What are your thoughts about playcalling in the Big Game?

Ezra Shaw

Like it, love it, hate it, forgot it? Do you think Cal made the right playcalls in the Big Game? Let's look at some specific plays and then get your opinion.

How happy were you with the overall gameplan? Looked like we decided to run up the middle and challenge the Cardinal by beating their great front seven with the run game on 1st down. That makes perfect sense because it doesn't make any sense at all. Where were the stretch plays? The trick plays? Anything to put Furd on their heels?

LeonPowe: Normally I stay away from criticizing play calling. I always figure that some missed an assignment or went the wrong way on a block or something which blew up an otherwise decent play call - or at least a play call which set up something down the road. What is . . . puzzling . .. to me is that I thought we found a way for our offense to be effective against a good front seven like Furd. We ran it all against UCLA. Quick passes. Slants. Get Maynard moving. Run wide against a big, but not especially fast defense. It never felt like we were trying to play to our speed advantage/size disadvantage.

Kodiak: I re-watched the game (sigh) to try to get a sense of what in the world was up with our offense. There were a few head-scratching and ugly sequences, but for the most part it appeared that we were trying to use the short passing game with runs sprinkled in for variety. The big problems were execution errors, penalties, and inaccurate Maynard repeatedly put us into third and long. For example, we started the game trying an end-around to Treggs. But CJ missed his block, Rodgers missed his block and now we've got 2nd and 16.(Ironically, had there been a check-with-me, we might have audibled out of that play because their LB was blitzing from the slot and blew it up.) We also tried a play-action roll-out screen to the fullback...which Maynard overthrew. We tried some quick screens to both KA and Harper. But these didn't go for much because we weren't able to block on the edges effectively. We tried to hit the TE over the middle and Maynard just flat kept missing him. Not sure if we just didn't call any true zone reads, or if Maynard opted to hand it off each time. It looks like their OLBs were staying home and maintaining outside contain because they knew that we couldn't run up the middle.


It looks liked we tried to start the 2nd half with a trick play where Isi took the pitch and was going to throw...but bad blocking turned that into a loss. Besides sloppiness and mistakes, the other issue is that Stanford was able to get pressure only sending 3-4 guys. I can't say that our playcalling was masterful, but I think that it's lower on the blame list behind blown assignments and inaccurate throws.

Unclesam22: It really seemed like after the first few negative plays everyone on the offense went into hyper mode, which meant they forgot what they were supposed to do and no one executed well. I think there were some decent plays called that would have made positive yardage but Stanfurd seemed ready for all of those and just blew up a ton of stuff in the backfield. The Cardinal knew exactly what to do to take Cal's offense out of their rhythm and they did it to perfection. It did seem like some of the playcalling went away from what was successful the past few weeks, but honestly, I'm not sure anything would have worked since the entire O was so out of sorts.

JahvidKnowsBest: I thought it was pretty infuriating. We had the talent to play with these guys. No one could honestly argue that Washington has a more talented offense than we do, yet UW was able to play with these guys. By running up the middle, we gave our running backs no chance against these guys. Don't know why we didn't use the Bigelow sweep play (the where he broke for 6 against Ohio State on), plays of that nature would have nullified Stanford's size advantage.

NorCalNick: I have a much harder time getting a sense of the play-calling quality while actually at the game - TV replays really help, and god knows I'm not going to go back and rewatch the hideousness. But what I think happened is that the coaching staff called lots of plays that worked against UCLA and Washington State. It didn't seem like anything vastly different.

So, that neither excites or enrages me. My perspective is simple: There was probably no way to scheme around the level of domination Stanford's front 7 displayed over Cal's blockers. When plays are getting blown up so consistently and so badly, what are you going to call? What is going to work? It becomes academic.

Goal-line playcalling. Five runs up the middle into the front seven? Maynard keeper? What was that?

LeonPowe: It's like Tedford has forgotten what got him to this point. Fake tight end block and release. Fake fullback dive and flip to the tailback. We can't go power against power with the Furd - why not get some misdirection, or movement. We have the skill players. Maynard, for all his faults, is an excellent athlete. It's like we wanted to go toe to toe with Stanfurd at THEIR strength.

Unclesam22: I agree with LeonPowe that we have used a whole different set of plays that would have seemed to have been more successful against such a strong front. And like Kodiak, I would have liked to have seen one of our receivers, most likely Keenan, have a chance to make a play. Clearly the coaches thought differently and play-called as such, so I guess they saw something there they thought they could take advantage of. Just seemed a little out of character for Cal.

