Cal vs. Washington State Post-Game Thoughts

(1) New kickoff coverage scheme?  Today I noticed something I hadn't noticed before.  Most teams have the entire kick coverage team get a running start on the kick, and all the defenders are at the line of scrimmage right when the ball is kicked.  This is what Cal has done in the past, and if I'm not mistaken, what they've been doing this year.  However, today on kickoff coverage, two of our defenders would hang back approximately 5 yards at the instant of the kickoff instead of being right on the line of scrimmage at the time of the kick.  Thus, Cal has eight kickoff coverage defenders going down the field full speed at the time of the kick from the line of scrimmage, and three defenders moving down the field behind.  It's as if there are now two waves of defenders (eight then three) as opposed to one wave of defenders (of eleven men if you want to counter the kicker too).  Now, I suppose some of you might be thinking I was just seeing things and the two guys were just being lazy about not being right at the LOS at the moment of the kick, but no.  It was intentional.  I'm pretty positive.  They were distinctly and purposely further back than the initial coverage net to give more depth to the coverage net.

(2) Gregory breaks out the 4-2 nickel defense! This was a surprise.  I was just sort of chilling and watching the game.  Then all of a sudden I see four down linemen.  Now sometimes, when Cal uses its 3-3 defense we have one of the linebackers get in a three point stance (usually Price) and so it gives the impression of a 4-2 nickel although it's not.  But this was the 4-2 nickel.  I made sure by checking who those four down linemen were, and they were all defensive lineman.  Pretty interesting.  I don't think this is something that will be regular though.  I think this was more of a unique thing that Gregory was doing because of WSU's single-back three WR offense with a lot of zone read.  By using the 4-2 instead of the 3-3, it gives Cal more run protection (due to four defensive linemen instead of three defensive linemen) against WSU's zone reads.  Because there is greater run protection, the linebackers won't get so sucked up from the zone read fakes like they do in the 3-3.  With the 4-2, it did seem like Gregory was getting more pressure with the four man rushes as compared to the 3-3's three man rushes - or perhaps the WSU players are just worse than previous opponents.

(3) Gregory was somewhat more aggressive in his playcalling this game.  Last week, lots of Cal fans were complaining about his "passive" UCLA gameplan and other "passive" gameplans.  Well, I think there should be less complaining this week.  Gregory blitzed more than usual.  When he wasn't blitzing five, he was already rushing four on the 4-2 defense.  He stunted and twisted the defensive line on occasion.  With WSU's 3 and 4 WR sets, he mostly used zones but we saw some man sprinkled in here and there. 

WSU did show some repetitive success with taking short curls against 10 yard cushions; that slot WR swing pass (pretty much just like a bubble screen but without the screen part); and that playaction QB-backspin bootleg play.  I can understand taking away the deep balls and giving up some easy yards against our 10 yard cushions, but I was hoping for a little more adjustment to counter those playaction QB-backspin bootleg plays.  Maybe I'm making too big of a deal about it though.  A few times they got decent yardage, but I think we also shut down those plays for minimal gains fairly often too. 

Corner blitz at 7:50
Man coverage at 8:15
Weakside zone stretch at 9:10

 

(4) We ran a slant! ... and it went for an incompletion.  I can't remember who was the WR.  Perhaps Tucker.  But the offense was driving south.  Tucker was on the east side of the field.  Ran a slant, Riley's ball placement was low, the ball wasn't caught - incomplete.  Would have been an easy 7-8 yard gain at least had the throw been on the money. 

(5) Jordan has a good game.  Well, way to make me look bad.  Last week I was harsh on Jordan saying he's disappeared far too much this season, and then he comes out and has six tackles of which 2.5 were sacks for a loss of 17 yards.  On one particular sack, Jordan's freak athleticism got him the sack.  the WSU QB was flushed out of the pocket to the right and he started scrambling at an angle backwards trying to pass.  Jordan was at left defensive end (defense's left) and used his speed to close in on the QB and sack him.  I guess Jordan owes a bit of credit to whomever got pressure on the QB and flushed him out towards Jordan, but Jordan's athleticism was also responsible for the sack.  On the other occasion, Jordan got a pure sack against WSU's right tackle by just getting the tackle turned, and pushing him out of the way.  Good for Jordan.  Hopefully he can keep this up and these sacks weren't just because the WSU players sucked.

(6) Washington State false starts itself to death and penalizes itself to death.  Washington State was penalized 13 times for 114 yards.  Around five of those penalties were false starts.  I found that puzzling.  It was puzzling because the stadium was pretty empty.  They announced that 50,000 people were there, but it looked more like 40,000.  By the time the third quarter came around, it was more like 30,000.  The stadium was not very loud at all on consistent basis.  The student section was only about 50% filled (it looked more filled than it really was because they were more spread out, but if you squished them together with normal spacing, the students probably would have only filled 1/2 of the student section).  The students weren't really that into the game since it's WSU and the game was never truly in doubt.  The rest of the stadium seemed fairly quiet.  Yet WSU false started themselves to death for some reason.  Sort of funny.

(7) Riley was okay.  He obviously made some huge touchdown throws.  But he missed an easy slant pass too low.  He missed a sure-touchdown pass to Best in a goal line situation.  Riley faked playaction to Best, and then Best immediately burst out to the right flat and was completely uncovered.  Nobody was within 10 yards of him.  But Riley just lead Best too much and threw the ball too shallow rather than deep (on an angle more towards the flat area rather than on an angle more towards the corner).  Riley also threw an INT when the pass probably shouldn't have been thrown at all.  Again, that INT is just another instance of Riley trying really hard to make something happen.  Sometimes he makes it work.  Sometimes he doesn't.  I think the better decision on that INT play would have been to just keep the ball and run for that zero yard gain or one yard gain.  That's what we all thought he was going to do as the play was unfolding.  Nobody appeared to be open from my seats.  I think from Riley's point of view the WR looked open, but the WSU safety was closing fast from center field and picked off the ball.  The pass was slightly against the grain.  One of those QB golden rules is to not throw back across the grain.  But forget the rules!  Riley's a gamer! 

(8) Offensive line did a pretty good job opening up holes.  Best averaged 12.2 yards a carry.  Vereen averaged 5.1 yards a carry.  The RBs consistently had holes to run through.  Very few bad blocking tackle for loss plays.  Some pretty good blocking by the OL overall. 

(9) Offensive line did a great job pass blocking.  Riley wasn't sacked.  Very few hurries.  Riley helped them out too by getting the ball out on time, and scrambling when things started breaking down.  Great pass blocking today.

(10) WSU averaged (approximately) 9.0 yards per pass attempt against Cal's defense.  Statistically, this is horrible.  But I don't think it was quite as bad as it seemed or something that was wholly unexpected.  First of all, we were playing a decent amount of man coverage.  Cornerbacks at the college level aren't as good at man coverage as cornerbacks in the NFL so there are more bigger pass completions.  WSU had deep completions of 68 yards, 33 yards, and 31 yards from some of their WRs (not all against man coverage).  This certainly isn't good.  It's something that you want to avoid.  But it's also something that you somewhat expect to happen on occasion.  Second, WSU also got quite a few easy 8-10 yard gainers too against deeper zones and bigger cushions by our defense due to the offense being in 2nd and 15 situations from penalties.  In other words, Cal was definitely more willing to take away the deep ball and give up shorter passes underneath and could afford to do so because WSU often needed large amounts of yards to convert for a first down.  So I don't think it was really as bad as the 9.0 yards per pass attempt statistic makes it seem.

I know, WSU did roll up 440 total yards of offense on us.  That certainly isn't good from a statistical standpoint.  But if you take into account all their penalty yards (114 yards of penalties!), then they really only had a net gain of like 326 yards against our defense (440 - 114 = 326).  That statistic is more reasonable.  Let me reiterate again, throughout the game there never really was an instance where everyone was like, "OMG.  WTF.  WHY ARE THEY GETTING SO MANY YARDS TIME AFTER TIME???"  Sure they were getting yards, but they were also just making up for their penalty yards.  So it wasn't as frustrating or maddening as the 440 yards of offense stat might suggest. 

(11) Cal's defense allowed 4.0 yards per rush but was actually even better than that statistic suggests.  The official statistics say the defense only allowed 2.0 yards per rush but that is taking into account yards from sacks which occurred on passing plays not run plays.  Such a statistic is very misleading.  So you have to take out sack yardage.  So 4.0 yards per rush is alright.  You'd prefer to see it more in the 3.0 yards per rush area for college football, but 4.0 isn't horrible or bad.  Cal clearly had WSU's run game bottled up fairly well for the most part.  One of WSU's runningbacks had 51 yards total on the day, but 37 of those yards came from one run.  Thus, on those other runs, he was averaging only 2.0 yards per rush ((51-37)/(8-1)=2).  So actually, aside from one screwup where WSU got a big 37 yard gainer on the ground, Cal's defense really did shut down WSU's two runningbacks (2.0 yards per rush and 1.6 yards per rush).  That's a pretty excellent performance right there.

(12) Enough with the "if not now, then when?" talk.  I still see some people toting that line around complaining that this is another bust year, this Cal team is the most talented Cal team in the Tedford era and since it isn't going to the Rose that it'll never happen.  Please.  This team always had legitimate concerns at QB, WR, OL, and LB.  Cal was over-hyped due to a mixture of our Heisman runningback, having an All-American cornerback, and USC being slightly down.  This isn't a bust year from an objective standpoint (not yet at least).  Sure we were ranked #6 or whatever at one time, but such early season polls are mostly based on incorrect public perception and conjecture rather than substantiated facts and game outcomes.  Cal was never really a #6 team.  It might have seem like it the way we were destroying our early opponents.  But now that we've seen how bad Maryland was, and how bad EWU was, it's clear that we were just a pretty good team beating down on patsies, but not a sure-fire BCS caliber team.

(13) Cal should let other ticket holders sit in the student section if the student section is doing card stunts and the student section is not substantially filled by kickoff.  At kickoff today, I think the student section was about 1/3rd full (even such an estimate might be generous, it could have been as little as 1/4th full).  At its peak, the student section was probably just under 1/2 full.  Needless to say, the card stunts sucked.  There weren't enough students there to do the stunts.  Shame on the students who didn't show up.  Now, how can this problem be remedied?  Allow young alumni, and other season ticket holders to plop down in the student section to enjoy the nice seats and help with the card students.  After all, the young alumni and regular ticket holders pay more money than the students to see the game.  If the students aren't going to show up, why not give back to the young alums and season ticket holders?  Why not let others sit in the student section to help fill it out so the card stunts don't suck?  It's a win-win for everyone.  But NOPE!  The security/usher guys/gals were out in force today kicking people out of the HALF FULL student section.  I see such a policy accomplishing NOTHING.  I can understand such a policy on games where the student section is full, such as USC or Big Game.  But at kickoff the student section was 1/3rd full.  There is no need to enforce the usual student-only policy - especially not when card stunts will be performed at half time.  Cal had a golden opportunity to turn this pathetic student turnout into something better, and failed based on short-sighted policy.

(14) Four man rush out of a 4-2 versus a four man rush out of a 3-3.  The benefit of the former is that it puts four defensive lineman, who are usually the best players on the team at defeating pass protection, onto the field.   The negatives of the former is that the offense will know who is pass rushing and who isn't.  There isn't that surprise factor.  The main concern for the offense is figuring out the coverage and not who is going to pass rush.  The benefit of the four man rush out of the 3-3 is that there is that surprise factor.  The defense won't know who will be that fourth pass rusher.  Is it the strong side linebacker?  The middle linebacker?  Both of them with the NT dropping back into zone?  The offense is presented with two problems: who is the fourth pass rusher?  And what is the coverage?  On the other hand, the negatives of the four man rush out of a 3-3 is that at least one of the pass rushers will be a linebacker who typically isn't as skilled in pass rush as defensive linemen.  The linebacker may be faster than a defensive lineman, but he often doesn't have the moves or technique to get by pass blocks. 

Is one better than the other?  Not really.  Both can work.  Both can fail.  The defensive coordinator has to utilize them in ways that maximizes their defensive output.  I think against WSU the 4-2 was the better option because it gave Cal more run protection up front - and that was needed because WSU was threatening to run.

(15) Ludwig masks the inside zone for once.  Recall last week I criticized Ludwig on the inside zone runs:

(2) Cal's inside zone runs tip off the defense to which side the offense is going to run to before the snap.  These are the plays where Cal motions a WR who stops on the backside (the side of the offense that Cal is running away from) to block the backside defender.  When Cal does this, it's obvious it's a run as since Cal doesn't playaction out of the inside zone (we have in previous years but we really haven't seen it this year).  It also tips off the defense as to which way the run is going.

Well Ludwig showed off a new play which masks this tendency a bit.  Clearly, Ludwig reads the CGB (just kidding, there is 0% chance he actually reads the crap I write).  No, but seriously, he did show off a new play which masked his inside zone run call better.  The play can be seen in this video below at the 0:40 mark . 

 

Instead of using a WR, he uses a TE.  That's significant.  Plus, Ludwig starts out the TE in the slot,  which is something Cal doesn't normally do and it probably had the defense thinking (and maybe even confused) for a bit.  Plus, Ludwig didn't have the TE stop on the backside of the formation to seal off the backside defender.  Instead, he kept the motion coming from the playside and had the TE kick out the backside defender with a cut block.  Cal used to run (essentially) this play A TON in 2007.  The difference was that we didn't use pre-snap motion.  Instead, Cal would line up with twin TEs to one side out of 12 personnel and bring the H-back from playside to backside to cut block the backside defender. 

A stunt can be seen at 6:50 in the video above too. 

(16) Cal's screen game recognition was a lot better this game.  In previous games, Cal's DL has been a bit slow to respond to screens.  But against WSU, I felt like they were doing a great job reacting to screens.

(17) Cal needs to pass out of the Bearcat.  It's gotta happen.  Defenses will know it's possible when Vereen takes the snap as since Best doesn't throw.  But the Bearcat can get really hard to defend if we start throwing out of it - even if it is rarely.  Vereen knows it.  He wants to do it.  You know it.

 

 

1:25 - great play by WSU.  Nearside twin WRs run bubble screen fake.  The slot WR swings out giving the impression of a swing or bubble.  The split end (the WR on the LOS) runs a go and is open.  Tool pump fakes a pass to the split end, but the Cal safety to that side of the field doesn't bite on the fake.  The split end is attacking the Cal safety on Cal's right side of the defense (#29 Ezeff) and wanted the Cal safety (Ezeff) to that side to bite on the split end and pump fake.  Doing so would have dropped the Cal safety to that side of the field down (towards the LOS), and the WSU WR (that the pass was actually thrown to) would have slipped behind the Cal safety (Ezeff) for a huge gain or touchdown (had the pass actually been completed).  Great play design right here by WSU that attempts to take advantage of the Cal defense who had been baited all game long by that bubble/swing and go combination by twin WRs.

3:38 - Recall this post about USC running a great zone read bubble screen combination?  WSU runs essentially the same play right here but out of a different formation.  The zone read look gets the backside defender (Cal #47) to freeze, giving more time and space for the slot WR to get the pass and run.

7:03 - Offensive tendency.  Cal tips off pass with Vereen stepping up and becoming shallower right after Riley changes the play.  Deep 7 yard alignment = run.  Shallower 6 yard alignment = pass.  This is also one of Cal's staple plays although it is not usually run out of the 21 personnel strong-I.

 

 

4:18 - Gregory purposefully calling lots of stunts at DE and DT to counter the zone read look?  On this play the LE and DT stunt.  The stunt acts very much like a scrape exchange although it's between the LE and DT, and not a DE and the backside LB.

5:35 - corner blitz (left side of screen).  Missed tackle makes for easy gain.  Looks like man coverage.

6:40 - man coverage, 5 man rush, no deep safety.  Looks like Syd should have been there actually (Syd was in the left slot, and the Cal Safety took the left slot WR leaving Syd free to roam, Syd looks to be too shallow to give deep help).

 

 

0:50 - new kickoff coverage scheme visible.

1:14 - tricky little WSU play.  Looks like zone read, and the TE fakes the zone block (he ignores the backside defender which is normal on this type of play to help sell the zone read look), and then runs a flag for an easy catch in space without anyone around).  Very cool addition to a team's zone read looks.  Very cool.

2:25 - man coverage.  WSU killin' us with the curls.

3:05 - great view of Cal's power man scheme. 

3:25 - Cal zone read; Riley keeps

3:50 - you can tell this is already going to be pass before the audible and snap because the RB is too shallow.

 

 

 

2:30 - Cal's LG pulls on playaction for pass protection.  This is a new scheme Ludwig has installed this year.

3:10 - Cal's inside zone.  Ludwig is masking it with the TE split out.  Same play (essentially) as seen above under point #15.

4:25 - stunt on DL, man coverage.  30 yard gain.  You guys still want Gregory to play more man?

5:00 - easy way to get yards against zones is the drag route.  On this play the slot (split end) WR runs a go route to clear out the defenders.  The flanker runs a drag right behind the go route and is open for the easy drag route.

 

 

 

0:05 - man coverage.  I've noticed our slot Cornerbacks play inside leverage to protect the middle.  The thing about using inside leverage is that it puts the cornerback's back to the QB and thus he has to be very good at reading the WR for where the play is and when the ball is coming (if it's coming).  The corners are also vulnerable to the outside release skinny post which WSU runs on this play because it causes the slot cornerback to turn a full 180 degrees from the start of the play rather than something less (such as 90 degrees to cover an out route).

0:50 - man coverage

3:10 - max protection; smash concept (Great for defeating cover 2 and tampa 2 defenses; the outside WR runs a short 5 yard-ish hitch, and slot WR runs flag); twinned WRs run smash; Sweeney checks to the hitch. Sweeney seemed a bit too eager to throw on this play.  I remember this play from the stands because I picked this signal (from the sideline QB) and knew what the play was going to be beforehand.  Although it's hard to see on the video, I do believe the slot WR would have been incredibly open on the flag route had Sweeney given the play another half second.  This is a staple Cal play although rarely run from weak-I formation.

 

HUGE THANKS TO PRD74 FOR GETTING FANTASTIC SHOTS OF THE PLAYS.

I love seeing the defense.  It's such a Christmas present to be able to see the defense on the videos - something you don't normally see on TV broadcasts.  Thanks for getting the entire pre-snap formation too - very helpful.  Thanks for putting these videos together too.  It's much quicker for me to provide quick analysis comments from pre-made videos rather than me photoshopping individual plays.  Thank you PRD74!

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