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Cal vs Arizona postgame notebook

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Some weeks, "The Novel" is fun to write and put together. This week was not a fun week.

We all feel this way, Jordan.
We all feel this way, Jordan.
Christian Petersen

I. In which I appeal for sense

Every Saturday, after the clock hits 0:00, my thoughts are rarely about celebration or sadness. Instead, they're almost always turned toward writing this postgame, and particularly what I want to say in the introduction, because this opening section frames the week's reaction, and serves as one of the first discussions about the previous week's events.

You can ask my friend Mike Rollins for proof -- my instinct wasn't to go to dinner after Northwestern (although I eventually did), I wanted to run to the hotel and write, so yeah...I take this space seriously, and I will as long as you continue to see me here.

But even in all my careful rationality, there's no way to avoid this, so let's go ahead and get it out of the way with first: that sucked.

That suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked.

At the time when you're reading this, we'll be something like 48 hours removed from the loss -- one of the toughest, most excruciating defeats in recent years, and that says something, considering the sheer amount we've suffered through since 2011 alone.

Two days removed may have done little to salve the sting of defeat. If the comments you leave me today and your viewpoint are shaped by that, I understand completely. We melted down in disastrous, unprecedented fashion:

So yeah, I'm frustrated. I'm devastated.

... and you know what? I'm okay. I think you should be, too.

I called this game Statement Day repeatedly over the last two weeks, stressing how imperative it was for us to come out strong, how crucial it was for us to demonstrate we could hang with Pac-12 teams again. This was the one that was going to determine how much progress we had made over the last year, testing whether or not the rebound was legitimate or simply desert mirage.

And at game's end, we learned that that progress has, in fact, been substantial -- we've gone from not being able to compete with anyone in conference, to kicking the shit out of one for the majority of the game, losing it only on three! incredibly low percentage plays. In short, we dotted each i, crossed each t, and pretty much checked everything we could have hoped for in the game's first 59:56.

The one box we missed was showing we could finish a Pac-12 team, which will either come or won't in due time. Saturday won't offer a firm conclusion on that -- or Coach Dykes' coaching abilities, shame on you if you think so; I'm not even going to bother addressing that right now -- just yet, since these are the types of games a young team sometimes suffers through, simply by virtue of never being in the situation.

Think about it. How often have these players held a lead since donning the Blue and Gold? Seen a Saturday halftime smiling, not scowling? Been in a situation where they chanted "the 4th quarter's ours" and with the game not already laughably out of reach? And they should suddenly and immediately excel when placed in that scenario?

I don't think so. The more reasonable interpretation is that this is indicative of a team simply taking some growing pains -- a different kind of growing pain than last year, but pains none the less.

We've learned we're good enough to make noise this year. We know we're going to worry some folks in this division; that we are no rollover, automatic win. Three more winnable games await and what happens next against Colorado will be the next test of growth, now that we've understood just how much improvement there's been.

Last year's first devastating loss caused the team to unravel at the seams. We'll find out what this year's does in six days.

For right now, let's just try -- I said try, CGB readers! -- to step down from the ledge and remember that this team is just as we figured it to be. Young. Flawed. Learning how to win.

That's fine. That's fine, that's fine, that's fine. The road to improvement is rarely a smooth ride.

(Besides, if someone had said we'd have 4-1 or 3-2 still in play, all of you would've taken it. I don't believe in being a revisionist, and I'm happy with what I've seen so far. I'd wager that many of you are too and that you're just still hurting.)

