Golden Spectacles: A Closer Look at the Playcalling in Cal vs. UW

A quick look at the early playcalling. (No, I'm not doing the whole game.  My physician said that wasn't healthy for me.) 

1st Drive:
1st Play:
  1st and 10, Cal 20 yardline.  2 TE, 1 RB.  7 in the box.  Fake end-around to KA, hand-off to Vereen who goes over right guard for 10 yards.
Analysis:  Nice misdirection.  The outside LB gets frozen by the feint to KA and allows Vereen to cut upfield.



2nd Play:  1st and 10, Cal 30 yardline.  2 TE, 2 RB.  7 in the box.  Inside zone run left, Vereen makes a nice cut back over right guard for another 10 yards.
Analysis:  Good hat on hat blocking.  Ladner gets away with a hold. (whew)  Nice vision and power from Vereen






3rd Play:  1st and 10, Cal 40 yardline.  WildBear formation, 7 in the box. (really UW?  Really?)  KA takes the snap, fakes to Vereen while reading the unblocked DE.  The DE doesn't bite on the fake and drops KA for a short gain. 
Analysis:  Good play design forcing the DE to chose between our two best players on offense...He either guessed right, or was disciplined in his assignment to stay with the player receiving the initial snap.  I didn't know you were allowed to not crash inside and hit the RB...






4th Play:  2nd and 9, Cal 41 yardline.  2 RB, 2TE, 1 WR.  8 in the box.  Toss sweep to Vereen around right tackle.  Good for 5 yards.
Analysis:  Makes sense.  Our lighter O-line is better at getting out on the edges than blowing people off the ball. 






5th Play:  3rd and 4.  New formation.  Shotgun with Sofele and Vereen behind and to either side of the QB.  7 in the box.  Both Vereen and Sofele peel off running swing routes.  UW's 2 OLB's show blitz, but drop into coverage.  They only rush 3...But their DT drives Guarnero five yards deep into the backfield and into Mansion's face.  To make our hapless center feel better, Schwenke/Edwards are also unable to double-team their DE, and he twists inside for the sack. (after running Schwenke over)
Analysis:  Interesting play design putting two playmakers in the backfield at the same time.  If he weren't eating turf, Mansion would have had his choice of either RB for a safe, easy swing pass.  Better than even chance that Vereen/Sofele would be able to juke one guy and make the 1st down.  Even with the Oline's epic failure, Mansion hesitates and takes the sack instead of getting rid of the ball.






2nd Drive: 

1st Play: 
1st and 10, Cal 34 yardline.  Shotgun formation.  FB lined up as wing to the right.  Vereen is lined up as a WR, then goes in motion.  Takes the handoff on the flysweep.  Fakes to Allen.  Runs for 14 yards.
Analysis:  Another cleverly designed play.  Looks like the UW defenders have been told to key on Allen.  Maybe this will slow them down.






2nd Play:  1st and 10, Cal 34, 2 TE's + 2 RB's, offset I, 9 in the box.  When the sole WR motions inside, another defender jumps into the box because we all know this is going to be a run.  It is.  The Oline doesn't get any push, so Vereen has to cut back.  He slips two tackles and breaks it for a 20 yard run.
Analysis:  Not so fond of this particular formation unless you're setting up playaction  We don't have the horses to consistently run against 9+ in the box.  I'm okay with the result, of course.  But, Vereen does this one mostly on his own.






3rd Play:  1st and 10, UW 46.  Shotgun formation, FB lined up as a wing to the right.  Same look that we used earlier this drive.  10 in the box.  Sofele lines up as a WR and goes in motion.  Takes the handoff on the flysweep.  Gets forced out after a 2 yard gain.
Analysis:  It worked the 1st time, but the defense is clearly overplaying the run now.  Kapp does a good job cutting his guy, but Edwards misses his block - this allows the defender to force Sofele wide and run laterally instead of upfield.  I thought this was going to be the counter set up by the 1st play out of the same look.  Even with the stacked box, it might have been a decent gain with good blocking.






