Cal Pass Protection Vs. UCLA Caused Kevin Riley's First Half Struggles

At first glance, Kevin Riley didn't have a good day against the Bruins. But upon further review? Still isn't that great a game, but it doesn't look as bad, especially when you take into consideration the other factors that influenced his performance.

1) There appeared to be a concerted effort by the UCLA defense to take away the deep vertical passing game, and a concerted effort by Riley and the Cal offense to play away from the secondary (particularly Rahim Moore) and avoid making mistakes downfield. Besides, when you're running the ball so effectively, why would you want to try to force passes?

2) Akeem Ayers playing the role of disrupting the offense the way Brian Price did last year.

3) Inconsistent line play, particularly along the right side (Richard Fisher, Justin Cheadle, Matt Summers-Gavin, Anthony Miller) but also by left tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who had a rough day in pass protection. I'd say of all the problems we have on offense, our ability to protect the quarterback remains the biggest concern, even more so than quarterback play itself. They're better than last year's disaster (and the two years before that weren't peaches either), but still hardly consistent enough to get the offense humming against the big boys.

After the jump, a breakdown of Cal passing plays in the first half versus the Bruins.

[SHOT] indicates play from shotgun.

1st drive, 1st quarter

Couldn't find video. Riley went 3 for 3 for 9 yards.

2nd drive, 1st quarter

C 1-10 C48 [SHOT], 8:30, 13-Riley, Kevin sacked for loss of 3 yards to the CAL45 (94-Odighizuwa, O.).

Cpp0_medium

Cal with trips left, tight end right. UCLA with 4-3 under, although Akeem Ayers moves out of his down stance and shifts back, then moves to the middle. Owa pushes Mitchell Schwartz back on the left side and blocks Riley's view of his receivers to the left.  Keenan Graham also pushes Anthony Miller around off the edge and gets to Riley, forcing him into the pocket and Owa takes him down.

C 3-9 C49 [SHOT], 7:12, 13-Riley, Kevin RR pass incomplete to 1-Jones, Marvin (22-Price, Sheldon).

Rileystance_medium

Cal with 4 wide receivers set (3 left, 1 right) with Vereen in the backfield. UCLA in nickel formation and four down linemen, Ayers lined up as a down linemen, Westgate coming in on the other side in two stance. Vereen picks up Westgate and Schwartz picks up Ayers handily. But Riley doesn't maintain proper footwork and his feet are set too far apart, causing a high throw. He hesitates once too much and Marvin Jones gets crowded by Sheldon Price.

4th drive, 1st quarter

C 2-9 C21, 2:08, 13-Riley, Kevin sacked for loss of 9 yards to the CAL12 (91-Stokes, Reggie).

Cpp0a_medium

Cal in single back, two TE set, two WRs, signals Marvin Jones into supposedly block. UCLA in a 4-3 with the Sam and Will linebackers. They set up a playaction bootleg where the weakside tight end (Spencer Ladner) rolls as the middle option, Marvin Jones as the short option, and Keenan Allen running a deep vertical.

UCLA isn't fooled by the run play. Blocking errors on the right side break down this play, as does good recognition by the linebackers. Matt Summers-Gavin whiffs on a cutblock to Nate Chandler and Justin Cheadle only manages a weak stiff-arm of Justin Edison, and both get quickly to Riley, with Stokes cleaning it up. Also Ayers shadows Riley and makes it tough for him to get an angle on the deeper options of Ladner and Allen. You can see a lot of Bruins running with the quarterback here.

5th drive, 2nd quarter

C 1-10 C44 [SHOT], 10:16 left, 13-Riley, Kevin RF pass complete to 34-Vereen, Shane for 16 yards to the UCLA40, 1ST DOWN CAL (26-Abbott, Andrew).

Cpp2_medium

Empty set, trips left, Vereen lined out right with Jones in the slot. Riley fakes the screen to Michael Calvin, then goes back the other way, backpedals, and lifts it over Owa's outstretched hand (he was giving Summers-Gavin a battle on the right side) to make sure Shane Vereen got the ball. Thankfully, the defense gets baited by the pump fake and are playing too far off to blow up the high throw.

Downfield blocking is ok. Richard Fisher gets away with a hold, Marvin Jones holds up Sean Westgate long enough, and Dominic Galas executes a good cutblock downfield on Pat Larimore. Most of the yards on the play are generated by the Submarine, who makes men miss, slips off tackles, and scrambles for all the additional yardage. Poor angle taken by Sheldon Price.

Next-to-last drive of first half

C 1-10 U25, 8:47 left, 13-Riley, Kevin sacked for loss of 2 yards to the UCLA27 (94-Odighizuwa, O.).

Cpp1_medium

2 WRs right, 2 TEs left, Ladner behind the scrimmage going in motion to the right, single tailback is Vereen. UCLA in a 4-3 under, and at the snap the linebackers drop back.