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

II. In which we talk offense

Passing offense: Exceeds Expectations | Offensive line: Poor

  • Almost an O again this week, had they not gone completely cold in the third. Jared missed some very makeable throws -- the kind that he normally makes. You score 45 and you should win, though. Should. And the raw offensive output of 380 yards and 3 touchdowns? That was perfectly fine too.
  • Pressing issue of discussion in this area: the 2QB system. I didn't like bringing Rubenzer on much from the start. I know we need him in short yardage -- emphasis here on short, since the decision to have him run on 3rd and 6 was one of the final turning points in the game -- but at this point, I'm not worried even about the rhythm. I just think Jared's playing well enough that we should keep Luke's snap count relatively low. Like, the 4-6 range, maybe.
  • I would have been completely okay with a run on 3rd and 2 or less, which he is pretty much money on. 6? I don't trust his arm enough to be out really effective there, yet.
  • Speaking of Luke: two points of interest. One, we ran him out with Goff simultaneously at one point, with him releasing into a pass pattern. That happened on one play for sure. Two, if memory serves correctly, he handed the ball off for the first time against Arizona, as everything else had been keepers or passes up to that point.
  • Jared's knack for throwing fluky interceptions is getting to be somewhat astounding. Off the top of my head, four of his 12 career interceptions came off of tips: all three against Northwestern, and then tonight when Stephen Anderson managed to keep the pass alive for an Arizona defender. On the flipside, that's not entirely on him.
  • Sacked only two times, and five on the year on 98 attempts (5.1%). Those are strong numbers -- a slight improvement from last year's (5.3%) -- and also misleading ones. Like with every game thus far, Jared's pocket mobility helps a ton with that, and if we look closely, he didn't have a completely clean throwing platform all evening. A lot of running around on his part, and Arizona's Havoc Rate -- more on that below -- is proof enough.
  • Case in point: 1st and 10 from 9:24 in the 3rd quarter, Lasco completely fails to pick up the blitzing linebacker and slides to the middle of the field to prepare to take a checkdown. Goff faces huge pressure off RT from two guys and just barely manages to throw it at Lasco's feet.

  • At 6:03 in the 3rd, facing down 3rd and 13, Arizona sends three rushers against six blockers and gets home. May have been a coverage sack.
  • Alejandro Crosthwaite was removed for Matt Cochran in the second half, I think. Tough to say the line played well, even if we did throw for almost 400.
  • Goff's ability to stand in the pocket against rushers -- evident, by the way, on the very first play from scrimmage -- is also a function of Damon Harrington's strength and conditioning. I don't doubt he could have eluded a few of those oncoming rushers last year, since he's always been gifted in that regard, but at least he now has the option of squaring up against them, too.
  • Last year, Coach Franklin's early tendency was to run a take a shot play immediately after a turnover. What did Goff do on the first play following Avery Sebastian's pick? Fleaflicker. Didn't go anywhere though because he ended up getting a defender right in his face. I rarely have quibbles with Coach Franklin's playcalling, but I really don't agree with his tendency to do this.
  • A troubling pattern is emerging with Goff, in which he'll sometimes suddenly go cold for a mini streak. First possession of the third quarter: throw nearly picked, throw dropped on a crossing route to Treggs, slight overthrow on the next set of downs...
  • For the throws Jared missed, let's also remember made several -- not one, but several -- NFL caliber throws (to Chris Harper with a safety coming; 3rd quarter to Bryce on the seam with a safety coming.), and drew several tweets on my timeline regarding speculation on his professional future for that reason. The following was one:

Rushing offense: Exceeds Expectations

  • The four running back rotation was scrapped for this one, with most of the touches going right to Daniel Lasco (20 carries; career high) and Khalfani Muhammad (11 carries; 3 off career high). Both responded strongly, with almost hundred yard games a piece. This was the best running performance I've seen from the unit overall, since they arrived, and especially from Daniel Lasco, who shook off more than a few defenders with his frame alone. Period.
  • And even that was filled with room for improvement, mind you. Arizona's front seven caused far, far too many problems. Especially Scooby Wright. Damn that guy.
  • I've never been the biggest Khalfani Muhammad fan -- and I won't be converted simply off this game -- but he ran strong consistently strong, he made a guy miss after not having done that in any of the first two games, and as a change of pace back, he got Arizona right as they were tapping out, making his speed even more effective. All things to like. Khalfani isn't a top guy. Using him in this manner is a lot better.
  • The freshmen definitely saw some field too: Watson was on the field for at least one pass play, and so was Enwere. I'm not in any rush to play them though, honestly. Their time is coming.
  • Interesting wrinkle: the team used a modified Bone look on at least one play, with the back not immediately behind the quarterback, but slightly offset, giving the Inside Zone Read look, except with two Bone backs front, allowing for the quarterback to run behind two pulling blockers. Here it is, even though it only went for a loss:

