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Cal Football: A Brief History Of Personnel Dictating Scheme

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For those wondering about the type of schemes we've run over the years, a brief primer (if you want a better primer, HydroTech's four part series is available here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).

Personnel dictates scheme forever and ever. If you have a scheme you want to run, you'd better have the personnel to back it up. Mike Leach can't run his version of the Airraid unless he has four wide receivers ready and willing to go, Chip Kelly can't run his spread attack at full tilt without dynamic playmakers at running back, David Shaw can't grind opponents down without his massive offensive lines and tight ends roaming the field causing matchup problems whereever they go.

The same holds true at Cal. Our personnel can unleash some of the monstrous assaults we've ever seen, like with the downfield passing game in 2006, the monstrous run game in 2008, or the unlimited power we demonstrated in 2004. But when we don't have enough of the players we like at specific positions, it can hold us back from the type of offense we'd optimally like to run.

The early part of Tedford's tenure was marked by an offense that pretty much fit all the standard conventions of what a typical offense would look like. As Hydro pointed out in his original Tedford offense post from years back, it was a lot of quarterback under center, I-formation, occasionally aces, but nothing out of the ordinary from what you normally see on Sunday (if watered down for college purposes). Honestly, I feel this is the offense Tedford would like to run most of the time, simply because you can attack from so many different angles and hit so many different spots on the field.

Why did we run basic? Generally, that was the type of football team we fielded. The Cal 2002 starting lineup had a blue-collar attitude and blue-collar players. No great talents other than maybe MacArthur, but plenty of strong, physical players that can hit you at the line of scrimmage and really force a team on its heels. Also, Kyle Boller could generally throw the football anywhere around the field. So the Bears relied a lot on the passing game early on, then settled down and handed off the ball to Igber progressively more as the year went on. The 2002 (and to a similar extent 2003) teams reminded me of the 2011 one; the offense was probably better-suited to go the passing route, but achieved far greater success when the run game got going, and that dictum has held true for almost the entire age of Tedford football.

In 2004 you saw the Tedford ideal in motion. So much I-formation, talented running backs, lots of big ugly action. The result was a lot of power run. Aaron Rodgers was at times an afterthought, but his scary Heisman-caliber season really made it easy for Arrington and Lynch to explode through the holes Robertson and Merz were setting. The next year, many of the same principles were in place, and Cal's run game barely missed a beat. That was as close to a quarterback-independent offense as you can possibly get--despite below-average play from the position, the Bears still won nine games and nearly won another three. That was a group of guys gifted to fit a power-heavy, play-action offense, and they rocked it.

Things started going wild in 2006, when Cal started showcasing some spread and option elements. Cal never married themselves to the shotgun (they still worked primarily under center), but the more diversified sets and more showing of shotgun was mainly designed to get the football to their playmakers (particularly their top three talented wide recievers) early and often. DeSean Jackson running the entire receiver tree, Lavelle Hawkins on slants and posts, Robert Jordan on intermediate routes, Craig Stevens every now and then, Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch on screens ... there were so many options on that unit, so many places to go with the offense.

Similar concepts emerged in 2007 with a similar group as we tried to hybridize both pro and spread elements in the passing game, although quarterback and offensive line issues for the first time really bit deep in conjunction. You saw how we survived in 2005 with one of those positions being great and the other being the opposite. Not so much this time around, especially in an unusually strong Pac-10. Losing Lynch (a nightmare for opposing defenses to gameplan against) also made it easier for defense to plug up the run and slow the offense down.

In 2008, the Bears returned to basics, and despite having a forgettable passing game, Cal managed to garner two more wins with an arguably less talented offensive squad. The main reason was an outstanding year by our defense, an inspired offensive line that relied heavily on a new scheme and our best weapon at running back. Given an All-American center and decent run blocking from everyone else, the Bears pounded teams with the ground game into submission.

We didn't deviate too much from that strategy the next two seasons with regards to the run. With regards to the pass, in 2009 and 2010 the Bears seemed to operate a lot more in shotgun, particularly in the passing game. We saw a lot of multiple wide receiver sets and less fullback and tight end formations. It seemed to help the passing game get going a lot quicker, although it did tend to weaken the rush a bit. Again though, personnel played a role in our offensive demise, as Cal enjoyed none of those offensive-line advantages of 2008 and seemed to never get better than average QB performances. Despite having two NFL-caliber running backs, Cal could only tread .500 in the conference. The results were mainly average, as Furd and Oregon leapt up to claim the offensive mantle of the conference with their own styles and schemes. We struggled to get offense going on either the passing or the running front.

Last year, we saw another significant shift as we had an athletic quarterback that could do multiple things with the football. That led to more creative plays and interesting schemes and formations, but generally it tended toward more three-wide or four-wide sets, with tight ends and running backs occasionally lining out as wide receivers. Interestingly, for the first time, Cal seemed to really commit to running spread principles while at the same time meshing them with our regular schemes. Cal ran the ball a lot more from shotgun and executed zone-read plays and option looks with a greater regularity than previous seasons.

In each of these situations, you see the offense morphing to match the personnel on the field. When Cal had bruisers, we went bread-and-butter and ran the football out of standard sets. When Cal had to rely on more of a finesse game with gamebreaking wide receivers, they established more shotgun elements to try and release the football to open up the passing game which in turn would establish the run. When Cal had an athletic quarterback who could run the football, they gave him the option to go as he felt more comfortable in the pocket.

Tedford seems to get a lot of flak for his inflexibility, but in many ways his offense has been one of the more flexible ones in the Pac-12, perhaps in all of college football. Every year the scheme changes to fit the personnel we have Unfortunately, as can be the case with the majority of college football squads, he just hasn't had the complete personnel to make that offense roar.