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Cal @ Washington State Post-Game Thoughts

<em>Thank god we played Montana State this year!</em>
Thank god we played Montana State this year!

(1)  Mansion looks pretty comfortable at QB.  Talk about one cool cat.  He didn't appear wide-eyed.  He seemed like he's been starting QB all year.  Didn't seem rattled.  Didn't seem frantic.  Even when he threw his two interceptions, he didn't seem to lose his confidence or get shaken up.  I like that.  Seems like the game might slowing down for him (it should be, he's been on the team for four years although not a starter).  Not losing his confidence on those INTs is a good thing also.  QBs just have to forget about those things and move on.  

(2) Turnover pains.  One thing about inexperienced QBs is that they tend to turn the ball over.  Mansion is no different and threw two interceptions.

The first one was either a simple case of forgetting about a defender or Mansion trying to force the ball.  Cal was in a 2x2 formation (two receivers on each side of the offensive line) out of their base personnel (21 personnel - 2 WRs 1 TE, 2 backs).  WSU looked to have its 4-3 personnel out of the field.  Cal was running all "go" routes.  WSU was playing what looked to be a Cover 2 or Tampa 2 (zone defense).  Mansion found the proper weak-spot on the defense (sideline areas right inbetween the CB and safety), but unfortunately he just didn't see that the cornerback wasn't sitting that low in his zone, and was shadowing the receiver from below. Or, alternatively, Mansion saw the defender and still tried to force the ball into that window.  And if Mansion was forcing the ball in there, then that was a really bad pass because he should have put that ball high and outside (towards the sideline) rather than low and underneath.  So the fact that the pass was low and underneath seems to suggest Mansion just didn't see that defender and figured he had a safe pass underneath the coverage.

The second interception occurred on a back-shoulder pass to Vereen split out wide left.  This is sort of an option pass where if Vereen beats his defender, then the pass will be a deep fade.  Otherwise, if Vereen can't be his defender, then the pass will be a bullet back-shoulder pass.  Vereen didn't beat his defender so the pass was supposed to be a blazing back shoulder pass.  Unfortunately the ball was slow, low and and inside, resulting in the INT.  After watching the replay, it looks like when Mansion was about to throw the ball, Vereen hadn't beat his defender and so Mansion was throwing for the back shoulder.  But in the second it took Mansion to throw the ball, Vereen had beat his defender and was looking for the deep ball.  And since the defender was trailing Vereen, and Mansion threw the *back*-shoulder pass, the pass was seemingly right to the defender.  So this is one of this shit happens plays; it was sort of a mis-communication.  Mansion saw that Vereen hadn't beat the defender to get the deep fade, so Mansion threw the back-shoulder pass.  Vereen thought he had his defender beat and was pushing up field expecting the deep fade and wasn't at all expecting the back-shoulder pass.  



(3) Mansion seemed to be having some accuracy problems.  From the start, Mansion's passes seemed a little high.  The (dropped) passes to Jones (Cal WR #1) on the skinny post, and Miller (Cal TE #80) on the post were both a bit high.  Catchable, sure, but high.  Mansion had another pass to Miller on a bootleg which was really high and behind (it also shouldn't have been thrown in the first place). 

In fact, it seemed like maybe Mansion wasn't getting a good grip on the ball or something.  He had a few flutter balls during the game that weren't tipped.  Maybe the cold weather was making that ball a little slick and hard to hold.  When the Cal defense was on the field, Mansion was even throwing passes on the sideline.  He was either doing that to keep warm, or perhaps to practice getting a good grip on the ball.

(4) Wildcat/Wildbear/Crazy is losing its fly sweep fake.  Last year the wildcat formation always had that fly sweep fake going across the formation.  Now though, we're seeing less and less of that.  Why lose the fly sweep fake?  Well, teams weren't really respecting it and defending it that much.  So perhaps Ludwig (Cal OC) realized it just made more sense to dedicate that offensive player as a pure blocker, rather than trying to draw coverage as a decoy (which rarely worked).  

(5) WSU seemed to be looking for the run early on, and Cal responded by throwing in a lot of playaction.  I was very surprised how the Cal offensive playcalling seemed to really put the ball in Mansion's hands early on and expecting him to make some throws.  Like WSU, when I saw Cal come out in its base personnel (21 personnel) or 22 personnel (1 WR, 2 backs, 2 TEs), I was expecting run.  But nope!  We were using playaction and bootlegs to try and catch them off guard and looking for those easy runs.  I guess this just goes to show that the Cal coaches have faith in Mansion to pass the ball and that he doesn't need to be coddled and warmed-up into the game with a ton of hand-off run plays for a quarter.