4th Play:  2nd and 8, UW 44.  Shotgun, 3WR, 1RB.  6 in the box.  Zone-read look, gives to Sofele.  Sofele runs into his own blockers, but keeps his balance and bounces outside for eleven yards.
Analysis:  Nice use of the spread formation to get guys out of the box.  Good to see the zone-read early.  Decent push from the Oline this time.  Nice job by Miller downfield.










5th Play:  1st and 10, UW 34.  2TE, 2RB, offset I.  8 in the box with both safeties playing shallow.  Handoff to Vereen who gets stopped for no gain.
Analysis:  UW is keying on the run, and we cooperate with our "we always run" formation.  Play is blown up because both Schwartz and Edwards miss their blocks and let the UW defenders get into the backfield.  Looks like Edwards gets beat, and Schwartz is confused about who he's supposed to block.










6th Play:  2nd and 10, UW 34.  2 TE, 1 RB.  7 in the box with a safety cheating up at the snap.  WR motions inside and we hand it to Vereen who is stopped for no gain.
Analysis:  Not a bad job of blocking, but with a rare misstep, Vereen cuts inside instead of bouncing out.  It was open to create a manageable 3rd down.







7th Play:  3rd and 10, UW 34.  3 WR, 1 RB.  Shotgun.  7 in the box.  Sofele lined as a WR, goes in motion and receives the handoff on the flysweep.  Stopped for no gain.
Analysis:  This play gets blown up because KA misses his block.  It is somewhat doubtful that it would have gone for 10 yards.








8th Play:  4th and 10, UW 34.  3WR, 1 TE, 1 RB.  Shotgun.  UW has their nickel package in with only 3 down linemen.  Even only rushing 3, their DE beats Edwards and forces Mansion to step up.  He shows happy feet and overthrows an open KA at the 15.  Edwards is also called for the hold.
Analysis:  In a microcosm, these last two plays summed up the rest of the day for the Cal offense.  (Plus some really bad interceptions.)









Okay, now I've got concerns.  Calling 7 straight runs, including one on 3rd and 10 is telling everyone that you don't trust your QB to pass.  Which then makes the decision to go for it on 4th and 10 a bit of a head-scratcher.  The play call on 3rd down makes sense if you've already decided that you're going to go on 4th down...But to still go on 4th after being stopped for no gain...? 

And here's the rub.  I don't fault the individual playcalls themselves nor the concerted effort to pound the rock on the ground.  But I see mixed signals.  A lack of identity.  Who are we?  Are we a ball-control, conservative offense that plays field position, counts on our defense to set us up, and occasionally uses play-action to set up a deep ball?  Are we aggressive?  Are we spread?  Balanced?  Pro-style?  Do we use misdirection, scheme, and formation to get the defense off balance, or do we impose our will and try to go straight through them even if they know what's coming?  We are the jack of all trades, masters of none.

Let's look at the rest of the drives.(Yeah, I lied.  But these are just quick summaries - no pics or detailed analysis.)

1st Drive: 4 Rushes for 27 yards.  6.2 ypc

2nd Drive:  7 Rushes for 45.  6.4 ypc

3rd Drive: 
1st and 10, Cal 16.  Run for 2.  UW offsides.
1st and 10, Cal 21.  Pass for 20
1st and 10, Cal 41.  Run for 1
2nd and 9, Cal 42.  Screen pass loses 4
3rd and 13, Cal 38.  Incomplete pass under pressure
Insta-analysis:  Drive derailed by a TFL on 2nd, then an Oline miscue on 3rd.
2 Rushes for 3 yards.  1.5 ypc

4th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 29.  Play action, deep ball picked off.
Insta-analysis:  Got the match-up we wanted, but it's an underthrown ball.

5th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 20.  WildBear - KA for 6
2nd and 4, Cal 26.  Run for 3
3rd and 1, Cal 29.  WildBear - KA for 45
1st and 10, UW 26.  WildBear - Sofele to KA fumble loses 11.
2nd and 21, UW 37.  Screen pass loses 2
3rd and 23, UW 39.  Incomplete pass under pressure
Insta-analysis:  Drive killed by the fumble.
4 Rushes 42 yards.  10.5 ypc

6th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 20.  Rush for 1
2nd and 9, Cal 21.  Rush for 1
3rd and 8, Cal 22.  Mansion rushes for 19
1st and 10, Cal 41.  Rush for 22 called back by holding
1st and 20, Cal 31.  Rush for no gain.
2nd and 20, Cal 31.  Incomplete pass.
3rd and 20, Cal 31.  Pass for 12.
Insta-analysis:  Drive killed by the hold.
3 Rushes 21 yards.  7 ypc

7th Drive: (Hurry up - 17s to play)
1st and 10, Cal 35.  Incomplete pass
2nd and 10, Cal 35.  Pass for 22 yards.
1st and 10, UW 43.  Pass for 7 yards.
53 yard FG.

