Tedford's Evolution of the Offense: Part IV: The Cignetti Year (2008)

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Great.  Now that I've gotten rid of all the Michigan State spies, I can go on with the post (TwistNHook taught me that little trick).

This post will reveal, in modest yet moderate detail, the closely guarded changes that Frank Cignetti has installed into the Cal offense. 

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Your GoldenBlogs crew has acquired such knowledge through attending spring game, attending closed spring practices, picking the coaches' brains, wire-tapping Tedford's office, secretly photographing practices from Tightwad hill in camouflage with a high powered telescopic Nikon digital camera, and hacking into Google's GoogleMap satellites to use them to monitor practices. 

Okay, I was kidding about the whole wire-tapping, camouflage dealio, and using satellites.  But I wasn't kidding about the rest.  We really did go to spring game.  We really did attend closed practices.  We really did pick the coaches' brains.  Some of us (probably mostly me) stalk the coaches' tendencies.  Sometimes TwistNHook just plain ol' stalks the coaches in hopes of stealing their underwear (Twist owns a hot pink scarf - that should explain everything). 

Anyways, you probably want the good stuff.  You want to know how Cignetti is going to change our offense.

Alright.  Well, unfortunately I can't tell you.

I'm sorry.  I just can't do it.  Our blog is being monitored regularly by Cal Football Media Relations - which is surprising and very flattering.

When I started off this four part series of how Tedford's offense has changed since his arrival in 2002, I was going to culminate the series with a brilliant, illustrative, and revealing post showing what new formations, plays, tendencies, I had noticed during our time watching the team in spring practices. 

At that time, we thought we only had about 50 regular readers, 20 regular commentators, and quite possibly a few female suitors/stalkers for CBKWit (ladies, he's single, and allegedly very handsome.  **ALLEGEDLY**).  We'd land about maybe a buck fifty in hits per day - most of which were TwistNHook feverishly hitting F5 on his keyboard  at work (the "refresh" button for you non-shortcut key people)because he's bored and riding pine.  Why does Twist ride pine?  Well, let's just say his 4th quarter TD/INT ratio is frighteningly similar to... ah, nevermind.

My point is that we never thought we were being monitored.  We comment on our posts more than our readers.  We probably generate over 50% of our hits from our incessant F5 button mashing. 

But somewhere along the way, between CBKWit's good looks, YellowFever's myth-busting of the (alleged) Tedford Curse , Ragnarok's Pac-10 roadtrip review , TwistNHook's sideline pass game photos and investigative journalism of tree-sitters, my analysis posts, and our insider access; we got noticed by Cal Football Media Relations. 

So I can't reveal all the juicy secrets I know of.  Such an offense is malum in se (And just to clarify, I would never have actually put up a post revealing all the new bells and whistles to the offense).

So since I can't and won't divulge all the secrets, I want to list a few things which I would like to see change in our offense next year.  Feel free to comment, critique or add to this list when done reading my thoughts.  So here we go...

#1 - Break our 2nd and short running tendency.  There are two schools of thought here.  On second and short you can pass deep since if it's incomplete you have another down to get those short yards.  Or you just run a normal play (either run or pass) as usual.  Most fans like to subscribe to the first option.  Last year, Tedford had a very high high tendency to run for the first down on second and short (by high tendency I mean like around 80-90% tendency).  I think this had to do with our offense's woes, as well as Tedford wanting to keep momentum with higher probability moderate gains instead of risking a letdown on a lower probability deep pass.  I'm not saying we need to deep pass more on 2nd and short, but at least mix it up with some short to moderate passes to break up that heavy tendency to improve our offense's balance and unpredictability.

#2 - Less 3rd and long screens.  Maybe this wasn't as frequent as it seemed, but it did seem like Tedford would call screens on 3rd and longs a bit too frequently.  As to how frequently it was, I can't quite say since I haven't analyzed every single game from last season, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that noticed it.  Now, let's not forget too that sometimes 3rd and long screens are justified when facing a defense that likes to blitz on 3rd and longs or in certain situations.  But it just seemed like teams would more often then not, drop into a 7-8 man zone against us on 3rd and long (thus their defenders are all facing the LOS so they can see the screen), and promptly blow it up.  It just never really seemed like we caught a blitzing defense off guard with a 3rd and long screen.  Screens are meant to take advantage of aggressive defenses.  But if the defenses aren't being aggressive, it might be more opportune to just call up a regular pass play.

#3 - More streaks/fly/go routes.  Prior to last season, I thought we'd really see a lot of deep vertical routes to try and take advantage of our WRs' speed.  I have very few memories of us completing deep completions off of streaks/flys/go routes.  I remember Robert Jordan catching that sweet pass down the eastern sideline against Oregon State in the waining minutes of the 4th quarter, and a deep ball to Lavelle Hawkins along the west sideline earlier in the game, THA1's TD reception in the bowl game, but I don't really have many more memories of such great completions.  Maybe my mind is embellishing the memories, but in prior years I thought we attacked deep fairly often with streak/flys/gos.

Why should we attack with more vertical routes?  Well, they're hard to defend when you have a stupid fast WR, or a WR that has a clear height advantage over the defender.  Usually the WR has a better angle to find the ball then the defender who is in man coverage, and pass interferences are not a rarity on such plays.

Brief side note: CBKWit and I seemed to both notice that it seems like Tedford seems to call more downfield passing when Riley is the QB.  Whether our observations are correct or not is unknown (without much much film watching).  One thing to note though, is that having a mobile QB can cause the defense to adjust accordingly by bringing a coverage defender down into the box or in some other way to account for the QB's running threat.  Against a less-mobile QB, the defenses can drop more men into coverage without having to worry about accounting for the QB scramble because they know the QB isn't going to get far.  Perhaps when Riley is in the game, defenses adjust accordingly for Riley's increased mobility (compared to Longshore) and it opens up things down the field.  Perhaps.  A comparison between how defenses defend against Longshore compared to Riley would be extremely time consuming, yet interesting, and possibility incredibly revealing.

#4 - Return of the goalline playaction bootlegs.  I know we probably didn't run a lot of them in 2006 because Dunbar liked to spread things out when getting close to the endzone then run it up the gut.  And I only have one specific memory of a QB goalline bootleg in 2007 (against ASU).  But I think we need to roll out the QB in goalline situations.  Why?  We need to retain the QB's running threat near the goalline.  By never actually calling the bootlegs, we're not letting the defenses know we're willing to run them and take advantage of them if they too aggressively pursue the RB handoff.  I know we probably didn't use them last year because Longshore was injured and couldn't run that well, but I do think there is another reason.  That other reason is that Tedford doesn't like to turn the ball over (who doesn't?) but really doesn't like turning the ball over near the goalline.  Having the QB boot out is a little risky because (1) he has to pass as opposed to handoff the ball; and (2) if the QB keeps the ball and runs with it he's more prone to fumbling than a RB.  But having the QB bootleg more often might make the defense's LBs less likely to immediately key in on the RB and therefore reducing their run-stopping abilities by creating hesitation and doubt in their mind as to who has the ball.

#5 - More balance with 11 personnel.  Last season, as well as in 2006, we had a high tendency to pass when we had 3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 RB on the field.  Without gathering all my stats together, I'm pretty sure our tendency was near the 75% range.  Obviously, the defense knew that when we had 11 personnel on the field we were very likely to pass.  I think a greater run/pass balance with such personnel would be a benefit.  I know such a personnel grouping isn't the strongest running personnel set (because we subbed out the fullback for a 3rd WR) but such a high tendency sort of tips our hand.  In Tedford's defense though, he usually used the 11 personnel sets in passing situations.  Thus, the tipping of the hand had less of an impact because the defense already expected us to pass.  But nevertheless, we did use 11 personnel in some non-must-pass situations.  When using the 11 personnel set in non-must-pass situations, we should have a better balance of run to pass plays to make our offense as unpredictable as possible.

So those are a few things which I would like to see change in our offensive playcalling next year.  I believe what I've suggested are not mere personal preferences but what I really believe were tendencies and that weren't quite maximizing the effectiveness of our offense.

Now in my previous post about the Tedford Year (2007) , long-time commenter California Pete asked for my thoughts on where our offense might be headed.  I try not to disappoint, so I will give my thoughts. 

I believe the offense that we will see in 2008 will be largely the same offense we saw in 2007.  I do believe Tedford has found that preferred blend of pro and spread offensive elements (his "hybrid" offense) and will not implement too many drastic changes. 

I think we'll see our WRs return to utilizing the short, and medium middle parts of the field.  Tedford said (in an earlier article) that he was very careful about what plays he called due to last year's WRs' size.  I believe he was talking about how he mostly kept our WRs operating outside of the hashes on short and medium routes.  Only on deep routes, where the WRs were deeper than linebackers, would the WRs attack the middle of the field.  So with taller and heavier WRs, I think we'll see them going against the linebackers a little more. 

I think we'll see Best used as a scatback type of player.  I'm sure he'll be deemed the "starter" but I seriously don't think he's going to get more than 20 carries a game.  It's not that Best can't handle the load, but I think his best attribute is his speed and that is best kept by not tiring out Best.  So I expect to see plenty of RB by committee next year.

Now, the offensive gameplan can also change based on who is playing QB.  If Longshore wins the starting job, I think defenses will continue to defend us with deep coverage and make us dink and dunk it on short to medium passes.  Playcalling might be a little more protective of Longshore and utilize max protects to ensure he has adequate time to pass (since his footspeed isn't going to prove to be much of a run threat). 

But if Riley is the QB, I expect to see the QB get out of the pocket.  I think we might see QBs on waggles, boots, etc., to force the defenses to adjust for a QB with a running threat.  This should also open up things downfield as coverage defenders will be focused in more on the potential QB scramble.

Assuming our #1 TE is Morrah, I expect to see playcalling to send Morrah out on routes instead of keeping him in to block.  Last year we saw Stevens mostly stay in to block.  He did go out on routes, but not as much as I would expect Morrah to be sent out.  I expect to see special adjustments in our formations to better allow Morrah to get out on routes - I believe these adjustments have already been made based on what new things I've seen at practices.

Furthermore, I expect to see a greater variety of goalline playcalls.  This change will not merely occur by calling QB boots, play action passes, but by other formational means.  I think that's about all I can say there. 

Finally, I have no idea if Cignetti is into this stuff, but I'd like to see lots of pre-snap shifting.  Using multiple pre-snap shifts can be a very easy way sexy up an old play.  I love pre-snap shifting (especially when the offense shifts 2 or 3 times) because it's so confusing for the defense.  I saw Boise State do this against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and loved it.  The only issue with this stuff is that it requires the offense to get to the LOS with plenty of time on the playclock to execute all the shifts.  In the past we've seen the offense only get to the LOS with 10 seconds or less resulting in delay of game penalties.  If Cignetti is into this kind of kinky offense, then he's going to have be darn sure to get the play in fast so the offense has plenty of gameclock left to execute the shifts.  

So those are my thoughts on what might happen next year as well as my couch offensive-coordinator suggestions on how to maximize the efficiency of the offense.  Got couch-OC comments of your own?  Leave a comment below.

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