JahvidKnowsBest: We have a 6'3 receiver who will go in the first round. He is a goal line fade/slant machine. I'd rather see 5 passes to Keenan Allen running any route than trying to run on that front seven in the red zone. At least run to the outside if were going to run on them!

Kodiak: And this would be one of those ugly sequences. I didn't have an issue w/ the QB keeper...if it were run on 2nd down. It's tough that CJ was hurt on the 1st play. I think the empty set with CJ and Rodgers lined up as receivers gives us more options. At risk of going all armchair and eagle-eye hindsight, I would have liked at least one attempt to let KA make a play.

Avinash: FYI, C.J. was injured going into the game from the WSU game.

I guess I'll just ask if people felt Bigelow should've seen the field more, not only to spell C.J., but at least as a decoy in space to try and get Furd to respect him.

NorCalNick: I really wanted to see a Bigelow sweep - he's the fastest guy on the field, let's see if he can beat everybody else to the corner. I wouldn't have minded seeing the slant patterns that Cal used to score twice against UCLA, although perhaps if Stanford was playing zone coverage (no, as previously stated, I will not be going back to look at the film!) that wouldn't have worked.

4th and 1: Shotgun draw. WHAT?

Ohio Bear: I abhor the shotgun on 4th and short. I don't get why we would snap the ball back and necessarily give ground. Sure, I know that even if you line up under center you might give ground depending on if you run a pitch or a deep handoff, or a delay, or whatever. But at least there, you are still giving the look that it may just be a power run or a sneak or something quick in the gap.

And just the idea of it: really? We think we need to line up in a shotgun in order to get a yard. We have to resort to finesse to get a 4th and 1 because we don't have confidence that we can get it otherwise. That's disheartening.

LeonPowe: I am not as anti 3rd and long delayed draw as everyone else around here. But this call just seemed set up to fail. Again, we're a faster, smaller team. Why not play to our advantage?

Kodiak: Maybe this is something the coaches saw on film. Stanford really struggled to stop the delayed draw run against Arizona. Considering that Maynard missed receivers on almost every other short yardage conversion attempt, I could see that they wouldn't want to put the ball in his hands.

Unclesam22: I just think that after watching our Oline get manhandled all day you want to call a play that gets someone outside, releases a TE, or makes the Dline pause just long enough to make the yard that is needed. I don't think that play is an automatic bad call every time, but in that situation I disagree with it.

JahvidKnowsBest: I think Tedford saw this play, and said to himself, "...that just might be crazy enough to work," hoping it would be play the Furd would least expect us to run. More than anything this shows that Tedford has lost confidence in Maynard's arm in critical situations. Maybe they saw something on film.. who knows, but I couldn't help but feel like we were playing into Stanford's strengths all day.

HydroTech: I suppose the reasoning behind going to shotgun on 4th and 1 is to spread out the defense. I can't recall the personnel package for this play but I'm guessing it was 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB). We probably were trying to get the defense to spread out giving Maynard some room to run.

If the play works, nobody complains. If the play doesn't work, everyone complains.

On the other hand, yeah, I guess Cal could have just ran the ball up the middle out of 22 personnel (2 TEs, 2 backs) or 23 personnel (3 TEs, 2 backs). But then again, Cal fans hate running up the middle ever since Cal couldn't convert a 1st and goal on the 1 yard line back in 2007 with four runs up the middle.

So I mean, either the offensive line and other blockers at the point of attack win their positional battles and the runner gets in so fans don't complaint, or else Cal fans are always going to complain about the playcall and how stupid it is. I'm not the coaches, I didn't scout Stanfurd before this game, but perhaps they were trying to exploit something. Perhaps they thought the defense would fan out more on the pass rush opening up something inside. Perhaps they thought the defense would actually respect the threat of pass more if we went to shotgun. I don't know. But there are positives and negatives to every type of play and formation. It just didn't work this time and that's that. It happens.

And although I haven't seen the film yet, I do seem to recall someone losing their positional battle on the offensive line which let the defender in pretty easily to stop Maynard. So the problem here seems to be not so much the playcall or scheme, but just execution.

Avinash: Hydro, I think you phrased that wrong. The Maynard draw was a 3rd and goal play. The 4th and 1 play was the handoff to Sofele. I think you meant the same thing though (giving Sofele room to run rather than Maynard).

Kodiak : No, you were right, Hydro.

Jordan Rigsbee completely whiffed on his block. The Furd DE kept outside contain. So Maynard handed off to Sofele. T. Rigsbee left the DE unblocked and went to the 2nd level to take on the LB. But because Jordan completely whiffed on his guy, Sofele got stopped in the backfield.

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