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Nevada's Pistol Offense Shoots First, Wounds Many Cal Defenders

I decided to take a look back at some of the breakdowns that plagued the Golden Bears in their defeat to the Wolf Pack.   I went play-by-play and managed to get to break down the first seven of them in-detail. I'll try and break down the bolded plays individually, and should have a post on it for your late-night consumption. I'll give you guys a taste of my gamefilm style (mightily inferior to Hydro's) with a link to the first play breakdown.

First possession, first quarter

1st and 10, Nevada 20: Taua, Vai rush for 3 yards to the NEV23 (Holt, D.J.). Click here for gamefilm breakdown

Nevada runs its veer play with a little twist--the flanker tight end Virgil Green comes in motion to block out Keith Browner. So Colin Kaepernick is kind of reading Browner. It seems like a test play to see how well Browner can shed blockers. Green knocks him off easily.

Nevada's offensive line does not allow any penetration on inside zone until after Taua is tackled, although center Jeff Meads is clearly holding onto Derrick Hill's jersey to keep him from being released. Releasing Browner, they double-team and contain Cameron Jordan easily, although right tackle Steve Haley takes a little too long that he lets D.J. Holt get to Taua before he can break the edge.

2nd and 7, N23, Kaepernick, C. rush for 17 yards to the NEV40, 1ST DOWN NEV (Conte, Chris;Hill, Josh).

The first veer play where Kaepernick faked the handoff to Taua, Browner crashed to Taua, and Kaepernick wheeled to the outside.

People were piling on Browner pretty quick for not showing discipline. See, I don't blame Browner because he's ALREADY taking aim at Taua before Kaepernick even attempts the scrape exchange. If he was misreading Kaepernick he'd be taking a few steps in or out, not running full-force inside. Pendergast seemed to be ordering the outside linebackers before the game: "If you're unblocked, crash toward the running back. Contain the inside and let the inside linebackers seal the outside." (slightly embarrassing: Browner didn't even tackle Taua)

The fundamental error comes from behind. Robert Mullins has the left side of the field, D.J. Holt the right. If the OLBs are crashing to contain inside, the ILBs have to shed blocks and wheel to the outside to make sure they can contain any outside runs.  Kaepernick begins to curl to the left. Mullins, instead of tracking Kaepernick in the open field, comes inside to run over the left tackle Jose Acuna. So not only does Browner crash inside, so does Mullins. That leaves the outside open.

Holt (the only freed man in the box) now has to chase down Kaepernick and gets blocked out by the pulling tight end Green (who was probably expecting Mullins, but was happy to deal with the Cal linebacker who had to go further on the play). That gives Kaepernick an additional ten-twelve yards on the play, turning a modest gain into a huge first down.

John Bender also executes a nice cut-block on Jordan to keep him from blowing up the play in the backfield.


1st and 10, Nevada 40: Taua, Vai rush for loss of 1 yard to the NEV39 (Jordan, Cameron;Kendricks, Mych).

Nevada lines three wide receivers to the right and the tight end. The linebackers have shifted a bit. Kaepernick reads Kendricks. Kendricks does not bite inside on this occasion.

The rest of this play belongs to Cameron Jordan. Recognizing that the tight end and right tackle will be tag-teaming him, Jordan digs to the inside and attacks the B gap between guard and tackle to avoid the double-team. Jordan drags Steve Haley like a woman drags her man for linen shopping, busting his way right to the backfield, and stuffs Taua.

It looks like Nevada's center semi-holds Hill again. Feel free to call it anytime refs.


2nd and 11, Nevada 39: Taua, Vai rush for no gain to the NEV39 (Hill, Derrick;Holt, D.J.)

Kendricks moves from covering the slot receiver and hops on over to the defensive end position. Jordan shifts over and it looks like the three defensive linemen, two outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage formation (I know it has a name, but I'm blanking on it at this point).  Kaepernick recognizes this and audibles the play to a designed handoff. Nevada offensive line leaves Kendricks unblocked, but pulls wide receiver Brandon Wimberly from the left to take him out of the play. Wimberly has minimal success, spinning to the ground afterward, although he does keep Kendricks from having a huge impact on the play.

Jordan again is the big disruptor. The right tackle tries to come from his left side to try and pin him to the ground; Jordan pulls him along with himliterally moves his assignment out of the way and forces Taua to dance. D.J Holt evades the incoming block from the downfield moving right guard Chris Barker and stuffs Taua. Derrick Hill with a big assist, bull-rushing Meads. Perhaps he was tired of being held by the Nevada center.

One interesting note: The tackles have swapped positions. #79, Jose Acuna, had been at left tackle the first three plays. On the fourth play he switches to right tackle and has just as much success trying to contain Jordan as Haley had the play before. This will not be the last time the tackles switch formation in this game. If you're watching the tape, check that out.


