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Was Jeff Tedford Too Aggressive Against Colorado?

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Cal Coach Jeff Tedford has often been criticized for having a conservative style of play calling. Many people have said they'd like to see a more aggressive Cal team out there sometimes. We even ha d a post about a series of calls in the Big Game 2009 that is titled "Was Jeff Tedford too passive? Was Jim Harbaugh too aggressive?"

In reviewing the comments of that thread, a lot of readers felt that Coach Tedford was, in fact, too passive in that game. It is a cricitism that has followed Coach Tedford around these past few years. People say that he plays not to lose sometimes or that in big, blowout victories he takes the foot off of the pedal. Well, on Saturday, we saw Cal beat Colorado 52-7. In the latter parts of that game, Cal fans were excited, appalled, or some other adjective when they saw Coach Tedford and offensive coordinator Andy Ludgwig make some interesting play calls.

After the jump, let's take a closer look at some of these play calls. And we can take another look at the eternal question, Is Jeff Tedford too aggressive?

Let's jump directly to the 4th quarter. Cal is up 31-7. Colorado had scored its sole TD of the game with about 2.5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

What is the first Cal play of the 4th quarter with the game pretty much already out of hand?

 C 1-10 C36   CALIFORNIA drive start at 13:26.
C 1-10 C36 Riley, Kevin SR pass complete to Jones, Marvin for 62 yards to the CU2,
1ST DOWN CAL (Smith, Jimmy).

Deep pass to Marvin Jones with another great run from Jones to make it 62 yards. Jones was helped, btw, by the Colorado DB just plain falling over. Cal scores on that drive.

The next time Cal gets the ball, they do run the ball somewhat, but they also have the following passes:

 C 1-10 V49   Riley, Kevin deep pass incomplete to Allen, Keenan (Brown, Jalil).

 C 3-12 C49   [SHOT], Riley, Kevin RR pass complete to Ross, Jeremy for 27 yards to
the CU24, 1ST DOWN CAL (Perkins,Anthony).

Both deep pass attempts. With approximately 7 minutes left in the game up big with a demoralized opponent, Tedford and Ludwig were still throwing deep. With the game essentially over, cal was still pressing the advantage. We haven't even discussed this play, which was right after the 27 yard pass to Jeremy Ross:

 C 1-10 V24   [SHOT], Jones, Marvin rush DV for 23 yards to the CU1, 1ST DOWN
(Sipili, Michael).

This was a reverse! A reverse!

Now, I think most Cal fans would think in the 4th quarter with Cal up big and getting up bigger, Tedford and Ludwig would just call a lot of this:

   C 1-10 V44   Yarnway, Dasart rush up middle for 5 yards to the CU39 (Obi, Conrad).
C 2-5 V39 Yarnway, Dasart rush up middle for 2 yards to the CU37 (Pericak, Will).
C 3-3 V37 Yarnway, Dasart rush up middle for no gain to the CU37 (Pericak, Will).

At the tail end of the game with just a few minutes left, we did see a lot of that. However, I felt that it was a change from previous years where most of the second half and definitely the 4th quarter would be running attempts designed to quickly run out the clock. This begs a few questions?

1. Did Coach Tedford and his coaching staff feel that Riley and the first team offense needed further game-condition reps? This could be true. The offense did not look as smooth as one might have hoped. Thanks to great field position and a staunch D, Cal was able to put up 52 points two weeks in a row. However, there were times when it seemed as if the cal offense make improvement. One perfect example is Kevin Riley's accuracy. Earlier in the game, Riley had missed a wide open Marvin Jones on 4th and 2. There were a few other times that it seemed Riley missed wide open receivers. Even with the great numbers he was putting up against Davis and Colorado, you felt as if he could have made some improvements. Perhaps Tedford and Co. felt the same way.

2. Was this a breach of game etiquette? Many Cal fans decry the pure evil of a Coach Pete Carroll who called a TD long bomb against UCLA last year when the game was easily over and Coach Jim Harbaugh who went for 2 against USC when that game was also very over. Now, Coach Tedford was pressing the advantage late in the game. Coach Tedford was clearly being aggressive here, was it too aggressive? Was it just the right amount of aggressiveness? I do not pretend to have the answers for these questions, but leave it to you gentle reader.