  • That was, according to my unofficial note taking, only the second time this season that Luke Rubenzer has been stopped on 3rd or 4th and 2 or less.
  • Interesting wrinkle #2: Last season, I remembered seeing the occasional West Virginia/Colorado School of Mines touch pass. Saturday, they ran the fly sweep -- which removes the touch component in favor of a handoff -- a couple of times too, with Khalfani. This was something I'm fairly certain was put in during bye week, since it was not something I ever noticed in practice.

  • Tre Watson was matched up on one of the Arizona linebackers for a sure first down, only for Jared to sail the pass way over head. We would end up punting on that drive. Missed opportunity.

III. In which we talk defense

Exceeds Expectations (1Q, 2Q, 3Q) | H - He Who Must Not Be Named (4Q)

  • Look, y'all. They faced 106 plays. Remember that. They faced 106 plays. That factor cannot -- I repeat, cannot -- be discounted, even if the weather was relatively bearable. I didn't even realize that it was that many until doing the numbers.
  • More on that: at the beginning of the 4th quarter, they had faced only 76, which is a relatively normal amount for a game. It was only as this total crept up that our lack of depth really became exposed and that the collapse began. You have to remember we really have only a handful of trustable linebackers at this point, and a dangerously thin secondary. There are three capable CBs, and four safeties. Going into any nickel, dime packages...those are huge stresses. Think back to some of the names we lost this last offseason -- guys who would have been battle tested and huge helps, just as bodies. Jacobi Hunter, Viliami Moala, Kam Jackson, Khairi Fortt, Chris McCain, Johnny Ragin, Nate Broussard...a lot of guys who we were counting on, gone, for one reason or another, whether that is draft, injury, or outright transfer.
  • Sometimes, time of possession lies, since it doesn't quite factor in how that number occurs. A 4 minute drive that goes nowhere is a whole lot preferable than two consecutive two minute scoring drives, sandwiched around an onside kick.
  • The offense scoring so dang fast all the time didn't help. It's not a bad thing to put points on the board. I'm just saying it didn't help.
  • Game ball goes to Griffin Piatt, easily. Played the game of his life with another interception, several broken up passes and tight enough coverage to force several more misfires. The penalty he got slapped with was a killer, but he has been a tremendous surprise so far in coverage, and he proved it again Saturday. Having Stefan still probably would have helped -- of course it would have. Piatt's play just made the loss a bit easier.(This dude's totally earning a scholarship next year.)
  • Second set of game balls needs to be awarded to the surprisingly strong play from the defensive line, which absolutely shut down a lethal Arizona rushing attack. The Wildcats barely cracked a hundred yards rushing, and it took them 33 attempts to even get that far. The immensely talented Nick Wilson -- who at one point ran through Michael Barton's tackle -- got bottled up. Terris Jones-Grigsby, same thing. That was a whole lot better than anyone could hoped for them to play, seeing as Rich Rodriguez had steamrolled so many other defenses with his well designed rushing schemes.
  • No question that they have some work to do, though. They sacked Solomon three times in 73 attempts. Three!! Even when factoring in that sometimes, coaches aren't aiming to get sacks, it's hard to say Solomon was harassed nearly enough. They all did their work in flat out stonewalling the Arizona rushing attack, but didn't quite stand out individually.