Cal 3, UW 0.

1st Half - 20 Rushes for 138.  6.9 ypc

8th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 13 (Due to PF penalty on the kickoff) Rush for 7.
2nd and 3, Cal 20.  Rush for 9.
1st and 10, Cal 29.  Incomplete pass.
2nd and 10, Cal 29.  Wildbear rush for 3.
3rd and 7, C 32:  Pass for 10.
1st and 10, C 42:  Rush loses 3.
2nd and 13, C 39:  Pass for 4.
3rd and 9, C 43:  Pass for 6.
Insta-analysis:  Drive reverses field position.  Looks like we're playing ball control.  TFL kills this one.
4 Rushes for 16 yards.  4ypc.

*UW scores their 80-yd TD here*  Cal 3 - UW 7.

9th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 13.  Bubble screen pass for no gain.
2nd and 10, Cal 13.  Rush for loss of 3.
3rd and 13, Cal 10.  Rush for 9 yards.
Insta-analysis:  Playing it safe due to lousy field position.  TFL on 2nd down kills this one, too.
2 Rushes for 6 yards.  3ypc

10th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 35.  Rush for 3.
2nd and 7, Cal 38.  Rush for 4.
3rd and 3, Cal 42.  Incomplete pass intended for Miller. (three defenders around him)
Insta-analysis:  They get pressure with just 3 guys again.  Mansion has to throw early because their DE beats both our LT and Vereen.  Good thing it's high, or this is a pick 6.
2 Rushes for 7 yards.  3.5ypc

*MikeyMo and Cam Jordan force a fumble and score here!  Cal 10 - UW 7.

11th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 44.  Pass for 9.
2nd and 1, UW 47.  Rush for 3.
1st and 10, UW 44.  Incomplete pass.
2nd and 10, UW 44.  Rush for 7.
3rd and 3, UW 37.  WildBear rush for 5
1st and 10, UW 32.  WildBear rush for 11.
1st and 10, UW 21.  False-start on Schwenke
1st and 15, UW 26.  Rush for no gain + Hold on Schwartz
1st and 25, UW 36.  Rush loses 1.
2nd and 26, UW 37.  Incomplete pass.
3rd and 26, UW 37.  Incomplete pass.
Giorgio hits a 47 yd FG.  Cal 13- UW 10.
Insta-analysis:  Promising run-oriented drive killed by penalties.
6 Rushes for 25 yards.  4.1 ypc

12th Drive:
1st and 10, Cal 32.  False start, MSG.
1st and 15, Cal 27.  Rush for 2.
2nd and 13, Cal 29.  Rush for 4.
3rd and 9, Cal 33.  Incomplete pass.
Insta-analysis:  Another penalty puts us behind the 8 ball.
2 Rushes for 6 yards.  3ypc

2nd Half - 16 Rushes for 60 yards.  3.75 ypc  (1st Half - 20 Rushes for 138.  6.9 ypc)

Upon further review, we really did try to run, run, run the ball.  Clearly, it became tough sledding once UW figured out that our passing offense was ineffective.  It still might have worked, but mistakes and negative yardage plays just killed us.(3 drives killed by penalties, 1 by a fumble, 3 by TFL's)

Final thoughts on the offense and the play-calling: 

1)  You can go chicken and egg all day on this one.  Either Mansion is simply not capable of being a competent Pac-10 QB at this point in time, so you call your plays a certain way...Or because you call your plays a certain way, Mansion(and the defense) knows you have no confidence in him and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Most of our failures over the past 4 starts have been from execution errors.  Playcalls were acceptable, but there were execution failures with the pass protection or with the throws themselves.  However at some point, you have to take a look at who is preparing the offense as a unit and the QB as a player.  Mansion looks like he's regressing, not progressing with more time on the field.

