Alright, Gopher Nation has hit on some big themes from yesterday's game, and there is a ton to be optimistic about regarding the team. However, a loss is a loss and teams lose for reasons, regardless of whether a team is top 10 or not (right USC?) Let's look back to look forward.
First off, I predicted a 31-21 victory for Cal on Friday. Pretty close, I guess. Here were the five matchups I identified for the game Saturday - let's look at how they played out:
(1) Cal vs. the second, third and fourth quarters - the more I thought about this, the more the game played out as I thought it would. Cal raced out early and threatened to sweep the Gophers off the field. Jahvid Best's first TD was Reggie Bush-esque. Further, during the pre-game warmups, the Cal QBs were practicing 50 yard bombs. So, I wasn't surprised when Riley uncorked a 60 yard pass on their second series - why was Cosgrove?
So, Cal broke through the early morning jitters. Minnesota then responded well, and held Cal in check. Obviously, they couldn't hold on. For all the plaudits being given to Cosgrove and Lee for making second-half adjustments, they still lost the second half, and had no answer for Riley or Best when Cal decided to go for the win.
(2) California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio v. anything beyond the opponents' ten yard line - Tavecchio was as terrible as advertised. His kicks went to the 13-yard line, the 17-yard line, out of bounds, and never further than the 15 yard line. In the second half, he was replaced and a kick went out of the end zone. Minnesota will not get such good field position against other teams on their schedule. The fact that on most possessions (including Cal's punt fumble) Minnesota was starting around their 40 or 50 yard line should give the average Gopher fan even more concern about the offense on a day when it only scored 3 TDs.
(3) Cal RB Jahvid Best v. whoever would defend him in pass coverage - This wasn't that much of an issue. Why would it be when Best scored 5 TDs rushing yesterday?
(4) Once again, QB Adam Weber versus his man crush - My concerns about Decker's health began in earnest yesterday with Decker's chin cut. However, Weber distributed the ball well to other receivers.
(5) Minnesota's stretch running game using Cal's speed against them - This didn't come to fruition, because of some structural issues in Minnesota's rushing game that just aren't going to be fixed this year. More below.
General Bullet Points After The Cal Game:
- The oddsmakers know what they're doing.
- A few sobering thoughts - after week 3 last year, the Gophers had played three bowl teams. Minnesota averaged 36.6 points per game, gave up 17.6 per game, and was +7 in turnover margin. This year, against two probable bowl teams, the Gophers have scored 21.3 points per game, have 22.6 points against, and a -3 turnover margin. The lack of turnovers is putting more pressure on the offense, which isn't functional enough to grind out NFL drives like Jedd Fisch seems to want to do.
- For a trick play to be effective, you actually have to set up a team to run said trick (see the Gray TD reception). Why Fisch thought a hook and ladder would be worth wasting on the third play of the game is beyond me. Perhaps running the hook first, before running the hook and ladder in the fourth quarter when you need a play, would be preferable. I am just an Internet hack though.
- On the playcalling note, the TE screen to Jeff Tow-Arnett was an inspired call in the third quarter. To run it on 3rd and 16 on the VERY NEXT series reeks of a lack of creativity. It also assumes that a defensive coordinator and its players have no idea how to adapt. The last thing I'd call Berkeley kids is "not smart."
- The old axiom that a player is not effective until his or her second year after tearing an ACL is proving quite true with Duane Bennett. Eskridge and Whaley should be the running backs entering Big Ten season.
- Kevin Riley is an average, at best, QB. His lack of accuracy allowed Minnesota back into the game in the second half. However, he made a few good passes when it mattered.
- Jeff Wills is a liability on anything other than goal line situations. He is dreadful in pass coverage, and will be the subject of a TiVo review of the Cal game later this week.
- Riley's 36-yard reception on 3rd and 17 in the fourth quarter may not have been Ryan Collado's fault, but Cal's late completion to the 2 yard line, which led to Jahvid Best's 4th touchdown, was all on Collado. At some point, reality has to be confronted and Collado needs to be moved to either safety or the bench, because I am really getting tired of warning people of Collado's poor pass coverage and then watching it play out every Saturday in critical situations. Again, he's a good run stopper, but you cannot give up backbreaking pass plays every week. Does anyone here NOT think that Fitzgerald, Bielema, Tressel, Paterno and Ferentz aren't going to pick on Collado all day long? Get Carter in there and prep him for next year - if he's as bad as Collado, at least you have the hope he improves.
- Just because we get a Wisconsin or Notre Dame transfer doesn't mean it's a coup for Minnesota. Neither Carufel or Royston would be starting at their former schools this year. There is a reason, after all, that they transferred.
- Despite the fumble, more Hayo please.
- And, the 3rd and I MarQueis Gray sneak was innovative - I'd never seen that before.
- I saw Seantrel play versus Roseville on Thursday night. Dominant player, although against 5-10, 180 lb D-linemen. He's needed. Was he at the game yesterday?
- Finally, there's enough good going on to win the next 3 games. The four after those, however, don't look too promising to me, especially if Fisch doesn't figure out the running game. Considering that most of the O-line, the All-American WR, and two of the top line RBs were injured the last month of 2008, I don't see too much of an improvement this year from the spread-based offense.