  • Kaufman definitely had the defense prepared well early on -- he was posting some linebackers out on the edge to blow up blocks on screen action, he had the defensive backs ready to come in and wrap up from the second level (Lowe and Piatt particularly) on any quick throws, and even in looks where he brought Jalen and Mike Barton inside, they hesitated a beat before actually committing either way, leaving them capable of breaking out to help on the perimeter. To me, the opening gameplan was perfect. And it showed.
  • As I'm sure you noticed, Arizona began picking on our corners with the double slant concept starting about midway through the second quarter. When run from a 2 by 2 set, it forces the DB to chase from an outside leverage position, which is part of why it becomes so difficult to defend. He's got extra ground to make up on what is a largely easy money throw. Not sure how I'd defend it though. I'm not a coordinator, I'm just pointing out what I'm seeing here. Do you press? You can't press a guy like Cayleb Jones with our corners...
  • It looked like in the late third we were trying to hammer/break up the slant with our linebackers and safeties, funneling the guy that way from outside leverage with the DB -- we did it against Northwestern, for example. Only difference is that we couldn't close the window fast enough. Still, you can guarantee that we'll be working on defending this look in practice. If I can spot it, and you can spot it, then opposing GA's sure as hell will.
  • Todd Barr has some ridiculously quick get off.from the snap. Didn't ever get there but at least twice I saw him burst off the screen.
  • Coach Dykes said Arizona completely changed it up in the second half in his Sunday presser, though. No, I don't think this is a "they did things we weren't prepared for" type of situation, like Portland State last year.
  • Avery Sebastian looked at least, for several moments, like the Avery of old -- he was by the ball very quickly and against the screen game.
  • I'm still not impressed by Anu Solomon. I'm sorry, but I'm just not.
  • Hamilton A'noai definitely saw his most playing time to date, although I can't say I saw him do a ton, TFL aside. (That technically should have been Barr's, but he let the tackle slip through his hands.)
  • Tough night at the office for all the Cal cornerbacks. They're young, though. They'll get better, and they'll get stronger as the years go on. Allensworth (beat on two TDs, for example), Dozier, and Walker are set to be our anchors back there for a while.
  • Definitely did not need that taunting penalty from Ced, though.
  • Don't know if Kenny Lawler was out there. Do know that he probably should next time. Heck, maybe even put Drake Whitehurst in there for Hail Mary. Eugene pointed out on chat with me last night that there's no reason why we should have had our corners -- who were only 10 yards off the ball, rather than anything deeper -- running with the receivers, since the only play is in the end zone. I agree with him here.
  • Jalen Jefferson definitely saved a touchdown by himself at 3:11 in the 2nd quarter. His tackling's much improved over the last year, and he dragged down Wilson in the open field singlehandedly. They didn't end up scoring on that possession anyway, thanks to Avery Sebastian, but I thought I'd mention the effort.
  • It is a cruel irony that Coach Dykes went out of his way to de-emphasize the size differential, only to have the game end in that fashion. Maaaaan.

