The California Golden Bears are 1-2 heading into the bye week with a lot of questions including: why is Berndan Bigelow struggling? What was that Wild Boehm? And where is the defense? The emergence of freshman phenom quarterback Jared Goff has some fans rushing to their wine cellars for some bubbly drinks while the rest of the team has caused other fans to start mixing Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. Hold on to your $6 rally towels (that kinda look like bad rags) and Don't Panic.
If you haven't read Nam Le's epic post on the Ohio State game and his "we are where we thought we'd be" go do that now (Dennis Green had a similar thought but I don't believe he was talking about our Bears). After watching our offense, I expect every pass to be completed and every drive to result in a touchdown. I expect that Brendan Bigelow will break loose every time he touches the ball. Both are unrealistic expectations but I am disappointed when reality does not meet my expectations. Goff's completion percentage is 61.3% after 3 games and Aaron Rodgers had a 61.6% completion percentage after his first season at Cal, nothing wrong with that (check out this recent interview where Jeff Tedford talks about Rodgers's mechanics in detail). Brendan Bigelow is averaging only 4.0 yards per carry, which is below what we would like to see, part of the problem are his 34 yards of lost yardage, but there is another part of the problem and that is where I would like to start.
This is the second play of the game. Cal has a 2nd and 12 and is lined up in the spread with Bigelow just to Goff's left which is the wider side of the field. At the top is #1 Bryce Treggs and a wide receiver (I believe it is #28 Jackson Bouza, I just cannot see his number) and at the bottom are #6 Chris Harper and #89 Stephen Anderson. Ohio State has their Dime package in (4 defensive backs is base, 5 DBs is Nickel and 6 DBs is Dime - how football coaches decided that 5 + 1 = 10 cents is beyond me), with 4 defensive linemen, 1 linebacker (their best defender #10 Ryan Shazier) and 6 DBs. The Dime is a great way to get speed on the field to counter the spread formation.
Just before the snap #5 Brendan Bigelow goes in motion toward the top of the screen (almost looks like arena football but he is legally moving laterally instead of illegally moving forward at the snap), there is no immediate response from the Buckeye defense. #1 Treggs runs a 5 yard curl, the wide receiver runs a go route at the safety, #89 runs a 3 yard drag route and #6 Harper runs a 5 yard slant route on the back side. Bigelow is the number one target on this play, he is running a wheel or flare route. It is a good idea, get Cal's most dynamic player the ball in space. Before the pass the OSU defenders (circled) have eyes only for #5.
When Bigelow catches the ball he immediately has 2 DBs heading for him and Ryan Shazier not far away either. Treggs is WIDE OPEN, no one bothered to even look at him. Anderson is open for a short gain as well.
Brendan Bigelow does what he can to keep this play from being a loss and he actually turns it into a decent gain. The entire OSU defense is in persiut however and he does not get far. I am extremely proud of our wide receivers' blocking ability but on this play no one blocks for Bigelow.
On the first play of Cal's next drive it is 1st and 10 on the 25 yard line. Both Cal and OSU are kind enough to have the exact same personnel in the game. Though OSU is in the Dime they are shifted towards Bigelow's side of the field. This time I can clearly identify Bouza and it is easier to see the routes that will be run. This is the exact same play as the one above.
It is a bad idea to to ignore receivers when playing against Tony Franklin's offense and he makes the Buckeyes pay. This time #10 Shazier follows Bigelow's motion and just after the snal Goff pump fakes in that direction. The OSU defenders bite on the fake leaving #1 Treggs all alone.
Bouza's route provides a pick for Treggs and the official (circled in black) provides another pick, Shazier is going to follow Bigelow anywhere he goes on the field.
Eleven yard gain, first down.
There is a perception that Bigelow is struggling in the run game. Lets look at a couple of his runs and see what happened.
This play is with 3:15 left in the first quarter. Cal is lined up Spread Trips Right (3 receivers to the bottom of the screen, one to the top and Bigelow to the left of the quarterback). #11 Richard Rodgers is lined up tight to the right tackle, almost where a tight end or H-back might line up. Left Guard, #73 Jordan Rigsbee, is going to pull on this run (a pulling lineman, usually a guard, is one who takes a step parallel to the line of scrimmage, instead of forward or back, and who becomes a lead blocker for the running back). Ohio State is once again playing with Dime personnel where #10 Shazier is the only true linebacker, #3 is senior defensive back Corey Brown.
