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Cal vs. Arizona Post-Game Thoughts

(1) Cal won.  Yay.  I'll admit, I wasn't optimistic going into the game.  I figured the safe bet was a Cal loss - a big loss.  So when the game stayed close, and the fourth quarter came around, I felt like me and the entire stadium started believing - believing that we really could win the game.  I mean, not in the theoretical sense that every game is winnable.  But the sense that yeah, if we really stuck it out, got loud, played tough, that we would will a win.  I can't remembered the stadium being that into the game in a long time.  Memorial does get loud in key situations during your typical game but last Saturday there was energy in the air, and not just noise. 

(2) Cal won thanks to its defense but Gregory still needs to go.  Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass that Cal won because of the defense.  Gregory needs to go.  The dude was still only rushing four pass rushers most downs.  Doesn't he understand that you have to pressure the QB?  Let's not forget that we only sacked their QB three times.   That is unacceptable.  I'd be willing to have anyone, even TwistNHook as our defensive coordinator.  Anybody but Gregory, please.

(3) I was kidding about #2.  Did I fool anyone?

(4) Cal having deep coverage issues?  I want to talk about that play where the Arizona was driving north and the Arizona QB rolled out right and threw a floater into the endzone towards an undefended WR.  The play was broken up by Mohamed but still... something didn't go right that play.  I think it's safe to assume that something didn't go right on that play when there is an undefended receiver 40 yards down the field... and the closest defender to that receiver is a.... linebacker. This play was in the first quarter with 6:25 remaining (for those of you who want to look at it).

I watched over that play a few times and in reminded me of something.  Oh yeah, it reminded me of that play against Arizona State where the ASU QB threw an 80 yard touchdown on the defense because we lost our backside safety on the deep half coverage.   There are a few differences between the plays.  ASU's intended WR was located in the slot formation to the opposite side of the field prior to the snap, and against Arizona the intended WR was located in nearside slot lined up directly on Cal's left safety (defense's left).  But on both plays, the offense's right most WR, the one to the side of Cal's left safety (defense's left), ran curl routes.  On both plays it appears as if Cal's left safety (against Arizona that was Johnson) jumped down on that outside curl route vacating his deep coverage (assuming Cal's defense was in a two-deep, which I think it was). 

I think opposing offensive coordinators are onto something.  They must be seeing that Johnson is quick to bite on  underneath routes.  In fact, I think Arizona specifically designed this play to attack Cal's left deep safety.  From the very start of the snap, Foles is looking at the intended WR straight down the field.  Arizona's decoy WR, the one running the curl, was very lazy in his route running.  He didn't put forth the effort which a WR would when he knows the ball might be coming to him.  In other words, that WR knew the ball wasn't coming to him. 

Attacking Johnson makes sense.  Of him and Cattouse, he seems to be the more aggressive of the two when it comes to reacting on the ball.  Furthermore, his range (ability to cover ground) is less than that of Cattouse.  The lesser range makes it harder for him to compensate for a blown coverage - like the one Arizona was hoping he'd blow. 

Anyways, it's hard to tell exactly what happened on that play because Versus was zooming in their cameras too much, but I'll just recap what I think happened one last time.  Cal defense in two-deep zone with underneath zones too.  Arizona wants to attack Cal's left safety.  Arizona right-most WR runs curl hoping to get Cal left safety to bite.  Cal left safety bites vacating his deep 1/2 of the field.  Arizona slow WR runs right up into the vacated zone for an easy touchdown pass.  Praise be to Gregory (Gregory is an idiot and needs to be fired) any idol except for Gregory that Mohamed got enough depth on his original coverage to make a play on the ball, and did not vacate his zone to assist in QB pursuit. 

(5) What did Gregory do?!?!  So Cal's defense goes from le suck to dope like a click of the switch.  Why?  Was I completely wrong in saying that I think Cal's defense just isn't that talented?  No, I don't think so.  I still think the defense as a whole, isn't that great, but last Saturday they just played really really well.  Players were timely to the ball - something we really haven't seen a lot.  Our pass rush was getting through on frequently enough occasion - even with just four pass rushers!!!  Oh noes!  Hell hath frozen over! 

I wish I could give more of a detailed answer, but I'm not entirely sure what Gregory did differently this week if anything at all.  I just pulled an all-nighter practicing a new mango chicken mole recipe and I'm like half asleep and drooling on my keyboard right now, and I haven't had much time to go through the defense game film to see what's up.  So I can't really say what he did differently. 

And actually, I don't think that Gregory actually did much differently.  We played our usual zones, or so it seemed to my amateur eye seated on the 50 yard line.  We pass rushed four pass rushers.  They would twist (stunt) occasionally.  The defense seemed focus on bringing the pressure right up into Foles' face rather than from the edges.  Two-deeps.  Cover 3 with Syd in center field - nothing new there.  But other than that, the gameplan seemed pretty normal.  I didn't happen to notice any corner or safety blitzes.  And for the record, we still use these blitzes.  We just don't notice them because our blitz is getting picked up instead of resulting in sacks. 

