Cal vs. Maryland Post-Game Thoughts

Here are some quick thoughts of mine from the Cal vs. Maryland game:

(1) Riley was a bit slow in the beginning of the game but clearly got better as the game progressed.  Riley was clearly a bit slow out of the gates with his first few passes.  His floater pass to Best was underthrown.  Although Best still could have caught the ball, Riley needed to put another 5 yards on that pass.  Riley's subsequent pass on a slant to Boateng (iirc), was low.  But then after those two passes, things seemed to get better and better.  Only one other time, did I disagree with one of Riley's reads.  On that particular play Riley took the deep option on a high-low read, when the deep option was bracketed in triple coverage and the low read was open for a sure-gain of at least 8 yards or so.  I could just hear Tedford in my mind saying to the QBs as he always does in practice: "take what the defense gives you."  Other than that, Riley looked great overall, made some plays, and threw the ball away too situations where he needed to.

(2) Riley needs to have a better memory.  Many times during the game, Riley would get the playcall signals from the sidelines, then go into the huddle to tell the offense the play, and in that time forget what the play was.  These small mental brain farts have to cease because it burns valuable playclock time.  Hopefully, as Riley becomes more comfortable as the starter he will gain a better memory.

(3) Cal breaks out a new formation and still has yet to reveal another.  Cal displayed one new formation this past game.  I won't talk about it since it's still pretty new; I'll let the opponents do their own homework.  Cal also was working out of another new formation during warmups but did not use that new formation in the game.  In other words, I saw two new formations against Maryland but only one was used in the game itself.

(4) Cal Offense now shifts.  I was predicting this sort of change.  Pre-snap shifting has always been one of those David tactics (David vs. Goliath) to give the inferior opponent an advantage over the superior opponent.  You rarely see top teams doing a lot of pre-snap shifting; it's always the Boise States who do that kind of stuff.  I have no quarrel with pre-snap shifts, and have always liked it because it can confuse the defense and create mis-matches.  Furthermore, it really tests the defense's ability to know their assignments and adjust quickly.

(5) The Cal Offense has reverted back to using two QBs to signal in plays.  In the early Tedford years, Cal used two QBs stationed on the sidelines - usually the second and third string QBs - to signal in plays.  One of those two QBs was live, and the other QB would send in a dummy signal so the other team would have a harder time stealing signals.  It was 2006 when I believe that Cal started using the number system.  With the number system the signaling QB signals to the starting QB a number which corresponds to the numbered play on the starting QB's wristband.  Because a number was being signaled in and not the play itself, there is no need for a second QB to send dummy signals.  So in 2006 Cal only used one signal QB on the sidelines.  Cal continued to use one signal QB on the sidelines for 2007 and 2008 too.  However, now Cal uses two QBs to signal in the playcall.  Sometimes the signals are numbers, and sometimes the signals are the playcall itself. 

I would like to stress the importance of the dummy QB to take his job seriously.  Although he is sending in dummy signals, he needs to look like he's sending in real signals so the other team cannot tell who is live and who is the dummy.  So in other words, he cannot be lazy with his signaling because it doesn't matter.  He must act like he's important, be crisp, and be timely with his signals. 

In general, the dummy QB for the Maryland game did a very good job (due to my experience with the team I was able to figure out who was live and who was the dummy).  He made sure he was always signaling at the same time as the live QB, his signals were clear and crisp, and he did not appear lazy.  However, there were two situations which also gave away who was live and who was the dummy (shout-out to one of my friends who saw this situation and figured it out.  Good job!).  I will not elaborate on those two situations for security reasons, but a very alert witness watching the two QBs need no insider knowledge or prior experience with the team to figure out who was live.  (Side note: perhaps I will email Tedford and tell him these two situations and see if these signaling weaknesses are fixed for the EWU game). 

As for the signals, gone are some of the old staple signals of Dunbar and post-Dunbar years, and in are some new signals from Ludwig.  Some of these new signals are completely new signals for new aspects of the offense that Ludwig installed, and other signals are merely visual changes.  The one thing I like about some of the new signals is that they are less obvious.  Some of the old signals were too obvious in that the body signaling clearly gave away what the signal meant.  The new signals are a bit more vague.  Despite being a bit more vague, if someone knows who is the live QB they can begin to figure out signals. 