IV. In which there is fun with some numbers

As always, the hard data that I put together is here, for your perusal or amusement.

Cal

Arizona

Basics

Possessions

14

13

Yards/Play

8.0

5.9

3rd Downs

Conversions

6 of 14 (42.8%)

7 of 22 (31.8%)

Avg. Yards to go

6.78 [1]

7.27 [1]

Avg. 1st down gain

7.44 [2]

5.26 [2]

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

0/1 (3rd and 2, 2nd quarter, Rubenzer)

2/2

Field Position

Avg. Starting F.P.

Own 25.70

Own 34.67 [3]

Defense

Havoc (percentage of disruptive plays - TFL, picks, PDs, FFs, sacks - divided by total plays. 15.9% was average in 2013, with Navy at an NCAA low 9.3%.)

7 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD

106 plays [4]

10.37%

10 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF

72 plays [4]

20.83%






Of further note from the above table:

  • [1] After facing an average 3rd down of 5.85 yards, Cal's average 3rd down conversion length in the second half rose to 7.71. Interestingly enough, Arizona also faced longer 3rd downs in the second half, facing down an average of 3rd and 8.44, up from 6.46 in the first half. That wasn't something I expected.
  • [1] The difference is that the Wildcats got more efficient at converting them -- they were 4 of 9 on 3rd down (3 of 8 passing, up from 1 of 9 in the first half) in the final 30:00, compared to 3 of 13 in the first half. Cal was 2 of 7 in the second half, down from 4 of 7.
  • [2] This is another case where the numbers need to be spliced apart from the whole game average. In the third quarter, Cal ran 6 plays on first down and gained 4 net yards on those six plays. That's a sparkling -- yet awful -- average of .66. Point six six!!!!
  • [2] For context, the average first down play for Cal gained 10.94 yards in the first half, and a still very acceptable 5.72 in the game's final quarter. Considering we were unable to put the nail in the coffin, it's easy to point at the third -- where we only scored three points -- and not the 4th as why; particularly the inability to do anything on first down. I'm almost certain that this is where the coaches began their self scouting, because that is just downright baffling. Give credit to Arizona's halftime adjustments, more on defense than on offense.
  • [2] Arizona's 1st down gains: 3.42 in the first half, 3.75 in the 3rd quarter, 8.8 in the 4th. Again, fits the narrative of gassing out more than any offensive adjustments that did us in.
  • [2] Cal: 20 first down runs, 14 first down passes; Arizona: 17 first down runs, 29 first down passes
  • [3] No kicks returned on the evening for either side, which is reflected for us in the fact that our average starting field position was just about at touchback. The difference in this stat came on turnovers, which allowed Arizona two cracks from inside Cal territory, and a third on the onside kick. Tough.
  • [3] The Wildcats actually outgained us by a hefty margin, when you factor in the field position difference on top of yardage. It's arguable that we only led by as much as we did because they were so bad in the red zone -- they scored 4.1 points per trip inside the 40, which would have ranked slightly below average, according to last year's charting data. Entering the 4th quarter, that number was just 1.5 (6 points on 4 trips). It was 6.2 (31 on 5 trips) in the final frame. Sigh.
  • [4] Havoc is something new that I picked up from Bill Connelly this week, and it measures how often a defense was able to cause impact, or disruptive plays. Based on the numbers already listed, you can tell we did a horrible job bothering Anu Solomon and the Wildcats, while Arizona was swarming around pretty much all evening. Both observations can be supported on the tape, too. (Which is why I love stats sometimes.)
  • [4] We know that the defense gassed out, but this concept was especially useful in telling how bad it was. Why do I say that? Probably because the defense didn't produce a single Havoc play for the final 29 of Arizona's snaps (technically 31, with two penalties). 29 times in the game's final phase, Arizona ran a play, and zero of those times did we do anything to impact the game. Check the box score yourself. The last Havoc play by the defense was a pass deflection by Griffin Piatt to open the 4th. After that? Nada.

V. In which we look at a couple extra tape things that didn't fit above

Not a professional scout, although will explain what I think I saw, and why I thought it. For better analysis, wait for Head Writer Scott Chong's column on Wednesday -- these are just some bite sized writeups, because my strength is in depth of detail and minutiae. Links have been attached where possible.

14:27, 1Q - 2nd and 3 from Arizona 23 - Our first drive on offense featured only three plays before a touchdown, but two were from the Pistol -- and we ran the same play both times, too, I think. Both this highlight and the play before it consist of the bottom receiver (Chris Harper) running off his man, Darius Powe and Stephen Anderson blocking down to seal a lane, then Lucus Gingold and Chris Borrayo pulling through to lead the way for Daniel Lasco.

The first time, it's a modest 7 yard gain. The second time, it goes for a 44 yard touchdown, because Lasco refuses to be corralled by the safety. (Powe and Anderson did fantastic jobs on the end and linebacker respectively, by the way -- the latter was responsible for #90, Dan Pettinato, who weighs oh, only 277 pounds.)

I believe this is a run pass option, because Goff is both reading the man in the slot and eyeing Harper before deciding whether or not to hand off. If Harper comes open, he pulls and throws that single route -- just like he did to Lawler against Sacramento State. If Harper doesn't, then he simply hands off. Running this out of the Pistol, though, gives him a fraction of a second longer to make a decision, and when Goff does decide to give Lasco the ball...you know the rest.

15:00, 2Q - 3rd and 3 from Cal 44 -

For brevity's sake -- and perhaps out of desperation because it takes me so long to put everything together -- I may start just tweeting some of the more minor breakdowns. In any case, motion like that that leaves Bryce Treggs in that position could result in handoffs in the future, too.

