Cal and BYU have played 3 times in the programs' history, all between 1999 and 2005, yet even with the relative lack of games between the two schools there is quite a bit shared between the coaching staffs and their situations.
How did we get here...?
After the 2000 season offensive pioneer and 29 year head coach of the BYU Cougars, LaVell Edwards retired. Another offensive guru, Gary Crowton, was chosen as the successor in Provo (oh do I still remember losing to his Lousiana Tech team who had a seemingly unstoppable Troy Edwards at wide receiver). Crowton's reign started promising with 12 wins in 2001 but he was never able to top 5 wins in his following seasons. Who did BYU turn to in order to set their football program back on the winning track? The man who lost to Crowton in 1997 and 2001, a man known in Berkeley more for how he left our football program than what he achieved with it: Tom Holmoe.
Holmoe was hired as Athletic Director for the Cougars in 2005. He immediately began the coaching search and seriously considered hiring Kyle Wittingham before choosing to promote, then BYU defensive coordinator, Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall can only be considered a success with 9 Bowl (soon to be 10) appearances, 5 top 25 end of the year rankings and a .700 winning percentage over his 10 seasons as head coach.
Even with a coaching record like that, Mendenhall has started to fall prey to criticism this year... He has not topped 8 wins since 2011, nor has his team been a national contender since then. After losing his starting quarterback to injury this year, Mendenhall's Cougars lost four straight games culminating in a blow out loss to Boise State. That prompted one blogger to wonder if Mendenhall would ever be fired.
BYU is one of only four independent schools. Notre Dame, Army and Navy are the others. Each has a niche audience and BYU was pulling in about a million or more viewers a week before their slide cut that number in half for the Nevada game and quartered it for the UNLV game. BYU has no conference to shelter in during the lean seasons, if they are going to compete nationally, they need the national TV exposure and the revenue that comes from winning.
Most important game of the season?
The final regular season game of the year for Cal and BYU might be the most important of the season for either team. Sonny Dykes: offensive guru, former Lousiana Tech head coach and current Cal head coach; needs to show that his program is improving from the disaster that was his first year in Berkeley. Dykes needs a bowl game and winning season. UC Berkeley is currently searching for a new Athletic Director and unless Dykes is well ensconced as a winning head coach the new AD is going to want to bring in, and be judged by the performance of, her/his own head football coach. Bronco Mendenhall, may be tied to the hip of his AD Tom Holmoe, but he still needs a win against a power 5 conference team and a good performance in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec 22nd to provide momentum and excitement for next year's early season games. A flat end to this season and to the start of next could cost Mendenhall and Holmoe their jobs.
Where is the Breakdown?
Enough of the history lesson and suspense building... What is BYU going to do?
Well this part is anything but suspenseful. The formula for beating Cal is now well established: bring pressure on starting quarterback Jared Goff and force backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer into the game to avoid the pass rush.
After losing three games Bronco Mendenhall decided to take over the defensive playcalling for BYU against Boise St. His game plan: Blitz and blitz often. If I had to guess his game plan for Saturday it would be: Blitz and blitz often.
For all the blitzing, BYU managed only two sacks on the day. We will see why in a few plays. First is a blitz that resulted in one of those sacks.
Boise has 2 wide receivers to the bottom of the screen and one wide receiver to the top with a tight end on the left end of the line and a single running back. BYU has two defensive linemen, five linebackers and four defensive backs. That seems like a lot of linebackers but #90 is massive Bronson Kaufusi (6'7'', 265 lbs) who plays more like a rush end.
The key to a successful blitz is to rush more players than the offense has blockers. Since it is unwise to leave receivers uncovered there is a limit to how many defenders can blitz, so the blitz has to be designed to overload one or possibly two points in the blocking scheme. This blitz is designed to overload the B gap on the right side of the offensive line.
The defensive tackle #91 will rush at A-gap and occupy the Offensive Guard while #90 Kaufusi rushed C-gap occupying the Right Tackle. #21 and #2 will blitz the B gap. The BYU secondary is in Cover-1 which is Man-Free coverage: man to man with a deep safety to prevent a touchdown on a broken play.
The running back shifts to cover the blitz in B-gap but he is left with an impossible task... He blocks the inside blitzer (which is the default rule taught to anyone who pass blocks - block the man with the shorter route to the quarterback). With an unblocked blitzer the quarterback must throw this ball now... except no one is open..
BYU has some creative blitzes and though this one is picked up, it could easily cause chaos. Only one defensive lineman has his hand on the turf, the others are all in 2 point stances. The wide receiver is in motion across the formation.
BYU has the snap count timed and #2 with #25 immediately come on a blitz while one of the players at the line drops into shallow coverage.
The tricky part about this blits is that #2 and #25 cross paths on the way in causing potential confusion for the linemen and running back.
The blockers are not confused, the blitz is picked up and the quarterback gets the ball out quickly.
This time #90 Kaufusi stunts over to A-gap while the linebacker #25 loops around to B gap and the safety #2 blitzes C-gap. Once again one of the men on the line of scrimmage drops into shallow coverage.
Kaufusi beats his man and pulls the quarterback down long enough to get his knee to touch for the only other sack of the game.
I think we need to know where Kaufusi, #25 Teu Kautai and #2 Dallin Leavitt are at all times...
Live by the Blitz...
When you live by the blitz the opposing team can learn and adapt.
This play is well blocked, but the blitzing safety actually takes himself out of position to make a play and runs right into the pulling guard. If he had not been blitzing it is likely the guard would have blocked the outside linebacker (who was keeping contain and thereby unable to make the tackle) allowing the safety to stop this run for a short gain. Instead the guard stuck to his rule and blocked the first man in the hole and blew this game wide open.
Die by the Blitz.
Bronco Mendenhall dials up another blitz after giving up the previous run. This time he leaves his secondary in Cover 0... That is man to man across the field without a safety.
Boise State makes a play action fake which stops most of the BYU team in its tracks. The blitzing DB does reach the quarterback... but that speck... That is the ball already in the air...
And we see why they are called Safeties. One misstep by a DB and the receiver is in the clear.
What will the Golden Bears need to do?
Boise State's defense managed to hold BYU without a first down for much of the first quarter, that gave time for the offense to learn how best to deal with the blitz. Boise used a running game, play action, extra pass blockers, quick passes and even the mobility of their quarterback to neutralize the pressure and then exploit it.
Any time a team blitzes it open up a weakness in the defense. The Cal coaching staff has to find these weaknesses. The Bears offensive line has to force BYU to blitz to bring pressure, if three or four pass rushers are enough to pressure Jared Goff, then it will be a replay of what we have been watching the second half of the season.
Wait... This was a Boise State game, where is the trick play?