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Golden Rewind: North Carolina & Weber State

Evaluating the performance of Cal QB Ross Bowers in his first few games.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at California Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, golden guys and golden gals, I’m back. Sort of. I’m still retired, but I’d like to contribute to this new and exciting time for Cal Football under the head coach tutelage of Justin Wilcox. Since the Xs & Os analysis is being well covered by other writers on the blog, I figured I’d contribute in another way. A different way.

I’ve always been impressed by the charts and statistical work that Next Gen Stats does for the NFL, so I’ve decided to try and do something similar for Cal Football. It’s my hope that I can present you, the reader, with some unique charts. Maybe they’ll be insightful, and maybe they’ll be interesting. I’ll also be pointing out a few other interesting things about the Cal Football team which I’ve noticed while creating these charts.

I can’t guarantee this becoming a regular post since life has been busy for me, but I hope that I can generate one of these posts every two weeks. Please bear with me as I explore this new type of analysis. If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to let me know how I can improve.

Cal vs. UNC

The first thing I would like to present, is the Ross Bowers pass attempt spray chart. This chart (below) shows all of Bowers’ pass attempts. White dots are incompletions. Green dots are completions. Red dots and streaks are interceptions, showing the point of origin and the point of interception. Gold dots and streaks are touchdowns, showing the point of origin and the point of reception. This chart does not show any run after catch (RAC). (The two vertical white lines are the widened NCAA College Football hash marks.)

Cal vs. UNC 2017 Ross Bowers QB Spray Chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

What information can be gleamed from this glorious chart?

Let’s start with the most obvious. All four of Ross Bowers’ touchdown passes were to the left side of the field. Not only that, but they were (mostly) his longest pass attempts of the day. What does this tell us? Cal’s deep passes against UNC were relatively successful. You will see that there are three deep incompletions down the right sideline. Unfortunately, Cal had zero deep ball success down the right sidelines. (More on this later.)

Another interesting tidbit to note is that the majority of Bowers’ pass attempts were towards the left side of the field. In fact, only seven (7) of Bowers’ thirty-one (31) pass attempts went to the right side of the field (22.58%). On the other hand, about twenty-two (22) of Bowers’ thirty-one (31) pass attempts to the left side of the field (70.96%).

What’s also interesting to note is that the majority of Bowers’ pass attempts also occur within ten (10) yards of the line of scrimmage (LOS). In fact, Bowers only attempted ten (10) out of his thirty-eight (38) passes farther than ten (10) yards past the LOS (26.31%).

Finally, you should also note Bowers’ interception. It’s clear from the chart how this pass was troublesome. As you can see, the origin point is towards the right hash of the field, and the pass attempt was short and towards the left side of the field. Bowers committed the cardinal sin of quarterbacking: throwing against the grain late. On the interception, Bowers was attempting to pass to Demetris Robertson on a drag route against man coverage. The defender was able to undercut the pass attempt for the interception due to the pass angle.

Overall, though, Ross Bowers had a pretty good first start as a college QB.

You know who also had a good game? Vic Wharton III. Let’s take a look at his route chart.

The below chart shows all pass attempts to Wharton. The chart only shows passes attempted to Wharton. It does not show all routes run by Wharton on plays where the pass attempt went to a different receiver. White routes represent routes run which resulted in a completion. Green portions of the route represent run after catch (RAC). Gray routes represent incompletions (I realize that gray is hard to differentiate from white. I apologize. I switch to red in the other route charts later on in this post). And gold dots represent touchdowns.

Cal vs. UNC Vic Wharton III Route Chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

As you can see, Wharton was all over the field and gathering tons of RAC. What I am most impressed by is the route variety which we see him running when he is targeted. I see slant and in/dig route (both incompletions). I also see hitch, wheel, deep out, drag, and post (all completions).

Wharton seems to be a jack of all trades kind of receiver, who runs a variety of routes all over the field. I think this is a testament to his receiving abilities. He’s not one of those guys that only runs a few routes because that’s all he can do.

For comparison, let’s look at Demetris Robertson’s route chart, below. For this chart, I switched to red for incompletion routes so it is easier to see. White routes represent completions. Green lines represent RAC.

Cal vs. UNC Demetrius Robertson Route Chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

I find this chart to be extremely interesting and revealing. First of all, you can see there is a lot less variety in Robertson’s route tree when he’s being targeted. The only routes I see are a screen (far left completion for no gain), drag routes, in/digs, and go/out-n-up routes.

Clearly, this is by design and the Cal coaches are using Robertson in a specific manner. The go routes and the out-n-up route are clearly speed routes, designed to take advantage of his speed along the sidelines to stretch the defense, and attack the outside sideline areas against zone coverages. Unfortunately, all three (3) of Robertson’s deep pass attempts down the right sidelines were incompletions.

The drag and dig routes are short routes designed to beat man coverage. Yet, Robertson was still very ineffective on these routes against the UNC defense. Why? I think the UNC defense was paying very close attention to him on all offensive plays. After all, he is Cal’s fastest and most dangerous threat on offense. Additionally, running routes across the middle of the field is dangerous and on one of the dig routes a catchable ball was knocked loose by a defender.

