It was, if I may, Tedfordesque.
- It's always hard to judge things like motivation and general intangibles, but they looked ready to play to me. 21 first half points and a lead? What more could you have asked for, except that Christian Stewart's knee not be down on Devante's pick six?
- What was startling is the amount of personal foul penalties every single week, from guys losing their minds or on ticky tack type shit. You can blame this on the refs, if you like. You can also blame this on the coaches, too, although I'm not exactly sure that they run around encouraging their players to draw penalties. I have no real opinion here. How does one necessarily "create" a disciplined team? Serious question.
- Almost had an aneurysm when I saw Luke out there for what looked like a 4th and 8 conversion attempt on the first drive of the 4th quarter. Good thing we pooch punted.
IV. In which we discuss the defense
- For the people who wanted to see more pressure all season, you got your wish: we brought it in spades against BYU from the beginning. Linebackers from all angles. A ton of Jonathan Johnson. And what happened? Guys weren't able to finish the play -- an athleticism problem, mostly -- and guys weren't able to actually cover long enough to let the blitz get home, either -- a secondary problem. Personally, I think that tells me plenty as to why we weren't more aggressive this year. With none of our guys being a serious impact pass rusher -- Johnson being the closest -- capable of getting home anyway, doesn't it make more sense for us to help out the young DBs by playing softer? That's an odds thing to me, to be honest.
- BYU also did a brilliant job of playcalling against the blitz, too, especially in the second half. It looked like they recognized some of the packages Kaufman was going to deploy, which is why the screens and dumpoffs worked to such devastating effectiveness. They had us outsmarted. Proof? Touchdown, fumble from 1 yard line, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown in the second half. I didn't even bother calculating yards per play in the final two quarters.
- People complain about playing off with our corners. Then you get the press you want and you have Cameron Walker press a 6'3, 215 pound receiver. Can't press well without a pass rush or corners that are good at that. Can't pass rush without DBs you trust to hang in coverage for extended periods of time. This year, we had neither.
- Not sure Akina being here would have made too much of a difference. In any case, you just missed him. He was here two weeks ago.
- We flushed Christian Stewart and had him on the run quite often, but couldn't really finish on a mobile quarterback like him. This has been fairly common in recent seasons, going all the way back to 2012 and earlier. Avi did note that flushing a quarterback from the pocket is not necessarily a good rush if he escapes to the outside without contain or anyone to tackle him, and he's right, but I do prefer it to guys being given 5+ seconds back there unharrassed, a la Hogan.
- With a healthy Taysom Hill, BYU probably wins by 28. That much is clear.
- I realize that the numbers will eventually read that Cal's 2014 pass defense allowed more yardage than any other in history. I also realize that that statistic is empty and meaningless without context, because it fails to factor in how pathetic the rush has been all season. Almost historically bad, really -- remember when we went something like 100 pass attempts without a sack? That we had a grand total of 16 over 12 games? Like, really? What can young DBs do against that?
- Remember, per game statistics are useless because they are functions of who you play and how they play.
- I am not advocating for the firing of either Fred Tate nor Greg Burns. There has been too much instability with our positional coaches in these areas the last few years, and we cannot continue to keep that revolving door going, especially in recruiting. They and the entire defensive staff are going to get a second run through, most likely -- things were absolutely horrific this season, but they did enough to keep us in a few games compared to the previous staff singlehandedly losing all of them, and that should let them all make it to 2015.
- On at least one of the BYU touchdowns, Austin Clark was held and didn't get a call. This is the second consecutive week this happened.
- Rushing defense was very, very strong, even ignoring the Christian Stewart rushing yardage. Yes, they had a dip in performance, but it was impressive work all season for me, considering that we trotted all new starters out there at every position. No McCain, no Moala, no Coleman, no Hunter, no Kragen or Campo. Pass rush wise is a different story, of course.
- Not sure if it has anything to do with how much he's played the second half of the year, but Todd Barr looks weirdly skinnier now.
