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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. UW

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As far as games go, this one was less than ideal.

Leonard Chong

Well, Cal fans...You didn't think the path to redemption would be easy, right?

With the pre-kick-off announcements that we'd be without McClure, Lowe, and Scarlett, the Worry Closet was already fit to overflow.  Surprisingly, our D did their best to hold the rope while it was our high-flyin' O that crashed down to earth with the rudest of reality checks.

Give credit to UW and their coaching staff.  Coach Petersen was known for slaying his share of giants at Boise when he had extra time to prepare.  It was clear that they had us well-scouted on both sides of the ball.  They ignored the run to focus on the pass, got pressure out of just 3-4, and didn't panic when we had early gains on the ground.  They knew we wanted to throw it, so they never gave us easy openings or time to go deep.  Their D was focused on making us dink and dunk our way down the field;  and our execution wasn't consistent enough to get that done.  Besides the Oline struggling with Shelton up the middle and Kikaha on the edge, it's the first game all year where our inside receivers were overwhelmed physically when trying to make blocks.

Truth be told, it's a humbling lesson for our young Bear Raiders.

But, that's how cubs learn how to bring down dangerous adversaries.  We'll lick our wounds and get better.

The film wasn't pretty, but we'll get to it anyway.  For those interested, my father's sideline photos can be found here.

It's early and hope was still sparkly in the hearts of Blues young and old.  Cal comes out 2x1 and have Anderson on the line as a tight end with Lasco in the backfield.  UW looks to counter with a 4-3 under and look to have both safeties deep in a Cover 2 look.  They're clearly more worried about the pass than the run.

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So Cal decides to run power.  At the snap, Anderson kicks out their end and Borrayo pulls.  Rigsbee rumbles forward to the second level.  Croswaithe cuts one tackle while Adcock goes mano a mountain on Danny Shelton.  Despite the apparent hand-off, UW's other LB, Shaq Thompson (#7) plays pass first by staying at home on the slot receiver.

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Textbook blocking.  Rigs has a great 2nd level block on their linebacker while Anderson and Borrayo plow the road.  Gold star to Adcock for standing up the Mountain Who Walks solo.  Lasco has an open lane...

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...and he bursts through for 10 before Thompson recovers enough to make the tackle.  This early play showed UW's gameplan:  Cover 2 and concede short passes or runs.  They relied on their front 3-4 to get pressure while flooding the passing lanes with extra defenders.  Sadly enough, it worked.  Goff didn't have the time to go deep against double coverage, UW's LBs did a great job in underneath coverage, and Shelton/Kikaha were shifted all over in order to get pressure out of base looks.

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Playing coverage w/ 7-8 yet still getting pressure is one of the oldest formulas for victory.  Did Cal ultimately figure out how to move the ball?  Ignoring the scoreboard for a moment, Cal comes out 2x2 with Watson #5 as a wing.  UW still looks to be in a nickel package playing Cover 2.  It's an unfavorable down n' distance because we just took yet another sack (despite holding) on first down.

1a

At the snap, UW rushes 3 and drops 8 into coverage.  This means most of Cal's receiver have over/under coverage as they go out into their routes.  But the bottom slot, Powe, is pressed at the line...

1b

...and he fights off the press with a great handwork and a release inside.  Watson's arrow route at the top draws off an interior LB away from the middle of the field.

1c

Goff throws to Powe who is hit immediately...but drags his defender downfield.  At first contact, he's still 15 yards away from the first down marker...

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...Powe breaks the first tackle and gets grabbed by All-Everything Shaq Thompson.  He's still 10 yards away from the marker...

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...but Powe refuses to go down.  He drags Thompson and their safety before finally getting hit by a third defender just short of the marker and setting up a third and manageable.  It's a huge display of heart and effort by a receiver coming off a serious shoulder injury.

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Another play, another penalty.  Cal dials up the adversity meter again and gets put in a long yardage 2nd down after a holding call.  We go 2x2 and put Watson #5 as a wing.  UW is in a base 4-3, playing Cover 2 with both safeties deep.

