Saturday, November 11, 2006


After today's football performance, we need a bit of a palate cleanser, and nothing cleans the palate like a hot, steaming dish of schadenfreude.

With that in mind let's turn to an analysis of Stanford basketball. Year three of the Trent Johnson era on The Farm will be his most challenging. Johnson, who has gone 18-13 and 16-14 in his first two seasons, will struggle to approach .500 this year.

Good News: Stanford welcomes the Lopez twins. Brook and Robin (left) - both standing 7 feet tall - are two of the most heralded recruits in school history and figure to contribute immediately. Brook - the more highly regarded of the two - is recovering from back surgery but should be ready by the start of conference play. And that's about it for the good news. Stanford will be much bigger, which should help them battle in an increasingly physical conference.

Bad News: There's not much else for Johnson to work with. Stanford graduated virtually their entire offense in PG Chris Hernandez, PF Matt Haryasz and SG Dan Grunfeld. They return a bunch of role players who will need to step up and developing a scoring presence. Both C Peter Prowitt and PF Taj Finger have been slowed by injuries during their careers. Forward Lawrence Hill could provide some scoring, but he's hardly what you'd call a major threat. Mitch Johnson will start at PG and is the only returning starter in what should be a very thin backcourt. He hasn't shown the ability to create his own offense, averaging fewer than 5 points per game last year.

New Faces: In addition to the twins, Stanford welcomes Landry Fields, a 6'5" wing who is unlikely to see much time, and Da'Veed Dildy, who will back up Johnson at the point and compete for a spot on the All-Pac 10 name team.

Prediction: 8th place. It's hard for me to see how the Cardinal can generate enough scoring to climb much higher than 7th. Even if the Lopez twins are as advertised, the rest of this team is unathletic and teams will exploit their weaknesses on both ends of the court. Johnson has enough credit in the bank with Stanford alums for one more tough year, and this would appear to be it.


All credit should go to Mike Stoops, Syndric Steptoe, Antoine Cason and the Arizona Wildcats. We'll lick our wounds and drown our sorrows, and be back soon to strap it up for USC Week.

We have a Rose Bowl to clinch.


Herb Sendek, who we last saw helping to end Leon Powe's college career, takes over in the Valley of the Sun. It's like going from the frying pan to...a place where they don't have a stove or kitchen and in fact haven't eaten a full meal in years. It's a good thing no one's paying attention, Herb - because things could get a wee bit ugly this year.

Good News: ASU's best player is Jeff Pendergraph (left), a sophomore forward who last year averaged 10.9/6.1 and shot 51.5% from the field, which ranked fourth in the entire conference. Stop Pendergraph and you stop the Sun Devils. ASU also returns PF Serge Angounou (5.1 rpg) who averaged 25 minutes last year and guard Antwi Atuahene (7.1 ppg). 5th-year senior Allen Morrill returns from an injury that sidelined him last year. Sendek is a disciplined coach who got pretty good results at NC State while alienating its fan base with his deliberate style on offense. ASU fans won't be so fickle, so long as he shows improvement.

Bad News: ASU lost swingman Bryson Krueger (kicked off team in August for multiple bad-citizen offenses) and guard Kevin Kruger, who joined his father in his effort to finally destroy UNLV basketball. Between them, ASU has lost 27.3 ppg of scoring, and their two best threats from the perimeter. The Devils will try to replace the scoring with two freshmen - Christian Polk and Jerren Shipp (who I'm reasonably confident will be the last of the Shipp brothers to play in the Pac 10). It's not clear Atuahene can get the ball inside to Pendergraph on a consistent basis. Someone (Polk?) needs to step up on the perimeter to replace Kruger's 3-point shooting to open things up. The Sun Devils struggled mightily to beat exhibition punching bag U of Victoria of Canada, who lost to the UofA by 55 points.

New Faces: Sendek is of course the most important one, but early reports indicate that the young Devils are struggling to master his Princetonian system of screens and back-door cuts. Herb has a great class coming in, including Duke transfer Eric Boateng who will sit out this season - and figures to have much better talent in 2007-08, when his guys finally understand how to run his offense. In addition to Shipp and Polk, another freshman - Derek Glasser - will back up Atuahene at the point.

Prediction: 9th place. Sendek has correctly set expectations low for the 225 fans who follow ASU basketball, so this is his Honeymoon Season. He needs to install the offense, find a shooter or two, and hold down the fort until next year, when the Sun Devils figure to challenge for a postseason berth.


This is the formula for victory today. Ball security = 9-1 going into LA
(FYI - The author of Pearls Before Swine is a Young Blue named Stephan Pastis - hat tip to reader Geoffrey U.)

Friday, November 10, 2006


Stressing the defense against Arizona 10/1/05


No receiver in the history of college football averaged more yards per catch than Wesley Walker. He gained an average of more than 25 yards every time he hauled in a pass.

Walker caught only 86 passes in his time at Cal, but he made those catches count. No receiver in school history changed the complexion of a game more than Walker, whose 9.5 sprinter's speed stressed opposing secondaries on every down. His ability to catch the deep ball opened the rest of the field up for Cal receivers Steve Rivera and George Freitas.

Walker had more than 100 yards receiving on eight separate occasions, including a record 289-yard 3-touchdown performance against San Jose State in his senior season. He holds the Cal record for longest TD reception with an 88 yard score from Joe Roth against Georgia in 1976. Walker also occasionally returned kicks and punts for the Golden Bears, and finished his career with 3,085 all-purpose yards.

