A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. UCLA

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The defense played better. Special teams wasn't awful. And there were flickers of a running game...C'mon, work with me here. No signs of this Cal team mailing it in. We're thin, young, and taking our lumps, but don't code us just yet.

Folks have requested a look at why our running game has stagnated. So, we'll take a closer look on this spotlight.

Scenario #1: Whiffage. aka "Do You Even Lift, Bro?"

Cal comes out in 4 WR, 1 RB personnel. Two WR to each side, although Rodgers(#11) is positioned close to the line like a tight end. UCLA looks to be playing a 3-3-5 with one DE standing, an extra LB on the line of scrimmage, another threating blitz, and two deep safeties.

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At the snap, it's a power run off-tackle. Rigsbee (#73) pulls to the strongside while Rodgers (#11) moves from his slot position to the 2nd level to engage a linebacker...in theory...

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Unfortunately, Rodgers misses his block on one LB while Rigsbee misses his block on another. This leaves both of them free to create a Lasco sandwich...and not the good we-shall-never-speak-of-this-again type, although the stench of shame is the same. This is Issue #1 for the Cal Run Offense this year; the formation created seven in the box, but execution was less than ideal and missed blocks doomed this play to minimal gain.

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Scenario #2: These are not the droids you are...aw hell.

Cal comes out with 3 WR and 2 backs. Gingold is positioned as a wing while Muhammad is the deep back. UCLA looks to be in their base 3-3-5, with two safeties near the box and one very deep.

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At the snap, Rigsbee(#73) pulls to the strong side. Gingold also starts towards the strong side and cracks back on UCLA's DE. #10 Powe looks to be engaged with their slot defender. Muhammad follows Rigsbee towards what looks to be an open gap...

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Gingold loses leverage on the UCLA DE which forces Rigsbee to dive at his feet. Meanwhile, Powe has released off their slot defender and run an out route. Because Goff has finished his fake pass, the UCLA defender knows that Powe isn't a receiving threat and charges upfield...

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...the unblocked UCLA slot defender upends Muhammad for little gain. This has been the story all year for Cal's outside run game. The slot defender for the defense has not respected the outside throw and has sat on the run instead. This leaves an unblocked man and the Cal RBs have rarely been able to make him miss. In a full-strength and full-speed Dykes/Franklin offense, the QB has a run-pass option read which keeps the slot defender honest. Thus far, it looks like the coaches have not let their young QB make a real-time read and have opted for calling either a run or pass from the sidelines.  When the deception fails, so does the running play.

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Scenario #3: You are the Brute Squad.

Do not adjust your set. We control the horizontal. And the vertical. That's former TE turned inside WR Richard Rodgers (#11) at the point of the Diamond with Wark (#84) and Gingold (#44) as the upbacks.

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No finesse here. This is straight ahead power. The Cal Oline each blast their man, Gingold picks off a blitzing LB, and Wark leads the way through the A-gap...

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...the UCLA defenders converge, but it's too late. They make contact with Rodgers when he's already at the marker. Physics wins out as he carries bodies forward for a much-needed first-down. It's a new wrinkle for the Cal offense, but a welcome one. You have multiple receiving threats (both WRs, plus all three backs), and you have 3/4 of a ton in the backfield.

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Scenario #4: I got you.

Cal is in their standard 4 WR, 1 RB formation. UCLA looks to be in a 3-3-5 look, with one LB threatening blitz.

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At the snap, Cal runs a simple inside zone run. No pulls. No deception. Just straight ahead hat on hat blocking.  Cal's guards(Rigsbee #73 and Crosthwaite #71) move forward to the second level and target the Bruin linebackers.

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The Cal blockers win their one on ones. In particular, the inside receivers destroy their respective assignments. Powe (#10, top) and Bouza (#28, bottom) don't let their men get free. Meanwhile, Risgbee (#73), Brazinski (#68), and Croswaithe (#71) have created a nice gap...

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...Lasco powers through. The Bruin defender tries to make contact...

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...but Lasco drives his leg and drags the pile into the endzone. Touchdown Bears! Nothing fancy about this one. Great effort by the Oline and inside receivers plus determination from our back. This was all about attitude. Take a moment to appreciate an undersized walk-on (Bouza) dominating his more-recruited opposition by sheer force of will. More, please.

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Unfortunately, there's no magic fault nor fix. When we fully commit to the run, missed blocks are the bane of our existence. When we try to use mis-direction, our fakes aren't fooling anyone and our backs aren't making that unblocked defender miss. Besides improvement across the board with regards to timing and technique, allowing our QB to make post-snap reads for run vs. pass might give us an edge. Unfortunately, we may be a year away before the coaches trust our young QB to make decisions on the fly.

Rub some dirt on it, Cal fans. We knew this year would be about building character. And I'm not just talking about our young men on the field. Walk it off. Let's go. Beat the Beavers! Go Bears!

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