This crazy thoughts series includes thoughts on a new OOC rivalry game, Pac10 expansion, a new West Coast BCS bowl game, the salaries of assistant coaches, and the analysis of backup QB playing time Part I & II.
A quick glance at the passing game woes might suggest that Kevin Riley is not the quarterback to lead a successful passing attack against "good" teams and that Cal should investigate alternative options. However, there are a lot of different factors that go into a successful passing attack, and putting the blame on the quarterback, while tempting, is erroneous.
To investigate the play of Riley and the passing game, "good" competition was defined as:
- Pac10 opponents that Riley played against with 7 or fewer regular season losses. This includes everyone but ‘08/’09 Wazzu, ‘08 Washington, ’08 UCLA, and ’09 ASU. ’08 ASU had 7 losses and would have qualified if Longshore hadn’t played the entire game.
- Bowl-bound OOC teams that Riley played against. This includes Michigan St (‘08), Maryland (‘08 but not ‘09), Minnesota (’09), Colorado St (’08), and Utah (’09).
- While this includes stats from the 2008 season, it only includes Riley’s 2008 stats. Any pass attempts by Longshore in games shared with Riley (e.g., 2008 Michigan St) or games where Riley did not play (e.g., 2008 Miami) were not accounted for in this analysis.
- Data generated against obvious prevent defenses that had large leads were omitted. This includes the ‘09 Oregon St and ’09 Utah games, as well as the last three drives of the ’08 Maryland game.
- Data generated in ’07 was omitted. The ’07 squad, which had NFL talents like Forsett, Stevens, Jackson, Hawkins, and Jordan, was too different from the offensive talent on the ’08 and ’09 squads.
Indeed, there are flaws in this definition of "good" competition that are duly acknowledged. Sharing a different definition is encouraged.
Riley, with a completion percentage of 51 and 55% in the last two years, has connected with his receivers at a 47% clip against the sampled "good" teams. Sources of error and insignificance deserve further comment. Note that the number of passing attempts includes throw-away as well as dropped- and tipped-passes, and it is likely that these would be higher in this sample than in games versus middling opponents. Also, note that the only games in 2008 where Riley took all of the snaps were the contests against Maryland, Oregon St, and Stanfurd. That year Riley played the majority of the contest vs. Michigan St, the second half vs. USC, and the last quarter vs. Arizona. Playing in only a part of the game, as he did in the latter two games, should be noted. The Opponents Passing Defense YPG ranking in the chart, used to get an idea of the defenses that Cal faced, should not be used to draw significant conclusions. Anyway, let’s look at these numbers a little bit more in depth.
- The passing game scored 0.8 TDs per game.
- For every TD thrown, Riley was sacked 3.1 times, an average of 2.5 times per game.
- For every TD thrown, there were 1.5 quarterback-related bad plays (interception, INT or forced fumble, FF), an average of 1.2 times per game. Note that quality of the INTs was not analyzed (e.g., end of half/game Hail Mary vs. getting Pick Six’d) or if the FF was recovered by Cal. Note that the FF could have occurred on a Riley scramble and not necessarily a sack.
- The ’09 UCLA game was the O-line’s best pass protection performance and also Riley’s best performance. This is particularly impressive since that was a road game and UCLA featured a talented and successful defense.
- As Cal’s O-line goes, Riley goes, and the team goes: All 9 losses occurred when Cal gave up 3+ sacks. Cal’s 8 wins occurred against teams that only sacked Riley twice or less. This makes sense if you believe that nearly a full proof way to kill a drive is to yield a sack. Additionally, 9 of Riley’s 13 INT’s occurred in the games where he was sacked 3 or more times. Certainly, one could presume that Riley’s ability to judge the heat that was coming, go through his progressions, and connect with his receivers was hampered when he was frequently pressured. Things become particularly dire if one considers that the punt team could have a woopsie, and that Gregory’s defense will likely let the opponent have the ball for a long period of time. This can likely lead to a change in the score and also prevent the offense from ‘getting back after it’ in a timely fashion. The sacks are cancerous.