(6) Sofele will mostly be used in special situations and "trick plays," and not as a WR.  I had predicted this.  Although Sofele had been practicing with the WRs, you could tell from Tedford's quotes that Sofele was more of a utility player rather than a regular rotation player.  Expect to see some trickery when Sofele comes on the field with the offense.  On special teams he's a gunner and pretty fast one too.

(7) The re-emergence of the twin TEs.  Against Maryland, we saw two TEs on the field quite a bit.  This was not a surprise to me.  I theorized this change 5 months ago when I heard about Tedford making the QBs watch film of the early Tedford years:

Contra Costa Times reporter Jonathan Okanes reported a while ago that the QBs were watching old film of former Cal QBs Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers to get "in tune with Tedford's offense."  This comment can be interpreted many ways but to me it sounds like as if Tedford might be hoping to return to a slightly more pro offense.  In other words, we might be seeing a slight shift back towards the offense we saw in the 2002-2005 seasons.

[In 2008], Cal used the I-Formation less than previous years.  Double TE sets were also used less.  In essence, Cal Football's offense has been using a 3rd WR more instead of a 2nd TE or fullback.  This has been a product of Tedford's evolution of the offense incorporating spread elements from Mike Dunbar.

Cal's offense from 2002-2005 used double TE sets (12 personnel), and the I-formation (21 personnel) a lot.  Watching film from the 2002-2004 seasons seems to hint at the idea that Tedford might be wishing to revert back slightly to a more pro offense.  This is not to say that it will be a completely pro offense again, but merely that the Cal Football offense will be moving a little bit more towards the "pro style" side of the pro/spread offense spectrum.

We're definitely seeing a more "vintage Tedford" offense this year.  Some of the spread still exists, but I definitely see this year's offense moving back towards the "pro" side of the spectrum and away from the "spread" side of the spectrum.

(8)  Fewer screens.  Perhaps this was merely a gameplan decision and because of the fact that Maryland wasn't getting a ton of pressure on Riley, but Cal rarely screened against Maryland.  It has seemed like Cal screened a bit too much in the two previous years (2007 and 2008), and so it is refreshing to see Cal tone the screens down.  What's also very interesting is that the screen schemes have changed too.  This change has to do with the fact that the offense is less spread-ish.  The typical double WR slip screens of 2007 and 2008 didn't make an appearance against Maryland.  Instead, a new screen scheme appeared.  I like the new scheme because it is a more deceptive screen strategy due to the fact that it is slower developing and persuasive.

(9) Josh Hill, an emerging star?  Not many passes were thrown his way if any, but he was absolutely fearless in run support, and actually is a pretty decent pass rusher.  I like his playing style.  The fact that he's seeing time in the nickel package as a red-shirt freshman is telling. 

(10) Ernest Owusu, an emerging star!  He made his presence felt on the field.  He's pretty fast and gets himself by blockers.  On Saturday he finished the game with 4 total tackles (all solo), 3 of which were tackles for loss.  Could be a breakout year for Owusu.

(11) The fullback position isn't disappearing anytime soon.  This past season there was some talk about how the role of the fullback has been diminished the past few years due to the movement towards a spread offense.  However, after seeing the Maryland game I think such a notion is false.  The fullback still remains and important part of the Cal offense.  Cal used the 21 personnel package (2 Backs 1 TE, 2 WRs), and the 22 personnel package (2 backs, 2 TEs, 1 WR) quite a bit.  The 11 personnel package (1 Back, 1 TE, 3 WRs) wasn't used as much this game as it has been used in the two previous years - although that's also because Cal didn't face a lot of 2nd and longs or 3rd and longs; situations where Cal mostly uses its 11 personnel package.  With the fullback continuing to have an important role in Cal's offense, it should remain a recruiting priority for Tedford & Co., and cannot be forgotten about and ignored.

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