Notes of Note: 49ers, McCaffrey, Pac-12 TV, Edwards, LSU, Pitching, Kerr
For most sports fans, this is the best time of the year, with college and pro football in full swing, the baseball playoffs underway, and the NBA about to begin. Lots going on in all of the above:
Go Niners: The 49ers are for real. And the reason is not what folks expected when they traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and he orchestrated five season-ending wins in 2017.
No, the main reason is the 49ers' defense.
Credit mastermind Robert Saleh, the club’s defensive coordinator, who has built one of the league's toughest defenses around a few outstanding draft picks (Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner) and some key veteran acquisitions (Richard Sherman and Dee Ford).
The Niners' defensive completely throttled the Rams and quarterback Jared Goff, who passed for a career-low 78 yards. The former Cal star looked like a deer in the headlights for most of the game, He had happy feet and threw low several balls below and behind his receivers.
That's what pressure will do to you.
Garoppolo had his moments, completing 24 of 33 passes for 243 yards and plunging for a touchdown. He also had some very bad moments, throwing a goal line interception and losing a fumble deep in his own territory. But the stout defense picked him up.
I had predicted a 10-6 season for the 49ers. That forecast might prove conservative.
McCaffrey Shines: One could make a pretty strong argument that the National Football League's MVP so far has been Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey. The former Stanford great has scored 9 touchdowns, is leading the NFL in rushing with 618 yards, and has also caught 35 passes for 305 yards.
If he keeps up this pace McCaffrey will break the league's all-time record for yards from scrimmage, earn All-Pro honors and contend for league MVP. Not bad for a guy many felt was too small to be an every-down back.
Under Exposed: The biggest game of the year in the Pac-12 Southern Division is coming up Saturday afternoon, with No. 13 Utah hosting surprising No. 17 Arizona State. And what network will carry the game?
No, not ESPN. No, not Fox. Not even ESPN2 or FS1.
No, the game will be televised on the failing Pac-12 Network, meaning that only 18 million people will see two of the conference's best three teams (Oregon being the other) going at it.
And therein lies much of what's wrong with the Pac-12.
Mea Culpa: While we're on the subjects of Arizona State and things that are wrong, I was dead wrong about ASU coach Herm Edwards. Like many writers, I questioned (to put it mildly) last year's hiring of then 64 year old Edwards, who'd been out of coaching for 10 years and hadn't coached on a college campus in 30 years. But the "old man" has done a wonderful job. Right now, he'd be the easy choice for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
A big part of ASU's success story is true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who looks like he's about 12-years old. Daniels has the maturity of an NFL player, surprising arm strength, excellent field vision, a very quick delivery, and the ability to elude defenders, both inside the pocket and on quarterback scampers. His 17-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds remaining was the difference in a 38-34 shootout with Washington State on Saturday.
Ducks Ungrounded: Critics have been asking, "what's wrong with the Oregon defense?" after the Ducks looked sluggish in 21-6 and 17-7 victories over Stanford and Cal. But Justin Herbert cut loose on Friday night and the Ducks smothered Colorado 45-3.
LSU Omission: In our Heisman watch last week, we inadvertently omitted LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who has turned the unbeaten Tigers into one of the most explosive and entertaining teams in the country. Burrow passed for 293 yards and three TDs Saturday as LSU beat previously unbeaten Florida to move up to No. 2 in the national rankings.
Pitching Wins: In a year dominated by the home run, it's so refreshing to see dominant pitching performances by the National's Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, the Astros' Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, and the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka.
You'd hate to be the St. Louis Cardinals right now. After losing two at home to masterpieces by Sanchez and Scherzer, both of whom carried no-hitters into the seventh inning, they go to Washington to face Stephen Strasburg.
Cheap Shots: With the NBA regular season getting underway next week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has a lot on his mind. Gone are Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and Klay Thompson will miss at least half the season.
In the past, Kerr has been outspoken about gun control, an issue that hits close to home due to the assassination of his father, Malcolm, in 1984. But when he opted not to take a position on the student protests in China, he was taken to task by the petty tyrant in the White House, who apparently has nothing better to do than tweet insults to basketball coaches and urge folks to vote for disgraced press secretary Sean Spicer in the monumental Dancing with the Stars competition.
Big Apple: We're off to New York on Thursday to celebrate my beautiful wife's birthday and won't return til Tuesday night, so next week's blog will be delayed.