Dec. 2, 1997
California Football Post-Season Media Notes
BEARS HOPE DISAPPOINTING 3-8 SEASON IS FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE SUCCESS While nobody associated with the Cal Football program is particularly excited about the recently completed 3-8 campaign, there is hope that the season will provide a springboard for future success. The Bears did show a resilency and ability to battle back time and time again in 1997, but ultimately just didn't have the firepower to be successful. Howev er, the lessons learned this fall should pay major dividends over the next few years with no less than 54 lettermen and 19 starters (8-offense, 9-defense, 2-kickers) are scheduled to return next season. There couldn't be any more dramatic model to follow than that which exists at Washington State, where the Cougars went with youth the past two years and gradually built a Pac-10 Champion and has now earned a Rose Bowl berth. Two years ago, Washington State was 3-8 with a very young team, then moved to 5-6 last year and is currently 10-1 this season with 15 seniors in its starting line-up. Cal has similar aspirations and first-year head coach Tom Holmoe has to be proud that his team never threw in the towell, even with the season deteriorating.
While point spreads are relatively meaningless for the most part, it is interesting to note that the Cal team beat the point spread in each of its final five games. Although they four of those games, the Bears certainly proved to be a worthy opponent and played better than most people, including the odds-makers, thought they would. Now, Holmoe and his staff need to take those moral victories and turn them into wins on the football field beginning next fall.
CAL ESTABLISHED REPUTATION AS A NEVER-SAY-DIE COMEBACK SQUAD IN 1997 When you're facing a tough season and with little hope of a bowl berth down the stretch, many squads wilt under the mental strain and cave in. That's why Cal's ability to withstand adversity and battle back late in games this year -- particularly in the last half of the season -- is such a positive omen for the future.
It all started in the chill of Pullman, WA when the Bears found themselves down 55-6 and facing complete destruction. Instead of giving up, Cal scored 31 straight points and had pulled within 19 points with the ball before an interception ended Cal's surprising comeback bid with 2 minutes left in the game. The next week, Cal found itself down 21-3 on the road at UCLA, but twice scored TDs to pull within 11 points in the second half before eventually succumbing to the Bruins, 35-17. After destroying Oregon State, Cal again faced one of the nation's best teams in Arizona State and was down 28-7 in the second half. Instead of being buried, Cal scored a pair of TDs and pulled within 28-21 with just over 4 minutes to go in the contest before losing by that same score. The next week, Cal came back from a 10-point deficit at Arizona and was only one dropped pass from winning the game in regulation, before eventually losing in the second overtime. It was the same scenario in the season-finale at Stanford. Cal was down 21-7 late in the first half and was still down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, before performing its standard rally. After pulling to within 21-18, the Bears got the ball back with 2:58 left in the game and promptly drove to the Stanford 33-yard-line. However, the threat ended when Justin Vedder slipped on the turf while attempting to throw and an interception resulted. A look at the final statstics show that the Bears outscored opponents by a 74-44 margin in 1997. In the final five games of the season, when really only pride was on the line, Cal outscored opponents by a 55-14 margin in the final quarter. That resiliency and refusal to quit has the Cal coaching staff optimistic that the Bears can turn the corner next year and emerge as one of the league's upper echelon teams.
CAL OFFENSE SHOWS ABILITY TO MOVE THE CHAINS, BUT HOPES TO BE DOMINANT IN '98 The final figures on the Cal offensive effort in 1997 showed a mixed bag of results. The Bears showed an ability to move the football throughout the season, finishing second in the league with an average of 21.9 first downs per contest (behind only Washington State). Cal also led the league in time of possession differential as the Bears averaged more than six minutes more of offensive possession than their opponents (33:26 to 26:34). In addition, the Bears were very efficient once inside the Red Zone (opponent's 20-yard-line) as they converted on 30 of 35 Red Zone opportunities, an impressive 85.7% conversion rate. In fact, the Bears converted 25 of those opportunities into touchdowns (an equally impressive 71.4% conversion rate). However, efficiency in making first downs and converting deep inside an opponent territory didn't translate into points scored or victories. After averaging 31.3 points a game a year ago, the Bears scored an average of 26.8 points this season. In addition, the Bears went from 457.6 yards a game in '96 to just 394.4 yards this past season. That's understandable in view of the graduation of three players who are currently in the NFL (QB Pat Barnes, OL Tarik Glenn and TE Tony Gonzalez), but it still wasn't satisfying for a Cal offense that is regarded as one of the most potent units in the Pac-10. Many of the problems with inconsistency can be traced to injuries along the offensive line as the Bears were forced to use various line-ups when starting guard Yauger Williams went down with a knee injury early in the season and the unit never seemed to be the same. With four of five starters returning on the offensive line, things should be in very good shape next fall.
