Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cal Preview: Play like last year never happened

Over the evening I tipped past 20,000 all-time hits.  Hooray!  Thanks to all who visit the site!

CU played Cal on the road last season.  Even though it didn't turn out so well, you can check out last year's preview here.

If you were to ask Buff Nation what was the most painful loss of the Dan Hawkins era, I'm sure you'd get a slew of varied answers.  Montana State is certainly at or near the top, as is the Kansas loss last season that led directly to his firing.  Additionally, there were the 5 blowouts at the hands of Mizzou, the improbable loss in Lincoln in '08, and that one time CSU beat the Buffs in Boulder.  All pathetic performances from a 5-year tenure full of them, but I would like to state the case for last season's 52-7 loss at the hands of the Cal Bears as being the worst of the worst.

The Pac-12 announcement was only months old, hopes were high, and over 10,000 black and gold clad fans attempted to take over Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.  It was supposed to be an extremely important game for the whole of the Athletic Department, a dawn of a new era if you will (has that ever gone well?).  That game was meant to be the time CU announced their West Coast presence with authority, and woke up the California portion of the fan base.  A lot of effort and expectations were put into that western road trip, and it was purported to be a focal point for both recruiting and fund-raising.

Instead, it quickly turned into an embarrassment.

Of all the black marks Dan Hawkins gifted the program, this one scarred almost every level of the Athletic Department (from marketing to fundraising), and destroyed any remaining goodwill the former CU head coach could cling to.  Every inch of promise and hope was washed away in a torrent of turnovers, poor special teams play, and abysmal O-line play.

The good thing is that CU has the opportunity to call a do-over.  As the unofficial first Pac-12 game in school history, this marks an opportunity to erase the memories forged last season and begin anew (... again ...).  With a solid 60 minutes of football Saturday afternoon, the Buffs could start the inaugural Pac-12 season out with a strong statement that they won't be a pushover in the new league, and re-affirm that they belong in the "Conference of Champions."


I'm stripping down the preview today.  Just the "Golden Bear" necessities if you will.

With that in mind, the Buffs return home to both honor the 2001 Big XII champions and kick-start the season after a rough beginning in Hawai'i.  Kickoff is set for 1:30.  If you absolutely cannot make it over to beautiful Folsom Field, the came can be seen on FCS-Pacific... whatever that is.

Click below for the preview...

Opponents season so far - Cal started their season on a high note by outshining the Fresno St Bulldogs 36-21 over the past weekend.  They played well on offense (417 yards, 4 TD's), but looked particularly strong on defense where they only allowed 218 total yards and only 2.7 yards/rushing attempt, grabbed 2 turnovers, and sacked the Fresno St. QB 6 times.
Cal looked good against Fresno St. last weekend.
Considering how poorly CU played in the run game last week (17 net rushing yards), and how ineffective the O-line was (7 sacks allowed, less that 2 yards/ rushing attempt on 1st down), the Cal defensive performance from last week is more than slightly worrying.

Offense & Defense - From what I saw last week, the Golden Bears will use multiple formations, both shotgun, and under center, to confuse the defense and get the matchups they want.  They look to be very versatile and can cause problems both on the ground and in the air. WR screens, read-option, play-action out of the I-formation, pro-style passing, etc... nearly the whole gambit of collegiate offensive possibilities were on display last weekend.  To me this screams lack of identity, but who cares if it's successful. was especially impressed, noting that
"[...] the defense couldn't determine which formation we'd use simply based on our personnel in the huddle.  It says a lot for the versatility of Cal's tight-ends and backs as well as the willingness of all the wide-outs to get their noses dirty with downfield blocking."    
This is important to note as good second level blocking often leads to overall success.  They also block very well at the point of attack, which allows the level of versatility they're seeking.  Overall, they're a unit that knows how to execute properly.

On defense, Cal still looks capable of making life hell for opposing QBs.  They switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme last season, and seem to be enjoying the fruits of it's tendancies.  In the game against CU last year, they used their pass rush to knock poor Tyler Hansen around for 6 sacks, while forcing 3 interceptions.  They may have lost a little experience from the D-line, but I still expect them to bust through the apparently weak CU pass-protection.

Star Players - Keenan Allen is the headliner here.  The speedster from North Carolina enjoyed a breakout freshman season as he led the team in receiving TD's (5) and kick return yardage (406).  He would be a dynamic factor in any offense, and he started his 2011 campaign off on a high note by dropping 112 yards on 8 catches last week.  It'll be interesting to see if the Buffs secondary can cover his down-field speed.
Here you can see Keenan torching CU last fall.
Tossing the rock towards Allen is half-brother Zach Maynard.  The Golden Bears QB is not only capable of quality play in the passing game, but can also beat you with his legs.  He gained 69 gross yards last week, and seemed capable of more if the game required.  I hope the Buffs defense learned their lesson from the scrambling abilities of Bryant Moniz, cause Maynard will keep drives alive if they let him.

