clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cal vs. Arizona State Post-Game Thoughts

(1) Tedford was showing a bit more fire and emotion.  Maybe it's because he can feel the heat and criticism following last week's huge loss to USC.  Maybe it's because his seat has never been warmer than ever before (even warmer than 2007).  But against Arizona State, I felt like we were seeing a slightly different Tedford.  Prior to the kickoff, Tedford came over to the sidelines, jumped on the stone bench in front of the student section, faced the students, raised his fist in the air, and yelled some words of encouragement.  The students noticed, saw this, and cheered in response. 

Later in the game, Tedford also got pretty heated at Riley (QB #13).  On one particular passing play when the team was driving towards the south end zone, Riley scrambled to his left (towards the east sideline) and had room to run for at least five easy yards of gain and perhaps even a first down.  Instead though, Riley kept looking down the field, and passed the ball wide out of bounds for an incompletion.  This play occurred right in front of the student section.  Every student in that section could see the free yardage sitting right in front of Riley that he didn't take.  Tedford, of course, saw this too, came out 10 yards onto the field, yelled some words at Riley, and motioned with his hand that Riley should have just scrambled and taken the free yardage. It was hard to see Tedford's face from the distance I was at, but you could just see the anger, frustration, and emotion in his body language.

It's been a while since we've seen Tedford get really emotional and pissed during games.  We've also rarely seen him interact directly with the crowd prior/after a game (I can only remember he thanked the students after the 2006 Oregon game).  So the fact that he's doing some things seems to suggest even he realizes that things might be on the line more than ever before.  After all, the team is middling at .500, its passing game has been struggling, and the toughest part of Cal's schedule is coming up. 

(2) One of Riley's best games in a while.  Riley was 19/28 (67.9%), with a 8.6 yard per attempt, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions.  Statistically, this is one of Riley's best games in a while.  Most people might be inclined to say that Riley did "great" this game, but upon closer review, I think he was only "serviceable."  Mostly, I'm going to have to nitpick on Riley's deep balls.  At least two, perhaps even three, of his deep throws were a little underthrown which prevented sure touchdowns.  In particular, the deep pass play to Cal WR #1 Jones right before halftime which got Cal down to the six yard line or so.  That pass was slightly underthrown to the point where Jones had to slow down to make the catch, and preventing a touchdown.  Of course, subsequently Cal was forced to kick a field goal. 

Riley still also was a little off on his lateral passing (east-west passing).  He missed an easy playaction bootleg pass to the fullback.  On another bootleg pass play his pass to Cal WR #3 J. Ross was behind Ross.  Fortunately, Ross one-handed the ball despite it being behind him and ran for yardage.  These are easy passes which should be spot on, yet still aren't guaranteed passes due to Riley being completely spot on.  A few more errors: not seeing an open TE #80 Miller in the flat while close to the red zone, and taking a sack and not getting rid of the ball while in the red zone.

While I've harped on the negative, Riley did also have some positive.  He didn't turn the ball over.  He made some great throws.  The touchdown pass to Cal WR #21 K. Allen in the southwest corner of the endzone was ridiculous.  That was quite the "thread the needle" pass.  There was so little daylight in that passing lane with huge potential for an interception, but Riley got it in there.  The deep passes to Jones, while underthrown, were still good displays of Riley recognizing that Jones had the defender beat.

Despite the positive numbers from Riley, I'm still concerned about Cal's passing game.  It seems, since Riley has become QB, the Cal passing game has become somewhat simple.  Maybe "simple" isn't the right word, because I'm sure certain aspects of the Cal passing game are quite complex.  But what I'm trying to get at, is that most of Cal's passing game seems to have been reduced to screen passes, hitches, go routes off of playaction, and on rare occasion the slant.  These are all fairly short routes which are quick developing, and don't really require extensive and prolonged dropbacks and reading of the coverage.  We don't really see some of the longer passing routes like digs, deep outs, posts, flags, post-corners, etc.  Why is that?  The main reasons for avoiding those longer passing routes is because the offensive line can't hold up in pass protection long enough, or the QB has trouble passing those deeper routes against defenses (for whatever reason).  In my opinion, the Cal passing game nowadays is very different than what it was in 2006 and 2007 when Cal had Longshore as QB -- and I think it's because Longshore had the abilities to be a greater passing threats on some of those deeper routes we no longer see. 

(3) Cal CB #1 S. Williams takes over as a starting CB over Cal CB #26 D. Hagan.  I mentioned last week that I was fairly impressed with Williams' performance against USC.  It turns out, that Williams didn't only catch my eye, but also the eye of the coaches who then promoted him to starting CB in replacement of Hagan.  Williams' immediately disappointed us all (joking) with his failed interception on the very first offensive play of the game by deflecting an underthrown rainbow pass sure-interception up into the air for an Arizona State completion.  Williams should have intercepted that ball.  At the least he should have just swatted it down to the ground.  However, I think the reason why he accidentally deflected the ball up into the air was because he was wearing a cast on one hand (he was wearing a cast against USC last week too which also prevented an INT).  He couldn't catch the ball.  He tried, but the ball just bounced off his hand and cast, right over his head into the waiting hands of the Arizona State WR.  Oh well, life happens.  Other than that, Williams looked to do just fine the rest of the game. 

