Stan Szeto - USA Today Sports
I like to say that sports fans usually live in yesteryear or those to come, but rarely in the present. (I’m sure I’ve used that line at least twice in my six years in this blog-tweeter capacity.)
At least in Berkeley, that mindset is easy to understand, because it’s been a bit that that third one’s been able to exist untinged by looming dread. While Sonny’s teams gave us enjoyable moments in the individual, the aftermath always hinted at a conclusion no one wanted to admit out loud post-game – that these dramatic wins, some aided by acts of God, some not, and none against teams decisively better than Cal at that moment, were more indicative of the program’s ceiling under him than a step toward anything greater.
Which is what made Saturday night all the more rewarding, and all the more meaningful – it was an four hour assurance that the present is worry-free.
The future too.
The Justin Wilcox Bears, the make-meaningful-tactical-adjustments-as-the-game-continues Justin Wilcox Bears, the outranked-and-undermanned-at-key-spots-but-we-don’t-give-a-damn Justin Wilcox Bears, the strangle-the-life-out-of-opposing-offenses Justin Wilcox Bears, the we-won-and-know-that-our-best-games-are-still-yet-to-come Justin Wilcox Bears, the don’t-panic-even-if-we-don’t-start-well-cause-we-have-a-plan- Justin Wilcox Bears…
are officially ahead of schedule in Year 1.
And yes, they’re going bowling too.
I have a suspicion that Ole Miss is not actually that good, and that the body clocks contributed to their sloppiness some. But this game was not about Ole Miss – it was about seeing the signs of progress. Had the Bears come out of their first four game slate at 1-3, they’d be about as good as Vegas predicted. 2-2 would be acceptable, and 3-1 means they’re already way better than expected.
Are there some troubling signs? Sure. They’re not great in a lot of key metrics – really average at YPP, allow a high YPP (Weber didn’t help) – but this have shown improvement every week and the general perception is that they’re making the kind of plays they need to make, when they need to make them. Hopefully the numbers show a little more of that as the year goes on.
This staff should be able to pull at least two more wins out of Oregon State and Arizona at minimum. After that, there is only the issue of stealing one, with the best candidates being, I don’t know… maybe Colorado, maybe Washington State?
Thanks, as always, to everyone who came through to say hi, no matter how long you stayed or not. I have grown way, way more comfortable with being approached since I started doing this, and I’m happy to talk any time, about whatever.
The last time USC and Cal were undefeated was 2004, which was the first of this string of losses. Feels poetic that they have a chance to end it now.
See you next week against SC, in which I am traveling up again! I’ll be in there at 10:30.
II. Offense (Poor, or D+/C-)
Look, 4.8 YPP and a 2.83 points per trip inside the 40 isn’t going to cut it long term. They form the majority of this grade.
It will likely be later in the week when I have the chart up for Ross Bowers’ game, but you have to like the mindset that they approached the passing with, if not the results. Yeah, he barely completed 50% of his passes, but a few of those misses are baked into the shots he was more aggressive with down field, which was crucial.
He is still struggling with a lot of short yardage stuff. Veasy definitely bailed him out of at least one throw alone, another easy crossing route was thrown behind.
There were also some spectacular dimes. Most notably and memorably, the 3rd and 20 toss to Noa.
Bowers’ legs allowed him to get a few throws off too, and the final field goal was made possible in part due to him remembering to roll out and throw the ball away under chaos. It wasn’t pretty – there was also the matter of the interception in the end zone, which was purely a mistake by Bowers. That play is a designed roll out with two options first. You saw Vic Wharton in the corner and Noa in the flat, but if no one’s open, it’s Bowers’ job to throw it away and live for third down. That he chose to throw speaks to him not seeing the lurker or trying too much, but neither is a pleasant conclusion. Anywhere between 3 to 7 gone. That we won the game still is a testament to everyone’s effort.
At some point, Bowers has to pull and run more, because it’ll keep things off-balance in his favor.
Related, of course, is the fact that Bowers’ struggles are connected to the receivers. They are now missing two of the best options in D Rob – still unclear as to how long – and Stovall for the rest of the year, with Hudson’s return also TBD.
Which brings me to my next point: Veasy and Noa are known commodities at this point, regardless of how well they played. We know what they have from them and that they are capable contributors. If D Rob doesn’t come back for a while, which is a legitimate fear, they’re looking to these two guys to try to make an impact. Circle them as your step up guys: Brandon Singleton, who had four catches for 45 yards, Jordan Duncan, who didn’t reel in either target.
