Monday, October 21, 2013

Oregon State Recap

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

This Cal season has languished to the point where the outcome of the game is rarely ever in question. The Bears have not only been predicted to lose all but one game this season, but have been projected to lose by quite a bit. And in this regard, the Bears haven’t surprised anyone with their 1-6 record.

What has been surprising however, has been the seemingly stagnant, and in some aspects, regressed state of football play. Everyone knew the Bears would struggle this year, playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country, as well as a debilitating number of injuries to an already young football squad.

However, fans hoped for competitive play in their games. Fans pointed to Sonny Dykes’ Louisiana Tech squad that was competitive in every game last season. Moreover, they looked for progress throughout the season. This was my biggest hope I had heading into this season. And once it became clear the Bears weren’t going to surprise anyone early in the season, I really just hoped for the Bears to get better and hopefully be entertaining in the process.

And despite hearing reports that the team had its best week of practice, Saturday was again more of the same thing. The game was not entertaining, nor did I see any real signs of progress. The only silver lining was that it never really appeared that the team stopped battling. They hustled, grinded, and competed on every snap. Of course, what’s troubling about that is that they showed that despite their best efforts, they’re simply not very good right now.


With all that said, here are my thoughts on the game and a general state of affairs.

Offense Line in a Disarray
If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Cal’s offense would be markedly worse midseason than it was at the beginning of the season, I would have scoffed. I think everyone from the coaches to the players envisioned a bit of a rocky start for this offense, but ultimately hoping that the cogs would start clicking and churning as the season wore on.

But instead this season has taken multiple steps backwards.

Obviously, a big part of it is the set of injuries to the offensive line. Losing both starting center Chris Adcock and guard Matt Cochran has stunted the progress and improvement of the offensive line. One can’t understate the importance of developing continuity with the same players on an offensive line.

However, you had regular starters making mistakes over and over again. Players losing one-on-one matchups, or making stupid penalties like late hits, hands to the face, or holding calls.

I was on record of saying that despite giving up more sacks than any other team in the conference, that the offensive line wasn’t actually playing as poorly as some people might believe. However, Saturday’s performance was easily one of their worst performances of the season. And that’s saying something.

Quarterback Indecision
Aaaannndd…here we go: our first potential quarterback controversy of the Dykes tenure at Cal.

A few games ago, the idea that a change at quarterback might even be considered was absolutely absurd. However, Goff has had a tough stretch of games since starting conference play. After getting battered around in the pocket, he’s taken a step back in terms of his pocket awareness, and his happy feet has affected his decision making and accuracy.

And as prolific of a passer as Goff has been, he still hasn’t learned to throw to a spot on the field. He’s still waiting for his receivers to get open which is causing some indecision and explains his constant short-hopping the ball.

But what’s been most troubling has been Jared Goff’s ball security. Goff had three turnovers again last night, all in Cal’s territory. The first was an interception in which he again didn’t see the defender underneath, and the second was a sack that led to another stripped fumble. The third was again a ball that simply slipped out of Goff’s hand, this time with no defender or monsoon in sight.

Enter redshirt freshman Zach Kline with the game already out of hand and an offense looking for something. Kline immediately led the Bears to their first TD on easily the best looking offensive drive in weeks.

Kline demonstrated some good and some bad, though overall, it was more of the former. Kline provided an instant spark to the offense, throwing some zip on his passes, as well as some pretty impressive pocket mobility. He wasn't afraid to tuck it and run it, gaining 28 yards on 7 rushes.

I’ve stated earlier that Kline isn’t nearly as effective as Goff at reading the field and going through his progressions. He also is at times too confident in his arm which leads to some impressive passes into microscopic windows, but can also lead to grimace-inducing interceptions.

What I walked away most impressed with about Kline though, was his decisiveness. There was little hesitation on any of his plays. He either was going to rip the ball, and if it wasn't there, he was quick about eluding pressure in the pocket or trying to pick up yards on the ground.

So the question remains: who starts against Washington? I totally understand why the coaches want to stick with Goff. They've invested in him, and I completely trust every account that says that Goff is easily the more consistent quarterback in practice. He's also done pretty well as a true freshman, and to yank him at this point might stunt his progress.

Yet, let's not forget that the biggest reason the coaches went with Goff was because of his accuracy, ability to lead the offense to points and to protect the ball. Over the past few games, he's struggled in all of these categories.

At this point, my thought is, "Why the hell not?" Goff isn't doing what he had done as well at the beginning of the season, and though Kline hasn't been markedly better in spot duty, he's shown enough that it's worth exploring. It's not like the Bears are going to lose Pac-12 championship as a result.

I'm not saying starting Kline is going to turn the ship around. The Bears have far too many holes. But at this point, why not see what he can do with meaningful snaps? And if there's even a chance that it's going to make the team better, why wouldn't you take a shot?

Defense On Pace to Set Records
The biggest question for the defense heading into the game was going to surround the secondary's ability to handle Oregon State's prolific passing attack, namely defending arguably the nation's best receiver in Brandin Cooks.

We got our answer loud and clear, and the answer was, "not well."

It was a frustrating exercise in bad scheme and poor technique. The two scheme issues were that Andy Buh elected to (1) assign single coverage on Brandin Cooks and (2) be incredibly frugal in sending pressure. I understand that the Bears were wary of OSU's use of screens (which ultimately ended up killing the Bears anyway), but they still gave Mannion far too much time to sit in the pocket and carve up the Bears' secondary.

The biggest technique issue was that the secondary just had a poor time reading receivers' eyes. A lot of times, the DBs were actually in pretty decent position on most catches. It's not like we were constantly seeing defensive backs in really poor spots or not filling the right zones. However, there too many plays where they just a touch late, and on top of that they simply weren't looking up to locate the ball. Nearly every catch involved a decently well positioned DB with the back of their helmet to the ball, hopeless flailing their arms in hopes of breaking up the pass. And more often than not, they did not.

What's truly the shame is that I think despite giving up nearly 500 yards for three weeks straight, I do actually think the secondary is playing better than they did at the beginning of the season. They're not playing well by any means, but they actually are playing better. The problem is that the progress has been greatly stunted by a scheme that allows opposing quarterbacks all the time in the world to pass and having to play way too many snaps with the offense really struggling at this point.

Moving Forward
At this point I could honestly copy and paste what I've been writing the last few weeks for this section.

It's a "Groundhog's Day" type of feel of having to relive the same ass kicking week in and week out. What's frustrating is that I do believe certain units do actually show up and display some progress. What's rough is this occurs while other units take multiple steps backwards.

What has become clear is that I actually do think that despite the numerous injuries, I think there's enough talent on this team to be a lot better than they are. It really is the case of some players really showing their inexperience and being unable to keep up at the conference level at this point in their careers. On the other side, we've got some players that are just flat out underperforming. The common theme in both situations is that this falls on the coaches.

I'm going to reserve full judgment until the end of the season, but it's becoming clear that some of the assistant coaches on this staff are far more ready to coach at the Pac-12 level than others. You don't have to read in between my lines to know who they are. The results are on the field.


Anonymous said...

These USA Conference Coaches (Sonny Dikes/Tony Franklin) are as unprepared and unqualified as the MAC Conference QB (Maynard) for PAC 12 level competition. Its like watching fish out of water. Cal has plenty of talent to win at least a couple games. I put this latest "caltastraphy" on the coaches and Sandy Barber. It's already time to cut losses and move on. The future does not look bright for the Cal football program with the current leadership.