Re-Opening Old Wounds, Revisiting 2009 Cal @ Oregon Part VII: Gregory's Halftime Adjustments

In case you missed the previous posts in this series, you may find them here: Part I: The DL Zone Read.  Part II: A Defensive StopPart III: Baited & BustedPart IV: Passing to DicksonPart V: Passing to Dickson, AgainPart VI: The Zone Read Playaction.

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Author note:  I know everyone is tired of reading about Cal's the 2009 Cal @ Oregon game -- arguably one of Cal's worst losses in perhaps a decade.  This is the final post in this series, and perhaps what some people might find the most interesting.  Please bear with me through this final post.  I will try to keep it short and simple.

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What's so interesting about this final post?  I'm going to discuss whether Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory made half time adjustments or not. 

It's common Cal fan folk lore that Bob Gregory never made half time adjustments.  To prove that point, many Cal fans use the 2009 Cal @ Oregon game as the prime example.  After all, Oregon scored 25 points in the first half alone, and put on another 17 points in the second half.  Clearly, no adjustments were made right? 

WRONG. 

It's about time to put the un-researched, mindless statement that Gregory did not make any halftime adjustments to rest. 

I'm not here to defend Gregory and proclaim him the greatest defensive coordinator ever.  I'm just trying to put the truth out there.  The truth which many people choose to ignore merely based on their disdain for Gregory. 

So let's take a look at what adjustments Gregory made after half time. 

Actually, before I get into what adjustments Gregory made after half time, I need to talk about what he was doing before half time. 

So what was Gregory doing before half time? 

In short, he was playing a lot of zone coverages.  In my previous posts, I showed you the various zone coverages he was using.  Such as the:

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Tampa 2 defense (above).

 

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A Tampa 2 variant with five underneath zones (instead of the usual four underneath zones).

 

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A three-deep and three under zone defense (above).

 

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A quarters defense with three underneath zones (above).

 

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A two-deep four underneath zones (above).

 

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And finally a quarters defense with underneath zones. 

 

I'm sure you're probably all wondering: "WHY SO MANY ZONE DEFENSES???"

Answer: It keeps the play in front of the defense. 

As I've learned from Gregory from my time with the team, and as Jonathan Okanes reiterated in this chat transcript:

From talking to some players, it seems Pendergast has simplified things and simply let them "go play football," as one player told me. Gregory admitted at times in the past that they might be scheming too much and needed to keep things simple. And he has a more aggresive philosophy than Gregory, who preferred the "keep the play in front of us" approach. As with Genyk, he seems to be more detail-oriented and has been more involved with the kickers (since he has a strong background coaching kickers).

Is zone defense a bad thing?  No.

Do zone defenses have weaknesses?  Yes. 

Are man defenses superior to zone defenses?  The answer is not clear.  They both have their benefits and drawbacks. 

Why might Gregory want to specifically play zone defenses against Oregon?  Because Oregon is so frickin' good. 

Why is Oregon so frickin' good?  (1) Because they have really fast offensive players; (2) their QB can run; (3) their QB can pass too; (4) they have a really good TE; (5) their plays are really fast developing plays which can easily confuse a defense; (6) their QB sells the handoff really well; (7) their offense can attack anywhere on the field via either run or pass; (7) their offensive plays have multiple options built into them making them extremely hard to defend and making it so the defense can't solely focus on one area of the offense; (8) man coverages will turn defenders' backs to the ball and will lose sight of the play thus taking themselves out of the play; (9) zone coverages can limit the offense's gains to a minimum and force the offense to drive the length of the field.

Playing zone defenses can help negate these advantages by keeping all eyes of the 11 Cal defenders tuned into the ball and where the ball is going. 

Is zone defense the correct defense to play against Oregon?  I don't know.  It's easy to say, in hindsight now that we know how this game went, to say "no." 

What are the alternatives to playing zone coverage?  Playing man coverage.

Why didn't Gregory play man coverage?  (1) Because it turns defenders' backs to the ball, where they lose awareness of the play, and can take themselves out of the play; (2) it requires extreme athleticism by all 11 defenders on the field to play man-to-man football against their offensive counterparts; (3) Oregon runs passing plays with WR routes which cross each other and are designed to "pick" defenders who are playing man coverage against the Oregon receivers. 

Should Gregory have played man coverage?  I don't know.  Sure.  Maybe.  Yes.  All of the above.  Again, there are no right or wrong answers.  Football doesn't always have a clear cut answer.  It's a complex game.

So what adjustments did Gregory make after halftime? Before we can answer this question, we have to discuss one more thing: what was Oregon doing in the first half of the game which made them so successful? 

What was Oregon doing in the first half of the game which made them so successful?  Well, when it came to passing the ball, they were flooding Cal's zone defenses.

What does "flooding" mean?  It means Oregon was sending multiple receivers to a small area of the field to out-number and overwhelm the Cal zone defenders in that area. 

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Above is an example of Oregon flooding the Cal zones.  The outside WR would run a comeback route.  The slot WR would run an out route.  The TE would run a flat route.  

So what halftime adjustments did Gregory make to defend against Oregon flooding the zones? Gregory shifted the Cal secondary defenders (safeties, and cornerbacks) towards the side of Oregon formation where the flooding was likely to occur.  See below.

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In this formation, it is likely that Oregon will flood the side of the field towards the top of the screen (offense's left side, and defense's right side).  This is because the Oregon offense has two WRs, and a TE to that side of the field. 

