Cal Demolition Version – 10/5/09

I am starting this week with the dedication. These musings are dedicated to Stafon Johnson, who God protected this week from what could have been an absolutely unspeakable disaster. I do not know if he will be in a Trojan uniform next year, or a NFL uniform, or if he will not be able to play again, but I will guarantee everyone this: You have not heard the last from the very special Trojan – this one of a kind person.  Stafon Johnson has some huge, huge things ahead of him. Fight on, Stafon!!

– This week we will begin around the country and come back to my beloved Trojans, who are not even on the plane home yet as I am typing this …

– I have to admit, seeing Alabama at the Kentucky 10 yard line with 14:40 to go in the 1st quarter made me a little jealous. Where is that kind of field position for my Trojans? And the final score of 38-20 is what it is. But seeing Bama play from the very opening second of the game until the very end was different than I thought. There is just no question that Kentucky earned a safety when they tackled Bama’s RB in the end zone in the second quarter, trailing 7-6. The referees inexplicably gave the ball to Bama at the goal line, who went 99 yards for a score, and then got a pick for a score, and within a minute, instead of 8-7 Kentucky, it was 21-6 Alabama. Kentucky’s offense gave the ball to Bama’s defense to score with it repeatedly, and the game got out of reach. But Bama’s special teams and disciplined offense look remarkable; their defense does not. I have to see Florida next week before I can make my call on who will win the SEC, but Bama did not blow me away against Kentucky.

– You can say whatever you want about the “quality” of Michigan’s wins: the last second victory over mediocre Notre Dame in the big house, the referee-induced victory over basketball-insatiated Indiana, etc. And Michigan State beat them today in overtime – deservedly so. But that Forcier kid is a treat to watch, even when sloppy. He is a real competitor, and you just don’t ever think the game is over with him out there. That final minute of the Michigan/Michigan State game was as exciting as college football gets!!

– So Washington has the ball on the one inch line, in Notre Dame, in the fourth quarter, already up by 5, and they fumble the ball away. Notre Dame goes down field in their next drive and scores a field goal, now down by 2 instead of the 12 point deficit they were facing. And what does Nick Holt do? He pulls one of the cornerbacks aside who got beat on a play and just tears into him after Dame’s field goal. I understand they beat my Trojans, but I just do not understand Holt’s M.O. That chain of events may not be on the cornerback, Nick!

– Notre Dame won a game that Washington really should have won by two touchdowns. TWICE at the end of the game Dame held them to a field goal from the goal line (when a touchdown would have put the game out of reach). And the aforementioned fumble was just inexplicable.  And Notre Dame’s runner was down on the two-point conversion (good work, replay booth).  And Locker was putting the ball in the hands of wide open receivers who were dropping the ball.  So Dame wins another nailbiter against a mediocre team, and I say – I love it! The better record they have when we go into South Bend, the more happy I am.

– Of the 18 TV’s in front of me and 24 smaller TV’s behind me from my front row spot at ESPN Zone in Times Square, the TV furthest from me and at the worst angle had the UCLA/Stanford game on, which was fine by me. Bruin fans now feel their national championship hopes shattered, and as a Trojan, I know what it is like to have a tough loss every year on the road in your Pac-10 opener. I am sure Bruin fans are confident that their team can put it behind them and run the table from here.

– Someone needs to say it: Mark Richt at Georgia has got to be the most overrated coach of all time. Has anyone ever lost more “high profile” games? SEC fans talk like he is some kind of guru; I don’t get it. And yes, Les Miles is just as lucky as Mark Richt is overrated. Just uncanny.

– Sorry, but these “excessive celebration” calls are absolutely out of control. Between the end of the LSU/Georgia game and the UofW/Notre Dame game I saw three different flags thrown in a 4 minute timespan for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!!! The players are not taunting, and they are not doing anything wrong. They are celebrating because they are 19 or 20 years old and just participated in one of the most exhilirating moments of their young lives. Put your flags away and end this lunacy, now.

– Golden Tate is Notre Dame’s whole team.  But he is good.  Very good.  Maybe the most “Percy Harvin” esque in the country.

Now for my Trojans:

– That first five minutes was a thing of beauty. Cal comes right down field with a series of great play calls and executions, but on the crucial third and goal play Taylor Mays gets the pick in the end zone. Then, after a stuffed run attempt and an overthrow by Barkley our offense gets really fluid, we hit the tight end, we blow one of their corners to smithereens with a crackback block, and eventually McKnight makes one of the runs of the year with a diving touchdown into the endzone. Five minutes of pure delight.

– I will be in New York on Monday and so will miss the Monday Morning Quarterback Luncheon, but I think that coach will have something to say about those holding calls in the first quarter. Very, very suspect calls.

