10 that went wrong
Yesterday's game against Oregon has left most Cal fans somehow simultaneously speechless and spewing rage across the Internet. In an effort to bring some order to the chaos, I present the bottom-10 list of things that went wrong in Eugene:
#10: Short Punts
One of the many players who did not bring his best game to Eugene was punter Brian Anger. The most obvious was the 5 yard punt that he shanked, but he also did a very poor job overall averaging 35 yards a punt and less than 30 net yards. He let two punts go into the end zone resulting in very short net yardage punts. If it weren't for Vereen's very good kickoff returns, Cal would have heavily lost the field position battle.
#9: Inability to stop Oregon's wide receiver screens
Particularly early in the game Oregon would line up with 3 wide receivers on one side of the formation and then throw to one of them behind the line of scrimmage while the other two would block the corner and the safety. Cal was not bringing over a 3rd defender, specifically the outside linebacker to compensate for the mismatch. This was particularly notable in the 2nd quarter when Oregon decided to attempt a 4th down conversion forcing Cal to call a timeout. Despite having shown that formation before the timeout, Oregon was able to come out after the timeout and run that same play and convert the 4th down.
#8: Not utilizing Best enough
Best got 16 carries for 55 yards. While it would have been nice to see him get the ball more, his 3.4 yards per carry was not getting it done. However, this is still a failure for the Bear coaching staff. They should have been doing more to get Best the ball by using different formations that spread out the defense and got Best in space. He could have been used as a receiver more or perhaps some reverses and sweeps.
#7: Dropped passes
While no one was willing to admit it, there was something about the ball in this game that made it hard to hold onto on both sides of the ball. Of particular trouble for the Bears were the dropped passes particularly by Tucker. Most troubling is how many of these came at key moments when the Bears most needed the conversions.
#6: Third down conversions
The Bears were only 3 for 15 on 3rd down conversions. In part this was due to the over-reliance on the passing game on 1st and 2nd down that ensured that Cal was frequently in 3rd and long situations. However, the Bears missed some 3rd and short opportunities, some of which could be accounted for by poor run blocking and others that could be accounted for by bad play calling that allowed Oregon to easily predict where the play was going.
The Bears actually won the turnover battle in the game getting three fumble recoveries to Oregon's two. However, both of Cal's fumbles immediately followed Oregon's, one of which happening on the same play. Particularly on the road it is key to capitalize on turnovers and the Bears did worse than that by not only failing to capitalize but giving Oregon the ball and momentum back by turning it back over.
#4: Riley's throwing inaccuracy
Once it was clear that Riley was having accuracy problems down the field Oregon was able to be even more aggressive in loading the box to stop Best and prevent the underneath passes from working. Riley really needed to beat Oregon down the field a couple times to keep them honest and he was never able to so despite having a handful of open receivers down the field.
Failure to account for tight end
Fully half of Oregon's points and nearly half of Oregon's passes went to their tight end Ed Dickson. The Cal defense failed to account for him on all but his last touchdown. In general the inside linebacker who should have been assigned to him was creeping up too much towards the line of scrimmage so that when Dickson exploded off of his block, the linebacker was unable to recover and had a bad angle at the play.
#2: Poor pass protection
While Riley didn't do much to help his cause when he did have good pass protection, most of the time he was not given the type of protection he has grown used to in the last few weeks. Mike Tepper and Mitchell Schwartz both had tough games at tackle often getting beat by the speed Oregon was getting off the edge. The other linemen had trouble as well, each taking their turn making mistakes.
#1: Over use of bunched formations
Everyone in the state's of Oregon and California knew what Oregon's defensive strategy was going to be long before either team stepped onto the field. They were going to stop Best at all costs and put a lot of heat on Riley to try and rattle him. They figured that with the noise that the crowd at Autzen brings and their defensive unit brings they would have more success than previous teams had.
The key to beating this defensive game plan is to make the defense pay for their over aggressiveness. The way to accomplish this is to have lots of quick options for the quarterback to throw to that are far enough away from the center of the play that the defense can't recover. Also the use of misdirection and spreading the field in the running game accomplishes the same goal.
Instead Cal ran bunch formation after bunch formation throughout the entire game long after it was clear that it wasn't working. Even the screens, which are usually the perfect play call in situations like this, were run to the middle of the field allowing the linebackers to come in and shut them down.
This allowed Oregon's defense to not only bring 8 men in the box, but to bring 9 and sometimes 11 when the wide receivers were brought in tight. Oregon's defense was too good at reading the play as it developed and would quickly adjust to whatever the Bears ran. It was a disaster from the very first play.
All told, every phase of the game struggled. From the running game to the passing game, to special teams, to the defense, to very poor game planning on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, there was plenty of blame to spread around.
The task ahead is to improve on the weaknesses exposed and to go back to the game planning that was so successful in the first 3 games of the season.
Ken Crawford is a staff writer for BearTerritory. A lifelong Cal football observer, Crawford has covered the Bears since the 2006 season, which included an up close and personal view of the memorable 31-24 victory over Oregon at Autzen Stadium in '07. Crawford will continue to handle various Cal football assignments during the 2009 season.