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State Of The Cal Football Program, Part III: Evaluating Andy Ludwig

Part I on Tedford & Riley, Part II on the big picture. Now onto positional coaches who are under the most heat after Saturday's performance.

We start with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Things got a little heated, so this'll be its own post.

Avinash: I don't like his playcalling. Here's what I wrote after the game.

The lack of OC adjustments were bad

I don’t agree with running the ball up the middle at the DTs. Or trying to play smashmouth football and put up 8 vs. 8 in the box when we’ve never played well with that strategy. Or not adjusting to the new looks the defense sent at us. We were always reacting to what the defense was doing, not the other way around.

There were too many fundamental errors through the 2nd and 3rd quarter that make me think there’s some sort of disconnect going on between our coordinator and our players. Perhaps I’m wrong and it’s all execution, but I’d like to think it’s a mix of both rather than laying all the blame on players and position coaches.

If the execution is poor, the OC should be working in closer concert with his position coaches. They should be scouting the opponent, know what the weaknesses and strengths of the other team are (and more importantly what our team should be doing), and be ready to adjust accordingly when the defense throws out something different (like Oregon 09 and USC 10). Otherwise we’re going to get blasted on offense. They should put players in a position to succeed based on their strengths and weaknesses rather than saying "Hey, go out, do everything."

If the offensive line is continuously getting blown up, then we should be working on getting the ball out earlier instead of running all these slow-developing plays that killed our drives. I saw a lot of inside runs when it was becoming clear we were getting NO leverage inside. Not enough slip screens to take advantage of pressure, etc.

There’ve been an appalling lack of adjustments in-game.


TwistNHook: I didn’t see a lot of problems with Ludwig. His play calling seemed fine enough. Mixing things up, which was solid. The execution of the play calls seemed disastrous. A lot of dropped passes. I mean just terrible execution. That falls less on the OC/HC and more on the specific position coaches.

I'm not entirely certain why everybody is dumping on Ludwig.  I didn't think the play calling was that bad.  I thought the execution was terrible.  Marvin Jones needs to slap himself in the face repeatedly. 

HydroTech: Execution was horrible.  But people don't like to blame individual players, unless that player is a QB.  Instead, they'll blame scheme. 

Avinash, you seem to be focused on this idea that "you need X scheme to beat Y scheme."  Some schemes do work better against others.  But in the end, it doesn't really matter what you do.  If you are just playing better than the other team, then you'll beat them regardless of the playcalling or scheme.  Execution is the single most determining factor in who will win a game.

Avinash: I understand that.  But wouldn't you agree we've been trying to execute a huge playbook with mediocre players and this causes even more execution issues? Shouldn't we be focusing on a smaller playbook that allows us to focus on technique rather than scheme so that they at least play hard enough to out-execute other opponents, based on the relative weakness of our offensive line and receivers?

I've seen this disconnect the past three/four years on offense. Tedford made the playbook too huge and our O-line played worse and worse. Cignetti simplified things down, but our offense lost too many players for them to be good at anything but running. Ludwig seems to be too much focused on scheme and there isn't enough good technique against good opponents (lots of plays, mediocre execution on all of them).

Simplify things a little: Is the offense too complex?

TwistNHook: I have never played football.  I have never seen a football playbook.  I have never seen this football playbook.  I feel like I lack the knowledge to pass judgment as to the relative merit of the size of this playbook.  Do you have a copy of the playbook that we could look at Avi and other more basic playbooks that you think would be more appropriate for this team?  that might help me make a more informed judgment regarding this.

HydroTech: I don't know how complex the Tedford offense is.  A lot of fans seem to think that the offense is too "complex."  If you asked the players, I don't think they'd say that the playbook is too complex.  I think the whole "is the playbook too complex?" question is mainly just people overthinking the obvious: just execute better! 

Sure maybe having a smaller playbook would be better because then we'd have less plays to learn and practice.  But like I said, I don't know how big the Cal playbook is, or in comparison to other teams. 

