Friday, October 12, 2012

ON A CLEAR DAY U C L.A.




As  Art Arlet used to announce in that stentorious voice over the loud speaker at Memorial Stadium, “It’s a great day for California.”

And it was.


The most telling stat on Saturday was Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38.  How bad are the Cornhuskers?  Or how good are the Bears, really?  But I’m ahead of myself.

As noted last week Cal football is much more than just twenty-two kids knocking the debates out of each other on any given Thursday (or sometimes Saturday).

The legendary Joe Roth was honored.  Who can ever forget his tragic tale or his heroic fight against a malevolent melanoma as he completed his senior year and trained for the Hula Bowl and an All Star Game in Japan, as his body wasted away?  He was to die just three weeks after that epoch game—Coach Mike White holding his hand every step of the way.  His #12 jersey is still the only number ever retired by Cal.

If remembering young Mr. Roth weren’t enough, those war heroes, who “here gave their lives that that nation might live” were honored as well.  It’s called Memorial Stadium for a reason, and the re-dedication should remind us never to enter her hallowed portals without reflecting on the thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, that we undeserving souls might revel together and irrationally cheer on our Bears in the glow of sunny Strawberry Canyon.

Don’t know if honoring those never to be forgotten heroes inspired the kids or not, but they played their most successful game of the year, downing the Baby Bruins 43-17.

We all (players, coaches, team and fans) had much to cheer about.

Query:  What was notable about the game, besides the fact that #25 UCLA was only favored by 2 ½ going in?

Most important it looked like the players were up, rose to the challenge, and actually enjoyed playing.  That has not always been readily apparent (See Southern Utah and Nevada).

Brendan Bigelow (after not touching the ball against ASU, and carrying only 4 times against SC—after having over 260 total yards against #6 Ohio State) actually started the game.  

No.  He didn’t make like Superman this series.  He picked up 7 on his first carry and then got on yard, followed by no gain.  Good bye.

With the exception of one 4 yard pass completion he doesn’t touch the ball again until the 2nd half.
He starts the second half, is split out left, catches a pass on the first play and scoots 32 yards for a score. 
 He doesn’t touch the ball again until the 4th quarter where he gets one carry for two yards.

This is Twilight Zone stuff.  

Speaking of other world experiences, the QB everyone is so impatient with, Zach Maynard was named both the CFPA's National Performer of the Week for all players and the organization's National Quarterback Performer of the Week. 

The (acclaimed by Coach Tedford) best tight end in the country, Richard Rogers, caught 8 passes, after catching none against Nevada and one against Southern Utah.  Rodgers was injured and still not 100% against the Bruins.

Several of these were when Maynard rolled left (his first pass—to the right—was intercepted).  With the exception of one bad pass, when Maynard rolled left his completion percentage was stellar.

Mark Antony (Et tu Brute) was injured and replaced by back up Kameron Jackson who was selected as one of the CFPA's two Defensive Back Performers of the Week nationally, while C.J. Anderson (Running Back) and Richard Rogers (Tight End) were honorable mention performers at their respective positions.
What is all this telling us?  At least in the eyes of the college football establishment Cal has at least four players who (for one week at least) were one per centers at their respective positions.

Both O and D lines played well also.  We forced 6 turnovers against a nationally ranked team.
As a tall good lookin’ guy wrote after the Ohio State game, “Players we got.”
Credit the coaching staff and Jeff Tedford for getting the athletes.  The question then becomes if we’ve got players, why aren’t they playing?

What gives?

Did Kameron Jackson (with three interceptions and a break up which caused a 4th) earn the right to start against WSU regardless of the Roman Senator’s health?  Antony is quite good, BTW—just as Anderson and Sophele didn’t deserve to lose their starting jobs due to poor play.

Are there other Jacksons, Avery Sebastians (he had 15 tackles in his first start against ASU last week) and Bigelows on the team with the talent to start who are not getting the opportunity, or are these exceptions?
Bigelow deserved to start on the basis of merit—how he performed against OSU—not how poorly the other backs played.  On the other hand, the argument could be made that if Anderson got 20 carries a game, he’d be the best of the bunch.

So, everyone thinks Tedford’s job depends upon what is an acceptable number of wins this year.
They say football coaches are like Generals.  Generals lose some and win some.   Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus NEVER lost a battle.  Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix  and his tribe of merry men up in Gaul, but was assassinated by his pals in the Senate after daring to cross the Rubicon.  

General Patton was Ike’s best guy but spent way too much time slapping his privates.
Wins and losses matter, but where College football is concerned, that misses the point. 
I vomit every time some parent, teacher, administrator say, “It’s about the kids”, because usually it isn’t.

But when it comes to Cal football, it should be about the kids.  If not—why else are we supporting it?  Our own egos?

You’d be surprised how few players actually like college football.  It’s not a Cal thing.  It’s endemic in the system.  They put in endless hours all year round, and out of 100 kids on a team, less than half get meaningful playing time.

I learned this years ago when my kid was a 6th string QB behind Brady Quinn (read Rudy).  Notre Dame went 6 and 6 and were invited to the Insight Bowl.  The team voted not to go.  My kid was disappointed.  I was shocked (they later changed they vote and went).

How could anyone not want to go to a Bowl?  

“Dad, they hate it,” he said.  “Another month of practice in the dead of winter.  Who wants to do that to play a second rate team?”

He wanted to go because he loved football (though he was never going to play) and he loved all the romance associated with it.  But for so many on scholarship who weren’t playing and weren’t going to play it was drudgery.  (The BMOC stuff wears thin, early).

This is true on most teams all over the country.

So if we are not going to be a winning program don’t we at least have to be a program we can be proud of?  That’s why Tedford’s won loss record for the rest of the year shouldn’t be the focus.

Being a program we can be proud of should be the focus (Remember Morton’s last year. We went 3 and 7, yet lost every game by less than seven points until we faded against Utah and Stanford State).   It was a team to be proud of—despite limited speed and size.

We should be a program where kids are playing up to their potential—being as good as they can be—a program of integrity—a program, scandal free (Which Tedford has mostly provided year in and year out), a program where we turn out good citizens, and mostly a program where kids graduate.  In short, whatever his one loss record, if we have a program we can be proud of, he’s done his job.

If we lose, we have to lose with integrity.   There should be no shouting matches between coaches on the sideline, or kids walking away and ignoring their head coach. No more L’Affare’s Lopoi, where assistants get thrown under the bus for conduct which was known by all.  No more downward scores on APR’s. 
In short, shouldn’t we be a program worthy of Joe Roth—the poster child for all that is great about College football?