Michael Duca on Cal football

by Michael Duca

BERKELEY–What was it that there are only 14 players on the Cal Bears squad from the last two years recruiting classes. You can not say that this is a Mother Hubbard situational where the cupboard was left totally bare but it wasn’t left Golden Bear that’s for sure.

The Bears are a work in process and I’m not sure it’s a work in progress but the Bears hope it is the spread offense the Bears knew from that Holiday Bowl a number of years ago that Cal couldn’t defend against and apparently based on going against the spread offense in practice every week their defense is pretty depressed about that whole concept.

The Bears have not been aggressive and their going to have to be on the defensive side of the ball, the offensive line is young and needs to develop and Jared Goff is their number one quarterback for the next number of years and he’s very well suited to the system, very well suited to the school, he had a full year of credits under his belt before he played his first game.

The Bears don’t have any issues on that side Brandon Bigelow has to develop a little bit more as a running back and that comes from the line developing ability to run block and in particular to pass protect it seems to me like I’ve seen Goff make a number of freshman like decisions out there on the field and it’s often because three or four non distinctly non freshman like human beings are trying to pulverize him.

One thing that people really don’t understand about the transition this why I kept focusing on the offensive line when I was talking is that former Bears head coach Jeff Tedford played pretty much a standard pro sets scheme and in that scheme your line blocks straight ahead or zone blocks within arms reach of you. When your playing the spread it’s not about zone blocking and it’s not about blocking straight ahead it’s about gap control.

It’s a whole different way of thinking about the offensive line responsibility it’s a whole different way of thinking of neutralizing defense in particular when you consider how inexperienced Cal’s own defense is it’s hard to imagine and being a very good scout team to train that offense in running the spread.

The last word on Cal is they have no place to go but up.

Michael Duca covers Cal football for Sportstalk Radio

Bears growl but fall short against Arizona

Arizona-Cal

By Morris Phillips

In the absence of actual wins, the Cal Bears have been relegated to attempting to grab small victories wherever they can manage.

In losing to Arizona 33-28 on Saturday–and falling to 1-8 on the season—the Bears found themselves in a winnable game in the second half for the first time in Pac-12 play.  In a season this trying, adversity on the scoreboard has been a constant.  But this time out, the Bears experienced something new: down 26-21, with the ball, and a chance to take the lead, late in the third quarter.

The feeling didn’t last long as Jared Goff’s poorly thrown pass was picked by Arizona’s Jonathan McKnight deep in Cal territory.  McKnight’s pick set up the Wildcats for the winning score, B.J. Denker’s 14-yard touchdown run four plays later.   But afterwards, both teams acknowledged that they had been in a hotly-contested fight.

“The fact that we played better today against a good team shows them that we are certainly making progress and heading in the right direction,” Coach Sonny Dykes said.  “They’ll take something from that.  But our goal is to win the ballgame, regardless of who we play.”

“I anticipated some adversity,” Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez said.  “When you got a team that can throw it as well as they do and they can throw it well and have some explosive receivers, you know you’ve got a chance.”

The Bears lost their seventh consecutive game, but fell by fewer than 14 points for the first time in 2013.   Is it a victory for a school with the recent history and NFL impact that Cal has had to not get blown out?  Yeah, when this season’s team features inexperience at nearly every significant position, a new coaching staff installing a high-risk system, critical injuries and defections, it is.

Goff threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns, but saw two passes picked—both in the second half. And in the critical category for Dykes’ hyper attack, the Bears ran just 82 plays.  What’s supposed to happen under Dykes’ Air Raid didn’t on Saturday: the Bears failed to seize momentum by missing on 12 third-down conversion opportunities and fell well below the preferred 100 plus plays and an edge in time of possession.

The game was basically lost in hefty chunks of the first two quarters where Cal failed to expand on a 7-0 lead built in the first five minutes.  Instead, Ka’Deem Carey—who finished with 152 yards on 32 carries—and B.J. Denker ran the Wildcats to 19 consecutive points and a five-point halftime lead.

According to Rodriguez, in an attempt to stop Carey, the Bears loaded up inside aided by their superiorly-sized defensive tackles.  But Arizona adjusted, running Carey to the boundaries where he picked up some healthy gains.   Once Carey was established, Denker found room inside when he need to scramble, and the two-pronged attack exposed Cal’s glaring lack of quickness in their back seven once again.

Denker’s third rushing touchdown came on the read option, and given Cal’s depleted numbers on defense, the strategy of running right at the Bears seemed unfair and left Cal grasping throughout.   Arizona rolled up 448 yards in total offense, but on a stat sheet with a lot of symmetry, Arizona’s ability to run and run often was the only difference.   The Wildcats had 51 rush attempts, nearly doubling Cal’s 26, and that allowed Arizona’s engine to churn slightly smoother than Cal’s.

“Had we turned the ball over we would have lost,” Rodriguez admitted.  “We’ve got some good players but we’re not going to overwhelm anybody.  We’re just not there right now.”

Where the Wildcats are is in the thick of Pac-12 South’s race to the conference’s championship game.  Arizona won for the second straight week on the road and they get UCLA back in Tucson next Saturday with a chance to improve to 7-2 and inject their team into the Rose Bowl conversation.

The Cats were recently in Cal’s shoes, trying to rebuild in an increasingly challenging BCS conference with little or no positive reinforcement on a weekly basis.  In fact, Arizona dropped 13 of their next 15 games in a dismal stretch spanning 2010 and 2011.  But Rodriguez has won some recruiting battles over the last couple of seasons, and the Wildcats’ fortunes have switched.

On Saturday, freshman Scooby Wright dumped Darren Ervin in the end zone for a safety that gave Arizona its’ first lead, 9-7.  Fellow freshman Samajie Grant made nine catches—all in the first half—to help the Wildcats grab control..

Cal’s got loads of talent in their freshman and sophomore classes as well, and on Saturday, Kenny Lawler Jr. turned the most heads.  Lawler caught three touchdowns and his leaping one-handed grab that drew Cal closer in the third quarter was a highlight reel grab.

The Bears get a visit from USC next Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Cal just playing out the schedule to see if they can pick up a win

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by Michael Duca
BERKELEY–The only way you can win a football game is you keep the other teams from scoring more than you do and while it may seem to some have already suffered through watching the defense is only a concept. Defense is only something that requires high quality players who are able to compete with each other and it seems each week. Cal has not had that luxury.
They’ve had so many injuries, they’ve lost seven of their original starters, 11 projected players on defense, yeah it’s just going to be like this for the rest of the year. I would be surprised if they’re able to actually put another game in the victory column before this year ends which would mean that one could take the position that this might be the worst Cal football  season in memory. There only win would have come not against a BCS team.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes knew that he was going to run the spread and he knew it was going to take certain kinds of players to run the spread it’s not that easy to convert a fairly standard pro set team to a spread offense because a spread is all about gaps, control much more than straight ahead blocking to open wide for a running game. While Cal has finished with a lot of pro quarterbacks if you take a look at the years you have former Cal coach Jeff Tedford whose well known to be a quarterback developer.
He had 1000 yard rushers every year Cal was a run oriented offense but passed off the run and with the spread to run off the pass and establish the pass the first thing you have to do it with is that line literally spreads that’s why it’s called that. It takes a different kind of player and a different skill set and you inherit players who are recruited for one system there’s likely not the best suited players for the other kind of system.Their not smart football players but it doesn’t mean their not good athletes which there are different skill sets involved.
Dykes knew in last Saturday’s game versus Washington that Cal quarterback Jared Goff is the future quarterback and he wants to make sure that he doesn’t get injured either physically which is not that big a risk in a blow out game because as the game goes on you want to finish healthy. Physiologically more important you want to maintain a quarterbacking concept which is being in an attack mode and Goff is a true freshman.
You have to be a little bit more careful, Dykes knows what he’s doing at quarterback.
Michael Duca covers Cal football for Sportstalk Radio

Weak scores on and off the field for Cal football

Michelle Richardson on the NCAA by Morris Phillips

SEATTLE–It’s real sad news that Cal’s graduation rate is at number 72 out of the major colleges in the nation and the team is not winning and their supposed to win in the classroom that’s what the university is all about. That’s why universities in the Pac 12 conference which is an academic conference but not at the highest level unfortunately but near the highest level.