But what about Hagan?  Arizona State uses a lot of 3 WR sets (11 personnel).  Cal defensive coordinator Pendergast decided to counter with Cal's nickel package.  That meant Cal would have three CBs out on the field.  Hagan still didn't even get playing time in the nickel package.  Instead, we saw Anthony, Hill, and Williams at CB.  I'm not sure if this is a permanent thing that Hagan has fallen to #4 on the depth chart, or if the coaching staff just liked the matchups better with the other Cal defenders on the field for this one game.  This should be something to look out for in future games. 

(4) Cal safety #11 S. Cattouse, in appropriate Halloween spirit, has a monster game.  Geez, Cattouse was wrecking people all over the field today.  He was breaking on the ball perfectly to just decapitate some ball carriers and ball recipients.  Not to mention his interception was just ridic.  It's good to see him performing well despite losing some playing time to Hill earlier this season.  Hopefully his high level of play keeps up over the season.

(5) Cal kickoff coverage has taken a dip lately.  Kickoff coverage against USC wasn't that great.  Same against Arizona State.  It looks like Arizona State's kick returns were really aggressive in their kick returns (just like USC's).  They would just go full speed ahead right into the coverage attempting to slip through any daylight they could see.  By doing this, they are setting themselves up for huge returns should they break the coverage.  Additionally, it sort of forces the defenders to slow down on their coverage so they don't overrun the play and let the ball carrier just run right by them.  On the other hand, the speedy ball carriers are also setting themselves up for receiving huge hits by the coverage team.  High risk, high reward. 

(6) Genyk teaching some new coverage technique.  At the game, I noticed our defenders using some interesting coverage technique to get to the ball carrier. Cal's defenders closest to the sidelines, when cutting in towards the center of the field towards the kickoff returner, would dip their inner shoulder and keep their upper body facing the endzone and away from the ball carrier (instead of the turning their upper body towards the kick returner), thus leaving their back towards the center of the field and to offensive blockers.  So imagine a kickoff coverage defender on the far right of the formation.  If the ball carrier goes towards the middle of the field or the left side of the field, then the defender will angle his lower body so he's running towards the ball carrier but he will keep his upper body facing towards the endzone, or even towards the *right* sideline so his upper body is facing away from the ball carrier (so that his back is to the kickoff blockers).  This technique prevents the kickoff blockers from blocking this defender, because if they do then they will draw a "block to the back" penalty.

This technique is used frequently in various aspects of football.  For example, on defense the outside linebackers will often angle themselves inwards and towards the center of the field pre-snap, so that they cannot be blocked in the back by WRs on crackback blocks.  If they are blocked in the back, then it increases the chances of drawing a penalty on the offense for the block in the back, or clipping. 

Anyways, I haven't this kickoff coverage technique when Alamar was around.  I think this is something that Cal special teams coach Genyk brought in with him.

(7) In a huge surprise, Cal QB #10 B. Mansion, sees playing time instead of Cal QB #9 B. Sweeney.  First of all, it was a surprise to see a backup QB at all this game.  I mean, in last week's huge loss to USC, Tedford still didn't even play a backup QB to get some playing time.  Of course, Tedford explained himself saying that he didn't want the starters to leave the game on such a negative note, and that he wanted them to get points on the board to take something positive away from that game.  But this game was different in that Cal was winning, and the starting players already had plenty of positives to take away from this game.  Thus, the starters came out and the backups came in.  What surprised all Cal fans though, was that Mansion came in instead of Sweeney.  What is this about?  Sweeney has been sitting pretty at #2 since last season.  Did Mansion do something in practice this week to boost him back into the #2 spot all of a sudden?  Tedford had this to say:

"He has been more consistent (than Beau Sweeney), that is a competitive spot. He has been more consistent in practice and throwing the ball better."

So it looks like Mansion is the new #2. 

(8) I liked the way Ludwig was getting the ball to Cal WR #21 K. Allen early, and also to Cal TE #80 A. Miller.  Cal seemingly got the ball to K. Allen six times within the first two quarters.  Getting the ball into your play maker's hands early will get them pumped up, increase some confidence, and force the defense to take notice of that player and thus opening things up elsewhere on the field.  Of course, getting the ball to the playmaker is all dependent on that player being open.  Ludwig was able to satisfy this constraint by getting the ball to Allen on screens rather than forcing the ball down the field. 

As for Miller, he caught a pass on (what is basically) a throwback screen.  This play is a natural progression from Cal's sprint out play which it ran a few weeks ago against UCLA.  On that play, Cal had Riley in shotgun, with three WRs to Riley's right, and only Miller to the left on the end of the offensive line.  Riley sprinted out right on the QB movement, to pass to the right.  Miller provided backside protection with the offensive line.  The entire UCLA defense moved with the flow of the offense and there wasn't a single defender covering Miller -- who was an eligible receiver.  On Saturday, against Arizona State, Cal shows this same look.  It looks like a sprint out, the QB runs to his right, the entire defense shifts to follow the sprint, but then they forget about the tight end on the backside who is left completely alone for an easy gain. Simple stuff.  Ludwig is scheming.