I wish I could come up with something optimistic to write, but the fact is Cal's offense was pretty screwed up even with Jahvid Best back there. At this point it all boils down to blocking. The run blocking and pass protection stink. It's been stinking all year, it hasn't improved from week-to-week, and it's wishful thinking to expect anything to change during these last three weeks. Coming up? Arizona, 23rd in sacks, 11th in rushing defense, 37th in passing defense. Oh yeah, I'm totally hot for this. Dipping myself in cocoa butter right now.
If Cal's going to beat Arizona, the offensive line is going to have to play way better than they've been showing through conference play. Steve Marshall's going to have to coach these guys up, really make them play this game for Jahvid, and try to finally open holes for Shane Vereen and Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson. If these guys aren't talented enough to execute the sets they're given, adjust accordingly. What's been the most frustrating thing about this season has been the lack of adjustments on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. I understand losing these games, but to get blown out in each game? It's just hard to sit there and take the same plays being called when they haven't been working not just for one game, but ONE MONTH.
Well, the Bears are going to have to adjust now; without Jahvid Best this is a drastically different team. Find out more about what Cal might look like after the jump, and why the Wildcat might be used quite a bit.
The rushing burden is on Shane Vereen. I doubt Tedford and Ludwig feel Deboskie is ready to handle anything more than 15% of the snaps at this point, so a lot of the burden will be put on Vereen to play a Forsett 2007-type role. Vereen did a manageable job against Arizona State last season, and the same thing will be needed (probably more) from him to pull off a victory against Arizona. Unfortunately, he's not going to have any more leverage getting through no holes as Best did.
Less inside zone please? Hey Coach Ludwig. Everytime you run inside zone between the tackles just so our poor running backs can get levelled for a one yard gain, you're taking days off my life. Arizona has a running defense that is very good, on the rise, confident in themselves, and is certainly going to play Cal the same way every defense has played Cal since the start of the season. Please try something somewhere.
The Bears can no longer run two running backs in a multitude of ways. That kind of eliminates the double threat of having one of either Best and Vereen line out as a receiver. So now Cal loses some of the unconventionality they were showing the previous three weeks (and who knows how the Oregon State game turns out if Best doesn't get injured) and they probably return to the conventional sets typical of a pro-style offense, since Deboskie or Sofele aren't going to be lining out wide or forcing defenses to stack the box.
Without the great receiving threats our running backs offered...
This will put more pressure on the receiving corps. Outside of Jones, no receiver has really played two good games in a row. Lagemann has shown promise, Tucker has vacillated between brilliant and bad, Ross can leap a lot, Calvin hasn't really been heard from, nor has Boateng. These guys are going to have to start playing well to help Kevin Riley out by getting separation from their defenders, not quitting on their routes, anything to adapt to the bad O-line play.
More rollout options for Riley? Given how bad the pass protection has been, you'd have expected more of this even before Best's injury. But Kevin does seem to be more effective out of the pocket than in it--it might be worth considering just getting him going with play action fake bootlegs. Or something of the sort.
Best's absence doesn't diminish the Wildcat option. Many people think that the Wildcat is used primarily to put another blocker on the field, but in this case I feel that the Wildcat hasn't been used this season just because the blocking has been so porous, no matter how many guys you put out there to block. It's also to get the ball into the hands of the runner more quickly.
Why is that? When you direct snap to your running back and quarterback, that gives them an extra few seconds that would've been otherwise used to hand off the ball. This time allows your blockers to get in place and open up the holes for the running back to cut through. But the blocking has been so bad this season though that you're often seeing defenders penetrating the line of scrimmage at the time it takes the Bears to handoff the ball (the Bears have allowed 78 tackles for loss this season, and that number's probably greater if you add in 0-2 yard gains). Hence you put it in the running back's hands quicker to just let him take off before defenders can anticipate it coming.
(Notice that the quarterback draw has also been used in previous weeks to surprising success. It's a pretty damning indictment of your offensive line if your best running plays are quarterback keepers and direct running back snaps.)
Is it time to go back to the book of tricks? Around this time last year the Bears were totally flummoxed by the passing ineptitude that they had to resort to flea-flickers, hook-and-ladders, running back lateral/wide receiver passes. Although I've seen signs of unconventional plays, they've been for the most part snuffed out or failed due to execution errors. This next two weeks are the difference between a 6-6 disaster and an alright 8-4/9-3 season. Might as well try and throw everything out of the playbook.
In the end though, unless Riley has a monstrous game, this one's probably coming down to blocking again. The fact is the Bears still have to run the ball. Going straight to the pass and expecting the receivers to make good catches is a recipe of quick 3 and outs, and leaving one of the worst passing defenses in the country out there for Foles to pick apart. Sounds reallly enticing.
If no one blocks well, the offense is going to throw up another turd sandwich. And we could see something we've never seen at the end of a Tedford-era Cal football game--an empty Memorial in the 4th quarter.
(For those wondering why I didn't write anything about the defense...they are what they are this point. Smarter people than me said we'd miss our senior linebackers, and they're right. Plus I haven't watched enough defensive gametape this season to know how much of this is on Gregory for putting them in the wrong positions to make plays on the ball, so all I can do right now is hope they play better.)