"Ring the bell, Fred. Wake the heathens! Ring the bell!"
I liked minister Ken more the more I heard him preach. At first I was intimidated because he's quite a big man, wide and tall, in the same way that I'm not. Also, we were in his church, and he's a minister. I figured a real minister could see through me and know immediately that a hypocrite had entered his church on Christmas Eve.
But of course minister Ken is one of those religious people who actually takes the word of God to heart and has more interest in being kind to people than in judging them, like so many "religious" people focused on "moral values" who have risen to political power. So I came to realize quickly that neither he, nor any other member of the Buckingham Congregation, had judged me for attending Christmas Eve service while not believing in God. Plus, my parents are members of the church and my father a Deacon, so perhaps they assumed I actually do believe in God.
I don't know why, exactly, I like to attend Christmas Eve service. I certainly would never attend a mass, or even a congregational church service on any day other than Christmas Eve or perhaps Easter. The origins of our holidays are important to me, even if I don't embrace the true meanings of those origins. That is, when I truly search my heart, I can not find it within me to believe that a baby was born of a virgin in a cow stall, announced by angels with trumpets and wings, and that that baby became the Savior of all God's People. I have a difficult time believing in the infinity of a monotheistic deity that Controls all Things and Created Everything with a particular order, or that the human species happens to be foremost among His mind and that our Plight is his Main Concern.
I find it much easier to believe in an infinity of chance that everything just happened to come together in a certain way to create you, me, the Earth, the Internet (with a little help from Al Gore), and Blogger. I find it easy to believe that there is something larger than ourselves that we simply can't perceive or understand. But I just can't come to grips with the idea of God, or the idea that God decided to have a son during the Roman empire specifically for the purpose of having him suffer for everyone else's sins.
Maybe I was raised with too much Star Trek, which often took mythical figures and caricatured them by turning them into minor superhero type figures who had tricked Earthlings into believing in their divinity. Perhaps I was a product of the first really internationalized generation, exposed to so many different religious ideas that I find it impossible to believe that any one of them could be the "true" religion. Or maybe I've read too much medieval history to accept that the Christian church is really anything more than a corporation created for the express purpose of weilding political power amid all-powerful monarchies.
Whatever the origin of my beliefs, I still enjoy Christmas Eve service, which ends around midnight, particularly in the church of my father, in the neighborhood in which I came of age, surrounded by New England calendar photo-ops and comfortable wealth and self-righteousness. This year was a little different but still just as enjoyable.
As the congregation sang Silent Night to close the service, and the minister disappeared into the back to be at the door to wish us all merry Christmas on our way out, all these thoughts filled me, along with the intended inspiration of bearing goodwill to all mankind, everywhere in the world. I could not tell which around me believed every word said and sung about God and angels, but it did not matter in that moment.
Then, after Silent Night ended and the pianist and violinist struck up the farewell tune, minister Ken's voice came to us in the back of the room from just behind, telling my father to ring the church bell and announce that Christmas had come. "Ring the bell, Fred. Wake the heathens! Ring the bell!"
I had to like Ken at that point. He was only doing his job, waking the heathens. Though I don't share his beliefs about Truth, I still think it's important to ring the church bells at midnight on Christmas Eve, if only to remind us heathens that Christmas is not really about Santa Claus and Mattel and Gameboy and AA batteries. It is important to remember every holiday's origins and to realize what society has done to co-opt that holiday, to re-shape it and repurpose it. In that examination of the intent of the holiday, we can all come to terms with what the holiday means for each of us, heathen and Enlightened, and why we celebrate or eschew it.
I hope your Christmas was merry.
December 27, 2004
"Ring the bell, Fred. Wake the heathens! Ring the bell!"
December 13, 2004
Cal: # 4 AP, # 4 ESPN, # 5 BCS, # 3 Sagarin
TT: #23 AP, #21 ESPN, #22 BCS, #19 Sagarin
Too early to have a betting line (at least I didn't see one on usatoday.com), but the Sagarin rankings make Cal a 13-point favorite, ignoring any "home field" advantage either way.
Cal: 10-1, 7-1 Pac-10
TT: 7-4, 5-3 Big 12
Sagarin rates Cal's schedule the 16th most difficult.
Sagarin rates Tech's schedule the 15th most difficult.
Cal's only loss was to #1 USC, 23-17. Had any number of wrong things gone right in that game, they'd have won (Lyman's injury, incomplete pass at the end, missed field goal, bad kicking game). Wins over bowl teams included Oregon State, UCLA, ASU, Southern Miss. Three other Cal opponents just missed the bowl party by ending up 5-6: Air Force, NMSU, and Oregon.
Texas Tech lost to Texas A&M 32-25 OT, Texas 51-21, Oklahoma 28-13, and New Mexico 27-24. They beat OK State, Baylor, K State, Nebraska, Kansas, TCU, and SMU. With a couple of breaks, Tech could easily be 9-2, with losses only to Oklahoma and Texas. Tech's bowl-bound opponents were OK State (win), A&M (loss), Texas (loss), Oklahoma (loss), New Mexico (loss). Only Nebraska, whom they beat 70-10, was on the cusp of a bowl at 5-6.
Overall, I would say that Tech played a strong schedule very well, but they missed out on a couple of wins they could have had. Cal played a similar schedule but did get those wins, in convincing fashion. And, just as the Bears had a scare against Oregon, Tech beat Kansas by only one point (31-30) after being down 30-11 at halftime.
Both teams have outstanding offenses scoring more than 35 points per game. Cal is a run-dominated offense, and Tech is a pass-dominated offense. There are differences in how they do it, however:
Cal has scored 26 points in every game but USC, and the Bears scored 40 or more six times. Only USC, ASU, Oregon, and USM held the Bears under 38 points. Their 37 points per game pretty much reflects their consistency. Tech, however, hung SEVENTY points on two different opponents: Nebraska and TCU. Otherwise, they tend to hover around 30 per game. They've been held to 25 points or fewer four times, but they've scored fewer than 21 only once (13 against Oklahoma). They, too, are very consistent.
Tech is a one-dimensional offense, but they are very good in that dimension. Although they've gained only 1,027 net yards rushing as a team, they have a phenomenal 389 yards per game passing (4,276 yards passing in 11 games). They have attempted 591 passes and have 31 passing TDs to 18 interceptions.
Such a pass-oriented offense begs a comparison to Oregon State or Arizona State, two familiar one-dimensional offenses that Cal has faced. OSU has the most pass attempts in the Pac-1 at 487 (104 fewer than Tech). ASU has the most passing yards at 3,438 (312 per game). Tech gets more than 75 more yards passing PER GAME than the top Pac-10 team. Additionally, Tech has 203 first downs by the pass but only 62 on the ground. That's a lot of first downs (Cal has 246, not including by penalty).
Tech has rushed just 272 times to complement their 591 pass attempts. Cal has passed just 289 times to complement their 470 rushing attempts. The result: Cal is overall a more efficient offense, scoring more touchdowns (53 to Tech's 51), gaining more yards (5,442 to Tech's 5,303), having a higher completion percentage (67.5% to Tech's 65.5%), having higher average per pass attempt (8.9 yards per attempt to Tech's 7.2), having higher average yards per catch (13.2 yards to Tech's 11.0), better TD-to-interception ratio (Cal has 26 passing TDs and only 7 interceptions, to Tech's 31 passing TDs and 18 interceptions) and controlling the clock better (Cal has TOP of 32:47 to Tech's 29:42). Yet Cal has lost 10 fumbles while Tech has lost just five.
It should be noted, however, that Tech was much more balanced in their final two games than the rest of the season. In their final three games, they rushed for 158, 117, and 155 yards. In the last two games, they passed for only 294 and 281 yards, the only times they've been under 300. Tech passed for over 350 in all but one other game and for over 400 in six games. This balance came against two bowl-bound teams (A&M, loss; and OK State, win).
Both teams are efficient on 3rd down (Cal 45.5%, Tech 47%) and 4th down (Cal 55.6%, Tech 41%). Tech, despite their number of pass attempts, has been sacked only 26 times (Cal has been sacked 22 times). Yet they also suffer a lot of penalties (102 on the year to Cal's 66).
Tech has outscored opponents in the 4th quarter 133-73 this year, with deficits in that quarter against only Texas and New Mexico (UNM came back from 24-21 at the end of the 3rd quarter to win by 3, in the only game in which TT did not score in the 4th, their 2nd game of the season). Similarly, Cal has outscored opponents 127-27 in the 4th quarter and 210-46 in the second half. The first halves for both teams are much less lopsided: Tech gets outscored 145-139 in the first half while Cal holds an edge of 200-101.
This is going to be a battle of two VERY good offenses. Both teams improve throughout the game, so no lead appears safe, and this could be a very exciting game. (Not quite the Insight.com Bowl fireworks we saw last year, but exciting.) I think Cal has the edge in the second half because of the power running game. They have more of an ability to control the clock and dictate tempo. Tech does not really have that option. If Tech builds a decent lead, however, the Bears will have to mix it up and rely on the depleted receiving crew to gain some yards.
The real question then is, how do the defenses match up against the offenses?
Cal holds a strong statistical advantage over the Red Raiders on defense. The Bears give up only 13.4 points per game and have shut out two teams. Only three teams have scored more than 16 points against the Bears (USC 23, UCLA 28, and Oregon 27), and no team has yet scored 30.
The Bears shut out the Pac-10's top passing attack (ASU) and held the Pac-10's second-best passing attack (OSU) to just 7 points and zero passing TDs. Although Cal allows a relatively high 12.9 yards per catch, they hold opponents to just 49.7% completions, so they hold opponents to a low 6.4 yards per attempt. Cal has allowed only 14 passing TDs and collected 10 interceptions.
Tech, meanwhile, gives up 25.7 points per game. They've held four opponents under 18 points, but they've also given up 30 or more four times (including 51 to Texas). All their bowl-bound opponents scored 27 or more except OK State in their final game (just 15 points).
It's hard to see any real patterns leaping out from the stats to determine what type of game plan can consistently defeat the Red Raiders. Oklahoma, Texas, and A&M (all Tech losses) had strong rushing days against Tech, though so did SMU, K State, Baylor, and OK State (all Tech wins). Oklahoma stuck Tech for 221 yards rushing on 40 carries, and Texas pounded them for 351 yards and 5 rushing TDs on 71 carries. Tech has held just two opponents under 150 yards rushing (both wins).
