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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. UCLA

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Let's get real - before the season began, this is one of the games we all mentally circled as "no chance."

Get well soon, TD#9
Get well soon, TD#9
Leonard Chong

And despite our unexpected success thus far, most fans would have to realistically rate our chances at less than a coin toss of pulling the upset.  Don't lie.  We all had visions of Hundley running for a billion Ostrich-like yards on the darn zone-read.

As the first half proceeded, the disparity in size, strength and talent played itself out.  We looked out-matched physically.  Beat up in the trenches.  Abused on the perimeter.  We had walk-ons playing out of position going against blue-chippers...But our Bears would not quit.

The benchmark for success this season has long since acknowledged to ignore wins and losses if only we could be competitive once again.  How can you not see these young, battered Bears hanging on, rallying to one another...somehow scrapping their way into making this into a game against a team some had picked to be a favorite for the NCAA playoffs and not feel a surge of pride?

Sure, we missed some blocks and plenty of tackles.  But our guys were in position to make plays and just got beat.  When time and experience make them stronger, these are battles they will win.

Let's get to the pictures.  (Speaking of which, my father's sideline album can be seen here for those who are interested.)

Some folks might remember how Trey Cheek struggled mightily to get admitted to Cal.  While most would have simply gone JC or accepted a scholarship to another school, Mr. Cheek persevered because he had his heart set on wearing the blue and gold.  After sitting out his 1st year due to injury, he's back on the field again lined up as a nickelback in slot coverage.  UCLA is in a 2x2 spread formation while we look to be countering with quarters coverage.

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But General Kaufman is rolling the dice.  It's a double corner blitz with both Cheek (#23) and White (#6) coming off the edge.

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Westerfield (#33) applies initial pressure forcing Hundley to step up.  Cheek gets picked up by their Oline while White continues to rush.

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...Cheek gets pancaked and looks to be out of the play.  White is blocked by their tailback, but forces Hundley to step up.

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...and Cheek refuses to give up.  He gets back on his feet and dives at Hundley.  Meanwhile, Moose continues in pursuit...

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...don't ignore the Moose.  Cheek's hit jars the ball loose and Jalil finishes him off.  Nickerson(#47) does his best Brandon Crawford impression and scoops it up.

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Face, meet palm.  Get a real Bear already.

hard

Following up on his fumble recovery, the Younger Nickerson uses impeccable timing to force a fumble at the exact moment that his father was being interviewed.  Nothing fancy here.  Just a good run-fit from Nickerson, refuses to be picked off by an Olineman, and a great tackle to knock the ball loose.

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Cedric Dozier is johnny-on-the-spot with the recovery.

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Gotta love how Hardy Sr. turns to see the play and listen to his voice break with emotion when he talks about his son's great play.  Go Bears!

Although we played Quarters as our base for most of the game, General Kaufman mixed things up to try to give his pups a schematic edge.  Just after surrendering a demoralizing score off of a screen that perfectly countered a Cal blitz, you'd think Kaufman would play it safer after the half.  And you'd be wrong.  UCLA goes 2x2 and puts their top WR in motion at the snap.  Cal is playing tight and suggests Cover One...except that McClure (#21) raises a hand to signal that he's picking up the WR in motion.

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Only it's crazier than that.  Cal rushes 7 and goes Cover 0.  Both linebackers + a safety (Lowe #5) blitz while McClure shifts down to pick up the jet-sweep receiver.

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Because the other rushers demand attention, Barton is able to come free unblocked through the B gap while Kearney also comes free around the edge.

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For a brief moment, the Bruin tailback feels acceptance and a sense of real achievement as he is surrounded by Cal players...this moment ends when they plant his face into the turf.

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Now it's late in the game, and it's yet another critical 3rd down.  UCLA goes 2x2 and Cal looks to counter with Quarters coverage.  Quarters concedes the underneath passing game in favor of defending the deep ball while also providing safety help in the box.  Yes, we gave up a ton of yardage to the screen game, but it was a strategic decision to limit their big play ability.

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UCLA looks to exploit our Quarters(Cover 4) coverage with a smash-divide passing concept.  Normally, the bottom corner covers the outside-deep zone while the safety has the cover the middle-deep zone.  By running their bottom inside receiver inside-out, and using their bottom outside receiver to run a deep post, there should be a gap in our zone coverage as the corner releases the outside receiver to the safety.  Payton #9 looks like he's running a double-move where he shows hitch then heads towards the post.  Or, maybe he just can't make up his mind.

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Cal just rushes 3 (oh the horrors), but their young DE, Tony Mekari (#97) fights through and manages to pressure Hundley into throwing early...

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...where he is shocked to realize that it was disguised coverage.  Cal showed a Quarters look, but was actually in Cover-2.  That allowed Lowe to sit deep on their slot receiver and then follow him to the outside.  Meanwhile, Cam Walker dropped with their outside receiver, but then stayed on him in man coverage instead of passing him off.  Against Quarters, the middle of the field should have been wide open.  Instead, Walker is in the perfect position to make a play on the ball.  Hundley might have an NFL 1st round arm and and NFL 1st round body, but his mind is all UCLA.