HydroTech: My dear TwistNHook, please allow me to play devil's advocate and say that Tedford (or to be more precise that Ludwig was running up the score as since he is the one calling the plays) was not running up the score.

You say point to the fact that Cal threw the ball to start the fourth quarter when the score was 31-7 as running up the score. Well, my dear TwistNHook, a score of 31-7 is a mere 24 point differential. That's only a three possession game. With 15 minutes remaining in the game, you cannot surely say that the game's outcome is in doubt. I'm sure I don't need to actually dig up statistics on how many teams have made 24+ point comebacks in the fourth quarter. We all know that crazy stuff happens, and that 24+ point comebacks have happened before. So putting more points on the board despite the score being 31-7 is NOT running up the score.

Furthermore, Cal only ran six offensive plays in the 3rd quarter. Yes, only six plays over two drives (two three-and-outs). Quite simply, Tedford wanted the first team to get more reps executing the halftime adjustments. You see, even if Cal was winning the game by the score of 100-0 at halftime, every football coach would play their first team offense coming out of halftime. Why? Because you want the first team to practice executing the halftime adjustments. Executing a mere six plays is not enough repetitions to practice executing the halftime adjustments. And clearly, the Cal offense was having trouble executing the halftime adjustments and adjusting to Colorado's halftime adjustments as since the Cal offense was forced to go three-and-out two drives in a row. So, my dear TwistNHook, these additional repetitions against the Colorado offense, which included passes, were needed practice.

And please, do not point to the fact that the pass to Marvin Jones went for 62 yards. At least 40 yards of that was due to run after the catch. Jones ran a mere flag route, caught the ball, then ran for the additional yardage. If Jones had caught the ball, been tackled, and only gained 20 yards on the play, would people be complaining that Tedford was running up the score? No. Quite simply, all these complaints about this play being a "running up the score" play are no fault of Tedford or Jones, but due to the inability of Colorado's defenders to defend the pass and tackle the ball carrier. The offense cannot help it if the defense sucks that much. What is the offense supposed to do, just kneel the ball for three straight downs, then punt? That would be an insult to the Colorado defense. In fact, the mere act of continuing to put points on the board against Colorado is a sign of respect. It shows that Cal fears a comeback, and needs more points to insure a victory. So Colorado should feel flattered that Cal continued to pass at this point in the game.

Next you point to a deep pass to Allen, and Ross' reverse as more evidence of running up the score. Well, again, I ask what is the offense supposed to do? Just kneel down? Hand the ball to the defense? Cal needs to run the clock to get the game over. Cal can either run the clock by running or passing. Colorado was stacking the box and playing the run more than the pass. Is Cal supposed to run the ball into the teeth of the defense for one to two yard gains for three straight downs then just punt the ball away? If Cal did that, Colorado would surely try and score points by passing the ball and presumably extending the length of the game (due to incompletions, and first downs which stop the clock). All the while, these desperation acts by Colorado to score would leave more time on the clock for the Cal offense to score again should the Colorado offense turn the ball over, or subject Colorado greater embarrassment by increasing the chances of a defensive touchdown.

I need to only direction your attention to the last Cal offensive drive of the game to demonstrate the point that by Cal controlling the ball will result in Cal scoring *less* points than Colorado controlling the ball. On Cal's last offensive drive of the game, Tedford went for a 1st down on a 4th and 3 on Colorado's own 37 yard line with less than a minute remaining. Is this an attempt at running up the score? NO! Tedford is just trying to get another first down so he can kneel the ball and end the game to spare Colorado from further embarrassment! Cal didn't convert that 4th and 3, and thus Colorado got the ball back. What did Colorado try and do once they go the ball back? Just like I told you they would, Colorado attempted to score. And what happened?

1st and 10 at CAL 29Tyler Hansen pass complete to Ryan Deehan, fumbled, recovered by Cal Darian Hagan at the Cal 18, Darian Hagan for 82 yards, to the Colo 0 for a TOUCHDOWN.

So you see, TwistNHook, these are not dishonorable attempts by Tedford (or/and Ludwig) to run up the score. These are attempts to continue getting first downs, to burn the clock, and limit scoring by the Cal offense.

