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Rating the Bears: Cal at North Texas Football
Remember that nailbiting win against North Texas in 2019? Yeah, neither do I
Raise your hand if you expected a 58-point explosion from the Cal offense in the season opener. Now, raise your hand if you expected the Cal defense to pitch a shutout after the Mean Green cut the deficit to 6 as Cal led 27-21 shortly before halftime. If you have any hands raised, you’re either much more optimistic than I am or you’re a new Cal fan who has not yet been hardened by years of anguish, woe, and heartbreaking football. Fortunately, none of those elements could be found among the Bears as they went on to score 31 unanswered points while keeping North Texas off the scoreboard during the second half. These are not the turtling, clinging-on-for-dear-life Bears of recent years.
Before we dive into the substance of this piece, allow me to re-introduce Rating the Bears, our weekly exercise in using the fanbase’s postgame ratings to evaluate how we all felt about the Bears’ most recent performance. Somehow this is the 14th(!!!) season we have been running this series, so for many of you this is familiar territory. But for those unfamiliar, here’s a quick overview: after each game I invite you all to rate the Bears’ performances across several different categories. We take those numbers, crunch them into results (why is it that numbers are crunched? Are numbers not chewy? Are they not crispy? Are they not of a delicate, airy texture like freshly whipped heavy cream?), and compare them to our database of 14 years (again, !!!) of ratings since we began this series back in 2010. And then, just for giggles, we hand out some awards. Let’s begin.
Rating the Bears
For the last several seasons, we could count on a pretty predictable set of ratings. Pass defense would lead the way, often followed by run defense. Run offense was usually decent while pass offense languished. Special teams were all over the place while coaching was usually solid, and overall ratings largely reflect whether or not the Bears won. This season is clearly off to a different start…
The table below highlights the average and standard deviation for each of our ratings. In case you were lulled to sleep by the grim, soulless walls of Evans Hall, the standard deviation captures the amount of variation in our ratings. Higher standard deviations indicate a wider spread in our ratings while lower standard deviations indicate a more narrow, concentrated distribution of ratings. The average represents…actually, if I need to explain an average to you then I think you may have wandered a little too far away from home.
These ratings are clearly not those of the Wilcox teams we have seen over the last six seasons. Run offense leads the way with a stellar score, pass offense earned a comparatively stellar 81.5. Defense earned solid marks, but it still feels odd to see offensive ratings surpassing defensive ratings. Coaching and overall earned stellar scores, while a lousy special teams rating reminds us that frustrating special teams are a hallmark of the Cal football experience. The Bears’ offensive explosion has boosted our predictions of a win over Auburn from a cautious 47% to a pleasantly optimistic 60%.
Incoming freshmen were only 4 or 5 years old when we started this series, so we have a wealth of prior ratings to use as a basis for comparison. First, we compare this week’s ratings to all those from previous games against G5 opponents. We use boxplots to represent previous ratings. In the plot below the rectangular box captures the middle 50% of data, or data between the 25th and 75th percentiles. The horizontal line in the middle of the box represents the median, or the 50th percentile of the data. At the ends of the box are vertical whiskers showing more peripheral data points. I’ve superimposed this week’s ratings as gold dots on those boxes.
Special teams falls right near the median score (a discouraging reminder of how poor special teams have been in recent and not-so-recent years). Otherwise, everything scores better than usual. In fact, run defense, run defense, coaching, and overall were the highest scores we have seen against a G5 opponent since we started this series.
Comparing ratings from Saturday’s game to the rest of the Wilcox era, no single category sets a new high, although many are considerably higher than usual.
The lone exception is, of course, special teams. Otherwise, solid scores all around, with 5 of the 7 categories finishing above the top 25th percentiles.
In addition to examining the ratings and comparing them to prior ratings, we use this series as an opportunity to hand out some awards to the community. We typically hand out awards to the highest and lowest ratings of the week, along with those that fall closest to the community’s average ratings. But this week, we have a bonus award! Everyone who submitted gets a Participation Award! Yes, that sounds lame. But we had 71 submissions this week, which is the most since we moved from SBNation to Substack in March of 2020 (fantastic timing, amirite?!). Between Covid-affected seasons and some mediocre football, submissions dipped from the typical volume of submissions we received in the CaliforniaGoldenBlogs days, but this season is off to a fantastic start and I’d like to thank every single one of you who submitted a rating this week.