The football team is not performing well on the field and it hasn’t been a good first year for Cal head coach Sonny Dykes in his program and that’s some bad news. I don’t think the Bears are going to win this weekend either as they get ready to face the Huskies in Washington so they would fall to 1-7 on the season.

The academic news is disturbing because if guys can’t perform in the classroom they can’t get on the field, they can’t help the school. It’s surprising but I’m sure they’ll get it worked out while it’s depressing you have to assume the school is going to work it out with the group they have now with guys going to class.

Back in 2009 Cal had some of the worst graduation rates in the NCAA until former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford got his students to turn around their academic scores in the classroom and got the team to start winning. Tedford won a bunch of recruiting battles. He had successes with his students, with recruiting and getting them good test scores even though Tedford was heading out the door.

Tedford bears a great deal of responsibility of getting the program off the ground at that time but Dykes is the coach now and these are his kids and this is his team he needs to get on the football field and to coach his problem. Dykes is not going anywhere there’s so much money involved in getting Tedford out and paying the new coach there won’t be any changes.

Cal must clean their problem up, they have to internally, they have to get it fixed. It’s not what the university is all about. Once again Tedford is the origin of the problem but it is truly and squarely on Dykes at this point. Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour did not comment on the story only to say that she will look into the low academic situation of the graduation rates and “put systems in place that we believe will raise for under preforming teams.”

None of the players with graduating issues were recruited by Dykes and a majority of them were not on the Cal Men’s basketball team, “a top priority for this program since this staff was formed has always and will always be for our student-athletes to complete their undergraduate degree.” said Cal men’s basketball head coach Mike Montgomery.

Tedford said about the low graduation rate, “(it was) very concerning, it makes it seem like we weren’t dedicated to academics, no matter what anybody says that’s not true, people have good intentions but life goes in a different direction, they rarely come back. Looking back the lesson I learned was to have them graduate in four and half years.”

Morris Phillips is filling in for Michelle Richardson on NCAA commentary this week

Cal ran over again by Oregon State, falls to 1-6

By Morris Phillips

With California football stuck in a rut deep enough to ruin consecutive seasons, the last opponent the Bears needed to see on Saturday night was Oregon State.   So when Sean Mannion looked like Sean Canfield and Brandin Cooks approximated Jacquizz Rodgers, you didn’t need to answer a quiz to know the Bears were cooked, falling 49-17 to the Beavers.

Mannion completed 35 of 45 for a whopping 481 yards while Cooks ran and caught to his heart’s content, finishing with 13 catches for 231 yards as Cal’s deficiencies in the secondary and linebacker corps compromised the entire Cal defense as OSU jumped to a 28-3 halftime lead.

“We didn’t play well, didn’t coach well,” a frustrated Coach Sonny Dykes said.  “I’d like to be able to say something happened other than what did.    You saw what happened, I don’t need to say much about it.”

The loss was Cal’s 11th consecutive over two seasons against Division I competition.  The losing streak now stands as the longest of any team in a BCS conference with the Bears last win coming against Washington State over a year ago.  And Cal hasn’t much success with OSU in any state, losing to the Beavers for the 12th time in their last 15 meetings.

Much of that streak coincides with Mike Riley’s arrival in Corvallis in 1997 and his quick-twitch passing game that has given Cal fits.   Just as Canfield and Yvenson Bernard were hard to contain in OSU monumental 2007 upset of No. 2 Cal, Mannion and Cooks were a lethal combination on Saturday.  While Mannion flawlessly executed the quick screens and occasional downfield strikes, Cooks did the rest, scoring twice—first on an end-around run and then on a 34-yard pass play– in OSU’s first half explosion.