Overall, however, the matchup favors the Bears. Tech gives up 172 yards per game rushing and 4.2 yards per carry, both of which would be in the bottom three of the Pac-10. In passing defense, they are more stingy, statistically similar to the Bears: They allow about 50% pass completion, a low 5.7 yards per pass attempt, 11.3 yards per catch, and have allowed just 12 passing TDs while collecting 10 interceptions. Their pass defense of 175 yards per game would be best in the Pac-10. Statistically, their defense is probably closest to Oregon State's in the Pac-10, except OSU has a slightly better rushing defense.
Cal's defense, however, has done very well against pass-oriented offenses. Cal held ASU to 238 yards passing and zero points, and they held OSU to 211 yards passing while collecting two interceptions. They gave up their worst defensive games, however, to more balanced teams that hurt them through the air: UCLA whacked the Bears for 299 yards passing and 4 TDs while Oregon also got 4 TDs but only 211 yards passing. Washington and Southern Miss both hit the Bears for more than 300 yards passing but scored only 14 points through the air combined. I think this phenomenon is a side effect of the Bears relying so much on their safeties--two of Cal's three leading tacklers are Gutierrez and Giordano. Against balanced or run-oriented teams, these guys have their minds more on the line of scrimmage, looking for a ball carrier, slowing their reactions to the pass. Against one-dimensional, passing offenses, they look for the pass first and break up plays.
In terms of yards, Cal's pass defense is not outstanding. Yet here again they are tremendously efficient. They give up 213 yards per game passing, but they are one of only two Pac-10 teams holding opponents under 50% completion, and they have 10 interceptions against 14 TDs allowed. Considering 8 of those TDs were to Oregon and UCLA and 2 more were to USC, they are pretty good overall.
On the ground, the Bears have allowed just four rushing TDs TOTAL, and only one in the past EIGHT GAMES (Southern Miss scored that one). They have not had a game where they gave up two rushing TDs. Between the first quarter of the Oregon State game and the 4th quarter of the USM game, Cal did not allow one single rushing touchdown. In addition, they've held four opponents to fewer than 50 yards rushing, including their last two games. JJ Arrington had more yards rushing against Southern Miss (261) than Cal's last three opponents did combined (131) and if that bogus penalty hadn't been called, you could have throw in Oregon's total as well to make it the last four opponents.
Tech's O line is big, averaging nearly 310 pounds. They have a very big center at 300 pounds. The LT, LG, and C are all seniors, and the RT is a junor (RG is a big sophomore, 324 pounds). I have no doubt these guys are great at pass blocking. They've given up only 26 sacks on nearly 600 passing attempts. It's no wonder that QB Sonny Cumbie is the nation's leading passer. Cal's D line is no bunch of little guys, though, averaging 285 with two 300-pounders in Alexander and Sverchek, and speedy Riddle the small fry at 250 pounds.
On the other side, Cal's O line is similarly large, averaging 312 pounds (only pipsqueak Marvin Philip, at 280, brings the average down... without him, the others are a beefy 320 pounds). Additionally, with the exception of Jonathan Giesel who missed one game midseason, this starting five has been together all eleven games. (To those looking to next year, Giesel is the only senior on the starting front five). Tech's D line is quite small: The four down linemen average just 282, and that average is brought up significantly by their big right DT, sophomore Ken Scott, at 315 pounds. Tech's linebackers are about the same size as Cal's. I am expecting the Bears to do a lot of running right up the middle and off tackle, take it right at these guys.
Tech has one tall corner (6'0") and one short one (5'10"), with a couple of 6'2" backups. They're generally a tall lot, and the Bears are without any real tall receivers. In fact, I don't think the Bears have any experienced receivers left over 6' tall. Lyman was the tallest at 6'4", Gray next at 6'3", and McArthur next at 6'1". Makonnen is 6'0". Toler (will he play?) is 6'2". DeSa and Jordan are just 5'11". So the height advantage goes to the Red Raiders. Rodgers will really have to be on his game if the Bears are to have much passing attack, or the young receivers will have to be very solid. (Both, really.)
On the other side, Tech's receivers are all tall. Their depth chart shows five receivers over 6', with two over 6'6". In addition, 6'0" Trey Haverty was named to the Sports Illustrated's All-America 2nd team... and he is only the 2nd-leading receiver on his team. 6'4" Jerrett Hicks was named to the AP All-Conference team first team for the Big 12. At 6-foot-four, you're always open.
The Cal defense will have its work cut out for it against this O line, this QB, and this receiving corps. The Bears have shown a strong ability to shut down pass-oriented teams, though, and to keep them out of the end zone. Similarly, the Tech defense will have a full day trying to contain Arrington and Lynch. The Raiders have shown an ability to give up big rushing days (see Texas, 5 TDs and 300+ yards), but they've also given up a lot of real estate while winning games, too.
This has all the makings of a very interesting game. I think the Bears will prevail, but Tech is no pushover even though they're just 7-4 and #22. They are just a few breaks away from 9-2 and probably a top-15 ranking. I have no fear that Cal will understimate them, however, and the Bears will come ready to beat up a team that both Oklahoma and Texas dominated. Cal has a lot to prove in this game, and the motivation should be strong.
The game will turn on how well Cal's defense can control Tech's passing attack, and whether the Cal offense can get the running game into "utter domination" mode without any real receiving threat. I think the Tech defense will step up and put up a good fight, but they will not be able to contain the Cal running attack in the second half. I think the Bears will again start slow, and the game will be very close at halftime. Then Cal will take over, as they have done all season. Tech will make a run back at it in the 4th quarter, but Cal's running game will control the outcome.
I think this game has less scoring than one might figure. I expect Cal to score at least 25, probably closer to 35, and I think they will hold Tech to the low 20s. I think the final ends up Cal 34, Tech 24.
December 1, 2004
We all know that Cal is powerful and USM is, well... not. It's difficult to compare teams that have no common opponents, but it seems pretty clear that the Bears have a significant advantage in talent, reputation, and preparation. I think they also have an advantage in intangibles. This should be a pretty big win for the Bears. But don't take my word for it. Read on for the reasons I think so...
Cal: #4 AP, #4 Coaches, #4 BCS, # 3 Sagarin (95.59)
USM: NR AP, NR Coaches, NR BCS, #64 Sagarin (70.90)
Sagarin predicts a 28 point Cal victory. The betting line says 24.
USM has already accepted a bowl invitation, and their fans have already begun discussing North Texas in detail, skipping right past Cal. On the other hand, undefeated (10-0) TCU went to Hattiesburg in their final game last year and got beat. Meanwhile, Cal has had a week of rest and has everything to gain by a dominant win and everything to lose by a weak win or (god forbid) a loss. No doubt the Bears will get a good dose of heckling for postponing the game due to a little wind and wet weather, but I venture that they will be more amused than chagrined.
The best situation for Cal would be a very full, very hostile stadium. Tedford's teams have thrived in that environment, particularly in front of a large TV audience as well.
USM is 6-4 after coming from behind to beat UAB, 26-21 last week. They began the season 4-0 and 5-1, then lost three straight conference games (Cincinnati, Memphis, and TCU). During their first six games, they scored 27 or more points in four games, all wins. Since a 51-point effort to beat East Carolina, they have not scored more than 26 (their last four games).
USM has beaten Nebraska, Tulane, South Florida, Houston, East Carolina, and UAB. They have lost to Alabama, Cincinnati, Memphis, and TCU. The average Sagarin rating for the teams they beat is 97.5. The average Sagarin rating for teams that beat them is 65. They have played only one team in the top FIFTY (Alabama, #45). They have played four teams over 100 (USF, Tulane, Houston, ECU).
Compare this to the Pac-10, where eight of the 10 teams are in the top 50 and only one (UW) is over 100 (#105). Even Arizona is ranked better than six of USM's opponents, and UW is ranked better than three of them. The Sagarin rating average for teams Cal has beaten is 48. The Sagarin rating average for teams that have beaten Cal is... um, 1.
There is no doubt that the Bears have gotten their stats against FAR superior competition. Keep that in mind when reviewing the stats below.
Cal has the ONLY running back in the nation to gain 100 or more yards in every game this season. JJ Arrington's 158.4 rushing yards per game compares favorably to USM's 156.0 rushing yards per game. Arrington has 14 rushing TDs; USM as a team has 17. Arrington averages 6.8 yards per carry; USM averages 3.8 (not necessarily a fair comparison since that would include sacks, but you get the point).
Complicating matters for USM is the fact that their rushing defense is only 7th in C-USA. They give up 170 yards a game on the ground, at a healthy 4.3 yards per rush. They've given up 16 rushing TDs.
They do, however, have a reasonable pass defense. They limit opponents to 205 yards per game through the air and a 51% completion rate. Also, they have 13 interceptions to just 16 passing TDs allowed. Finally, they allow a low 6.8 yards per catch. They also collect 2.5 sacks per game and hold opponents to just 37% third down completions. They also allow a reasonably low 18.5 first downs per game.
In the red zone, they've allowed 26 TDs in 42 tries, along with 9 field goals. Not great--those stats would be good enough for a tie for last place in the Pac-10. (Six Pac-10 teams have better red zone defense than the best C-USA team.)
USM's defensive line is not huge, but their strength is the middle where the two tackles are both seniors and average 297 pounds. Their outside guys are not big--235 and 250. Their DBs are all juniors, but two of them are only 5' 11". We might see a little more of 6' 3" David Gray, and 6' 1" McArthur should have a good day as long as Rodgers has time to throw and is consistent.
The USM offense, however, is not so great.
Their offensive line is much smaller than most Pac-10 lines, averaging a paltry 290 pounds. The only reason it's so high is because of 6'7", 324-pound RT Parquet. All the other linemen are 288 or less. Compare to Cal's beefy D line, at 282 pounds. In terms of matchups, the Cal D line will often outweigh the USM O linemen they're working against.