And while I do not usually call out specific community members by name by not participating, I’d like to point out one glaring omission from someone who should have submitted a rating. Our beloved Berkelium97 earns the Franck Boivert award. Despite running this series for years, I forgot to submit a rating this time, which is particularly unconscionable given this week’s tremendous turnout. I promise I’ll submit a rating this week.
Onwards to our usual triumvirate of awards. First, the highest ratings of the week.
Certain things in life are inevitable. Death, taxes, the inevitable heat death of the universe (okay, maybe the latter won’t happen in our lifetimes, but they’re bound to happen in someone’s lifetime), and, of course, a perfect score from our perpetual optimist RememberTheCalamo.
Next, we have the lowest ratings of the week.
Everything is above 50%, which is a decent score for the lowest ratings of the week! In fact, only 3 of our 71 ratings would fall under a B grade using a square root curve.
The Voice of Reason
Our final rating recognizes the ratings that were closest to the community average across our set of categories.
It was a photo finish as dias for days just barely beat ghThr33 for the top spot.
In addition to the numerical ratings, I also invite you all to share your comments on several aspects of the game. Let’s have a look at your thoughts on Saturday’s blowout win.
Any comments on the gameday experience?
Trilljester: Commit to The Run. Worship The Run. Really was impressed with the OL and the running backs ability to break tackles.
GlueAndBold: Wake up babe, new Cal offense just dropped!
Durstlaw: Best point total since Goff opening day 2015
Heyalumnigo: The watch party at Dokkaebier was good. Good to hang out with Cal fans watching the game.
diasfordays: JUST WIN BABY. I had one beer for every scoring drive we had. Success.
Oaklandishbear: Opportunity to watch Cal football and see family in the area. Winning all around! The Gods showed some Blue and Gold love by keeping it overcast and only in the mid-90s. It wasn’t unbearable in the stands! Wished NT Band had played a full set. But where was the Cal Band and Spirit Team? Seriously, no Oski - WTF!?!
What are your thoughts on Cal's passing game?
KillingmeSofele: Hope SJJ is ok, but Finley looked pretty calm and accurate. He shouldn’t run though. If SJJ is healthy I’m excited to see him more because he flashed some electricity before going down. Great pass protection by the o-line.
wiata78: Would have rated higher except for the interception. Great to see all 3 QBs get playing time! Not used to this under Wilcox. Hope the injury is not serious
GoBears: Sad to see Jackson go down, but Finley was quite good. He has a good arm and made good reads.
Durstlaw: I thought findely got more accurate with confidence. Lucky he wasn’t picked off on wide outs, needs more zip on the ball.
calpaladin: Injury to Sam Jackson is concerning, but Finley played well and the wide receivers were doing a great job of getting open. O-line was giving solid protection for whoever was in the pocket.
Willis Chong: Passable, but this might be the softest pass D we will get this year. I'm not sure if Finley or SJV is the better option, but we better be ready when we open up the playbook.
SG Bear: First of all, Spav calling plays is like transitioning into a vibrant 4K extravaganza after living with a grey-tone, mono-speaker experience for far too long. The offense was good enough to be optimistic - but not good enough to feel satisfied, even in a blow-out. There will be the question about how injured SJV is. Finley's inexperience showed in his nervous feet in the first series and the risky throws he made in that one series in the 3rd quarter that fortunately didn't go terribly. Regardless, passing offense did pretty well against a defense built around stopping the pass. I'm giving a lot of credit to scheme rather than out-of-our-mind execution on the field.
BTown85: SO nice to have a backup like Findley!!! Maybe he’s not the backup any more???? Not a dual threat, but confidently mobile!
Terence: Some hiccups but honestly not really needed with the way we pummeled them on the run.
What are your thoughts on Cal's running game?
Goldenone: Spectacular and we went four deep with Ott, Infanse, Stredick, and Thomas
NA: Dazzling! Say what you want, we have a run game this year
Bluehenbear: Ott/Ifanse are best 1/2 punch since Forsett/Lynch
sacman701: Ott ran past the defenders, Ifanse ran over them, and the line pushed them around even before they wore down. The only negative was the fumble.
