clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cal vs. San Diego State, Know The Enemy: Previewing the SDSU offense

And now for something completely different, the San Diego State offense.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After an excellent showing during the Grambling destruction, the Cal defense looks forward to dealing with a more traditional offense. The Aztecs come into Berkeley fresh off a 37-3 destruction of their crosstown rivals that they never play, the University of San Diego. The Aztecs were aided by five interceptions, two that linebacker Calvin Munson returned for touchdowns. Munson was the Walter Camp defensive player of the week for his efforts. Alas, we're here to talk about the offensive efforts of the Aztecs. SDSU only put up 305 yards of total offense against a non-scholarship FCS team. For a comparison, Jared Goff threw for 309 yards in the first half. SDSU didn't need their offense, as they added a kickoff return TD to their two interception returns. That being said, the offense can be threatening. It's a traditional "run to set up the pass" offense that you don't see all that often in the Pac-12.


In a run first offense, the star is going to be the man doing the work. Donnel Pumphrey is that man, and to be the man, you've got to beat the man. His stats from 2014 prove that he is the man.

  • 276 carries for 1867 yards
  • 6.8 yards per carry
  • 20 touchdowns

At 5'9" and 180 lbs, Pumphrey is comparable to Isi Sofele in size and agility. He's going to get the ball early and often in this offense, as he got 20 carries in their first game. However, Pumphrey only gained 65 yards on those 20 carries. That's a 3.2 YPC average, and if the Cal defense can hold him to that, then they've almost sealed up the game.

Maxwell Smith, a transfer from Kentucky, is their quarterback. After a brief and excellent showing as a freshman at Kentucky, Smith injured an ankle, then a shoulder, and never lived up to the promise. As a graduate transfer, he decided to come back to his home state and slide into an open QB position at SDSU. He didn't have the most productive first game, going 9-21 with 100 yards and one interception. That put him at a QBR of 12.8. While QBR is a silly, ESPN-made stat, Smith's QBR was four times higher than Christian Hackenberg's. Hackenberg was rated 12 spots above Goff in ESPN's top 100 players in the preseason (Goff had a QBR of 86.4 by the way).

The bigger question for the Aztecs is how the passing game is going to come together this season. They were ranked 113th in the FBS in passing efficiency a year ago. This should be a boon to a defense not known for its world-beating defensive backs.Top receivers Lloyd Mills and Eric Judge are back for San Diego State, along with former USC commit Desean Holmes joining the mix. Holmes and Mills didn't have a reception in game 1 as backup running back Rashaad Penny led the Aztecs in receptions and yards. Their production this for this matchup remains to be seen.

The most important piece of the Aztec offense is the offensive line. They give Pumphrey his running room and give Smith enough time so he can hand the ball off to Pumphrey. SDSU returns three offensive linemen from a season ago, but they have to replace an all-conference left tackle and two centers with starting experience. Their lineman didn't look too great in their spring scrimmage, but only allowed one sack against USD. Cal's pass rush showed signs of life on Saturday, and they're probably a bit bigger than the Torerro defense, so that may be a point of success. Plus, Cal can use three linebackers and play their base 4-3 for once.


As stated before, the Aztecs are a throwback to a time not too long ago in college football, where the I-formation reigned supreme. Out of this formation they'll run a plethora of running plays with a lead back. They'll run powers, power with pulling guard to lead, simple dive plays, lead counters, and so on. Pumphrey has the speed to make it work.


They aren't one trick ponies that only run from the I-formation. On the above play, they start in a 31 formation (3 WR and 1 TE). They motion the slot guy to run an end around, which freezes the linebacker playing on the end. Pumphrey is a solid one cut running back, which works well with the Aztec zone blocking system. It's very straightforward, getting a body on every defender. That gives Pumphrey only one or two men to take on by himself. As seen above, he can make those cuts.

Something that they're wont to do is to set up the defense with their run plays, much like any other team that plays on a field with yard markers and a pigskin. They had run a power on the play before, so they ran a similar motion in the backfield. That leaves plenty of room for Pumphrey to make a play. If the left guard hustles more to make a block, that's going for a few more yards. Screens will be something to look out for, as Cal's defense will be looking to sell out to make a noteworthy play. That can leave them vulnerable to plays like this.

The last bit of scheme is the play action pass. The play above shows what happens if the corner or safety who's supposed to provide help gets frozen for only a few seconds. Number 3 on UNC bites hard, and recovers to the wrong receiver, which forces the other safety to try to clean up his mess. The receiver at the bottom of the screen has a go route, and he ends up wide open. The two Darius's who will be matched up on the outside receivers have to be careful to not freeze on the deep route.


A run first team is nothing we've had to deal with in the past, since every team has passed all over us. That being said, it is hard to know how San Diego State will perform in a completely different situation than their first game. They didn't look too great offensively  against a lower tier school, and with a defense that seems to have itself more together, Cal can stymie the Aztecs. The defense is something to worry about, but the offense can be taken care of.

(Also, I figured out how to resize the gifs so they won't break your screens. Go Bears!)