This plays to the Bears' favor because USM does not have a very powerful offense. They score just 26 points per game, and they've been at or below that average in their last four games. (An interesting statistical rarity: they have scored and allowed exactly 262 points. Seems like they should be 5-5, not 6-4...)
USM's rushing offense is mediocre, as noted earlier, averaging just 156 yards per game. In the Pac-10, that would be good for 5th and rivals Oregon's 158 ypg. But their passing attack is weak. They average just 162.5 yards per game passing, which would be 11th in the Pac-10 (even behind Arizona). In addition, they only complete 48% of their passes (a dismal number) and have a pathetic 5.7 yards per catch (last in C-USA and better only than Washington in the Pac-10). Finally, they have only 13 passing TDs but have given up 8 interceptions. In short, their passing attack is bad. That said, their backup QB came off the bench in the second half last week to have probably the best passing half of their season, scoring two TDs and notching a come-from-behind win.
All in all, USM's statistics taken as they are would make them a middling Pac-10 team: Rushing attack around #5, passing attack around #9, scoring offense around #4. They're very similar, statistically, to Oregon offensively. BUT: those stats were gained against many out-and-out bad teams. I have no doubt that in the Pac-10, they would by more in line with Arizona or Washington than Oregon.
Defensively, they would be weak, statistically, in the Pac-10: Their current numbers would put them at 8th in scoring defense, 8th in rushing defense, 7th in total defense, 5th in pass defense. Defensively, they are most like Arizona in terms of statistics--maybe somewhere between Arizona and Stanford. I think they are similar to Stanford in their ability to gain interceptions and their inability to stop the run effectively. BUT: Again, these stats are gained against seriously inferior competition. USM did not play C-USA champ Louisville this year.
SOME INTERESTING CAL TRENDS
OK, maybe not interesting, but I note them anyway:
Cal has owned time of possession and is #1 in the Pac-10 in that category. Only twice (Air Force and OSU) did they have the ball less than half the time. In five games, they've held the ball seven or more minutes longer than their opponents (i.e. T-O-P of 33:30 or better).
Cal in the red zone is remarkable. They score 84% of the time, with 28 TDs in 37 attempts. On defense, they only allow opponents to score 62% of the time (10 TDs in 26 attempts). The Bears score 38.4 points per game, better than any C-USA team except Louisville. Meanwhile, they allow only 13.1 ppg, better than any C-USA team and second in the Pac-10 only to USC.
The Bears have been held to under 200 yards rusing only thrice: OSU, USC, and Arizona. Similarly, those are the only teams to hold Cal under 5 yards a carry. Since the Bears pretty much dismantled two of them and out-statistic'd the other, that's not necessarily an indicator of anything.
All in all, the pollsters and the oddsmakers have this right. I think I would take the points, however. The only way that Cal can lose is if they simply don't show up. Think of the only two tight games they've played: Against USC, special teams put the Trojans in a short field every time, and the missed field goal forced the 4th-down pass instead of allowing the possibility of overtime. Against Oregon, turnovers hurt terribly, as did the lack of a running game in the first half. I think Tedford got caught second-guessing himself too much since he was going against Bellotti. In the second half they went back to their running game (the Oregon game was Cal's season low for number of rushing attempts) and pounded the Ducks the rest of the way for the very close win.
I don't think the Bears will do themselves in this Saturday. Even if they do, they have so much talent and athleticism that they can still escape with a win... but we all know what an ugly win would do to their ranking and BCS hopes.
While a shutout is a very difficult thing to obtain, I think the Bears can achieve it this week (though I don't expect it). It should be their goal in any case. I expect the Bears to dominate the first half with the running game, just barrel downfield. I think they'll be up 28-0 at halftime, and the fourth quarter will be all 2nd and 3rd string players as Tedford shows off the team's depth and gives the younger players some additional road game playing time. The offensive line should be monstrous and unstoppable after Arrington was snubbed for the national awards this week. They should take it personally. My prediction of the final score: 42-10.
November 19, 2004
This game has more similarity with Cal versus Oregon than with Cal versus Washington. Cal was a heavy favorite in both, but the spread was only justified against UW. I think Stanford is underrated and could prove a real test for the Bears.
Cal: #4 BCS, #4 AP, #4 Coaches
Stan: Not Ranked in any poll
Sagarin ranks Cal #3 (96.58) and Stanford #37 (76.06). With the home advantage, that makes Cal a 24-point favorite. The odds makers agree. But they also all agreed that Oregon was a 21-point underdog, and that was another team that looked good on paper but which had failed to live up to their potential.
We all know of Cal's offensive dominance this season. Ranked #1 in the Pac-10 in rushing offense, total offense, pass efficiency, and scoring offense, with 47 touchdowns and a remarkable 38 points per game. We know Cal's tendency to come out flat in the first half and then dominate with a power rushing offense in the second half to take control of games. In nine games, Cal has outscored opponents 167 to 34 in the second half; in the first half, it's been 173-91. In large part, the second half disparity is due to Cal's tremendous ball and clock control, rolling up first downs rushing and simply not allowing opponents to have the ball.
Cal has failed to score 30 points in only three games: USC (loss, 23-17), ASU (win, 27-0), and Oregon (win, 28-27). The Bears have scored 40 or more in five of their nine games. Meanwhile, only three opponents have scored more than 20 points on the Bears: USC, UCLA (win, 45-28), and Oregon. Cal has held their six other opponens to 14 or fewer points, shutting out the Arizona schools.
This is a damn good team, there is no doubt. The only weakness is the kicking game. The Bears have excellent kickoff coverage, but they give up field position with kicks that come down at the 10 yard line. Cal kickers have missed 7 of 12 field goals, some in crucial situations (think Oregon and USC games). Although the first miss was over 50 yards, most of the others have been in the 35-yard range.
Cal fans can be forgiven if they feel confident that Cal will retain the axe and cruise into their final game at Southern Miss after Thanksgiving. Yet Stanford, for all their problems, are not as bad as they may appear.
The Cardinal are third in the conference in scoring defense, 24th nationally, at 19.2 points per game. They missed Arizona this year, so those stats were compiled against some pretty good teams.
Only two teams have scored 30 or more against Stanford: USC (Stanford lost, 31-28), and ASU (Stanford lost, 34-31). Four of Stanford's five Pac-10 losses are by five points or less: USC (3 points), Oregon (3 points), ASU (3 points), and OSU (5 points). Only UCLA dominated by shutting out the Cardinal, 21-0. (Only Oklahoma State held the Bruins to fewer points (20) than Stanford did.) Stanford has held five opponents under 20 points and eight opponents to 24 or fewer. They are also 3rd in the conference in red zone defense, holding opponents to 17 touchdowns in 35 tries (also 7 field goals). Stanford has a pretty good defense which should not be misunderestimated.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, their offense hasn't held up the other end. They have virtually no rushing offense (87 yards per game), and while they're 3rd in the conference in passing offense at 256 yards per game, they have 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and they are only 7th in pass efficiency. They're 8th in total offense with 343 yards per game (ahead of only UW and Arizona), and 7th in scoring offense at 23.6 points per game.
Stanford has been held to -8 yards rushing (Oregon), 1 yard rushing (OSU), and 37 yards rushing (ASU). In their last four games, they have a total of 113 yards rushing (28.25 yards per game). They have just two rushing TDs in those games and just 9 rushing TDs against everyone except SJSU. They are at a lowly 2.7 yards per rushing attempt, better than only Oregon State.
Stanford also gains just 17.9 first downs per game and have scored just 18 TDs in 36 trips to the red zone. Finally, they're the most-sacked team in the league as well with 3.4 per game.
With such terrible offensive statistics, their 4-6 record is not surprising, but they have been very competitive in most of their losses. This is due to their defense, and an overall +9 turnover margin. In addition, their kickoff return team is among the best in the nation, and they're the only Pac-10 team with a kickoff return for a touchdown. TJ Rushing is 6th in the nation at kickoff returns, and as a team the Cardinal are 8th in the nation.
I think the Cal defense should smother Stanford's offense. Cal is #2 in rushing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Stanford may come out strong in the first half, but without a running game and going against athletic defensive backs and Cal's outstanding safeties, I just don't see a breakout game. They would need their QB and O line to be on fire like Oregon's were against the Bears, and even with that they probably do not have enough. They would need tremendous help from special teams and turnovers to get consistently good field position as USC did in order to stay close.
The real battle will be Cal's offensive line against the Stanford 3-4 defense. Stanford is actually pretty terrible in pass defense, last in the league with 257 yards. They do have 16 interceptions to 11 TDs allowed, however. They allow the second-highest completion percentage in the Pac (58.6%) and the second-highest yards-per-catch average (7.2). About two thirds of the first downs they allow are through the air. If the Bears can establish any sort of running game and occupy the linebackers with concentrating on the rush, they should have plenty of open passing opportunities.
I think this game plays out like many of Cal's victories this year. The opponent will stay close in the first half, but the Bears will begin to dominate with outstanding rushing and sheer physical fitness in the second half. If the Bears don't turn the ball over and can contain kickoffs well, then they should have the advantage in all phases of the game. If they suffer turnovers, however, or hand good field position to the Cardinal on every possession, the game could play out much more like the Oregon game than the Washington game.
We all know that Stanford view this as their "bowl" game, and that Cal has not won three Big Games in a row since the 50s. Yet both teams have everything to play for, and the crowd will be intense from the opening baton toss. This also plays to the Bears' favor. Finally, I think Aaron Rodgers plays a game comparable to how he played against USC. Although he doesn't have the same receivers to throw to, he's had a few games with them and should eliminate the interceptions he's been throwing the past few games.
In the end, Cal should keep the Axe. While I do think Stanford is underrated due to their strong defense, I also think the Bears will be focused and hungry and will again push 40 points. Arrington will have a hard time getting his tenth century of the year, but he will get it late in the second half. The Bear defense will dominate a weak Stanford offense and could have their third shutout of the year, but I think Stanford will score a few.
My prediction: Cal 36, Stanford 13.
November 10, 2004
For me, this game is summed up by the fact that Cal is ranked higher nationally in scoring offense (#5) and scoring defense (#9) than UW is in the Pac-10 (# 10 in both categories). Cal wins this game 99 out of 100 tries, and it's up to them to make sure this isn't that one special case.