TwistNHook: I think when people look at playcalling, they look at what they believe is/should be the best, most optimal plays.  I always look at not whether plays are the best or whether they are the worst.  For example, I think the deep pitch play in the end zone was about as bad as you can get except for a 8 step drop long bomb.  But when people have concerns about running too much up the middle or something (which I didn't even really see too much running up the middle, per se), I just don't know.  Last week we ran up the middle a thousand times over and I thought the play calling was fine.  With proper execution, any reasonable play will succeed and succeed well.  With proper execution, any unerasonable play will not succeed.  And with improper execution, any unreasonable play will have disastrous consequences (such as the deep pitch in the end zone).

Avinash: Well we're definitely doing a lot more pre-snap. We shift players everywhere. We almost never did that in the old days. We run a lot more blocking schemes (zone, power, iso). We don't look very good at any of it. Perhaps I'm confusing this with more plays, but it does feel like we run a lot more types of plays.

I've heard that Tedford and Ludwig are very Xs and Os and don't seem to connect as much with the Cal offensive technique and focus on gameplans.  I'm not sure how much it's helping. It gives our players a lot more to think about. Perhaps it's me overthinking, but I felt like the offense was much simpler under Cortez, or even Dunbar. Perhaps I'm wrong.

TwistNHook: I barely remember Cortez as it was so many moons ago.  Dunbar was only here for 1 year and it was for the spread, which I don't fully undrstnd.  However, isn't the spread supposed to be a fairly complex offense?

Avinash: Well I look at in terms of exploiting weaknesses. Like USC's deficiency is their pass D. So go straight downfield. Run checkdown routes to take advantage of the zones. Use bubble screens to exploit the cornerbacks. Anything to stretch the defense out to open up the interior D-linemen. Put the defense off-balance to set up everything else.

UCLA's secondary is the strongest part of their unit, so it makes sense to run the ball a lot.  I don't like running up the middle to start the game when USC's DTs are the strongest part of their game.

TwistNHook: It is tough to figure out exactly how many downfield passes were attempted, because of all the sacks.  However, I do remember some downfield passes, two drops by Marvin Jones, one drop by Ladner, and an interception by a USC player. 

Berkelium97: I like some of his plays and am confused by others.  For example, I was not sure why we kept running up the middle against USC's NT who was eating our O-lineman alive.  The pre-snap shifting of tight ends and receivers on the line is...unusual.  I can understand moving guys into or out of the backfield to try to force mismatches on receivers, but whenever I see a tight end and receive both move up or down the line, it's usually a pretty clear indicator that we're running that direction.  Otherwise, he sometimes runs some great plays to take advantage of what the defense is showing.  Sometimes.

What happened to those short, over-the-middle throws to Miller and Lagemann?  Those were a great staple in our offense late last season and a great way to move the chains without relying on Vereen.

Kodiak: Prior to this game, I didn't have serious issues with his playcalling.  Let's face it:  inconsisent QB + porous O-line...and everyone except for ucla seems to know the recipe for how to stop our offense.  Sure, I'd like to see more quick-hitters in the run game and fewer of these slow-developing pass patterns.  But, I don't know enough about the game to say with any authority that he was calling bad games.  Seemed like there has been a decent mix of run and pass, and some creativity (reverses, half-back option passes, WR option passes, etc).  My issues have been with execution - not sure if this is a position coach issue, personnel issue, or a teaching issue.  Maybe we're trying to do too many different formations/plays instead of perfecting a smaller playbook. 

This last game seemed like we failed at game-planning, preparation, play-calling, and in-game adjustments.  I think some of the play-calls early and throughout the game (option to the near side-line in the red-zone...really?) were really questionable.  However, I think the early execution errors really made the play calls look worse than they seemed.  If Jones and Ladner catch those early balls, we're driving instead of being put in predictably bad down and distance situations.  I know...that's like saying "heeey, now that the barn burned down, we've got a great view of the stars."