(For those who want to read more about the Cal defense vs. Oregon offense, check out my notes on the first half Cal run defense vs Oregon run offense here. 19 pages, 5800+ words, $3. More Cal-Oregon free/paid content to come.)
The zone-read attack can be deadly effective, particularly with the way they can take a defense's greatest, meanest, most athletic player and hamper his impact on the overall result of the play. The Ducks tend to try and leave these heralded defenders unblocked, forcing them to read the play before they can react to it. Agility and mental awareness are critical to ensuring Oregon doesn't get the better of their defense.
Former Cal and current Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan would qualify as one such individual Oregon would rather not block all game long. Jordan was forced to read the play on several occasions in the ball game, but early on #97 held his own.
Here's the video of the first crucial Jordan read below.
After the jump, further explanation.
4th and short, first drive of the first half (12:52 1st quarter) for Oregon. The Ducks are in their standard shotgun formation, have tight end on the right, two recievers aligned to the left, with a third (Lavasier Tuinei) coming in motion to the line of scrimmage. Cal is in a 3-3-5.
At the snap, a few blocks unfold. On the left side, #92 Trevor Guyton bullrushes #77 Carson York to try and force him backwards. He gets great push and forces him a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. Remember that. Also, #68 C.E. Kaiser engages #40 Aaron Tipoti. This isn't as glamorous as Guyton's push, but Tipoti maintains his ground.
Meanwhile, #79 Mark Asper gets a hand on CamJo before moving on to his next assignment, the inside linebacker. It's reading time, Mr. Jordan.
Jordan is left alone as the Oregon right side of the line turns to outside blocking technique and open a hole for LaMichael James to attack. James is probably trying to take the original inside lane.
As for the read, if Jordan crashes toward the running back, Darron Thomas will withdraw the ball and keep it for himself, as he'd now have a good shot at winning the outside edge. If he holds his ground, Thomas will probably give it to the better ball-carrier in James, who is more likely to pick up the yards than Thomas would in open space against Jordan.
Notice also the receiver is going in motion just as Jordan is getting in position to defend it. Is it possibly being used to disguise the handoff from Jordan, forcing him to make a delayed decision on whether to pursue quarterback or running back?
It seems that the motion receiver Tuinei had some effect on the play, as you'll see that Jordan is still stuck to his position a second or so after the handoff. Perhaps the pulling receiver did do a good job in slowing down Jordan's reaction time--this was after all the first time he was read in this game, and he might not have been prepared for a man in motion to block his view of the zone-read. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Thomas had kept the ball for himself and followed his lead blocker; he might have had an easier shot at picking up the first down than James trying to wade through the labyrinth of blockers and defenders.
James receives the handoff, and does consider going straight ahead, but immediately thinks otherwise and stutters toward the outside, trying to find a better cutback lane.
That lane will not appear, as Jordan's teammates have his back. Guyton doesn't get the initial tackle, but he has the greatest impact here. He not only forces York backwards, he eventually disengages and takes James head-on. A little bit more understated is Tipoti, but his ability to hold ground keeps himself in one spot and plugs up another hole for James to try and attack to pick up the first. Because of the efforts of these two other linemen, James is forced further outside into a tougher run.
And of course, how could we forget Mike Mohamed? Mohamed does a good job keeping his feet active, flowing playside, and only engaging with center Jordan Holmes for a few seconds before releasing, tracking and finding James to finish the play and give Cal the ball back.
So James was forced away from the first down marker with the remainder of the front six holding their assignments (like Holt and Tipoti) and others (Guyton and Mohamed) blowing them up. Cal's front seven played a crucial role in this contest, and they did their best to focus their efforts on keeping James checked.
Additionally, part of the reason this play is a turnover on downs is Jordan. Even though he took a second to react to who had the ball, he was still fairly close to the handoff when it took place. So despite the fact that Jordan is probably a second or two late to react to the play, because Jordan's original mesh is so good and Tipoti holds his ground, James believes the hole isn't good enough for him to punch the two yards necessary for the first down before Jordan wraps him up.
Even when Oregon tries to contain Cameron Jordan, he can still succeed. That's why he's a first round draft pick.
(Jordan was only read once more in the first half; you can check it out by buying my first half notes on the run game. But he was read a bunch more times in the second half; that'll be coming out in a bit.)