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Grambling State Tigers offense 2015 breakdown: First test for the uncertain Cal defense

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Grambling runs a Spread style offense, but it is in the red zone that things get really interesting.

A new season for our Golden Bears brings a new slate of out of conference match-ups.  Grambling State is up first and though the Tigers are renowned for their band, their football program has a long tradition of excellence and is on an up swing with sophomore head coach Broderick Fobbs.  Before last season Fobbs said he wanted to bring a basketball on grass style of offense: fast paced and high scoring.  This turned out to be a no huddle, spread concept offense but unlike the Bear Raid that Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin employ, the spread offense that Fobbs employs is more eclectic.  This shows up in the formations that the offense lines up with.

The Spread offense tries to position players all over the field to get matchup advantages; the play is designed to distribute offensive weapons horizontally across the field and vertically down the field.  This all starts before the snap with the formation.  The offense is required by rule to line up with seven players on the line of scrimmage and four players in the backfield, in the Spread offense they are lined up as far from each other as possible.

The first formation we will see Grambling line up with is a familiar one in Berkeley as the Bear Raid offenses uses it as well.

This formation is named 22 for the two receivers on each side and Left or Right depending on where the running back lines up.  The defense will often try to use the position of the running back to decide what play to run.  To create more uncertainty Grambling will employ a third variation of the 22, the Pistol.

In this formation the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback.  Pioneered by Chris Ault in Nevada, we have already seen the type of chaos the Pistol can create at Memorial Stadium.

The other common formation we will see Grambling line up with is the three wide receiver set.

Named the 13 if the three receivers are on the right and 31 if the three receivers are on the left, this formation is often used to saturate the wide side of the field (if the ball is on the hash) with wide receivers and thereby creating isolation coverage for the single receiver on the other side.  Once again the position of the running back determines Left or Right.

In the picture below we can see Grambling State, in white, lined up in the Spread 31 Right formation.

Texas Southern has a 4-2-5 defensive alignment: 4 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers and 5 defensive backs.  The linebacker #35 is going to come on a blitz just inside the defensive end #45.  Grambling runs the Zone Read running play.  Quarterback, #17 Jonathan Williams, has three options he can hand off to the running back, keep the ball or pass to his receiver in the backfield at the top of the screen.

The defensive end #45 commits to the inside and Williams keeps the ball for a big gain.  Jonathan Williams was the top rusher for Grambling last year and he returns as a senior this year.  Cal is going to have to be sound against the Zone Read, not just for this game but all year long.

In The Red Zone

So up until now, everything I have talked about is pretty standard for a Spread offense.  Multiple receiver formations, zone read option runs, high tempo/no huddle.  Where spread offenses are innovating is inside the Red Zone (twenty yards or less from the end zone), this is because the field is shortened and spreading the field vertically becomes impossible.  The Cal offense has been using the Bone formation to give a different look in the Red Zone.  Lets take a look at what the Grambling Tigers are doing.

This is a variant of the Spread 31 Left formation.  The variation is that the three receivers are lined up next to the left tackle instead of out wide.  It is a heavy formation with two tight ends and a big receiver next to that left tackle.

Grambling will use this formation to stretch the field to the left on the snap.  The key block will be made by the two tight ends on the defensive end to seal the edge.  The wide receiver blocks the widest defender and the running back lead blocks through the hole.

Speed across the formation and around the end leaves most of the defense in a traffic jam and unable to make a play.

Lets take a look at another play where the Tigers use speed, this time quarterback #17 Williams, to stretch the play toward the wide side of the field and those big blocking tight ends.

At this point a defensive coordinator would be tempted to think of simply shifting defenders over those blocking tight ends but Coach Fobbs has some plays in his book to deal with that.  Like this Bootleg:

And check out this Screen Pass; it may be power formation but Grambling has made it versatile.

The preparation that the Cal defense puts into preparing for Grambling's Spread offense will pay off all year as the Pac-12 has many similar offenses but the Tigers Red Zone offense needs its own preparation and if the Bears neglect it, they will regret it.

Next I will look at the Grambling State defense which is doing something I have not seen before.

If you want to watch the YouTube video where these clips came from, you can find it here.