Cal 35, Minnesota 21

The good news: we won our first road game in over a year — and our first road victory over a quality team in almost two years (the last was the Sep 2007 win in Eugene that vaulted us to #2); we beat a team from a real conference (albeit a mid-tier team in that conference); we showed some mettle in having to win a game in the 4th quarter; Jahvid scored 5 TDs and unleashed a Heisman-worthy first half performance; we covered the spread; we moved up in the rankings again.

The bad news: some of our weaknesses were really exposed in this game (defensive secondary, special teams, and — despite what it looked like on Saturday — we can’t win games with just Jahvid), just in time for conference play.

This week’s assessment…

  • Jahvid had a spectacular first half, ripping off long TD runs of 34 and 27 yards, plus another 24-yard run (bringing his season total to 8 runs of 20+ yards). His first touchdown was a real dazzler, patient in the backfield looking for a hole, tearing through the line, accelerating into the secondary, turning the corner, and hurdling a defender at the goal line. It was so awesome, he outran the ESPN camera for a second. He finished the first half with 113 rushing yards and 2TD on 13 carries. The second half wasn’t quite as pretty: 18 yards on 13 carries. Minnesota made great halftime adjustments, really stacking the box in the second half. His second half runs: 2 yards, 5 yards, -2 yards, 0 yards, 1 yard, 2 yards, 2 yards, 5 yards, 3 yards, 2 yards, -6 yards, -2 yards, 6 yards. As slow and painful as that littany was to read in this post, it was even worse to watch. Granted, his 5th and 10th carries of the second half were for TDs and the last three runs were simply to run out the clock. But still, not a single carry over 6 yards in the half. He can be contained.
  • Both of Jahvid’s second half touchdowns were end runs at the goal line, in which he simply outran the defense. I don’t understand why we don’t do this every time at the goal line…no one can catch Jahvid on those plays (except maybe an SEC defense or two).
  • Riley had a pretty good game and ended up with solid numbers: 16/25 for 252 yards, 0 interceptions. He threw a couple beautiful long balls: a 60-yarder to Tucker to set up Jahvid’s first TD and a 31-yarder to Ross to set up Jahvid’s fourth. He did make some pretty awful throws (Jamarcus Russell awful), missing guys by a lot. But at least they continue to be bad throws and not bad decisions. I can live with that (up to a point). He stepped up and led the team on that key fourth touchdown drive, completing 3 big passes for 77  yards when we really needed it.
  • Jeremy Ross showed up! After a 2008 season filled with dropped passes and another dropped TD in last week’s game against Eastern Washington, he made two huge plays in a single, key drive: extending the drive on 3rd-and-16 by eluding a defender after a short pass to gain 35 yards and then catching a beautiful 31-yarder from Riley to land us 1st-and-goal from the 1. Welcome back, Jeremy!
  • The passing game must become more consistent and dependable, as teams will start honing in on Jahvid. The third quarter looked like this (after a botched punt return, which I’ll cover later): 3-and-out (3 runs up the middle, stuffed by a stacked box), 3-and-out (incomplete pass, 8-yard pass, no gain up the middle), “4-and-out” (incomplete pass, 5-yard pass but a 10-yard penalty, incomplete pass, incomplete pass). We were shut out that quarter — our first scoreless quarter this young season. Riley and his receivers, while solid, need to be able to keep drives going with short and medium passes, rather than relying on Jahvid/Vereen and the occasional bomb.
  • The defense, with one notable exception, had a really good game. They held Minnesota — averaging 110 yards rushing a game coming in — to just 37 rushing yards on 21 carries and 270 yards and 14 first downs overall. They also tacked on 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 1 fumble recovery. The notable exception? Minnesota’s star WR Eric Decker killed us for 8 catches, 119 receiving yards, 2 TD catches, and 1 TD pass! At 6-2 and 215, he proved very difficult to cover, catching passes at will. I’m sure we’ll see more big WRs this season, so we’d better figure out a way to keep them under wraps. One last thing…we again let the opposing QB sit back in the pocket and take target practice on our secondary. Very little pressure on him early in the game, with just 1 sack on the first half. Once we started pressuring Weber, we got better results: 2 sacks in the third quarter and 3 interceptions in the fourth quarter (big pressure forced the first pick, a bad throw in Minnesota territory that turned out to be the beginning of the end).
  • Eric Decker is one tough motherfucker. I have to tip my cap to his first TD catch, a 26-yarder on which Sean Cattouse just nailed him with a shoulder — that split his chin open — right as the ball was getting there. Not only did Decker hold onto the ball, he was able to drop his foot just enough to establish position on the field so that he could put the ball over the goal line (well, more accurately, the force of Cattouse’s blow pushed Decker’s hands and the ball over the goal line). He was on the ground for a while and had to get stitches, but came back to do even more damage, finally exiting the game in the fourth after an ankle injury.
  • What else can I say about special teams? Well, I can say it was even worse this week. More bad kick-offs (Tavecchio again struggled to reach the 15-yard line), bad kick-off coverage (returns of 35 and 22 yard on our first two kick-offs), a missed FG (OK, so it was 47 yards), and two botched punts (first turnover of the season occurred when our coverage guys didn’t get out of the way on a punt, the ball hit one of ’em, and Minnesota recovered; Syd’Quan muffed another punt, but was able to recover it). In the first half, Minnesota’s worst starting field position after a Cal punt or kick-off was their own 38-yard line. Three times in the game, they started drives on our side of the field (fortunately, they scored on only one of them). On a positive note, D’Amato actually reached the end zone on the fly on a kick-off, resulting in a touchback. But then Tavecchio resumed kick-offs. I just don’t get it. Is he blackmailing Tedford?
  • We wore the all-whites on Saturday, which is a terrible look. Even worse than the all-blues. Football uniforms should have different colored jerseys and pants. It’s as simple as that.
  • Covering the spread on the road against a decent big-conference team — and a couple losses above us — kicked us up to #6 in both the USA Today Poll and the AP Poll. I’m starting to get a bit nervous (as I’m sure many Cal fans are) with this high ranking. Feels a bit strange to be ahead of so many traditional powerhouses. We showed a little bit more this week, but only time will tell if we really deserve to be where we are.rivals_2009-09-21
  • We were the cover story on the Rivals.com College Football page!

The meat of the order is finally here, with a trip to Eugene to face a plucky Duck team. We’re 7-point favorites. Oregon has a helluva running game going, racking up an average of 205 rushing yards a game since Blount’s suspension. They employ an Air Force-style option running attack, which we typically have early trouble with. The outcome will likely hinge upon how quickly we solve that puzzle this time. Masoli hasn’t been throwing well this season, so (I hope) we can just focus on stopping the run.

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