Friday, September 28, 2012

SC AND ALL THAT JAZZ




The trouble with loving Cal is that you remember the good things of the past (usually incorrectly) and hope that past might be prologue.

Our family’s hatred of SC stems back at least to Pat Cannamela breaking Olszewski’s leg in ‘51—and perhaps back to rugby matches in 1910. (When for halftime entertainment the Rolling Stones first sang “Satisfaction.”)

The McKeever brothers didn’t make us like them any more and the fact that we had them beat in ’69 until a fumbled punt with 1:32 left in the game (no need to mention names) cost us a great upset in Paul Martyr’s finest effort (there’s a bit of trivia).

That we were sitting there in the end zone with 1:39 and a first down on the 9 yard line in that horrible coliseum, (they should have fed the architect to the lions) with Rodgers under center, will live with us forever.

(We all remember our first time, and that was the first time in half a century we were going to do, at the end of the game, what SC had been doing to us for decades).

And 9 consecutive losses don’t help—of course in no decade since the War have we had a winning record against them.  They mock us.

Yet it's wrong to be just a curmudgeon and sit back and criticize.  Besides, it's unseemly for old men to criticize  young children who are ostensibly playing a game.

Yet, we so want a program we can be proud of.  That's why questions like the following ought to be asked.

After Bigelow’s stunning performance against the Buckeye’s, one could imagine him pulling a Mark Hicks.
In 1985, Hicks was the most heralded recruit to come to Cal since Chuck Muncie (wisely) switched to the Bears from the Indians when Mike White took over for Ray Willsey.

A raw Freshman, he caught fire against SC, scoring on a 26 yard screen pass and then, recovering  a fumble by Kevin Brown and running16 yards for the second TD. Hicks ended the day with 113 yards on 22 carries.  (Alas, he eventually transferred to Ohio State and never became the player he might have been).

It wasn’t what he did, it was how he did it.

Hicks was running right, when the QB fumbled it off to the left. Hicks reversed direction, picked up the ball, and ran around the left to score the TD.  We won 14 to 6.  (BTW, Hardy Nickerson had 17 tackles to mirror Hicks).

Running backs are like jazz musicians.  It’s all about improvisation.  They riff in ways not even they understand.  Their moves can never be scripted in advance.  It’s like when you drop your clothes off at the laundry.  You just don’t know what you’re going to get back.

That’s what we saw with Bigelow at Ohio State.  No one plans to do two complete 360 degree spins, and use one’s hand to maintain balance.  It’s not drawn up on the blackboard that way.  It just happens.

The greatest coach no one ever heard of, George Davis, used to say that’s what made great athletes—the ability to make decisions in fluid situations.  Cut one way and you make the other guy an all American linebacker.  Cut another direction and it’s six points.

Call it instinct, call it feel—whatever.  It’s something you can’t practice—and you certainly can’t teach it.
This is why Bigelow had earned the chance to start against the Trojans.  Would we have won if he had?  

 Probably not.   They man-handled us at the line on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

But who knows what would have happened had he touched the ball three or four times in the first two series?

After setting records at Ohio state (7 touches for 234 all purpose yards), he touched the ball exactly once in the first half.

As the text read which came to me from my friend “Pathetic.”

Go figure:  He started the 2nd half.  As Blanch Dubois said (in that dripping southern drawl) when she put the paper lantern over the naked light bulb, “Oh look.  We have created enchantment.”

Enchantment indeed.  After a completed pass to Stevens (rolling left, thank God) and an SC personal foul, Maynard faked to Bigelow.  The Defensive end (afraid of Bigelow), bit and went with him.  Maynard scooted inside for 12.

Bigelow then rushed inside for 11 yards.

Then Maynard hit Allen for 4.

Bigelow rushed for 8 to pick up a first down at the 12.  We were mixing it up—moving the ball.

Of course then we went away from Bigelow.  Maynard picked up three.    Two incomplete passes later is was time for the tired three pointer—17 to 6.