Repeated motion across the line by a WR (usually Wharton) is meant to freeze the backside linebacker so they can’t crash the box freely against the run. Run it enough times and if they fall asleep, that WR turns motion into wheel, where you can hit them over the top.
Patrick Laird didn’t run particularly well after his big week, which was about what I expected – they didn’t get push too often, Ole Miss isn’t a great run defending team, but I had some worries about whether or not the yards would be there against the speed of SEC athletes, which weren’t entirely unfounded. He does really have an uncanny knack to find space and negate losses, though, and the team used him really ambitiously the way they would have used Tre, had they had him. A lot of looks where he lined up at wide receiver.
Enwere wasn’t too great either – failing to punch it in on 3rd and short with us down 2 was immensely frustrating – but great job to burst ahead for 25 yards on 4th and 1. If the guys can just keep the chains moving, that’s maybe all we get this year.
Felt like offensive line played generally better this week, allowing only one sack flat out, and a couple of nice blocks to spring guys into space – Ooms had a good cut on the long run for Laird, for example. Baldwin does a lot to try to protect Ross anyway – we saw much more designed rollout with a protector attached too. Still not anywhere they need to be opening up holes or getting push, but we don’t really have a true two-deep here yet as it is. Daltoso also missed time and Ryan Gibson took his spot.
Trace pointed out that Kamryn Bennett came off for Gentle Williams toward the end at LG. We don’t yet know if that was due to injury or not.
Still think they should have went for it at the goalline instead of kicking a go ahead field goal.
III. Defense (Outstanding+, or A+)
Since the Novel evolved into its current format with the OWL grading system in 2014, I have given out 4 total Outstanding unit grades (Offense vs Texas 2016, Offense vs ASU 2015, Offense vs Air Force 2015, and Defense vs Washington garnered an Outstanding-). Since there are three of these grades per game and we’ve had about 36 Novels in that time, give or take a varying column here or there, that means roughly 3.7% of the time, I award an Outstanding grade.
Yet, even with the two coverage busts, I cannot think of a finer, more deserving unit grade since I’ve been doing this than this one.
They absolutely choked up an offense that has been profilic the last few seasons, against guys who far outranked our own in the recruiting services. We put pressure on the quarterback with intention, design, and ingenuity, and each time I watched it, I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Surely this couldn’t hold. Surely they didn’t have another stop in them.
But we did, and did, and did – 6 punts, a missed FG, an INT, and downs. Ten times in a row.
And that’s the most surprising thing of all – we’ve been trained so far to believe that the defense can only hold out here or there for so long (how many games did we have where we didn’t even get six punts?) and that that would be enough for the offense to take over to win or blow out. We have often pointed out how Cal is not that type of team anymore, but the actual acceptance of that fact takes a lot longer.
Games like these help. Ole Miss possibly being terrible doesn’t take away from the fact that we have rarely even done this against FCS competition the last half decade.
Devante Downs comment here.
Funny thing is, before Cameron Goode reeled in that pick six – just lurking in the slant area and catching it perfectly – I really didn’t notice that much from him during the game., and had planned to mention him as such.
This is why you don’t roll over and die if you aren’t on the original two deep. The time came for Darius Allensworth to play significant snaps, and he didn’t allow much in the way of anything – he was beat deep for an incompletion once, I think – plus finished out there with Bynum, who got two beautiful passes broken up at the end. Don’t remember seeing Hicks after what was happening early, and OM went at him with intention.
Were they helped by Ole Miss losing AJ Brown? Probably. I’m not complaining though.
At this point, knowing they can’t get there with base four alone, we compensated by rushing a lot. Sometimes it was Psalms. Sometimes Goode. Sometimes a safety. Sometimes Devante, who was eating their center’s lunch in the A-gap. Using 3-4 gives us that luxury of not knowing where the extra rusher is coming from easily – sometimes we even overloaded to flood Shea to his left, where he looked less comfortable. (Saying he has Johnny Manzielian traits wasn’t exactly off-base.)
The fact that the sacks were coming from LBs means the defense worked as intended.
Guys are just generally in the right place more often. That’s so refreshing. Again, breakdowns aside – each time, they had a single safety up top and he wasn’t able to get over to give help, but that’s a byproduct of having young guys out there, so the rest was a usually footrace – they did a good job of staying on top of things, even in one on one matchups.
