Cal's passing attack was very successful against Texas, averaging 9.9 yards per pass attempt. Two plays in the fourth quarter stood out to me. The first stood out due to great play design, and the second due to great Quarterbacking by Davis Webb. Let's take a look at these two plays.
4th Quarter, 5:02 Remaining
Score Tied at 43
Cal is facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 35 yard line. The offense has 10 personnel on the field (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WRs). It's unclear what defense Texas has on the field, but it is possibly a nickel defense (5 DBs on the field). The outside CBs are showing man coverage on the outside, and there appears to be only one deep safety. The other eight defenders are in the box.
Cal lines up with two WRs right, and 1 WR left. The QB Davis Webb is in shotgun and the RB Muhammad is to the QB's left. WR #1 Stovall is in the backfield to the QB's right. Just prior to the snap, the QB motions WR #1 Stovall to the left. The ball is then snapped.
Immediately, the look that the offense is presenting to the offense is one of a quick pass to WR #1 Stovall on the left in the backfield. The other WR who was lined up on the left side of the formation runs a deep go route along the left sideline. These two route combinations basically form a high/low read against the DB to the offense's left side of the field. The QB has the option of throwing the ball short if the DB stays deep, or throw it deep if the DB stays close to the LOS to cover WR #1 Stovall. QB Davis Webb sells this combination by looking to his left (green vision cone). Will he take the high or the low?
He will do neither, because that's not what the offense intends to do! This is a deception play. The offensive linemen let the Texas defensive linemen penetrate the pocket. This is a screen play!
After the ball is snapped, RB Muhammad sneaks out of the backfield and runs to the right flat to receive the screen pass (gold arrow). QB Davis Webb looks towards Muhammad for the screen (green vision cone). Muhammad even raises his hand to draw attention to himself. Why is he doing that? Because he's selling the screen. Because... this play isn't actually a screen play!
It's a fake screen. The slot WR to the right of the formation is WR #17 Jordan Veasy. After the ball was snapped, he slowly ran towards the Texas linebackers feigning his intent to block for the screen... but then as soon as the Texas LBs bite on the fake screen, Veasy runs right by them on a post route right down the middle of the field.
QB Davis Webb hits Veasy perfectly for a big completion!
Below, is the play in motion. (Click on the video to view a bigger and higher resolution video.)
What's so special about this play aside from the fact that it went for a big gain? This is a double deception play. Most deception plays only have one level of deception. For example, a playaction pass has one level of deception; it fakes a run, when it's actually a pass. But this play has two levels of deception; it fakes a quick high/low read pass to the left, it then fakes a RB screen to the right, when in fact the play is a designed pass play all along.
If you listen closely to the telecast, you can even hear a Texas player or coach on the sideline getting fooled by this play. You can hear him yell "screen" after the ball is snapped and the fake screen develops. He was fooled by the offense's second level of deception.
These types of double deception plays can be pretty devastating and very difficult for the defense to cover, especially when it stresses the defense all across the field as this play does (fakes high/low pass left, fake screen right).
4th Quarter, 3:45 Remaining
Score Tied at 43
Cal is facing a 1st and 10 from the Texas 13 yard line. The offense has 10 personnel on the field (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WRs). Cal is in a 2x2 formation with two WRs to each side of the formation. Cal QB Davis Webb is in shotgun with RB Enwere to his right. It's unclear what defense Texas has on the field, but it looks like it might be a 4-3 defense, with the right defensive end (RDE) upright, and LBs lined up against Cal's slot WRs. It seems insane to do that, but based on the jersey numbers of those players they are LBs.
The defense is showing what appears to be a Cover-2 man look, which means they're playing man coverage with two deep safeties. That's six men in coverage, and five men showing blitz along the line of scrimmage.
Just prior to the snap of the football, we see the defense shift! They had been disguising their coverage, and now we see what they're really doing! The defense's right DE backs off the LOS and appears to be preparing to drop into coverage. The LB which had been covering Cal's right slot WR now shows blitz, and the safety to the offense's right side of the field now drops down into man coverage against the right slot WR. Texas basically has switched which side of the offense they are going to blitz their 5th defender (switching from offense's left to offense's right), and instead of playing 2 deep safeties they instead will play 1 deep safety and 1 underneath zone (the RDE who backed off the LOS).
Just prior to the snap, the defense is now showing Cover-1 man. Man coverage on the outside WRs, with one deep safety. Cal QB Davis Webb has to see this change quickly, and assess where he will throw the ball.
We all know at this point that Cal WR Chad Hansen is running a post route. Hansen is the WR at the bottom of the screen. Against man coverage with a single high safety, the post route will be open. Cal QB Davis Webb knows this. But before he can make the throw, he has to give himself a passing window to throw through. He can't just look to Hansen right away. The Texas safety will be reading his eyes and will go straight for Hansen if Webb looks that way. Instead, Webb must deceive the safety by looking him off. Webb must either look left and away from Hansen, or at the very least look down the middle of the field to hold the safety.
After the snap of the football, Webb holds the safety in the middle of the field with the slightest of glances to his (Webb's) left. The safety reacts just enough, moving with Webb's eyes away from Hansen -- at which point Webb makes the throw to Hansen. By that time, it's too late for the Texas safety to stop the pass.
Webb's pass is perfect and Hansen catches the pass for the go-ahead touchdown!
Why is this play so interesting? It's because Webb does a fantastic job recognizing the defensive coverage after they drop their disguise. Webb also exhibits NFL level skills by holding the Texas safety, just enough, to keep the passing window open to make the throw to Chad Hansen.
Here's a video of the play. (Click on the video for a bigger and higher quality resolution.)
While there was no build-in deception on this play like a screen play or playaction pass, Cal QB Davis Webb created the deception by using his eyes to hold/move the safety. Do you know who else was really good at doing this? Jared Goff.
If Webb keeps up his high level of play, he could be collecting a paycheck to play football on Sundays.