SC goes three and out.  Mo is in our favor.

After an incomplete pass, Maynard fakes to Bigelow on the inside (they bite) and then goes around end for 13.  First down in SC territory at their 45. (SC respects Bigelow more than we do!)

Bigelow carries for 8.  Then carries for 4.  First down at their 33.

After an incompletion, Maynard completes to Wark for a first down at the 17
.
No Bigelow.  Sofeli picks ups up 4 yards on two carries—Maynard gets sacked—and (good news) D’Amato hits his third consecutive field goal.  (Credit to Tedford for sticking with him after he missed his first and was on an 0 for 4 streak). 17 to 9.

Mullens recovers an SC fumble on SC’s 44.

First down Bears with 6:40 to go in the third quarter.  WE ARE DOMINATING—but not finishing.  For the third time in 7 minutes we are inside SC territory.

We go to the pass. Anderson has a nice 13 yard pick up, but eventually the ball is intercepted at the 7 yard line.

No  Bigelow.  No score.  

In fact he doesn’t touch the ball the rest of the game!

I didn’t mean to do a bad Howard Cosell play by play, but it was so obvious on the TV (we’ll never go to that stadium again and sit in the seats they allocate to us). 

SC was scared topsider-less about Bigelow.  They followed him everywhere (allowing Maynard two double digit gains—and when he carried the ball he averaged 7.5 yards per rush.

The “rap” against him is the one we’ve heard so often “He doesn’t yet have a grasp of the offense.”  (Note to self:  if he’s that good, Change the offense)

I’m not saying he’s our savior or we would have won had he played more.  I like both Anderson and Sofele’s body of work is terrific.

But Bigelow is not getting a chance to show what he can do.  Does he miss blocks?  Does he go the wrong way?  I don’t know.  Is he a good witch or a bad witch?  Who knows?  Maybe he dogs it in practice.  Maybe he’s not a team guy?  Maybe he’s not hitting the books?

Numbers talk.  The last 8 times he’s carried the ball  (against two top tier teams) he’s gained 190 yards.  On most teams if you average over 20 yards per carry in two games, you get a chance to carry the mail.

There are coaches that like systems and there are coaches that like athletes.  In basketball, Campanelli liked his system better than he liked Kevin Johnson’s ability.  Kevin averaged around 15 ppg (in conference) his senior year, and then went on to the NBA to score consistently in the 20’s.

Weeb Eubanks had a terrible system, but he let Namath and the boys express themselves in unorthodox ways, (as did Madden with the Raiders) and looked what happened.

The fact is, that if Bigelow was good enough to start the 2nd half, he was good enough (and had earned by his play at OSU) to start the game.

Give him a shot.  If he can’t handle it after a couple of series, go back to what got us to 1 and 3.  

Cal is an enigma.  We appear to have players.  We appear to not show up for some games and to show up for others.

Back in the day, Ray Willsey said (in a private meeting during a third world strike), “To win at this level you have to have 22 players who can play at SC or Notre Dame (the powers then), and then a Gary Beban or OJ Simpson to break free from the pack.  We have about three, who can play elseswere, but we’re getting better.”

That was instructive.  How many Bears, today, could start at SC, Alabama, LSU or even Stanford State?
I honestly don’t know.  If we don’t have the talent, no sense blaming coaches, officials, or bad luck.

We are only as good as we can be.  But if we have some talent, then we should at least win the games we ought to win, even if we can’t beat powers like SC—except once a decade.

As one insider confided in confidence, “These kids want to play the best.  They don’t get up for a team like Nevada.  They’re athletes—they want to be challenged—and they want to play the best.”

Of course, to be challenged, you’ve got to be allowed off the bench—and avoid teams like Southern Utah and Presbyterian College.

Look for a big win tomorrow against ASU.  We can turn this season around.

Bigelow will play and just might make a tall good lookin’ guy look even gooder.  And that’s no jazz.