Cal vs. UCLA Post-Game Thoughts

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 09: Members of the California Golden Bears looks on against the UCLA Bruins at California Memorial Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Berkeley, California. Vereen scored on the next play. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

(1) 2010 Riley is better than 2009 Riley, but 2010 Riley still is inconsistent.  There's a lot to say here. 

(1)(a) He misses some easy passes... still.  That pass to Vereen along the sidelines could have been a touchdown had Riley not under thrown the ball.  Some of his other passes to other receivers were off. 

(1)(b) Riley didn't throw the ball away when he should have and instead took sacks.  Riley is a competitive guy who wants to make a play and make something happen rather than just throwing the ball away.  However, at some point every QB has to realize that you sometimes just have to cut your losses and throw the ball away.  And yes, maybe the coverage down the field has the receivers blanketed, but either run or throw it away. 

(1)(c) I'm starting to wonder if Riley is putting himself at risk of losing his starting job.  Reading some of Tedford's quotes, he sounds really upset about Riley's performance (and Riley is a 5th year senior nonetheless!).  Riley is making mistakes that a 5th year senior shouldn't be making.  I don't think we'll see a complete change of lineup and have Sweeney as our starting QB down the line but I wouldn't be completely surprised if Riley gets benched in the second half of games if he continues to play as poorly as he did against UCLA.

(2) Rushing attack was GREAT!  Vereen and Sofele both averaged over 6 yards a carry.  There's little to complain about when your top two running backs have averages like that.  I've been pretty critical of this offensive line and have even said they are perhaps one of the weakest offensive lines of the Tedford era, but today they really surprised me.  Neither Vereen or Sofele had a single long run to skew the average, so the fact that they were averaging over six yards a carry means that they and the offensive line were just downright consistent on their domination and blocking against UCLA.

(3) Notice Ludwig using 6 offensive linemen?  It occurred on one of Cal's goalline plays in the south endzone.  Cal had six offensive linemen on the field, with the sixth offensive lineman lining up in left B-gap (the space between the LG and LT).  Not surprisingly, the run was designed to go right behind that sixth offensive lineman.  Surprisingly, Cal didn't score on that play and was stopped for a minimal gain.

A lot of people aren't happy with Ludwig.  I haven't been bothered too much by his playcalling (but then again I haven't really broken down a ton of film on the opponent defenses this year to see how Ludwig is reacting to the defenses).  However, I do like how Ludwig throws in a rare gimmick every once in a while.  Today, it was the sixth offensive lineman.  Last year against UCLA it was the obscure-the-runningback-run play where Sofele tried to hide behind the offensive line, whom faked the run one direction, and Sofele ran the other direction. 

(4) Ludwig's offensive cues.  Avinash takes serious issue with Ludwig's predictability in his post-game recap:

There are certain plays where we give off our cues as to whether it's going to be a run or pass, and I want to smash things, because if I know what's going to happen, the defense sure as hell knows what's coming. We seem to keep on going to our shotgun formation on 3rd and short and let the defense play firmly against the pass. We line out the tailback in a receiver slot, leaving only the fullback back to pass, signaling to the defense it's obviously going to be a passing play.

This is nothing new.  These cues have existed for years.  They existed before Ludwig.  They were there in 2006 with Dunbar.  They were there in 2007 with Tedford as the offensive coordinator.  They were there in 2008 with Cignetti as the offensive coordinator.  I think Avinash is seeing them now because he has been breaking down a ton of film lately. 

Anyways, my point here is that our offense does have cues which tips its hand.  It always had cues.  They haven't really changed in years, and I don't think they're really going to change that much either.  Get pissed at Ludwig all you want, but you should also be pissed at Dunbar, Tedford, and Cignetti.  Every offense has offensive cues that tips their hand.  Most fans only see their own team's cues because that's the team that they watch the most.  Other teams have them too, and that's why teams scout each other.  They are looking for those cues. 

What are some of Cal's cues?  Use of the standard I-Formation usually means either a fullback handoff, or the flip to the runningback.  A QB in shotgun with a fullback next to him rather than a RB usually means QB draw, or pass.  When the offense is in 21 personnel I-formation and motions a WR to the weakside of the offensive line, it usually means run (however this year Ludwig has covered this cue slightly by adding a rollout threat by sending the motioned WR to the flat and booting the QB).  