Walker was drafted in the 2nd round by the New York Jets in 1977, and made two Pro Bowls during a 12-year career. As a rookie with the Jets, Walker was diagnosed as legally blind in his left eye: Here's a neat story about how Walker helped mentor another Cal alum who faced a similar hurdle.


Just as drunks forget to pay their bills and put their shoes on in the morning, we have somehow missed the start of the college basketball season. Well, what would you rather focus on? The glory of a Rose Bowl run or another season with Ben on the Bubble?

But this is a double-duty blog, and today we make amends with a preview of your conference doormat, the Washington State.........................sorry, I nodded off there. The Cougars.

Coach Bennett installing the picket fence

Tony Bennett takes over for his father Dick in hoops-mad Eastern Washington, and figures to maintain the same dreary style that makes Ben Braun's offenses look exciting. Bennett inherits a veteran squad, though Coug fans were disappointed with Jimmy Chitwood (SF, Hickory HS) turned down a scholarship to play in Europe.

Good News: The Cougs return almost everyone from last year's squad. Their backcourt is pretty solid, led by junior SG Kyle Weaver (left) (8.6 ppg/4.0 apg) and PG Derrick Low (8.3 ppg/3.2 apg). Low was slowed with a broken foot last year and missed eight games. PF Robbie Cowgill is their top returning scorer (9.2 ppg/5.1 rpg) - tall (6'10") and thin (210 pounds), he has a hard time matching up on defense. Ivory Clark returns at SF - he averaged 18 minutes last season and had one of the higher shooting percentages on the team (.518). The Cougars figure to be a deep team with lots of conference experience in their nine-man rotation. Friel Court can be a difficult place to play, and the Cougs always win a few they shouldn't at home.

Bad News: As usual, Wazzu doesn't match up well with anyone. To keep scores down in the increasingly big and athletic Pac-10, the Cougs must shoot much better than last year, particularly from three-point range. I also wonder how they will match up inside- they will be tall, but unathletic and a little soft. Sophomore center Aron Baynes will need to really step up to limit second chances and help control tempo. Baynes is coming off ankle surgery, and both he and Low bear watching as the season unwinds. This is Bennett's first HC gig, though he has lots of experience for his young age (37 at the start of the season).

New faces: WSU brings in two intriguing 6'6" foreigners - Nikola Koprivica from Belgrade and Thomas Abercrombie from Auckland, NZ. Koprivica could provide needed range. Taylor Rochestie, a Tulane tranfser, will get into the rotation at point.

Prediction: 1oth place. The Cougs could finish anywhere from 7th to 10th. I see the latter, simply because the back half of the Pac is a lot better than it's been in previous years.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Even though the National Championship Game just came back into play


  • Amid all the football hysteria, I neglected to mention that yesterday was LOI day in college hoops. The Bears signed two forwards - Harper Kamp (6'8"/250/Mesa AZ Mountain View) and Omondi Amoke (6'7"/205/Oxnard HS). Kamp should help on the glass, while Amoke is a more athletic wing player. Both could contribute early.
  • As expected, Cal de-commit Drew Viney signed with the Oregon Ducks. Braun has apparently decided to eat the scholarship that had been allocated to Viney, so we'll use it next year.
  • Arizona and UCLA both cleaned up as usual and have Top 25 classes. The surprise is ASU - according to some services Sendek has the 3rd best class in the conference.
  • ESPN has a long article on its site about Todd Bozeman's return to coaching at Morgan State. Regardless of your feelings about Bozeman, it's a good read. I'm surprised Lute agreed to be quoted.
  • Byron Storer and Alex Mack are both up for Academic All-America consideration.
  • I hope readers are enjoying our highly subjective list of the 50 Greatest Golden Bears. To recap, the list so far is: 50 - Steve Sweeney; 49 - Carl Van Heuit; 48 - Harvey Salem; 47 - Daymeione Hughes; 46 - Dave Barr; 45 - Regan Upshaw; 44 - Joe Igber; 43 - Walter Gordon; 42 - Ryan O'Callaghan; 41 - Ted Albrecht; 40 - Charley Erb; 39 - Bobby Shaw; 38 - Benny Lom; 37 - Jerrott Willard; 36 - Tony Gonzalez; 35 - Dan McMillan; 34 - Geoff McArthur. More to come...


Well, actually it is. Saturday's matchup in Tucson has all the elements of the classic trap: the favorite looking ahead; the underdog at home, with a confidence-boosting win under its belt. Fortunately for the Bears, intangibles are nice but matchups matter, too. Let's take a closer look:

When Cal has the ball... the Bears will face one of the conference's most active defenses. Mike Stoops and brother Mark call their scheme "violent" and that's exactly how the Cats play. Arizona has forced ten fumbles on the year, which ties them for 3rd in the conference. Junior MLB Spencer Larsen has forced two of those fumbles, to go along with 65 tackles and 2 sacks.

Larsen is the Cats' best run stopper, but he has lots of company. Arizona is yielding only 105.8 rushing yards per game, which ties them for 4th in the Pac-10. This will be a difficult team to run on, and they represent a major test for Cal's O-line.

Arizona doesn't get a lot of pass rush out of its front four. They have 15 sacks through 9 games, and 8.5 from their front four. Four of those sacks come from Juco DE Louis Holmes, who is huge and fast and may be as big a challenge as Davis & Hickman were last week. Look for lots of blitzes as the Stoops brothers roll the dice and try to generate turnovers.

