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Cal vs Colorado postgame notebook

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I'm almost certain that I'll die watching a Cal game when I'm old.

#PartyInTheEndZone
#PartyInTheEndZone
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Well, @jeffogar certainly put it better than I could...so no need to say anything else:

In which I make two quick programming notes

Only had access to a shortened copy of the game this week, so my apologies if things aren't to a sufficient depth or length.

Regular promo delayed til later in the week due to a lack of time.

It's still coming. Expect it.

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

I. In which the Bear Raid is now in full gear

Passing offense: Exceeds Expectations

  • No O for the Bear Raid Commander, even after seven TD passes and 448 yards? You're goddamn right I'm not giving him an O -- he's too talented not to have the standards raised on him somewhat by now. A lot of makeable throws were off-target -- including on the only interception. A lot of catchable balls were dropped, too.
  • One example: 1st down at 9:40 in the 3rd quarter, where he has Kenny Lawler in one on one deep, only to under throw him enough for the CU corner to break it up. He underthrew Lawler again like four plays later, too.
  • As far as the last flurry of touchdowns went, well...those are standard for our boy now. Throwing right over the defender, leading his receivers, pinpoint accuracy...all standard.
  • I do understand he had a cut finger. It was the only thing capable of stopping him on this day, because Colorado sure as hell wasn't.
  • Not a ton of Luke Rubenzer this week, which is as it should be. Doesn't mean sit him. completely; it means use him in special situations only, please. I give him all the credit for making something happen on the scramble from the goal line, though. The penalty by Alejandro Crosthwaite was just a little unfortunate in erasing his efforts.
  • Yes, the Jared Goff - Luke Rubenzer throwback is one of my aforementioned wrinkle(s) that they've worked on since camp (shades of the final play from Auburn/FSU in the BCSCG) -- and in fact, they have a whole set of things in the playbook for both of them on the field. I'm almost certain that it wasn't intended to have both groups continue to throw it back and forth, though.
  • Six touchdown drives of six plays or less. I wasn't anticipating for us to have this type of command in year two. It's here. I should have expected it.
  • For more proof on that last point: in its greatest incarnation (2012) at Louisiana Tech, Sonny Dykes' offense converted 44% of third downs. Through four games this year, my rough calculations have it at 52% (at the time this note was being written, CFBstats had yet to update). And all of this is without even pushing tempo hard, due to depth issues on defense.
  • There's no reason why Goff can't flirt with 4500, 5000 passing yards next year. He could probably break it if they were chucking the ball at a Washington State type pace.
  • Unsung hero: one Stephen Anderson, who had four of his seven catches go for first downs. Five if you count the TD. Darius Powe has more upside, but this is twice in two weeks Anderson's caught my eye doing yeoman's work, whether blocking or just generally being a solid player. Kind of like James Grisom last year.
  • Earlier this year, I wrote that one Cal wideout would make the All Pac-12 team. If there's going to be even one, then that guy looks like it's going to be Kenny Lawler, although you could literally spin the wheel each week and come up with a different leading receiver. His touchdown to open the second half was a thing of beauty, especially on the release, where he fakes outside, then cuts right back across the face of the defender to get wide open. Great change of direction to stop on the dime and haul the pass in, too.
  • Also: Lawler needs to ditch the loose sleeve look. Just my opinion.
  • In case there is still any lingering confusion, no, Erik Brown did not play. That was a stadium announcer's mistake attributing the catch from Hudson, who also wears #11, to the freshman, who will likely be redshirting. He's here celebrating with Lawler in street clothes on broadcast after that above touchdown, actually:

