FROM THE STANDS
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT UT SPORTS
WITH TREY McLEAN
Let’s go back, shall we? Let’s go back to December 5, 2004.
It was a Sunday, and the drama surrounding the BCS was its highest ever. The day before the No.1 ranked USC Trojans struggled mightily with 6-4 UCLA, winning 29-24 at the Rose Bowl. The No.2 oklahoma sooners smoked the Colorado Buffaloes, 42-3, in the Big 12 Title Game in Kansas City and the No.3 Auburn Tigers moved to 12-0 by beating Tennessee in the SEC Title Game, 38-28. The difference in points in the polls between oklahoma and Auburn was very small, but Auburn’s game against I-AA Citadel earlier that year proved to be their undoing as it weakened their SOS (strength of schedule) in both the computer polls and the eyes of some voters, so rather than playing the top-ranked Trojans in the Orange Bowl, War Eagle went to New Orleans to play Virginia Tech in the Fiesta Bowl, beating them (16-13) to finish the season undefeated. The sooners, as you remember, were completely housed by Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinhart, 55-19, in that National Championship game that will be remembered as much for Ashlee Simpson’s horrific halftime show as the play on the field (here it is in case you forgot. Brutal). It was the last time the SEC would ever get snubbed in anything regarding football again and is something many Auburn fans still talk about.
BUT, that was only part of the BCS drama that year. With the National Title Game set, the SEC vs. someone else set in the Super Dome and the terrible Fiesta Bowl set (Non BCS Utah with Urban Meyer and qb Alex Smith vs. 8-4 Big East Champs Pitt) the only spot left was opposite Big Ten Champion Michigan in the Rose Bowl. No.4 Cal and quarterback Aaron Rodgers had one loss- 23-17 to No.1 USC- and VY and No.5 Texas had one loss- 12-0 to No.2 oklahoma. The teams were in nearly a dead heat going into the final weekend and the debate raged as to who was more worthy and was more deserving. The Horns had wrapped up their season with a 26-13 win over No.22 Texas A&M the Friday after Thanksgiving the week before while Cal had a makeup game at Southern Miss, postponed in September because of Hurricane Ivan, scheduled for December 4th. The game got national attention and a national broadcast because of the implications, and Southern Miss came to play. It was a tight game throughout as Cal blocked an extra point that would have tied the game at 17 and returned it for a score, pushing the lead to 19-16 (rather than tied at 17) with six minutes to play. Cal took the kickoff and drove down the field, icing the game on a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. Final score- Cal 26, Southern Miss 16. Cal looked a little flat and Southern Miss looked excited, which was noted by the announcers. Some Texas fans made the trip to Hattiesburg and were interviewed as they yelled and danced with the Golden Eagle fans, rooting for a Cal loss. Mack Brown had done the media tour and openly lobbied for Texas to get that coveted spot opposite Michigan. Texas benefited from the week off while Cal took a hit for not blowing out Southern Miss, and the likeable and affable Brown sold his team and his program to the voters and the Longhorns, it seemed, had played the political game and played it well.
So mid afternoon Sunday, December 5th, Texas got the call: they had edged out Cal for the Rose Bowl berth as the voters pushed Texas up to No.4 while Cal dropped to No.5. The Golden Bears were headed to the Holiday Bowl and a date with Texas Tech and their fans were FURIOUS. Sportswriters you still read were on national blogs screaming about how wrong it was. Pac-10 fans and West Coast residents were appalled at the fact the tradition of the Rose Bowl had been compromised (apparently that “tradition” was only a problem when a Pac-10 team didn’t get in, because there was no public outcry when ou played Washington State in the Rose Bowl two years prior) and Aaron Rodgers, the Discount Double Check King himself, called Texas and Mack Brown “classless” for their self-promotion. He said last week he still thinks about it and it still hurts.
Fast forward to now. Texas and Cal are meeting for the first time since 1970 in the 2011 Holiday Bowl and from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen, the California fans are as excited about this game as any of they have played for one big reason: they hate Texas. They blame Texas, not the system, for their non-BCS berth seven years ago and they would love nothing more than to beat the tar out of Texas and Mack Brown. These fans have long memories (I still hate Rashad Bauman for celebrating over an injured Hodges Mitchell in the 2000 Holiday Bowl, so I understand) and so does head coach Jeff Tedford, who was so close to the Rose Bowl in 2004. They want this, and want it bad, and now you know why if you didn’t or forgot. Let’s get to it.