Arizona's secondary looks a lot like Cal's, actually. Like Cal, the Cats are led by a seasoned corner who is a semi-finalist for the Thorpe in Antoine Cason. The rest of the secondary is somewhat young, and they allow a high completion percentage (64.5%) - though for only 203.6 yards per game. Unlike the Golden Bears, Arizona has struggled to generate takeaways - their 5 interceptions are last in the conference.

When Arizona has the ball... They will try to score their first points against Cal since 2003. Arizona had not suffered back-to-back shutouts against an opponent since WWII before Cal skunked them 28-0 last year in Berkeley.

That game last year was pre-Willie, as in Tuitama, the Cats' dynamic sophomore QB. He's been slowed by two concussions this year, and has missed significant time. It shows: Arizona is completing only 55% of its passes and has a terrible takeaway ratio of 12 picks to 5 passing touchdowns. Tuitama is a threat to run and can create big plays against teams who lack discipline in their outside contain.

Receivers are OK - the best of the bunch is Syndric Steptoe, who is very fast albeit small (5'9"). Mr. Steptoe, meet Mr. Hughes.

Last month Stoops effectively replaced OC Mike Canales, who favored a wide-open attack, in favor of TE Coach Dana Dimel, who now calls most of the offensive plays. Arizona has become quite conservative, throwing only 17 passes against Washington State. I can't imagine they'll be that conservative against a high-scoring Cal team, but it's a safe bet that they will test our rush D in the first half.

Chris Henry has emerged as the Cats' go-to back, rushing for 94 yards and two scores in the upset of Washington State. He's a big but unspectacular back, but that's what I wrote about Chris Markey last week. We need to wrap him up, as he generates lots of YAC.

Arizona's OL has been a major concern all year - they've surrendered 24 sacks, 2nd worst in the conference, and last week represented their best effort by far in the run game. This is a game that Brandon Mebane can control, and I look for him to step up.

Special Teams...It's so nice not to have a gag reflex when I write that. Cal's cruising along, though I wish Tedford would eschew the 50-yard FG tries and be more aggressive on 4th downs. Arizona is dangerous, too, in the punt return game - Steptoe has 14 returns for 196 yards and a touchdown. Look for lots of fair catches from Larson. Arizona's FG kicker is mediocre (11-16).

Intangibles...are all breaking in Arizona's direction. Cal's got SC next week, which can't help but be a distraction no matter what JT does. Arizona can go to a bowl if they win out. They've got the sting of two straight shutout losses against the Bears as further motivation. Most important, their offensive line is finally playing with a little confidence after last week's upset win.

Prediction...Despite the intangibles, Arizona just doesn't match up that well with Cal. To win this game, they would need to establish the run for four quarters; get to Longshore consistently; and generate +3 or +4 in the turnover margin. That's a tall order even for an inspired, athletic bunch of Cats.

California 31 Arizona 10


#34 - GEOFF McARTHUR - WIDE RECEIVER (2001-2004)
They say it's better to be lucky than good. Well, "they" never met G-Mac. This guy comes out of nowhere to rewrite the Cal record book in 2003, catching 85 passes for 1,504 yards. He has five 150+ yard games and basically wins the Big Game by himself with the greatest stat line in Cal history: 16 catches/245 yards/2 TDs. Then, basking in the glow of All-Pac 10 and 2nd team All-America status and Cal's first bowl invitation in seven years, he fractures his right arm in a non-contact drill. No one touched him. Misses the Insight Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

Oh well, he comes into his senior year a pre-season All-America selection, and opposing defenses are ready. They feed him a steady diet of double teams, and Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around. Seven different receivers have at least 14 catches on the season, and G-Mac's numbers fall to 57 catches for 862 yards and 7 touchdowns. Plus he plays with a strained oblique muscle for most of the season.

But he never sulks, he just catches whatever comes his way and blocks like a demon in the run game. He doesn't get the same honors as he did in 2003, but he doesn't care 'cause Cal is 9-1 going into the Southern Miss game. Weather's bad, the Bears are struggling to win in the 4th quarter and the whole team knows that the Rose Bowl is slipping away. G-Mac is doing his lunchpail routine, blocking downfield when a teammate rolls up on his leg.


G-Mac's football career is over. No bowl game, no NFL career. No luck. But plenty of good memories for Old and Young Blues alike.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Daymeion Hughes is your man.


Cal's only won one national football award in the school's history. In 1999 Deltha O'Neal was named the third recipient of the Mosi Tatupu Award, which recognizes the nation's top performer on special teams.

Which raises an important question - Mosi Tatupu? What the hell?

It turns out anyone can give an award if they have time, disposable income and a more than a few friends. Here's the formula: A football club in some part of the country raises some dough and schedules a banquet. Club members retire to a smoke-filled room, and after five whiskey sours they pick a name for their award and a winner (and hope that he didn't graduate three years ago). Some award processes are a bit more dignified, in that they poll a number of 'experts' who presumably have not had five whiskey sours prior to making a selection. In Tatupu's case, it was the Maui Quarterback Club who wanted to honor Hawai'i's native son with an award, and all the regular football positions (DB, LB, etc) were already taken.