CAL DEFENSE TAKES SIGNIFICANT STEP TOWARD RESPECTABILITY New defensive coordinator Lyle Sentecich was blunt when he arrived last spring, saying that he expected his youthful Cal defense to be immature and inconsistent in 1997 and that the Bears were a year, perhaps two, from developing the type of mentality that would make them one of the better defenses in the league. That proved to be the case as the Bears had a roller coaster season, giving up 530 or more yards of total offense in three different games this year, but also holding opponents to 240 or fewer yards in three other games. The final statistics showed the Bears were improved in every defensive category over a year ago and moved up slightly in all the national and Pac-10 rankings. Cal ended the year giving up 381.4 yards a game. That's a pretty significant improvement from the previous year when the Bears allowed 460.3 yards per contest. Cal's rushing defense was also much improved, going from 189.5 ypg in 1996 to 144.4 ypg this past season, while the Bears allowed 237.0 ypg in passing yards this year (compared to 270.8 the previous season). One of the most remarkable statistics is that Cal actually led the Pacific-10 in third-down defense. Cal opponents converted only 27.5 percent of third down opportunities (42-153), the best mark in the league. Sentecich knows what it takes to turn around a defense as he was a key figure in Arizona State's defensive resurgence.The season prior to his arrival at ASU, in 1994, the Sun Devils ranked last in the league, giving up 440.8 ypg; his first season on the staff ASU improved slightly to 426.6 ypg but was still last in the Pac-10. But, his second season at ASU, the Sun Devils moved to the No. 1 spot in the Pac-10, giving up just 304.7 yards a game. That type of gradual improvement is already very apparent at Cal and having nine starters return next year is obviously a very good sign for the future.
CAL HOPES PLAGUE OF BIG PLAYS IS A PHENONMENON THAT GOES AWAY IN 1998
It doesn't take a genius to figure out the biggest problem for Cal's youthful defense this past season -- getting burned by the big play. In almost every game during the season, Cals played very well in spurts, only to inevitably give up big plays that have been momentum changers. Cal allowed 44 plays of 25 yards or longer, with exactly half of those going for touchdowns (actually, two of the long plays were interception returns for a TD and another was a blocked PAT for 2 points, so the Cal defense is responsible for just 41 of those big plays). Still, that's far too many for a successful defense. When you consider, Cal has given up 45 touchdowns this season, almost half of them have come on big plays. The Bears ranked fifth in the league in allowing first downs (an average of just 19.0 per game), an interesting stat since the league's top defense Washington State gave up an average of 18.5 first downs per game. It makes one wonder what kind of season the Bears could have had if they were even mediocre in terms of giving up big plays. The hope in Berkeley is that Cal will eliminate the mistakes and assignment errors that have led to the defensive breakdowns as it's youth turns to experience next season. Below is a list of the Cal opponent big plays this season.
BOBBY SHAW FINISHES CAREER PROMINENT ON CAL AND PAC-10 RECEIVING MARKS
Cal receiver Bobby Shaw finished his career with five school receiving records including most receptions in a career (180), most receiving yards in a career (2731), most receptions in a season (74), most receiving yards in a season (1093) and most 100-yard receiving games in a career (11). He finished the year 8th in NCAA receiving with an average of 6.8 receptions per game and was 12th nationally in receiving yardage (99.4 yards per game). He earned first team Pac-10 honors for the second consecutive season and was named to the Football News second team All-America squad. He has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game in mid-January. Below is a list of where Shaw finished on varioius Pac-10 career and season lists.