(6)  Mansion lookin' pretty good on those zone reads.  I know a lot of people have described Mansion as a scrambling QB.  He is not.  But he does have decent mobility, and perhaps even more speed than Riley did.  So it was pretty nice to see Ludwig throwing in a few zone reads, AND seeing Mansion have the guts to pull the ball and run with it himself.  I hope to see this more often, but I'm also a little concerned that Mansion is going to get popped big time by some head hunting defenders on the better defenses of Oregon, and Stanfurd.

(7)  Lots of max protect, half-rolls for Cal.  Back in 2006, and 2007, Cal used a TON of max protect half-rolls (I broke one down from the 2007 Cal @ Oregon game which you can read here).  For some reason, those plays largely disappeared and weren't used a lot for 2008 and 2009.  But during this game, Cal ran max protect half-rolls at least five times.  Not entirely sure why this game was the game to dust off those plays and give 'em a go, but we did.  WSU wasn't getting huge pressure on Mansion, and typically when the defense is getting big pressure on Mansion you want to start either throwing screens or moving the pocket.  Since Allen (Cal WR #1) was out, Cal wasn't throwing a lot of screens so perhaps that's why Ludwig (Cal OC) went to the max protect half-rolls. 

I was thinking that Ludwig might have called these plays because Mansion is used to them since they are very old plays that Cal used to practice all the time, but I'm not so sure that Cal really practices those plays all the time any more.  You see, those plays were some of Cal's staple plays.  Cal practiced them every day in practice.  They were even a part of Cal's two-minute drill plays, as well as their audibles.  But now they aren't a part of Cal's two-minute drill plays.  Instead, now Cal uses straight dropbacks for its two minute drill plays.  And you rarely see max protect half-rolls called in regular games either.  So to me, at least, it was really surprising to see these old plays being used again.  

(8) Defense was playing a lot of Cover 2 man, and Man Free.  We saw these defenses a lot against UC Davis, Colorado, and didn't see a lot of these defenses against the better teams that Cal has played thus far.  I theorized earlier that the reason why we might not see these defenses a lot (and instead see zone defenses) against the better teams Cal has faced, was that Pendergast (Cal DC) believes we have the athleticism and skill in the secondary to use these defenses against these lesser teams without substantial risk of getting beat deep.  Indeed, WSU had a hard time passing the ball, and their longest pass of the day was just 24 yards.  For the most part, WSU receivers just couldn't get open down the field to make Cal pay for playing aggressive Man Free defense. 

What did surprise me, was that despite playing Cover 2 man, and Man Free, Cal wasn't really blitzing WSU a lot.  The benefit of playing these defenses is that you can get some really tight coverage on the receivers, blanketing them, and thus making blitzes more effective because the QB won't have anyone to throw to.  Nevertheless, Pendergast stayed fairly conservative (oh noes!) and just rushed four defenders most of the time.  Let us all sacrifice an innocent farm animal this week and pray to the football gods that Pendergast isn't channeling his inner Bob Gregory and becoming a passive defensive coordinator. 

(9)  Cal's field goal kicking almost loses the game.  Tavecchio (Cal kicker) missed a critical field goal early on which would have given Cal a critical touchdown lead in the third quarter.  The score would have been 17-10 but instead it was 14-10, until WSU made a field goal to make it a one point game (14-13).  Then Tavecchio seemed to have a low kick on a PAT in the fourth quarter which made the game 20-13, instead of 21-13.  The latter score requiring WSU to get a touchdown *and* a two point conversion to tie the game. 

It was like Cal was just daring WSU to tie up the game, and win it.  My biggest fear (when the score was 20-13) was that Cal was going to give up a touchdown, then WSU was going to go for two points and win the game (21-20).  Man, wouldn't that been one hell of a mind-blowing loss.  All Cal fans would probably be calling for Tavecchio's head if we lost that game due to his missed FG and blocked PAT. 

(10) Cal still won.  Some might say that Cal didn't really "win" the game, so much as they didn't suck as much as WSU, or that WSU just plain "lost" the game that they should have won.  I agree this wasn't exactly a beautiful game.  If this was any other opponent, we probably would have lost.  I know WSU had a lot of untimely drops which stalled their drives.  But football is just as much about not sucking or making less errors than the other team, than  executing well and delivering a solid beat down to the other team.  In other words, we may not have won the game with long 10 yard runs and gorgeous deep passes, but we certainly dropped less balls than WSU and played better defense than them even if it wasn't great defense.  You have to give the team credit for that.  A win is a win, even if the team didn't deserve the win because they performed well below fans' standards.