UCLA only rushes four, but it's more than effective. Owa gets the sack, but his compatriots on the right side deserve credit for collapsing the pocket. Fisher gets blown back by Cassius Marsh on the inside (hey, that name sounds familiar) and Matt Summers-Gavin completely gives up the edge to Damien Holmes. This forces Riley to step up before he's ready to deliver the throw. Odighizuwa fights Schwartz backwards on the bull rush, eventually pushing him back enough to get a clear angle on Riley.

C 3-9 U10 [SHOT], 13-Riley, Kevin EZ pass complete to 21-Allen, Keenan for 10 yards to the UCLA0, 1ST DOWN CAL, TOUCHDOWN, clock 06:04

Cal21ucla0_medium

Three wide receiver set, two to the right, 1 TE, Vereen in the backfield. UCLA is in their nickel defense.

This is Riley's best play of the game, and the sort of play that endeared many Golden Bears to him as a freshman. This was a designed wheel route, with Jones hoping to bite the two defenders on his side of the field onto him and opening the sideline for Vereen to score easily (similar to the Jahvid Best play Cal ran in Pasadena last season). Riley steps up back into the pocket, sees that the safety is running toward Vereen, occupying the left side of the field.

So he improvises. With Summers-Gavin clearing out his defender and the entire pocket now facing the left sideline, Riley takes off to the now open right. He now has great vision on that side of the field and doesn't have to worry about any real pass rush. The receivers adjust pretty well on the fly and give Riley throwing options.

Keenan Allen does a nice job shaking off his defender, spinning back and running with his quarterback, and he catches the ball in stride for six.

C 1-10 U40, 3:45 left, 13-Riley, Kevin slant pass complete to 34-Vereen, Shane for 31 yards to the UCLA9, 1ST DOWN CAL, out-of-bounds (11-Westgate, Sean).

Vereenwheel_medium

I-formation, TE and WRs set to the right. Calvin comes in motion to the left and lines up left. UCLA looks like they're still in their standard 4-3. This is a playfake all the way, and they're going back to the same wheel route, albeit from a different formation.

There's a little adjustment from last time though. John Tyndall comes in and runs right into the weakside linebacker Westgate. You might think that this is to open the hole for Vereen, but it's really to slow the linebacker down. This allows Vereen to wheel out to the edge while the wide receivers take the secondary out of the play. Riley takes some air off the ball to ensure a completion, and with Westgate out of the play he can afford to throw it behind rather than ahead.

We've run this play several times this season, and the timing still doesn't seem to be quite right between Riley and Vereen. There's been one off-balance touchdown, an incompletion, at least another high throw. As Hydro mentioned, this play here should have been a touchdown if this ball is thrown ahead and in front rather than behind and over-the-shoulder. I'm probably nitpicking.

C 1-G U09 , 3:18 left, 13-Riley, Kevin EZ pass incomplete to 21-Allen, Keenan. Cpp3_medium

Singleback, two tight ends to the left, two WRs right. UCLA lined up in the 4-3.

This play is trouble from the start. The two tight ends stay back to pass protect against four down linemen (huh?), leaving only Vereen leaking out and Jones and Allen to try and break zone coverage by seven Bruin defenders. Still, Allen does get into the hole in the middle, but two things probably keep Riley from throwing this ball: (1) the linebacker sagging back into the middle of that zone, and (2) Ayers driving back Edwards and crowding Riley's field of vision. He does miss the dumpoff to Vereen, as it looks like Riley wants to make it to the end zone. He has to escape from the pocket and eventually throw it away.

C 3-G U07 [SHOT], 2:23 left, 13-Riley, Kevin EZ pass incomplete to 1A-Calvin, Michael, PENALTY UCLA pass interference (21-Hester,Aaron) 5 yards to the UCLA2, 1ST DOWN CAL, NO PLAY.

Cpp4_medium

Sofele lined left, Miller and Calvin to the left, Jones and Allen to the right. Bruins have six linemen on the line of scrimmage, four down, two linebackers on the edge.

This would've been an incompletion even without the pass interference and the offside, but again poor pass protection on the left side. Sofele picks up the blitzing linebacker off the edge, but Brian Schwenke gets battered back by Nate Chandler and has to push him toward the sidelines. That opens the middle, and Damien Holmes gets inside on Mitchell Schwartz and eventually escapes his grasp. Riley HAS to throw it high or that ball would have been batted harmlessly to the ground.

Conclusions from the first half

Just not a strong effort from the Cal offensive line. I can't absolve Riley of all the blame (he lost good footwork on at least one throw, underthrew another pass, and didn't recognize coverage on one occasion), but it doesn't look like he's getting the help he needs from his men up front to make good decisions with the ball. It's a worrying sign, especially with good to great pass rushing teams like USC, Oregon and the Furd on the radar. (The caveat is that UCLA might be as good at getting to the quarterback as any of those schools, so maybe this will be some of the best pressure we've faced all year).

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