Could Cal add a second national award this season? Here's a brief handicapping guide:

Nate Longshore is one of 18 semi-finalists for the O'Brien Award, which honors the nation's top QB. Nate's a sophomore, and there are several guys ahead of him on the semi-finalist list - Troy Smith, Brady Quinn and the like. Odds of winning - 75:1

Marshawn Lynch, in addition to his Heisman candidacy, is one of 15 semi-finalists for the Maxwell Award which is like the Heisman but no one cares about it. Marshawn's chances for either award are pretty slim, unless Smith and Quinn get arrested in vice raids in the next three weeks. Odds of winning - 30:1

DeSean Jackson is one of 14 semi-finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which honors the best wide receiver. I think he'll actually do OK in the voting, since Cal has been on TV a fair amount and his catches and punt returns are in steady rotation on SportsCenter. But this is probably Calvin Johnson's to lose. Jackson should be a strong candidate for the Tatupu, and could lock it up with a TD return in the SC game. Biletnikoff - 25:1; Tatupu - 5:1

Daymeion Hughes is our best bet - he's a semi-finalist for the Bednarik (top defensive player), Thorpe (best DB) and Lott (best impact defender, whatever that means) - he will also likely be a finalist for the Nagurski which is pretty much the same thing as the Bednarik. The Nagurski/Bednarik will go to Lamarr Woodley or Quinn Pitcock, but the Thorpe is a real possibility. His main competition will come from Texas CB Aaron Ross and Florida FS Reggie Nelson. Bednarik - 20:1; Lott - 20:1; Thorpe - 3:1.

Lastly, JT is up for the Munger Award as Coach of the Year. Figure this will go to Tressel or Petrino, but Tedford could slide in if we run the table and the other schools drop a game. Odds of winning - 15:1


The Rose Bowl Express cruises into Tucson this weekend for a 12:30 matchup with Crazy Mike Stoops and the puzzling 4-5 Arizona Wildcats.

While we know more than we'd like to about Lute Olson's hoops team, Arizona football is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, stuffed into a tasty burrito with salsa verde. Who are these Wildcats? What has happened to their vaunted recruiting classes of the past two seasons? How do they plan to contain Cal's wide-open attack? Why does Mike Stoops keep yelling?

Why so angry?

With this in mind, Tightwad Hill's crack editorial staff recently exchanged thoughts with Ryan Finley, who covers Wildcat football for the Arizona Daily Star. Ryan is a real journalist who writes for a legitimate newspaper, so this is big league for us. We thought you would enjoy his responses to these questions:

TH: Almost three years into the Mike Stoops era, the Cats are 10-21. What's the mood in Tucson? How much rope does Stoops have left with Cats fans and the UofA administration?

RF: Honestly, I think Stoops has at least another year before people start complaining. He will almost certainly replace his offensive coordinator after this season, if not some more offensive coaches. But Stoops has captured this area's imagination — they're on pace to set all-time attendance record — and is a popular man among alumni and boosters. They won't pull the plug — yet.

TH: Last week's Arizona win in Pullman was an absolute shocker. Have the Cats turned a corner, or was that game an aberration?

RF: That's the big question here, and elsewhere, following Saturday's win. Arizona did the little things right — they ran the ball effectively, made a few big plays and forced a coupla turnovers — and caught WSU flat. I have a feeling that we'll know after this Saturday if Arizona's got anything going or not.

TH: What has changed in the team's offensive approach since Stoops elevated Dana Dimel to co-coordinator? Do Dimel and Canales really share play-calling duties and if so, how has that worked out?

RF: Dana Dimel calls most of the plays, because Arizona is now running about 70 percent of the time. A lot of their newfound conservativism has to do with the change at the top, though there is a contingent of people who believe that Canales would have been very successful had Willie Tuitama not suffered those concussions this year.

TH: Willie Tuitama has had two concussions this year (suffered a month apart). I read Greg Hansen's piece urging Stoops to shut him down for the year, and I found it persuasive. What is the thinking behind his return to the lineup? Is it indicative of the pressure Stoops is under to show progress this year? Is the backup QB situation that bleak?

RF: I think Willie came back because he — and his family — wanted him to. Nothing more. Stoops and Arizona's team doctors brought in experts to make sure Tuitama was cleared to go. I don't think Stoops is under a ton of pressure this season, to be honest, but I think he's under some pressure to keep his quarterback happy (especially with the possible coaching departures). The backup situation is solid, despite what some think. Adam Austin's solid as a No. 2 guy, and No. 3 guy Kris Heavner has 15 career starts.

TH: Who are three Wildcats (other than Tuitama) that Cal fans should watch Saturday?

RF: Let's see: Chris Henry, RB — The junior from Stockton set a school record with 35 carries against WSU. Spencer Larsen, LB — The Cats' middle 'backer is first-team all- conference quality. He's hard to ignore. Dominic Patrick, S — The heir apparent to former UA great Darrell Brooks, Patrick is a jarring hitter with a killer instinct.

TH: You're defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Cal is bringing the conference's top offense to town - how do you scheme to shut down Cal's skill people on the perimeter?

RF: The key is to keep them off the field. If Arizona can run well, move the chains and kill some clock, the Cats will be fine. If not, it could be a long day. Oh, and Arizona shouldn't let DeSean Jackson return a single punt.

Our thanks to Ryan for his insight into StoopsWorld, and our best wishes to him for a clean, injury-free game. Go Bears!


#35 - DAN McMILLAN - TACKLE (1920-1921)
It's a safe bet that Dan McMillan will be the only member of the 50 Greatest Golden Bears to have actually played at USC. Yes, McMillan matriculated to Southern Cal out of Manual Arts HS in Los Angeles, and played two seasons for the Trojans in 1917 and 1919. But with WWI raging, McMillan was drafted and trained as a military pilot in the Bay Area. During this training, he met a number of Cal players, and liked them well enough to transfer to Berkeley in 1920.