(5) About critiquing offensive playcalling...  This is one of those things where fans usually say the playcalling is great when the offense works, and the playcalling sucks when the offense doesn't work.  In other words, as goes the offense, so does the playcalling.  That seems logical, right?  Nope.  Why is that?  Because you can have fantastic playcalling that doesn't get yards (due to player errors, or really good defense that just out-executes your offense), or you could have poor playcalling that goes tons of yards (due to offensive players executing, and/or really bad defense). 

On its face, it might look like Ludwig's playcalling against UCLA sucked because Cal only had 83 yards passing.  But you really have to not look at the results but look at the process.  This is what separates the arm-chair OCs and the real level-headed intelligent analysis football fans.  Arm-chair OCs just look at statistics and the results.  But the real fans look at what the OC is doing, why he's doing it, and what the defense is doing. 

In the 2010 Arizona game, there was a lot of criticism of Ludwig for doing run on first down, run on second down, and then just playaction bootleg on third down towards the end of the game.  I didn't get to see the game, and apparently that didn't work or something.  People were pissed at Ludwig.  But do you see the error here?  People are focusing on the result.  They aren't looking at the process. 

What is Ludwig trying to do?  In other words, what is his goal?  It seemed like Ludwig wanted to move the ball, and burn clock.  Nothing wrong with that.

How is he doing it?  By running the ball to keep the clock moving, and setting Riley up with easy bootleg passes which keeps the defense honest against the run by defending against the QB on the bootleg.  Again, nothing really wrong with that on its face. 

What was the defense doing?  I didn't see the game so I don't know.  But perhaps the defense wasn't defending against the QB on the bootleg.  Or perhaps the defense was playing a lot of Quarters coverage and prevent deep down-field passes and that's why Ludwig was throwing short dink-dunk passes rather than going deep.  Do you see my point here?  You have to take into account what the defense was doing.  While reading a lot of the reactions to Ludwig's playcalling against Arizona, I saw ZERO analysis on what the Arizona defense was doing.  If you don't even consider what the defense is doing, how can you adequately critique offensive playcalling?  Offensive playcalling is all about knowing what the defense is doing, and beating the defense!  You have to know what the defense is doing!

So my hope is that when people critique offensive playcalling, they are doing so with an eye on the defense too.  If Ludwig really wasn't adequately adjusting to what the defense was presenting to him on previous downs, then so be it and he had bad playcalling.  But as fans, we can't just say "the play didn't work so the offensive playcalling sucked," or "Ludwig should have passed down the field more" without at least being aware of what the defensive coverage has typically been. 

(6) I'm already sold on Pendergast.  Most people still probably aren't due to the Nevada game.  But consider this, aside from that game, Cal has given up an average of 6.75 points a game.  Even including the Nevada game, Cal is only giving up 15.8 points a game.  That's not a lot.  That's not a lot at all.   Currently, that statistic puts Cal as the #17 defense in the nation for points allowed (via cfbstats.com).

My point here is that I think we might be sitting on a Top-20 defense this year, and we might not even know it yet.  Of course, a defense's performance is also somewhat related to how good the offense is.  Because if the offense really sucks, that means the defense will be out on the field more and they're more likely to start giving up points.  So, as long as the Cal offense can at least be "good," then I think our defense will be "great." 

And more food for thought: through the UCLA game, Cal is the #7 defense in the nation for yards allowed with 282 yards a game (via cfbstats.com).  Cal has forced 11 turnovers for the year, good for #35th in the nation (via cfbstats.com).  Cal is #34 in the nation for opponent 3rd down conversions allowed at 34% (via cfbstats.com).  Cal is #8 in the nation for red zone scoring allowed at 64% (via cfbstats.com).  Cal is a whopping #4 in the nation for opponent QB rating of 94.5 (via cfbstats.com).  And Cal is a whopping #2 in the nation for opponent yards per pass attempt at an absolutely freaking ridiculous 4.9 yards per attempt (via cfbstats.com).

(7) Ludwig continues to use the quick-snap / slightly-up-tempo offense to catch the defense off guard.  I talked about this in my Cal vs. Colorado Post-Game Thoughts.  At the time I was only about 95% sure that Cal was upping the tempo, and now I'm 100% sure.  Again, I saw the live sideline QB giving a new signal with the playcalls on occasion whereby Riley would then call the play, line up the offense, and quickly snap the ball. 