Rushing offense: Outstanding

  • This one, you have to look beyond the stats sheet to really understand. Yeah, it's a relatively normal 4.2 yards per carry average -- 5.14 without sacks, by the way -- but it's what's happening underneath the numbers that leaves me so impressed. Namely, the fact that we have an unquestioned lead back now. His name is Daniel Lasco, and he was the game's best offensive player, even with Goff throwing touchdown passes at an alarming rate. He only stretched runs to outside when he should have (on the second to last play of the game, he took his run wide enough to almost grab the first down), he ran behind his pads and fell forward, and he made people miss, one way or another, he ran through contact. I loved him all camp. I loved him last year. Now you all can too.
  • This doesn't even factor in that he had a metric butt-load of yardage called back by penalties, too.
  • It also doesn't factor how I felt he did in the pass protection, picking up rushers. Felt like he looked pretty solid there, too.
  • The preference that I've picked up on is for them to run right behind Borrayo, pulling. Even not knowing a whole ton about offensive line work, that bodes well for our future, since the man they call Oso will be back for at least one (and hopefully two) more seasons.
  • This isn't even a complete offensive line just yet, since Jordan Rigsbee is playing out of position -- he's willingly and diligently doing so because the team needs him out at tackle, but I think we all know he's best suited at guard. He struggles a bit with speed out there, as evidenced by 0:29 in the 2nd quarter, when his rusher gets through for the sack and fumble. EDIT: Coach Yenser says this should have been a false start on Rigs.
  • That above play ended the last drive of the half, although I did not mind the aggressiveness with 40 seconds left in the second quarter, even though it didn't work out. You have two timeouts here, you should at least run some plays to try to get a field goal.
  • Second sack came when they brought six on five linemen. The extra guy gets through in the gap between Adcock and Crosthwaite. (In situations like this, I believe you're supposed to slide protection to block the inside guy first, and that if you're going to let someone go unblocked, it should be the guy on the outside, since he has a longer way to go. If this is true, then we missed that adjustment, I guess, but I'm going to cede this to Rugbear, if he's reading.)
  • Really no question that the right side of the line is the weaker one, though. That's where most of the pressure has come from this year, and though I haven't yet kept track, I'm willing to bet most of the penalties, too. The play that inspired me to write this: Crosthwaite being driven back 5 yards by a defensive tackle, into Goff.
  • Khalfani Muhammad is right now, isn't worth trotting out there as the lead, although I do like him as the primary backup and to still get touches late. He just isn't good at breaking tackles or making anyone miss, and his best strength is working in space without defenders to beat. We've started pushing him more and more in that direction already as it is...more on that below, though.
  • I suppose that means sitting the freshmen more. Fine by me. They did on Saturday.
  • Minus points for Chris Harper on one of the rushing plays, who doesn't even need to make the block for Lasco's TD that was called back. He just doesn't. If if he does nothing, it's a 40 something yard gain already. In a way, that's how scarily good our machine has become -- that we dropped 59 on the scoreboard and there were still correctable flaws like these.
  • Last season, I remember reading that Tony Franklin prefers to be in the booth...whatever it is that brought him down to the sidelines seems to be working in our favor, though.

II. In which the defense...moves backward

Rushing defense: Acceptable (with a sticker for the last goal line stand)

  • Hardy Nickerson helped save the damn day late, as most of his 6.5 tackles happened when he saw the field more for tired starters in the 4th and in OT. It was he who received the credit on the third down stop, before Jalen Jefferson sealed it.
  • That being said, the first touchdown pass -- of SEVEN -- looked to be either Nickerson or Kearney's fault, but it was Nickerson who received the immediate talking to at the play's conclusion. In either case, Sean Irwin just streaks right by both linebackers, untouched. No bueno.
  • Nickerson does have a ways to go as a pass defender still. That particular play reminded me of what I saw too often from him in past camps. Barton has gotten noticeably better in this category, which is what I hoped often last year.
  • Liufau hurt us on the ground all game, but most of the damage -- over half of it, in fact -- came on the long 39 yard keeper with 8:53 to go in the first, so we were even better in this category than shown. On this play, all our linebackers are basically on the LOS already, making gap integrity especially essential -- an unfilled gap means a large gain, and it looks to me like Jalen Jefferson creates one when he spins away from the pulling guard to vacate the middle of the field. Once Griffin Piatt misses, he's off to the races. Credit Darius Allensworth with some real hustle to track him down a few yards short.
  • Touchdown pass #2, which came at 7:53 in the first quarter also looks like it's on Jefferson, who bit hard on the run fake and can't recover in time. I do love playaction at the goal line, so I can't fault them. It's a good play call, y'all.
  • Look, Jalen's got a knack for the clutch play and is one of our defense's best players, but I'm just pointing out what I see.
  • As a group, first line or second, run stuffers galore though, which is a tremendous improvement over last season, despite not having Jacobi Hunter or Viliami Moala anymore.
  • TheAdmiral6 floated the idea that the defense, all things considered, is worse than it was under Buh. I'm not ready to sound off on that yet personally -- debate in the comments if you wish -- but it's worth noting that we didn't exactly play Oregon or Ohio State in our first four games, either...maybe I'll look into some of the numbers on the bye week. Certainly a thought worth entertaining at this point.
  • Colorado stopped themselves just as many times as we stopped them. No less than three third downs went unconverted due to self inflicted mistakes (fumbled snap/handoff, drops). We'll take it, all the same, though.
  • What we don't have in execution yet, we sure as shit do have in guts. To get your ass kicked as a defense all game and still rise up to stop 4 plays from the 1 yard line, after losing a lead with 21 seconds to go? That's guts. Serious, serious guts. Suck on that, people who thought we'd crumble after last week's loss.

Passing defense: Troll

  • This game absolutely could have ended in regulation. Should have, even.
  • Cedric Dozier absolutely was not capable of handling Nelson Spruce, who made a majority of his catches with #37 in coverage. That's more than fair to say. It was an ugly, ugly game from our corner, although we were relatively conservative so as not to get beat deep, which still is an improvement from last year...somewhat, anyway. No good replay at the route ran by Bobo on the final regulation TD. I suspect it was a double move that Dozier got beat on, which he absolutely, absolutely, absolutely should not have given up.
  • People have wondered what was going on with the coverages. My guess -- and this is my guess since I'm much better at watching offensive tape and understanding what's going on there than on defense -- is that with what Colorado was doing by stacking receivers and using two to a side made it a bit difficult to try to shade a safety. If you roll the guys toward Spruce, then you end up with an unsupported corner or linebacker on the #2 guy, which could be bad too. Scott will undoubtedly have better and more insightful things to say about the coverage on Wednesday.
  • Tackling in this unit was largely alright. Even though we continue to hemorrhage yardage from our collective everywhere, the gains aren't ridiculously large. So there's that.
  • May not be a surprise that on one of the few times we dropped into the deeper flat, we got the only interception of the game. Kearney went to cover the out route, then when there was no out, he read the #2 receiver and grabbed the pick.
  • As the game began to slow for Colorado in the third quarter, I have to wonder if our usage of the dime package -- which did not appear before the half and utilized Cheek as the 6th DB -- was at all involved in throwing them off balance. The 1st and 3rd down stats suggest that it did for a bit, before Colorado counter adjusted.
  • The final Colorado score was one of the few times on the day when we had really, really good coverage. Cameron Walker is right there to make a play on it. His hands are there. Just better work by Spruce.
  • For those wondering about Darius White, I can't really imagine that he's ready to come in and contribute at this exact moment just yet. I certainly don't have a sense of him as a player yet, since he got hurt the first day of camp. At best, he's really far behind the curve and working his way back, the same way Joel Willis is. The guys we have are the guys we'll play, basically, and it's important to remember that they're all really young, especially Walker and Allensworth.
  • No sacks. Officially beginning to get concerned with this, although there is no help coming -- we're playing everyone at end who we can expect to play. Linebacker pressure has looked more effective than anything from the front four alone, and even that isn't helping enough.
  • As far as individual pass rushers go, we repeatedly flushed Liufau out of the pocket...which was good. Noah Westerfield, Brennan Scarlett, Jonathan Johnson, Todd Barr...all the guys got Liufau off his spot. They just never actually got to him.
  • Johnson, it should be noted, appeared late as a fresh body, and I don't remember seeing him any earlier this year. Wasn't expecting him to play at all based on how he did in fall camp, but these are the things that happen when you face 100+ plays.
  • You saw this probably as well as I did. We got wrecked running against the out route late, and on the corner route early especially from the #2 receiver, which the safety (usually Piatt) wasn't able to break on the route and drive fast enough. My thought is that the team will work extensively against these in practice this week, because I'd guess some of it is a footwork issue, but these routes are, by design, supposed to stress and a defense. Would a healthy McClure help too, both in diagnosing and then actually getting to these? You bet.

III. In which there is fun with numbers

As always, these statistics are UNOFFICIAL. They are hand calculated and may be off at some places, but serve as useful data points even with that in mind. Raw numbers here.

Cal

Colorado

Basics

Possessions

16

15

Yards/Play

8.1 [1]

5.7

3rd Downs

Conversions

9 of 15 (60%)

8 of 18 (44%)

Avg. Yards to go

8.0

5.83

Avg. 1st down gain

5.51 [2]

6.01

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

1 of 1

3 of 6

Field Position

Avg. Starting F.P. (National avg: 29.9)

Own 30.31 [3]

Own 33.13

Defense

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

14 (6 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 6 PD)

110 total plays

12.72% [4]

12 (5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 5 PD)

71 total plays

16.9%

Scoring

Points Per Trip Inside 40

5 TDs

6 trips

5.83 [5]

7 TDs

10 trips

4.9

  • Of further note from the above table:
  • [1] Explosive...West coast shit. They say the Bear Raid can't work in the Pac-12, but so far, we've averaged over 8.0 yards per play against both Arizona and Colorado...and are 11th in the country with an average YPP figure of 7.07. This has climbed with each passing week, by the way.
  • [2] Colorado shredded us on first down passes, with the average attempt going for close to 9 yards, according to my unofficial calculations. The run defense up front was extremely stout, however, and remained consistently so even right into the late stages of the game -- Cal allowed only 61 total rushing yards on 1st down, spread across 23 mostly fruitless attempts (2.65 average).
  • [2] We had 33 attempts on 1st down -- 7 passes, 7 runs in the first half; 5 passes, 14 runs in the second. And they say we don't want to run the ball.
  • [2] Success through the air was much less sharp than it had been in recent weeks though. Cut on his hand or not, we averaged 12 yards on 1st down passes last week, compared to a much more normal -- albeit still acceptable -- 6.5.
  • [2] The average first down run in this game went for almost five yards a pop, and this number has gotten better with each passing week. Against lowly Sac State, it was still hovering in the range of three.
  • [3] Cal scored on both of its drives that began in opposing territory (COL 37; 2:51 4Q and COL 49; 10:17 3Q), and on a drive that began on its own one yard line.
  • [4] It's officially time to worry about this figure, which has been below average the last two weeks, without even facing the better Pac-12 teams yet. Particularly bad is the pass rush, which has produced an astounding 3 sacks in their last 140 dropbacks. At some point, Coach Kaufman may have to think about bringing more pressure somehow, even if it means leaving our guys on an island a bit.
  • [5] And this is why we had no business winning this game, but managed to do so anyway. Colorado had ten trips into scoring territory, and even though 4.9 ends up being an above average figure, thanks to three FG misses by Will Oliver, we were kept alive just enough to still be in it.

IV. In which we take an abbreviated look at a few things on tape before Head Writer Scott Chong dives in with more depth on Wednesday

Blahblahblah not a professional scout. You get the idea. Click on the pic.twitter.com link to be taken to some larger sized photos. They're multiple parts.

Here, we'll begin with Daniel Lasco's 92 yard touchdown catch:

It might be that the guy responsible for Lasco out of the backfield is the safety, but in that case, Lasco is still being given a good 10 yard cushion and still has a decent chance for a gain. It might also be that the LB is responsible for Lasco and was late to react, causing him to overrun the thing completely. In any case, the rest is made possible due to some brilliance on the back of the Texan. A cutback, lowering the shoulder...then, poof.

We motioned Muhammad out of the backfield quite similarly at 0:28 in the 2nd quarter, and this time the linebackers/defense all made sure to shift over, so you know that spooked them. Credit to Lasco for making the catch this time, too, because that little outlet throw has definitely given him some trouble in the past -- it resulted in the one interception Jared Goff threw against Northwestern.

Quick hitting notes (click links for photos, I've embedded them in Tweets):

1. 14:41 1Q - Brennan Scarlett in a standup 3-3-5 role, paired with Barton and Nickerson. The play is a run that's eventually stopped after two yards by Mustafa Jalil.

