So the roller coaster ride continues... after the disastrous 0-2 start punctuated by the 35-0 blanking by the Trees and then the rising from the ashes to beat 3 straight, including ranked Houston and highly ranked Texas, here we go again...
I'd argue that this one hurt more. But just as the Stanford loss was a swift kick in the nuts, maybe this game will refocus us as well. For, as has been hashed out on this site in most of our previous games (be it wins or losses), we have consistently had problems.
And, maybe it had a little to do with them having 2 weeks to prepare, but I have to give Cal and Tedford HUGE credit for doing an amazing job in dismantling our team by not only stopping our biggest strength, but by methodically exposing ALL (I hope) of our weaknesses:
1. Stopping our biggest Strength: I, for one, was surprised at how effectively they killed our run game which seemed unstoppable in the past 3 weeks. I'm still not exactly sure what the difference was between this game and the previous 3 wins. Maybe part of it was KP's ineffectiveness on the run game (I'm not sure if he was limited either by his injury and/or by the higher-ups who didn't want him to risk it), but they still squelched our Thunder and Lightning combo to a measly 26 yards in 26 plays! They took the Filth away from our front Five! And then, the Jetski fumble (again) also did not help of course.
2. No pass game - #1 above leads to the logical first big weakness. Many people mentioned how we had to develop our pass game or other teams would quickly figure us out. Guess what. They figured it out. Once our running game became a non-factor on offense, its not too difficult to see how we ended up with 7 points. Maybe I'm way off, but pretty much every facet of our pass game needs a Pauley Pavillion face-lift.
Our O-line, although fantastic with run blocking schemes (for the most part of this season), has seemed to be quite porous in pass-protection.
KP seemed a little crisper in throwing to me in the beginning of the game, but then threw the interception in the 3rd quarter (which looked like a miscommunication error) and still has a long way to go, especially when you look at some of the other QBs in Pac-10 and around the nation. Whether a healthy Prince that can actually run again is the answer or RB at the helm is, I'm still not sure, but the QB position did not help us in this game.
Then, the receivers... still, in my opinion, the most underachieving bunch so far. It was nice to see Marvray in the action more, but still waaaaay too many dropped passes and missed catches all around. And, has been said before many a times, why aren't our receivers able to get space from their coverage? Maybe its the receivers, but maybe its also the routes they are running? In any event, when will someone from the receiver core finally step-up?!
3. Our Rushing D - As we saw early against K State's back Daniel Thomas, who ran 234 yards against us, and then Stanford's combo of backs and Luck rushing for 211 yards, our D just does not seem to be able to stop the run effectively. Again, in this game, Shane Vereen ran all over us for 151 yards on 25 carries, with Sofele tacking on another 80 yards. You would think that the way our offense has been running the ball, our D would be used to defending the rush, but...
4. Our Passing D - Many pointed out in our previous losses how our 3 man front was not working. We seemed to adjust somewhat by spicing it up by blitzing our beast, Akeem Ayers. However, its pretty obvious that since the Texas game, teams have picked up on it and have taken him into account now and know how to contain him (as much as he can be contained, that is). Although the numbers still don't do him justice, he only recorded 3 tackles vs. Cal (and that great broken-up pass which he nearly intercepted). On the flipside, although arguably improved from the beginning of the season, our d-backs are still committing some crucial PI penalties.
5. Penalties/Disorganized/Not Acting like Bruins - I know I rolled up a bunch into one, but I think all 3 are from the same root issue, which is focus. It is extremely disheartening for me to hear that the players are either joking around on the sidelines (especially when we are losing) or being disrespectful to the other team (by taunting/talking smack/etc). It is also disheartening to see all of the penalties (albeit fewer) and to watch the defense get caught more than once not being ready for the snap.
What makes it worse (and thus harder to take) is that all of the above happened after our barometer told us that this past week of practices was good! Like I said up top, I think a lot of what happened at Cal had to do with 2 things...
A. We are still making many of the same mistakes/haven't improved on many of our weaknesses
B. With its 2 weeks of prep, Cal capitalized on both our weaknesses and at stopping our strengths in a supreme way.
Just to end on some good notes, not everything was an utter disaster...
* Special teams - Thigpen had a great day on special teams, making a couple great hits on punts (including that forced fumble that Sloan recovered) and stopping a punt by Locke at the 1 yard line! We had more yards from special teams (162 in 6 kickoff returns) than our total offense (144 yards), led by Josh Smith, who is definitely starting to get comfortable with 152 of those yards in 5 returns, including the 46 yarder.
* Other bright spots - Owa had a couple nice sacks. Marvray got more in the action (and didn't get a penalty). Ramirez is back and got more action.
Okay, even though I've tried, those are all the good notes I could think of. Any help here?
Oh yeah, on a hopeful note... I really hope that, just as Cal did with us, that we use our bye week to not only change/adapt/improve our own game, but to also scout out Oregon well enough to at least make it a game in Eugene on Oct 21. Although it seems like ages ago already, we have stepped up in the national spotlight at a tough away game before...