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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. Washington State

Of all the games to date, this one was the hardest to review. There's no way to sugar-coat it; we were decisively beaten at home by Washington State...And special emphasis on "beaten." They were tougher, more disciplined, better coached, and made fewer mistakes. It's beginning to look like the rebuilding project will take a little longer than originally anticipated.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

From a logical perspective, I think many of us understood that a young team would take its lumps. Seeing it happen in person, however, is a different pill to swallow. Whether it's injuries or just a flat-out overestimation of our talent level, it's clear that our defensive depth is worse than we had feared. Regardless of excuses, are the coaches ultimately responsible for the product on the field? Yes. But does it make sense to pass judgement on the relative merits of the Dykes era after just five games? Not at all.

As a special request, Nam asked me to take a closer look at the D line for this past game. It's tough to be too critical of the pass rush or lack thereof because the Wazzu Air Raid typically gets rid of the ball in less than 2 seconds. Also, to really put a fair grade on the line play, we'd have to know whether their assignments were to tie up blockers or to get penetration upfield.

Here's WSU with a 1st and goal. They have their typical 4WR personnel with a single back. It's strong towards the bottom of the screen with 3WR. Cal is in their base 4-3 personnel. Coleman(91) appears to be lined up between their center and strongside guard in a 1-technique, while Moala(55) is in more of a 3-technique position across from the weakside guard.


At the snap, the center and strongside guard immediately double-team Coleman(91). Their backside guard gets a great push on Moala(55) and moves him out of the A gap. Both Wazzu tackles engulf their respective defensive ends. Fortt(22) and Nickerson(47) immediately flow to fill the backside A gap. Jefferson(7) stays put, probably because he has coverage responsibilities over their slot receiver.


Fortt(22) does a good job of filling the backside A gap. Unfortunately, Nickerson(47) over-pursues and leaves an open cut-back lane. The Wazzu back sees it...


...and Nickerson(47) can't recover in time. Jefferson(7) and Walker(14) don't react in time to stop the Wazzu back before he scores. Coleman(91) did his job, but the other three linemen were non-factors. In particular, it was disappointing to see how easily Moala(55) let himself get pushed backwards. However, if the linemen were supposed to hold their ground and keep blockers from getting to the 2nd level, they did a decent job of protecting their linebackers. Unfortunately, throw in some inexperienced LB play, and that's how you give up six to a team without much of a rushing attack. This isn't a scheme issue; our guys just didn't get it done.


It's another Wazzu 1st and goal with the game still close in the 3rd quarter. The Cougars again deploy their 4WR, 1RB formation. And Cal responds with their base 4-3. Fortt(22/bottom), Nickerson(47/middle), King(10/top) are the linebackers. The lineman are Kragen(13), Coleman(91), Hunter(95), Campo(13). (Top to bottom) Coleman(91) appears to be next to the center/guard in a one-technique while Hunter is positioned as a three-technique.


At the snap, Coleman(91) gets double-teamed by their center and guard. Both tackles lock up our defensive ends and their playside guard hits Hunter(95). Our line actually does a good job holding their ground and preventing any blockers getting to the second level as they count on the linebackers to fill in the gaps. Fortt(22) and Nickerson(47) move quickly upfield to cover the playside A gap. King(10) stays back...either this is a slow read, or thinks he has coverage responsibilities for their slot receiver.(despite also having safety help)


Without anyone filling the backside A gap, there's a large cutback lane which the Wazzu back sees and hits. Coleman(91) fights through his double team and almost gets a hand on him anyway. King(10) and Lowe(5) are still slow to flow to the play...


...and manage to get themselves both blocked by the same Cougar slot receiver. With both Cal defenders taken out of the play, and Walker(14) too far away to matter, the Cougar tailback has an easy lane into the end zone. It looks again like the Dline did a decent job, but poor play from our LBs and Safeties allowed another rushing score. 'Can't knock the coaches for the scheme on this one. Whether we can teach our young linebackers to make faster reads and execute their assignments will be a significant benchmark for evaluating this defensive coaching staff as the year limps along.


Having cleverly played the field position game, Cal has used the controversial tactic of fumbling near the goal line to pin the Cougars deep. WSU comes out with 3 WR and two backs for additional pass protection. Cal is in their base 4-3. One interesting alignment wrinkle is where Coleman(91) and Moala(55) line up. Usually, Coleman sets up as a one-technique between the strongside center and guard while Moala takes a three-technique position between the backside guard and tackle. For this down, Coleman is lined up directly over their center(zero-technique) while Moala is right next to him.


At the snap, Coleman(91) charges upfield between the center and guard while Moala(55) stunts behind him. For once, Coleman isn't double-teamed. The Cougars look to be running an outside zone read. The unusual alignment of Cal's tackles plus the stunting action might have thrown off their blocking assignments. While Lopa(75) pushes upfield, Davis(24) retreats into coverage.


Lopa(75) gets double-teamed, but holds his ground very well. Their playside guard and center head to the second level. Unfortunately, their backside guard is left to deal with Coleman(91) one on one...and finds himself being driven backwards as a human battering ram. Fortt(22) and Davis(24) are quick to fill in the remaining gaps.


Coleman(91) slams the Wazzu guard into their tailback and levels them both. The ensuing tremors aren't an aftershock; that's just Moala(55) jumping up and down celebrating the safety. This one was a combination of a good coaching adjustment with great individual effort.


And last, let's show the offense a little love. Cal comes out with 4WR, three to the top with Treggs(1) alone at the bottom. WSU looks to be in a 3-3-5 defense.


At the snap, Cal pulls their right guard around. This suggests run blocking, but is really used to provide better pass protection against their defensive end. Goff fakes the handoff to Bigelow(5) and looks downfield. It's a class Bear Raid play, "Y-Cross." One of the first reads is to Treggs (1-X) as the solo receiver to the bottom on the go route. The Cougars try to bring some heat and rush five.


But Treggs(1) isn't open. Crosthwaite(74) completes the pull and picks off their outside pass rusher. Bigelow(5) finishes the fake and does a great job stepping up to block a blitzing linebacker. This buys enough time for Goff to slide in the pocket...


...and finds Rodgers(11) coming free on the deep cross. Their linebacker just didn't have the speed to stay with Rodgers after the Cal pass protection bought enough time for Goff to keep his eyes down field. It's a beautiful completion down to the one yard line. Go Bears!



Well, Cal fans, there comes a point where you decide where you stand. Young players grow up and get better. It may not be pretty out there, but this is a team that really could use our support. Who's with me? The Bear will not quit. The Bear will not die. The Bear will not mind setting all sorts of defensive records this year because the Bear will hopefully learn from this soon.

Let's beat the Bruins!