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Cal Football Spring Game Film Study: The QB Battle

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Bowers vs. Forrest 2017

This post is going to analyze our QB play from the spring game. Whenever there's a QB competition people are quick to look to the stats, but stats can only tell a part of the story. For the most part, we as fans don't have much footage of Forrest and Bowers running the exact same plays. We immediately have to ask, therefore, how much of their statistical performance resulted from the playcalling that they got, from the defensive looks that they faced, or from the situations that they found themselves in. In this post, I'm going to make a more qualitative case for each QB based purely off of what we saw in the Spring Game. What kinds of reads and throws did each player successfully make? What did one guy show that the other didn’t?

I should emphasize that, because of the small sample size and variations in playcalling and other factors, we can't necessarily take the Spring Game as a representative or exhaustive sample of what each guy can do; instead, this post will just look at what was put on tape. This limited sample can't necessarily show us what either guy can't do, and it'll be important to keep that in mind during the following discussion.

What Both QB's Do Well: Working the Sidelines

One encouraging sign from the Spring Game is that both Bowers and Forrest showed the ability to work the perimeter of the field. We saw a great example of this on a “Smash” concept in the Red Zone, which both QBs completed for TDs to Jordan Duncan. “Smash” refers to a concept where the outside receiver runs something short (a slant or a hitch, for example) while the inside receiver runs a corner route:

Smash Concept

For the QB this is just a read on the CB. If the CB sinks under the corner route, then the QB throws the short route underneath:

Smash - CB Sinks

If the CB stays up with the short route, then this turns into a 1-on-1 down the field:

Smash - CB Stays

In the Spring Game, both QB's threw nice TD passes to Jordan Duncan (who also looked very good throughout the game) on this concept:

In general, both QB's looked comfortable throwing on the perimeter, although we saw more straight-up pocket passing from Forrest. Here, for example, are some nice backshoulder throws by Forrest:

And here's a nice fade from Forrest to Wharton:

The Case for Forrest Part 1: Ball Control Passing

Baldwin's offense relies a ton on short, ball-control routes that attack the alignment of opposing DB's and LB's (for more on Baldwin’s offense, check out my e-book here), and this was an area where Forrest showed more than Bowers in the Spring Game. On the first play of live action, for example, he worked a nice double slant combination. This play's designed to put a horizontal stretch on the WOLB (WO), who's covering the inside receiver to the left of the diagram:

Double Slants

Forrest will throw to whichever slant the WOLB doesn't take. In this case, the WOLB chased his receiver inside, which gave Forrest the opportunity to hit the outside receiver in a reasonably tight window:

Double Slants - Outcome

On this next play, we see him attacking a similar window on the backside of an RPO (a run play where the WR's also run routes, with the QB choosing whether to hand off or throw):

In the Spring Game, at any rate, we really didn’t see Bowers making these quick, tight-window throws, and Forrest’s decisiveness and confidence are definitely a mark in his favor, especially when running this kind of offense.

The Case for Forrest Part 2: Working the Intermediate Middle

Forrest also showed more of an ability to work the intermediate range between the numbers. For example, he picked up a nice 20-yard completion on something called a Smash/Divide concept. This concept will put a Smash combo (like we saw earlier in this post) to each side of the field. On the play that we're about to see, to the left we have the X receiver running a slant, and the H receiver on a corner route:

Left Smash

To the right we have a similar high/low read, but the low route is the RB coming out of the backfield and into the flat:

Right Smash

Our defense is going to get these Smash concepts covered up pretty well though. The post-snap picture develops like this:

Defensive Coverage Scheme on the Smash Combos

In order to cover both of these Smash concepts, the defense has to pull their coverage wide toward the sidelines, opening up a void in the middle of the field. This is where the “Divide” route, run by Ray Hudson in this case, comes in. The divide is basically a seam route that has the potential to convert to a post. The receiver decides what to do by reading the safety over him:

WR Reads the Safety

If the defense rotates their coverage so that that safety spins to the middle of the field, then the receiver will continue straight down the open seam:

Divide Route: Seam

If the safety stays over the top, on the other hand, or works outside, then the receiver will bend his route inside into the empty middle of the field on a post:

Divide Route: Post

Forrest's pre-snap read takes him to this Divide route first. On this play, the safety stays over the top of Hudson, who therefore bends his route inside. Forrest and Hudson are on the same page, and Forrest connects with his TE for a nice 20-yard completion down the middle of the field:

In general, Forrest looks comfortable dropping the ball into those windows between the LB and Safety levels:

Between the backshoulder throws on the perimeter, the fade to Wharton, those quick slants in tight windows, and his ability to work the intermediate middle, Forrest is showing me that he's got the right skillset for running Baldwin's passing attack. That doesn't necessarily mean that Bowers can't make these throws, it just means that he didn't put them on tape in the Spring Game.

The Case for Bowers: Improvisation and Mobility

Forrest showed serviceable mobility in the Spring Game, but Bowers was really at this best when he was rolled/forced out of the pocket. His ability to complete passes on the move, even when running to his left, was pretty impressive. There's not a lot of schematic analysis in this section because we're mostly looking at improvised plays, but here are two highlights:

In the next video below, check out how Bowers uses his legs to gain separation for his receiver. The FB, who will catch the ball, is initially well-covered by a LB, but when Bowers attacks the line of scrimmage the LB comes off of the FB to play Bowers on the QB run. Bowers then flips a pass over to his FB, and we have a nice TD:

Conclusion

Overall, based solely on the Spring Game, I think that Forrest showed a greater variety of skills as a passer, and can definitely make all of the reads and throws that Baldwin's offense would ask him to make. I think that with Forrest in this offense, we would have access to some spots on the field that we haven't been able to attack for a while. While he's not as evasive or comfortable out of the pocket as Bowers was, his strengths at keeping his eyes downfield and working seams and crossing routes still hold up when you move the pocket, especially when rolling to the right.

Bowers would certainly complete his share of passes, especially if primarily asked to work the sidelines, but to me he looked hesitant to pull the trigger on some throws that Forrest probably would've completed, and I didn't see him hit much down the seams or between the numbers. I don't know if this is representative, and the sample size isn't huge, but it's what I've got to go on at this point. That said, Bowers brings a skillset that reminds me of what Baldwin had last season at EWU. If the staff is interested in using the QB to give the running game a boost or to help out the OL in pass protection with some scrambling ability, then Bowers could cause a lot of headaches for defenses. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in fall camp. Go Bears!