CAL'S OTHER RECEIVER -- DAMEANE DOUGLAS -- STARTING TO MAKE HIS OWN MARK While all the attention has been deservedly showered on Cal senior Bobby Shaw who put together a monster year, junior receiver Dameane Douglas came on like gang-busters the last past of the season and ended up with one of the best single-season performances in Cal history. Aftter being solid but unspectacular most of the season, he exploded the final two games of the season, putting together the best consecutive-game performance in Cal history. His 12-catch performance (143 yards) at Arizona which ties him for the third-best single-game receiving performance in Cal history, was followed by an 11-catch, 143-yard outing at Stanford The 11-reception game tied him for the 9th best single game Cal outing.. Hes caught 32 passes for 399 yards over the last 4 games of the season. He finished with 53 catches on the season, which gives him the 10th best single-season performance in Cal history. Following on the heels of a 37-catch season as a soph, Douglas now has 95 career receptions going into his senior season. He now is within 17 catches of breaking into Cal's all-time career receiving Top 10 list (Iheanyi Uwaezuoke is currently 10th with 112 catches from 1992-95), which he figures to do early in the '98 season.
For a first-year quarterback who began learning the Cal offense from scratch this past January, junior Justin Vedder has acquitted himself nicely in his first season with the Golden Bears. He ened the season throwing for 2,718 yards more yards than any other Cal quarterback in his starting debut season and the fourth best overall passing year in Golden Bear history. He still has room to improve and figures to be a much more mature leader with a year unde his belt, but he did show signs of coming through in the clutch on several occasions in 1997. He orchestrated an 18-play, 76-yard drive in the final minutes of regulation in the Arizona game to set up a game-tying 22-yard field goal (he actually had thrown what would have been the winning 4-yard TD pass on that drive, but it was dropped in the endzone)..Earlier in the season, Vedder drove the Bears 49 yards on 7 plays and threw a 15-yard TD pass to Bobby Shaw with 2:37 left to give the Bears a 40-36 win over Oklahoma. In the season-finale, he drove Cal for a pair of first downs in the final three minutes to get the ball to the Stanford 33-yard-line, before he slipped on a wet turf and ended up throwing an interception to kill another possible game-winning drive. As his scrambling ability became more of a factor late in the season (he rushed for a net 63 yards in the final 3 games, after having a cumulative minus -38 yards in the first 8 games). He ended the season third on Cal's single-season total offense list with 2743 yards. Below is where Vedder ranks on both Cal lists, plus a look at other Cal quarterback debut seasons.
CAL CONCENTRATED ON ESTABLISHING A RUSHING THREAT IN THE LATE SEASON Through the first six games of the season, Cal was running the football on 52.2 percent of its offensive plays (248 of 475). During the last five games, Cal ran the ball 58.6 percent of its total plays (232 of 396). That's even more significant when one realizes that the Bears were behind by 18 , 17, 10 and 10 points in those games, meaning the team had to go to the pass more in a catch-up situation. The tone was set in the UCLA game when the Bears ran the ball on its first 16 plays from scrimmage. The first drive only gained 7 yards on 3 plays, the second only 8 yards on 3 plays, but then the pounding began to pay off as Cal moved 55 yards on the ground on 10 running plays before having to settle for a field goal. Cal fell behind and had to go to the passing game more often later in the game, but the Bears did run on 46 of its 75 plays against the Bruins. Against Oregon State, Cal ran on its first 4 plays and on 32 of its 49 first half offensive plays, helping forge a 33-7 halftime lead. Against Arizona Statez, Cal ran the ball on 46 of its 77 plays (59.7 percent of its plays). Against Arizona, Cal ran on 48 of its 87 offensive play. Against Stanford, Cal ran on 23 of its first 40 plays in the first half, before passing and running 20 times each in the second half.
