The following is an analysis post that was sent to me by a fellow film junkie, long time reader of CGB, but forever lurker. This person goes by the pseudonym "LiffeyTroll". They did a great job breaking down some film of the 2011 Cal vs. Utah game, and how Utah's star defensive tackle Star Lotulelei impacted (or not) the game. Give it a read. It's good stuff.
In the Cal-Utah roundtable Berkelium97 made the following comment about his recollection of last year's game:
"I am especially pleased that I did not recognize the name Star Lotulelei when he received all the preseason hype this year"
I didn't recognize the name either so I decided to look back at last year's game and figure out why. After watching the first half I discovered that Lotulelei (#92) certainly made his presence felt. On this play (8:24 1st quarter) he flushed Maynard out of the pocket and into a dangerous pass that KA21 turned into a 1st down.
Lotulelei , circled in red, is lined up directly over the center. He is going to anticipate the snap count and singlehandedly disrupt Cal's play showing a quickness that may be his most dangerous attribute.
At the snap of the ball (notice the Center's right hand still between his legs) Lotulelei already has his hand on the right shoulder of the Center. He anticipated the snap count, the rest of the linemen on defense and offense are still in their stances.
92 is showing us a perfectly executed swim technique and the ball hasn't even reached the quarterback yet.
If Lotulelei is so quick, why wasn't he making tackles in the backfield and making us miserable all day? Well, he didn't start moving at the same time as the ball every snap for one, but he also was vulnerable to the double team. The next play was one of the longest running plays of the game for Cal.
Cal is going to run the ball using the read option that Hydrotech has described so well in his play break downs (1:35 1st quarter). Lotulelei is in red lined up over the left guard. Cal is going to double team at the point of attack, which is Lotulelei. The right Guard, Cheadle, (in blue)will pull: take a step directly left and run parallel to the line of scrimmage then turn right lead the runner into the hole. The Defensive End, in yellow, will be left unblocked and he is the one that will be read on the option.
Option time! Maynard reads the end who is shifting to the right (maybe to keep contain and funnel the ball back towards Lotulelei and the linebackers?). Lotulelei is being blown off the line of scrimmage. The backside guard is pulling into the hole from where Lotulelei was evicted.
Maynard keeps the ball and follows his guard through the hole. Lotulelei is getting a ride out of town.
Utah's linebacker #23 has over run the play (circled in green). Lotulelei is so far out of the play that one of his blockers, Cal's left Tackle (Schwartz), has chipped onto a linebacker (in purple). Maynard (in orange) is still following his guard who has no one to block.
The play is so successful that Maynard won't be tackled until he catches up to his guard (who is still searching for someone to block). It is actually a linebacker, #52, who tackles him and that is only because 52 turned around and ran away from Schwartz.
Double teaming Lotulelei didn't always work. Here is 1st and 10, Cal is lined up in the eye formation and plans to run right at Lotulelei (13:30 2nd quarter). At the snap he is the first D-lineman off the ball. The Cal Center and left Guard are already starting a double team at the point of attack.
Unlike the previous play, this time the double team does not move Lotulelei off the line of scrimmage. Cal's left Guard was responsible for the double team only long enough for the Center to establish his block. In this frame he is already starting to chip up to the linebacker. If the center can hold the block alone, Sofele will have a large hole and his Fullback as a lead blocker which could lead to a big play.
Unfortunately, the Center could not block Lotulelei alone. He penetrates into the backfield and forces Sofele to bounce outside where the defensive end is waiting. To make things worse, the linebacker has hit the hole before the left Guard could get to him forcing the fullback to block him and making a pile of bodies. With nowhere to go Sofele is tackled for a loss. Lotulelei caused this carnage by getting a lightning quick start, standing up the double team, engaging his blockers long enough to free the linebacker, and then beating the Center to force the running back to bounce his run before he could reach the hole.
The final play I will breakdown (13:48 2nd quarter) is one where Lotulelei's coaches moved him out of position to make a play. Here Utah will use Lotulelei (circled in red) on a stunt. The Defensive End will crash down and engage the Offensive Tackle and Tight End while Lotulelei tries to loop outside. While this might be a good idea for a pass rush, Cal has something else in mind 5 yards from the goal line.
Cal will once again run a read option. Lotulelei is in the red circle, he is on the back side of the play; the blue circles are where Cal will double team; in the yellow circle is the defensive end that Maynard will read on the option. The Center is uncovered and is locked in on blocking the linebacker.
As the play moves along, Maynard holds the Defensive End by staring right at him. The Double Teams are engaged and the Center is still locked in on the linebacker. Lotulelei has taken a step back and to his right as he begins on his stunt towards the left end of the line.
Maynard keeps staring at the Defensive End... The double team on the right side of the Cal line has worked so well that the guard is beginning to chip to a linebacker (which means he is disengaging from the double team and looking for someone else to block). The center hasn't looked away from the linebacker. Lotulelei's stunt has moved him behind his own Defensive End, the double team blocking the D-End and the Cal Guard assigned to block him, he is effectively irrelevant. This has resulted in a hole 5 yards wide where he used to be.
Now Sofele has the ball but the defensive end has been mesmerized by Maynard and has eyes only for Zach (likely due to the previous read option where he burned the defense). The center has finally engaged the linebacker and blue jerseys have eclipsed the Utah D-line. The Utah safety figures out what is happening and is the only man with a hope to stop a touchdown.
The center blocks the Utah linebacker into the safety, Cal's right guard is looking for someone (anyone?) to block, the defensive end finally realizes he has been had and Lotulelei is in no position to make a play.
Touchdown Bears! The play was run right up the middle where Utah's best lineman was lined up but Utah stunted #92 away from where he might have made a difference.
Later in the game Lotulelei had some plays where he shined. When blocked 1 on 1 in a zone blocking scheme, Lotulelei was able to push his blocker into the backfield and make a one armed tackle for a loss (6:59 2nd quarter). He didn't show a great pass rush from the D-tackle/Nose Guard position which might be why Utah tried using him on a stunt. He showed great balance at the goal line (8:40 3rd quarter) when he refused to go down under the weight of multiple blockers and fought to get to the ball carrier. Once again this was after he anticipated the snap count.
My impressions (from the admittedly one game) I watched is that Lotulelei is certainly quick and he is devastating when he anticipates the snap count. He had trouble fighting the double team and will need to improve because he will see plenty more double teams this year and first round picks shouldn't get blown off the line. He plays best when he can fire straight ahead, engage the blocker across from him early and use his strength and balance to disrupt plays. When his first move is lateral or backward he plays upright and is much more easily blocked. He doesn't collapse the pocket on passing plays and he is not one of those D-linemen who are going to chase a play 10 yards downfield. He isn't a sideline to sideline pursuer, more like hash mark to hash mark.
That said, he could be a monster this year if he spent the off-season focused on strength and conditioning.
The director of the broadcast certainly knew who Lotulelei was because no Utah defender had more pre-snap close up shots than #92.