Is it possible to win a blowout in mediocre fashion? It is when you only kinda destroy an FCS team. I’m being a bit harsh, as our offense scored 52 points in the latter 3 quarters, the defense didn’t give up a point in the last 53 minutes of the game, and we once again covered by a large margin (33.5 point favorites). But I don’t think we improved much, if at all, from last week. And there are definitely things we need to shore up as we approach the toughest part of our schedule.
This week’s assessment…
- Another strong game from Jahvid. 144 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD, and a 22-yard TD catch. Pretty good for 2.5 quarters of work. He had three 20+ yard runs and almost broke long TD runs a couple times. One of his long runs was dubious, though, as he picked up a Riley “fumble” that probably was an incomplete pass as he was being sacked (if you saw it on TV, chime in…they didn’t show a replay at the stadium and Cal wisely quick-snapped it before the officials could review). After 2 weeks, Jahvid is the nation’s 5th leading rusher and the only player with at least 16 attempts to average double-digit yards per carry (10.4; no other player with at least 16 carries averages even 9 yards per carry). Two negative comments: he fumbled a pitch from Riley that would’ve been a sure TD on 3rd-and-goal from the 1 (we ended up getting a FG) and he looks a bit slower than he was the last couple years. Is it just me? Seems like defenders are keeping up with / catching up to him when they really shouldn’t be.
- Is Shane Vereen the best second-string RB in the country? Maybe, maybe not, but he’s leading the country in TDs (yes, he’s scored more TDs this season than Jahvid!). True, all 3 of his TDs Saturday were short runs, but he had a nice 19-yard run and a 34-yard kick-off return to boot. The thing I like most about him (other than his knack for scoring) is that he doesn’t shy away from defenders and, in fact, appears to like going straight at ’em and hitting ’em…much like Marshawn. I’ve noticed that on many occasions this season when we get in the red zone, Tedford pulls Jahvid and puts in Vereen. No need to risk our greyhound when there’s not a lot of field to work with and we have someone who likes running through/over guys.
- Let’s hear it for the little guys! Fullback Brian “the Bowling Ball” Holley (5’9″ 235 lbs.) caught passes of 21 and 11, bulling his way for extra yards after each catch. And I forgot to mention last week the great first down he gained carrying a Terp on his back for a couple yards. And how about freshman scatback Isi Sofele (5’7″ 170 lbs.)? He broke one Eagle’s ankles on a sharp cut for a 14-yard run and embarrassed a different Eagle with a sweet headfake & cutback on a 22-yard TD run.
- Riley looked pretty good, but didn’t do much throwing (14-for-20 for 148 and 1 TD). When you run the ball as well as Cal did (342 yards on 46 attempts), you really don’t need to pass. But as Vin & Jav pointed out, it would’ve been nice to keep the passing game sharp with the meat of our schedule coming up. Riley was screwed on a couple passes by his WRs, costing 2 TDs. Ross dropped a perfectly threaded pass in the end zone…a pass that hit him on both hands. Dude, both hands! How do you not catch that? Riley also threw a beauty of a bomb to an open Boateng, who (inexplicably) slowed down / changed course while the ball was in the air and then couldn’t catch up to it. Again, good leadership and no mistakes on Riley’s part.
- The game started like it would be a true, complete blowout when EWa muffed the opening kick-off, started at their own 6, and our defense stuffed EWa for a 3-and-out (almost garnering a safety twice). On EWa’s next drive, however, they riddled our defense with a bunch of quick passes, many over the middle. 83-yard TD drive on 11 plays in just 4:30. That drive looked better than most (if not all) of Maryland’s drives last week. While the defense didn’t give up another point, they looked vulnerable in key areas. Against an FCS team, people! We were very soft over the middle, as their TE seemed to get catches at will (Overbay finished with 62 yards on 7 catches) and their QB Nichols was able to escape what little pressure we put on him by scrambling up between the tackles. We didn’t pressure Nichols nearly enough, usually letting him stand back there as long as he wanted. And the few times we sent more guys, he got out of it with very quick releases. A better team (more athletic receivers; a better O-line; a QB with an even quicker release; a strong, quick RB) will really give us problems if the defense doesn’t address these things. I’m happy that our tackling remains solid.
- Special teams stank again. At least this time, we gave up only one kick-off return more than 20 yards (though I attribute this more to inferior FCS kick-return talent than to improved coverage on our part). But Tavecchio is still having problems getting the ball beyond the ~15 yard line. It got so bad that he — who is on the roster only to kick-off — was actually benched for a kick-off (unfortunately, that kick-off was even worse, so Tedford had to bring Tavecchio back). He did have one booming kick that reached the 2-yard line, shocking the hell out of everyone…shades of Bob Beamon’s leap in the 1968 Olympics. I fear that, like Beamon, Tavecchio won’t come close to reaching that distance again.
- With this fair-to-middlin’ drubbing, we’ve reached #7 in the USA Today Poll and #8 in the AP Poll. Seems OK, but it’s difficult to gauge how good we are, given the talent that we’ve played. But I can say that playing bad opponents is a great way to identify our weak areas (see defense above).
- We wore blue jerseys and gold pants this week, which is so much better than last week’s all-blues. I still say that the gold jerseys and blue pants are the best look, but I’m definitely in the minority on that one.
- I don’t understand the appeal of crowd surfing. While there are two fleeting upsides — you appear briefly on the BearVision jumbotron and, if you like that sorta thing, you may get groped — there are such clear downsides: you break something important when you are inevitably dropped; you may get groped; you look like a narcissistic, self-absorbed boob (admittedly, not unlike the consequences of blogging); and you have to walk all the way back to your seat. I guess youth and alcohol explain it.
- For the first time in probably 50 years, the mic guys made up a new cheer that was actually good! The student side yells “C”, then the end zones yell “A”, then the alumni side yells “L”. We cycled through that a few times and it worked quite well.
- I had the chopped brisket sandwich and kettle corn. I don’t recall ever having chopped brisket before. It was quite good, but the “spicy” BBQ sauce was nowhere in the vicinity of spicy. Kettle corn was good, but even the $5 “teaser” bag is way too much for one person to eat (after eating a chopped brisket sandwich and spaghetti & meatballs at home, anyway). I almost didn’t get the kettle corn because it’s such a pain in the ass to leave and get back to your seat. Does the program realize how much more money they’d make off of concessions by adding just a little more room between the rows for people to walk?
First (kinda) real test of the season next week: at Minnesota. We’re 14-point favorites against a team that struggled to beat (1) a Syracuse team led by a grad-student point guard at QB and (2) a service academy at home. But you don’t want to screw around with a Big 10 opponent in their house. Plus, it’s a 9am PDT start…and we all know what happened the last time we played that early of a game. Get some sleep, offense, and tighten it up, defense!