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Are Cal's Offensive Struggles Due to OC Upheaval?


We've talked about this before, and the theme continues to develop every season. California is moving onto its FIFTH offensive coordinator in as many years this season. For people who have been irritated with our offensive (and more pointedly, quarterback) struggles, this has been the main point of contention by Tedford-detractors.

We've discussed this problem before, and it's worth addressing--as we move into the Andy Ludwig era, will these problems manifest themselves once again?

How do you guys feel about changing offensive coordinators every season? Do you think it affects how our team offense has performed every season? Leave your thoughts in the comments; the discussion continues after the jump.

The Bear Will Not Quit has an intriguing refutation for those who believe the five OCs in five years have something to do with the offensive failings.

These seem to be the favorite arguments of the Tedford Bashers. Let's look at who else in the conference has had some turnover at OC:

Oregon (Since 2002):

Andy Ludwig
Gary Crowton
Chip Kelly
Whoever took over for Kelly when he becomes head coach

USC (Since 2001):

Norm Chow
Lane Kiffin
Steve Sarkisian
John Morton

Notice anything in common among the three schools with the most OC turnover: USC, Cal, Oregon? You guessed it. They are the winningest programs in the conference from 2002 forward under the same head coaches (Riley started at OSU in 2003).

What does that tell you? First, successful programs lose their coordinators. That's why Oregon lost Tedford. I don't see anyone banging down Wazzu's, UW's, or Stanford's door to hire their OC. Same for Stoops before he hired Dykes, or UCLA under Dorrell. Why? Because their offenses stink.

Indeed, OC turnover seems to be standard for those two teams. Three counterarguments though:

1) USC fields talented blue-chip NFL-caliber talent every season. Every offensive position is stacked. You could put Hal Mumme back there calling plays and the Trojans would still probably win ten games every year. Although Cal has fielded significant talent on a similar level, it is still nowhere near the aggregate equivalent that USC produces at every position.

2) Oregon's spread offense requires lots more deception than intricacy, and is really more dependent on having a mobile quarterback who is able to run the ball. Also it should be noted that the Ducks offense has evolved drastically from when it was there, from the pro style offense to the spread. Thus unlike USC or Cal, it has never been totally in one place, the style of play evolving drastically as coordinators come and go.

3) Finally, one could also look at it the other way. Cal's most consistent parts have been their running game, based in part due to their phenomenal running back talent and their run blocking schemes. How many times have we changed these parts of our coaching staff.

Until last year, not once in the Tedford era. Ron Gould has been here over a decade, Michalczik came along with Tedford in 2002. Cal's rushing and offensive line play have been virtual constants over his tenure.

To be fair, Cal's offense has evolved greatly from where it once was, but in terms of original practice it still remains very much the same. You could even say that these numerous adaptations have made it even more difficult for the Bears to get better.

Hydrotech explained it very well earlier last season (Part I with Cortez/Tedford, Part II with Dunbar, Part III with Tedford/Coach M, Part IV with Cignetti). If you have time, I'd suggest you read it all, but if you don't, here are the bullet points.

From 2002-2005, the ship was basically sailing smoothly, until we hit an unfortunate snag in the Joe Ayoob saga.

That’s how things started off under Tedford/Cortez - as a pro-style offense. All those TV color commentators always used the words "pro-style" when describing Tedford’s offense, and well, it’s a pretty honest description. There’s nothing too radical or "gimmicky" here (although, nothing in football is really "gimmicky." Often, the term "gimmick" is used to denigrate an unconventional offense that is very successful in its unconventional ways but as long as the offense is legal then ’sall good). The Tedford/Cortez offense had no shotgun zone reads, no Air Force-like triple options, no wishbone formations, no bunch or stack formations. I wouldn’t say the offense was vanilla since there was plenty of variety, but it certainly wasn’t Rocky Road.

In 2006,

For the zone read from shotgun to be as effective as possible, it helps to have a fairly quick and fast quarterback. Such speed helps the quarterback avoid defenders and outrun them for yardage gains. Longshore’s foot speed has long been dissected on many Cal forums so I don’t feel any need to really go into detail about how his athleticism didn’t quite suit the shotgun zone-read that well. So obviously, there was some concern as to how effective the zone-read play could be with Longshore as the quarterback. Had Longshore been the QB above (in a play designed for Ayoob late in the Tennessee game), do you think the play would have been as effective? Probably not.

Then in 2007,

I think Tedford was done experimenting and was tuning the offense to what he thought was ideal. He had learned new wrinkles from Dunbar in the previous year and was now taking what aspects he really liked and incorporating them into the more traditional offense he ran pre-Dunbar. I think he finally arrived at the "hybrid" offense he truly wanted in 2006 but didn't really see until the end of the season.

Finally, last season, this led to predictable playcalling from Cignetti in 2008 (for better or for worse) .

As I said before, predicting playcalling is fairly complex. You have to account for a lot factors such as formation, personnel package, motion, down, distance, score, specific individual personnel substitutions, and game situation. Reducing all those factors into a table is pretty hard and can leave merely a few plays on each chart which can make for too small sample size to draw any strong conclusions from. So for the simplicity of answering whether Cal was being predictable on offense or not, if you only look at personnel package, QB location, down, and distance, then yes, Cal was predictable on offense.

But nobody was complaining about predictable playcalling in games which Cal won. While I haven't looked at all the other games during the 2008 season, it is my hunch that Cal carried these tendencies in those games too (including the games that Cal won). So the point here is that, Cal might have been predictable on offense against USC but they were also predictable against other teams and beat those other teams too. So why are people complaining about playcalling in games when Cal loses? Because when a team loses it's usually because something doesn't go as planned. Offensively, it's because the team didn't score enough points. If the team didn't score enough points, it must have been playcalling, right? Perhaps. Or turnovers. Or penalties. Or poor player performances. Or mental errors. Or bad calls by the ref (bad luck). Playcalling is only one of many factors which can cause a team to lose. While I think it's fair to see some predictable playcalling might have played a hand in Cal losing to USC, the blame shouldn't just be placed solely on the playcalling.

There are two noticeable in the transition from one coordinator to another.

1) Adjusting to new playcalls and schemes that might not have necessarily favored the quarterbacks in the place (Longshore running the zone read or Riley running traditiional West Coast offense).

2) A passing offense that didn't totally gel at every part of the season; in 2006 it sort of unravelled late, in 2007 it struggled mightily down the stretch, in 2008 it never got going. Maybe the team never really adjusted to these constant tinkerings and movements as the season went along.

Adding in the fact that Tedford's offense is one of the most complex in college football, and you could see how that completely overwhelms a quarterback who's moving from one coordinator to the next. It could be said Nate Longshore seemed to grasp the basics of what Tedford tried to teach but struggled adapting to the situation. Kevin Riley has definitely struggled with the opposite, being able to adapt on the fly without utilizing the proper quarterback mechanics and following the typical Tedford philosophy.

Do you prescribe to that theory? Or do you feel there are other issues that are keeping Cal's offense from hitting full gear?