I’m a little surprised that we did not see pass attempts to Robertson on comeback routes since those are natural alternatives to deep sideline go routes.

Finally, the other interesting thing to notice is that all of Robertson’s route origination points occurred on the right side of the field, except for the lone screen pass to the left. This is interesting. Does Robertson only line up on the right side of the QB at the flanker position? (I think he almost exclusively does, but I didn’t have time to carefully review every single pass attempt.)

Receiver Catch Rates vs. UNC

Below are the wide receiver (WR) and runningback (RB) catch rates on all pass attempts.

3/9 = 33.3% Demetris Robertson

4/5 = 80.0% Jordan Veasy

5/7 = 71.4% Vic Wharton III

2/4 = 50.0% Kanawai Noa

1/1 = 100% Brandon Singleton

1/1 = 100% Jordan Duncan

23 = 66.6% Patrick Laird

4/5 = 80.0% Tre Watson

12 = 50% Vic Enwere

1/1 = 100% Malik McMorris

The catch rates which stand out to me are the incredible 71.4% catch rate by Wharton, and the low 33.3% catch rate by Robertson. Wharton was consistent and had a high catch percentage. On the other hand, for Robertson to have a greater impact on the game, Cal will have to raise his catch percentage.

Routes Run on Pass Attempts

Below are how many times pass attempts were made to receivers running a certain route.

1 x angle/texas

2 x bubble screen

1 x deep out

4 x drag

5 x go

3 x hitch

2 x in/dig

1 x line

1 x out

1 x flat

1 x post

1 x scramble drill

1 x screen

5 x slant

3 x swing

1 x tunnel screen

2 x wheel

1 x whip

As you can see, go routes, drags, slants, swings, and hitches were the most common routes targeted by pass attempts. Not surprisingly, these are also the easiest routes to run and pass to. You’ll notice an absence of harder route throws, such as deep outs (although there was one), comebacks, or posts.

I think since Bowers is a fairly young QB who is still developing, that we won’t see super advanced routes being targeted on pass attempts.

Cool New Wrinkles

I don’t know much about Cal’s new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin. Thankfully, we have berk18 to teach us all about his offense.

One interesting thing I did notice in the UNC game was this formation (picture below).

Cal vs. UNC Empty Formation 5 Wide
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

Cal is in a shotgun empty formation. Cal has “10 personnel” on the field (1 RB, 0 TE, and 4 WRs. The first digit refers to the number of backs on the field, the second number refers to the number of TEs on the field. The number of WRs is implied.).

But more interestingly, Cal has its RB, Patrick Laird, lined up on the right B-gap (the gap between the right guard the right tackle).

That is cool. Why do this? It sort of hides the RB in the formation, yet it also keeps the RB as an eligible receiver. This unique formation should be something to look out for in the future.

Coaching Awareness

Finally, I want to demonstrate some great coaching awareness. One the below play, you’ll see Cal lined up on offense about to run a play. Do you see something wrong with this play?

Cal vs. UNC Illegal Formation
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

Whoops. I put the answer in the picture. Cal needs to have seven men on the line of scrimmage (LOS). Cal only has six (6) men on the LOS. Cal’s fullback, Malik McMorris, is off the line of scrimmage. He should be on the line of scrimmage. Had Cal run this play, it would have been penalized five (5) yards.

But just prior to the ball being snapped, Cal offensive coaches saw this error, and called a timeout.

Cal vs. UNC Corrected Formation
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

After the timeout, Cal came out in the same formation and Malik McMorris was on the LOS. Now, it’s a legal formation!

This is a great example of coaching awareness.

Weber State

Are you still with me? Let’s take a look at some Weber State charts. Below, is Ross Bowers’ pass chart against Weber State. White dots represent incompletions and green dots represent completions.

Weber vs. Cal Ross Bowers QB spray chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

First things first. This chart is a little less interesting than Bowers’ QB spray chart against UNC because there are no touchdowns or interceptions.

Second of all, we still see relatively conservative passing by Bowers and the Cal coaching staff. Twenty (20) out of Bowers’ twenty-eight (28) pass attempts were within ten (10) yards of the LOS. That’s 71.4%.

What is discouraging to see, is that only one (1) out of five (5) of Bowers’ pass attempts longer than twenty (20) yards was actually completed. That’s only 20%. Kind of low.

Now, take a look at Bowers’ passing chart from the Weber State game and the UNC game. See anything missing? I do. I see zero (0) passes to the deep middle of the field. Bowers, and the Cal coaching staff, seem to be avoiding the deep middle of the field. Interesting. Why? Well, passing deep down the middle is usually pretty dangerous because you’re throwing either through linebacker windows, over linebackers, or between safeties. The risk of tipped passes or intercepted passes is much higher on those throws than other throws. Instead, when throwing deep, Cal sticks to safer deep throws along the sidelines.

Let’s take a look at how Demetris Robertson fared against Weber State. I was hoping to see him really break out for a monster performance against an inferior opponent and defenders. I was disappointed with what I saw.