No.24 TEXAS (7-5/4-5) vs. California Golden Bears (7-5/4-5)
Wednesday, December 28
The Holiday Bowl is fun. I got tired of it when Texas went EVERY SINGLE YEAR, but even then it was still fun. The Gaslamp District is a good party, the weather is nice and the halftime show is insane with fireworks (you can see the smoke on TV for most of the third quarter). It’s just fun. The game is usually fun, too: Major Applewhite’s comeback in ’01 vs. Washington, the near-comeback against Oregon in 2000, that Tech win over Cal in 2004 (Was anyone else at the Texas team hotel in LA during that game? I’ll bet 1,000 Texas fans were in the lobby/bar screaming for Tech that night) and all the rest of them I’m forgetting. It’s a fun game and this one should be no different. Let’s see what everyone wants to do and what will happen.
The first thing you’ll notice about this Cal team is how similar they are to Texas on paper. They have the same record, the same conference record and both give up and score nearly the same amount of points. But there are plenty of differences, too. Let’s take at their offense first.
First let’s look at the basics: They rank 37th in total offense with 418 ypg. They rank 48th in rush offense (167 ypg) and 39th in passing offense (251 ypg) and score 29.83 points per game. They can run and throw well and put pressure on defenses in many ways, but three names stand out when looking that their offense: Zach Maynard, Isi Sofele and Keenan Allen.
Maynard is the trigger man that makes it all happen. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior is in his first year as the starter after transferring from Buffalo, where he started in 2009 before sitting out last year. He’s an athletic guy that has shown flashes of excellence, like completing 25 passes against USC, or throwing 4 touchdown passes against Colorado, or his 349 yards passing against Washington. He’s also shown flashes of eek!, like his 4-pick day against UCLA. He is a tremendous athlete that can throw a 90-yard touchdown pass, run it for 90 yards and a score or just as easily hand it over to the defense with alarming ease. I think “inconsistent” is the best way to describe him, but we know all about inconsistent quarterbacks, amIright?
You are probably asking yourself why he transferred from Buffalo, I’ll bet. Easy, his brother was at Cal. Wide out Keenan Allen is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior that was a High School All-American and US Army All-Star. The former 5-star recruit leads the team with 1,261 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Like his brother, he is also a tremendous athlete that has the ability to go deep, over the middle or up high to get the ball. As you can see by his numbers, he’s locked on the same page with his older brother. Allen is a premier No.1 wide out, made even better by Marvin Jones on the other side. The senior is an identical twin size-wise to Allen and has excellent numbers with 3 scores and 762 yards on the season. He’s more of a possession receiver than the explosive Allen, but he can and will make plays. Maynard will find the big tight end Anthony Miller at times (3 scores, 21.2 receiving yards per game), but the offense finds success when Maynard finds his brother and Marvin Jones. And when Isi Sofele runs the ball.
So far, Isi Sofele has done just that. On the season the junior has 1,266 yards rushing with 9 touchdowns, averaging 104 yards per game and 5.5 per carry. He’s smallish at 5-foot-8, but at 190 pounds he’s a load to bring down and excellent in the open field. He’ll dart to daylight at the line of scrimmage and has the speed to burn a defense overly concerned with the passing game. CJ Anderson is their short yardage back at 215 pounds, and has found success in that role, scoring 8 times on the season. While the passing game can be inconsistent, the running game has been just the opposite with Isi Sofele, who looks an awful lot like former Okie State tailback Kendall Hunter playing across the bay with the Niners, and the bruiser Anderson at the goal line. Like everyone, they want to establish the ground game to open everything up and Sofele is a guy who can do that.
If the boys up front can give him some help. They have some next level with All-Pac 12 tackle Mitchell Schwartz, but I also see some undersized interior linemen that struggled at moving the pile against the better competition, and with the exception of Stanford this is the best defense Cal will see this year. They scored four touchdowns against Stanford though, didn’t they? But they were also held to 14 points by UCLA, so who knows what they are capable of?
