Sunday, September 21, 2014
Know the feeling of a dagger piercing your heart? You don't? Then, fortunately, you're not a die-hard Cal fan. We're used to that agony. Unfortunately, we re-acquainted ourselves with it Saturday night when Arizona, in Tuscon, shocked Cal, 49-45, on a 47-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the game.
This wasn't just a plain old one-jab dagger. This was one of those twisting, thrusting jobs, meant to leave lingering pain. And man, does it hurt.
This wasn't just a loss. Cal fans are used to that. This one was a bonafide calamity. This one ran the gamut, from extreme high to the depths of despair--all in one game. At the end of the first half, Cal was leading 28-6, on the road yet, after piling up nearly 400 yards of total offense. Cal fans were humming "Happy Days Are Here Again." Maybe those two wins over crappy teams, Northwestern and Sacramento State, meant something. Maybe the 2-0 record indicated this was actually a decent team. Maybe Sonny Dykes, who began his Cal head-coaching career last season with one measly win over a bad team, wasn't a bum after all. Maybe he'd turned the corner.
But in the second half, things went sour. Not right away though. In the third quarter, Cal scored only a field goal while Arizona countered with just one touchdown. That 31-13 Cal lead seemed safe. Panic wasn't in the picture.
But then, in the fourth quarter, the sky fell on Cal. The Cal defense, which had smothered Arizona's AK-47-like passing game sprang leaks--big ones. The linebackers slowed down. The defensive line seemed mired in mud. The secondary players, who always seemed to be in the right place earlier, were constantly out of position. The Cal defense was locked into one scheme--chaos.
That crumbling defense gave up 36 points in the final quarter--five touchdowns and a field goal. How is that possible, you say? The answer, of course, is that it's Cal, and bungling, historically, is what the Bears do best. Every time Arizona got the ball you knew they'd score. Cal couldn't keep up, scoring only two TDs in that last quarter. After that first half explosion, Arizona coaches figured out how to slow down the Cal offense, which totaled 573 yards, most in the first half. In the last quarter, the Cal defense, which gave up a total of 627 yards, was helpless.
But, when that final play began, as bad as the quarter had been, you figured the 45-43 Cal margin was safe. Even Cal couldn't blow that. Arizona was on the Cal 47 and only a successful Hail Mary could bring down the Bears. Defensing a Hail Mary is actually easy. The defense knows where the ball is going, so defenders just crowd around the goal line, avoid bumping any receivers and bat down the ball.
Want a crash course on how not to defend a Hail Mary? Just watch how Cal defenders botched that 47-yard pass from QB Anu Solomon to Austin Hill. I watched it again and again and still don't believe it.
So we're back to square one with the Bears. Dykes is a limited, offense-minded coach whose defenses are abysmal. Apparently that will be Cal's identity--score a lot but ultimately be outscored. The team fattened up on two out-of-conference patsies, but when the PAC 12 schedule started--with Arizona--Cal showed that, once again, it can't hang with the big boys.
Last season ended with the chant from angry Cal fans--fire Sonny Dykes. Let's hear it again. DOWN WITH DYKES. As long as he's in charge, the defense will sputter and Cal with stagger through the PAC 12.
Well, Cal fans, take my advice. Prepare yourselves for more of those damned daggers.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:13 PM
Friday, September 12, 2014
Making money vs. stamping out domestic abuse.
Which do you think is more important to the NFL? That's easy. The NFL is a money-making machine. It's all about the dollar. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a master at money-making. He's helped turn the NFL into the nation's most successful sport. He's a hero to the 32 owners of league franchises. So all this talk about Goodell being canned on the heels of the domestic abuse scandal is just talk. Chances of Goodell being ousted are very slim. That, of course, doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be fired.
When it comes to domestic abuse, the NFL has its head in the sand--and it's partly Goodell's fault.. The Ray Rice scandal wouldn't be a scandal if the NFL had been on top of things and recognized many months ago that domestic abuse is a hot-button issue. When Rice, a Baltimore Ravens RB, punched out his fiance, Janay Palmer (who's now his wife), in that elevator in an Atlantic City hotel last February, he should have immediately been suspended for at least six games. In addition, Goodell should have been all over the media right away, preaching against the horrors of domestic abuse and assuring us all that, in the NFL, there was zero tolerance for it.
Instead, the matter was handled with the kind of vision, delicacy, insight and dignity you'd expect from Curly of the Three Stooges. After the NFL dragged its feet for months, Goodell gave Rice a slap on the wrist, a mere two-game suspension. That sent a disturbing message. Based on a much more severe penalty handed out for minor drug abuse to Cleveland's Josh Gordon, it was clear that, to the NFL, smoking pot was worse than punching out a woman.
