GAME RECAP - CALIFORNIA 31 WASHINGTON 24 (OT)
Look me in the eyes and tell me...if I'm satisfied
OK, that's over. Thank God.
You're supposed to never look askance at a Pac-10 victory, but this game was troubling on a number of levels. Let's turn to Mr. Negative for analysis:
* Nate Longshore had a hideous first half and pretty good second half. That averages out to a relatively poor performance - his second consecutive underwhelming effort.
* The receivers had a handful of costly drops.
* Washington's defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the contest.
* We forgot that the hail mary pass is like a corner kick in soccer. You have to mark everyone.
* We should have lost this game. Washington kept us in the game with Bonnell's picks and curiously conservative play calling. (As an aside, why does Ty Willingham always give it to Rankin/James out of the deep I in short yardage situations?)
Mr. Positive, a rebuttal?
* Cal showed poise in coming from behind for the first time this year. Longshore didn't go in the tank after the first half. We didn't collapse after the Hail Mary. We'll probably have to mount a comeback again at some point, so it's good to see a successful dry run.
* Marshawn Lynch played a courageous game on two gimpy ankles. He carried us in the 2nd half and in overtime. Give him the offensive game ball.
* But the defensive game ball goes to Mr. Desmond Bishop. This was his best game as a Golden Bear - 14 tackles, 4 for loss, the game-ending interception.
* Big, clutch kick from Schneider.
* We're 7-1 and have a week to get healthy.
More after I watch the TIVO. Kudos to UW for playing with their hair on fire and taking the game to us. Good luck in your bowl game - you look to be "back."Mr. Lynch came to play
OTHER GAMES OF NOTE
Ah, the traditional first week of college football after the BCS rankings come out. When I think of autumn, the first thing that comes to mind is huddling around my PC studying the difference between Jeff Sagarin and the Colley Matrix, or determining the school affiliations of each of the 114 Harris Poll voters.
With this in mind, here are some picks. Rooting for the Bruins, Ducks, UConn, Syracuse, Iowa and Nebraska (I think).
UCLA (+13) at Notre Dame: I think Notre Dame's in for a bit of a surprise from UCLA's defense, particularly the pass rush. I see a relatively low-scoring game, 'cause I don't trust Pat Cowan to move the ball much either. Thirteen points looks generous to me, so I'll take the Bruins. Notre Dame 27 UCLA 17
Stanford (+23) at Arizona State: Two teams on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They should cancel this one and head off to group therapy. Hi, I'm Dirk, and I'm a failure at the D-1 level...Hi, Dirk! State covers, Stanford marches on toward immortality. ASU 42 Stanford 17
Oregon (-4) at Washington State: The most interesting game this week. Doba is worth seven points in bad game decisions to the Ducks. He'll probably go for every fourth down and onside kick to start the game. And Brink looked shaky last week. My heart tells me Wazzu will get over here because they're better than 4-4 , but my head sees a comfortable Duck cover. Oregon 34 Washington State 21
Oregon State (-2.5) at Arizona: You can run on Oregon State, which is a good thing if you're Mike Stoops and starting your #3 quarterback. OSU mistakes will keep it close, but they'll find a way to eke it out (without covering!) Oregon State 16 Arizona 14
AROUND THE NATION
West Virginia (-24) at UConn: Love to see them lose, but we'll have to settle for them not covering an outrageous line. Rich Rodriguez has an enormous head. WVU 38 UConn 20
Louisville (-17.5) at Syracuse: Greg Robinson's signature win? Maybe...I see trouble for the Cards in this one. This one should be fun to watch. Louisville 28 Syracuse 24
Indiana (+31) at Ohio State: Q: What about enjoying the moment? A: Moment's over. Ohio State 41 Indiana 7
Texas (-6) at Nebraska: The Horns stake their claim that #9's a might low. Texas 28 Nebraska 14
Tulane (+32) at Auburn: More fearless scheduling from the Greatest Conference on Earth. But wait, this was scheduled back when Tulane was pretty...oh, wait, they've always sucked. Auburn 48 Tulane 10
Iowa (+13.5) at Michigan: Iowa's loss to Indiana was an effort loss - no pass rush, poor tackling, general lethargy. Won't see that this week. Take the points and maybe see a shocking upset on your way to the bank. Iowa 24 Michigan 23
Alabama (-11.5) at Tennessee: Big rivalry game, right? Always take the points in a rivalry game, right? Not when your coach is Mike Shula and only a handful of your guys could start for the opposition. Should be a fun week in Tuscaloosa. Tennessee 35 Alabama 13
Rutgers (-6.5) at Pitt: Pitt will get over on at least one of the three teams above them. Might as well be this week. Pitt 34 Rutgers 31
Georgia Tech (+7) at Clemson: The Tigers have too many weapons, and Georgia Tech at last glance was still coached by Chan Gailey. I smell a cover. Clemson 26 Georgia Tech 14
So, there you have it - too many upsets, I know, but they have to happen sometime.