“He is a heck of a football player,” Dykes said when asked what tactics Cal used to attempt to slow Cooks.  “That is what good players do, make plays when they have an opportunity to do so.  He did it over and over again.”

The Bears lost their lone experienced corner Stefan McClure for the season two weeks ago, and their youthful secondary paid dearly without him as the Beavers’ quicker playmakers had their way throughout.   The Bears got back corner Joel Willis and linebacker Jalen Jefferson but the result was a hodge podge of poor tackling, inability to engage and shed OSU blockers as the Beavers and Mannion made play after play.

With the Bears trailing 35-3 in the third quarter, Dykes replaced starting quarterback Jared Goff with Zach Kline, and the redshirt freshman from Danville provided a spark, leading the Bears on their only two touchdown drives of the night.  Kline finished 11 of 16 for 71 yards and the two scores while Goff was 21 of 31 for 220 yards.  Dykes said along with the lopsided numbers on the scoreboard, he felt that Goff was having trouble holding on to the football, similar to his three fumble performance at Oregon in the rain.

“I’m extremely upset with myself,” Goff said.  “I need to play better to give us a chance to win.”

Statistically, Cal didn’t display many warts between the 20’s, but once again bogged down in scoring range due to penalties and a Vincenzo D’Amato missed field goal attempt.   Primary playmakers Chris Harper, Richard Rodgers and Brendan Bigelow combined for 18 catches but none of three could put the ball in the end zone.   On the night, the Bears ran 77 offensive plays—below the 90 plays Dykes would prefer–and amassed 366 yards in offense.

The Bears (1-6, 0-4) visit the refurbished Husky Stadium in Seattle next Saturday in a meeting with Washington.  Oregon State—already winners of three Pac-12 road contests—returns to Corvallis for a showdown with Stanford.

Michael Duca on Cal football

by Michael Duca
BERKELEY–I had a chance to work with Cal Bears radio play by play man Joe Starkey at the Rose Bowl when the Bears played against UCLA last Sat Oct 12th. I had a chance to show him around my childhood press box except I didn’t recognize much of the press box today. It’s named after a living person it’s always dangerous to name a building after a living person because their not yet done with establishing their reputation.
Joe and I had delightful time discussing how Cal has been thoroughly dismantled in the first half of the season as they get ready to go into the game with Oregon State this Saturday with a record of 1-5 and their only win came at home back on September 7th against Portland State. They’ve been dismantled in the first half and their trying to figure out what they might try to do to try to respond to UCLA in the second half.
These guys that do the Cal Bears radio network are pros nobody has ever done a more shameless call in the history of college football than Joe Starkey when he called the famous lateral plays that led the Bears to a famous comeback over Stanford and Joe was yelling “the band is on the field” over and over when the Bears scored for a touchdown. The call was so well known and it’s pretty amazing to know an icon.
Starkey has done a lot in his time and he even passed down the line to his son who is a highly respected statistician the two or three best people in the country at doing talent stats providing statistical information to broadcasters on the air while their doing their work and it’s a job I do occasionally. It’s not easy to learn someone else’s rhythm and timing and figure out what they anticipate what they want to know before they know it so you could have it ready.
Team roughing it out and getting ready for Oregon State: It seems to me that Cal played better against Oregon than against Oregon State in the last decade and a half but that could be faulty on that part. Oregon State will be forever locked in my mind as the team that came out of nowhere to deny Cal the number one spot in the rankings by scoring three touchdowns on them late in the game.
This Cal team is in transition, they had issues with their defense before the season began it was very young and very inexperienced and now they are still very young and very inexperienced and very injured. Five starters are out of the line up for various amounts of time all the way up to forever. It’s very difficult they can move the ball very well although they had issues last week against UCLA.
On the other hand you can see elements of what they are capable of doing from time to time, right now they haven’t solved their number one tailback, the don’t have the running game, they count on managing the control block and as a net result what their doing is running what seems like 1000 plays a game but it’s really about 100 but it feels like 1000. Your putting the ball in the air 40-50 times a game and your leaving yourself to the possibility of having bad things happening and more scores will go lopsided and not in Cal’s favor.
Michael Duca covers Cal Bears football for Sportstalk Radio

Cal mistake prone again, falls to Washington State

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Cal’s offensive numbers are eye-popping, but they don’t obscure the fact that the Bears are rapidly losing ground in the otherwise upwardly-mobile Pac-12.

