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2011 Cal vs. Oregon Post-Game Thoughts

(1) Story of the Game #1:  Cal's Defense Gives The Team a Chance.  Cal holds Oregon to 14 points in the first quarter and blanks them in the second quarter.  It looks like this is an upset in the making if only Cal's offense can complete a pass.

(2)  Story of the Game #2:  Major Maynard Letdown.  There are numerous reasons why Cal lost the game, but one of the bigger reasons was very disappointing play by Maynard (Cal QB #15).  Statistically, he was pretty bad.  He had a 50% completion rate, and a below average 5.3 yards per pass attempt.  Realistically, he was very bad.  It was getting to the point that during the game I was actually having Riley flashbacks (former Cal QB #13).  I'm not trying to hammer Maynard, but he just couldn't make the throws.  He couldn't even make the easy throws.  His feet weren't set.  His head wasn't straight.  His balls were WAY off target -- FREQUENTLY.  I'm not sure if it was the pressure of playing on national TV against a ranked team on the road or what, but he just was not on at all.  The coaches gave him chances though.  They kept letting him throw.  They were demonstrating to him that they had confidence in him that he could break out of his cold streak... but he just couldn't do it.

(3)  Oregon's First Touchdown Due to Busted Outside Containment.  Stopping Oregon's run game requires disciplined gap integrity.  For about 98% of the time during the first half, Cal had it.  But on that first Oregon touchdown, Cal linebacker McCain (Cal LB #40) lost his outside containment on that run play and gave up the touchdown.  Yes, he was held a little bit... but as that outside guy you just CANNOT let the ball carrier get outside of you.  You have to keep that ball carrier to the inside where your help is.  Oregon's runningbacks have the speed to beat your help if you give them that outside edge, and that's what happened to Cal.

(4)  Oregon's Second Touchdown Due to Is Nothing New.  Remember that Chip Kelly / Clancy Pendergast chess match post I wrote a while back?  Oregon's second touchdown was utilizing that same concept.  Cal was playing either a Cover Zero or Man Free.  Oregon had trips WRs right, with one TE left.  Oregon saw that Cal was playing man coverage.  So they faked a run towards the trips, and gave the ball to their WR in the slot who was coming back around against the flow of the play.  Then the TE on the offense's left side blocked the Cal defender (Cal CB #1 S. Williams) who was in man coverage and following the WR.  As I said before in my post, it's just one offensive guy (the TE) taking out two defenders (the LB covering the TE, and the CB covering the WR).  The only difference between that play and the play in my analysis post is just that it's a different formation, and a different delivery (method of getting the ball to the ball carrier), but it's the same concept at play. 

(5)  Pendergast Basically Uses the Same Gameplan as Last Year.  I think the big question mark going into this game was whether Cal Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast would use the same Cover Zero defense most of the game again, and whether Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly would do anything different this game.  The answer?  Not really.  Both sides had mostly the same stuff as they've shown in last year's game and other non Cal/Oregon games. 

Cal pretty much played Cover Zero most of the game.  On obvious passing downs they switched to zones.  Why did the gameplan work better last year than this year?  Cal isn't as talented on defense as it was last year.  Last year we had Cameron Jordan, Chris Conte, and Mike Mohamed tearing things up on the field.  This year, we had a lot of young players out there getting beat.  So it just came down to execution.  The schemes were mostly the same, but the player performances weren't the same.

Oregon ran their same offense.  I didn't happen to notice anything really new.  The only big difference is that they had more success passing the ball than last year.  Why is that?  Cal lost some experienced players in the secondary (Conte, Nnabuife, Hagan) from last year and instead had younger players out there who weren't matching up as well against Oregon.  Oregon was finally having success hitting flag routes and deep posts which they weren't able to do last year.