Left Tackle, #78 Freddie Tagaloa, drops into a pass set and blocks the backside defensive end. The Center and Right Guard block down (the defensive lineman to their left) while the Right Tackle kicks out the play side defensive End. The hole (where the run is intended to go) is between the right Guard and Tackle. This is classic football strategy: the left tackle is the best pass blocker, the left guard is the most athletic O-lineman and does most of the pulling while the right guard and tackle are the best run blockers. On this play the outside receivers run short out routes while the inside receivers block, #11 Rodgers draws the critical block on #10 while big #73 leads through the hole and blocks the DB #3.
Brendan Bigelow puts his foot down, heads up field, accelerating through the hole. He makes a lateral cut to his right that would make Gayle Sayers proud.
Shazier manages to get his left arm on Bigelow to bring down the Fresno Flash. Think Bigelow was disappointed that he didn't break this run?
The moves are there, he was just unlucky on this run. Maybe a Tasmanian Devil spin move would have worked.
Bigelow is capable of quick cuts but he can also use his speed. This play is with just over 6 minutes left in the first half. Cal is Spread with 2 receivers on each side of the field (Treggs and Harper outside, Rodgers and probably Powe inside), Bigelow is to the left of Goff. Ohio State is once again in Dime personnel with the Strong Safety playing close to a linebacker position.
Once again #73 Rigsbee will pull and lead through a hole between the right guard and tackle. The inside receivers block while the outside receivers take a step forward and "sit down" waiting for a possible pass (if Ohio State does not cover them, Franklin will look to run a play action to Bigelow and pass to an outside receiver later in the game).
Bigelow decides to head outside instead of through the hole but his speed makes this decision work. The defensive end can only paw at him, Shazier's left arm is nearly ripped off as this time he is unable to bring down Bigelow with an arm tackle and the run goes out of bounds after 6 yards.
Might the run have worked better if Bigelow went where it was designed to go? Maybe, maybe not but his athleticism allowed him to get a good gain on first down.
Brendan Bigelow is a surprise to no one. And no defensive coordinator wants to let #5 beat them. Just because every time he touches the ball isn't a touchdown does not mean that Bigelow is not having a positive impact on the game.
When run game denied
Why does passing attack thrive?
Defense keys on five
Ok, you know it is late at night when I am writing bad Haiku about Cal football (and I am perfectly aware that Haiku are not supposed to rhyme, mine just do). Post your bad Cal Athletics Haiku in the comments, most recs wins!
With Ohio State playing in Dime defense so much I would like to have seen more runs and even the Diamond/Bone formation for some power running. What we ran instead was the BoehmCat where #17 Kyle Boehm, who Sonny Dykes converted from 4th string quarterback to wide receiver in the off season. In the WildCat formation the player at the quaterback position is the primary ball carrier. In this formation #11 Rodgers is lined up as a tight end on the line of scrimmage, #96 Bill Tyndall is lined up as the left tight end and Lucas Gingold #44 is the H-back/Fullback. On this play OSU has Nickel personnel (5 DBs, 2 LBs, 4 DL) either because Shazier is hurt, because it is in the red zone or because they spotted the unusual Cal formation.
Rodgers leaves the defensive end unblocked in order to block #23, Gingold blocks the defensive end while once again #73 Rigsbee pulls from his left tackle spot to lead through the hole and block linebacker #14 (in for injured Shazier). The right guard and tackle double team the defensive tackle and the center blocks down on the other defensive tackle. #96 Tyndall blocks the backside defensive end while #78 Tagaloa peels back, I assume to pass block for a potential passing play out of this formation.
#74 Matt Cochran might be trying to chip block off the double team (which means double team for a second then move to block a linebacker) and this run would be more effective if that was the blocking scheme as #36 would have been blocked and he makes the play. It was more important, however, to successfully double team the defensive tackle and the play gained more than enough yards for a first down.
The OSU safties played deep the entire game which led to few breakaway touchdowns. They were so deep in fact that there was significant space behind the linebacker/Nickel/Dime backs and in front of the safeties. here is one play to Kenny Lawler where Jared Goff took advantage.
