After the first snap and throughout the first SDSU drive it looked bad. Our defense seemed to suddenly take shades of 2013's as we missed assignments, run defense failed again and again to seal up holes and the passing defense looked confused letting the Aztecs to a quick strike touchdown on a wide open man who was probably covered by the ghost of Andy Buh. And when our offense took the field we looked lackluster starting the drive slowly. After exchanging punts we were able to finally score only to have our Goffensive leader throw an boneheaded interception to Kenny Lawler.
What I admire though is the adjustments made on the defensive side after the first series. After the touchdown, Cal's defense held the SDSU team to 4 punts, and an interception. It was all done with efficient play and a little help from SDSU as they had 12 penalties for 136 yards in the game. Overall, our passing defense shined as we were physical, aggressive, ran with purpose towards the ball and despite a handful of missed tackles performed very admirably.
Our offense finally warmed up in the second quarter as the team went down the field twice missing a FG (which caused me to unleash a furious tirade of anger) and a touchdown late in the half thanks to an interception by Darius White. It was quite the spectacle to see our offense play at full speed and at its potential when we went 3 plays for 65 yards in 52 seconds. That is music. A true meisterstuck by our offense. For the rest of the game I can imagine us trying to control the flow of the game by running the ball more pushing Daniel Lasco towards his first 100+ yard game (19 attempts for 123 yards, which averages out to a very impressive 6.47 yards/attempt, and even if we were to remove his longest carry for 19 yards we would get a 5.78 yard/attempt game).
Post-Week 2 Numbers for Cal (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12 North)
(Note: through the first four weeks of the season, preseason projections will carry diminishing weight in the S&P+ ratings.)
The most important thing to keep in mind about these stats is the fact that these stats are from Week 1 and Week 2 performances as well as pre-season projections only. Which means a) a small sample size, and b) the fact that the Grambling StateSDSU gameplan/flow was an unusual one. The first one implies that there will be a lot of volatility as the weeks go by. The latter, especially for the case of Cal, shows that the stats, whether positively slanted or negatively slanted against us, will change as we face more P5 opponents and as their stats are influenced by their match-ups (especially S&P+ since they are opponent adjusted).
If we look at the offensive stats we can see that despite the slow start and the inefficient game by our offense (2 for 10 on 3rd downs, this is unacceptable if we're trying to compete for the Pac-12 North). It shows that the strength of the SDSU's defense means a lot. Initially I was frustrated with the lack of efficient production by our boys, but now looking back at it with clearer eyes I can see that SDSU's defense is nothing to scoff at. Even after letting Cal score 5 TDs while only earning one 1 Int against us it settled at a respectable #41 rank in Defensive S&P+ (down from #7 last week). This is about the same level as the avg. Cal opponent from the 2014 season.
The defense's S&P+ rating took a hit because relatively to the FCS University of San Diego team we were not playing good football. Remember USD held the SDSU's starting QB to 9/21 and 100 yards with 1 Int, while also forcing Donnal Pumphrey to an abysmal 20 attempt for 65 yards game. Taking the SDSU v. USD game into account, the S&P+ metrics didn't look too kindly on the fact that Cal "allowed" a 14/32 game with 173 yards and 1/2 TD/INT ratio and 41 carries for 166 yards to SDSU's offense (Pumphrey getting 85 yards on 21 attempts after having a lot of the runs wiped out due to penalties). Of course context matters, it seems like SDSU's abysmal offensive performance against USD was a statistical aberration, while Cal played an objectively good game on defense sans the first drive.
I can see both the Offensive S&P+ and Defensive S&P+ improving as the season goes by. I am very optimistic not only about the raw skills that this team has but also the ability of the team to shake-off early set-back, adjust, learn and execute later in the game. However, we cannot count on having a whole quarter to get our asses into gear. Our future schedule doesn't allow for this type of complacency.
Week 3 Opponent : University of Texas Longhorns (1-1, 0-0 Big 12)
Texas had a rough Week 1 match-up against Notre Dame. In a 38-3 drubbing Texas failed to generate any semblance of an offense as the two QBs combined for a 8/23, 103 yards (4.48 yards/attempt), and no TDs or INTs and the rushing attack combined for 72 yards on 27 attempts (2.67 yards per attempt). In the vacuum this looks an abysmal performance correct? If we add the play against Rice where the QBs combined for 5/10, 128 yards, (12.8 yards per attempt) and a 2/0 TD/INT ratio. The ground attack looked much better with a 28 attempts for 149 yards (5.32 yards per attempt) and 2 touchdowns. It seems that Texas is still trying to find an identity in the Charlie Strong era. I can see them lean on the raw talent and individual skill levels of the players in each game as they gel as a team. I believe that Texas will try to wear us out with outside runs with QB Jerrod Heard who ran more often than he passed in the game (10 attempts for 96 yards with a long of 35 [9.6 yards per attempt, 6.7 yards per attempt if we remove the long ]). It will be a challenge for our d-line to contain him as well as for the LBs to be disciplined enough to account for any pop-passes in the zones they may vacate when Heard rolls out and for possible zone-read plays. I think that in this case we may have to dedicate an athletic LB like Devante Downs as a QB SPY and thus removing one potential player from pass rushing packages.
Charlie Strong's teams are known for their stingy defense. In 2014 Texas' defense ranked 7th in the S&P+ Defense ranking. However, after their lackluster performances against Notre Dame (Ranked #9 in Offensive S&P+) and Rice (#78 Offensive S&P+) dragged the S&P+ for the defensive unit. I do believe that this decline is a temporary one since the overall trend with Charlie Strong teams as well as with the talent and athleticism available will most probably generate a bounce back by the team. It has to be noted that the team has struggled to generate resistance in the rushing game since they let Rice run all over them in 56 attempts for 232 yards (4.14 yards per attempt) and 2 touchdowns. The low yards per attempt by the Rice is indicative of the high volume of rushes performed by the team relative to the passing game which only generated 23/38 for 234 yards and a 2/3 TD/INT ratio (6.15 yards per attempt). Furthermore, if we look at the box score in more detail we can se that Driphus Jackson had a relatively abysmal performance on the ground for Rice with 11 attempts for 12 yards. If we look at the leading Rice rusher Samuel Stewart we will see a 25 attempt 130 yard for 2 TD game (5.2 yards per attempt). This can hint to us the fact that Daniel Lasco (or Vic Enwere depending on Lasco's injury status) will have a good day against the Texas front 7.
Compare and Contrast Time
Ultimately, I remain cautious of the line that Vegas has on the game, I do believe that we are favorites due to the Goffense's ability to generate yards in the air and on the ground, as well as in our new defense. However, I think that the game will be much closer due to Texas' potential on defense and the QBs ability to make plays on the ground against our relatively less athletic defense. The over/under for the game is also quite large, I think that we will come close to it, but will fall a touchdown short of the 57.5 o/u. What the first quarter of the SDSU game taught me is that I need to trust the team's ability to shake off bad plays and make necessary adjustments to shut down teams on both sides of the ball. We can win this game, and in my opinion this game will become the turning point for our program. What we will do there will dictate the tone and the attitude of the team for the rest of the season.
[PS. I will not be able to see most of the game due to a housewarming party in my apartment. I know... I should've planned better.]