On defense, watch out for senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who recorded 9 tackles last week (2.5 for loss).  He received a boat load of preseason recognition, landing on 9 preseason watch lists, and garnering Lindy's attention as the #9 outside linebacker in the nation.  He was, however, moved to inside linebacker for the season.  Last year against CU he gobbled up 12 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a fumble recovery, setting the tone for the day which saw the CU offense completely befuddled.
Kendricks can be a big play-maker on defense.

Coaching - Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford has always been one of those "marquee names" despite never really accomplishing any sustained high-profile success.  I used to hear his name for a lot of NFL vacancies, and he's always been paid rather handsomely ($2.3 million/season).    Yet, his teams have always been widely inconsistent, especially away from home, and prone to "flops."

While only bringing one top-10 finish to Berkeley, he has landed a shared Pac-10 title ('06), two Pac-12 coach of the year honors, and an impressive 5-2 bowl record to go along with a 73-42 mark over 9 seasons at Cal.  That mark makes him the second winningest coach in Cal history.  Despite all that, the clock may be running out on his tenure in Berkeley.
The pressure is on for Tedford to win... or, whatever man...
As an offensive guru, who's back to calling the plays this season, Tedford makes his Golden Bears an offensive threat year-in, year-out.  Additionally, he has proven capable of recruiting explosive talent to Berkeley, as big-time NFL stars Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, and Nnamdi Asomugha have all matriculated through his Golden Bear program.

While Coach Tedford has returned to calling the plays on offense, I'd be remiss if I didn't note the presence of former CU Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau on the Cal coaching staff.  In addition to fellow CU coaching ex-pat Ashley Ambrose, Kiesau will look to one-up his former team on Saturday afternoon.

Prediction -

On the plus side, CU will know what to expect from Cal on Saturday.  Their offense may be improved, but style of play (read: effort) shouldn't shock the Buffs this time around.

CU has all the question marks heading in.  How do they rebound from the disappointment of the Hawai'i game?  Will the running game "assert its will?"  Can the O-line (possibly still without starting tackle David Bakhtiari) protect Tyler Hansen?  Will the defense be able to stop yet another mobile QB from keeping drives alive with his feet?  Can CU finally make the plays (read: cause/receive turnovers) needed to win big games at this level?  Will Toney Clemons follow through on his resolve to make big plays?

That's a lot of questions with very few answers.  While I can only imagine the team playing better than at Hawai'i (Folsom magic, and all), I'm very worried about the O-line problems.  That's an area that wins and loses ball games.  You can get by with route-running mistakes and soft defense, but, as a running team, CU cannot survive getting less than 2 yards per play on first down.  Additionally, CU simply can't allow sacks on second down passing opportunities, leading to multiple 3rd-and-longs, and still hope to win.

In spite of all the question marks, however, I really want to pick CU.  Cal is historically "inconsistent" away from home, and I think the boost from yet another historical retrospective ("forget this shit on the field, remember when we were good!?") will make a difference in performance.  Additionally, I can't imagine the run attack being as muted as it was last week.

But, damn, that O-line looked terrible...

To make up my mind, I turned to teh interwebs.   I was able to dig up this footage of what happens when a bear meets a buffalo in the wild:
(You may want to hit mute before playing this: the rubes filming the event are annoying as hell.)

Fair enough, I'll say CU slogs down the game, gets some running production on first down to allow the O-line to do what it needs to do, and pulls a timely turnover out of their ass in the second half.  That's not just wishful thinking.... right?

CU 20 - Cal 17



Raymond said...

Yes, they are annoying.

Go Buffs!

Aaron Jordan said...

I think the O-Line will be better this week. The whole point I made about loosing Solder being more than loosing 1 guy, was that I often saw Solder grab one of the other 4 last year and tell them something (I even remember some play where one of the guards allowed a sack and Solder lit the dude up). That kind of leadership and accountability doesn't seem apparent on the O-Line right now, but I think someone (and not Miller because he gives soft handshakes) will step up.

For me last years Cal game is in the talk of worst Dan Hawkins game ever, but nowhere near as bad as either Montana State or Kansas. I suppose it would have been the worst had my hopes for the program been higher, but at that point I was so damaged there wasn't much left to hurt. Kansas proved me wrong that we had reached rock bottom.