Polls and Rankings:
Cal: #5 AP, #6 Coaches, #4 BCS
UW: no votes received in any poll
Sagarin puts Cal at #3 in the country. Cal has 96.23 points whereas UW at #121 has just 60.76. With the 3.40 home advantage, that makes the Huskies a 32-point underdog. The bookies agree, making the Bears a 31-point favorite.
We are all quite familiar with the Huskies' coaching woes and morale problems. As others have mentioned on the firstname.lastname@example.org list, it is amazing that the Huskies continue to draw nearly 65,000 fans per home game, second best in the Pac-10 behind USC. Considering that Oregon State is the only team within a thousand miles to play at UW this year, that average is primarily hometown UW fans. Remarkable.
Still, the fans can't play on the field (even at Stanford), and the Bears under Tedford have played their best in front of large, hostile, boistrous crowds. With morale at an all-time low on the UW team, and fan travel probably at an all-time high for Cal, this may turn out to be a benefit for the Bears.
Statistically, everything falls right in line with the Huskies' record. They are simply awful, and there's no way to sugar coat that. The only bright spot is their pass defense, which is #1 in the conference and #17 nationally at 181 yards per game. Of course, opponents run on the Huskies more and complete more passes, leading to an average of 5 fewer pass attempts per game (UW's opponents average 29 pass attempts per game, whereas the other Pac-10 teams' opponents average 34 per game.) UW also allows the highest completion percentage (60%) in the pac-10. Only two other teams allow 55% or better (Stanford and WSU), and Oregon is the league leader at 44% allowed.
UCLA is the only Pac-10 team with a worse rushing defense than the Huskies. UW allows 173.7 yards per game, 34 more per game than WSU in 8th place. They allow 4.2 yards per cary and have given up the most rushing TDs (17) in the league. This is all despite their three linebackers being #3-4-5 in tackles in the Pac-10, and DT Hopoi leading the league in both sacks (9.0) and TFL (22.0). (Ryan Riddle is right behind with 8.5 sacks and 4th in the Pac-10 with 13.0 TFL).
Washington is worst or near-worst in the league in so many categories it's sad. Meanwhile, Cal is best or near-best in so many it's almost ridiculous..
- Cal #1 scoring offense, UW #10 scoring defense
- Cal #2 scoring defense, UW #10 scoring offense
- Cal #1 rushing offense, UW #9 rushing defense
- Cal #1 total offense, UW #7 total defense
- Cal #2 total defense, UW #9 total offense
- Cal #2 pass defense, UW #9 pass offense
- Cal #1 pass efficiency, UW #8 pass efficiency defense
- Cal #1 3rd down conv, UW #9 opp 3rd down conv
- Cal #1 red zone defenxe, UW #10 red zone offense
- Cal #1 time of possession, UW #8 time of possession
Some other gruesome, train-wreck stats from the Huskies:
- 18 interceptions and only 5 passing TDs
- only 38.7% completion rate on passes
- 41 fewer first downs than Cal, in one more game
- only 29.7% third down conversion (last in the Pac)
- the only team to attempt 20+ fourth-down conversions (cal has tried just 7)
- just 13.0 points scored per game
- 29.3 points per game given up
- 14 total TDs (1.6 per game) compared to Cal's 41 TDs (5.1 per game).
Looking at common opponents: Both teams have played UCLA, OSU, USC, Oregon, and Arizona.
USC and Oregon stomped the Huskies, 38-0 and 31-6. Both ran for 150+ yards and attempted 35+ passes. UW had seven turnovers against the Ducks.
Notable is that UW's past four opponents have each given up at least two turnovers, and UCLA gave up three early in the year. UW has given up 21 turnovers in the past four games, and UCLA was the only game they had no turnovers (they lost to UCLA, 37-31, and UCLA had 424 yards rushing on the day). UW has given up 7 turnovers twice, and 5 or more FOUR TIMES this year. Incredible.
UCLA, the team with probably the closest rushing attack to Cal, averaged 7.9 yards per carry against the Huskies. Oregon, also similar, averaged 3.9. USC, which has a smaller and less experienced O line but also has Reggie Bush and Lendale White, averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Against USC's and Oregon's defense, the Huskies managed only 1.9 and 1.5 yards per carry, respectively, and had time of possession differentials of -18:18 and -13:14 against them. Against USC, the Huskies managed a paltry 6 first downs.
There is no reason to think Cal's game against UW will go much different from USC's or Oregon's. The only way UW could have a chance is if they end up with a very high positive turnover margin and maybe break a couple of kickoff returns for touchdowns (not likely as UW is 8th in kickoff returns, but Cal is 9th in kickoff coverage).
All in all, I don't expect a lot of passing by the Bears. I see no reason to pass the ball except to confuse the linebackers and stretch the field. The Cal O line should be able to exploit the two freshmen on UW's D line, and Arrington should be able to get 200, maybe 250 yards, unless he gets injured. If the Bears can avoid turning over the ball, the defense may throw another shutout.
I have to admit there is the outside possibility of "Senior Day" causing such an emotional kick that UW plays their best game of the last three years and makes it close. Realistically, however, the Huskies must be entirely demoralized and looking forward to the Apple Cup to redeem their season and send Gilby out like Joe Kapp.
You heard it here first: Cal is probably going to win this one. My prediction: Cal 52, UW 10. I don't see how this could be called woofing when you look at the stats. But I'll wait until Sunday to feel bad for the Huskies and their fans.
November 5, 2004
I did not live through the sixties; I was born in the sixties. At the tail end. Just in time to be old enough to watch American men land on the moon, but not old enough to understand what it meant.
Now I'm grown, out of college. I was in high school during the "me" generation, just out of my teens when fourteen-year-old girls all began wearing their underwear outside their clothes like Madonna, and out of college before Generation X got its label and self-awereness. I have, therefore, been either slightly too late or slightly too early for all the significant, generation-defining, cultural phenomena.
An interesting thing about war, though, particularly a war like the Vietnam war or the Iraq war--a war of choice, a war of American agression and imperialism, a war that divides the country along fiercely defined lines, a war that continues to escalate in costs and deaths and injuries while decreasing in potential for positive outcome--such a war does not restrict itself, like music or fashion, to a particular generation. It touches all of us, even those like me who are too old to be drafted and who have children too young to enlist.
I have not studied the sixties. I have never been drawn to the decade of my birth as a period of history that interested me. Perhaps because it was such a complicated subject. Perhaps because its impact was still reverberating through our social, political, and commercial infrastructures. Perhaps because everyone else in the known universe seemed to be so interested in it. Perhaps because I tended to like 50's doo-wop and 80's rock more than 60's music.
Perhaps because I trusted that the grown-ups in the world had learned valuable lessons from it, lessons that they would teach to me in Cliff's Notes fashion, lessons that would ensure that our culture never had to go through that type of turmoil again.
Today, I see that grownups did not learn any lessons from the sixties. The election three days ago makes clear that Americans and America are regressing. Not only are we supporting a quagmire, guerilla war half a world away in which civilians and combatants are indistinguishable, but we now are writing discrimination into our state constitutions; we now are supporting the destruction of the environment; we now are embracing and trumpeting intolerance as a virtue; we now are eschewing equality by enhancing class distinctions and creating a wealthy, ruling elite.
In this age of unreal reality TV, cut-and-paste pop music, botox and Atkins, is it even possible for America's youth to become enraged and engaged? In this decade of text messaging, body piercing, and mp3 file sharing, is it even possible to have a shared communal experience? In this atmosphere of terrorists (not communists) hiding around every corner, gays threatening to take over our children by (god forbid) MARRYING each other, and Democrats prepared to ban the Bible, is it even possible to have a position that is not unpatriotic, un-American, or un-Christian without being labeled a subversive, or worse, an Enemy Combatant?
I am a firm believer in the cycle of life and in natural rhythms. The world tends towards an equilibrium over time, and to get there, we have to go through cycles. The pond settles eventually after the ripples fade. The pendulum comes to rest after swinging back and forth. Hot water comes to room temperature after the ice melts. It's entropy. It's natural.
I think we are headed for a major sixties rerun. When the politicians and corporate leaders repeat the same mistakes made fifty years ago, the youth and citizenry will eventually provide the same response. America can not take this war in Iraq for long. The country can not live under the threat of a hidden foe for ever or the type of spying on citizens and bureaucratic secrecy espoused by the Bush administration for long (think McCarthyism but now its Aschroftitis). Eventually, the citizenry will rise up in another revolution to protect our rights, to protect the rights of minorities, to protect our environment, to take back America as an inclusive beacon of freedom, hope, liberty, and tolerance.
Right now everyone is so afraid of mistreating the soldiers who are courageously dying and getting maimed in Iraq, that no one is willing to stand up and lead that revolution. Bush has his mandate: ban gayness, invade Iran, open Alaska for drilling by his friends, eliminate taxation of the rich.
Will the rest of us recognize our mandate? Will we know what to do about it?
November 3, 2004
Oregon, overall, may be a tougher ticket than ASU. ASU had a one-dimensional offense with extreme speed at the wideouts and a QB with a strong arm but no running game. Oregon has solid balance in their attack, and there is little chance Cal can arrange a third straight shutout without help from many Duck turnovers.
Cal: #4 BCS, # 4 AP, # 6 Coaches, # 2 Sagarin (96.56)
Ore: NR BCS, #33 AP, #32 Coaches, #33 Sagarin (76.24)
Line is Cal by 21. Sagarin predicts a 24-point Cal victory.
Sagarin says Oregon's schedule is only 48th-strongest in the country, which accounts for them being ranked behind UCLA and Oregon State. Their losses were to Indiana at home in the first game (an aberration), at Oklahoma, and at home to Arizona State. They beat Idaho, and they've won their last four games at WSU and Stanford and at home over Arizona and Washington. It's
tempting to paint them as the team that lost to Indiana and can only beat weaklings.
They're not entirely predictable, however, not even at this point in the season. They have some impressive stats (see below), but they scored just 7 at Oklahoma, just 13 against ASU, and just 16 against Stanford. But they scored 31 against UW and more than 40 against WSU and Idaho. They allowed just 37 yards rushing over their past two games (UW and Stanford), in part
due to a plethora of big sacks.