In those days transfers did not need to sit out a year, so McMillan stepped right into the starting lineup of Cal's most dominant team in school history. He played tackle next to All-American end Harold "Brick" Muller, and he shined as both a run blocker and tackler. The "Wonder Team" of 1920 outscored opponents 510-14 and won the Rose Bowl over Ohio State 28-0. McMillan returned for his senior year in 1921 and won second-team All-America honors for the second consecutive season.

In addition to his heroics on the gridiron, McMillan captained and rowed stroke for Cal's dominant crew team in 1921. As a tribute to his greatness, he is one of 15 California players enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Dan McMillan died on October 22, 1975 at the age of 77.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


No, I'm not talking about our neverending War of Liberation - the political blogs have that covered. I'm referring to the far less divisive topic of the Pac-10's bowl booty.

And what a booty it is! Thanks to Tom Hansen and his vicious cycle of low expectations, the Pac has the worst bowl arrangement of any BCS conference. Once you get past the Grand-daddy, Pac 10 teams play a lower-ranked opponent (in terms of conference finish) in every other bowl. Thanks, Tom, for ceding the Cotton Bowl to the SEC. Good work, old man. Dallas is positively frigid in January. Another chardonnay?

Chardonnay-swilling weenie

Rose: Cal v Michigan. You thought I'd type in another team's name? No, this looks just fine.

Holiday: USC v Nebraska. Big Red v Troy! Two great traditions collide! Oh, wait - you're saying we already did this? This matchup will look extra embarrassing for Der Kommissioner after USC shanks Notre Dame in the Coliseum and the Irish wind up in a New Year's game.

Sun: Oregon State v Rutgers. Enjoy the sights, sounds and - especially - the smells of El Paso! Favorite bowl week tradition - the running of the drug cartel gauntlet.

Beaver fans - book your day trips to Juarez

Las Vegas: Oregon v BYU. The excitement of the Vegas Strip seems very, very far away when you're in a bus fighting hellacious traffic to drive 45 minutes to a glorified high school stadium. Plus it's really cold.

Emerald: Washington State v I have no idea. Does this have something to do with almonds? I can't believe this is our #5 bowl.

Hawaii: UCLA v Hawaii. Now this will be a nice trip for the 150 Bruins fans that bother to go. Bowl organizers will do anything - anything - to get another team slotted here, but I'm guessing Dirk Diggler won't get the Sun Devils eligible.


#36 - TONY GONZALEZ - TIGHT END (1994-1996)
I know what you're thinking. #36 is a little low for a future first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer. And yeah, maybe I'm docking Tony a bit for leaving after his junior season. Or maybe it's just that he played two of his three varsity years under Keith Gilbertson, who didn't understand what a weapon he had in #44.

We saw flashes of the Tight End of the Future in his sophomore season, in which Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 541 yards. Against Stanford that year, Tony had ten catches for 150 yards and a 23-yard touchdown reception. Late in that game, Tony lost a disputed fumble (he was down) that set up the Cardinal's winning score and mercifully ended the Gilbertson era.

It took Mooch and his West Coast offense to fully exploit Tony's skills as both an explosive run blocker and deep receiving threat. In his junior season of 1996, Gonzalez caught 46 passes for 699 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was named all-Pac 10 and first team All-America by the Football News and Sporting News magazines.

All the while, of course, Gonzalez was logging double duty as a starting forward on Cal's basketball team. In 1996-97 he developed an offensive game to complement his rugged rebounding and led the Golden Bears to a surprise berth in the Sweet 16.

You know the rest: Tony was drafted 13th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997 and will go down in history as the NFL's greatest tight end. He's also a very good guy who runs his own charitable foundation and lends his name and fame to a variety of worthy causes.


This is the year in which most Arizona fans assumed Mike Stoops would be leading the Wildcats to their first bowl game in eight seasons. Instead, the Cats are 4-5 and AD Pete Livengood has been forced to give Stoops a public vote of confidence. What happened?

When Stoops was announced as the Cats' head coach in late 2003, Tucson became a football town, if only for a couple of weeks. Stoops-mania recalled the atmosphere in Berkeley as Old Blues watched Jeff Tedford's Oregon offense dismantle Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. There are important differences, though, between the two situations, and those differences help explain what separates Tedford's Bears from Stoops' Wildcat program.

Tedford made a natural progression - from OC at a 'progressive' Pac-10 school to Head Coach at a sister institution. At Cal, he could essentially replicate what he had learned in Eugene, adding his own twists here and there. JT had already read the blueprint of how to win in the Pac 10 - score bunches of points, pressure the passer, and get yourself some really good cornerbacks.

Mike Stoops' progression was anything but natural. He helped shape some great teams at Kansas State and Oklahoma who won with a simple formula. They played sound defense, didn't make mistakes, and had enough offensive firepower to outscore the opponent without getting too fancy. Call it the Big 12 formula. Oklahoma didn't outscheme anyone on offense, they just bludgeoned them into submission with a power running game and effective change-of-pace passing.

I'm not suggesting that the Big 12 formula can't work in the Pac 10. You could argue that Don James' great UW teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s were essentially Big 12-style teams. But I am suggesting that this philosophical divide at least partially explains Stoops' early difficulties in Tucson.

Under Stoops, Arizona has played very good defense. They're holding opponents to an average of 19 points per game, which includes the 45-point debacle against LSU. Stoops' first recruiting classes have been highly ranked, though they are likely to suffer some academic attrition. The Cats are drawing 50,000+ to most home games.

