In this second installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we look at poor pass blocking which ultimately lead to Cal's offensive struggles in the first quarter of the Armed Forces Bowl. In case you missed the previous installment, here is Part I.
Here's the pre-snap picture. Cal is under center in a strong-I formation with 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 TE, 2 WRs). There is one WR on each side of the offense. The strength of the offense is left (because the TE is left). The formation is a strong-I because the fullback is lined up behind the tackle to the side of the TE. Air Force is once against defending in their base 3-4 defense (this picture provides a perfect view which shows how AF's 3 down-linemen are lined up heads up on the Cal center, and tackles). The situation is a 1st and 10 in the first quarter.
Here's the post-snap picture. The play is a pass play with a half roll left. We know it's a half roll left because Tedford likes to half-roll towards either the fullback or TE. Plus, we know it's a half roll because it's a 7 step drop, and the QB slightly rolls out. Plus, the backside of the OL gives up space, whereas the playside of the OL stands their ground at the LOS (hard to see). We know it's a half roll to the offense's left (as opposed to their right) because the QB (Longshore) drops back with his upper body facing left and starting his drop with his left foot. The play has a lite playaction fake - notice Forsett faking the handoff. This is not a max-protect because TE Stevens is releasing out as is Forsett and fullback Tau'ufo'ou.
Already though, there are problems with the pass blocking in this play. Below are two screen-grabs which show the problems. The first shows Cal's RG getting turned and allowing the AF weak inside linebacker (WILB) to shoot the right A-gap (the gap between a center and guard). The second shows AF's RE speed rushing to the outside on Cal's LT (the C-gap). This is problematic because the QB is rolling out to that side. The side that the QB rolls out to must have impenetrable protection.
The effect of the two non-desirable blocks are shown below. Longshore has barely completed his half-roll, and already has two defenders coming at him (more or less) unimpeded. Longshore only has a split second to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
Longshore barely gets the pass off and purposely overthrows a ball to TE Stevens where nobody but Stevens can catch the ball. The pass does fall incomplete, but most importantly, Longshore saved a sack.
What did we learn from this play? Poor OL blocking led to another failed play. This time, two players were beat by their defenders. Sure, Longshore maybe could have thrown a slightly less overthrown ball to Stevens and Stevens might have caught it. Or maybe Longshore might have hit Tau'ufo'ou instead. But the two players that were most at fault on this play were the RG and LT for allowing slightly premature pressure on the QB.
This play demonstrates one of Longshore's strength, his ability to throw the ball away and not take sacks. In 2007, Longshore was only sacked 6 times. That's 6 times on 384 attempts. That's a sack every 1.56% of the time. Who's to praise for such a low number? Well, the obvious place to look is the offensive line. They did alright for most of 2007, but when it came to pass protection, Longshore made their stats look even better by avoiding sacks.
People wonder what Tedford sees in Longshore that justifies Longshore being deemed the starter. Well, like it or not, this is one of the great traits that Longshore has - he takes care of the ball. I know some of you are probably thinking that Longshore also threw a lot of INTs too so he can't obviously take care of the ball that much. Well, if you consider how many of those INTs were because of missed/poor OL blocks, and other factors (QB/WR mis-communications, wrong WR routes, hail mary situations), and not just unforced errors by Longshore, he really does take very good care of the ball.
Just like a great OL can make a mediocre QB look great, a good QB can hide the errors of OL pass-blocking mistakes.
So far, the two plays we've gone over have shown how the big hog mollies up front were losing the battle against Air Force. As I said in the previous post, I like to believe that the games truly are won in the trenches. Thus far, I think Air Force was winning in the trenches and that's why the offense was stymied in the first quarter while Longshore was the QB.
Check back in a few days for Part III.