Preview: Cal vs Minnesota

It was too easy to get caught up in the hype. It was too easy to get caught up in the chess match. And it is always too easy to forget that chess pieces do not miss tackles, forget assignments, and get hurt.

Prior to the Tennessee game Cal fans had visions of Ted Spreads and Marshawn for Heisman dancing in their heads. No one would admit to that being easy, but there was certainly an underlying current of 'when, not if' the Golden Bears beat the Volunteers.

We all believed in that top 10 national ranking, but, in retrospect, what was that based on?

That question makes it time to face the difficult facts. This is a team with an unproven quarterback, an offensive line that is a work in progress, a banged up defensive line, and a thin secondary.

Quarterback Longshore was consistently a beat slow in his decision making, not at all unexpected for a sophomore with one quarter of real game experience; he'll have to improve rapidly if the Cal offense is to establish a rhythm - and productivity - in the forthcoming game.

Many of us thought Cal was better than Tennessee, and that still might be true - eventually - but the performance of last Saturday raised more issues than it settled.

I remember a high school coach who gave one of the best half time talks ever. He walked into the locker room, wrote two words on the chalkboard - BLOCK! - TACKLE! - then left.

That is still the core of good football, and always will be. Even good schemes will fail without that, and, conversely, even bad schemes can be successful if they have both good blocking and tackling.

That seems to this writer to be the core challenge for Cal this Saturday as they return to the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Play better. Make the blocks you missed last week; make the tackles you missed last week; hit the holes you missed last week; make the throws you missed last week, AND make the catches you dropped last week. If Cal makes progress toward those goals, they should win. If they do not, they will lose, and will then be dispirited going up against even lowly Portland State thd following week.

When Minnesota Has the Ball.

It's hard to say whether Minnesota's tactics last week were dictated by the opponent or if they were a true indication of scheme, but the Golden Gophers played some true smash mouth football in their 44-0 win in the opener against Kent State.

Minnesota ran the ball on 55 of its 70 offensive plays. Carrying the bulk of the load was converted linebacker Alex Daniel who at 6-3 255 is hard to bring down. When they get tired of pounding you with Daniels, they run the elusive Amir Pinnix at you. The combo makes a tough 1-2 punch for a defense to handle.

When Minnesota does pass they have experienced, if not flashy, quarterback Bryan Cupito throwing to a committee of receivers. His favorite target last week was tight end Matt Spaeth, a big 6-7 target. Wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright stands 6-5 as well, so Cupito has some big targets, and those big guys will present Cal with a major challenge.

How do the Bears defend Minnesota? Add safety help on Wainwright's side? If so, then who covers Spaeth? Cover in the short zone with a linebacker? Then who stays in to gang tackle Daniels or plug holes against Pinnix?

There is only one good answer: basic football, solid football. The front four must get a good push up field because if they get back on their heels against a talented and physical offensive line, it could be Knoxville redux.

When California has the Ball

Again, the key for Cal in this game will not be the number of spread formations or the quality of quarterback reads - it will be the physical game.

The offensive line will have to play more as a unit than the loose assemblage of talents we saw in Knoxville.

Cal fans can never fault Marshawn Lynch for a lack of passion on the field - but he needs effective help from his teammates.

But Cal fans can hope for more decisiveness - and more productivity - from Mr. Lynch. It's the rare defense that plays at the speed of a Tennessee; it was that speed (and lack of down field blocking from Cal's offensive line) that limited his productivity in the first game.

One notable change in Cal's offense is the absence of a fullback on many plays - the guy that Lynch has spent most of his career following - so let's note that Lynch's adjustments to this will not be instantaneous.

The receivers must catch good throws consistently - and the quarterback has to make those throws.

Minnesota did not give up any points to Kent State. This probably says more about Kent State's offense than the Gopher defense.

The burden on Cal is two-fold - the coaching staff must identify mismatches and the players must play better to exploit them. If Cal's revamped and supposedly creative offense cannot find mismatches Saturday, then maybe there are bigger problems than even the Tennessee game revealed.

Special Teams

Punter Andrew Larson was one of the few bright spots for the Bears last week; Tom Schneider was not really tested. Kick coverage was adequate, kick returns the same.

It's hard to get any measure of the Gophers' punting game as they only punted once. Jason Giannini seems solid in the kicker slot.

Overview

Cal needs to execute, show passion, and display the mental toughness needed to shake off last week's results. If they are not (as a team) physically superior to the Gophers, and able to exploit that superiority, there is trouble in Bear Land.

Right now, Tennessee is just one game. But a lack of a strong performance this Saturday against Minnesota will mean that a worrisome trend develops.

This will be a game about players. In football sometimes you have to go out and knock someone on his butt and bloody his nose. No one has ever done that with a piece of chalk, or with an X or an O. It's time for Cal to step up.