A good friend of mine, whom I brainstorm Cal Football with, did have the time to give the defensive film more of a look.  He noted that Gregory was bringing a linebacker pass rushers through the A-gaps quite frequently.  My friend noted that the linebacker would line up behind the Cal NT prior to the snap so the offense's two guards and center wouldn't know which gaps the two defenders would hit, thus causing confusion and hesitation along the Arizona OL.  I went back and looked at the film for a little bit while my chicken mole was cooking, and indeed, that seemed to be one of the strategies.


(6) Vereen is the better trash and poor-blocking running back of our two RBs.  By trash, I mean strewn and downed defenders, as well as the offense's own blockers.  When there is a lot of trash in the runningback's way or vicinity, or there is poor blocking, I think Vereen is a little more adept at getting the yards than Best.  Vereen has a subtle elusiveness to him that makes guys miss.  Not in the Sportscenter type of huge stutter step or juke stick (for you NCAA College Football kids) kind of way, but he just gives a little stop, shimmy, or shake to make a guy miss just enough so he can push forward for another few yards.  Best on the other hand, he's more of a big play guy that needs space.  He's more prone to pause to wait and see how the trash sorts itself out in an attempt to get that huge gain, rather than pushing forward for those few yards.  And when he does push forward, he just barrels through.

(7) Riley had his typical try-too-hard game.  Like I've said in previous posts, the kid means well and is a competitor and blah blah blah and he's trying to win.  But he's got to learn that in some situations he just has to get control over his overwhelming desire to make a play, and just be safe with the ball so the offense can try again on the next down.  I'm talking about that cross field bomb to Boateng that was INTed.  Just run with.  He could have run for a few yards of gain.  And his second INT, I get he was trying to throw it away, but sometimes you just have to take the sack too.  On the positive side, Riley did have a few good throws here and there. 

(8) I liked the opening drive playcalling. 

1st play - 21 personnel, crackback toss.  We haven't seen these crackback tosses in a while.  We used them a ton against Miami in the Emerald Bowl with a large amount of success. Although our OL doesn't seem to be the most athletic OL in past years, I like this play because it moves the point of attack away from the center of the field which is where we've been concentrating our attack for the past few games.

2nd play - 21 personnel, zone run to the weakside.  Haven't really ran weakside too much all year.  Ludwig is letting the defense know that he'll run weakside so they shouldn't be too aggressive to the strong side. 

3rd play - empty set, seam pass.  Seam passes are one of Riley's best passes.  Seam routes and four verticals should be staple plays in the Cal playbook.  We have seen these plays a fair amount this season, but perhaps maybe not enough. 

4th play - 12 personnel, playaction QB boot.  Nice way to move the QB, and get the ball to Marvin Jones for an easy completion. 

5th play - 12 personnel, masked inside zone using a TE in the slot, motion the TE back to center to cut the backside defender.  We added this play a few weeks ago. 

Anyways, I like these plays because these plays are all staple plays that Cal has used frequently in the past.  The team is familiar with them and can probably execute them very well.

(9) A little old and a little new.  Ludwig brought back a little bit of old stuff by using the crackback toss run play that we saw so much in 2008 and especially during the Emerald Bowl.  We also utilized a backside tackle pull on another play.  We haven't seen those types of blocking schemes since Dunbar was our offensive coordinator in 2006.  I liked seeing these plays getting dusted off and used because it adds some diversity to the offense.

As for the new, Cal is now using 5 WRs in its empty set.  In previous years, Cal has used primarily 11 personnel out of empty (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB).  Why has there been this change?  Perhaps Ludwig feels that the receiving threat posed by the fourth and fifth WRs is greater than that of the TE and RB that would normally be in with 11 personnel.  Such reasoning seems very plausible considering that Alex Lagemann comes in as one of the 4th and 5th WRs, and is often targeted on those plays too.

(10) Ludwig seems to be attacking the middle of the field a bit more.  In the past, Cal has frequently shied away from passes over the middle of the field.  If you imagine the 3 by 3 grid of a phone dialing pad, Cal has shied away from the number 5 and number 8 - those numbers representing the short middle and mid-range middle of the field. But it seems like in Cal has been a bit more willing to make some passes over the center.  We've seen a few slants this year in an attempt to get the ball over the short middle.  Alex Lagemann, as one of the 5 WRs in our empty sets has frequently made short and medium catches over the middle.  I like this development.  Ideally, you'd really like to be able to attack all over the field (all over the 3 x 3 grid) and not regulate yourselves, or let the defense regulate you to passes only in certain sectors.


Sorry for the tardiness of this post and any weirdness in it.  It's been a long day.