Riley and the passing game are quite competitive (8-0) against good competition when he is not pressured. Riley’s thrown 11 TD’s and 4 INT’s in this sample when sacked less than 3 times. However, I should note that this includes several partial games from the 2008 season, and that this success was enjoyed only thrice in 2009. These 3 teams (Minnesota, UCLA, and Stanfurd) had a combined record of 21-18.
The blueprint to beating Cal is out: stack the line of scrimmage (LOS) with one or more safeties with the corners up tight (5 yards from the LOS). This allows the opponent to aggressively pursue the ball carrier if a running play is on or get pressure on Riley if a passing play is on. Pass rushing pressure on Riley will likely result in a sack/FF, feeble scrambling attempt, a throw-away, a throw into coverage/INT, or an air-mailed ball. This is because the opponent’s risk of a big play by Cal, particularly if they have the athletes, is fairly low considering they’re bringing more heat than concentrated sulfuric acid mixed with 50% sodium hydroxide.
It is this author’s opinion that Cal can have an 8-10 win season only if several adjustments are made in the passing game. Talking points:
1) Cal’s pass blockers (including the TE, FB, and RB) need to keep the heat off of the QB. Additionally, it appears that when Riley has time, he frequently needs to use every nanosecond of it and still releases the ball under duress. Perhaps someone else could expand more on these two subjects; I just don’t have the knowledge.
2) Perhaps more Wild Grizzly and max protect packages will be utilized. Might Cal go to a more run-dominated offense with complimentary talents like Vereen (balanced), Yarnway (power), and Sofele (speed) matriculating through the program? Critics of the O-line may say that the running game failed as well this year. However, it is this author’s opinion that the Wild Grizzly could indeed undergo further refinement; Sofele getting fly more sweep opportunities, Vereen passing the ball, and Riley, perhaps, could get a chance to pass out of such a formation. If a more dynamic and successful Wild Grizzly is implemented, coupled with the tackle-breaking potential of Yarnway, then I believe the running game could produce better results without the O-line changing significantly. Perhaps a successful and frequently utilized running game would allow the passing game to catch the defense off guard and ensure a high probability of moving the ball forward per pass attempt (Oregon?).
3) H. Brock Mansion is tall. Brock Mansion has a 3" height advantage on Riley and Sweeney, and a 2" on the recently injured Alan Bridgford, III. Anyway, the point is that Mansion, if all things are equal (and that’s a key part), may have better success if Cal’s unable to keep the heat off the QB. Mansion’s frame could result in better field vision, an ability to take a hit/hold onto the ball until the last possible nanosecond, resulting in less panicked roll outs, and less tipped balls (although tipped passes at the LOS were not a significant reason that Cal’s passing game has struggled). Of course, whether he can do all of the other things that Tedford and other offensive coaches love (leadership, huddle management, reading the defense, completing passes for positive gains, etc) will obviously be most important.
4) Beau Sweeney has a rich history. His dad played for the Dallas Cowboys, and his grandpa coached Jeff Tedford at Fresno St.
5) Mr. Accurate? Rivals.com rated Bridgford as the fifth most accurate passer in the nation. How one calculates that is another thing.
6) O-line help on the way? For the RT position, pray to Bak-Bak that Charles Siddoway breaks out. All-Pac10 selection Mike Tepper spoke highly of Edwards, who played little in the 2009 campaign after a mercurial 2008 season, his first at Cal. RG could see a combination of either Schwenke, Cheadle, or Guarnero (RG in 2008 RG, C in 2009). C could feature Guarnero or possibliy Galas or Brazinski, two highly touted high school recruits. The left side of the line seems the most stable if the talented Summers-Gavin can stay healthy (A’s fans remember similar statements with Chavez), and if Schwartz can return to his freshman All-American form at LT.
7) WR’s should improve on their pass-catching abilities. With the graduation of Boateng and Tucker, I hope that this enables Jones, Calvin, Ross, Lagemann, and the new recruits to obtain epoxy-coated hands. You touch it, you catch it.
What are your thoughts?