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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. Sac State

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For the first time in many moons, film review was actually fun the past two weeks. I alternate between chortling and looking over my shoulder nervously as if the Feds are going to kick down my door for watching contraband.

Leonard Chong

Winning this game was expected.  But our fragile psyches demanded that we exert dominance and show the ability to run the ball at will.  Accordingly, today's focus is all about Coach Yenser's #WarPigs and the Cal running game.

Cal comes out in a new formation.  Inside WR's Powe(#10) and Hudson(#11) are lined up on the line as if it were a double tight-end set.  Sac State's base personnel is a 4-2-5.  In this case, they've gone with a five man front, but have the safeties deep in what looks to be a Cover-2 look.  It's a We-Are-Going-To-Run look from Cal and a We-Don't-Believe-You-Will-Run look from Sac State.  And can you blame them?  Even though we know that we want to establish the run and they know that we want to establish the run, Tony Franklin is batsh!t insane crazy-aggressive enough to call anything at any time and from any look.

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At the snap, Borrayo pulls and Crosthwaite tries to combo block the nose tackle with Adcock before moving to pick off the closer LB on the 2nd level.  Powe, Moore, Hudson all block straight ahead while Rigsbee creates a hole by pushing his man towards the center of the line. The Sac State MLB drops deep initially which also suggests that this was Cover 2.  Goff turns to hand-off to Lasco.

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Crosthwaite isn't able to get to the near LB.  This means Borrayo has to take him and can't get to the deep LB.  There's a hole between Borrayo and Rigsbee, but the unblocked LB has a clear line to Lasco.

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The Sac State LB hits Lasco for what would be a short gain...

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...but Lasco runs out of the tackle.  Powe continues to block fiercely down the field.

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As Lasco fights for more yardage, his linemen continue to move downfield and throw a pancake party around the first down marker.  Unless the Cal tailbacks can either shake that first defender or break a tackle, blocks at the 2nd level will be the difference between an effective or frustrating ground attack.  Case in point:  Cal ran this exact same play on 2nd down, and were stopped for a short gain because we weren't able to get our linemen on their LBs again.

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Tag-team alert!  Superstar head football writer, Nam Le, already covered this play in his novel. But while he focused on the dagger route concepts that helped free up the receivers, I'm looking at the Oline.

Luke Rubenzer(#8) checks into the game and everyone on the field is immediately thinking "QBkeeperQBkeeperQBkeeper!!"

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At the snap, Borrayo pulls.  Many defenses teach their linebackers to read the action of the offense's guards to determine run or pass.  In this case, the Hornet linebackers and bottom slot defender across from Powe come charging towards the line of scrimmage.  The top slot defender has to stay home because it's his job to provide contain on the QB.  Luke looks to hand-off...

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...but it's a fake.  While Luke drops back to pass, Borrayo completes his pull, but re-sets as a pass defender.  Lasco moves up into the hole and also plants himself into pass pro.  Meanwhile, Powe continues his crossing route and has no underneath defenders within five yards of him.

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Nam has helpfully drawn a routes and circles here.  Interesting that being younger doesn't necessary mean you've got straighter arrows. (Hi-yo!)

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The dagger concept (deep route clearing out a crossing route) helps get Powe free, but pulling Borrayo after already establishing the willingness to use a power run is what really sells the play-action.

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And you know how the rest goes.  Touchdown Bears!

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For the first time this season, Cal breaks out their Bone Formation.  Berkelium97 has a very detailed review on how this particular diamond look forces the defense to leave solo coverage on the outside.  Gingold and Hudson check in as the upbacks.  Notice how the entire Hornet defense is pulled in tight to compensate for Cal's numbers.

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At the snap, Cal pulls Crosthwaite and both bone backs move towards the top.  By leaving the bottom slot defender unblocked, Cal looks to create a numbers advantage at the point of attack.

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Gingold and Hudson double-team the edge defender and Crosthwaite engulfs the near linebacker.  Lasco has a lane to the corner, but cuts inside.  Unfortunately, if one of the bone backs had hit the hole first, there would have been no one left unblocked.  Instead, Sac State's best defender comes free...

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...and stops Lasco for no gain.

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Cal and Sac State line up again for a re-match on 2nd down.  Both offense and defense look to be in the same formations and personnel.  Beware Bone Part Deux.

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Once again, Cal pulls Crosthwaite and Hudson while leaving the backside slot defender unblocked.

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Ironically, this time the Cal bone backs get both of their guys.  Lasco has a clear lane for a walk-in touchdown.

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But that would mean we wouldn't get to see this.  I guess that's okay, too. (HT:  Photo by Leonard Chong)

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Notice a pattern yet?  It's not exactly rope-a-dope, but there's some combo action going on here.  Cal comes out with their standard 4WR single back set, but have Powe tight and on the line like a tight end.  Sac State is in their 4-2-5 and has their rover back playing off the slot receiver in what looks to be a deeper zone.  They only have six in the box.