In addition, they're 5-1 in their last six, and they've won seven straight against the Bears. They are playing for 2nd place in the Pac-10 this week, the only other Pac-10 team with a single loss.
Offensively, Oregon is powerful but not overwhelming. They are a balanced attack with a big offensive line, a talented running back that leads the league in receiving yards for running backs, and a good QB. The Ducks are 4th in the conference, averaging 169 yards/game rushing, with 4.1 yards per carry and 11 rushing TDs. This is not quite as good as USC (and not nearly
as good as UCLA or Cal) but significantly better than the other six Pac-10 teams. They are 3rd passing (Cal is 5th), with 260 yards per game. More impressive is their high passing efficiency: 62% completion percentage, 7.1 yards per catch, and only 5 interceptions to 14 TDs. While these numbers are not as good as Cal's (Cal leads the Pac in passing efficiency), they are
very good and show a balanced, patient, creative attack. The Ducks are 2nd behind Cal in time of possession as well.
Oregon has run by far the most offensive plays of any Pac-10 team (620, 77.5 per game). OSU is the only other team to have run over 600. Cal has run just 483 (69 per game). Cal averages over seven yards per offensive play, while Oregon averages 5.5--a good but not outstanding number.
Cal, however, has the best defense the Ducks will have faced, possibly better even than Oklahoma's, which held the Ducks to seven points early in the season. Cal is 2nd or 3rd in all defensive statistical categories: scoring (2nd, 12.3 ppg); rushing (2nd, 92 ypg); passing (191 ypg, 8TDs, 6 ints); total defense (2nd, 282 ypg, 4.4 yards per play). Oregon has played
against the league's worse defenses, with ASU being perhaps the best overall... but overwhelmingly Oregon's opponents have occupied the 6-10 spots in defensive statistics in the Pac-10.
Still, Oregon's offensive line is very big (317 pound average) and terribly experienced (four seniors and a junior). Their TE is also big and tall, and their WRs are all 6-2 or taller. A team with this much on paper should be lighting up the scoreboard every week, particularly against the teams they've faced. They did it agains UW, WSU, and Arizona, but they scored a
combined 29 against ASU and Stanford. Cal's defense is the most athletic and wild they'll have faced, and it's hard to predict what will happen. There's so much potential and skill in Oregon's offense, but the same can be said about Cal's defense.
Defensively, the Ducks are also statistically solid. Again, the statistics are generated against the league's worst offenses. The Ducks allow just 2.9 yards per rush and are third in the conference at 101 yards per game allowed rushing. They allow a low 50% pass completion rate and have 12
interceptions to 11 passing TDs allowed. They are third in the league in sacks per game behind USC and Cal.
But Oregon has some weaknesses. They are the most penalized team, and they also have the least opponent penalties of all Pac-10 teams. They have attempted the most 4th-down conversions (18), but they're pretty good at converting them (must be a tendency to run on third and short, and not quite get there). They have not much of a kickoff return to speak of (18 yards per), and they average just 33 net yards per punt, 9th in the league. Also,
their red zone statistics are atrocious: 8th in offense with just 70% scoring in the red zone, though 21 of their 26 scored were touchdowns. Defensively, they're 7th, allowing 78% scoring, though they only allowed 11 TDs in 23 opportunities. Cal is #1 in both offensive and defensive red zone stats, by a wide margin. Generally, though, Oregon has been good at keeping
teams away from the red zone: just 23 opportunities in 8 games, which is better than the league average (not including USC's and Cal's ridiculously low 2 per game).
What's remarkable about Oregon's defense is their defensive interior. They are probably the two largest DTs in the league at 297 and 345 pounds. The ends are much lighter, with experience to help them out; that's why DE Devan Long is 2nd in the Pac-10 in sacks and has at least one in seven of his eight games this year. The big DTs likely crush the pocket, forcing the QB out to the ends, who wrap them up by getting around the big OTs. Cal is the
biggest and most powerful OL they'll have seen since their loss to ASU, who scored 28 points on them.
The weakness in the defense should be the defensive backs, who are relatively short (all under six feet). RC Bates is a true freshman, and FS Nelson is a sophomore. The linebacking corps is solid, though, with a ton of experience (two seniors and a junior).
All in all, I think Oregon is an unpredictable team with a lot of potential that they have not yet demonstrated in their games. If they play fully up to their potential, they will make a game of it and could give Cal a real scare. If Florida State can be upset by Maryland, and Miami can lose to
UNC, Cal fans should not count Oregon a "gimme".
I am confident, however, that the Bears have a more talented team. The question is the offensive injuries to the receivers, and a generally banged up defense. The Bears should come out ready to fight after a mediocre offensive showing against ASU, and the defense should be pumped up to play against a big, experienced O line with a productive RB and an efficient QB.
The Ducks will move the ball and will get on Cal's side of the field multiple times, but I think they'll have trouble getting in the end zone. Cal is vulnerable when offenses have a lot of field to work with, but when the Bears compress the field, they are very strong. Offensively, the Bears
have a running attack like Oregon simply has not yet seen, except perhaps when Oklahoma put up 214 rushing yards on them.
The key will be for Cal to lead at halftime. Oregon has lost all three games they trailed at the half. They are a good, solid offense, but they lack an explosive threat to take back a game that is sliding away from them. I do not think turnovers will be a factor in the outcome, but I do think
the crowd noise will be. If the crowd is fired up from the opening cannon, the Bears will perform efficiently. If the crowd is lackadaisical and passive, Cal will have a hard time getting off the blocks offensively and will struggle to control the game's rhythm. It is critical that the Bears
dictate the rhythm and not let the Ducks have control, especially in the first half. So go to the game, yell and scream, get crazy, fire up the Bears.
While I think Oregon does not get enough respect this year in general, I don't think this turns out to be an upset. Final score Cal 36, Oregon 16.
November 1, 2004
As we all know by now, the Green Bay Packers beat the Washington Redskins in the Redskins' final home game before the presidential election. This means that, of course, the incumbent will lose.
What's more interesting is how that loss occurred. The news has been filled with stories of lawyers and vote-watchers being deployed around the country, especially in the "battleground states" (no, those are not Afghanistan and Iraq, where the mission is accomplished and the war is already over). They are doing this to make sure, we optimistically presume, that the election is fair, that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.
That's just what football officials are for. They are there to make sure that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.
In our litigious society, 300-pound grown men making millions of dollars a year can be sent into convulsions, and entire stadia full of normally normal people can be turned into writhing lunatics by a little yellow hankie... or more often, the absence of a little yellow hankie. It's amazing that when ten 300-pound men bash each other at full speed, we pay attention to such little things as whether the defensive back's hand was touching or was not touching the receiver's back, never mind whether an advantage was gained or lost by the action.
It occurs to me that the NFL is very similar to politics... or perhaps, our politics have become like the NFL. The news media, for lack of patience and intelligence to educate the electorate on the actual issues, floods Washington with sideline reporters and constantly shouts out the score (49 to 47!), without any real context or analysis. Coverage of the election is more about strategy and tactics to reach certain groups of voters and counteract the other campaign's strategy, and less about what the candidates actually do and what they promise, and what they SHOULD BE doing and promising.
In the presidential election, the media have changed their role over the years. Their role should be one of the referee, watching closely to ensure that neither side breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage. (Yes, we have lawyers and courts and public officials to do that too, but observing Florida's history and what's already begun in Ohio, I think I want instant replay.) Instead, the media are playing the role of color analyst and play-by-play announcer, somewhat meaningless noise to go along with the pictures we're seeing, and endless debate over the personnel and tactics used by the candidates.
I wonder if the Supreme Court will get involved in the Packers-Redskins game. Maybe a thorough review of the video will show that the flag was thrown erroneously, and the Supreme Court can grant the touchdown and demand a replay of the final few minutes of the game. Logistically, that will be virtually impossible in time to name a president, so they will have to take the results as they would have stood after the Redskins touchdown.
So far I haven't heard of any lawsuits filed over the illegal motion penalty. But today's not over yet.
October 27, 2004
This game will very likely decide who goes to the Rose Bowl. With just four games remaining, ASU faces only Stanford before closing the year with easy wins at home against WSU and on the road at Arizona. Cal will have Oregon and Stanford at home and Washington on the road (plus USM).
ASU is already bowl-eligible at 6-1 (3-1 Pac-10). Their only loss was to USC, a 45-7 blowout in Los Angeles the week after USC barely nipped Cal. Cal is looking to get bowl-eligible (5-1, 3-1 Pac-10). Their only loss was the 23-17 near-miss in Los Angeles at USC.
Cal is #8 in the current BCS poll and #7 AP/#8 ESPN. ASU is #15 in the BCS poll and #20 AP/#21 ESPN. ASU would probably be ranked higher but for their low preseason expectations. Sagarin puts ASU at #10 (86.26) and Cal at #5 (89.52). With the home advantage (3.36), Sagarin makes Cal a 6 1/2-point favorite. The oddsmakers give ASU less respect, though, and they expect the Bears to triumph by at least two touchdowns.
ASU was not given much respect preseason, either, being picked to finish 6th in the conference behind even OSU and WSU.
Arizona State is one of only two teams (Michigan the other) to score more than 16 points against Iowa (currently #24)--ASU scored 44 and allowed only 7 in that game. The big question for Bears fans is this: Which game is the aberration and which is the true ASU... the 45-7 shellacking they took at USC or the 44-7 beating they put on Iowa at home? Or is the answer somewhere in between?
Offensively, the answer lies with ASU's passing game. ASU has had 350 or more yards passing in three games, and scored 4 or more passing TDs in each of those games. Yet they have five games rushing less than 130 yards a game, and in all seven games they rushed for less than 140. They have only four rushing TDs as a team. Consider: ASU as a team has 735 yards rushing and 4 TDs in seven games, averaging 2.9 yards per rush. JJ Arrington has 918 yards in six games with 10 TDs, averaging 7.2 yards per rush. Even with that, they're 4th in the Pac-10 in scoring with 32.1 points per game, with three games scoring over 40 points.