So why are the Cats 10-21 in the Age of Stoops? Because they run the least effective and least imaginative offense in the conference. They have rushed for 687 yards this season. That's not a typo: Arizona averages just over 75 yards per game on the ground (and that's counting some recent improvement).

The Cats' most dangerous weapon is sophomore QB Willie Tuitama, a guy regarded by some Bears' fans as a recruiting miss for Tedford. Tui lit up the Pac 10 last year with his strong if not always accurate arm and his impressive ability to scramble out of pressure and generate big plays. The Cats have built their offense around Tui, which made perfect sense until he suffered two concussions - against LSU and UCLA - that limited his playing time and effectiveness.

Stoops has no Plan B because he didn't bring in the type of coordinator who could scheme his way to victory. Arizona's entire offense hinges on Tui's athleticism and playmaking and without him at full effectiveness, they can't move the football to compete in this conference. I think back to the USC-Oklahoma Orange Bowl blowout in 2005 - time after time Norm Chow put the Sooners in impossible situations that translated to big plays and scores. Norm Chow's gone, but the conference is still filled with enough smart coordinators and explosive offensive talent to put at least 21 points on the board every Saturday. And 21 points has been more than enough to beat Arizona on most of those Saturdays.

Stoops' only solution has been to kick OC Mike Canales to the curb, demoting him to co-coordinator alongside TE coach Dana Dimel in early October. If he wants to compete in the Pac 10, he'll need to start over in the offseason and bring in a dynamic coordinator who can scheme with the best of them. Without a major change, UofA will struggle to convince blue-chip offensive talent to choose Tucson over LA, Berkeley, Eugene or even Tempe. And Stoops will continue to lose, the Big 12 way.

Monday, November 06, 2006


As this article indicates, the long-anticipated renovation of Memorial Stadium has hit a small but very vocal snag. According to a noisy handful of fans, the current plans threaten to compromise all or part of the picturesque free view they currently enjoy from Tightwad Hill. The group plans to deliver a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to UC regents at their upcoming meeting, which will earn them a cookie and warm cup of STFU.

While this controversy is unlikely to delay re-construction of Memorial in any way, it raises some interesting issues that are at the core of Cal's evolution from lovable loser to aspiring national power.

First, a primer for those visitors who may be unfamiliar with one of the oddest traditions in college football. When Memorial Stadium was built in the early 1920s, construction teams had to blast and reshape the hills of Strawberry Canyon to accommodate the new structure. Their work on the northeast side of the area resulted in a large relatively flat area of about 500 square feet that looked directly into the bowl of the stadium and beyond it, to the City of Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay.

History does not record whether the University considered the possibility that intrepid freeloaders could climb on to this hill and watch games without buying a ticket. Perhaps they were too consumed by the majesty of their creation, which in its day was a true technical and aesthetic marvel. Whatever the case, students and Berkeley residents quickly seized upon this property, which was dubbed "Tight Wad Hill."

Tightwad Hill has remained a popular option for fans who either cannot or - in most cases - will not obtain a conventional ticket to watch the Golden Bears. Attendance swells when Cal fills its stadium, most often against the LA schools and Stanford. In 1924, thousands of fans jammed the Hill and watched Cal and Stanford battle to a 20-20 tie in a game the great Walter Camp said was "one of the most exciting (he had) seen on any coast." In 1972, when Pac-8 officials banned the presence of cannons or other 'explosive devices' in conference stadiums, Cal students simply dragged the cannon up to Tightwad, where it has celebrated Cal scores ever since.

Nowadays the numbers are a bit more manageable (a few hundred for most games), and Tightwad Hill has become one of a handful of enduring traditions in Cal football. It also fits in nicely with Cal's counter-culture heritage - the Tightwad loyalists love the fact that they can watch the Bears and stick it to the man at the same time.

Which brings us back to the issues raised by the stadium renovation. Cal has needed to renovate Memorial for many years - for starters, it sits on the Hayward Fault and lacks necessary seismic retrofitting. It also lacks appropriate seating and first-world bathroom facilities. But despite the evident need, plans did not kick into high gear until Jeff Tedford arrived on campus. Without Cal's recent success, and Tedford's own insistence that improvements be made, it's doubtful that University would have made this project a high priority and taken on the Luddites in the Berkeley City Kouncil.

From what I understand, the view from Tightwad would be compromised by the proposed installation of a new seating structure and permanent lighting above the student section on the east side of the field. Why do we need to add seats and install permanent lights? Because we're winning, and because we want to move Heaven and Earth to retain the Coach who is asking for these and other improvements.

I've talked to some who have made the faulty comparison between Tightwad Hill and other iconic vistas in CFB like Touchdown Jesus on the Notre Dame campus. They posit that Notre Dame would never obscure the view of Touchdown Jesus for the sake of more seating. Of course they wouldn't. They're Notre Dame, and they own their own television network. Mere mortal universities have to keep up with the Joneses, and for Cal that means creating a set of physical legacies that will endure long after Jeff Tedford has left Berkeley.

That said, the University and City should do whatever they can to "design around" Tightwad Hill. The Hill is an important part of the history of the university, not just the football team, and it's a tradition worthy of respect. Look, I revel in the fact that Cal is now a winning program. But I love my alma mater much more than I love this football team. Berkeley is a quirky, chaotic and unpredictable place. It's the one place in America where current and future members of The Establishment can feel like they're thumbing their noses at, well, themselves just by walking under Sather Gate. It's a school where football fans cheer as loudly for Nobel laureates as they do for DeSean Jackson. It's the only university that could have produced the inspired anarchy of The Play.

