Monday, September 21, 2009

Sorting out Cal

I really had a tough time sorting out my thoughts about the Gophers loss to Cal on Saturday.  This isn't going to be a very analytical post.  But join me as I hammer out this loss in my head.

On the one hand I was very disappointed with how the Gophers started, and I think starting that slowly against a team like Cal, who you should absolutely know what to expect in their opening drive, is inexcusable. On the other hand, our defense made good adjustments again in this game, and did a fairly nice job of slowing down Cal's rushing attack as a whole.

The Gophers have played three non-conference foes so far.  All three opponents are better than the type of non-conference opponents that the Gophers have faced in the past.  Despite the fact that we have made good adjustments by the 2nd quarter of these games, I find our slow starts to be very concerning.

However, the adjustments have been there, and they have been good in all three games, and I think this says a lot for our coaches game-day ability.  It's difficult to avoid wondering what might have happened if Cal hadn't started out quite so quickly.  I can forgive the opening drive, and Best's 33 yard TD run, because I think that Jahvid Best is a guy that you can watch on tape and see how shifty and fast he is, but my guess is until you have him coming at you, it doesn't quite sink in.

But again, this is a resilient team.  Cal goes up 14-0 very quickly, and yet, they didn't get down and feel beat like they clearly did against Iowa in last season's Metrodome finale.  The Gophers stuck to the game plan, adjusted to the speed and quickness of Cal, and methodically started the second quarter by finishing off a 7 play, 54 yard drive with the infamous Decker catch that, as Jeff already pointed out, is truly the stuff of legend.

After the way this game started, for the Gophers to go into halftime down only 21-14 was pretty impressive.  And then to start the 4th quarter tied at 21... again,  you wouldn't have expected this after going down 14-0 very quickly early. 

You have to wonder if the speed and shiftiness of Best, along with the accuracy of Kevin Riley, and the truly balanced nature of the Bears offensive attack, just caught the Gophers off guard.  Thankfully it didn't take them long to adjust.  Unfortunately the Gophers were already down 2 TD's when they did.

In regards to Adam Weber, unfortunately his 3 INT's look horrible on the stat sheet, but those three interceptions came on the Gophers final three drives of the game when the Gophers really needed to make something happen.  Sure, Weber forced the ball as he has been guilty of many times, but on those final 2 INT's Eric Decker was not in the game.  Cal's D knew that they didn't have to worry about our #1 threat, plus they knew that we HAD to throw because we were down AND we couldn't run the ball all day long.  While I don't forgive Weber for forcing the ball where it doesn't belong, the Cal defense clearly knew it was coming.

Overall I was actually fairly impressed with how Weber handled the situation.  I mean, let's look at the factors here: the offensive line was horrible and Cal was getting pressure from all directions all day long.  He was forced out of the pocket constantly, at least until the play-calling shifted to actually calling for him to role out (something I have been BEGGING FOR since early last season).  And there was ZERO running game to speak of (37 yards on 21 attempts), so Cal knew he was going to be throwing the ball.  By the 4th quarter everybody in the stadium and watching on TV knew exactly what the Gophers were going to do.  With all of that in mind, I think Adam Weber played a better game than the stats tell.

Penalties were a real killer in this game as well, and it's difficult to know where to lay the blame for that, but clearly the team isn't overly disciplined in this area.  After Cal stomped down the field on their opening drive the Gophers did a reverse on the ensuing kick-off which worked great and got us to Cal's 47 yard line. Unfortunately a false start penalty on the first play put us back into our own territory and gave us 1st & 15. 

Our second drive started with another penalty, this one a 15 yarder.  1st & 25.  Adjustments or not, it's tough to be competitive when you are constantly shooting yourself in the foot.

The Gophers are a scrappy bunch, and they don't give up.  You can tell that this team really believes in each other and their ability to stay in games.  Especially on the defensive side of the ball.  It isn't always (or ever) pretty, and they sometimes end up giving up a lot of yards, but they seem to find a way.

In the end, I think that Cal is just a much faster and much more talented team, and they simply wore the Gophers down.  Cal just had too much for us in the end despite the fact that we scratched and clawed to stay in this game.

Losing sucks, and I was clearly disappointed with how the 4th quarter went for the Gophers after solid 2nd & 3rd quarters.  And I am not into moral victories.  But there are definitely some good things to take away from this game, and I think that we now know that, with good game planning, solid adjustments, and scrappy play, we can hang with anybody in the Big Ten.

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