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A Gold-ish Night Light on the screen game in Cal-Hawai’i

I screen, you screen, we all screen for TDs!

University of California v University of Hawaii - College Football Sydney Cup Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Welcome to a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I decided against forcing the team of (Mighty Morphin) Power Rankers to go through the whole rigmarole of another Ranking since there was only one Pac-12 game. In addition, our staff isn’t going to be able to provide weekly play breakdowns this year due to time constraints. Smushing these together, I decided to try my hand at a quick (and very dumb-level) analysis from Cal-Hawai’i. Of course, I’m nowhere near as smart or witty as our past Golden Spotlight writers—Scott and Keegan (although I am thrice as handsome)—so this won’t be a Golden Spotlight. Instead, this will be a Gold-ish Night Light. Just like a night light fends off the terrifying monsters that lurk in the night, today’s feature is here to fend off the doldrums of the bye week blues.

The screen pass is ubiquitous in any spread offense. Generally, it describes a short throw to a pass-catcher who has a few teammates (either O-linemen or other receivers) in front of him to bulldoze a path forward. Here’s an unbelievably crude depiction of the O-line blocking for a running back screen to give you an idea of the play and an idea of the low quality you can expect from today’s analysis.

Qualitatively, the CGB comments suggest that we ran plenty of screens against Hawai’i, which is either a great thing or worse than Davis Webb’s ESPN headshot.

Want an example of a successful screen that we ran against Hawai’i? Here’s one from late in the second quarter that Chad Hansen took to the endzone for his second touchdown of the day.

Now, let’s look at another play. We’re now halfway through the third-quarter and if a bunch of armchair quarterbacks have noticed offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s propensity for the screen pass, then you better believe that any football coach or college player—no matter how good or bad his defense may be performing—has noticed. So, they might start anticipating the screen, playing man coverage, and gunning for the ball when it’s a screen pass. If you can envision from that crude drawing I made, with so many players getting ahead of the ball to block, if a defender can pick it off and head in the opposite direction to score, then suddenly all of those players are now behind the ball and it’s rather easy for a pick to become a pick six.

In the picture below, we’ve got Cal running a play out of the shotgun—which is shocking, I know. We’re in a 2x2 formation, meaning two receivers on each side of the offensive line. At the top of the screen, we’ve got Brandon Singleton (#19) and Jordan Veasy (#15). By the Red Sox news, we have the game’s leading receiver—Hansen (#6)—and Melquise Stovall (#1). Vic Enwere (#23) is in the backfield with Webb (#7), probably chatting about their favorite Yu-Gi-Oh card or some other childhood nostalgia that came out when I was a teenager because I’m old as dirt. Hawai’i has a defender on top of each receiver, four defensive linemen, and one of their safeties is just barely on screen—his helmet is peeking right on the 2-yard-line. This safety looks to be covering the deep part of the field as part of his zone assignment to defend against the touchdown pass. Good luck with that.

I'm not evil—I'm just an asshole.
I learned my lesson from the FanShot on the “cringeworthy” interview that not everyone is adept with YouTube. Yes, the above is a video, so please click that play button!

Let’s start by taking a look at the players who aren’t directly linked to the play. Singleton will run a pivot route—which has him run to the middle of the field, then cut directly to head out of bounds—and Veasy will run a slant. You can see from the picture below that a Hawai’i linebacker has already started blitzing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a Berkeley student) to notice this and Enwere is about to reject this defender so easily that you’d think he’s just swiping left.

Right at the snap, we see the four defensive linemen and the aforementioned charging linebacker are blitzing; with five offensive linemen and Enwere blocking, our six Bears had better be able to handle them. (There’s another Hawai’i linebacker who looks to be spying Webb or Enwere and decides to join the blitz party when it’s far too late.) Meanwhile, Stovall immediately turns to Webb, indicating a quick screen pass with Hansen potentially blocking for him. The Rainbow Warrior who was stacked on top of Stovall gets all giddy and charges, ready to make a big tackle for loss or even a pick-six. Kudos to you! Here’s to good awareness and pattern recognition! Except this isn’t exactly a screen. Hansen actually isn’t blocking—he’s running a slant route.

Hansen’s slant route actually looks like it’s been designed to get in the way of Stovall’s defender; it’s a little hard to see thanks to that brilliant ESPN graphic that has a more disruptive footprint than the old, flat design. After pausing for a second (but keeping his feet pumping), Stovall sprints upfield. It’s not entirely clear if this play was designed to use Hansen’s route to get in the way of the defender or if it still would have worked purely based on the defender charging forward, then having to NOPE and completely change direction. Either way...

...Stovall is wide-open with a good three yards between him and that poor Hawai’i defender. The previously mentioned barely-there safety does his best to hustle over, but it’s just too late as the ball (circled) is already midair and about to connect for the first touchdown of Stovall’s college career.

Here’s the play in stunning technicolor and real-time.

At least, that’s my interpretation of the Stovall TD. Is that exactly what Spavital envisioned? Well, it would be arrogant for me to say for sure, but I think you can safely assume that I’m right. After all, I’ve captured an obscene number of national championships in NCAA Football video games.

Check back next week for very much not another edition of the Gold-ish Night Light, but for our Pac-12 Power Rankings! (Also, check back tomorrow for our Top 25 Poll. And check back in a few hours because we’ll probably have some new story up. Or just because we could always use some more page views and clicks.)