VI. In which we talk about the special teams play

Acceptable-

  • I expect that you will yell at me from the comments about calling this unit acceptable, when they played a key role in botching the game. It's probably because I don't really agree with placing all the blame on the hands team, considering that the offense could have gotten one more first down, the defense could have gotten one more stop -- or not given up the Hail Mary -- or any of a billion other things that could have prevented the loss. It's unfair to point at just one thing in this one, which was a complete and total meltdown on all levels.
  • The Arizona fake kick was something of genius, anyway. I've never seen that done, with the kicker faking to both sides. Weird situation with Maurice knocking the ball out of bounds. Didn't know that was a penalty.
  • Tommerdahl looks like he favors having two returners, but with two muffed punts in two weeks, you have to start figuring Chris Harper's going to get more solo looks over Trevor Davis going forward. No complaints in this area, though. Punt return has been vastly improved over last season, and we now rank about average -- 68th in the country -- rather than near dead last like in 2013.
  • Held them to no kickoff returns. A punt return of negative three yards. No reason to be upset here, either. That's terrific. Maybe you quibble and wish a few more punts had landed inside the 20. That's about it in the kicking game.
  • By the way, that negative three yard return? The first of the year given up. Again, have to see if it holds, since we've only punted all of 11 times on the year (31st least in the country, or 76th percentile). Still a plus.
  • And of course, the field goal. Yes, we have to talk about the field goal, which I think I'm pretty okay with. 47 yards is a difficult kick, although not an unreasonable one to take at that point in the game, hindsight be damned. The real hurt is not picking up yardage on the 3rd and 6 play before, which could have turned it into a much more makeable one. More proof that we lost the game on a bunch of levels, and not just on one play. You don't lose a 31-13 lead -- and subsequently, a 38-23 lead -- on one play.

VII. In which other things go here

  • I'm sure you can blame the Nam Le Curse for this one after I started shouting #DROP50 from the rooftops in the middle of the second quarter. That won't get me to stop using the term..and technically, we would have won if we dropped 50.
  • Not sure sometimes what the demographic of my readership is, but if you have a PS4 and Destiny, feel free to add me -- my gamertag is @aguynamednam. (That's what we call #branding, in the business.) There's a couple of other folks on the Cal Twittersphere that play too.
  • No changes to the schedule matrix this week. Should still beat Colorado, could still beat: WSU, OSU, UCLA, UW, no idea about BYU, and probably won't beat USC, Oregon, or Stanford.
  • As always, if you feel like joining myself and some of my friends, we'll be in QQ, row 42 on Saturday. No pressure though. Only if y'all want to.

VIII. In which I cut a promo

THE PROMOS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL I DON'T FEEL LIKE DOING THEM

NO YOU DON'T HAVE A CHOICE IN THE MATTER

I pity you, Colorado. I do. You beat us senseless last year at Folsom Field, handing us the worst loss of all our losses. And hats off to you for doing it. You came to play. We didn't.

No need to worry. This year, we will. I promise you that much.

But our vow to redeem that defeat is not why you deserve pity. That's a word I used very, very deliberately.

Pity...

I pity you because of what we're bringing with us; what we'll be unleashing on you in the walls of Memorial Stadium this Saturday --  I pity you, Colorado, because you're going to be the unlucky recipient of a furious and smoldering week-long rage, the victims of a seven day anger that refuses to subside.

Two years from now, we will have our chance at redemption with the Wildcats. For now, we're going to take this newfound frustration and these lessons out on

Your. Whole. Damn. Herd.

Saturday, we'll take the huge lead we're so accustomed to getting -- just like the one we got last week against Arizona, and Sacramento State, and Northwestern before them. You will be no different, except that Austin Hill stirred up something dangerous inside of us -- a desire to completely and utterly break you, even if it means dipping into the depths of inhumanity to do so. That was something we learned the hard way. Mercy...relenting...those words are in our vocabulary no longer, because once we score this week, we'll keep scoring.

And we'll keep scoring and scoring and scoring, never letting up on that scoreboard, until you become the latest victim on this season of redemption, your blood and guts and defenders haplessly strewn across our turf.

We're coming. Expect us.