More on SC later in the week, of course, but how the line holds up against bigger guys and how we keep gap integrity/pursuit against Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones looms large.
IV. Assorted Unofficial Advanced Stats Handcalculated by Me
Unofficial Stats: Cal v. Ole Miss
Yards Per Play
Explosiveness % (% or runs 10+ yards; passes 20+ yards)
7.9% - 7 (2 pass, 5 run) on 88 plays
8.2% - 6 (3 pass, 3 runs) on 73 plays
8 of 22
6 of 17
Avg. Yards to go on 3rd Down
Power success rate (% of runs with 2 or fewer yards on 3rd and 4th down that were successful)
2 of 4 - Laird 1 of 2; Enwere 1 of 2
2 of 2 - Pennamon 1 of 1; Wilkins 1 of 1
Avg. Starting F.P. | Plays in opponent territory
Own 36 | 39 of 88 (44%)
Own 26 | 29 of 72 (40%)
Points per trip inside 40
10:52 1Q - 7
20 points on 7 trips = 2.85
15:00 1Q - 3
Havoc (percentage of disruptive plays – TFL, picks, PDs, FFs, sacks – divided by total plays. 2015 Cal's was 13.8%, and ranked 100th in the country; TCU was 15.4% and 64th among the 128 FBS teams )
7 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PD - 16 on 72 plays = 22%
8 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PD - 15 on 88 plays = 17%
Yards Per Play – At one point in the game, Cal was giving up almost a first down on every play and though they never really played much better with the ball in their hands, DeRuyter and Wilcox’s adjustments – putting Shea Patterson through the ringer – essentially nuked the Rebel offense after the score was 16-7. Per Avi from CGB, Cal faced 52 plays from that point forward, giving up a mere 171 yards and 3.3 YPP, which dropped the game average to the final 5.7.
In other words:
First 20 plays – allowed 9.2 YPP (would be #1 mark in the country)
Final 52 plays – allowed 3.3 YPP (would be #129 mark in the country out of #130)
Ole Miss’ median YPP was 3, btw.
Explosives – Thanks to the 20+ yard definition we use – not too different from the one Cal uses for their defense, although they just say 20+ in general, not 10 for runs – we can see that the Rebels really didn’t get much after those two early breakdowns. We did an outstanding job of getting into space, making most of the tackles, getting everything in front of us, and of course, throwing a bunch of pressure to make Patterson and company absolutely miserable.
Now, the Cal explosives situation is tougher, considering they are missing Tre Watson, Demetris Robertson, Melquise Stovall and probably Ray Hudson for varying amounts of time, but they got just enough out of everyone else. It will be interesting to see what they do to scheme something up.
Field Position – A couple plus turnovers, a couple special teams plays to give above average yardage and you have the differential in Cal favor. On top of that, Ole Miss didn’t really get the ball into Cal territory whatsoever – their totals for each quarter were 8, 0(!), 4, and 17 snaps on our side of the field respectively, with 9 of those final 17 coming on a meaningless end of game drive.
Points Per Trip Inside 40 – Most weeks, when you score only 2.85 points per scoring possession, you’re going to lose. (The average is closer to 4 per possession, by the way.) When the week that you do score 2.85 points per scoring posession happens to correspond with an opposing mark of 0.6, then you did an incredibly dominant job when it counted. Not much more to say than that.
Havoc – As wild as it is to say, this is mark of 22% actually low for Cal, as friend of the column Terence Lau points out, because Shea Patterson confounded the crap out of the defenders with his legs, saving a bunch of losses with his scrambling, as did his counterpart Ross Bowers. I thought we would lose if Ole Miss averaged 16%, but they did, and counteracted all those positive defensive plays with self inflicted mistakes. (They were also gifted one Havoc at the end of the half.) Regardless, the aggression with which we struck particularly in the second half was what I wanted to see.
V. Special Teams (Grade: Poor-)
Dylan Klumph’s punting average: 45.8 yards, no returns given up, and the couple of touchbacks were the only really good thing from this unit.
There were no punt returns.
Kick return average was 19 yards compared to 26 by Ole Miss, and they probably would have scored if their guy doesn’t trip themselves up. Another tackle by Traveon Beck saved a long return themselves.
Two missed kicks from 46 and 40.