(11) Cal *needs* a bowl game.  Whenever a team is at four or five wins with only a few games remaining on the schedule, the inevitable discussion comes up of whether the team really "deserves" to go to a bowl game or not (in case the team actually wins the necessary games to become bowl eligible).  Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass what people think about whether the team "deserves" to go to a bowl game or not, the fact of the matter is that the team *needs* a bowl game.  Why do they need a bowl game?  The one month of extra practice time which bowl teams get and non-bowl teams don't get; the extra boost in recruiting, and the boost in national exposure. 

(12) Telegraphing plays?  It's been brought to my attention that there is a lot of speculation about other teams knowing our offensive plays.  The fine folks over at BearInsider have a big discussion going on which can be seen here

Basically, just before one of our plays, the TV feed showed the WSU defensive coordinator motioning to his defense in a manner which looked like he was saying the play was going to be a pass.  In fact, PRD74 made a youtube video of the incidence which you can view below:


Pretty interesting, huh? 

It sure does seem like the WSU DC is signaling that the play will be a pass.  Does he really know the play is going to be a pass play?  Or is he just signaling some other message to his defense which coincidentally appears to be a passing motion when Cal's next play is a pass play?

Well, first of all, let's discuss the different ways in which a defense might know the upcoming offensive play.

(a)  Really good scouting based on personnel.

(b)  Really good scouting based on formation.

(c)  Really good scouting based on pre-snap motion. 

(d)  They picked our signals. 

We can dispose of two of the above possibilities really easily.  Go back and watch the video.  Notice anything in the videos?  Do you know which two of the above four possibilities we can easily dispose of?  If you said (b) and (c), you're right.  How come it's not possible that the WSU DC knew our plays based on formation, or pre-snap motion?  Because he was doing his little signal prior to Cal even lining up in their formation, and there was no pre-snap motion.  Duh.  Okay, those two were easy.  So now we're left with:

(a)  Really good scouting based on personnel.

(b)  Really good scouting based on formation.

(c)  Really good scouting based on pre-snap motion. 

(d)  They picked our signals. 

Let's talk about (a).  Every team watches film of their upcoming opponents to learn their formations, schemes, and tendencies.  It's very possible that WSU knew some of our tendencies based on our personnel set out on the field for that play.  What personnel did Cal have on the field?  Cal had 21 personnel out on the field (2 WRs, 2 backs, 1 TE).  What the heck about this personnel group would make the WSU DC think this play was going to be a pass?  Nothing really.  I haven't charted games this year like I used to do in the past (I have a lot less time nowadays due to real life getting in the way), but from my past chartings I know that Cal is really run heavy out of the 21 personnel set.  I'm talking like at least 80% run out of the 21 personnel set.  This year has appeared to be no different. 

So when the WSU DC saw Cal with 21 personnel out on the field, the first thing that should have come to his mind was "run".  Hell, whenever I see Cal take the field with 21 personnel I'm pretty darn sure we're going to see a run.  So the WSU DC should have been signaling his defense to warn them of a run if he was looking at personnel tendencies to determine whether Cal was going to run or pass.  But he didn't.  He seemed to be signaling pass.  So obviously, this rules out possibility (a).  The WSU DC couldn't have known the upcoming play based on personnel tendencies because Cal did the opposite of its personnel tendencies (Cal passed the ball when its personnel tendencies suggest run).

So that leaves possibility (d), that WSU picked our signals. 

How does Cal send in its signals?  I've gone over this a million times but it's always an interesting talk so I don't mind going over it again.

In the early Tedford years, Cal would send in the playcalls via hand signals.  Two backup QBs on the sidelines would give signals to the QB on the field.  One of the sideline QBs was a decoy, and the other one was "live" -- meaning he was sending in the real signal.  By using two QBs, the other team isn't sure which one is live and which one is the decoy.  This makes it harder for the other team to pick (decode) our signals.  However, the astute observer can sometimes still figure out which one is the live one and which one is the decoy.  Sometimes the QB on the field needs a repeat of the signal.  The live QB will signal the play back in.  If the decoy QB isn't paying attention, and doesn't send a decoy signal, then you can instantly tell which QB is live and which is the decoy. 

To better defend against the other team picking signals, many teams now use the number system.  Cal currently uses the number system.  I don't know when Cal made the switch, but it was no later than 2005. 

So how does the number system work?

The starting QB wears a wrist band.  On that wristband are 150 plays (300 if you count the flipped version of each play).  Each play is numbered 1 through 150.  A backup QB on the sideline will signal in the number which corresponds to the play being called.  The starting QB will then open up his wristband and look at the play which corresponds to that number.  Because the offense is signaling in numbers and not the actual plays, there is technically no need to use a decoy QB to also signal a fake number.  There is no way the defense can know the playcall unless they have the wristband themselves.  At the very most, the defense will only know that play 58, for example, is being called (and even then, they won't really know the numbers since they don't know which hand signal corresponds with each number).  And unless the defense is keeping track of which play results for each playcall number, then they aren't going to know the play.  

