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Cal vs. Utah Post-Game Thoughts

(1)  This was, perhaps, one of Maynard's most complete games.  I'm not saying he was great.  But he did a number of things this game -- and he did them just well enough to keep the Bears rolling down the field.  He completed passes (19/29 for 65.5% and an above average 8.8 yards per attempt!).  He ran options.  He accurately hit a few passes to WRs on outward breaking routes.  He stayed in the pocket when he needed to.  He ran the zone reads correctly perhaps all but once.  He seemed to be reading more of the field on his dropbacks.  He showed a willingness to scramble *up the middle* (although he got tackled/tripped before he could go far) instead of just scrambling to his left.  He checked down to a secondary receiver on a play designed to go to the RB which Utah defended well.  He looked the calmest he's looked perhaps all year.


Maynard can still use a little improvement.  A few throws were a bit off.  He completely sailed one pass in the east endzone, and he sailed another pass as Cal was driving to the west endzone.  He did get away with one almost-INT.  On that play, it looks as if the DB just broke on the ball really fast and ended up beating the WR to the ball. 

On another instance, late in the game, Maynard made the wrong decision on a zone read.  The Utah DEs Cal was reading was doing a great job pausing just long enough after the snap to cause Maynard to hand off the ball to Sofele, and then crash down on Sofele.  Noticing this, I think Maynard wanted to catch the DE tending to bite down on the handoff to Sofele, and thus he pulled the ball when he shouldn't have.  This resulted in a pretty awkward run where Maynard was practically stumbling over himself trying to juke the Utah defender. 

I've been pretty critical of Maynard not staying in the pocket and manipulating pocket protection when he needs to.  But this game I saw him stick it out in the pocket on numerous instances.  That's the good.  Now what he can do to add onto this new ability is to also scramble up the middle when he's pressured (and when he can).  He has a huge tendency to scramble to his left - which makes sense since he's a lefty.  But running parallel to the LOS doesn't quite stress the defense in the same manner as a QB who can scramble up the middle.  If a QB has shown a tendency to scramble up the middle, it really forces the pass rush to not rush themselves upfield too quickly and put themselves behind the QB.  Maynard did try to scramble up the middle on one instance but couldn't quite make it out of the pocket before getting tripped out. 

(2)  Cal's Defense was Just Challenging Utah to Pass.  For most of the game it seemed as if Cal was playing a lot of man coverage and Man Free (man defense with one high safety).  Cal's defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, must have thought Cal's defensive backs had the skills and athleticism to cover the Utah WRs.  And for the most part, our guys did.  I don't really remember too many instances -- if any -- where a Utah WR just broke away from a Cal DB.  Utah was trying to pick on McClure too (Cal CB #21) and really couldn't take advantage of him too much.  I think there was only one instance where they completed a deep pass on him. 

Utah just couldn't pass the ball as efficiently as they needed to.  Cal did get lucky on two Utah drops which actually could have gone for big yards.  But when Cal wasn't getting lucky on Utah drops, Cal was also doing a good job breaking up passes, and pressuring the QB into making INTs.  Williams (Cal CB #1) had a great game breaking up passes.  McClure got his first INT of his career.  And even Kendricks (Cal LB #30) got in on the action with an INT (although he shamefully got tackled by the QB!).

And when your DBs have the skills and athleticism to lock down the WRs with little to no safety help, the defense can concentrate more on run defense and pass rush. 

(3)  Cal's Rush Defense and Pass Rush Dominate.  Utah's starting runningback only averaged an *extremely* low 2.6 yards per rush.  That is bad (for them, good for us).  Furthermore, his longest scamper of the day was only 14 yards.  Cal's rush defense was pretty much stifling for the entire game.  And correct me if I am wrong, but I think Utah's starting RB's longest run (and the run on which he got his TD), occurred at the end of the game when Cal had its second team defense in. 

As for the pass rush, Cal was finally able to get some sacks.  It seems like all season, we've been having problems closing the deal on sacks.  We'll get guys at the legs of the QB but they just can't get the QB down.  Or we'll have guys just straight whiff on tackles on the QB.  But this game, the Cal defenders were finally able to corral the QB for a few losses. 

In all, Cal's defense was so stifling, that Utah never crossed the 50 yard line before half time.  At halftime, Utah had only 37 yards of total offense.  Utah scored their only touchdown against Cal's second team defense. 

(4)  Utah's Defense Was Just Challenging Cal to Pass.  Just like Cal was playing a lot of man coverage Man Free, Utah was also playing a lot of (what appeared to be) man free against Cal.  I found this surprising because this suggests that Utah thought they had the cornerbacks with the skills and athleticism to lock down Cal WRs Jones (Cal WR #1) and Allen (Cal WR #21).  While neither Allen or Jones blew up on Utah, both were getting enough separation to catch passes.

(5)  Would Have Been Nice to See Bridgford Throw Some Passes.  I think, if anything, this is most Cal fans' biggest complaint about this game.  Bridgford came into the game with 5:58 remaining in the 4th quarter.  Cal was winning 34-3 by then.  It's definitely possible that Bridgford could have come in soon.  On the drive before Bridgford entered the game, Cal was winning (still) 34-3 with 11:16 on the clock.  With a 31 point lead (a four possession game), it seemed pretty safe to bring in Bridgford.  Why Tedford didn't do it, I don't know.  But then again, even if Bridgford came in a series earlier, he still probably would have pretty much handed off the ball to the runningback to burn the clock.  So, in reality, I'm not so sure we would have seen Bridgford throw much anyways even if Tedford played him earlier.  Oh well.  If this is Cal fans' biggest gripe about this game, then I guess I can live with it since it means Cal is winning by a comfortable margin in the 4th quarter.