(6)  Cal Throws Out a New Formation on Offense.  Tedford decided to throw a new wrinkle at the Oregon defense by using a new formation that put three backs into the backfield behind the QB.  I think (I didn't quite catch it) that two of those backs were H-backs -- probably a TE or FB.  Those two H-backs were lined up in the offense's B gaps (the gap between the guards and tackles).  This made the formation balanced since there was no TE off to one side like usual.  This means that Cal is being completely ambiguous as to which way it's going to run the ball. 

(7)  Surprised That Cal Didn't Run the Ball More.  In a game like this when Cal is facing a high powered offense like Oregon's, Tedford usually likes to run the ball, play ball control, and win the time of possession battle.  So I was fully expecting Cal to run the rock long and hard with both Sofele (Cal RB #20) and Anderson (Cal RB #9) all day long.  Surprisingly, Cal seemed like it really wanted to pass the ball.  I think the decision to pass more often was fine.  I'm sure Tedford arrived at that decision after watching plenty of film and he saw something he wanted to exploit.  But what really surprised me was how Tedford kept passing the ball when it was quite clear how ineffective Maynard (Cal QB #15) was going to be that night.  I already mentioned this above, but I guess it showed that Tedford wanted to demonstrate to Maynard that he had faith in him to complete the passes and break out of his funk.  I can't blame Tedford for wanting to show some trust in his starting QB... but at the same time I really wanted to see Cal run the ball more. 

(8)  Anderson Gets More Short Yardage Opportunities.  After Cal's loss to Washington two weeks ago, everyone and their mother was complaining about how Anderson (Cal RB #9) should have been in for those two goalline runs (and short yardage plays in general).  It appears as if Tedford was listening to everyone (hallelujah!) because Anderson saw a lot more action in some short yardage opportunities. 

Specifically, Anderson faced a 3rd and 2 during the 3rd Quarter which resulted in a loss of one yard.  He also faced a 1st and Goal from the Oregon 2 yard line in the 4th Quarter which resulted in a two yard loss.  He also faced a 3rd and 1 late in the fourth quarter which resulted in an 8 yard gain. 

I'm not sure why Anderson didn't convert those first two short yardage plays, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact there were defenders in the backfield as soon as he was handed the ball. 

And I'm not sure why Anderson was able to convert that 3rd and 1 for an 8 yard gain but I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that there was a gaping wide hole for him to plow through. 

(9)  Bridgford (Cal QB #16) Gets Some Playing Time.  And he looked light-years better than Maynard.  Yes, I am aware that Maynard finished the game with a completion rate of about 50% and Bridgford finished the game with a completion rate of 42% (8/19).  But Bridgford was calmer.  He was more accurate.  He stayed in the pocket and manipulated pocket protection.  He stepped up into the pocket.  I know I sound like a broken record but Maynard has GOT to step up into the pocket and manipulate pocket protection.  Bridgford's timing and footwork were solid.  His weight transfer of his throws were good.  Bridgford keeps his eyes down the field even when things are starting to get hairy around him.

Plenty of people will criticize Maynard for his happy feet.   I'm not really one who hates to see happy feet.  One of the best QBs in the NFL has the happiest feet you've ever seen (Peyton Manning).  Hell, even our beloved Aaron Rodgers playfully bounces around in the pocket like a four-year old in those huge inflatable air fun houses.  Rodgers even throws in little jump passes too every now and then.  But back to my point.  I don't think happy feet are really that bad.  QBs want to be light on their feet when in the pocket so they can throw at a moment's notice.  If you stay flat footed then you're not going to be able to get that weight transfer going as quickly.  To me, Maynard's happy feet were a problem because it was more indicative of his nervousness.  When that first read wasn't open, his world just came crashing down.  He couldn't find another open WR and even if he did, he couldn't make the throw.

I actually think the game would have been a whole lot different if Bridgford were the QB instead of Maynard.  Maybe Bridgford played better because by the time he was in the game, the game was no longer in doubt.  There was less pressure.  That's a reasonable explanation.  Maybe if Bridgford had started the game to begin with he wouldn't have played so well.  Very possible.  But no matter what the explanation for Bridgford's decent performance, he just looked better to me than what Maynard was showing on the field. 