In this light, Tightwad Hill is the perfect symbol of the University of California, Berkeley. Dragging a sofa up a hill to watch a free football game is hard work - akin to finding freshman housing or dodging panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue or passing Organic Chemistry. It also doesn't make a lick of sense, which is why it's undisputably Berkeley. Tightwad Hill is folks with enough stock options to buy several rows at Memorial who insist on going the skinflint route for tradition's sake. Perfect.

In the end, Dan Sicular and his merry band of protestors will likely get half a loaf - they'll have a hearing with the University brass, and Memorial 2 will only obscure part of their panoramic view. That's what folks outside of the People's Republic call a compromise, and it makes perfect sense here.


I thought we'd kick off No-Letdown Week with a brief history of Arizona football.

There, that's done. Did you enjoy it?

No, seriously, there is more to North Nogales CC than the Silver Fox and his heroes of the hardwood. To red-state America, UofA football tradition began in November 2003 when the school hired Mike Stoops - the Sonny Corleone of the Stoops coaching mafia - to take over its program.

(Seriously, there's a master's thesis in this, hear me out. Bob is Michael - intelligent and ruthless. He doesn't suspend players: he cuts them and they're never heard from again. He's won a national championship, and will probably win another. Mike is Sonny, all id and no superego. Sonny looks like a Don, but he lacks impulse control. That's why he'll eventually wind up riddled with alumni bullets at the metered onramp to I-10. There's two other Stoops brothers - Ron is the oldest and is currently coaches a high school team, so he's Fredo by definition. Mark is the youngest, and he kind of breaks the theory, but we'll put a dress on him and call him Connie anyway.)

Anyway, Sonny, er Mike hasn't delivered as advertised, which vexes the red-staters to no end. This furthers their collective conviction that Pac-10 football is more like math or interpretive dance than the sport they play in the dust bowl. There will be more on The Madness of Mike Stoops later in No-Letdown Week. For now, let's look at the glory of Arizona football.

Traditions. UofA has the coolest tradition no one's ever heard of. You ever wonder why they have "BEAR DOWN" written on each side of their field? In 1926, John "Button" Salmon - UofA student body president and quarterback for the football team - was critically injured in an automobile accident following the Cats' first game of the season. He lay paralyzed in the hopsital with a serious spinal cord injury, and Coach Pops McKale (he of McKale Center fame) visited him every day. On his last visit, Salmon told his coach to "tell them...tell the team to bear down." He died the next day on October 18, 1926.

OK, it's not the Gipper speech, exactly - but it's still pretty cool. Why doesn't anyone outside Tucson and some Pac-10 schools know about this? UofA, get thee a real SID.

Greatest Coach. Dick Tomey always looked to me like he was about to fall asleep on the sidelines. But he stayed awake enough to win 95 games, including four bowl games. Tomey, of course, is responsible for the Biggest Opposing Coach Blunder in Cal football history, when he went for two in the 1996 four-overtime game and the Cats lost 56-55. He also wore Hawaiian shirts in Arizona, which made no sense at all.

Worst Coach. John Mackovic was Walt Harris with better talent around him. Hated by his players, who mutinied at the beginning of the 2003 season and went to the University President with a demand that Mack be canned. He was, on September 28 of that year.

Favorite Mackovic Moment. Mack called Justin Levasseur a "disgrace to his family" after the TE dropped a couple of passes against UCLA in 2002. Levasseur then became an actual disgrace to his family when he was caught hauling 87 pounds of the chronic across Illinois.

Mascot. Meh. Wilbur Wildcat is the 2nd worst mascot in the Pac. Benny the Beaver kicks his ass. It's basically a guy in a cheap lion costume. They shaved the mane, put a fey cowboy hat on top and voila, he is the Wilbur. There's apparently a girl wildcat too, but I'm not going there.

Best Team. 1998's version went 12-1 and ended with a 23-20 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska. Their only loss - a 52-28 blowout at home against UCLA - cost them a shot at their first - and only - Rose Bowl.

Greatest Player. Well, there's Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr, and....oh, this is a football article? Well, Trung Canidate was the Cats' last real star in the backfield...Dennis Northcutt returning punts and kicks for scores...Ortege Jenkins and the flip for a winning TD against UW. But most of the all-time Cats played on the other side of the football: Tedy Bruschi was a beast at rush end and the leader of the 'Desert Swarm' defense of the early 90s...Chris McAlister was a shut-down corner in the late 90s...Rob Waldrop, perhaps the most obscure guy to ever win the Outland Trophy. But for greatest I have to go with linebacker Ricky Hunley, the only Wildcat in the CFB Hall of Fame.

Greatest Play. Chuck Cecil, the inspiration for the NFL's "blow to the head" penalty, returned an interception 104 yards for a touchdown that clinched an upset of the Rose-Bowl bound Sun Devils in 1996.

Cover Jinx. SI picked the Cats #1 in 1994 and put them on the cover. They went 8-4 and wound up losing in the Freedom Bowl to Utah.

Best Watering Hole. Dirtbag's on East Speedway. Good memories from the Copper Bowl in 1990. The kind of bar that's all about drinking.

Tomorrow, a look at the many faces of Mike Stoops, savior of UofA football.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Jerrott Willard was probably the best tackler I've ever seen wear Blue and Gold. Broadcasters love the cliche of "football instincts." Cliche or no, Willard had those instincts in spades. He exploded through ball carriers and rarely missed a tackle. His angles were as sharp as a geometry major's, and he squeezed the absolute most out of what God gave him. He played sideline to sideline with a non-stop motor that recalls Desmond Bishop of this year's team.

