This is the fifth play in my ill-conceived project to analyze every play of the 2nd offensive drive of the Cal-Nevada game. Honestly, what was I thinking?
This wasn't an important or successful drive in the game. But it is just for those reasons that I chose to analyze it. I'm not so interested in why plays work as why they don't work. And there was a lot of not-working going on in the offense last Saturday.
It is now 2nd and long. KA just slipped on a PA swing pass, so what do we do now? Let's dial up a play with 100% chance of win!
2nd and 12 from the Cal 42 yard line
Here's the video. You may want to hold your nose.
That could have gone better. It's a play-action pass to an out route by the TE. The pass goes awry and gnashing of teeth commences. To whom or what shall we direct our invective? Let's break it down and find out.
Here's the pre-snap:
Cal is in a shotgun formation. 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB. One TE is split out, and the RB is next to the QB in the backfield. It looks like the split TE is "covered up" at the line, which would be a bad thing. But luckily I don't know what "covered up" means and have basically no knowledge of formation regulations, and so the fact that there isn't a flag on the play for illegal receiver downfield means I don't know what I'm talking about here.
(Can someone explain how the split out TE can go out for a pass given that he and the wideout are both lined up on the LOS? Am I really showing my ignorance here?)
The defense is in their standard 4-3 look. Safeties nice and deep, LBs way off the line of scrimmage. The CBs are also deep, Treggs has a big 10 yard cushion. A very conservative defensive look.
So there should be some big holes for quick, short passes. And we call one! Perfection!
Here's the next look:
The play begins with a very tepid play action fake. The QB basically just holds the ball down by his knees, and the RB just runs across his face. Why not give a better sell on the play-action? Because something very interesting is happening on the line.
Two things to notice here:
(1) Cal is not using a standard pass blocking scheme. The LG is pulling across the back of the line. The RT has doubled one of the DTs, leaving the DE unblocked (for the moment). And the RB is going to be responsible for the gap that opens up.
(2) The Nevada DE across from the TE is giving him a nice shove to get him off his route.
Here it is again with high-quality graphics!
That's an unconventional pass-blocking scheme. I've seen it a few times from Cal, but it's sort of like your first romantic experience. Once you understand what's happening, it's over and you're not quite sure what to think about it. And it will be a long time before you see it again.
So I'm super happy that one of these plays happened during this sequence. Let's analyze! What is the purpose of this pass blocking scheme? Did it work?
The first thing to ask is why mess with the system at all. Why pull a guard and fill the gap with an RB. Wouldn't it be easier to not pull the guard and not have the gap in the first place?
The answer, I think, has to do with the play action element for two reasons:
1. By pulling the guard, an undisciplined defense might think power run first (where guards most often pull).
2. By double-teaming the DT on the right side of the line, and leaving, for a moment, the DE unblocked, it could look like a read-option.
So does the defense bite, or at least hesitate? Let's watch the beginning of the play again in slow-motion. Keep your eyes on the linebackers and the backside DE.
You may have to look at it twice, but the answer is that everybody on the backside of the play bites pretty hard on the play fake. How fooled? Consult this totally legit chart:
The MLB and DE bite super hard on the fake. My guess is that they saw the pulling guard and doubling RT and immediately thought "zone read."
Even the LB on the backside bites a bit. The only one who doesn't is the one we are trying to fool--the playside OLB. He is paralyzed, though.
So verdict on the pass-blocking scheme? It DOES work to sell the play action, with one notable exception. We'll get to why that exception happens in a moment, and why that might matter in the future.
But now it's time to look at those receiving routes!
The TEs go on five yard out routes, the WRs take slants in towards the middle. Since the coverage looks like a deep zone, there should be some open receivers. And there are!
Here is the picture as the pass is thrown. Not only is the TE at the top of the screen open, but the TE at the bottom of the screen is WIDE open. Bridgford just needs to make a competent throw, but he doesn't.