Cal currently uses two signal QBs despite also using the number system.  Why does Cal use two signal QBs despite using the number system?  Because Cal sometimes also signals in plays via hand signal.  Thus, when Cal does send in the play via actual hand signals, they want the protection of using two QBs (one live and one decoy).  This is pretty rare though.  I would say that on average, only 10% of Cal's offensive plays a game will be signaled in via hand rather than by numbers. 

Now for those of you who do watch the signal QBs on the sidelines, you've probably noticed that both of them are always both signaling -- even despite Cal using the number system 90% of the time.  Why are both QBs signaling when Cal is sending in a number?  Answer: both are sending in the same number.   In other words, the decoy doesn't send in a fake number.  Again, there is no need for two QBs to send in numbers but Cal just does it anyways.  Cal doesn't even bother sending in a decoy number, because like I said earlier, the play is still protected by the number and the defense can't know the play unless they have the wristband themselves. 

(How do I know all this stuff?  I was fortunate enough to learn some of the hand signals from players, as well as on my own).

So after that long explanation, is it possible that the WSU DC picked our signals?  Highly doubtful.  Most of our signals are protected by the numbering system. 

What if that play was sent in via signals rather than a number?  Let's just assume that the play was sent in via actual signals rather than numbers, and WSU knew which sideline QB was the live QB.  Would they be able to tell the upcoming play was a playaction pass based on the hand signals?  Again, highly doubtful.  For the most part, Cal's hand signals do not look like what they are meant to describe.  In other words, if the play is a pass play, the hand signal isn't going to be a "pass the ball" motion or anything.  Likewise, if the play is a run play, the hand signal isn't going to be something which looks like a QB-handoff or a runningback running with the ball.

What if they really did have our wristband?  They wouldn't because it's impossible to get.  If they had a previous week's wristband the plays corresponding to the numbers would be different.  And even if they did have the current wristband, they'd have a hard time understanding the language.  It's not like the playcalls say "pretend to hand-off the ball to Vereen to the right, then pass the ball."  It says a bunch of mumbo jumbo like "yankee zulu left eagle X7 530 zip."  I made that stuff up, but you get the point.  Unless they know what each of those specific words means, then they are still clueless.

So after all that, I think I'm going to have to say this was either (i) the WSU DC warning his defense of the possibility that the play was going to be a playaction pass; or (ii) the WSU DC was just signaling a playcall or some message to his defense which coincidentally appears to be a hand-off and passing-the-ball motion and Cal's subsequent play was also coincidentally a playaction pass. 

Regarding (i), this is probably the most likely scenario.  Cal was running quite a bit of playaction pass early in the game because they figured WSU would be expecting the run.  Additionally, Cal was running a lot of playaction out of its 21 personnel too.  So when the WSU DC  saw Cal taking the field in its 21 personnel, he was probably reminding his defense that despite Cal traditionally running a lot with this personnel set, that Cal was actually playactioning more today instead.

Going back to that BearInsider thread, there were some pretty good questions being asked and pondered.  One BearInsider asks a good question:

There have been rumors since the @Tenn game that our signals are being stolen. What type of precautions are usually taken to protect the signals and how often do they switch them up?

The 2006 Tennessee incident was on the defensive side of the ball.  One of the Tennessee offensive coaches said after the game that they knew what our defensive plays were going to be.  It had nothing to do with our offense.  That story can be read here, but I'll copy the pertinent part below:

• Tedford responded Tuesday to reports that the Vols were able to intercept and decipher Cal's defensive signals last Saturday.

After the game, Tennessee wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor told that Vols coaches knew what defensive sets the Bears would be running based on the signals and then pass the information on to the players.

Tedford said he doubted any signal stealing affected the game.

"I guess it's possible (they stole signals)," Tedford said. "We have different guys giving signals, so they would have to know which guy was giving the signals at that one time."

Tedford didn't say whether the defense would begin wearing wristbands with plays instead of flashing signals.

The coach said when he first came to Cal from Oregon, it did not prove to be a disadvantage for the Bears even though Cal had carried over many of the Ducks' signals.

"Even if you see what is coming, it is hard to relay that to the players and get all 11 guys on the same page," Tedford said.

The very next week, Cal's defense used wristbands and the numbering system. 

Now, for the second part of the question: how often does Cal switch up its signals?  Cal doesn't really switch up its signals, but it does add new signals.  Every offensive coordinator that has come along has added new signals to correspond to unique aspects of their offensive ideology which they have installed.  So while the signals don't usually change, the variety of signals does change.