You would look at those stats and think they pass 75% of the time, but they don't. They have rushed 252 times and passed 279 times, pretty balanced at 52.5% passing and 47.5% rushing. Yet they have 22 TDs passing and only 4 rushing, they get 7.2 yards per catch versus 2.9 yards per rush. Even so, it gets stranger: They complete only 54.8% of their passes (6th in the Pac) and are 5th in passing efficiency. Also, they hit on 42.7% of their third downs (at 117 chances, they are 2nd-most in the league and have by far the most conversions).
ASU is also best in the Pac in the red zone, scoring on 25 of their 27 opportunities. Only two other teams have more red zone chances than ASU: USC (37) and Oregon (34). But not all is so rosy: Only 16 of those 25 scores were touchdowns. They have confidence in their kicker, who's made 9 of 10 in the red zone. Compare these stats to Cal: With 27 opportunities in the red zone (more per game than ASU), Cal has scored TDs on 21 of those occasions and have come up without points just three times.
Part of ASU's passing success is due to WR Hagan, who has four 100-yard receiving games this year (Iowa, UCLA, UTEP, N'western) and 10 in his career. He has 7 of ASU's passing TDs. But seven players have touchdown catches for the Sun Devils, so you can't just blanket Hagan and ignore the others.
Perhaps the most impressive stat of ASU's is their +10 turnover margin (1.4 per game). They have not lost a fumble this year, and QB Walter has thrown just 7 interceptions in their 7 games. They have gained 6 fumbles and 11 interceptions, however, most notably 4 picks each from UTEP and UCLA.
ASU's OL is young (two sophomores and two juniors, plus one graduate student) and not huge (they average 299 pounds; Cal's D line weighs in at 285 average), so the Bear defense should be able to stop the run and focus on the pass a bit more. Their running backs are three freshmen and a junior, which also is a reason their running game is weak. Walter is the real deal, however, so this will be a real test of Cal's passing defense. Walter may be the most dangerous QB the Bears face all year, including Matt Leinart. Yet he was abysmal against Oregon State and USC and was schitzophrenic (3 int, 6 TD) against UCLA.
The key to stopping Walter is apparently a very good defensive backfield. Oregon State and USC both have outstanding DBs, and those are the two teams to hold Walter to relatively low numbers (a combined 39-for-79 with two interceptions and 1 touchdown). While QB pressure will be important in helping the DBs do their job on Saturday, I think the key will be in how well the DBs step up to the challenge. Cal's speed and experience here, coupled with their intense rushing defense, will hold ASU relatively in check. I think the Sun Devils will score way more than just 7 points (night game, smaller crowd, Rose Bowl on the line, revenge factor for the past two years), but I don't think they'll get more than 28. Maybe 31 if the Bears have that one extra turnover they've been giving up recently.
On the other side of the ball, ASU's defense has been pretty stingy. Through the first five games, they gave up an average of 12.5 points per game. In their last two games, however, they have given up 45 and 42 points. Those (USC and UCLA) are both good offenses, better than anything they'd faced yet. And this week it steps up another notch for them with Arrington's powerful running, Rodgers' efficient passing, and Cal's huge O line.
The ASU defensive line averages just 264 pounds (compare to Cal's O line at 312 pounds). USC and UCLA both have very large O lines as well, and both had good success running the ball as well as overall offensive success. ASU has collected 23 sacks, however, 3rd in the Pac-10, including 3 against UCLA and one against USC. Over half of those are by the DL, evenly spread out among the starters. Their top three tacklers, though, are linebackers. I think this suggests that their system is working reasonable well--you want sacks from your DL and tackles from your LBs. The D line also has a large number of tackles for loss, also evenly spread among them.
Overall, ASU's defense is statistically solid but unimpressive. They're fourth in scoring defense at 21.6 points per game, but against top offenses in their last two games they gave up 92 points. They are 5th in rushing defense giving up 121 yards per game and 9 rushing TDs, with a relatively high 3.6 yards per carry allowed. They are dead last in passing defense, allowing 236 yards per game, but they have 11 interceptions to 9 passing TDs allowed, and pretty close to the league average at 55% completions allowed and giving up a reasonably low 6.4 yards per catch.
Compare to Cal's offense: #1 in scoring (41 ppg, 34 TDs, 5.7 TDs/game), #1 in rushing (245 yards per game, 18 rushing TDs, 5.8 yards per carry), #5 in passing offense (263 ypg, 16 TDs, an astounding 9.9 yards per catch and an eye-popping 73.6% completion rate), and #1 in total offense (508 yards per game, 7.4 yards per play). UCLA is the closest thing to such a balanced, powerful attack in the conference, and they're way back in the distance. ASU simply have not faced as big, powerful, strong, and efficient attack as Cal's.
The Bears should be able to run on ASU like UCLA did (233 yards, 3 rushing TDs), and they should also be able to pass like UCLA did most of the game (30 of 45 for 325 yards and 2 TDs, though UCLA threw FOUR interceptions).
Like UCLA, however, the Bears could be done in by turnovers. While it's unlikely that ASU will go the entire season without losing a single fumble, they are +10 overall while Cal is -3. Rodgers has thrown four interceptions to his 159 completions, and most were probably not his fault, but the Bears have to take care of the football and not hand it over to ASU in good field position.
When I began looking at the stats, I was very concerned that ASU is a powerful team, one that should probably be in the top 15. While they are good, and they are capable of beating the Bears, I think Cal should win this game nine times out of ten, in convincing fashion. The tenth time is when Walter is on fire and turnovers change the game, and even then it would be more like the thrilling comeback ASU had against UCLA last week: close and high-scoring, with late plays deciding the final.
I see no reason to think that Cal will suffer a major letdown against a team that just put up 48 points and is in the path of their steamroller ride to bowl eligibility and, hopefully, a Rose Bowl. The Bears could come out flat, however, due to the late kickoff and the expected lack of fans in the seats (the Cal press release says attendance is expected to be a season-low 51,000). If they do, and they allow ASU to get some turnovers and catch fire in the passing game, they could be in big trouble.
I don't think it'll happen though, based on this team's history and the raw talent and power they have. I think this game goes Cal's way from the opening drive, similar to the UCLA game. ASU will make a good first half of it, but in the second half their O and D lines simply won't be able to stay with Cal's linemen, and Arrington will put on a serious show in the second half. I think Cal's defense will hector Walter all night, and Cal's DBs will defend well. ASU will be forced to pass the entire second half, so I hope to see a few sacks for the Bears and a lot of third-and-long situations for the Sun Devils.
I think Cal begins to pull away seriously in the third quarter after going into halftime 28-17, with the final score Cal 48, ASU 27.
October 25, 2004
I am just tired of the election already. The presidential campaign has worn me out, so far to the effect that I don't even yet know what local issues are on my ballot. I can't imagine what kind of hell those poor people in the "swing states" (read: propoganda targets) are living.
Is there anyone that has not already made up their minds about who should win this presidential election? I know the feeling of being undecided--the California gubernatorial election was a tough one (I couldn't decide between the prostitute, the stripper, or Gary Coleman... turns out Conan won). But come on. Bush and Kerry are so fundamentally different that if you're undecided at this point, then you've got something wrong with you.
Come to think of it, if you're supporting Bush at this point, then... well...
Anyway, I just can't wait for it all to be over. Maybe that's Bush's plan: just tire the Democrats out, and maybe they'll sleep through election day, and he can be anointed king for another term without all that pesky arguing about who actually got more votes. Meanwhile, he continues to "lead" the economy to ruin, Iraq to ruin, the environment to ruin, and America's credibility to ruin. He's finally found his strength: He's so good at ruining things that he decided his entire campaign should be based on ruining John Kerry's reputation. Hell, there's about as much truth in what Bush says about Kerry as there is in what he says about Iraq.
But who needs a president who tells the truth, cares about America's standing in the world, and actually thinks about policy? All we need in the White House is a guy we'd feel comfortable having a beer with, or digging up bugs on the ranch out with the Real Men.
Welcome to the Reality TV president. Joe Politician. Big Brother. I think it's time to vote this idiot off the island.
October 21, 2004
Arizona is #80 in the sagarin ratings (67.28) and unranked in both polls. Cal is #6 Sagarin (89.16) and 7/8 in the polls, as well as #8 in the first BCS rankings. Cal is a 22-point favorite by the oddsmakers, and Sagarin predicts Cal winning by 25. Arizona is riding a 5-game losing streak and have lost 7 of their last 8 going back to last year. Their only win this year was over Div 1-AA Northern Arizona, 21-3.
Over the years, however, it seems that Arizona is Cal's annual "let-down" game. In the 23 games the teams have played, the difference in scoring is an average of ONE POINT per game (Arizona holds a narrow 24.7 to 23.7 lead). Thirteen of the games have been decided by 7 or fewer points. And we all remember the game that caused the "Tomey Rule," which requires teams to go for two-point conversions after TDs in every overtime after the second. With the last four meetings in Berkeley, the Bears have not played at Arizona since 1997, Holmoe's first year as coach.
Last year, the Bears demolished the Cats in Berkeley, 42-14, with 327 yards rushing. Echemandu had 201 yards rushing in that game, and Arrington averaged over 8 yards a carry on his way to 92 yards. But that was Last Year. We only care about This Year.
Arizona is much improved, at least on defense. They are still pretty questionable (I hesitate to say "bad"), but the defense has improved by 100 yards and 16 points per game since last year. In their past two games, they held the Pac-10's 2nd and 3rd leading rushers under 100 yards rushing (each). CB Cason was the Pac-10's defensive player of the week the first week of the season. But their top two players in the DT spot on their depth chart are out (suspension, injury), and statistically they just can't match up to the Bears.
Arizona's defense is, unfortunately for them, their strength. They held Wisconsin to just 9 points (1 TD, 1 FG) and held Utah to 23. But their last two games they gave up 37 points to UCLA and 28 points to Oregon
The Cats allow a respectable 3.1 yards per carry and have allowed only 7 rushing TDs in 6 games. They give up a respectable 117.3 yards per game rushing, including holding WSU to just 28 yards rushing and UCLA to 114 yards rushing. In passing defense, however, Arizona gives up a league-worst 7.5 yards per completion and is third-worst in the league in allowing a 57.1% completion rate. (Rodgers completes an astounding 75% of his passes.) In addition, they have the worst TD-to-interception ratio in the league (9 TDs allowed to just 3 picks).