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It's a pick and a huge play for our young secondary.

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H/T to Head Football writer Nam Le for identifying a new run scheme used this week.  Known as a "split-zone" concept, it involves inside-zone blocking, but using a tight-end running back across the formation to pick off the back-side defensive end.  That sounds suitably complicated and impressive.  But why?

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Misdirection and angles.  The defense will tend to key to the strong side of formation where the tight end originates.  By pulling the tight end backside, your Oline can ignore the end and gain leverage with their blocks to the strongside.  Meanwhile, your tailback knows that the backside block on their end creates a huge cut-back lane.  Watch Powe (mis-labeled above as #89 - oops) run back across the formation and take out their DE.

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In this case, Lasco doesn't need to cut back.  Rigs seals the edge, Cochran cuts his guy, Adcock and Crostwaithe drive forward...

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...and give Lasco a highway to the endzone.

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Later in the game, Cal runs the exact same play using Anderson (#89) as the tight end.  In this case, Cochran makes the key cut-block while Adcock combos w/ Crosthwaithe before moving to the 2nd level and picking off the last LB.

Head Football Writer Nam Le notes that we used this exact same motion to help set up our passing game, too:

Don't throw things at me, but here we have:

In which I defend the Four Verticals play call. "Why didn't we try to hit something in the middle and up the seams?"  The common perception of Four Verticals is that it's looking for the deep home run ball.  Actually, it's a diverse attack that focuses on exploiting gaps in the middle zones.  CougCenter has a great write-up on it here.

But the proof is in the pictures.  Cal goes 3x1 and has Anderson (#89) on the line as a tight end.

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At the snap, Goff fakes the hand-off to Lasco while Crosthwaithe pulls.  It looks like we're running power towards the top.

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The play-action completely fools Myles Jack who dashes forward before falling down trying to backpedal.  Meanwhile, Anderson (#89) gets a free release off the line.  The top two receivers draw the corner and safeties deep...

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...leaving Anderson wide open in the seam for a huge gain.

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In case you think that's a fluke, here's Cal with the same formation only now it's Powe (#10) lined up as a tight end.

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Once again, Goff fakes the hand-off to Lasco while Cochran(#74) pulls as if it's a power run.  The receivers all run go routes.

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Fooled by the play-action, the UCLA LB runs forward before trying to retreat towards Powe.  The deep routes by the other receivers draw off all safety help...

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...and it's a 13-yard gain to Powe right up the middle.  Unfortunately, UCLA's LBs finally caught on to this play and did a much better job in coverage throughout the second half.  Because their front four were so effective disrupting our run game, it allowed their linebackers to focus on our inside receivers.

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So here we are with the critical Play That Should Not Have Been Called.  By now, the formation should look familiar.

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One subtle difference, Goff's fake to Lasco is only cursory and fools no one.  At this point in the game, the UCLA defenders are all playing coverage.  It's part of reason we were able to run the ball effectively earlier in this drive.  Their linebackers stay home and have the speed to smother Anderson.

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Both Treggs and Lawler are tightly covered to the outside while Anderson draws double coverage to the inside.  This play fooled no one and Goff probably should have just thrown it away.  However, he decided that the UCLA CB was giving him the same press man look that resulted in a Lawler fade TD earlier in the game.  The big difference here is how the DB played Lawler.  On the TD, the DB backpedaled initially to cover what looked like a deep out and allowed Lawler to get deep.  On this play, the DB turned his hips immediately and bailed deep.

This might have been miscommunication between Goff and Lawler.  When coaching four verticals, the outside receiver is taught to expect the fade if he beats the corner and to expect the back-shoulder throw if the corner stays deep.  It looks as if Lawler slows slightly expecting the back shoulder and then tries to speed up when he sees that Goff is throwing the fade.  Bottom line, the playcall itself wasn't calling for the home run ball to Lawler.  The first read was to Anderson inside.  In fact, the second read should have been to the bottom outside receiver in solo coverage.  Unfortunately, that should have been either Davis or Harper who were both knocked out of the game.

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Bad call and a bad throw by a young QB who forced the action trying to make a play.  It happens.  Still wouldn't trade him for Hundley any day of the week.

For comparison's sake, here's the coverage Goff took advantage of when he did hit a fade to Lawler.  Notice that the DB back-pedals initially and doesn't turn his hips to bail until Lawler is already at the 1st down mark.

Such is the life of a Cal fan.

Wear it like a badge of honor, fellow Bears.  Our sports teams seem to find new ways to tantalize us with visions of making it to the top...and then that darn boulder rolls down again.

But never fear, we have the ideal situation for a bounce back game.  Nothing like facing the top-ranked team in the conference on a short week with their Heisman candidate QB and flock of skill athletes who create mis-matches across the board to cure what ails you.  At least we'll be playing in our hou...um...yeah.

Stranger things have happened, right?  Usually to us  But maybe, just maybe - we're finally due.

Go Bears!  Beat the Ducks!