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At the snap, both Adcock and Crosthwaite head towards the second level while the rest of the line engages their men.  It looks like inside zone blocking.

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Both Adcock and Crosthwaite try to engage the Hornet LBs while the rest of the line opens up a nice hole in the A gap.  Powe moves forward looking for their safety.  Meanwhile, both outside wide receivers run out patterns.

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The Hornet LBs get a piece of Lasco as he bursts through the hole for a decent five-yard gain.  The Sac State safeties are all late.  Better 2nd level blocking or a broken tackle and Lasco could have had a huge run.

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Cal lines up again for 3rd down.  It's the same personnel and formation, but flipped mirror image.  Powe is still on the line (closer to the top of the screen), but the outside receiver at the bottom is solo.  Sac State decides to move their rover up closer to the line and shades both safeties to the trips side.

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At the snap, the line blocks for an inside zone run.  Adcock and Crosthwaite head to the second level while the rest of the line engage their men.

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But this time, Goff keeps the ball.  And the outside receivers run out n' up routes.  The Hornet linebackers charge upfield, their boundary(top of the screen) safety freezes, and their deep safety pauses in the center of the field...

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...that leaves solo coverage on Maurice Harris.(#3)  Just like dropping it into a trash can. (HT:  Photo by Leonard Chong)

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And lest you think that our standard run blocking only sets up TD passes...this play was too cool to ignore.

Cal sets up w/ 3 WR on the top, 1 WR at the bottom.  Sac State has 7 in the box with one LB near the LOS threatening blitz.  The Sac State Dline and LBs are shaded towards to bottom of the screen.  That's because the Cal TB(Muhammad) is positioned to the top of the QB;  by veer principles, most runs are to the opposite side of where the TB lines up because they have better momentum crossing in front of the QB.

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At the snap, the entire Cal Oline blocks towards the bottom.  Moore(LT) and Borrayo(LG) make a noticeable shuffle step down before looking to block their defenders.  They leave the top DE completely unblocked.  The rest of the line all block towards the bottom of the screen.  By all appearances, it's outside-zone blocking towards the bottom of the screen.

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But while the line blocks towards the bottom of the screen, Goff pitches it to Muhammad who is running towards the top.  The unblocked DE heads upfield.  The Hornet LB charges towards the middle before realizing that the run is towards the top and changes course.  Can either of them get to Muhammad in time?

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Spoiler Alert:  No.  Muhammad's speed gets him past the 1st down marker before any defenders are able to reach him.  It's a clever play design that plays to our strengths.

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Clearly, this team is still growing.  But the improvements in our execution and precision are highly encouraging.  It's not a surprise that our strengths lie with Goff's sniper-arm and his talented wide-outs.  But our running game has become a jab instead of fighting with one hand behind our back.  By being able to pass or run out of the exact same formations and exact same blocking schemes, it lets us either establish numbers at the point of attack or isolate receivers in single coverage.  Maybe we won't knock anyone out with our jab, but it stings enough to set up our knock-out blow.  Keep in mind, that we really haven't pushed the tempo yet this year.  Run/pass combo plays run out of the same formation with the same blocking at breakneck speed?  That's the real Bear Raid.

The money question:  Can we execute consistently against Pac-12 competition?  I suspect it's going to be fun to watch.

Bonus Coverage!  A big shout-out to Tony, Tricia, & Samantha who are friends with Jack Moffett(#15).  As promised, let's watch the hard-working reserves run out the game.

Cal is in their bone formation.  Oline is Johnson(78), Frazer(61), M. Cochran(74), A. Cochran(75), Farley(59).  Bone backs are Moffett(15) and Northangel(48).  Webb(18) is the QB with Notorious V.I.C. Enwere at tailback(23).

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No finesse here.  This looks like inside zone hat on hat blocking.  Moffett leads Enwere to the hole while Northangel goes wide to block the edge.

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Moffett is outweighed, but stays engaged with their tackle to keep the A-gap clear.  Meanwhile, Matt Cochran bull-dozes into the 2nd level while Aaron Cochran destroys their other tackle.  That's over a half-ton of angry Cochran rampaging.  It's both marvelous and scary at the same time.

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Enwere delicately makes his way into the hole and makes contact around the 12-yard line...

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...then Vic SMASHES.  The pile moves from the 12 to the 18...

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...and VIC SMASHES AGAIN.  The pile keeps driving.  Meanwhile, Moffett, Frazer, and Matt Cochran keep pounding away and pushing forward.  I hope that tattoo removal is a covered benefit for the Hornet program, because one of those defenders had "74" pushed through his diaphragm.  For a game long-since decided, this is a lot of heart shown by the Cal reserves.  You have to appreciate that many of these are walk-ons who refused to quit after a 1-11 campaign.

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That's all for this week, folks.  Thanks for tuning in and a special thank you to Sharon for patiently listening to an old guy ramble on Bart.  (Good luck on your test!)  We've got a bye to get better.  Then it's time to gear up and get ready to hunt down some Wildcat.  Go Bears!