Prediction: Cal 21 Minnesota 17.


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If you haven't already done so, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

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Prior to the Tennessee game Cal fans had visions of Ted Spreads and Marshawn for Heisman dancing in their heads. No one would admit to that being easy, but there was certainly an underlying current of 'when, not if' the Golden Bears beat the Volunteers.

We all believed in that top 10 national ranking, but, in retrospect, what was that based on?

That question makes it time to face the difficult facts. This is a team with an unproven quarterback, an offensive line that is a work in progress, a banged up defensive line, and a thin secondary.

Quarterback Longshore was consistently a beat slow in his decision making, not at all unexpected for a sophomore with one quarter of real game experience; he'll have to improve rapidly if the Cal offense is to establish a rhythm - and productivity - in the forthcoming game.

Many of us thought Cal was better than Tennessee, and that still might be true - eventually - but the performance of last Saturday raised more issues than it settled.

I remember a high school coach who gave one of the best half time talks ever. He walked into the locker room, wrote two words on the chalkboard - BLOCK! - TACKLE! - then left.

That is still the core of good football, and always will be. Even good schemes will fail without that, and, conversely, even bad schemes can be successful if they have both good blocking and tackling.

That seems to this writer to be the core challenge for Cal this Saturday as they return to the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Play better. Make the blocks you missed last week; make the tackles you missed last week; hit the holes you missed last week; make the throws you missed last week, AND make the catches you dropped last week. If Cal makes progress toward those goals, they should win. If they do not, they will lose, and will then be dispirited going up against even lowly Portland State thd following week.

When Minnesota Has the Ball.

It's hard to say whether Minnesota's tactics last week were dictated by the opponent or if they were a true indication of scheme, but the Golden Gophers played some true smash mouth football in their 44-0 win in the opener against Kent State.

Minnesota ran the ball on 55 of its 70 offensive plays. Carrying the bulk of the load was converted linebacker Alex Daniel who at 6-3 255 is hard to bring down. When they get tired of pounding you with Daniels, they run the elusive Amir Pinnix at you. The combo makes a tough 1-2 punch for a defense to handle.

When Minnesota does pass they have experienced, if not flashy, quarterback Bryan Cupito throwing to a committee of receivers. His favorite target last week was tight end Matt Spaeth, a big 6-7 target. Wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright stands 6-5 as well, so Cupito has some big targets, and those big guys will present Cal with a major challenge.

How do the Bears defend Minnesota? Add safety help on Wainwright's side? If so, then who covers Spaeth? Cover in the short zone with a linebacker? Then who stays in to gang tackle Daniels or plug holes against Pinnix?

There is only one good answer: basic football, solid football. The front four must get a good push up field because if they get back on their heels against a talented and physical offensive line, it could be Knoxville redux.

When California has the Ball

Again, the key for Cal in this game will not be the number of spread formations or the quality of quarterback reads - it will be the physical game.

The offensive line will have to play more as a unit than the loose assemblage of talents we saw in Knoxville.

Cal fans can never fault Marshawn Lynch for a lack of passion on the field - but he needs effective help from his teammates.

But Cal fans can hope for more decisiveness - and more productivity - from Mr. Lynch. It's the rare defense that plays at the speed of a Tennessee; it was that speed (and lack of down field blocking from Cal's offensive line) that limited his productivity in the first game.

One notable change in Cal's offense is the absence of a fullback on many plays - the guy that Lynch has spent most of his career following - so let's note that Lynch's adjustments to this will not be instantaneous.

The receivers must catch good throws consistently - and the quarterback has to make those throws.

Minnesota did not give up any points to Kent State. This probably says more about Kent State's offense than the Gopher defense.

The burden on Cal is two-fold - the coaching staff must identify mismatches and the players must play better to exploit them. If Cal's revamped and supposedly creative offense cannot find mismatches Saturday, then maybe there are bigger problems than even the Tennessee game revealed.

Special Teams

Punter Andrew Larson was one of the few bright spots for the Bears last week; Tom Schneider was not really tested. Kick coverage was adequate, kick returns the same.

It's hard to get any measure of the Gophers' punting game as they only punted once. Jason Giannini seems solid in the kicker slot.

Overview

Cal needs to execute, show passion, and display the mental toughness needed to shake off last week's results. If they are not (as a team) physically superior to the Gophers, and able to exploit that superiority, there is trouble in Bear Land.

Right now, Tennessee is just one game. But a lack of a strong performance this Saturday against Minnesota will mean that a worrisome trend develops.

This will be a game about players. In football sometimes you have to go out and knock someone on his butt and bloody his nose. No one has ever done that with a piece of chalk, or with an X or an O. It's time for Cal to step up.

Prediction: Cal 21 Minnesota 17.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't already done so, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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