GAME 8 - WASHINGTON at CALIFORNIA
What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago Washington was flying high over a genuine moral victory, having slugged USC to a near standstill in the Coliseum. They stood at 4-2 with respectable road losses to the Trojans and Oklahoma. The message boards were abuzz with projections of Washington running the table and sneaking into the Rose Bowl if SC went to the NCG. Most posters pointed to October 21, and California, as the one genuine upset the Dawgs had
to have for them to reclaim their rightful place in Pasadena.
And then, Husky QB Isaiah Stanback's ended his college career by injuring his Lisfrac joint (?) in the 4th quarter of a 27-17 loss to Oregon State. We see this type of situation every year - a fourth-year contributor goes down and *poof* goes the career. In the case of Stanback, it's disappointing for more than Husky fans. After a couple of years of controversy and grumbling that Stanback was better suited as a receiver, the kid had put it together in 2006. Before the injury Isaiah had thrown for 1,325 yards, run for 350, and thrown or run for 14 scores. The proverbial lightbulb had gone off - he now could sense the weakside rush and make sound decisions about when to run or throw. His long-stated dreams of playing QB at the next level seemed, for the first time, to be possible. Then this happens. I still hope he makes it, because he seems like a good kid who got stuck in a football program that's only now emerging from dysfunction.
So the conventional wisdom goes that sans Stanback, the Huskies are overmatched against the Golden Bears. And the conventional wisdom is right. Cal should win this game by a comfortable margin. But as with everything in life, details matter, so let's go to the matchups.
When California has the ball....they will hopefully look a lot better than last week. This is a bounce-back game for Nate Longshore, who just looked awful at times against Wazzu. Under the weather? Probably, and I expect he'll bounce back nicely on Saturday. The Huskies have occasionally struggled with teams who stretch the field in the passing game. We know they're well coached, with ex-Cal DB coach J.D. Williams leading the unit. But last week they didn't tackle well and gave up three long passes for scores. Against a Matt Moore-quarterbacked team, no less. Not good.
But the Huskies do some good things going on the D - starting with one of their best defenders, Scott White. White is an athletic outside backer who is excellent in his pass drops and merely good in run support - he has been a little banged up this year but had a nice game with two picks against the Beavers. Coordinator Kent Baer, who has followed Willingham from Palo Alto through South Bend, has historically favored simple and somewhat conservative schemes. This year, he has occasionally let his hair down, with great effect. Against Arizona, who admittedly can't block anyone, Baer blitzed liberally and Washington sacked the Cats six times. Against SC they brought lots of pressure in the 2nd half and Booty struggled to find his hot receiver.
The Huskies start nine upperclassmen on defense; other notables include Tahj Bomar, an undersized but quick middle backer, DT Donny Mateaki, and DE Greyson Gunheim, who provides some quickness off the edge. C.J. Wallace is a very good tackler in run support from the safety position, but can get a little lost in zone coverage. Their best corner is Dashon Goldson, but he's coming off a high-ankle sprain and bears close attention Saturday.
Overall, UW has an athletic defense, with pretty good perimeter speed (a step behind Oregon, but quicker than most). The key to Cal's game plan will be power. I'm guessing Tedford will want to see early on whether his interior line can handle Mateaki and linemate Wilson Afoa within the two-back power set. I'm betting they will, allowing Longshore to throw off play action and stretch the Husky secondary. From the Husky side, I anticipate Baer's defense will attack as they did in the 2nd half against SC. A blitzing defense plus quick hitting run plays could equal some breakaways for Lynch and Forsett.