Weber vs. Cal Demetris Robertson route chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

Remember, this route chart only shows the routes run when Robertson was actually targeted, but nevertheless, we can see a very VERY limited route tree. He’s only being targeted on go, comeback, and hitch routes. Most worrisome of all, Cal could not convert on any of its pass attempts to Robertson on his deep go routes. In fact, through two games, Cal is zero (0) out of five (5) on deep passes to Robertson.

What I did find promising is that we see Robertson being targeted on 12 to 13 yard comeback routes. Comeback routes are the natural alternative to go routes. Just when defenders think that the WR is pressing fast and hard up the field for a deep go route pass, and the cornerback (CB) tries to stay over the top of the WR, the WR slams on the brakes and turns to the outside of the field on his comeback route.

We also see Robertson running a few hitch routes. The next natural progression off of a hitch route would be a hitch and go. In fact, I was advocating for hitch and go routes against Ole Miss, but that is for another post.

Robertson’s biggest catch of the game came on a slant which he then turned up field for a big RAC gain.

I find it interesting that Robertson’s route tree in the UNC game was so markedly different than in the Weber State game. It seems pretty clear that he’s being used in very specific ways depending on the opponent. Against UNC, he was running drags, in/digs, and go routes. Routes pretty much designed to beat man coverage. Against Weber State, he’s just running go, hitch, comebacks, and one slant. These go, hitch, and comeback routes are all routes building off of his speed threat. The Cal coaches probably assumed that Weber State would respect Robertson’s speed by playing conservatively, and keeping defenders well over the top of Robertson. Thus, he would have easy catches underneath the coverage on hitches and comebacks.

For comparison, let’s check out how Vic Wharton III did.

Weber vs. Cal Vic Wharton route chart
HydroTech (California Golden Blogs)

Just like in the UNC game, we see Wharton all over the place against Weber State when he’s being targeted. Again, we see him moving laterally quite a bit, stretching the defense horizontally with drag routes, in/digs, and posts. Check out all the yardage run on his longest pass completion of the day! He went from the right side of the field all the way to the left sideline to make a spectacular sideline catch.

Quite interestingly, over the past two games, we don’t see Wharton being targeted on any deep go routes. That route and pass attempt seems to be almost exclusive between Bowers and Robertson.

Receiver Catch Rates vs. Weber State

And here are the receiver catch routes versus Weber State.

4/8 = 50.0% Demetris Robertson

5/6 = 83.3% Vic Wharton III

3/3 = 100% Kanawai Noa

2/2 = 100% Gavin Reinwald

2/4 = 50.0% Jordan Veasy

1/1 = 100% Tre Watson

1/1 = 100% Patric Laird

12 = 50.0% Vic Enwere

1/1 = 100% Malik McMorris

The stats which pop out at me are the still very high catch rate by Vic Wharton. I’m also very impressed at the high catch rate among all the Cal RBs and FBs. Collectively, as a group, they were only unable to catch one pass attempt.

Routes Run on Pass Attempts

Here are the routes run by the receivers on all pass attempts against Weber State.

1 x check down

3 x comeback

1 x curl

3 x drag

1 x flag

4 x go

2 x hitch

2 x in/dig

2 x out

3 x post

1 x shovel

1 x slant

2 x swing

1 x tunnel screen

1 x unknown (wasn’t shown on TV)

What I am pleased to see are the post routes, and comeback routes. These were routes that we did not see attempted against UNC.

Cal’s Top Wide Receivers Through Three Games

Here are Cal’s top four WRs through three (3) games based on catch percentage. Although I haven’t done a full Ole Miss analysis, you’ll have to trust me that I charted the game and I have the data to compile the receiver catch rates through three games. (I just didn’t have time to chart Bowers’ 47 pass attempts!) Here it is below.

15/23 = 65.2% Vic Wharton III

11/18 = 61.1% Kanawai Noa

7/14 = 50.0% Jordan Veasy

7/17 = 41.1% Demetris Robertson

Clearly, and quite clearly, Vic Wharton is Bowers’ favorite target. Noa got a whopping ten (10) targets against Ole Miss which put him into second place. Robertson didn’t play against Ole Miss, so his numbers are just through two games.

What’s striking for these statistics, who has the best catch rate, and who has the worst! Prior to this season, if somebody asked you who would have the highest catch rate on the team, would you have said Wharton? Likewise, if prior to this season somebody asked you who would have the lowest WR catch rate on the team, would you have said Robertson?

To be clear, the numbers reflected above aren’t solely all of the WR’s fault or credit. Sometimes Bowers targets these guys and the passes are bad passes, thus those passes will go down on the stat book as incompletions when that player is targeted even if it’s not the WR’s fault.

Instead, the above percentages should be viewed as a joint effort between Bowers and the specific receiver. In other words, rather than seeing these as individual WR stats, they really are more like “Bowers-Robertson” attempted connections and “Bowers-Wharton” attempted connections.

Go Bears! Beat the Trojans!

That’s all I have for you golden guys and gals this week. I hope you enjoyed. Let me know what you think about this new type of analysis. In a couple weeks, I’ll try to have a follow-up post charting the Ole Miss game and the USC game.