Willard led the Bears in tackles in each of his four seasons and wound up third all-time with 469 career stops, 54 of them for losses. He also had the knack for the big play, which separates him from other Cal defenders with gaudy stats. In his freshman year he blocked a critical punt for a touchdown against Oregon State in a 27-14 victory. In Cal's 37-3 Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa in 1993, he returned an interception 61 yards for a score, and was named Defensive Player of the Game. In countless other situations, we could count on Jerrott to make the critical stop on third down, or to force a turnover.

Though Willard played alongside some outstanding talents in his time at Cal, he was voted Team MVP after both his junior and senior seasons, and he was a two-time All-Pac 10 first team selection at inside linebacker. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995, and left the NFL in 1998.


Quarterback Play - A+
Nate Longshore turned in the best performance by a Cal QB in my viewing lifetime (since about 1978). I don't think anything else needs to be said.

Receiver Play - A
It was nice to see Robert Jordan step up with 2 TD receptions since, as I predicted, he became a focal part of the offense. Only a handful of mistakes from a receiving corps that really struggled against Washington. Lynch was tremendous as usual out of the backfield - I wish Heisman voters would look at that part of his game.

After watching DeWayne Walker's defense for 60 minutes, I really do feel Bruins Nation's pain. Walker's defensive strategy was no strategy at all, and his DBs just aren't coached properly. Their corners gave our wideouts five to eight yard cushions against the most accurate QB in the conference. And when they couldn't generate a rush out of their four man and were forced to blitz in the 3rd quarter, they became even more conservative in their cushions and the game was no longer a contest. I don't want to take anything away from Cal's receivers, because they played a whale of a game. But UCLA might have the worst secondary in the conference right now.

Pass Protection - A-
In the matchup of the game, Cal's tackles largely shut down Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman. Longshore was hit after delivery on a few occasions. The Bruins did force a fumble against Longshore in the second quarter, but that was more of a coverage sack. I can't say enough about the entire OL in pass protect, but especially Andrew Cameron and Mike Gibson, who get game balls. Hell, give 'em all game balls.

Running Backs - B
Pretty good performance overall - in the 1st half they didn't have much to work with but created what they could. Things opened up in the 2nd half and Lynch really wore out the Bruins LBs, who had played an excellent thirty minutes. A word needs to be said aboutFB Byron Storer, who had a typically outstanding game as a lead blocker, especially in the 2nd half.

Run Blocking - C
As efficient as Cal's OL was in the pass game, we struggled to move the interior of UCLA's DL, or put helmets on their quick linebacking corps. Things improved in the 2nd half when UCLA's defense either got gassed or quit a little bit. By the 4th quarter our OL was controlling the line of scrimmage. I continue to think we need to run wide or use counter action a bit more in the 1st half of games, because we haven't shown we can execute the power run game as well as we have in years past.

Pass Defense - C+
OK, this game tested my patience for Bob Gregory's bend-but-don't-break defense. I know that there is a method to this madness: we're facing a dink-and-dunk offense with an unproven QB, and we're likely to score 40, so the first goal is no big plays. I know we have a RS freshman with a bullseye on his chest at corner. But once we figured out that Pat Cowan was channeling Tom Ramsey and was going to eat our zone alive, I thought we might have adjusted a little bit more quickly.

Contrary to expectations, our LBs had a very difficult time catching up to their backs and their tight end (this was generated in large part by UCLA's run game). Hughes almost got burned in the end zone, but made a terrific recovery to tip the pass away (that's what All-Americans do). Overall, an uninspired performance but they get the C+ for not giving up any really big plays and allowing UCLA to beat themselves in the 2nd half.

Pass Rush - C+
We got some hats on Cowan out of a straight four-man rush, but as usual we needed to blitz to generate consistent pressure. It was Zack Follett who effectively ended this game by drilling Cowan on a blitz late in the 2nd quarter - after that play he was a completely different QB.

Run Defense - D
OK, now the bad news: if we tackle like that against USC, we can probably make reservations for San Diego in December. Desmond Bishop is a fantastic linebacker, but he tries for the knockout on almost every play. It's troubling that we gave a very ordinary set of backs lots of YAC. Chris Markey will never look so good again.

You might be asking why I'd rate the Run D lower than the Pass D, in that we surrendered 329 yards in the air, and 187 on the ground. The reason is that our inability to stop the run, especially in the 1st half, opened up the middle of the field for Cowan. Our LBs had to respect their run game, which I didn't expect at all.

Special Teams - A
A game ball for Pete Alamar - every facet of our special teams was terrific Saturday. The punt return TD was a lot of DJax, but it's worth noting that he wasn't even touched on his way to the end zone. That's good blocking, and it was led by Thomas DeCoud's brutal de-cleater. Kick coverage was solid as usual.

Coaching - A-
Tedford corrected everything that had gone wrong on offense in the previous two wins over WSU and Udub. The Bears came out at the perfect emotional pitch - not so high that they made mistakes. Ball security was very good, with the exception of Longshore's blindside fumble. JT/Dunbar reacted nicely to the unexpected generosity of Walker's defensive scheme. Gregory's game plan wasn't pretty, but it did make sense - and would have made much more if we could have stopped the run and prevented YAC.

Overall - B-
After two uneven weeks, Cal's offense is officially back. Now the defense is breaking down, and needs to get back to fundamentals before the trip to Tucson.