Football: Talking offense with Tony Franklin

New Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was the man behind the curtain last fall when Sonny Dykes’ Louisiana Tech team led the nation in scoring and total yards.

His spread option system worked at Kentucky, Troy and Middle Tennessee State before La Tech, although Franklin jokes it worked well enough in his one season at Auburn to get the entire staff fired.

Before becoming a college football coach, Franklin, 55, spent 16 years teaching high school history and political science. Beginning Monday, spring football will be all about teaching Cal’s players an entirely new way to practice and play football.

Tony Franklin

 Here’s my conversation with Franklin:

What is your first priority for spring practice?
“Job One is to build a belief system and teach them how to practice. The offense will be installed in three days. They’ll have everything, basically. Then it’s just a matter of the details. That’s the hard thing for a lot of guys. Coaches are different. Some guys are scheme coaches — everything’s about me having the chalkboard and drawing a better play.

“Our deal is going to run a few plays and try to get really good at doing those little things right. We’ve got to get these guys to understand the importance of every rep, that the drills that we do, there’s a reason we do things, and there’s a reason we’re a stickler for doing it right. If we do it right, you’ll play. If you don’t you won’t. There’s not much gray area in what we do.”

How much of what you do is based on changing formations?
“We’re not a huge formation team, either. When I was at Middle Tennessee, we had a really productive offense. We were one back (and four wideouts) all the time. I say that because our quarterback was a special runner. We had a need to be very simple. It made us faster. Last year at LaTech we used more formation stuff. Last two years got more into the power formations. Mainly I did it to have something for the defense they hadn’t seen.

“The other reason is I try to get people on the field if they’re good players — it builds camaraderie. Our offensive line at LaTech was real good — we had about seven good O-linemen. Most line coaches don’t like playing more than five. What I would do is create formations to get those guys on the field. We played a senior who had played maybe five snaps his entire career. We put him at one of the running back slots with a 99 number and had him go hit people in the mouth. That was a formation where he got to play 15 to 20 snaps a game.

“And we had other formations we had a tackle who was almost as good as the starters, so we created a formation to get him on the field.”

How quickly does this offense begin to come together?
“Sometimes it’s ugly early while you’re trying to figure it out. It’s not unusual for it to be halfway through the season and all of a sudden it’s, `OK, we’ve got it now.’ And it starts to click.”

Talk about how you create your fast tempo through practice:
“Everything we do in practice is fast. There’s a lot of people who try to play fast on Saturdays and they can’t because they don’t practice fast. Our whole deal is we’re going to practice extremely fast and get a lot of reps. We’re going to coach on film and we’re going to coach a whole lot of how we’re going to play on Saturday. So if you’re at practice you’re going to see a lot of team drill stuff where there’s no coaches on the field. The first few days there might be, but there won’t be after that.”

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Basketball: Bears soar to No. 40 in RPI

Two weeks ago this morning, as the Bears prepared to play at Arizona, they were sitting at No. 75 in the RPI computer rankings.

This morning, having won five in a row since then, they are No. 40.

Cal has three regular-season games remaining, all at home:

   — Thursday vs. RPI 177 Utah

   — Saturday vs. RPI 29 Colorado

   — Wednesday, March 6 vs. RPI 67 Stanford

Cal could lose any of these, but also could sweep. They probably need two to assure themselves of an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

They’d do themselves a big favor by making it the next two — Utah and Colorado.



Football: Talking defense with Andy Buh

With spring practice set to get under way Monday, here’s a Q&A I did recently with new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who came to Cal from Wisconsin, where he coached linebackers last season for a Badgers team that played in its third straight Rose Bowl.

Buh is recovering from from shoulder surgery he underwent the week before signing day to repair a torn left rotator cuff he suffered in a fall while jogging on an icy day in Madison.

Buh and his wife also are awaiting the birth of their second son, due in the next couple weeks.


Andy Buh

Here’s our conversation:

Why change to the 4-3 in an era when most teams are using the 3-4?
“First of all, it’s what I know — that’s probably the most significant reason. Anytime you coordinate a defense you want to be a master of it.”

What do you see as the strengths of the 4-3?
“It can defend all the different types of offenses we’re going to face. I believe in the way football has become where the quarterback is such a threat, both run and pass, that four defensive linemen are almost critical in terms of keeping linemen off the linebackers, having good pass-rush lanes, squeezing and constricting gaps and not making it such a space game. Those are all the principles of the 4-3. We’ll sit more on our technique and our fundamentals than our scheme.”

What are your priorities for spring ball?
“No. 1’s always going to be putting our personnel in the right positions. No. 2, once we do that, teaching the base fundamentals of our game.”

Cal has a lot of returning linebackers. How will you adapt your personnel to the 4-3?
“The first thing I did when I got here was analyzed what that transition was going to be like. We analyzed a lot of film and looked at a lot of the body types that we had. We found out that a lot of our outside linebackers could be converted to close and open-side defensive ends. The open-side body types for us are speed, edge rushers, Chris McCain-type guys. The close-end side they’re a little bit beefier. Kyle Kragen is that type, Brennan Scarlett is that body type.”

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Basketball: Oregon State game thread

Click here for a video of Mike Montgomery’s post-game interview.

Here’s our correspondent’s game story.

FINAL SCORE: Cal 60, Oregon State 59. Ahmad Starks missed a shot at the buzzer and the Bears (18-9, 10-5) held on to win in Corvallis, Ore. Cal has won five in a row and seven of eight. Justin Cobbs scored 18 points and the Bears got a weekend road sweep despite a 2 for 12 shooting performance from Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe. Crabbe wound up with six points and nine rebounds. Freshman Tyrone Wallace had 11 points as the Bears completed their conference road schedule.

UPDATE: Washington beat Arizona State 68-59 in Tempe, dropping the Sun Devils to 9-6 in Pac-12 play and giving Cal sole possession of fourth place. If USC beats UCLA on Sunday, the Bears would move a half-game ahead of the Bruins into third place.

HALFTIME SCORE: Cal 29, Oregon State 20: The Bears led 22-8 with 7:43 left, then watched the Beavers creep back within nine by halftime. Cal shot just 35.5 percent in the half, including 2 for 7 by Justin Cobbs, who led the team with 7 points. Cal got a lift from its bench, which contributed nine first-half points. The Beavers, who made just 4 of their first 24 attempts, wound up at 21.6 percent in the half. Eric Moreland led OSU with 6 points on 3 for 6 from the field; his teammates combined to shoot 5 for 31.


In the latest RealTimeRPI.com rankings were out Saturday morning and Cal’s win at Oregon lifted the Bears eight spots from No. 53 to No. 45.


Basketball: OSU reserve unlikely to face Cal

Oregon State freshman guard Langston Morris-Walker is unlikely to play Saturday against Cal after being suspended and sitting out the Stanford game.

Morris-Walker, a Bishop O’Dowd HS grad, was cited for misdemeanor theft by the Oregon State Police for allegedly shoplifting a Nike T-shirt from the OSU Beaver Store, according to the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Morris-Walker was given a court date and released.


Basketball: Oregon State game preview

TIPOFF: 3 p.m. Saturday at Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore. TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks/910-AM.

 With six wins in their past seven games — and four in a row — the Golden Bears are not only the hottest team in the Pac-12 … 

They may now be the favorites to win the regular-season crown.

Just one game back of co-leaders Oregon and Arizona, the Bears boast a combined 3-0 record against the Ducks and Wildcats. For starters, that means they own the tiebreaker against both.

Then there’s the remaining schedule. Cal is the only team among the top eight teams in the standings with just one more road game — Saturday against an Oregon State team that is 3-11 in league play. A gimme? No, but a game the Bears should win.

Cal also has potentially the easiest remaining schedule, with no games remaining against the top five teams in the Pac-12 standings. Yes, the Bears lost last month to Colorado and Stanford, but both games were on the road. The rematches will be at Berkeley.

If Cal wins out — and that suddenly seems possible — it finishes 13-5. Only four other teams can even mathematically match that record.

Here’s a look at what lies ahead for the Pac-12’s top seven teams:

— ARIZONA (10-4): vs. WSU, at USC , at UCLA, vs. ASU.

— OREGON (10-4): vs. Stanford, vs. Oregon State, at Colorado, at Utah.

— UCLA (9-4): at USC, vs. ASU, vs. Arizona, at WSU, at Washington.

— CAL (9-5): at Oregon State, vs. Utah, vs. Colorado, vs. Stanford.

— ASU (9-5): vs. Washington, at UCLA, at USC, at Arizona.

— COLORADO (8-6): at Stanford, at Cal, vs. Oregon, vs. Oregon State.

— USC (7-6): vs. UCLA, vs. Arizona, vs. ASU, at Washington, at WSU.

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Basketball: Cal zooms to top of ESPN’s Pac-12 power ratings; Lunardi projects 6 from Pac

Not sure which one of these is more surprising/impressive:

— ESPN.com’s Jason King has moved Cal to the top of his weekly Pac-12 power ratings.

— ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is projecting six (6!) Pac-12 teams into the NCAA tournament field: Cal, Arizona, ASU, Colorado, Oregon and UCLA. He still envisions the Bears playing in the play-in first-round game at Dayton, Ohio, matched against Ole Miss in a battle for the No. 12 seed headed to Kansas City.



Basketball: Cal-Oregon thread

Click here for our game story.

FINAL SCORE: Cal 48, Oregon 46. Justin Cobbs hits game-winning jumper with 0.7 seconds left and Bears completed a comeback from 11-point first-half hole to knock off the No. 23 Ducks. Cal improves to 17-9, 9-5 in the Pac-12 and pulls within one game of the conference lead. Cal has beaten Oregon 11 straight times and has won six of its past seven games — including Oregon twice, Arizona and UCLA once apiece. The NCAA tournament is a big step closer to reality. Cobbs had 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and eight turnovers. Allen Crabbe scored 12 points and Richard Solomon has eight points and 11 rebounds. Oregon (21-6, 10-4) gets 11 points and 18 rebounds from Arsalan Kazemi, but shoots just 27.6 percent, including 2 for 15 from 3-point range.