SHAW AND McLAUGHLIN HEAD LIST OF CAL PLAYERS RECEIVING POST-SEASON HONORS While Bobby Shaw was the most decorated of Cal's players this season, earning second team All-America honors as named by Football News as well as earned first team Pac-10 honors, several other Golden Bears also earned post-season honors. Jeremy Newberry earned honorable mention All-America honors as named by Football News while he was a second team All-Pac-10 selection. John McLaughlin earned first team Pac-10 honors as a special teams player, thanks mainly to his efforts on Cal's kickoff coverage teams. Second team honors were accorded defensive tackle Brandon Whiting. Honorable mention Pac-10 accolades went to linebacker Matt Beck, safety Marquis Smith and offensive tackle John Welbourn. Among the Cal players earning first team Pac-10 All-Academic honors were offensive guard Yauger Williams with a 3.68 GPA in Art, Brandon Whiting with a 3.24 GPA in Developmental Studies, cornerback Kato Serwanga with a 3.23 GPA and linebacker Chris Easley with a 3.28 GPA in history. Honorable mention Pac-10 All-Academic honors went to offensive guard Tate McCallister, offensive guard Drake Parker, quarterback Ryan Tollner and linebacker Josh Trowbridge.
15 CAL SENIORS BID FAREWELL TO COLLEGE CAREEERS There are 15 players, including 13 lettermen, who played their final game for the Golden Bears in 1997. Includinged in that group were 10 fifth-year seniors: Chris Easley, Rasheed Hibler, Kofi Nartey, Drake Parker, André Rhodes, George Roberts, Bobby Shaw, Kursten Sheridan, Brian Shields and Tarik Smith. The only senior who leaves the program as a 4-year starter is defensive tackle Brandon Whiting. Others who are graduating seniors are Evan Hershey, John Rice, Kato Serwanga and Marc Vera.
CAL'S NCAA TEAM AND INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS
Cal finished the regular season ranked 40th in total offense in the final NCAA statistical rankings. While its 394.4 ypg average ranked among the top half of all teams in college football, it was some 70 fewer yards per game than last year. On the other hand, Cal only ranked 71st in total defense, but the 381.4 yards a game average showed fine improvement over a year ago when the Bears gave up over 460 yards a game. Below is a listing of where Cal finished in various statistical categories.
ODDS AND ENDS, ET CETERA, MISCELLANEOUS, THREE-DOT DATA Cal expects to sign approximately 23 players during recruiting season, including a handful of junior college athletes; it appears that attracting athletes with speed, particularly at wide receiver and defensive back, is the major priority; junior college athletes can sign as early as December 17, but the bulk of the signings will occur on Wednesday, February 4...A pair of Cal individual Pac-10 records went by the wayside this season as Pat Barnes 31 touchdown passes was passed by WSU's Ryan Leef who passed for 33; UCLA's Cade McNown had a pass efficiency mark of 168.6 which ov rtook Dave Barr's mark of 164.5 in 1993...Cal had a decent year in causing and recoving fumbles as the Bears knocked loose 22 balls and recovered 15 (compared to 10 fumble recoveries a year ago); however the Bears really struggled in the pass interception department, ranking last in the Pac-10 with just 4 interceptions; The Bears went 232 passes without an interception until Marquis Smith grabbed an Ortege Jenkins pass on the first Arizona series ...Cal defensive end Mawuko Tugbenyoh is obviously a frustrated running back and made the most of his opportunities; when he picked up a Jenkins fumble (on a Sekou Sanyika sack) and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, it was the second time this season he's rambled into the endzone with a fumble recovery (he went 58 yards at Washington State), more than any other player in Cal history...In early November, Cal announced a new two-game home-and-home series with No. 3 ranked Nebraska beginning next season; the Bears will host the Cornhuskers on Sept. 12 before returning the favor by traveling to Lincoln on Sept. 18, 1999...Of Cal's 8 losses this season, 6 have came at the hands of teams who figure to garner bowl berths. Among those are 3 teams on pace to be playing on New Year's Day (UCLA at 8-2, Washington State at 9-1 and Arizona State at 8-2)...The 26 points Cal scored in the second quarter against Oregon State was the fifth-most points a Cal team has ever scored in a quarter...Cal faced 4 of the top 12 ranked quarterbacks this season with UCLA's Cade McNown ranking No. 1, WSU's Ryan Leaf at No. 3, Washington's Brock Huard at No. 7 and Louisiana State's Tim Rattay at No. 12....Cal freshman punter Nick Harris has a huge leg and got off at least one boomer in each of the 11 games this season; he finished the season averaging 42.2 yards per punt (38th nationally) which would tie him for the seventh best single-season average in Cal history; he had bests of 48, 53, 52, 49, 48, 53, 52, 56, 63, 52 and 54 yards in each of the 11 games this season.