They’ve had a month to get ready for Texas and they’ve seen all the film on what worked. Expect them to spread Texas out, go no huddle and throw sideline routes, forcing the Longhorn secondary to play aggressive to stop it, then they will try to go over the top. They will also take their shots down the middle, forcing the Texas safeties to cover their talented and big wide outs. They will try to run into that vacated middle with Sofele in the attempt to pop one big, like Oklahoma State and Baylor did, and they are going to roll out their quarterback and force Texas to choose his arm or his legs to defend. I think, with that month to get ready, a smart offensive mind like Jeff Tedford is going to find some success early, the key is how fast can Manny Diaz react and adjust? It might take the first quarter, or even the first half, but he will adjust and force Maynard into some bad and reckless decisions.
A solid unit. They rank 26th in total defense (339 ypg) and 52nd in scoring defense (24.42 ppg) and really excel at creating turnovers (.33 per game), getting sacks (2.67 per game) and tackles for loss (7.7 per game). In fact, on paper they are very comparable to oklahoma’s defense, who also excels at tackles for loss, sacks and total yardage allowed. How do they do it?
The most obvious way is by running a 3-4 defense. As we talked about with A&M, it’s hard to figure out the 3-4 because so few teams run it. The alignment causes breakdowns in protection and it allows guys to come free because you just can’t tell who is lined up where at times; but it’s more than scheme.
The starting three up front are very productive, totaling 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. The ends are both large at 280 and 270 pounds, but the nose guard is not at 295 pounds. The star of the front three is Trevor Guyton, who leads the unit with 4.5 sacks and 10 tfl’s from his end spot. He plays end, but at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds the senior is an undersized tackle playing outside. Ernest Owusu on the other side has similar numbers (4.5 sacks, 7.5 tfl) and is talented enough that Guyton avoids all the attention in protection and nose guard Aaron Tipoti is a tall and thin in the nose guard world at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, but he does a good job of clearing space for his talented linebacking corps. These three can hold their own, and I won’t say it’s all scheme like I did against A&M, because that would just be dumb.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense, led by All Pac-12 performer Mychal Kendricks. The 6-foot, 240-pound senior is built like former Texas lb Aaron Harris and has similar numbers, leading the team in tackles with 96, including 13 for loss, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. Like Harris, he has a nose for the ball, loves the contact and closes quickly and violently. Joining him inside is senior DJ Holt, who has a similar size and similar game. He’s second on the team in tackles with 81 and has 10.5 for loss. The linebackers outside don’t have the same numbers as the ilb’s, but Cecil Whiteside does have 3 sacks. It seems the outside forces everything inside, to the waiting arms of Kendrick’s and Holt, who close and finish very well.
They do a nice job in the secondary with five guys that can play if you count nickel back Josh Hill. The first thing you notice about them is they are big with 6-foot-2, 200-pound corner Marc Anthony and 6-foot-3, 220-pound safety Sean Cathouse. They can bring the lumber supporting the run and have the size and hands to cover as well. I don’t think, aside from Cathouse, there are any superstars in the secondary, but they all do their jobs and make minimal mistakes, but Cal can give up some passing yards,
And they know they give up passing yards, but they will take their chances with Texas. They are going to do what everyone does: load the box and force Texas to throw to win. They want to control the line of scrimmage and then cut their front seven lose on Case McCoy in pass rushing situations, taking advantage of any breakdowns in protection and forcing throws like they saw on the Baylor film. They have to feel pretty confident about winning this game if they can slow down the Texas running game: but that is a big “if” that I don’t think will happen.
They have the All-Pac 12 punter in Bryan Anger, who averaged 44.6 yards per punt with 18 of 46 punts going inside the 20. He’s had one blocked on the season and Cal has had one returned for a score. The coverage is OK at 7.4 yards per return allowed, but Anger is dynamite, netting 40.24 yards per punt, which is 7th nationally. Unfortunately, that’s where all the good times end on special teams. They rank 99th in punt returns, 97th in kickoff returns and have missed six extra points this season. SIX. That’s embarrassing. They do have a 54-yard field goal on the season, but they have missed three and had two blocked. They have scored a touchdown on a kickoff return, against Presbyterian, but they only average 19 yards per kickoff return.
I could go on, but the bottom line is Cal is going to have to play a flawless game to win the special teams battle, but the numbers tell me they won’t do that.
You know what Texas does well and you know what they don’t. Let’s see what the Horns intend to do against the Strawberry Canyon.
I’ve heard the running backs are healthy, but I’ve heard that before. If Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are healthy, I expect Texas to pound on the Cal front seven and wear them down, taking over the game and forcing the Bears’ defense to move up, opening up play-action passes down field. It will look and feel a lot like the Texas Tech game if everyone is healthy, where the running game was churning and the well-timed passes were going for big yards to wide open receivers. If they aren’t healthy, I expect a similar game plan to Baylor. The interesting thing about the Baylor game is if Texas could have held on to the stinkin’ ball the game plan would have worked fine. Let’s assume they are out for this scenario. Expect Texas to run more roll outs to get McCoy out of the pocket and towards the edge where his legs can force Cal’s defense to either come up and address him or drop into coverage. Aside from the Baylor game, McCoy has made pretty good decisions with the ball and bootlegs will force the defense to choose, meaning something will be there. I also think you’ll see more designed draws from the qb spot and even some option with DJ Monroe, who showed at Baylor he can fly when he gets outside. But I don’t think that will happen, because I think you’ll see both backs play and you will see a very aggressive, creative game plan from Brian Harsin. Cal is one of the most penalized teams in the Pac 12, so I expect Texas to move, plot and scheme their way into one-on-one match ups down field and force the Cal defenders to react, because odds are better than even they’ll get a little lazy and give up some free penalty yards. Even so, Texas will win this game by controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage and I see the personnel healthy enough to do just that.
Eight wins was the goal in the pre-season and it’s right here. I think you’ll see an energized o-line, a confident quarterback and some healthy tailbacks ready to have some fun; and a coaching staff that will let them. Just TAKE CARE OF THE BALL. Nothing silly when you get sacked, Case, watch the clock and protect the ball.
I think Joe B. gets a 100 and a pair of scores.
For a guy as athletic as Maynard Cal gives up a surprisingly high number of sacks, and he only averages 12 yards per game on the ground. That tells me he’s dancing around waiting for someone to get open, buying time. Texas can’t allow him to get that time. They have to remain disciplined on the rush and maintain their rush lanes, lest he get loose and show us all just how athletic he is. Texas needs to get him down and get him thinking about those hits, because he will make some mistakes trying to hit the home run, evidenced by his 11 interceptions.
I expect Diggs and Byndom to take Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones with a safety over the top. Look for Kenny Vaccaro to take the tight end and the front seven to deal with Isi Sofele and the running game. With a month off I expect some twists, like screen passes and quarterback draws, but Cal better expect some, too, with some exotic blitzes and formations coming from Manny Diaz.
I think Cal will move the ball early, but Texas is going to adjust and shut them down. Only twice has an offense really manhandled Texas this year and the Horns committed 10 turnovers in those two games. If the Longhorns can hold on to the ball, I think the defense will lock it down in the second half and give them opportunities to put the game away but shutting down the Cal running game and chasing Zach Maynard all over the field, forcing a few interceptions and lots of incompletions.
There are lots of places these teams are evenly matched, but this isn’t one of them. Texas can blow this game wide open with a blocked kick or a return for a score. I’ll go with a kickoff return for six, sending visions of Victor Ike in 2000 against Oregon dancing through your head.
Texas wins this phase BIG.
Sorry about 2004, Cal. Truly, I am. I know how you feel. I watched an ou team that Texas beat slide into the Big 12 Title and National Championship games by running up the score on everyone in 2008. That’s the way it goes. We have ours from ’08, you have yours from ’04, and so does Auburn. Miami has theirs from 2000, etc… and on and on. Everyone has a story, don’t they?
This isn’t about 2004. This is about now. This about 2011 and beyond. I think the future looks bright for the Texas Longhorns in 2012 with so many guys returning and you’ll see the first step to next season in the Holiday Bowl as the defense rebounds from a slow start, the specials ignite a rally and the offense takes over on the ground and the team meets that 8-win goal next Wednesday.