First of all, big thanks to Avinash for filling in for me last week and doing a great job. My apologies for missing the week - between my family and I moving from Denmark back to the Bay Area and starting my job search (anyone looking to hire a lawyer?), things have been hectic. But I did catch - and survive - both games.
Stefan McClure was named the Pac 12 defensive player of the week for good reason. His impact on the game was huge, swinging momentum to the Golden Bears at key times. While his fumble return put points on the board, it was his sack that was the more impressive individual play. And - as with many aspects of football - there was more than what met the eye on the play.
At first glance, McClure's sack appears to be the result of a called safety blitz. The truth is more impressive.
McClure was not necessarily a blitzer on the play. His responsibility was to cover the running back if the running back were to run a pass pattern. If the running back were to block, McClure's responsibility was to blitz. This is a typical technique that goes by several names ("green dog," "check engage," etc.). While the technique is typical, McClure's execution of that technique was not. His read, reaction, and speed to the ball would fit in nicely with the highlight reels of the best Sunday blitzers.
Skip to the 3:08 mark of the following video to listen to McClure talk about "blitz your back," meaning to blitz if his back blocks (note: thank you to the Golden Blogs team for alerting me to this response).
Of course, the play was not without major risks. Washington State had one on one matchups across the board (save for James Looney dropping as a robber on short routes). One missed tackle = touchdown. A screen or draw could also yield dividends for Washington State because those plays thrive against aggressive defenses where multiple defenders rush themselves out of the play. Even a normal running play can thrive because the defense will lack their typical run fits.
On this play, however, Art Kaufman called the blitz at the correct time - a drop back pass. And, most importantly, McClure and his teammates executed with speed and confidence.
Most Cal fans expected the Bear Raid offense to score points, and it has not disappointed. The defense was, obviously, the question mark. On a day when the offense struggled to find it's typical rhythm, the defense proved that it can be the key to victory. Stefan McClure was there for two of the defense's biggest moments, scoring points on a fumble return, and delivering one of the most impressive sacks in recent Cal history, calling to mind the game changing hits of Zack Follett and other Cal legends who came before him.
Keegan Dresow spent four seasons as the head coach of the Avedøre Monarchs of the Danish American Football Federation, is the author of Offensive Football Systems and Gridiron Cup, 1982, and is the operator of totalamericanfootball.com.