- It doesn't mean much since we gave up 400 yards, and it'll be lost in the grand scheme of things. Still worth saying that Darius Allensworth probably had his best game in a Cal uniform with the pass breakups, and played the ball in the air better than he had before. Felt he was jobbed on his pass interference call, at least when I saw it live.
- Yo, forreal, the size difference on both sides of the ball was pretty stark. Their corners and DBs were long and rangy and the size of the receivers was ridiculous too.
- Curious as to why Aisea Tongilava got the start this week over Unc Davison (who was listed as the starter during pre-game), Jalen Jefferson, and Jake Kearney. They were probably more banged up than we ever found out about. That's my theory, anyway.
- Let's acknowledge, one more time, the contributions of Michael Lowe and Austin Clark, who played their goddamn asses off this year on a young and ultimately flawed defense. Speculation among the #GQQNS is that Avery Sebastian might not return either, based on social media posts recently, but that is what it is. Speculation.
- Projecting forward, much of the youthfulness that marked this unit will be gone, with only Clark and Lowe as departing starters. If anyone's about to declare for the NFL here, they'd be making a big mistake, since it's not like there's a ton of positive tape to sort through.
- As far as two deep goes...all the corners should finally be at a point to expect decent production. The safeties will remain thinner than anyone would like, but that's quickly becoming a law of Cal fandom or something, and maybe the combination of Evan Rambo, Quentin Tartabull, and (rumored) Billy McCrary can provide something resembling depth.
- All the LBs should be solid. Same as this year; high floor, low ceiling, with a rotation that is more or less already set.
- Defensive line? Nobody really knows. Trevor Kelly and Jalil, most likely. A stronger Noah Westerfield. Whatever a returning Brennan Scarlett can give us. Whatever -- if anything -- Sione Sina will give us. James Looney off of transfer. Chris Palmer, maybe. Whatever Russell Ude or Lonny Powell are ready to contribute. But those are just names, at this point. Promises without real production. I'm not sure how much I'll get to scout any of them, since I have no idea where I'll be next summer. Would love to, though.
V. In which we crunch some numbers
12 of 21 (57.1%)
7 of 14 (50%)
Avg. Yards to go
6.5 | MED: 6 
5.21 | MED: 4.5
Avg. 1st down gain
Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards to go that were successful)
3 of 3
Watson - YES
Enwere - YES
Lasco - YES
4 of 4
Brown - 3X YES
Lasike - YES
Avg. Starting F.P.
AVG: OWN 23.15
MED: OWN 25
AVG: OWN 27.07
MED: OWN 25
Points Per Trip Inside 40
12:16 1Q - 7
15:00 2Q - 7
10:56 2Q - 7
3:38 2Q - 0
7:19 3Q - 7
15:00 4Q - 0
11:48 4Q - 7
2:35 4Q -0
15:00 1Q - 7
7:29 2Q - 0
11:40 3Q - 7
8:25 3Q - 0
4:04 3Q - 7
4:27 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%.)
8 (3 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD)
77 plays faced
15 (5 TFL, 1 INT, 9 PD)
101 plays faced
Of further note:
-  - Not only did BYU consistently face shorter and extremely convertable third downs -- they were largely able to avoid third down entirely at times, thanks to large gains through the air on second. The 83 yarder to Jordan Leslie? Yep. You guessed it. First down was basically an opportunity for BYU to make it shorter, but ultimately didn't matter to them.
-  - Surprised to see our slight edge on first down gains, especially as the offense slowed down in the second half. Still didn't say much overall, since BYU was able to continue getting after us as possessions continued, and drives stalled, or we beat ourselves with untimely penalties...again.
-  - Cal's zero point trips: an understandable missed FG, a failed 4th down to end the game, punt by Rubenzer from the 40 yard line after a 1st down sack basically killed any hopes of the drive from the start. Relatively normal struggles, and none of which I'd look back at and moan as a really big missed opportunity.
-  BYU's zero point trips: a fumble at the 1 yard line and a punt after a sack. The only problem was that the Cougars had a pretty easy time scoring from outside the 40 as well, thanks to the two bombs from again, it must be said, their backup quarterback. They should have scored seven more points had it not been for Christian Stewart completely losing his shit on a play option pass. Hell, even just a normal pitch would have worked.
-  - It would look like we generated more Havoc via rush, but again, an actual inability to finish the play hurts. BYU dominated this category more than it would appear here, with Jared taking a shot on too many dropbacks, and only his quick release -- okay, some of it's the System too -- saving us. Having an interception canceled via penalty was a rough one, too. All season long, though, Havoc has been an issue. Really need playmakers on defense in the worst way. Not sure how long we can wait to make it happen, though.
VII. In which we talk special teams
- Not entirely sure why Cole Leininger's punt average has dropped tremendously as the year has gone on. Is that a function of Coach Tommerdahl asking him to kick for hangtime? Has his leg gotten fatigued? Whatever the case, he got outpunted by Luke Rubenzer on Saturday, who dropped one right inside the one yardline. Sure, BYU would go on to score anyway, but...
- Nothing of value in the return game. Either return game. A missed block by Bradley Northnagel prevented what would have been a Trevor Davis touchdown. Devante Downs running into Trevor Davis wasn't exactly a highlight reel moment for him, either.
- No problems with the decision to kick the 50 yard field goal, myself. It was 4th and 16.
- The lack of passing grade here comes from the special teams doing very little of anything to actually help the efforts at victory.
VIII. In which there are notes
- This week, the #GQQNs were a bit sparser than usual, with the Thanksgiving break and all...and then Mic Man Spencer Bowen (shout out to Spencer) called us by name to move over to an already empty student section, so we had to oblige. It will be a while before I'm back in front of the section again...probably til Halloween next season, when we play USC. I love each and every one of them very, very much.
- Both Spencer and Matt are way familiar with me heckling and screaming from the front row. Their time at the front of SS has been appreciated. Love you guys. Now it's time for the boy Isaac Williams to take charge.
- Attendance was, as to be expected, very, very down. Announced at 47k with less than 1/3rd that, probably. Understandable, but disappointing all the same. No card stunts attempted.
- I am, at least in part, thankful that I now have my weekends back to myself. Whew.
- Damn, I really wanted to chant IT'S THE SYS-TEM at Bronco Mendenhall. Like, really badly. Had Spencer, Matt, and company on board with that.
- Was asked on Twitter if there were any remaining wrinkles I saw that the team never broke out. One that I can remember: a Bone variant where both wide receivers are Bone backs, and both Bone backs are wide receivers. If a team tries to man up the wideouts with linebackers, you can throw here pretty easily, or if they choose to go small and use nickels or safeties, then you run to the edge. Woulda been a cool look, I think.
- Final tally on preseason predictions: YES, NO, NO, YES, YES, YES, NO, NO, NO, PARTIAL CREDIT YES?, NO, YES, NO, YES...? That's 6.25 of 14, and I'm counting the half only because I figured Scarlett's impact would be overstated a bit, not because I was correct in Avery being an impact returner. Think that's pretty decent, to be honest. Had no idea the talent on the wide receiver group would run seven deep.
I think I'm mostly just mad that I'm gonna have to try to care about basketball now and I really don't want to.
— Marc Tausend (@ManBearCal) November 30, 2014
IX. In which we promo
Thank you for your continued support, as this column (and my Twitter account) continues to take me to places I could have never imagined. I will return for a third season next year, revamped and tinkered with yet again. What happens next, I have no clue. But I love you all. Seriously, I do.
Now...if you'll excuse me, I need to hibernate for a while. Writing this column takes a loooooooot out of me on top of my normal duties each week as a graduate student/future English teacher, and it is time to rest. There's also a backlog of scouting reports I have to get to over the break, and I promise I'll do that...eventually.
Ah, shit. Almost forgot.
We're coming. Expect us.
(Hey, just because we finished the year badly doesn't mean they don't deserve to know we're on the way, so they can prepare -- or not prepare -- accordingly. That's just called being polite.)