2)  There's no argument that Mansion performed very poorly.  The Oline did him no favors, but a number of misfires were completely on him.  I still believe he has talent we're just not seeing.  It looks like he's thinking too much.  Not playing instinctive.  And this is causing him to be off on his timing...hold the ball a tick too long...pass when he should run...pull the string on throws...paralysis by analysis.  It reminds me of how Riley looked when he was struggling.  I wonder if this is a coincidence?  Equally perplexing are the disappearance of the play-action rollouts that he seemed to run so comfortably during his first start as well as the lack of zone-read plays/QB keepers.  Square peg + Round hole = Troubling.  Dare we hope that Hinder, Bridgford, and Maynard are made of sterner stuff?

3)  It's been the same song all year.  Critical penalties on the Oline at inopportune times de-railed promising drives.  Or, guys getting beat leading to sacks or loss of yardage plays.  The sack and pressures when three rushers beat five blockers are particularly egregious.  Are these blown assignments?  Guys being beat one on one?  Or is the Oline set up to fail because the D knows what's coming?  The youth/inexperience card is out the window at this point.  Is this a question of technique?  Preparation?  Attitude?  Or do we simply lack the players?  Looking back, how big a deal was MSG's camp injury?  Before he got hurt, we had MSG at LT and Schwartz at his more natural RT position.  I suppose we still would have struggled at the guard positions...but it might have been nice to not have the revolving door at RT.  At least it might have been more like a turnstile...

4)  It's hard to point the finger solely at execution when the defense is clearly keying on certain players or formations.  But I suppose that if you are incapable of completing a pass greater than 10 yards down the field, the defense will eventually catch on.  Similarly, if your offense can't execute the counter play set up by your formation or motion, the original play will no longer be effective.  See:  Screen pass to RB lined up in the slot.  See:  Running to the side where the FB motions, or where the WR motions down.  See:  Running the flysweep to the side where the FB is lined up as a wing. 

Just like a big lead eliminates play-action as a viable feint, poor execution on Play A hamstrings the playcaller because now Play B and Play C which use Play A to set them up are ineffective. 

5)  The million dollar questions for our offense:  a)  Do we simply lack talent?  b)  Are we failing to coach up/develop our existing talent?  c)  Are we failing to put our talent in the best position to succeed?  d)  All or some of the above.  I have no answers.  It's not my job to have the answers.  I hope Tedford can find them this off-season.  Not to be a broken record...but I really hope he goes back to being hands on with the offense and especially with the QB's.  Doing the CEO bit is all well and good if you have a dynamic subordinate who can capably fill in for you.  If that's not the case, then maybe it's better to play to your strengths.  Considering the stark contrast between pre-2007 and post-2007 QB play and offensive production, perhaps it's time to dance w/ the girl that brung you.  Leave the head-butting to someone else and go back to what you do best. 

I am still thankful that we have Tedford at Cal.  He's a good man, genuinely cares about graduating our student-athletes, and represents our university with class.  He resurrected our program when we were the doormat of the Pac-10 and is directly responsible for our upcoming facility upgrades.  Even ignoring the financial near-impossibility of a contract buyout at this point, he has earned the right to see the benefits of the SAHPC,   And yet, I would agree that he deserves serious scrutiny with regards to his decisions during this off-season.  It simply cannot be business as usual. 

6)  A salute to all the readers and commenters.  You are what makes this community so enjoyable to participate in.  Yes, it's not easy being a Cal fan.  But enduring that unique combination of tantalizing near-success and the uncanny ability to snatch failure from the jaws of victory is why wearing the Blue and Gold is a badge of honor.  Despite the on-the-field struggles, it's been a lot of fun hanging out with you on game day or talking things over throughout the week.  (I hope you all stick around during bball season, too.)  Thanks for hanging in there and supporting CGB. 

So, it's time to lick our wounds and crawl back into our caves for another off-season.  I know Cal football is just waiting to break my heart again.  And yet I'll be back.  In the immortal words of Cal fans past, and present, "Maybe next year will be the year."

The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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