Bowlesman80: The real stars, besides our running backs are the offensive line! Yes, Ott, Stedrick, and Ifanse are awesome, but, finally, we actually have inside runs that work because of our improved OLine.
jakewebs: Memorial Stadium better break out in an "A-C-C" chant went Ott goes for one of his patented 70 yard touchdown runs next week. That running backs room is DEEP and is led by a future NFL starter.
KJ1980: Two good backs. O line looked good. Next week will be a true test. SEC comes to town! Will the Bears be lambs?
BTown85: In Spav I trust, and Ott will carry his vision forward....................along with anyone else taking a handoff.........
supdoelibrary: RUN THE DANG BALL JAKE!! #Drop50
SG Bear: A lot to like: UNT poor tackling, creative offensive line pulling, Ott's quickness, and Ifanse's Baby Beast Mode
fuzzywuzzy: Ott's a monster, and now has what appears to a shadow monster in Ifanse. Only one fumble which knocked the overal rating down a notch. Great game for the back and O-line.
What are your thoughts on Cal's pass defense?
KillingmeSofele: Oof. Maybe they were trying something the first half, like man coverage, or they just tightened up the second half, but Hearns and Earby got beat multiple time over top or just put muscled. Not a great sign given I assumed they’d be our strength on D. Rest of the game was solid.
wiata78: Halftime adjustments must have been good!
GuMiBears: Got burned in the 1st half but great shutdown 2nd half. Nice interceptions
BTown85: For the squad who was supposed to be the strongest, they showed the most cracks on D...... but put it together well in the end!!!!
cleancutmedia: Those explosive plays they gave away were painful. Can't 1on1 a guy who is clearly faster than you. Scheme for that.
BearsThatFly: Cal gave up 2 explosive plays on a coverage miss and a technique error but cleaned it up. In tight game, the errors might have been magnified.
Terence: Some picks, really terrible getting beat over the top. If we're going to play man like that we're going to need to clean that up against better teams.
fuzzywuzzy: Shaky in the first qtr, but they figured it out...might not be able to allow that iin the future, however. Their QB's needed to roll out quite a bit.
Oaklandishbear: Nice adjustments after getting repeatedly burned by #9 in the beginning. Perfect in the second half.
1988goldenbear: Rock solid in the second half. Two long completions to a really good WR (Maclin) who will probably put up numbers all year long. I like that they figured out how to shut him down pretty quickly.
What are your thoughts on Cal's run defense?
Trilljester: Solid run defense for the most part. Looks a lot better than last season.
Goldenone: Highly effective and kept NT's strong running game bottled up
sacman701: Good push, good tackling. UNT's running game was never a factor, and their long run was just 8 yards.
Heyalumnigo: Held them to very few yards. Not too many runs into the 2nd level.
Willis Chong: We kept them below 100 yards. Unfortunately, UNT's running game might not be too good. Grade is decent this time, but verdict is still TBD.
supdoelibrary: Dominant, controlled the LOS, and Sirmon was everywhere.
SG Bear: Outstanding. One of the best rush defenses in a long time. It did exactly what it was designed to do - force the o-line to give up their man advantage on the d-line, and then the linebackers clean up after only giving up 3 yards to the opposition into an obvious passing situation.
TKE Prytanis 79: Epic!
Lucky1715: We have a a defensive front line!!!!
1988goldenbear: Really good effort all game long. The containment was great and the tackling was solid.
What are your thoughts on Cal's special teams?
GlueAndBold: As usual, where we need the most work. Kick offs and return coverage were mostly good, at least.
KillingmeSofele: Dreadful. Prevented #drop60. And what were those 2-point calls? Tighten it up y’all.
Gobears157: Horrid! Several missed kicks, coverage below average
Nadesan Permaul: Missed field goal from 32 yards, blocked extra point, missed field goal from 47 yards
sacman701: Shaky. The kicking unit in particular needs to iron some things out.
Bowelsman80: Let's give Luckhurst and Wilson both some credit. An attack of nerves? I don't know, but I know it will get dialed in. Note: does the heat affect the psi of the ball? There were no fumbles on special teams and most of the play was smart. If this is our only big problems, we;re in good shape.
Willis Chong: This alone prevented a #drop60 scenario. Need better FG/XP play. At least our KOs were mostly touchbacks.