(6)  Special Teams Follies Continue.  Utah's kick returner has a above average 26.5 yards per return average, aside from a 45 yard long return.  Cal suffers from (another!) blocked field goal.  And... on Utah's PAT attempt after their touchdown, Cal only had EIGHT defenders on the field.  Yup.  EIGHT. 

But, you know, on the bright side, Anger (Cal's punter) had a 46.2 yard punt average, which included a whopping 62 yard boomer.  Tavecchio, on just about every kickoff but one (maybe two), was getting them inside the five yard line.  Heck, one kickoff actually put the Utah kick returner at least five yards INTO the endzone.  So, hallelujah!  It wasn't all negative!

(7)  Sofele Has an "Every-Down Back" Kind of Game.  He only rushed for 83 yards on a 3.2 yard average but that's really not what I'm bringing to light.  He rushed a whopping 26 times this game.  Before this season, there has been a lot of concern about whether Sofele could be that "every down back" ... well, this game he just was.  Is there really any more doubt about whether he can handle the load and the carries???  There shouldn't be.

(8)  This Game Reminded Me of the Opposite of the USC game. Total role reversal.  We were USC.  Utah was Cal.  Just like we turned the ball over a bagillion times against USC, Utah was turned the ball over a bagillion times to us.  You have to think, if Utah doesn't turn the ball over so much against us, this game might have actually been a little closer.  Cal scored 14 points off of turnovers.  That shaves the score down to 20-10.  Perhaps Utah actually scores a touchdown in there on another drive, and we're looking at a 20-17 game.  Like I was saying in my USC post-game thoughts.  If Cal doesn't turn the ball over, Cal either barely loses that game or wins it.  Same can (sort of) be said about this Cal/Utah game.  Turnovers hurt.  You can't be giving the other team defensive touchdowns, or more offensive attempts to score points.  Cal wasn't perfect on offense today; Anger was required to punt five times.  But if Cal doesn't get those three extra possessions to score points (it's not four because Cal scored a touchdown on one of the Utah turnovers so the Cal offense never took the field), then this game is a little closer.

(9)  Tedford Mixing It Up on Run/Pass Tendencies.  One thing I really liked about the offensive playcalling this game was that Tedford was mixing it up between runs/passes this year.  I don't know if you guys have noticed this much or not, but Cal has been passing more often on 3rd and short than in any recent year.  Furthermore, Cal has also been running the ball more on 3rd and longs.  Perhaps the best example of Cal running the ball on third and long this game was Cal's first touchdown of the game.  Cal faced a 3rd and Goal from the 6 yard line.  Most teams probably call up some sort of pass play.  Tedford goes with ... just a simple inside zone read.  Nothing fancy.  Just a little bread and butter here, no fancy Grey Poupon needed. 

(10)  Cal's Eyes In the Sky Were ON too.  As you know, one of the Cal offense's new things this year is doing playcall adjustments at the LOS via the sidelines.  Utah's defense was playing Man Free a lot this game.  I mean, A LOT.  It was basically Man Free, Man Free, Man Free play after play after play (almost).  I saw this.  Cal's eyes in the sky saw this too.  I was expecting Cal to start running pick routes (think like basketball pick plays) or start passing the ball deep against the one deep safety, but Cal didn't do this.  Instead, Cal switched it up to OPTION PLAYS!  Brilliant!  I found this to be an intelligent and interesting alternative to attacking Man Free.  Why?  Well, with Man Free, the defense had defenders matched up against Cal's WRs, TE, and RB.  But the only other free defender to cover the QB is the free safety and he's the one playing the deep zone.  In other words, nobody is really covering the QB on a run play (the LBs are typically assigned to cover the RB and TE, not the QB), so running an option is great way to get some easy yardage.  And Cal did get some pretty easy yardage on those option run plays called by the Cal offensive staff.  

(11)  Tedford Outcoaches the Utah Defensive Coordinator and Wins the Chessmatch.  I've already talked about Tedford mixing up Cal's run/pass tendencies based on down&distance this year.  But what else did Tedford do a great job doing this game?  This is something which I haven't seen anybody mention on the internet.  I've already talked about Cal attacking Man Free with the option attack (brilliant!), so it's not that.  

Cal was actually running a playside zone read

After reviewing the film for this game, I realized, Cal wasn't solely running the traditional zone read this game.  The traditional zone is a backside zone read.  Meaning, the defender that the QB "reads" is the backside pursuit defender (usually the defensive end that the RB is running away from).  But Tedford decides to show a new card up his sleeve with the playside zone read.  On this play, Maynard actually reads the defensive end to the side that Sofele is running to! 

This COMPLETELY caught Utah off guard.  I think the first four times Cal ran this play, it went for at least 5 yard gains each time because the Utah defenders did not know what to do.  On film, they had seen Cal run its regular (backside) zone read time and time again.  But Cal (as far as I've noticed) hasn't run the playside zone read yet all season.  And then boom!  Cal does it. 

And you know at halftime, the Utah Defensive Coordinator told his players that Cal was running the playside zone read and was coaching up his players on how to defend it.  So what does Tedford do on THE VERY FIRST PLAY AFTER HALFTIME???

Tedford, knowing that the Utah defense is now going to be looking out for that playside zone read...

Runs the backside zone read!!!

Can you say "Sofele for a 17 yard gain"??? 

Brilliant.  Tedford was ON this game.  If you can't tell, I'm pretty excited about this stuff.  When I have more time later this season, or during the off-season, I'm definitely going to break down some of these plays I just mentioned. This is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, X&O playcalling right here.