The Bears fell prey to early miscues and turnovers again, and fell to Washington State on Saturday, 44-22.  With only one win over Portland State in the previous 12 months, Cal has dropped nine straight games to FBS competition and fell to 1-4 on the season.

Daniel Lasco’s fumble at WSU’s 3-yard line on Cal’s first possession and a bushel of penalties on the second poisoned Cal’s first quarter that ended with WSU leading 14-0.  In the previous two games, Cal trailed Oregon 27-0 and Ohio State 21-0 establishing a disturbing pattern that has Coach Sonny Dykes looking for answers.

“Right now we are having a very difficult time running the football, which is putting a lot of pressure on our offensive line,” Dykes said.  “We are not good enough up front to pass protect.  Jared (Goff) had pressure on him all day and got a little rattled because of it.”

Goff may have been rattled, but in Dykes’ system the pass plays just keep coming.  The true freshman signal caller again threw for 400 yards, attempting 58 passes that produced two lengthy touchdown plays.  But the Bears never got closer than 14-12 in the second quarter as Washington State’s Connor Halliday attempted 67 passes, completing 41 for a total of 521 yards and three touchdowns.

Ultimately, the 44,000 that attended saw another lengthy football game, filled with big plays but lacking in competitiveness.   The mistake-plagued Bears committed 11 penalties and five turnovers to rob the afternoon of any drama.

And while the Bears fluctuated between the mistakes and the home runs like Chris Harper’s 89-yard touchdown catch and run, Washington State was remarkably steady in moving the ball via the pass as Halliday was sacked just once.

“The offensive line played unreal,” Halliday said of his protectors.  “That was huge.  Those guys really got in a rhythm up front and dominated the game.  I think I got hit twice.  That’s a lot of fun back there when you have all that time to get rid of the ball.”

The Bears had beaten Washington State eight straight times prior to Saturday, but the slow start and mounting injuries put a stop to that streak.  Prior to the game, Dykes announced that center Chris Adcock will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.  Also, this week safety Alex Logan retired due to recurring injuries and prominent pass rusher Chris McCain was dismissed due to repeated personal conduct issues.

During the game, the Bears lost linebacker Jalen Jefferson, safety Joel Willis and corners Stefan McClure and Kameron Jackson to injury, more bad news for a defense that has surrendered a whopping 45 points per game.

As for the rest of the challenging schedule and Cal’s mounting losing streak against conference competition, they will see three currently-ranked teams (Washington, Stanford and UCLA) as well as Oregon State, currently 4-1 and 2-0 in the conference in the final seven weeks.   On the positive side, the Bears could be healthier once the schedule eases in November with home games against USC and Arizona and a road trip to Colorado.

Next Saturday, the Bears face 12th-ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Bears get declawed by Guiton and the Buckeyes, lose 52 – 34

by Kahlil Najar

BERKELEY – Kenny Guiton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the game and the Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0) trampled over the Cal Bears (1-2) 52-34. Guiton went 21 for 36 and threw for 276 yards and four touchdowns including two to Devin Smith who went for a total 149 yards including a school-record 90 yard bomb for Ohio State’s first touchdown. Cal’s freshman phenom Jared Goff threw for 371 yards and connected on three touchdowns to three different receivers.

On his performance tonight, Goff sighed and said, “I felt like we had a good chance to make some plays early on. We kind of fell behind the eight ball there going down 21-0. That kind of hurt. But I was proud of the way we fought back. We never quit.”  That never quit attitude was echoed by Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, “I never felt comfortable with the win until there was three minutes left. I’m happy we faced them early because they’re going to be really good down the road.”