– So do special teams make a difference? Wow. And when is the last time USC scored a touchdown off of a punt return?  I gave the assignment to my research staff but they missed their deadline.  I am guessing it was Reggie Bush against Oregon State in 2004, but I think he had one against Washington in 2005 as well.  We have not had one since Reggie (that I can remember).  (Back in the late 1990’s, RJ Soward used to get one every time the team punted to us.  The problem is that they only punted to us once per game).

– The drive to start the second half is perfect proof of everyone talking out of their ars about Jeremy Bates. A fantastic blend of runs and throws; creative; a plethora of people involved; grinding first downs; even with Matt missing the check down at the end and having to settle for a field goal, it was a heckuva drive. Bates is good – real good.  The complaints about him so far have come people who have complained about every Offensive Coordinator we have ever had, and complain about the weather when it is 70 degrees and sunny.

– I am not talking trash, as I am far above that, but I am not out of line to say that I personally think Cal has a real issue with this Tedford. The supposed quarterback guru who did coach Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, and Aaron Rogers (a long time ago) has not had even a decent quarterback in a long, long time. He is now 1-7 against USC, including six losses in a row. I don’t care what anyone says – every single coach in the Pac-10 is judged by how they do against USC (hence, contract extensions for Mike Riley, Jim Harbaugh, and even Karl Dorrell after their flukey wins against the Trojans). To me, if I were a Cal fan, and understand there is a better chance of me being a vegan Parisian than a Cal fan, I would be absolutely fed up. Beyond the continued losses to USC, it is unbelievable how Cal seems to collapse after a loss each year. I believe that is coaching. He is a bright coordinator, but something is wrong, and he is getting paid a lot of taxpayer money to lose like this.

– To share the criticism a little, the 4th and 9 from the 25 yard line call was a little odd (surely our field goal kicker making a 42 yard kick is better odds than a 4th and 9 pass), and I think the long ball at the beginning of the 4th quarter where Matty got picked was totally bizarre. Drive it, run it, burn it – whatever. But use the clock, and don’t put Matty in that position. Okay – that’s my Monday Morning Quarterbacking for the week. -)

– It is no secret that I loathe Berkeley, and I do root against them basically every week. I might dislike their poli-sci profs more than their football fans (okay – its a tie). But I still think any football fan, even the ones living up in the trees in protest of America winning the Revolutionary War or whatever, have a right to not see their team go for a field goal with 11 minutes left in the game and their team down by 23. And I think anyone who likes the sport of football deserves better than to see a team attempt a field goal (which they missed, by the way) with TWELVE seconds to go, on SECOND DOWN, at the end of the half. I think Cal looks good every year in September, and I am objective enough to give them props. I guess what I am saying is: they need to hire Paul Hackett.

– I want my Trojans to enjoy the week off, and then get ready to take it to the Irish. And after we handle them, I want us to handle the Oregon schools better than we did the Washington schools. This team is coming together, and Bill Plashke should work in a different part of the world, doing something different for a living.  I am actually predicting this!

– I can not wait to see this team with Ronald Johnson.  Matt Barkley looks very, very crisp to me, and has a special touch on the football.  Not perfect, but who is?  We need to keep him healthy.  Boy, do we need to keep him healthy!  Best game of the year for Damian Williams, by far, who I believe is easily among the top 3 receivers in the country.  I do hope to see CJ Gable in the line-up but that is up to him.  I thought Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight filling in for Stefan Johnson were absolutely spectacular.  And as Cal’s D-line is talking about right now, USC’s O-Line owned them all night.  I want to see more of that.

So, two weeks after USC’s stunner in Seattle, how do I feel?  I think you play the cards you are dealt, and you play to win.  This is football.  Man’s game.  Hit or be hit.  All that stuff.  Most importantly, it is a game of will.  Does USC have the will to go through the toughest month of their season (Cal on road, Notre Dame on the road, Oregon State at Coliseum, Oregon on the road, Arizona State on the road, Stanford at the Coliseum), and keep their current record in tack?  I think they can do it.  I hope against hope that they will.  I love this team, I love this coaching staff, I love this QB, and above it all, I love this sport.

14 straight hours on journalistic duty at ESPN Zone – the set-up of which is remarkably similar to my future living room, by the way.  A day that only the biggest college football lover of all time could enjoy the way that I did …

Fight on, and Beat the Irish.]

In addition to the dedication for Stafon Johnson, I want to add an honorary shout-out to Mike Dogg, who like many in the Trojan family, is my brother, but additionally, is also in my family-family.  And as of this week, there is no cancer, and he is living free.  Fight on, Dogg.  They don’t mess with you; you mess with them.