The key for Washington will be pressure on Longshore. They need a low-scoring game to compete, and Longshore looked very uncomfortable against a strong Cougar pass rush in Pullman. They must also tackle like they did against SC to prevent Jackson, Lynch and Hawkins from getting second and third chances at the end zone. A tall order.
When Washington has the ball...well, who knows what they'll do? Stanback was in some ways, the conference's MVP - everything UW did well flowed from his athleticism and decision-making. Junior Carl Bonnell, who will get the start in Berkeley, is actually cut from Stanback's cloth - a very mobile QB who lacks the breakaway speed of his injured colleague. He has game experience (including a bloodbath at Notre Dame), and I expect he'll play pretty well. But he's not Stanback. My read of UW is that they could afford to be a little vanilla on offense - safe routes, establish the run, etc - because they had the conference's best third down play: Isaiah drops back and runs by people for a first down. Bonnell is mobile, but he's not a gifted runner like Stanback, and this presents a quandary for Ty. I'm sure he'd love to establish the run with Kenny James and his veteran O-Line, but I don't see this happening. Failing that, he will have to squeeze consistency and the occasional big play out of a QB who has thrown 14 passes this year.
As mentioned, the O-Line is veteran and, with the exception of last week's game, has protected the passer very well. The starting five have noone - and I mean noone - behind them, leaving them very vulnerable should one or more starters go down. Their skill people are OK - Kenny James has a nice burst but doesn't get the ball as much as he probably should (only 82 times so far this year). Louis Rankin is the other option out of the backfield. Receivers are, frankly, non-descript. Sonny Shackelford is a possession-type guy; Marcel Reese is a juco with probably the quickest burst on the team but only six catches on the year.
In my view, this game really isn't about Bonnell - UW's game plan falls on five sets of shoulders - their offensive line. They must get a consistent push on Cal's front four in the run game, and they must protect Bonnell so he can establish some sort of rhythm early on. And, they must stay healthy through four quarters. Washington doesn't have the perimeter speed to stretch Cal out and force a reliance on the zone, so they'll have to do do their early damage between the tackles.
I expect a relatively conservative game from DC Bob Gregory with lots of different looks (as always) but relatively little risk-taking. This will change if the Huskies establish any sort of momentum in the run game.
Special Teams...both teams have good punters, which matters more to the Huskies than to Cal (given the Bears' ability to turn the big play). Sean Douglas kicks a good number of fair catches, which will obviously be critical to prevent Udub's from being immortalized in the 2007 DeSean Jackson Heisman candidate video. Michael Braunstein, the UW kicker, has missed a couple of makeable kicks and is only 5-7 on the year.
Intangibles...for those Huskies who think Cal is looking ahead to USC, forget it. Tedford is more than a little upset over Cal's dismal offensive play in the WSU game and led a "spirited" week of practice leading up to Saturday. Cal will be ready to play.
For UW - who knows? A younger team could go into the tank after Stanback's injury. But this is a veteran team, so chances are they'll come out firing and mix in the requisite trick plays, fake field goals, etc. It won't matter. To belive Washington will win this game, you have to believe that they will control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball; that Kenny James will rush for 100+ yards; that Bonnell won't turn the ball over; and that they can prevent any 40+ yard plays by the Bears. Oh, and probably a defensive score, too. Too much to ask for, even from a much-improved Husky team that appears headed in the right direction.
Prediction...California 37, Washington 13
Didn't score last week. He's due
Begin the begin
I was roasting tomatillos the other night when a thought occurred to me. This often happens. The thought was - why doesn't someone publish a really good college football blog on the Internet? One that dives into the passion of our favorite sport, and takes head on the controversies that divide teams and conferences and families and sometimes bars.
Then I read the Internet, and found that this thought has occurred to many
other people as well. At least eighty-three other people by my count.
Undaunted, I pressed on. Wait, I thought...why not create a blog that covers all of this from a West Coast perspective? Hey, I thought, I live on the West Coast, so that would work pretty nicely for me.
Then I read the Internet some more, and discovered that several other people have had the exact same idea
At this point I took off the oven mitts and poured myself a tequila. Then it hit me - college football...and basketball
...from a West Coast perspective...but covering the whole country...replete with witty and urbane references... it just might work
Or not. I've got to get back to my salsa.