Is there a reason why the throw is so bad? Obviously, it is probably just a bad throw. But are there contributing factors? What is timing? What is the wind velocity and direction? In what phase is the moon? These are questions we need to answer before assigning blame.
Now, if we watch the routes closely, we see something funny. Look at the crossing routes at the top of the screen in the next clip. Doesn't it look like the TE and the WR almost run into each other?
Is that intentional? I'm not sure why you would want to design a play in which receivers have to dodge each other. The only thing I can think is that the routes are designed to take advantage of man coverage--by almost running into each other, defenders in man coverage might get picked.
But not only is the defense not showing man coverage, the secondary is so far back that any pick play wouldn't be effective. Meanwhile, if you watch closely, the TE has to bend his route back to get under the WR.
Here's a hyperbolic graphic demonstrating this, with speculative dialogue:
Now. It's hard, with a throw this bad, to gauge just how much of this failure was designed, and how much of it was accidental. But maybe there was a route mix-up? Bridgford's throw was behind and high. Now, imagine if the TE had gone another yard up, or bent his route upfield? Then Bridgford's throw wouldn't be quite so bad.
Even if this isn't the case, and even if the routes were supposed to almost run into each other, their imminent proximity may still have caused the QB to hesitate on his throw. The throw looks as if he expected the TE to stop right after the near collision.
Here is one theory, Bridgford started to throw to the TE, saw that he was about to collide with the WR, and assumed that he shouldn't lead him.
Or he just blew the throw.
WHY THIS NO TOUCHDOWN?
An easy answer: the QB misses an open receiver.
Slightly more complex speculation: the routes were not crisp and run according to plan, causing the QB to misjudge the receiver's path.
COULD IT HAVE BEEN TOUCHDOWN?
I think yes, but not necessarily with a better throw from the QB. My last argument here is that there are elements of this play that worked really well (the play-action fake on the wide side of the field), and others that didn't (the routes on the near side). Even if the QB had thrown an accurate pass, the TE would probably have only got a handful of yards, as there wasn't much room to work with.
If the throw goes to the other side of the field, where Rodgers is wide open in the flat, this is a big gainer. Why? Because the linebackers and DE on that side of the play bit hard on the play fake, whereas the LB on the other side didn't. Why didn't the nearside LB bite (remember, only 20% fooled?). I think the clue is in the next clip, not in the conservatory, and not with the lead pipe!
Did you see it? This angle is great because when the guard pulls, we get a clear view of the linebacker the QB is reading.
What a great view of the linebacker! You know why we have such a great view? Because the guard pulled! This was an unanticipated benefit of pulling the guard, the QB has a great view of the LB he's reading. If the LB follows the TE, he throws it to the WR. If the LB crashes on the run, the ball goes to the TE. Or a yard and a half behind him. sigh.
But this great view works both ways. The reason the LB is only 20% fooled is that he can clearly see that it's a play-action. Sofele doesn't even have his arms together, since he needs to be prepared to make a block.
Remember, earlier I said the play action fooled one half of the defense? I think it's because that side didn't have a clear view of the RB AND the run fake looked like it was going their way. You see where this is going, don't you? Armchair QB photoshop to the rescue!
Seriously, though, I do think that this play would work better if the play-action elements were pointing in the same direction as the throwing elements. The blocking scheme SCREAMS run to the right, which is why the LBs on that side crash so hard. That leaves the TE at the bottom of the screen wide open. Plus, if the QB were looking at the LB on that side, it would look even more like a read option.
The only reasons to run the throw to the left, I think, would be that the QB has better vision since the guard pulls, and that the throw is shorter and quicker.
1. Bridgford was having trouble hitting open receivers in stride.
2. The pass-blocking scheme really sold the play-action, but only to people who weren't involved in the play.
3. If the throw went to Rodgers instead of Wark, touchdown city-state! Or, conversely, incomplete pass on the other side of the field.
4. Nevada played really vanilla and conservative defense yet again. They were daring us to complete easy, short throws, and we barfed all over ourselves.
Whew. That was a long one. Thanks for reading! I appreciate the support!