I want to give some recognition to our offensive linemen. Remember this is a group starting 2 freshmen (Matt Cochran-Right Guard, Steven Moore - Right Tackle), 2 sophomores (Jordan Rigsbee - Left Guard and Freddie Tagaloa - Left Tackle), and a junior (Chris Adcock - Center) . This play was a touchdown to Chris Harper, who made an amazing run, but it was only possible with a great team effort. This is a Jailbreak screen, which I talked about after the Northwestern game, where the linemen head downfield to block for a wide receiver. I had only seen this play run to the left for Bryce Treggs, and maybe OSU had seen the same because this sure got by them. In the comments after my previous post I talked about how hard it is for a lineman to block in open space. Well on this play they did so well that Charles Davis was singing their praises (and thereby giving us various replay angles).
Edit: Working on my post meant that I didn't get to Kodiak's wonderful post where he looks into just why this play worked. Don't miss Kod's post like I almost did.
Where is the defense?
When talking about the Golden Bears I want to highlight the things that went right and unfortunately on defense not a whole lot went right. As a result this section will not have GIFs or screen caps, I wouldn't want my worst day looping over and over on the internet. But I do want to talk about the defense.
The Ohio State offense started 9 seniors a sophomore and (I think) a freshman against us. That is a veteran team and the spread option is extremely difficult to stop (Kodiak linked to a wonderful article in the comments of my post last week, all football fans should read it). Urban Meyer's version targets the safety with the read plays and we already know depleted Cal's Safety depth chart is (because you read Nam's post, right?). It has been said before but I will repeat it: experience matters in college football. Experience is just as important as skill, size or speed. Though the 10,000 hour rule in sports is hotly debated, there is no question that seeing a pattern (formation, play, or read) makes recognition of that pattern easier. Some athletes pick it up faster than others but experience counts.
The argument that the defense is lacking in effort is just not true. The defensive line is not "phoning it in", do you really think Coach Sacks would let anyone phone it in? I don't think he even owns a phone! The defensive linemen take a beating, especially the interior ones, it is not something you subject yourself to just to make it to the combine. Every game, every snap, goes on the NFL resume. I saw a play in the OSU game where the defensive end played his position perfectly and not only forced the QB to keep on an option play but forced the QB back towards the middle, when the DE turned around though there were no teammates to be found and he was clearly frustrated. These guys want to be successful, but it takes a team. I saw a safety make a bone crushing play on a goal line stand. The safety was in obvious discomfort as he got up off the ground and ran to his position for the quick 4th down snap (which resulted in a touchdown), that was the last play the safety was in the game. He was hurting bad enough that he couldn't return to the game but instead of laying on the ground, he got up and played his position. The defense is fighting every game just like the offense.
I saw plays where OSU was held to 2 or 3 yards but the Buckeyes only needed 1-2 yards for the first down. When everybody on defense plays well the result is an incompletion or a short gain. It isn't as flashy as offense but we notice when they struggle. The mark of a good coaching staff is to have a team playing better at the end of the season than at the start, lets give the coaches and players the chance to grow.
I would like to see Cal play Nickel or Dime defense against spread teams but they can barely field 4 DBs much less 5 or 6. I want to see players beating blocks. I don't know if the lack of pressure on the quarterback is a result of scheme (keeling gap control) or a result of a poor pass rush but I would like to see it improve.
On offense I would like to see more touches for Brendan Bigelow. He is averaging 17 touches a game and I would like to see him get 20 touches a game, I think with more chances there will be more opportunities to break the big play. I would like to see more power running formations against Dime defenses. I liked the 3rd down package with Powe and Rodgers at inside receiver, big targets are hard to defend for the 1st down. Fewer dropped balls, fewer misses of open receivers, holding blocks longer by the line and the receivers. There is improvement to go around for everyone.
I think what has been frustrating me and other Cal fans is that we see a team with a 1-2 record, we fear it is going to be 1-3, yet we see greatness in this team and we want them to perform up to their potential. Remember that the Pac-12 season starts next week, these were just our pre-conference "warm-up" games. This season can still have a lot of success... Don't Panic.
I ran out of time (deadline to post was 15 minutes ago) but here is a final GIF of Jared Goff-Kaepernick:
I love seeing the receivers and linemen block down field when they realize Goff is scrambling.