 

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Please note that this is now the 3rd quarter (after halftime).  What has Gregory done in the picture above?  He has moved the secondary defenders (cornerbacks and safeties) towards the possible flooded zone.  While the 3-4 defense is still on the field, now *BOTH* Cal cornerbacks (CBs) are to the side of the formation where the flooding will occur.  Doing this puts Cal's best pass defenders (including cornerback #5 Thompson) towards the area of the field where Oregon will likely pass the ball. 

On this particular play, Oregon ran the "pass to Dickson in the flat" play that I covered in Part IV and Part V of this series.  Thus, the Oregon QB rolled out to his left, while the outside WR ran a comeback, the slot WR ran an out route, and the TE (Dickson) ran a flat route. 

Gregory, however, continued to play zone defense out of this new alignment and formation.  He did not switch to man coverage.

 

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Above is a similar play offensive play where Gregory attempted to defend with his new halftime adjustments.  Note that Oregon has shown a formation which threatens to flood the open side of the field (the offense's right side of the field).  Oregon has two WRs to that side of the field, and is motioning a TE (Dickson) over to that side of the field too.  Thus, Oregon threatens to flood the defense's left side with two WRs and a TE (Dickson).

 

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Again, Gregory as the defense prepared for this look, and his shifted the secondary players (cornerbacks and safeties) towards the threatened-to-be-flooded side of the field (defense's left side).  Note how both Cal CBs are now to the defense's left side of the field. 

Gregory again sticks with zone defense out of this new defensive formation.

 

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And one last time, again Oregon comes out in a formation that threatens to flood the Cal defense's right side.  Note how Oregon has placed two WRs, and a TE (Dickson) to the offense's left (Cal's right side). 

 

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But Gregory does something completely different to defend on this down.  He does something he hasn't done at all in the first half of the game.  He places five defensive backs on the field (a nickel defense).  He puts his best pass defender, Cal cornerback #5 Thompson, in the slot aligned where Oregon TE Dickson is likely to run to on his route.  He places the Cal NT #44 Alualu on the prowl in the hook zones, and places four pass rushers (1 DE, 3 LBs) in an aggressive outside pass rush position on the line of scrimmage.

I'll be honest and say I have no idea what Gregory is doing here.  On this play, Gregory blitzed the DE, and the three LBs on the line of scrimmage (four total pass rushers), and dropped the remaining defenders into zone coverage.  Unfortunately, the play still resulted in an Oregon first down.  Clearly, Gregory was getting a bit desperate and was throwing some very unusual and odd looks at Oregon.

 

Conclusion:

Did Gregory make half-time adjustments?  Yes.  I've shown them above.

Did they work?  Not really.

Does Gregory suck?  That's for you to decide. 

Should Gregory have played man coverage in the second half?  Perhaps. 

Why didn't he play man coverage?  He probably thought the benefits of playing zone defenses outweighed the benefits of playing man coverage. 

One last time, what are the benefits of playing zone defenses rather than man coverage?  Quickly, see the brief summary below.

Zone defense benefits:
*Requires less athleticism from your defenders.
*Keeps the play in front of you, and all 22 eyes of your defenders on the ball.
*Won't take defenders out of the play.

Zone defense drawbacks:
*Makes the defense "reactive" rather than "proactive."
*Makes defenders susceptible to pump fakes. 
*Can be flooded by multiple offensive receivers.

Man coverage benefits:
*Tighter coverage on the receivers.
*Probably a safer option for aggressive blitzing rather than zone coverages.
*If the defenders jam the receivers, the jam can throw off the routes and the timing of the pass.

Man coverage drawbacks:
*Will turn defenders' backs to the ball, and take them out of the play.
*Requires a greater degree of athleticism and man coverage skills from your secondary defenders. 
*Susceptible to offensive passing plays with "pick" routes (which Oregon runs).
*Allows for easy QB scrambles.


Parting thoughts:

(1) I hope you enjoyed this series.

(2) Thank you for slogging through my long posts.

(3) I hope you learned something.  I definitely learned more about the Cal defense and Oregon offense from doing this series.

(4) If you'd like to see what playing man coverage against Oregon is like, here are a few examples:

     (a) youtube video play 1 (USC plays man coverage against Oregon; this play demonstrates the extreme athleticism that is required by all 11 defenders to match up against Oregon's personnel).

     (b) youtube video play 2 (USC plays man coverage against Oregon; this play play demonstrates the need for your secondary defenders to be very strong in man coverage)

     (c) youtube video play 3 (USC plays man coverage against Oregon; this play demonstrates how man coverage can allow for an easy QB scramble)

     (d) youtube video play 4 (USC plays man coverage against Oregon; this play demonstrates how all 11 defenders on the field must win their individual battle otherwise the offense will gain an advantage where that individual battle is lost.

     (e) youtube video play 5 (USC plays man coverage against Oregon; this play demonstrates how your secondary defenders need to be very good in man coverage)

(5) If you'd like to see two examples of Oregon's passing "pick" plays, click on this link to a youtube video and watch the following two plays until 9:11 on the video (click the link will open a youtube video in another window which I have set to start at the appropriate time).  For those of you who play NCAA football (for XBox or PS3), you might recognize this passing play as "double crosses" out of the shotgun 4 WR set (I think that's the name of the play, if I recall correctly) -- it's basically a drag/dig combo on one side of the formation and a drag/fade combo on the other side of the formation.

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