I'm so relieved Pac-10 season is here.
It's not that I don't like the OOC schedule; it's always fun to face new teams, and gauge ourselves to other teams around the country. But it makes things easier for me in terms of figuring out offenses and defenses. There's a familiarity with breaking down Arizona that isn't there with Minnesota or even Maryland. Figuring out what type of coverage packages UCLA will throw your way with their excellent secondary, or whether Oregon State is going to gap-cancel the shit out of you, or how many times Oregon will hit you over and over again with their zone read--these things I can deal with, I've seen them before.
Plus speculating about what an offense or defense might or might not do sucks, since there's a good chance you're going to look real stupid by the end of the game. At least here, there's a much better chance of nailing the general gameplan.
Let's get the ball rolling, shall we? We start with Andy Ludwig's Cal offense versus Oregon and Nick Allioti's hard-hitting, ball-hawking, tackle-missing defense.
(Major thanks to ieeebear for cutting videos for this post, you can see them after the jump! He deserves half the credit for the post.)
Oregon's run defense versus Best, Vereen, and Cal's O-line
I can't really dissect this properly, because one player could be the difference between Cal getting bottled up or taking the Ducks to task. You should see him plenty in the reels after the jump.
Hydro mentioned after last year's game how Allotti loved to bring a defensive back to take out the running back. You can see several times the defensive back (usually the free safety, which usually meant TJ Ward) sizing up the hole, then at the moment he senses run, starts targeting like a heat-seeking missile. One of the times the safety missed was when Best broke free for that long gain, albeit it ended in a fumble.
TJ Ward's health is crucial to Oregon's success at containing the run. You can see from this clip above how crucial Ward was in containing Best and Vereen; his ability to sniff out the run and quickly plug the gap kept the running backs from breaking into space. The dropoff is considerable after Ward, and I don't know exactly how the Ducks safeties stack up behind Ward.
You can also see that Oregon hits hard, so Cal's runners have got to be ready to maintain control of that football. Three rushing turnovers last season nearly cost the Bears dearly.
Although Riley appears to be a much better passer than he was a few seasons ago, I expect Oregon to, at least at the outset, play to contain Best and Vereen I doubt we'll see much difference in strategy from last season, especially on 1st and 2nd downs when the probability of run and pass are approximately equal. For all their struggles this season in various areas, one place the Ducks have remained consistent is guarding the run, and you can see from the video that their front seven has been equal to the task of pushing around Cal's usually solid offensive line.
This season there hasn't been a big dropoff. Yes, Boise State gashed them for 164 yards, but they needed FIFTY NINE CARRIES to get there. Utah, Boise State and Purdue are all upper tier schools in rushing yards per carry, and Oregon held them well under their respective averages.
Oregon has held Cal the last two seasons to an average of 3.38 rushing yards per carry, well below our general rushing average. So they've pulled all the stops to contain Forsett in 2007 and Best in 2008. If the Ducks are expected to pull out the stops against the run, the Bears will have to strip them will have to be won through the air.
Cal pass protection versus Oregon pass rush (or How I Am So Fucking Relieved Nick Reed is in the pros).
Reed was a one man wrecking crew in last year's game. Mitchell Schwartz did well for us in relief last year at left tackle, and Reed just chowed him down like moo goo gai pan.
1) First clip, :11-Reed blows by Schwartz, forces Riley to throw the football like a Thanksgiving turkey. I'm not sure whether Riley's trying the Tim Tebow leap pass here. It's close though.
2) :35--Cameron Morrah probably should've blocked a little bit better on that play before moving into receiving mode, Schwartz didn't seem like he had any chance of taking him up and can only manage a few weak arm shoves before Reed targets Riley.
3) :52--Right side completely collapses. Three defenders get untouched to the quarterback, it's a miracle Longshore even got that pass to Tucker.
4) 1:17--Perfect spin technique by Reed to blow by Schwartz, breaks up what might've been a touchdown to Morrah (although a safety was coming in fast).
5) 1:55--Reed lined up to the bottom against Edwards, and he absolutely smokes him. Plus there was a holding call. Safe to say the O-line was scrambling at this point.
6) 2:12--Mitchell is again caught looking with the spin move. GRAPPLE HIM Mitchell.
7) 2:41--"Sorry Mr. Schwartz, I do not want to participate in this tango." Gets up, screen pass broken out.
8) 3:00--Next play, lines up on Edwards, gets in unimpeded, even if a second too late. Longshore gets twirled like a Twizzler.
Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley were dinged around plenty, as they forced bad throws into traffic, or took sacks they shouldn't have taken. He'll make his mark with the Seahawks soon enough.
This year, the roles are reversed. With Reed gone, the responsibility for pass rush was supposed to fall to Will Tukuafu. So far he's been quiet, with fifteen tackles, but none for a loss. Oregon's pass rush this season has been non-existent. The Ducks averaged nearly 3 sacks a game last season, tied for 9th in the country. This year, they only have four through the first three games, along with only three quarterback hurries. Opposing quarterbacks have had their time to throw so far.
Cal's pass protection, however, has only been slightly better than it was last season (on average in terms of sacks, giving up five sacks and several hurries early on. Hopefully with Tepper and a maturing Schwartz, they can protect damaging sacks on the edge. Kenny Rowe (who has 2.5 of Oregon's sacks from the defensive end slot) seems the likeliest to get pressure, so watch what he does against the tackles.
Oregon's pass defense vs. Kevin Riley and his receivers
Defensive coordinator Nick Allotti is not a favorite of Oregon fans. He didn't look exceptionally good after USC's 44-10 trouncing of the Ducks, where Sanchez burned Oregon for 332 yards, 3 touchdowns on 68% completion rate. Although some of it was cover packages, it was also a case of corners cheating to stop the runs, biting on the play-fakes and getting burned for only putting one free safety in deep coverage.
Luckily, neither quarterback for the Bears could throw that well last season. Against Cal you saw a lot of soft zones, a lot of coverage packages determined to keep Best or Vereen from breaking into the screen. On one occasion when Oregon played close up man coverage they were scorched for a touchdown.
(Note: Understand I'm not an expert on defense. If I made any errors in formation or strategy please correct me and I'll edit them in, and attribute you for the help.)
1) (0:05) I think this is a Cover 4 deep (corners are playing back, safeties too). Best way to attack this is the outside flats (between the hash marks and the sideline), and Riley finds a wide-open Tucker along the out of bounds line. This could also be zone coverage (much like what Gregory runs on passing downs), since the corner seems to be playing a particular zone, trying to make the quarterback complete the throw. Also he could be trying to prevent a long run from the quarterback.
2) (0:36) Again, Riley targets the sideline to Tucker, who makes a great adjustment on the ball
3) (1:02) I believe this is Cover 1 Free (free safety is back to watch both sides of the field, see the replay at 1:19). Oregon stacks. Riley checks off the receiver on the strong side, freezes the free safety (notice him trailing to the top, where Riley's eyes are focused), then goes back and find Ross with a perfect strike. It helps that Wlater Thurmond was slow in recovering to Ross's original move.
4) (1:32) Iffy interference call on Thurmond, who seemed to play Tucker very well on the play, but it does show the benefit of having a receiver who can elevate on a dime and make it tough for the ref to judge whether the defender came too early or not.
5) (1:56) 3-2 Dime package. Six defensive backs and Longshore routinely completes a 4th and 14 on man-to-man? Talmadge Jackson III had some real passive coverage on this one. This play surprised me the most. (Note: Jackson will be Oregon's other corner in this game).
6) (2:23) 4-1 Dime package. Again another great pass to the sidelines to Sean Young, as Oregon's defense seems determined to play their zones and dare Cal's quarterbacks to make that throw to the sidelines. So far Riley and Longshore have converted three crucial 3rd downs aiming at the outside flats, two that broke down the zones in the right places (one was just a great adjustment and catch by Tucker).
7) (3:02) This should be noted for all Nate-haters out there, but Longshore KILLED Oregon. He didn't have achieve greatness by any means (13 for 27, 1 TD), but over his career he threw for a solid 57% completion rate, 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. You can get a sense of how he did it from plays like this; his ability to break down zone defenses and read coverages was impeccable. Danzig has more on his 2006-2007 exploits here.
8) (3:50) Another break down of the zone coverage at the sidelines to Tucker. I'm guessing we might see this play a bit.
Note to self: Watch Verran Tucker (who I assume will be the #1 receiver) versus Walter Thurmond, who I'm guessing will be assigned to him. This is a critical assignment for Thurmond, who must bottle up Tucker on man packages so the rest of the coverage can focus more on Marvin Jones and Ross.
The Ducks have played aggressive, breaking up 19 passes (top 10 in the nation!), including four interceptions, but I'd be very surprised to see Aliotti utilize a man-on-man strategy and not go back to deep coverage zones. Riley isn't Sanchez 2008, but he has been capable of throwing the deep ball properly this season. Expect plenty of cover schemes on obvious passing downs, in addition to the base 4-3 Oregon runs.
If Ludwig can show the multiplicity that he displayed in last week, will Oregon's secondary be able to read and react? The last three seasons the Ducks have lost the Bears game in spite of slowing the run game. It's been their touted corners and safeties who haven't been able to finish off Cal's receivers.
If Kevin Riley can throw a precise, 63-65% completion rate against Oregon's zone coverages, or open up the deep routes, which will in turn force more defensive backs into the game, which will in turn allow the offensive line easier blocking...it's Duck season.
Coming soon: Breaking down Oregon's zone read.