3rd and 11, N39, Kaepernick, C. pass complete to Session, Tray for 14 yards to the CAL47, 1ST DOWN NEV (Hagan, Darian).

Cal is in their 3-3-5 (it's a strange formation; Jarred Price is technically a defensive end here on the edge, Owusu is the nose tackle, and Jordan stays at strongside). Kendricks is inching toward the line of scrimmage as if to indicate a blitz, but drops back for a bit, as if to keep Kaepernick for scrambling out of the pocket and racing for the first down. The Bears other three rushers are unable to generate pressure quickly enough. Jordan gets to the quarterback a second too late, but shows some nice ability with a spin move on Haley. Jordan might've gotten there if right guard John Bender doesn't hold onto Jordan's arm (for those counting, that's THREE semi-holding penalties on this drive).

Kaepernick is allowed to deliver down the field to Tray Session on a little vertical in route on the left side. Kaepernick goes to his reads--two of his receivers are covered, and when Mullins comes down to guard the safety valve, that leaves him one option in single coverage, Session. Great press coverage by Darian Hagan, better throw by Kaepernick.  Big play in this game.


1st and 10, C47 Session, Tray rush for loss of 3 yards to the 50 yardline (Hill, Josh;Anthony, Marc).

Kendrick Payne takes over at nose tackle. Kendrick Payne gets triple teamed on the opening snap. Kendrick Payne doesn't play a role here. Why am I talking about Kendrick Payne?

Nevada has wide receiver trips (two flankers, one split end) on the right, which should be a clear indicator a screen is coming. Cal has only one-on-one on each of those guys, so the defenders thankfully recognize ti's coming. Kendricks blitzes from the edge, and Jordan again abuses his man on one-on-one coverage; the tailback has to come in to keep Jordan from getting all  the way to the quarterback. Jordan AGAIN looks like he's being held by the tackle (Acuna is hooking him around his arm to prevent him from escaping), although it's again in the annoying zone of a no-call, especially on the road. Nevada's plays are so fast that it's hard to see these blatant penalties in real-time.

This is Nevada's own version of the triple option (handoff to the RB, or QB run, or quick pass). Both Josh Hill and Marc Anthony are up to the challenge though, showing anticipation before the throw comes, shedding their blocks and gang-tackling Session behind the line of scrimmage. For Cal fans who hated all the screen success teams have had on us lately, this is a welcome reprieve.


2nd and 13, N50 Kaepernick, C. rush for 21 yards to the CAL29, 1ST DOWN NEV (Hill, Josh;Holt, D.J.) 

This play is not a welcome anything. This is worse than the first Kaepernick run because this is bad execution and bad officiating.

Browner again crashes inside to the running back, but this time does get to Taua and wraps him up. Which is what makes the behavior of the inside linebackers and the strong safety all the more befuddling--why do they all crash inside? D.J. Holt I can kind of understand in support of the play (he has the middle-of-field responsibilty), but why is Robert Mullins shading inside and trying to provide help? You don't need nine guys in the box to handle Taua, especially with only six blockers up front. Kaepernick again has an even wider angle to exploit, and he happily seizes the opportunity once the inside linebackers and strong safety bite.

When Chris Conte recognizes his mistake, he takes a really weird angle to the ball and tries to aim at his current standing point--Kaepernick strides right past him. I give credit to Josh Hill for evading his blocker and making the tackle again on Kaepernick as the last level of defense.

Finally, in being the only one to recognize the read-fake, then subsequently shedding his receiver assignment and forcing Kaepernick as far inside as he could, Darian Hagan gets rewarded with a block in the back. LET ME REPEAT, DARIAN HAGAN GETS BLOCKED IN THE FREAKING BACK (see #15 in blue trucking that poor guy in white at lower right?). He might not have made the tackle (the instant replay angle indicates he wouldn't), but that's a ten yard penalty that would've made it 2nd and 20 something. Seems like the WAC officials were just as happy to watch Kaepernick as the rest of us.

This is only the first part of the drive by the way.

I thought I'd come away from this analysis of the first few plays of the Nevada Pistol with a healthy appreciation of the dynamism of the offense. I did...but not as much as my new-found appreciation for (of all things) Pac-10 officiating. If even ONE of those holding and blocking calls is made, Nevada is punting this ball on this drive, and we might have a much different ballgame.

Note: If you like the post and the supplementary material in the three gamefilm analyses I managed to write and would like to see more of those, I would gladly accept donations (just click on my People's Park box below).  Sorry if I seem like a mercenary, but these posts take forever to write and involve me watching the same plays over and over again. I'd like to keep on writing them, and I'd like to keep the content free. The more you donate, the more time I'll be able to dedicate to analyzing the tape and ensuring you guys get to read more. I'm not paid by the site, as all of our profits are donated to the Cal Band. This donation model can be a good compromise.

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