USC is the West Coast version of Auburn or Alabama, albeit with a higher payroll and a higher risk of giving trophies back. Dubious academics, a fan base that never set foot on campus other than for games, and the kind of mouth and attitude that makes you hate college football generally.
Last night, the team with a band somewhere on the autism spectrum for their musical preferences and “song girls” better suited for the pole at Mitchell Brothers came to San Francisco, led as always by a coach whose aspect suggests he was raised on Sunny D and lead paint chips. The NCAA sanctions should have left the Trojans as nothing but a sheet of glass somewhere in South Central LA. Instead, Cal came away without a win for the eighth consecutive year.
Notice I didn’t say SC won for the eighth straight year – that’s because some of those wins were vacated. But much good it does Cal, whose sole loss in 2004 – costing them at least a Rose Bowl and possibly a national championship berth – came to a USC team whose win now no longer officially happened. Where does Cal go to get back what USC’s cheating cost them?
But this is not the time to discuss the thin edge on which college football skates at the moment. This is about Cal. More to the point, this is about the fact that Jeff Tedford remains unfit for purpose as head coach.
The only thing saving him is 2011. Playing a season away from Memorial was never going to be easy. Playing it in a converted baseball stadium that provides a gimped game day experience at best? Makes it tougher. Add in the chaos of the Pac-12 expansion, the issues working around the Giants, the fact that Cal played its first five games in five different stadiums, the need to schedule Presbyterian – PRESBYTERIAN for Godsakes, a school barely in I-AA ball – this season is through the looking glass, and was always doomed to be such.
But this team is too flawed to ignore. Special teams are a disgrace; Tavecchio is not and will never be a BCS-quality kicker and the ridiculous rugby-punt scheme Bryan Anger has been using is worse than worthless. The two-return-man scheme isn’t paying any dividends and we aren’t blocking anything, and last night’s ill-advised fake punt is the sort of thing that gets assistant coaches fired overnight and left holding a box of their office crap standing outside People’s Park. Or should be, anyway.
The defense gets a pass here; they are doing yeoman work with an injured roster and a green defensive backfield, and they handled their business about as well as could be hoped for. No, the problem is that the offense is putrid. Time was, a Jeff Tedford offense meant a powerful run game with two interchangeable tailbacks pounding the ball inside and out, with the deep pass always waiting as soon as teams inched too close to the line. It’s a system that put Arrington, Lynch, Forsett, Best and Vereen into the NFL, catapulted Kyle Boller from obscurity to first-round pick and made Aaron Rodgers a superstar.
Now, it’s a mess. The formations are a show – empty backfield, pistol sets, some sort of 1993-Florida-State fast-break – and none of them seem to be effective, for three reasons:
1) Zach Maynard apparently decides in the huddle who his one receiver is, locks in, and never manages to check down. And since it’s usually his brother, even a mediocre defense like USC can figure it out eventually, to the tune of three picks.
2) The management insists on using Isi Sofele as an inside runner, despite the fact that he gives away six inches of height and about a hundred pounds to the D-line into which he runs. To their credit, it seemed like they were getting away from this – right up until they started running him into the pile from the shadow of Cal’s own goalpost. Even my wife, whose tactical football expertise is younger than Facebook, can be heard screaming at the coaching staff to stop running Sofele inside.
3) Downfield blocking on the run game does not happen. Period. The quarterback and halfback run a weak-side option with NO ONE IN FRONT OF THEM – all the SC defenders have to do is run straight forward in a line and they’re guaranteed a five-yard tackle for loss no matter who winds up with the ball – and assuming it doesn’t wind up on the turf.
Of course, there has to be some accounting for the officiating as well, which seems resolutely stuck in last decade’s Pac-1 mentality: protect USC at all costs. This is something Larry Scott needs to get on immediately, because not even the ongoing shenanigans of SEC refs have budged the Pac-12 officiating from it apex as a national joke and a disgrace to the conference. Memo to the commissioner: you have a big-time conference in every other respect, and you’re ruining it with your WAC-caliber zebras. You want to be the top league in America? Quit running seven blind mice out there in stripes every weekend.
And so USC skates again, and Cal’s slow slide continues back into the 1990s swampland from which it was temporarily pulled by a coach who hadn’t yet lost his way. Next year, that will stop, or else. If Tedford can’t win in 2012, he shouldn’t see 2013 with this team – and at the very least, someone should be installed who can lose without embarrassing the Old Blue faithful in the process.