Arizona's defense allows 18.5 first downs per game and gets just 1.25 sacks per game. They allow a league-worst 44.2% 3rd down conversion (the Cal offense is tops in converting at 51%), and they allow 50% 4th down conversion. The Cats have allowed opponents 23 trips to the red zone, where they've given up 14 TDs and 3 field goals.
Arizona's DL averages about 260 pounds, compared to Cal's 315 pound offensive line. The linebackers are all in the 220-235 range. UCLA's OL is also big, and they scored 37 points on the Wildcats. I expect Arizona to put no pressure on Rodgers, and again the passing game will balance off the run game in the first half, and the Bears will simply overpower Arizona in the second half when the run game finally gets going full steam. I am expecting another 150-yard day for Arrington and several receptions for Lynch and McArthur and Cross. It looks especially bad for the Wildcats when you see that their two starting cornerbacks are true freshmen, and for most of the 4th quarter against the Ducks, Arizona had three freshmen playing in their defensive backfield.
Clearly, Arizona's defense will have their hands full with Cal's intense offense (I think we should start spelling it "awefense").
On the other side of the ball... well, let's just say that I think the scouts will all get a good look at Arizona's punter. If Cal's offense is spelled "awefense," then Arizona's should be "awwwfense." That's why Stoops has dumped the sophomore QB in favor of a freshman, who will get his first start on Saturday. This does throw a wrench in things because you never know with a new QB how the offense will respond. They may fall apart, or they may pick up their game and play better than ever before.
The sad part is that even with a doubling of productivity in Arizona's offense, they still would be three touchdowns behind the Bears.
Arizona has scored 20 or more points against only I-AA Northern Arizona, and there they managed just 21. They were held under 10 by Utah and Wisconsin, and in Pac-10 play they are averaging a meager 16.7 points per game. They are last in the Pac-10 in Passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense, and they're only 6th in rushing offense.
On the ground, the Wildcats get 3.6 yards per carry and have scored just 5 TDs in 6 games. They will be going against the league's best defense (2.5 yards per carry, only 3 rushing TDs allowed, and just 86 yards per game rushing allowed). Their passing game is worse, with just 5.9 yards per completion and a 1:1 ratio of TDs to interceptions (5 of each). This adds up to a total of 283 yards per game of total offense, and a league-worst 4.5 yards per play. That's going against the league's best defense, which allows a league-best 4.2 yards per play and 273 yards per game.
It gets worse: U of A is last in 3rd down conversions with a paltry 35% converted. They also achieve a sad 16.3 first downs per game (compared to Cal's 25.4 first downs per game). They are going against the league's best defense again here: Cal allows a league-low 15.4 first downs a game. Arizona has visited the red zone only 16 times in 6 games and has come away without points five times; they only have 6 TDs in the 11 successful drives. There's little reason to believe that trend will change with a freshman quarterback in his first start against the league's best defense.
There are just three things Arizona does really well, judging from the stats: They lead the Pac in kickoff coverage (just 16 yards per return), they avoid penalties, and they get good attendance (nearly 50,000 a game for THIS team?!?).
All in all, this is another clear mismatch for the Bears. The wild cards are the new QB, the letdown factor, and the series history. Again, however these Bears are focused and on task, and a letdown does not appear to be in the cards. The series history is all but moot, and a freshman QB behind an O line that averages around 290 pounds is unlikely to change this game except to make the point spread questionable.
The Bears will dominate this game from start to finish, though in the first half their run game may take a while to get started again. I expect to see a lot of Robertson and the other backups in the 4th quarter. I think Cal goes into halftime 28-0 and rolls away with the game, 48-10.
October 14, 2004
We all know that JJ Arrington is the conference's leading rusher (144.5 yards per game) and Maurice Drew is right behind (138.2 yards per game), and they both have seven TDs and rank in the top 10 nationally in yards rushing per game and in all-purpose yards per game. But is that REALLY the story of this game?
Yep, you betcha.
This game is probably not going to break any passing records for either side. Last week Aaron Rodgers completed 23 consecutive passes. I'm not sure he'll get that many attempts this week. When you look at the statistics, it becomes pretty clear why.
But first, the rankings:
Cal is #8/9 in the polls, and UCLA is #28/29. Sagarin rates Cal #9 at 87.61, with the nation's 3rd-toughest schedule. UCLA is #26 at 79.64, with the nation's 57th-toughest schedule. With the home advantage of 3.19, Sagarin rates Cal an 11.5-point favorite. The oddsmakers think the Bears are better, though, making it two touchdowns and change.
The Bears were hurt by some injuries against USC last week, most notably Chase Lyman. McCleskey came back but is still slowed. The D line is nicked up.
UCLA is 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the conference, riding a 4-game winning streak where they scored at least 33 points in each win. Their only loss was to 5-0, #15 Oklahoma State (31-20). Their other opponents were weaklings, however: Illinois (35-17), Washington (37-31), San Diego State (33-10), and Arizona (37-17). (Sagarin ratings, respectively: #92, #79, #81, and #77.) So UCLA has proved it can beat up on weaklings, but it has not yet shown it can really handle a top-caliber team like the Bears.
Even against that weak schedule, the Bruins defense is statistically last in the Pac-10. They are dead last in rush defense (250 yards per game, 5.7 yards per rush, 10 rushing TDs allowed) and also total defense (415 yards per game, 5.6 yards per play, 13 TDs). They are also 7th in scoring defense (21.2 ppg). They are pretty good against the pass, however, ranking 3rd in the Pac (165 ypg, 4 interceptions, just 3 TDs).
Compare that to Cal's offense: First in rushing (247.8 ypg, 14 rushing TDs, 5.9 yards per rush), first in scoring (40.8 ppg, 5.75 TDs per game), first in total offense (510 ypg, 7.6 yards per play).
Let's put this into a little perspective. Cal averages 510 yards per game, but UW and Arizona COMBINED average 636 yards per game. Cal averages 7.6 yards per play; the next best offense gets 5.6 per play, and UW and Arizona average 4.6 yards per play. In four games, Cal has more TDs than any other Pac-10 team, ALL of which have played five games.
UCLA's rush defense of 250 yards per game compares to Cal's league-leading 88 yards per game allowed. The conference average for rushing defense (not including UCLA) is 122 yards per game.
When Cal has the ball, they should let the horses run. It's my belief that if Arrington and Lynch can get past the DL (and with Cal's big, powerful OL they certainly will), they can run right over the linebackers. The passing game should be used to keep the safeties honest against the run.
When UCLA has the ball, it is much the same story except it's not awesome running game against woeful defense, it's awesome running game against awesome defense. This is the best defense UCLA will have faced (although I admit I have not watched Ok St this year).
UCLA's line, like Cal's, is big and experienced. They average 326 pounds and, I believe, have more experience than USC's line. They're also tall, and everyone says that Drew slides behind them until he sees a hole, and then it's too late for the defenders to catch him. Since his seven TD runs have AVERAGED over 46 yards each, I would agree with that generally.
UCLA averages 5.6 yards a carry, very close to Cal's average and more than a yard more than the next Pac-10 team. The Bruins have 11 rushing TDs (seven by Drew from long distance, four in the red zone) and get 445 yards a game overall. They're 4th in the conference in scoring with 32.4 points per game overall and 35.5 ppg in their last four games.
Their passing offense, however, is not so awesome. QB Drew Olson has 8 passing TDs and 5 interceptions, and the bruins are just 8th in the conference at 204 yards per game. Olson also hits on just 57% of his passes (Rodgers has a stunning 76.8% completion rate, with over 80% in his past three games, and has thrown 9 TDs to just 2 interceptions). It should be noted that both Cal and UCLA have way fewer passing attempts than other Pac-10 teams because of their powerful running games. Cal averages 25 attempts per game, and UCLA averages 26. The rest of the conference average 36 pass attempts per game.
In addition, both Cal and UCLA have strong pass defenses. Both have 4 interceptions. Cal has allowed 4 passing TDs in 4 games, but UCLA has allowed just 3 passing TDs in five games. Cal allows 5.6 yards per attempt, UCLA 5.4 (OSU is best in the conference at 5.3). Cal allows 10.8 yards per completion, UCLA 10.1.
In short, this game is about two awesome rushing attacks and which defense will do a better job of stopping the other. Cal has the serious edge in this matchup. Most of the other statistical categories are a wash or further illustrate the difference in the defenses: Cal allows opponents just 14.5 first downs a game, whereas UCLA allows 22 per game. Cal has 3 sacks a game, but UCLA has just 4 sacks in 5 games against some of the worst offenses around.
There is one other edge the Bruins have: Their special teams are quite good. They have yet to miss a field goal (7 of 7) and have good kicking and punting games. Cal is no slouch in that area but is last in field goals (1 of 3) and kickoff coverage (23.6 yards per KO return, no thanks to Reggie Bush).
All in all, I have to give this matchup to Cal in a big win 9 out of 10 times, with the 10th a close game decided by a field goal. This is homecoming for Cal, fresh off a frustrating loss that will focus them. They have no reason to look past the Bruins to Arizona. UCLA, however, will be up for the north/south rivalry and will want to prove they can play with a good team and not just push cupcakes around.
The Bears, though, are just too good and too focused to let this be that 10th game decided by a field goal. Not this year, not with 65,000 fans hungry for Bruin, not with the Rose Bowl on the line every game, not with Tedford calling the shots. I think Cal wins this one going away, 45-28.
October 11, 2004
Bush has so little to run on that he can't even stick to his attacks on "his opponent." (By the way, why does he refuse to refer to Senator Kerry by his name but consistently call him, "my opponent"? Is it meant to be a snub? Is it meant to mean that the race is between Bush and whoever shows up that day?)
The Republicans spent the early summer trying to smear Kerry's war record in Vietnam. They've given up on that because it's hard to support the troops in Iraq when you're denigrating the service of a volunteer who has three purple hearts from Vietnam.
They spent the later summer branding Kerry a flip-flopper, gleefully quoting the "I voted for it before I voted against it" sound bite at every possible turn.