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Cal uses a classic Air Raid passing concept and puts a triangle around the bottom slot defender.  The outside receiver runs a go, the inside receiver runs a stick, and the back releases in a wheel route.  This forces the slot defender into the impossible decision of trying to be in three different places.  Remember those early swing passes to the tailback?  UW's defender certainly does;  he decides to stay wide to cover the back in the flat.

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This leaves Treggs wide open in an underneath hole in the zone.

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Goff sticks it in and Treggs slips between two defenders to set up 3rd and short.

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On the other side, the shorthanded Cal D hasn't been given too many favors by the offense.  UW is 2x2 and Cal looks to be going Cover 1 with both LBs threatening blitz.  Usually, Cal does this to disguise their coverage.

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But not this time, both LB's blitz along with their lone safety, Piatt.  It's a Cover 0 all-or-nothing blitz.  Eat your hearts out, Rush-3 Haterz.

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...except it isn't.  While the LB's and S blitz, both tackles drop back into underneath zone coverage.  UW's back picks up Cal's LB and that leaves an open run at the QB by Piatt.

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As Piatt comes through the hole, Miles scrambles and has to hold the ball because Cal's DT (Clark) has dropped into zone coverage underneath his primary target.  His secondary receiver looks to come free...

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...but it's too late because Piatt has him in the grass before he can get it off.  Score one for all you blitz-happy Bears out there.  Unfortunately, Mr. Piatt later suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season.  For a redshirt frosh and a converted WR-turned-safety, he really stepped up in our time of need.  Best wishes to him for a full and speedy recovery.

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It's a desperate time for Cal as they just fumbled it again and have UW set up in the red zone.  UW has 21 personnel using double tight ends with a lone tailback.  Cal looks like they're in Cover 1.

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At the snap, both of Cal's OLBs blitz.  UW tackle lets Kearney (#30) go by as he heads to a 2nd level block on an LB.  Meanwhile, UW's right guard pulls and draws a bead on Kearney...

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...but Kearney blows right by him and heads into the backfield.  It's handoff and UW's tailback looks like he wants to give it to their slot receiver on the reverse.  There's a lot of open grass with Miles blocking a single edge defender to the top.

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...Except that Kearney already has their tailback wrapped up and he can't hand it off.  What could have been a big UW play turned into a huge TFL.  Even so, notice that Cal's backside defenders stayed disciplined and have angles on the tailback.  This is the type of play that would have gone for Forrest Gump yardage last year.

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Now UW comes out with 4 wideouts in a 2x2 formation.  Cal looks to be in Cover 4 using three down linemen and one LB playing slightly back from the LOS.

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At the snap, Cal's bottom OLB(Kearney) rushes while the top OLB near the line of scrimmage drops back into coverage.  Allensworth also blitzes from his outside corner position.  To cover for the blitz, Cal's LBs rotate towards the bottom to pick up the slot and outside receivers.

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UW's tailback picks up Kearney, but that gives Allensworth a free run at Miles.  He has nothing open underneath because Cal's LBs have gotten to the receivers in time.

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...And Miles goes down.  It's the second TFL in a row and a huge response from a defense that refused to quit.

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Sadly enough, UW has given other teams the template to fabricate their own Bear Raid kryptonite;  play coverage, accept gashes in the run game, and send pressure up the middle w/ your base pass rush.  Many of our next opponents are talented enough to replicate this formula, so it'll be up to Dykes & Co. to figure out a response.

On the plus side, you have to respect the spirit of a defense that has suffered attrition and abuse all year, yet is still finding ways to compete.

Watch walk-on senior Austin Clark burst upfield while Moose sheds and destroys.  You think these guys have given up?

We knew this year was a re-build and success would be measured more than by the win-loss column.  The murderer's row of our next few games may very well prove that true.  But when we say, "The Bear will not quit.  The Bear will not die," that goes for fans, too.

Let's remind the water-stealers that they need a their own song and a real bear.

What's a Bruin anyway?  (Please reply in comments)  Go Bears!