On the ground the Bears were not able to muster one rusher over 100 yards while Ohio State’s Jordan Hall ran for 170 yards and nabbed three touchdowns of his own to help the Buckeyes extend their winning streak to fifteen games.

After a quick three and out from the Bears, Guiton and the Buckeyes only needed two plays and 32 seconds to give them a 7-0 lead on the 90 yard touchdown catch by Devin Smith. Thirty seconds later after another fast three and out, Ohio State took over at their own 27 yard line and Guiton found Devin Smith open again this time for a 47 yard strike to bring the score to 14-0. Cal tried to get back into the game and stop the bleeding but Jared Goff was hit hard by OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier and jarred the ball lose and Ohio State was able to recover the ball on the Cal 23. It took OSU six plays to score again on a one-yard pass to Chris Fields to make it 21-0 Ohio State after only six minutes.

Goff showed his composure on the Bears next possession as he escaped a ferocious pass rush from Ohio State and found a wide open James Grisom for a 61 yard touchdown to put the Bears on the board and make it 21-7. After both teams exchanged turnovers, Ohio State charged down the field and Drew Basil connected on a 39 yard field goal. The first quarter ended with a 42 yard pass from Goff to Chris Harper to give Cal their second touchdown of the quarter and make it a 24-14 Ohio State lead.

In the first quarter alone both teams combined for 38 points and 445 yards of offense. The second quarter saw both offenses slow down as Ohio State grabbed one touchdown and the Bears connected on two field goals to keep the game close at 31-20 at halftime.

Ohio State broke it open in the third when they scored three touchdowns, two of which belonged to Jordan Hall who was able to grab the scores deep in Cal territory but was also able to slow the game down by keeping the ball on the ground. Cal scored one more time in the fourth on a Daniel Lasco one-yard run to bring the final score to 52-34.

The game wasn’t without it’s dramatics as towards the end of the first half Sonny Dykes called for a fake punt on fourth and seven and Cal Quarterback Jared Goff snuck in for punter Cole Leininger and connected on a 11 yard pass to Stefan McClure.

Defensively, the Bears have allowed at least 500 yards of offense every game this year. Dyke’s addressed the issue and said, “We’re a very young football team…we just got to group up. We’ve got to improve. That falls on us as coaches to coach better and bring our players along and put them in a good position to be successful.”

The Bears don’t have much time to get regroup and get ready as they head up to Oregon to take on the Number Two Ducks in Eugene.

Cal to face Portland State

By George Devine, Sr.

After losing their initial non-conference game against Northwestern, 44-30, the Golden Bears will host the Vikings of Portland State at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 7, at Memorial Stadium. PSU, a member of the Big Sky Conference, showed its mettle in defeating Eastern Oregon (NAIA), 57-17, in its first game of the season.

The game showed off the talents of the Vikings’ offense, which racked up 672 yards, 450 of them on the ground. That will challenge the Bears to ramp up their defense which allowed two Northwestern touchdowns late in the game to change the outcome. Moreover, Sonny Evans’ charges, who were easily picked off by Northwestern, will have to polish their “Bear Raid” offense – led in dramatic fashion by true freshman QB Jared Goff — against the likes of Aaron Sibley who ran an interception 64 yards into the end zone, in addition to Corey Crowder and Jeremy Lutali who each intercepted the Mountaineers. Portland State notched five turnovers in all.

Besides sharpening their general offensive skills, Cal will have to continue the inventive approach that Evans has signed his name to, what with the fake field goal that had kicker Vincenzo D’Amato actually receiving a lateral from holder Jackson Bouza and sending it back to Bouza, who reached the end zone. It is the kind of thing Evans became known for in his last post at Louisiana Tech, and it has left the Berkeley fans hungry for more.

After the Portland State game, Cal hosts one more non-conference foe, Ohio State, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 14. The remaining games, all Pac-12 conference games, are as follows, with kickoff times TBD:

September 28 @ Oregon
October 5 Washington State
October 12 @ UCLA
October 19 Oregon State
October 26 @ Washington
November 2 Arizona
November 9 USC
November 16 @ Colorado
November 23 @ Stanford