Now, when the public is tiring of that attack and beginning to see through it by finally beginning to understand Kerry's war position, the Republicans are backing off the flip-flop tag in favor of consistency: consistently liberal.
If Bush can't be counted on to be steadfast and resolute in his position on John Kerry, how can he be counted on to be steadfast and resolute in the "war on terror"? The Republican Party has more people dedicated to more lines of attack on John Kerry than they have on Osama bin Laden. They've flipped and flopped on their way to finding out that Kerry is much tougher and more resolute than they ever expected.
Bush spends so much time and effort twisting reality about Iraq, twisting reality about Kerry, twisting reality about the economy, twisting reality about everything, that through his eyes, the world must look like some strange, unholy mixture of Dali surrealism and Escher relativity. When Bush administration officials speak these days, reality takes a very strange shape indeed.
October 8, 2004
That last sentence is truly amazing. Bush has pushed for and signed into law several tax cuts worth hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. Those tax cuts, it is well documented, benefit the richest 1% of Americans. That means that for most working families, the tax cut amounts to a few hundred dollars a year, if that.
By cutting taxes and raising the deficit (and therefore the debt), Bush is in effect increasing spending on interest. As the Post states, interest spending accounts for more than the federal spending on education, homeland security, law enforcement, and veterans combined.
Bush: Tough on terrorism, protecting America. "Doing everything [he] can" to protect America and American citizens.
Bush: The Education president. No child left behind.
Bush: Supporting our troops and veterans.
Bush's actions expose the lie of his campaign rhetoric. Bush clearly feels that the government should borrow money and pay the interest on it in order to allow the richest Americans to stay rich. When the budget fights flare up, what will get cut? Interest on the debt? Now there's a good idea: Borrow more money to pay the interest you already owe. No, the interest must be paid every year. That means that something else must be cut.
Bush: The education president, tough on terrorism, supporting our troops, protecting America.
If Bush cared about education, he'd fund education instead of interest. If he cared about fighting terrorism and homeland security, he'd fund that instead of interest.
Tax cuts mean that the government has to pay more interest on more debt, which means fewer actual services provided. Bush is hoping, of course, that the richest 1% of Americans will invest their billions of dollars in tax cuts and create jobs here in America. So far that has not happened, and don't hold your breath. The rich didn't get rich by being good at sharing. They got rich by being good at looking out for Number One. Sometimes that means hiring, sometimes it means hoarding. In our economy, it means hoarding.
Bush's tax cuts are simply bad for the economy, bad for government, and bad for the country.
The Republican Party has done a great job of branding "liberals" as "tax and spend." In reality, for the past 20 years, Democrats have been "tax and balance" while Republicans have been "borrow and spend." A Democrat balanced the budget after Reagan's borrowing spree. Let's hope the same thing happens now, or the federal government may eventually collapse under the weight of the debt burden it's carrying.
October 7, 2004
According to the media, this is going to be a great game. For once, the media are 100% right.
I've spent hours looking at statistics trying to figure out whether either team has a distinct advantage over the other, and I can't find anything that really sets one as a clear favorite. The closest anything comes is USC's 9 interceptions in four games and overall +2.25 turnover ratio per game. This is not a fluke as they have a dominant middle defense (two all-America quality DTs, very gifted linebacking corps, two top safeties returning). I think this entire game hinges on turnovers. If Cal ends up negative on turnovers, they WILL lose. If USC ends up negative on turnovers, they are likely to lose.
Now, to the analysis:
USC is #1 in both polls and in the Sagarin ratings with a 93.41 score. Cal is #7 in both polls and #5 in Sagarin's ratings at 88.72. With the home advantage in Sagarin's formula, USC is an 8 point favorite. 92,000 fans are expected for the game. Quoth Tedford: "The biggest crowd I've ever seen." Tedford's teams have a tendency to play better in front of big crowds, especially big, hostile crowds. I do not see the crowd or the venue as a distinct advantage for USC.
If anyone doubts that USC deserves their ranking and rating, though, understand some things:
- USC have not trailed at the end of regulation in 25 straight games
- USC have a 16-game home winning streak
- USC have a 13-game win streak overall
- During the win streak, Leinart has thrown 38 TDs and 5 interceptions
- USC are averaging a +2.25 turnover ratio with 9 interceptions
This year's USC team is legitimately strong and a legitimate national championship contender. They have a player in the national top-25 in 9 of the 13 categories. USC as a team are in the top 25 nationally in 9 of the 13 categories and in the top 15 in five categories. That's significant after four games--it may change as their schedule gets tougher in the Pac-10, but it's unlikely to change much.
USC have beaten four teams this year with only Stanford giving them a real scare. Virginia Tech also hung in there with USC until mid 3rd quarter, but USC is bigger, stronger, faster, and fitter than most teams. USC is a team that could play a 90-minute game and still have gas in the tank. Most teams aren't that fit and are going to get worn down by USC by the 4th quarter. This is one reason USC has given up 10 points average in the first half yet only 2.5 points average in the second half. (They've scored 28 points average in both the 1st and 2nd halves.)
The point is, no matter how good you are, you should not get overconfident against the Trojans.
On the other hand, as good as Cal is, they should be confident that they match up well and have as good a shot to win this game as the Trojans do.
USC's opponents have been Virginia Tech (roughly equivalent to Oregon State probably), Stanford (better than Va Tech but nowhere near as good as Cal), BYU (not good), and Colorado State (woeful, about equivalent to Air Force). USC have played better teams, on average, than Cal, but not significantly better teams. New Mexico State is the worst of the entire bunch, but statistically that game turned out the same for Cal as the other two games.
Cal matches up physically well against USC. USC is the biggest, strongest, fittest team Cal has faced, but the two teams are probably evenly matched. USC's O line is HUGE, averaging 317 pounds, including 370-pound TD Taitusi Lutui (the 350-pound John Drake is on the other side at LG). Cal's O line averages 312 pounds. No matter which color you wear on Saturday, your team will be facing a mirror image: big O line, top QB, to running back, strong returning defense, good coaching, overall a hellishly fit and deep team that will trade you blow-for-blow all day long and well into the night if that's what it takes.
Statistically, Cal has a slight edge, but as I said earlier, USC have played tougher competition.
Nationall, Cal has players in the top 25 in 5 of the 13 categories. As a team, Cal is in the top 25 in 11 of the 13 categories and leads the nation in scoring offense and passing efficiency. Cal is top-15 in 9 of the 15 categories.
Cal leads the Pac-10 in
- rush offense
- total offense
- scoring offense
- passing defense
- total defense
- scoring defense
USC does not lead the Pac-10 in any statistical category at this point but is #2 or #3 in
- rush offense (3)
- total offense (3)
- scoring offense (2)
- rush defense (2)
- total defense (3)
- scoring defense (2)
According to the statistics, Cal has a better offense than USC. The stats for both teams are gaudy and impressive. Some highlights:
- Cal scores 7 touchdowns A GAME, USC scores five
- Cal has 278 yards/game rushing, USC has 200
- Cal gains 6.7 yards/rush, USC gains 5.0 per rush
- Cal has 13 rushing TDs (4.3/game), USC has 11 (2.75/game)
- Cal has 73% pass completion, USC has 67.7%
- Cal gains 12.2 yards/att, USC gains 8.2
- Both teams have 8 passing TDs and 2 INT
- Cal has 261 yards/game passing, USC has 255.8
- Both teams get about 24 first downs per game
- Both teams have about 55% 3rd-down conversion, though
- USC has 14.5 3rd downs each game to Cal's 9.3
Here is perhaps the most impressive Cal statistic:
Cal is 100% in the red zone with 12 touchdowns in 12 opportunities. They tried (and missed) one field goal, but it was over 50 yards.
USC, however, is a very mortal 64% in the red zone with just 13 TDs and 1 field goal in 22 opportunities.
Again, the statistics are very similar. The defensive edge goes to USC, however. Highlights:
- Cal gives up 1.7 TDs a game (0 FG), USC 1.5 (plus 0.75 FG/gm)
- Cal gives up 103 rush yards/game, USC just 86.5
- Cal gives up 2.6 yards per rush, USC gives up 3.0
- Cal gives up 158.3 yards/gm passing, USC 190.8
- Cal has given up 2 passing TDs, USC 4
- Cal has captured 3 interceptions, USC 9
- Cal gives up 15 first downs a game, USC gives up 19
- Cal gets 2.7 sacks/game, USC gets an impressive 4 sacks/game
In the red zone on defense, Cal has allowed 4 TDs and 0 field goals in 6 attempts. USC has allowed 4 TDs and 2 field goals in 8 attempts. Thus, each team has allowed an average of two opportunities a game, but USC is slightly better at keeping the opponent out of the end zone.
All in all, this is a beautiful matchup and will be a very difficult win for either team. USC has motivation from last year's loss and the home crowd; Cal has motivation because as one Cal lineman said this week, "USC is where we want to be," and the team still has something to prove.
I really think this game could go either way and will depend on turnovers. I think whoever gains more turnovers will win. If there are no turnovers in the game, however, I like Cal's chances. USC will not have the luxury of relying on fitness to overwhelm Cal in the 4th quarter like they did to Virginia Tech and Stanford, and they may have trouble keeping Cal from scoring in the first half. On the other side, USC is balanced but is not as strong a passing team as you might think. The Bears need to maintain discipline and not give up the big play, especially from USC territory.
USC will put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers, particularly with a strong pass rush up the middle and blitzing linebackers. He has to be careful not to force throws because those safeties will pick them off. I think Tedford may try to move Rodgers around to slow down the pressure, or go with more quick routes and screens to draw the LBs in and put the ball just beyond them.
In any case, don't leave early. No matter what happens in the first half, both coaches are more than capable of adjusting and changing the game in the second half, and the players will all be fit enough to play hard right to the end. I think this game could go into overtime again, in which case I like Cal's chances. But really I think it will be won in the last 2-3 minutes.
I am hoping, more than predicting, this will be a Cal victory. I like the Bears' chances, but there are good reasons USC is a 7-point favorite. Still, I'll go out on a limb and say that Cal will win this one, 35-28. I will also say that Cal will score first and take a lead into halftime, but USC will tie it. Cal will get the final touchdown near the end of the game to break the tie.