The purpose of this is to (a) catch the defense substituting; and (b) to catch the defense off guard before they have received the defensive playcall or figured out their assignments. 

One problem that would theoretically occur by using quick-snap is that the QB doesn't have time to read the defense and the defensive pass coverage.  This is true.  However, Cal only really uses this quick-snap on its run plays.  Using the quick-snap on the run plays doesn't require the QB reading the defensive pass coverage because the offensive play isn't a pass play.  Thus, the offense isn't putting itself at a disadvantage. 

(8) The return of the wildcat/wildbear/crazy formation.   When I talked to Tedford over the off-season, I asked him if we'd continue to use the Crazy formation with Vereen now that Jahvid Best was gone.  He smiled, and sort of excitedly said that we'll still use it, and we might even see someone other than Vereen running.  So when Cal opened up at home against UC Davis, I thought for sure that we'd see some Crazy.  Nope.  Perhaps against Colorado?  Nope.  Perhaps against Nevada?  Nope.  So I figured by then that Tedford had just decided to scrap it, but alas he didn't, and he wasn't bull-shitting me. 

So how is Sofele in Crazy?  I think he's doing fine.  His small size can make him a little hard to see behind the offensive line.  I think his first carry out of Crazy (when the offense was south of the 50 and driving towards the south endzone) was spectacular.  On that carry he was isolated against a single defender and juked him out of his shoes.  The kid is shifty and when he gets some space he can be dangerous.  However, don't expect Sofele to keep taking the ball outside on those Crazy formation plays since the running lane is designed to be in the strong side C-gap (the space between tackle and the tight end).

If you watch the Crazy play which occurred in the first quarter with 6:40 remaining on the clock, you see a lucky play where Cal avoided a costly mistake.  On this play, Cal center #65 Galas snapped the ball too early.  Sofele, luckily, was able to catch the premature snap to avoid a fumble or turnover and even ran for a few yards.  Why did this snap occur early?  Because of crowd noise.  Which brings me to my next point...

(9) The announcer guy has to STOP saying "First down, Bears!" or "First and goal, Bears!" completely, or either say it much earlier.  I've harped on this before a long time ago, but this announcement of first downs and first and goals is hampering the offense.  Remember, when the Cal offense is on the field, you should NOT be making any noise at all.  Not even cheering.  Crowd noise prevents the offensive players from hearing the QB's cadence and playcalls.  If they don't hear the cadence or playcall, a mistake, penalty, or turnover could ensue.  This is exactly what happened on the wildcat/wildbear/Crazy play I mentioned above (6:40 in the First Quarter).  The announcer guy said "First and Goal, Bears!"  The Cal crowd cheered.  Galas couldn't hear Sofele's cadence, and prematurely snapped the ball. 

I've sent an email to Cal about this problem (years ago), and even received a gracious response.  And for the next few games after my email, the Cal announcer guy heeded my advice and started saying the "First down" stuff earlier, so the crowd would cheer earlier, and not while the Cal offense was at the line of scrimmage.  However, as the years went on, he slowly reverted back to the old timing (saying all that stuff too late) which produces too much crowd noise while the Cal offense is on the field.

It's doubtful that Cal will stop the announcer guy from saying that stuff completely.  And I'm not sure if the announcer guy will ever realize how his poor timing is affecting the team.  So please, do the Cal offense a favor, and DO NOT CHEER WHEN THE ANNOUNCER GUY SAYS "FIRST DOWN, BEARS!"  Please, tell your friends too.

(10) Good to see Desean Jackson at a Cal game.  Bringing notable Cal alumni NFL players to games is a great way to pump up the current players, build up the school's reputation as an NFL factory, and earn recruiting points with potential highschool recruits. 

I didn't quite think that I'd ever see Jackson at a Cal game after the news came out about him being hurt about the negative rumors regarding his personality during the draft process (Jackson said that they came from "Cal somewhere"; however Jackson has also said he has "a lot of love for the Golden Bears"). So seeing him out there on the sidelines, and pumping up the student section was a big surprise and a nice showing. I hope to see him, and other notable Cal alumni come back to Memorial for some home games.

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