TwistNHook: Most precious HydroTech, thank you so much for that information. It does help put some things in greater perspective. However, I think that perhaps we need to take another look at the game to see a potential change in attitude. We have to look not just at the tail end of the game, but also earlier. I mentioned this before, but let's take a closer look at it. In the first quarter, Cal went for it on 4th down. At midfield!

C 4-2  V39   Riley, Kevin LL pass incomplete to Allen, Keenan.

Of course, it actually failed. I should note that a)I totally thought it was Marvin Jones there, not Keenan Allen when I was at the game and b)Allen was ridiculously wide open. Riley, unfortunately, could not get the ball to him. This is reminiscent of one of the calls from Big Game 2009 last year where Tedford did not go for it on 4th at midfield. Cal punted the ball and backed Stanford deep in their own territory (the Cardinal then marched down the field, but that's moderately unrelated).

Here, Tedford made the play call that apparently the numbers and the fans wanted him to make. A much more aggressive play call. And it was actually worse off then if they had punted as Colorado then had the ball at midfield. I'm not necessarily talking about the play here regarding whether or not it succeeded or failed. Instead, I'm looking at the fact that Tedford made this call.

Are we seeing a more aggressive Tedford?

Kodiak: Hydro pretty much nailed it. Not sure I have too much to add because I agree with him.

I look at it like this: Football is not simply a game featuring the acquisition and conquest of enemy territory; it is a battle of wills. (roughly paraphrased from Necessary Roughness)

One of the biggest differences between the pros and the college game is the impact that morale can have on the players.

When Tedford first came to Cal, he made a concerted effort to rebuild the damaged psyche and confidence of the players. We started our first game with a trick play. We went for it on 4th down more often than not that year, even though accuracy and making good reads weren't Boller's strengths. Strategically, perhaps not the wisest X's and O's. But the impact on morale was huge. It showed the players that the coach had confidence in them. At the risk of sounding too Disney, it helped the players believe in themselves.

Fast-forward to last few years...Tedford feels that his program is more established and admittedly immerses himself more in the X's and O's. As fans, we begin to see a pattern emerge. More decisions which favor ball control, field position...Making the safe choice. Playing the percentages. And last year, we also saw the wheels comes off and the team fall apart unlike anything we've ever seen under Tedford. At its worst, the team played flat, dispirited, and beaten.

And I think that really bothered him. As upset as we get over losses and missed opportunities, it absolutely eats him up. So, he spent the offseason looking over what went wrong and decided that he has to focus more on team morale. Keeping the guys loose. Making the game fun again. Focusing on competition.


IMG_3211 (via Monica's Dad)

My somewhat hair-brained theory is this:

Last year, Tedford knew better than us what he had at QB; an inconsistent Riley who was just as likely to make a brilliant throw as he was to air-mail one over a wide-open receiver. By the percentages, ball-control and field position is the better call. So, Tedford played it safe - and it didn't work out.

This year, Tedford still knows better than us what we have at QB; an inconsistent Riley who is somewhat (we hope) more likely to make a good throw as missing a wide-open guy. But, he also knows he has to build his guy up if we're going to have any shot at a respectable year.

So even though his D is playing lights out, his punter could probably pin CU on their goal line, and sacrificing field position could provide the momentum needed to revive CU's offense, Tedford says "screw the percentages. You're my guy, Riley. Go get it."

Okay, so Riley then misses a wide-open Jones...I still see this as a questionable football decision tactically, but a great football decision strategically. How else can Riley continue to grow and evolve unless you show him that you have confidence in him?

I see the "deep" throws in the 4th quarter being representative of the same thinking; Tedford wants and needs Riley and the offense to get better. To do so, they need to execute within game-conditions. Although playing ball control and trying to burn clock might be the safer play, it also wastes an opportunity to get better. So, is there more risk? Sure. You could let CU back in the game. Riley could continue to struggle. But, is there also the potential for more reward? Absolutely. How much better do you think Riley feels having nailed those last TD throws to Allen and Sofele as opposed to if he spent the whole 2nd half just handing off?

So, I suppose I don't see any of these decisions as being aggressive for the mere sake of aggression. I see them as calculated moves designed to build his QB's and team's psyche. Now whether Tedford reverts to his percentages and play-it-safe mode in a tight game remains to be seen...