I know in my Presbyterian Post-Game Thoughts I stated that based on the limited sample size of Bridgford pass attempts from that game that Maynard appeared to be the better QB.  For now, I think I still am standing by that statement.  Maynard is still probably Cal's best option for QB this year, but I do think that Bridgford's good showing (juxtaposed against Maynard's poor showing) really earned him some brownie points. 

Bridgford DOES have a longer and slower delivery than Maynard though.  I wouldn't say that it's so long as to where it is really detrimental to him -- at least not here on the college level.  But it would be nice if it were shorter and quicker.  Bridgford does appear to have a stronger arm than Maynard though.

(10) Snap Notification.  Remember in my Colorado post-game thoughts I mentioned how Cal's right guard (Cheadle) would notify the center (Galas) of when the QB was ready for the shotgun snap by giving the center a little poke in the arm?  While watching the Detroit Lions play the Dallas Cowboys this two weekends ago, I noticed the Detroit Lions RG doing the exact same thing!  Looks like this little notification system might have been something which Cal Offensive Lineman Coach Michalczik might have picked up from the NFL.  Next time you watch the Detroit Lions play (tonight on Monday Night Football would be a good start!), keep an eye out for their right guard doing the snap notification. 

Oh, and it was nice to hear the TV announcers talk about that same point I made too.  I bet you they read this blog just like Tedford does.

(11) Execution is key.  Over on Ted Miller's Pac-12 blog, Mr. Miller has a great quote from Oregon head coach Chip Kelly:

Oregon's nailbiting 15-13 win over California last year is remembered for a number of reasons.

For one, the Bears held the Ducks to a season-low in points and yards (317). Second, many pundits would insist that it became a blueprint for how to slow down the Ducks.

Cal won the battle up front, particularly defensive end and future NFL first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan. It was able to penetrate and disrupted the Ducks rhythm. It was effective in man coverage. It had linebackers fast enough to spy Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas. It tackled well. It didn't fall for the Ducks misdirection.

It seemed to give Oregon some specific looks that caused confusion, but Ducks coach Chip Kelly said "Nope," when asked if Cal did anything special schematically.

"They executed," Kelly said. "That's what the game of college football comes down to, which team on which given day can execute better than the other team. They did a really nice job executing against us. A fundamentally sound defense. No real holes in it."

I say it time and time again.  It's about execution.  Execution is the single most determinative factor in who wins football games.  It seems so obvious, right?  Apparently not.  Football fans nation wide love to look elsewhere to place the blame when things go wrong.  Typical explanations: playcalling sucked, coaching sucked, the team quit, playcalling lacks creativity, etc.  All those explanations are secondary to the fact that (1) a player made a mistake; and/or (2) the opposing player out-executed the player they are matched up against. 

Coaches know what's up.  Chip Kelly just laid it all out for fans.  Execution, execution, execution.  Fancy gameplans do help out, but even the perfect gameplan is useless against superior EXECUTION. 

I mean, I just find it so mind-boggling how football fans love to try and find the most complex answers to why their team isn't winning when the single most important answer is right in front of them.

Cal lost to Oregon because we didn't execute as well as they did.  We gave up the big runs and lost the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half.  Also, our offense couldn't put points on the board.  That's all there is to it.

(12)  To Pass or to Run ... That is the Question.  While reading an ESPN Magazine, I was reminded of the whole Nash Equilibrium thing.  For those of you who don't know what it is, you can google it for a more thorough explanation than I'm about to provide, but it's basically a game theory strategy in which a football team should run or pass in a proportion such that the average yards per rush is equivalent to the average yards gained per pass attempt.  In other words, if a team is rushing the ball 76% of the time (and only passing the ball 24% of the time), but their average yards per rush are equal to their average yards per pass attempt, then they're maximizing their offense.  On the other hand, if a team is rushing the ball 55% of the time (and passing the ball 45% of the time), but their average yards per rush is 3.5 yards, and their average yards per pass attempt is 7.0 yards, then the team should pass more. 

