I want to take a look at the Stanfurd defense. Norcalnick in is defensive preview highlighted how anomalous the Arizona game was and others have asked how Arizona accomplished this feat. Hopefully this breakdown will shed some light.
The Stanfurd defense is built around pressure on the quarterback and on the nastiness of its linebackers. In fact in the introductions of the linebacker core during the Notre Dame game Chase Thomas called his unit the enforcers of the defense. You can see the nightmare Matt Barkley lived through in one of my previous posts. My enduring memory of the Stanfurd-USC game is this play:
Shayne Skov is MAYHEM, don't let MAYHEM happen to you.
I don't know if Arizona bought Skov insurance but Furd's attacking defense was effectively neutralized. Here is an example. Arizona is lined up with three wide receivers (the third one is just visible at the bottom of the screen) and H-back and running back to the right of their formation. Stanford has three D-linemen, three linebackers, two corners, two safeties and a nickle back (#15). The nickle back and #11, Skov, are showing blitz
At the snap the Arizona O-line goes into a Slide Left protection scheme in order to account for the pressure. The receivers all run 5 yard deep slant routes. The Stanfurd inside backers drop into a shallow zone coverage. Remember that whole "throw the ball to where the blitz came from" idea? Well Stanfurd has those receivers covered with linebackers under the routes and DBs over the routes.
Arizona Quarterback, Matt Scott, makes the kind of read you expect senior quarterbacks to make. He reads the circled safety and when the safety bites on the slot receiver's route it leaves the outside receiver in man-to-man coverage. Scott finds the advantageous match up for a big play.
On this play the protection is good, the correct read is made and the pass is delivered quickly and accurately. The pressure that Stanfurd hoped to generate wasn't able to materialize. The Furd defensive end even split the pass protection and may have been held by the center and left guard but the ball was already away.
On the next play Stanfurd brings pressure again. #17, A.J. Tarpley comes on a blitz. Arizona has 5 wide, four receivers (2 right, 2 left) and the running back split out left and five yards deep (equal to the QB).
After the snap, Tarpley has blown through the guard like he was tissue paper. The Stanfurd linebackers #44 Chase Thomas, #11 Skov and #93 Trent Murphy have all dropped into zone coverage while the defensive backs at the top of the screen are left in man-to man coverage. Two DBs are deep to the linebackers' zone. I don't know what type of coverage this is but it is probably a reaction to something they scouted on film. All four receivers run Go routes (or Fly routes all of which means they run straight down the field as fast as they can).
Whatever this play was supposed to be, the pressure from Tarpley means that Scott has to throw to his running back immediately (and it was likely that this was a pass to #25 the whole way). My favorite part of this play is how the UA running back, #25 KaDeem Carey, makes the Stanfurd linebackers look like they are playing flag football.
On the last pass play I will feature, Arizona uses a play action roll out to decrease the pressure that Stanfurd can bring. The formation for this play is the mirror image of the first play I showed, the running back and H-back are on the left with a single receiver split left and two receivers split out right. Stanfurd has 3 D-linemen and an outside linebacker showing blitz. Arizona fakes handoff to the running back who along with the offenzive line go to their right. Scott does a bootleg to his left while the H-back momentarily blocks the blitzing linebacker before releasing into the flat. Stanfurd defends with zone coverage.
The H-back and the wide receiver on the left, who is running a corner route are covered. Scott, goes to his third read and while backpedaling he throws across his body to thread the ball over the linebacker and between two defensive backs for a touchdown.
Lest you think that all of Arizona's success was through the air, I have an example of a running play as well since Ka'Deem Carey has 136 yards on the ground. If this formation looks familiar, it should, we just saw it. This time however the single receiver is toward the short side of the field (right) and there are two receivers to the wide side (left). Skov and Murphy are showing blitz. In fact Stanfurd is going to bring three players for the right guard and tackle to block, one is bound to get through.
Too bad that this is a Zone Read play. Murphy (circled) "stays home", or crash down on the running back which would give up his responsibility of contain. Scott sees this and hands the ball off to Carey. Skov and the attacking D-linemen on the right have taken themselves out of the play, the center #75 is successfully blocking the linebacker and the left guard actually has no one to block.
Carey has a choice, he can cut to his right or his left. Using very good vision he recognizes that the safety on the right (red) is crashing in run support but the one on the left (yellow) is late to the party. Carey cuts left.
Arizona was able to move the ball because they used Stanfurd's attacking defense against them. Can Cal do that they way Arizona did? No. We don't have that offense nor do we have Matt Scott. Can the Bears use the same principles that Arizona used? Yes.
Creating match up problems behind the almost constant blitz. Quick decisive passes are key. Correct reads are vital. Running the ball with cuts away from over pursuit. Moving the quarterback out of the pocket. Having outlet options available. Having play makers on offense. Cal can do all these things. The game has to be a track meet, not a slug fest or there will be Mayhem.
You can find my previous 2012 Big Game Week posts here: