Sunday, November 19, 2006

REPORT CARD - USC 23 CALIFORNIA 9

I'm doing this for the sake of continuity, and will try to hold my dinner down. As always C is a truly average performance.

Quarterback Play: C- Longshore did a pretty good job recognizing the blitz, and his reads were miles better than last week against Arizona. His efficiency in the 1st half was quite good, but he tailed off after halftime. Of course, there weren't many open receivers either. He's downgraded here for three turnovers, two of which were bad (I'm not counting the pick/punt). Nate needs to develop better pocket presence - a quality that is all the more important given his almost complete lack of mobility.

Receiver Play: D Yuck. Our receivers failed to find the open spots in the zone, which was a necessity given SC's defensive strategy. I know there were 17 receptions, but seven came from the backs. We basically made four plays all night, and three came on the same drive (Jackson, Jordan and Hawkins' very nice TD grab).

Pass Protection: B SC blitzed a bit more than I expected, and Cal generally did a good job picking it up. Matchups went fine, other than Jackson's pressure on a coverage sack that forced a fumble in the 2nd quarter. The line did a much better job of forcing defenders to lower their arms, preventing the tipped pass and blocked passing lanes that bedeviled us against Arizona.

Running Backs: B- Our backs did what they could with what was available. Marshawn added a sore shoulder to his two bad ankles and played a heroic football game. His instincts on cutting the off-tackle play wide resulted in several good gains. He did fumble, though it was recovered by the Bears and didn't hurt us. As always, he was efficient in the passing game. Forsett simply can't produce at the same level as 2005; this year he's getting hit at the line and is generally unable to break free. Storer blocked well when he was in there.

Run Blocking: D We're just not a very good run blocking team. Cal controlled one matchup all night - LT Andrew Cameron against Brian Cushing. Everything else was advantage SC. Just as the 1st and goal against Arizona set the tone for the remainder of that game, so too did our inability to convert a 2nd and 1 doom us against the Trojans.

Pass Defense: C- Only one glaring mistake against Smith, though our zone drops looked erratic and occasionally left receivers too much room. A good enough performance to beat 7 or 8 of the teams in the conference, just not SC.

Pass Rush: D+ Our most notable play in pass rush was Pimentel's roughing penalty. There was a little bit of pressure, but not the type of pocket collapse that you need against a highly efficient passing game. Tafisi had one nice series in the 2nd quarter (I think) but that was about it.

Run Defense: C+ SC came out and established the run, but Cal adjusted very nicely and controlled the remainder of the half. In the second half, we appeared to tire and revert to arm tackling against Gable. Brandon Mebane had a tremendous performance and ate Radovich's lunch all night - it was one of few key matchups that Cal won. Desmond Bishop was awfully quiet all evening - part of that is Ryan Kalil and a very good interior OL, and part is Desmond overrunning plays and taking bad angles. Again, good enough to beat most teams in the conference - just not this one.

Special Teams: D For the first time in a long time, we performed poorly on special teams. Jackson was a non-factor, though he didn't have many opportunities. Kick cover was mediocre, and Forsett fumbled a return. Schneider's long FG try wasn't close. Larson was the lone bright spot with a 41.3 average and only one returned punt.

Coaching: C+ Too conservative? Maybe, but I keep remembering the first drive of the 3rd quarter, when Nate threw six times in a row. SC took away the deep ball with their scheme, and Tedford/Dunbar were wise not to force matters. We did give it to Jackson on the end around (FINALLY). There's only one play call I could really dispute - I would have tried to press the advantage on 2nd and 1. That said, I can understand why JT didn't - our OL is hardly a cinch to pick up 1/2 a yard on 3rd down.

The three issues I have all deal with formations (and loyal readers have brought a couple up already). First, the shotgun: it's nice that Dunbar is a spread coordinator, but we don't have the most important ingredient for the spread - a QB who can actually move and be a threat to run from shotgun. The spread works when you can not only spread the secondary but also force the linebackers to move in opposite directions on running plays and play action from the gun. Watch Oregon (when they're trying) or Florida at certain times to see how this stresses a D. That never happens with Cal because Longshore is an absolute statue in the pocket. So why feature so much shotgun?

Second, I think we're a better team in the I or split backs with Storer in the ballgame. Third, I can't understand why we don't split Marshawn out more. Every time he goes in motion from the wing to the backfield, he gets the football - time to try something else.

That's it, though - hardly adds up to a coaching loss. Indeed, I think Tedford had the Bears well prepared. Two good things come to mind - our composure after SC's first drive of the game, and winning the penalty battle in the Coliseum.

Overall: C- Three quarters of pretty decent performance washed away by an absolute horrorshow in the 4th. Cal has plenty of issues to address in the bye week, and most of them have to do with the offense. Our breakdowns in the run game are putting Longshore and the receivers in difficult situations - and they haven't shown the ability to cope with difficult situations for the past eight quarters of football.

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