A Closer Look at Cal's 2009 Defense and Special Teams, Part 1

Next week, the California Golden Bears will kickoff the 2010 season at home versus UC Davis. Fall camp is in full effect and the team is fired up for what will be a very entertaining Pac10 conference race and college football season altogether. After speaking with some of the CGB posters during Spring camp, a very good question was raised:

How could a [defense] with standouts at each level perform so poorly. With Tyson [Defensive Line], Mohammed [Linebacker], and Syd [Secondary], you think you’d be fairly solid or at least average. For instance, you’d think the Az and ’furd game would be more the norm instead of the exception.

This observation caught my attention since I had a few previous conversations discussing this topic of concern.  It seemed like there was enough interest for a few posts on this subject, so I began investigating and partaking in some shady backroom deals to uncover information about the struggles of Cal's defense and special teams throughout the 2009 campaign.  However, some unanticipated projects hit my desk like a Zack Follett collision from his Pop Warner days and deciding I was not removed far enough away from the season to look at things objectively without drinking heavily are the two convenient excuses I offer up for pushing these stories back four months. But alas, I had some free time recently and wrote a five part series. It will examine, with the help of YouTube clips, some areas of breakdowns that Cal's defense and special teams struggled with throughout 2009.

I will concentrate particularly on the Oregon, Oregon State, and Utah losses from 2009 per some CGB requests.  I did not have the raw footage to cut the USC nor Washington games so those games will be left out of this analysis (You can thank me in the comments section for sparing you the heartache, tears, and emotional distress).  I did pick some lowlights from the Maryland, UCLA, and Stanfurd wins to demonstrate that Cal's execution was inconsistent throughout the season but it did not always lead to a loss.  The one thing to note is that about 80% of the plays I am showing in this series resulted in either a touchdown or field goal scored on that play or later in the drive.

I realize that the new season is right around the corner.  The intention of this series is not to stick it to the team but to shed some light on the question block quoted above by showing some of the smaller yet key breakdowns that usually go unnoticed by the untrained eyes during the fast paced action of the game.  I would have loved to have written full game by game and overall season breakdowns of the defense but it is next to impossible with time constraints and the varying football backgrounds on the blog.  Some of the areas I will be breaking down may seem a bit basic and repetitive but the point is to show that player execution is a key component to the success of any defense.  Games are often decided by a single play so the margin for error on any given snap needs to be as small as possible. 

With that said, you may or may not pick up a thing or two reading this series.  Regardless, I hope these posts will provide a good read.  Go Bears!



The most basic strategy for every defense is to keep the opposing team from scoring.  How a defense game plans to achieve this changes accordingly based on the opponent but one of the goals that shows up every week is solid tackling.  Wrapping up and bringing down an offensive player upon first contact is of the utmost importance.  It can set up favorable down and distance situations or allow the defense to live to fight another day.  Who knows what could happen on the next snap?  Fumble?  Interception? 

In the video clips below, you will see how mistackles and bad tackling angles led to big gains, scores, and changed momentum in 3 of Cal's games from 2009.


In this first clip, the Cal safety mistackles the Oregon State tight end.  While not the easiest tackle to make (and since the camera angles do not clearly show the coverage called,  the defensive back cannot be completely faulted since it may have been a blown assignment by somebody else although I believe this was squarely the DB's assignment), approximately 25 extra yards were gained that put OSU at Cal’s 10 yard line and set up their first touchdown.  If this tackle was made, Cal would have had 1/4 the length of a entire football field more to defend.  THAT is a lot of football that could have been played.



In this second video, the collision between the Cal defenders looks to have been just enough to allow the OSU receiver to get loose and into the end zone.  If the tackle gets made, it would have been 1st and Goal and the defense would have had three more tries to stop 7 points from going up on the board.  Although the odds are against a defense from keeping the opponent from scoring that deep in their own territory, at least the defense would have had a fighting chance of making something happen.

There is something else in these 2 clips that I will revisit in a future post.  See if you can find it!



This next clip is a bit unique because Utah was in a 1st and 5 situation due to a prior penalty on Cal’s defense.  A nifty move by the Utah receiver caused Cal’s cornerback to leave his feet a bit too early and allowed about 12 extra yards.  The defense stopped Utah on the next set of downs but the mistackle helped set up a much easier field goal attempt for Utah.



Another clip from the bowl game shows a different Cal defensive back leaving his feet early to make the tackle and getting juked for 40 extra yards.  If this tackle is made, it is a 3 yard loss and puts Utah in a 2nd and 13 situation, a down and distance situation that favors the defense.  Cal gave up a field goal on this drive and it is possible that Utah might have scored a touchdown, but the mistackle needs to be looked at in the context of the game.  On Cal’s previous drive, they scored and swung momentum into their favor late in the 3rd quarter after struggling for a 25 minute stretch on offense.  With this mistackle, the momentum swung back in Utah’s favor and put them up by 9 points (two scores instead of just one), a deficit too big for Cal to overcome.



In this last clip taken from the 2009 Big Game, the Furd running back took the ball inside the red zone on Stanfurd’s final drive with a catch and run that showcased some bad tackle attempts.  The mistackles included a bad angle taken to the receiver and the defender leaving his feet too early (1), a juke on the next defender that left him grabbing air (2), and hitting the ball carrier too high when the legs should have been the primary target (3).   This play did not lead to a score for Stanfurd but I wanted to show how mistackles could potentially be fatal to the outcome of a game.  In case any Stanfurd fans are reading, a courtesy video for you:


Big Game 2009 - Mike Mohammed Interception (via asporter)



Mistackling was just one of the problems that contributed to the lackluster results of Cal's 2009 defense.  I only clipped 5 mistackles but there were many, many more along the way.  Football is a game of inches and for every inch a defense gives up, the chances increase that the offense puts up points on the board.   Field position is key to winning games and for the defense to keep the opponent from scoring.  I will dive deeper into this train of thought in the next installment of this series.

Look for Part 2 of 5 soon.

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