Then, early this week, TMZ released an ugly, graphic video--one few had seen--showing Rice knocking his fiance unconscious in that Atlantic City elevator. Outrage, once a rumble, mushroomed into a deafening roar this week. Goodell claimed he nor any NFL employees had ever seen the crucial video, but police officials say otherwise. Had he seen that video, Goodell protests, Rice would have been punished much more harshly. Rice, however, now swears he personally told Goodell he punched out his wife, meaning that the commissioner didn't really need to see the video to hand out a tougher penalty.
You can bet, in NFL management circles, there's a massive cover-up underway, designed to protect Goodell. That's just how big business does business when under fire. The league just launched an investigation, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to sort out this mess. But, according to insiders, he has ties to the league and certain owners, and is unlikely to report anything too damning. Heads, of course, will roll, but heads belonging to lesser people than the commissioner. Again, that's just how big business operates.
Frankly, Goodell is just too well-connected and too good at the NFL's number one priority--making money--to get the boot. Before this scandal dies down there's likely to be more revelations, some pretty nasty, that might make Goodell squirm.
He's walking a tightrope now, inching nervously along. Most likely though, he'll eventually tip-toe to safety
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:06 PM
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Is USC really that good? Not really. Is Oregon really that good? Oh, yes. We'll find out more about both this weekend.
Prediction: SC should lose and Oregon should win.
No.14 USC will be tested Saturday in Palo Alto by No.13 Stanford. The Trojans aren't going to treat Stanford like they did Fresno State last week, winning easily, piling up over 700 yards of offense, buoyed by the flashy stats of QB Cody Kessler. You expect a high level of competition from FS. Well, not last Saturday. They were wretched. This was not the tough, relentless Fresno State we're used to. Their quarterback play was awful. Their big QB last season, Derek Carr, is now in the NFL, starting for the Raiders. Their defensive line was trampled by an SC offensive line anchored by freshmen. SC, under new coach Steve Sarkisian, has installed a warp-speed offense that you have to keep off the field, which FS couldn't do. They kept handing the ball back to SC and got overwhelmed.
Suddenly, in the LA area anyway, SC is the new Oregon, a team that's going to blow away any opposition. Wait a minute. They just won one game, beating a team that's relatively weak. Like SC, Stanford whipped a cream puff, UC Davis, 45-0 last week. So what? That means as much as the SC rout. The Trojans beat Fresno State because they have better players. Matched against Stanford, SC has no such advantage.
Favored by three at home, the Cardinal has the defense, bolstered by its usual strong core of linebackers, the experience, the team speed, the savvy QB play--from Kevin Hogan--to hang with SC. Stanford is used to high-speed offenses, having whipped those race-horse Oregon teams a few times with a grind-it-out style. Stanford QB Hogan isn't spectacular but he can efficiently manage a clock-eating offense that can slowly pile up first downs and keep that SC offense on the bench. Also, something else is working against SC. Both QB Kessler and super defensive lineman Leonard Williams are banged up. They'll play but won't be 100%.
SC has a lot to prove. But so does Michigan State, which has the weight of an entire conference, the Big Ten, on its shoulders. The Big Ten is regarded by some as soft and not worthy of a slot in the four-team championship playoff. Its best team, Ohio State, is much less formidable since losing its best player, QB Braxton Miller, for the season. Another of its elite, Wisconsin, was shot down by LSU last week. If Michigan State, the league's other top team, is wiped out by a powerhouse from another conference, like Oregon, the Big Ten might not recover.
So Michigan State, ranked No.7, has to go into Eugene and beat the No.3 team. Not likely. State has some first-rate players but it's not overflowing with them, like Oregon is. The odds makers don't think MS has much of a chance, making them 11.5-point underdogs. Both teams rolled to easy victories over patsies last week, so those games are no indication of anything. However Michigan State's junior QB Connor Cook is a bit shaky after a leg injury last week. But even when totally healthy he's no match for Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the best QB in the country. When Oregon's spread offense, executed by a horde of quality athletes, is working, it's unstoppable. What can slow it down is strong linebacker play. But the Spartans LBs are inexperienced and not especially high-caliber. Weak LB play could doom State. Looking at that unit on film, you can bet Mariota was licking his chops.
Look for the game to be closer than the odds-makers expect. But Oregon, feeling frisky at home, is likely to jump on the Spartans early and take control of the game by halftime.
After this game, fans throughout the Big Ten will be humming mournful versions of the wait-til-next-year blues.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 5:10 PM