2. 10:49 1Q - For the first time I can remember, Khalfani Muhammad is lined up right immediately behind tight end Stephen Anderson with the team in 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE), then arcs around to block this defensive end while the rest of the line goes right side for Lasco. This formation, I thought was interesting, because Muhammad can run the fly sweep from it in the future, too.

3. 5:52 3Q - Muhammad's in the same position as the photo immediately above, but the set up's slightly different this time, because the tight end (if you insist on still calling them that) is on the left side, rather than in front of him, and all three receivers are set to the top of the screen. This is key -- the trips set occupies a lot of the defense's attention, leaving Muhammad matched with a safety 10 yards deep, and everyone in white has rotated over to leave space on the far left of the field...which is exactly where he's going.

All this is to get Muhammad free by design, because the play calls for a mesh/rub with Anderson from the bottom of the screen. This means the safety is not just chasing Muhammad across the field -- he's doing so while trying to navigate through a flow of bodies moving opposite ways. The advantage goes to our back. Sorry, Colorado.

A great job by Jared to stand in against pressure to actually make this throw, too. It's pretty fair to guess this is something we've worked a lot on, not only because we saw it in camp, because we had some trouble actually running the mesh/rub earlier in the season. It's resulted in a couple of offensive pass interferences in the past.

V. In which the special teams is decidedly mixed

Acceptable-

  • The bad: Langford missed a field goal that would have helped the game end much earlier, not to mention he put the team's chances of victory in danger with the kickoff that went out of bounds. Kickoffs were noticeably short all afternoon.
  • He then redeemed himself by hitting a game winner most of us are not likely to forget any time soon, which nudged the special teams score to acceptable.
  • Cole Leininger has had only 2 of 15 punts returned this year -- including the one by Nelson Spruce on Saturday -- for a total of -1 one yards. Yep. We're 5th in the country in this department. CGB's own Nick Kranz pointed out that this is likely due to the proliferation of the spread punt formation in general, and the numbers across all of CFB seem somewhat deflated. More on the idea of spread punts here.
  • Avery Sebastian may have a very limited effect on defense at this point, but his special teams work was absolutely fantastic on Saturday. There was the fumble that he was given credit for forcing, and then the highlight reel flip he put on Phillip Lindsay earlier, too.
  • One of the better games on kickoff from Khalfani Muhammad.
  • A couple triple returner looks on punt returner, with Harper and Treggs serving as blockers in front of Trevor Davis. Didn't do much, though, and Davis made a somewhat questionable decision to allow a punt to roll, which was then downed at the 1. (Yes, I know we scored a touchdown on that drive. I'd still prefer to get Harper back there.)

VI. In which there are other notes

  • Sometime during the second quarter, when the score was 28-14, I swear on my life I heard the Colorado section chant OVER-RATED. To a team that went 1-11 last year and isn't within sniffing distance of the 25th poll spot. I know man, it's crazy to me too.
  • They also were playing a song when someone was injured. I think it was Austin Clark. Not impressed with my personal experience regarding Colorado fans, that's for sure.
  • #Pac12Refs did us in on Michael Lowe's unnecessary roughness. Sure didn't feel like one to me.
  • At one point, after one of the Colorado players made a tackle and stood over our running back menacingly -- it's the play at 1:04 in the 1st quarter but this part wasn't visible on the TV broadcast -- Rigsbee came over and gave him a little bump with his shoulder, just to let the guy know he was there, and of course, to stand up for his guy. Yet another reason to love his attitude.
  • Laughing hard at the security lining up to guard the field from a potential storming late on Saturday. We're going to storm on Colorado? Really? Stop.
  • I start graduate school on Monday. Actually, at the time you're reading this. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a little bit nervous, and of course you'll hear all about it if you're following me on Twitter already. It's my hope that my new duties here won't too adversely affect my abilities to provide you with enjoyable Monday reading. We'll just have to see.
  • Not a bad way to go out for my last weekend as a NorCal native.
  • I'll be back in Berkeley for the Washington game, though. See you there.
  • And for the love of God, join the QQ Crew, aka my loveable group of goons who cheer and heckle all game long.
  • This section once again closes with the schedule matrix. The for sure wins are gone, and in an ideal world, we steal two out of four from the top table, plus one game we shouldn't win, at all. That would be a huge, huge mark of progress for this team: