Pop quiz! Which runs above were opened up by power run/man blocking, and which ones were opened up by zone blocking? Leave your answers in the comments.
I thought about using the same moniker as last week, but the question of "How Cal Should Beat Eastern Washington" is a lot easier to answer: DON'T TURNOVER THE BALL. And then the article would've been over.
I figured you wouldn't be really interested in that sort of yeoman analysis. So let's focus on what you should be watching.
Against an opponent like Eastern Washington (let's admit they're decent for an FCS school), don't expect amazing playcalling that'll blow your doors off. Expect a standard Tedford playbook of establishing the run, passing the ball at the opportune time, then settling into a second half groove of running clock with the second-stringers. And if you thought Cal's defense played it safe against Maryland, expect them to be super safe against Eastern Washington, at least until the Bears are up double digits.
We saw some of what Cal's O-linemen would do in the season opener, but it probably was secondary to most of you to what the skill players were doing. It's totally understandable. In sports, we follow the ball. However what happens off the ball in football is about 80 percent of the game, so we'd recommend taking this week to look at what Cal's less-heralded players do to perform.
So this week, get to know your O-linemen and the run blocking strategies they execute. They are the key to Jahvid Best, Kevin Riley, and the success of the 2009 Cal offense. Without them, Cal won't be able to run, and concurrently will have a tough time passing. It's been the key to every Tedford offense since he's gotten here, so it's definitely worth your time to watch how they open up holes for everyone else.
I spoke with The Bear Will Not Quit on the subject before the season, and his thoughts on what we'll see from the O-line in establishing the run are after the jump.
With a more experienced unit in place this season, what type of run block schemes do you think Cal will run this year with new offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches?
TBWNQ: You know how I said you could do a whole post, heck a whole book, on QB mechanics? Well, you could teach a semester on blocking schemes. To me, this is really the the most cerebral part of football, along with picking apart zone defenses in the passing game.
The other thing going on here is that things could really unfold in any number of ways. Ludwig's roots are more in the traditional Tedford mold, but his last two jobs have been in spread concept offenses. But he also did incorporate some of his prior background into his spread offenses at both schools. At Cal, there have been sort of four approaches or models: the Cortez years, the Dunbar year, the Tedford year, and the Cignetti year. Among all those offenses, Ludwig and Tedford (and Marshall) could dream up a lot of combinations from the things that worked well.
There are two other factors: Marshall, and the available personnel. Marshall will definitely have some thoughts that I think both Ludwig and Tedford will be interested in incorporating. And you can't block a play in a way that doesn't work for your personnel. For example, if Cameron Morrah is your TE and Terrell Suggs is the DE, you don't call a play where TE takes on DE one-on-one at the point of attack (unless your offensive coordinator is Doug Cosbie). You have to block it a different way if you still want to attack that gap.
Considering all those things, I think we are going to see a little bit of everything (how's that for committal?), in particular early on until the coaches see what works against different defenses. That's actually a fourth variable - the opponent. In other words, expect variety.
In terms of specific examples, I think we'll see the old "power" schemes with a pulling guard and fullback. I think we'll see other gap or zone blocking to get numbers and allow Best to pick a seam in space and go, especially on the edge where Best excels. I think we'll see weakside counters, counter treys and trap blocks to take advantage of what I am almost certain will be aggressive front 7s trying to disrupt our blocking and shut down Best.
But the thing I really hope we see, and I have a feeling Marshall may incorporate, is a more sophisticated level of deception. One example would be pulling guards the opposite way of the run. This is a scheme some NFL teams use, though it requires a lot of practice and skill players that can block well. But if done properly, it can be devastating to a defense.
Why? Because LBs, particularly ILBs, are taught to read the guards as their keys , especially in the college game. They are taught often to follow pulling guards because they will take you to the ball. And in many pulling situations, that's exactly what happens. But if the guard goes the wrong way and the LB follows, he's just taken a LB out of the play. When done well, it's a thing of beauty to behold.
Will they be similar to the power run rail and arc schemes we ran with great success earlier in the decade (note: videos of the old Cal rush offense at the bottom of this link? Or do you think we'll see something new?
With respect to "power run rail and arc schemes," a clarification is in order. "Power" in the Tedford parlance refers to a concept or package of blocking schemes predicated on creating downhill angles of advantage, typically with pulling lineman and a kickout-lead combo at the point of attack, i.e. one guy kicks out, one guy leads up through the gap. "Rail and arc" in the Tedford parlance refers to blocking options within the "power" scheme that are designed to deal with matchup problems or alignment problems, for example an outmanned TE at the point of attack or a wide DE. It is therefore technically possible to see a "power" concept without a "rail" or "arc" block.
And for good reason. It's an extremely effective, sound model if your players can execute it. It doesn't require one guy to physically dominate his opponent straight up. It allows guys to blow up the defenders and plow the field in a dominating, downhill fashion, through the use of angles, without having to out-muscle them. And the Tedford model of the power concept in particular is predicated on simple techniques that can be applied to several different formations. This allows great interchangeability without overwhelming the players with dozens of different blocking schemes.
In fact, they ran it a bit last year with some success early on (except MD, who absolutely blew it up, exposing the unit's lack of experience). But as the season wore on, they seemed to go away from it in favor of Cignetti's run scheme (which they had some nice success with later in the season).
Part of the reason I think we saw it less last year was because it requires three things this team really didn't have last season: (1) quick, agile guards who can make reads and adjust blocks on the run, (2) TEs who can handle DEs one on one, and (3) tackles who can read and peel off quickly. Other than Guarnero and Schwartz, the rest of the group really didn't fit the bill (Malele was a bit dinged up).
The main question with this year's group is the guards. Tepper and Schwartz can handle it. Cheadle and MSG are touted as being pretty athletic, so we'll see.
The other critical component to power schemes is a dominant blocking fullback, something Cal has had the past two years. Whereas there are upgrades on the line, it'll be interesting to see how this year's fullbacks handle the job. That might affect how the team blocks power concepts, and how often they use the concept.
In sum, as I said, with Ludwig's and Marshall's backgrounds, I could see them developing a nice mix of power, zone, trap and perhaps some 'deception' schemes. Maybe I'm being too optimistic - this is college football, not the NFL. And it depends on the players' ability to absorb it all. But I will say this: I am more excited about what we're going to see offensively than I have been in a while. I strongly suggest watching the o-line this season to get a flavor for what these new coaches are all about.
- Hydrotech sent me these notes on run blocking versus Maryland: There was plenty of zone blocking. Off the top of my head I don't remember weakside counters, but i haven't rewatched the entire game yet or charted the game. Definitely no counter treys. No traps I'm pretty sure either. No guards pulling the opposite way of the run.
Hydro, in terms of zone blocking against the Terps: In 2008, Cal pretty much stopped using it's classic power run game with the backside guard pulling playside and became practically pure zone running team. However, against Maryland in 2009, Cal used both zone running and used some of its classic power running game too. The amount of zone runs and power run plays were roughly equal so I suspect that Cal will be a more balanced run team in 2009 with respect to whether they are using zone or man blocking. Again, check out danzig's highlight reel and tell us which runs were opened by man or zone blocking.
- For a great explanation of the power run schemes Cal has run since the Cortez years, check out this thorough dissection of the schemes from Trojan Football Analysis, complete with video of Pete Alamar explaining the concepts via 2004-2005 Cal running clips to various regional football coaches. The post is from 2006, and obviously Cal doesn't run this run scheme exclusively, but this is the first step into the world of run blocking. The photos from above are also from that post.
- CBKWit noted the performances of Cheadle and Schwartz on the right side in opening up holes for Best and Vereen, and even mentioned how rotating Teofilo and Edwards into the lineup didn't prevent the O-line from missing a beat. Very promising sign, especially in keeping big men like Tepper and Guarnero healthy for the tougher games ahead.
- Also, in Hydro's post-game thoughts, he mentioned how the Bears used plenty of two tight end formation sets and made sure Holley was an essential part of Cal's attack, which is more typical of old Tedford. So you could see plenty of the rail and arc scheme this season, albiet modified to reflect Ludwig's vision of how he wants Cal's offense running.
- To refresh your memory on who goes where in the offensive line, take a look at the position preview I wrote a few weeks before the game.
So focus on how the Bears run the ball. If everything goes according to plan, they're going to be doing plenty of that Saturday, and it'll be critical to understanding how well Cal performs in successive Saturdays.