So that got me wondering how Cal was doing so far on the season.  Prior to the Oregon game, Cal was averaging about 5.0 yards per rush between both Sofele (Cal RB #20) and Anderson (Cal RB #9).  On the other hand, Cal was averaging about 7.78 yards per pass attempt from Maynard (Cal QB #15).  Thus, Nash Equilibrium says that Cal should be passing more. 

Before I just looked those numbers (and those numbers are kinda messed up thanks to the Presbyterian game), I was thinking the same thing.  Cal's passing attack is undoubtedly much better than its rushing attack this year.  Cal has lots of big time play makers at receiver who probably need to get the ball more often whenever possible. 

Of course, Nash equilibrium is just a statistic machine and it doesn't take into account the defensive personnel, the defensive formations, and down-n-distance which so often dictate whether a team runs or passes the ball.  Thus, the Nash Equilibrium conclusion can't be blindly taken in whole without further (actual) X&O football analysis... but it is an interesting tool to use and think about.

Now, what were Cal's statistics during the Oregon game?  Cal was averaging about 5.35 yards per pass attempt, and about 7.4 yards per rush between Sofele and Anderson.  So Nash Equilibrium states that Cal should have run the ball more.

How many times did Cal pass the ball during the game?  Cal attempted 60 pass attempts.
How many times did Cal rush the ball during the game?  Cal rushed the ball approximately 25 times. 

That's 71% passing the ball, and 29% rushing the ball.  Now, I know those statistics are a bit whack because Cal was in desperation mode towards the end and was passing the ball left and right, but even if we bumped those numbers down to something like 60% passing and 40% rushing, I still think Cal wasn't rushing the ball enough.   As I said before, the typical football strategy for games like this is to just control the ball by running it which slows down the game.  I would have liked to see Cal rushing the ball 60% of the time, and passing the ball 40% of the time.  With a balance like that then the rush average and pass average would probably be more equal.

BUT... before we all go ape shit about playcalling let's remember one thing:  Tedford scouted Oregon's defense, and we didn't (or at least I didn't and I'm pretty sure 99.999% of those reading this didn't either).  Tedford probably saw something in their pass defense which he was trying to exploit and hence why he was passing so much.  

(13)  Students first, Athletes second.  Here's another interesting reason why Cal lost the game: Cal sends its players to class.  Yup.  They go to class and miss practice.  Okanes has the scoop:

Not only does a Thursday game force the Bears to alter their practice schedule, but it has an impact academically as well. Tedford said there may be some players who are forced to miss practice tomorrow becasue of classes. The Bears normally have Mondays off, and although most Monday classes are on a Mon-Wed-Fri schedule, there are some that are just once a week on Mondays. Players take Mon-Wed-Fri classes in the afternoons because of morning practices, but some have Monday morning classes since Mondays are usually a day off from football.

"They are going to miss practice to go to class. Class takes priority," Tedford said.

While I admire Tedford for being that coach who has always pushed academics first and sports second, I think that attitude may also be his undoing.  Having a nice high APR rating and a 90%+ graduation rate is nice and all, but Cal fans are like other college football fans across the nation in that they ultimately want to see wins.  Am I right?  Would you really be willing to take mediocre season after mediocre season for a 100% graduation rate, or would you rather take 9+ win season after 9+ win season and a 80% graduation rate?  I'm betting most Cal fans would take the latter, and if not the latter then they would say that Cal needs to find a head coach who can not only graduate the football players but also deliver BCS bowls.  Good luck with that search.  You can probably only count the number of coaches who truly care about academics and can deliver frequent BCS bowls on the fingers of one hand.

So unless Tedford starts delivering 9+ wins in 2012, and 2013 at the very latest, I think that it won't matter that he's emphasizing academics at an academic school.  Cal may be an academic school, but its fans are sports fans, and sports fans want wins.  Tedford will get canned.  And without regard to his abilities as a head coach, I do think that it would be unfortunate since he seems to be the perfect academics coach for this academic school.