BTown85: Luckhurst will find his groove, or so help me we'll lose more games than we should..... The kicks <50 will be automatic.....and for FSake....BLOCK THE RUSHERS!!!!!!
supdoelibrary: Please let this not the be thing that costs us 2 wins this year
fuzzywuzzy: Let's hope they improve on field goals...no KO or punt returns, so there's that, and the KO's went into the endzone.
1988goldenbear: Hoping this was a one-off for Luckhurst, but do we have a second option? The kicking game might burn us badly this season, and that would be a shame.
What are your thoughts on the coaching staff's performance?
GlueAndBold: Aggressive. A few too many unsuccessful bubble screens and that questionable conversion attempt aside, the difference from last year is palpable.
Goldenone: Made effective adjustments and the overall scheme for the game led to an offensive performance not seen in seven years
Gobears157: Welcome back, Spavital! You’ve reaffirmed my excitement about an improvement in the offense under your leadership!
Bluehenbear: Team was ready. Did not let up.
sacman701: The team was on the road, it was 98 degrees, and they were breaking in dozens of new players after a turbulent offseason where the conference imploded. They still came out focused, which is a credit to the coaches. They also made good adjustments on the fly and at halftime, and did well to mix things up both offensively and defensively.
calpaladin: Offense was explosive, creative, moved the ball, and didn't let up. Defense was shaking at first but they made the halftime adjustments to pitch a shutout in the second half. Big turnaround from last season.
Kevin: The team started strong, fought through tough moments, and finished in peak form. Good coaching helps make all of that possible.
shoot the cannon: Big one. So nice to finally have a good college Off coordinator. The guys looked ready to play
SG Bear: I LOVE YOU, JAKE SPAVITAL!
BTown85: ABSOLUTELY NO REASON TO RUN SJ-V on a designed QB run in this game. He’ll get his ground yards; protect the QBs please!!!!
fuzzywuzzy: Anytime you go from last year's offense to putting up 58 points, it's hard to complian about the coaching.
diasfordays: Spav is back! Need to see how Sirmon and Wilcox tighten the screws on pass D. Can’t have slow starts like that next week.
Oaklandishbear: Welcome back, Spav! Team looked ready, seemed to have a plan, and great defensive adjustments to shut down #9. Happiness.
What are your thoughts on Cal's overall performance?
Trilljester: Overall I'm super happy to see Cal almost #Drop60 on North Texas. Let's go with that into next week! Roll on you Bears!!
GlueAndBold: An intentional statement win. Wilcox wants the fans energized and ready to send off the PAC in style.
Goldenone: The Bears are back!
Gobears157: Good commanding win against a less talented and poorly coached team. UNT tackled very poorly and made tons of mistakes, and cal capitalized on them like we should (but didn’t in previous years). Much better barometer for how much cal will improve this year with next week’s game against auburn
Bowelsman80: Some are saying North Texas was our cupcake. I think not, but the final season stats will tell. I think they are a good team, but the heat and our depth of talent, beat them before it beat us. This underscores just how important the NIL is going to be for us. We all need to step and give what we may.
KJ1980: A good day. Glad to see the ESPN commentators who picked North Texas State to win were dead wrong wrong wrong.
Willis Chong: Good start and got our third stringers in. Let's see how we do against Auburn next week.
shoot the cannon: We will take a big win on the road any day. Opponent wasnt very good, but a strong W is not something we have gotten to see very often recently
Rose Bowl Oski: Cal made the statement they needed to make today. Hope it leads to a full and raucous stadium next week.
ABVidale: It's impossible to tell how good (or bad) Cal is based on North Texas. North Texas looks like a very bad football team; until Cal shows they can beat a good team I put the Bears somewhere in the muddled middle.
SG Bear: ACC PACIFIC DIVISION CO-LEADERS!
fuzzywuzzy: A walloping in the first game! We look like we belong in a Power 5 conference lol
Oaklandishbear: As much as we or others will say it is only NT, still it was 600+ yds of offense! Complete shutdown by the defense in the second half. A couple of big plays given up, penalties, and the turnovers are the only negatives, which we easily overcame with competent offense. When was the last time we could say that? Go Bears!
Once again, thanks to all of you who participated. Check the insta-recap article after the Auburn game for the link to this weekend’s ratings form. Until then, Go Bears!