Monday, October 23, 2006

POST-TIVO ANALYSIS: WASHINGTON V CALIFORNIA

First, a word about our old nemesis Tyrone Willingham.

With Willingham, what you see is what you get. You get a guy who is absolutely obsessed with discipline and preparation. For the past several years Washington has displayed about as much consistency as Holly Golightly on a crystal bender. Under Snake and the Fatman, UW didn't block or tackle at D-1 levels, and they were good for 5-7 hideous mental mistakes a game. Sometimes they didn't bother to show up. This UW team comes ready to play. They absolutely took the game to Cal along both lines, and their secondary played a superb game for about three quarters.

But then there's the other side of Ty Willingham. His bland as a tuna fish sandwich on wonder bread personality drives sportswriters and fans to distraction, and it's reflected on the field as well. UW was in Saturday's game because of the first Ty - but they failed to put us away because of the 2nd Ty. To wit:

* He didn't show nearly enough faith in Bonnell to win the football game with his feet. Look, I know it's your backup QB and you don't have much behind him. But Willingham was happy to call for five and seven-second drops in the passing game (which expose his QB's blind side) - why not call for more QB draws and rolls and just tell him to hook slide if he's in trouble? A Bonnell rollout would have made a lot more sense than running Louis Rankin or Kenny James up the middle again and again and again...
* Which brings up UW's absolutely maddening play selection in 3rd and short. Time after time they gave the ball to the deep I-back (James or Rankin) and on all but one occasion they failed to convert. As good as UW's line was in pass protect, they really struggled to get a consistent push in the run game. This was apparent after 15 minutes, but OC Tom Lappano kept calling the same play in short yardage.
* Ty called one gadget play, and it worked bigtime (the flea flicker pass). It wouldn't have hurt to roll the dice more than once, particularly given Cal's tendency to overpursue. I was shocked that we didn't see at least one reverse.

Willingham definitely has the Huskies back in the Pac-10 mix, and that's a testament to his ability to manage a program. It will take more, however, to win conference titles and satisfy a notoriously tempermental fan base. On Saturday, he had the chance to step on Cal's collective throat and he chose to play it safe. That won't do in this conference.

Cal Summary:

OL - TIVO doesn't lie. Our lines were handled for most of the game. I doubt that anyone on the O Line grades out very well. This is the 2nd straight game that we've been average-to-poor in pass protection. I could accept it a bit more easily against M'Kristo Bruce and the gang than I can against this Washington defense, which is solid but unspectacular. We also had a couple of very costly penalties, including a false start by Robertson on the go-ahead drive. Robertson also whiffed on a block that busted our 4th and 1 try deep in UW territory.

QB - Longshore is a puzzle. He did feel some pressure, but on more than a few occasions he simply missed open receivers on three and five step drops. He had his greatest difficulties throwing into the wind during the first and third quarters - his throws tended to sail, indicating an overcompensation on Nate's part.

RB/FB - Lynch put the team on his back in the 2nd half. I was particularly impressed by his ball management - Willingham emphasizes the strip and Husky defenders were going for the football on every carry. An historic performance that I will remember long after Marshawn drives his equipment cart out of Berkeley. Forsett had a hard time finding holes, but made a nice reception in the 1st Q; I thought Storer had an unusually poor day blocking though it was nice to see him get two touches (!).

WR/TE - Receivers had their worst outing since Tennessee. I just don't believe the UW secondary is good enough to prevent DeSean from getting seperation at least occasionally. Opposing coaches will try to take him out of the game, but we still need to find a way to get him more than three touches. Hawkins got less attention, but had some very costly drops. Jordan was OK and made a crucial catch on a difficult pass in the last drive. TE Craig Stevens played a very good game - maybe his best of the year.

DL - The D line as usual played solid against the run, but couldn't get any pressure rushing four. This continues to be a concern, and may force us to blitz more than we'd like against the LA schools.

LB - Linebackers played a whale of a game. Desmond Bishop was on fire and played his best game as a Bear - I counted one significant mistake in sixty minutes of football - highlighted by sixteen tackles and a pick. Zach Follett made a couple of drive-ending plays, including an improbable diving interception. Our entire linebacking corps is so athletic, they essentially take away the other team's screen game. Willingham went away from it after our LB's blew a couple up in the first half. Worrell Williams had a great interception, taking the ball away from a UW receiver.

DB - Secondary was uneven. SQT continues to improve, but still gets lost as he did on the Russo score right before halftime. On a positive note, his run support continues to be very good, and he hasn't gone into the tank despite some early-season difficulties. Hughes was generally good, though he did fail to check Marlon Wood on the Hail Mary and he got beat in the 4th quarter (only to be saved by when Brandon Hampton tipped the ball away at the last second). Safety play was generally good, though we failed to pick up the TE on a couple of occasions.

Special teams - Larson was typically brilliant and Schneider was 3-4 including a wind-aided 50 yarder. The return game was non-existent thanks to a good performance by UW's punter.

Overall - Washington gave a terrific effort and deserves all sorts of credit for their preparation and energy. The fact that Cal came back and won a tight game speaks volumes about its ability to handle adversity. That said, Cal should have won this game by two touchdowns and would have if not for breakdowns in the passing game. Our performance on Saturday won't cut it against UCLA, and it won't keep us in the ballgame against USC. The Rose Bowl Express is still on schedule, but it's time for a bit of mid-season maintenance in the off week.

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