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Cal coaching decisions questionable in UCLA loss; thoughts on final playcall?

What are your thoughts on the final playcall for Jared Goff to consider taking a downfield shot? What coaching decisions were the most questionable from the Cal - UCLA game?

Thearon W. Henderson

Avinash Kunnath: I'm not pleased. Goff says he was taking a shot downfield, but the four verticals playcall is really strange in that spot when you've had success moving it in intermediate passes. Also, getting a touchdown in this situation makes no real sense, since you give the ball back to the Bruins with at least a minute and a half to score.

Sonny's timeout management burned us in the end. Forgetting about the two point conversion is really bad, and calling timeouts on 3rd/4th down when your defense is hyped just didn't make all that sense. I wasn't pleased there, and it bit us in the end when we had UCLA pinned at the 1 after the pick.

The squib kicks really annoyed me, because UCLA had to literally drive 50-60 yards to score most of their points. Considering how bad the Cal defense was in tackling, that didn't make sense to me. Yeah, we didn't do well on the lone long kickoff, but I'd have preferred we squibbed those kicks a lot further than the 30 yard line. James Langford might be inconsistent with his long kicks, but the Bears have been a top 20 unit all season in kickoff return coverage, so I felt like we were being ultra-conservative and giving the Bruins real short fields to drive.

Leland Wong:  I wasn't crazy about that final playcall either. The field position, the time on the clock, and the score all pointed towards run. If UCLA had shut down the run, then I understand trying to catch them off guard with the pass, but on that drive, the run game was finally working and the backs were picking up sufficient yardage. We had a 2nd and 7 at the 36-yard line. Even if we failed to get the first down, we could gain 6 yards for a ~47-yard try, which is in James Langford's range (as Langford has nailed 47-yard and 45-yard kicks against Sac State and at Arizona). We definitely could have killed the clock by running and tried for a reasonable game-winning field goal.

TwistNHook: Cal was at the UCLA 36 when Goff threw the interception.  There was approximately :51 seconds left.  Cal had 1 time out remaining (after blowing one with that weird extra point fiasco).  Many of the arguments that Avi and Leland have made are very salient and make sense.....if you assume that Cal was going to score.  But that is an assumption I do not prescribe to.  Cal was down 2 points with a minute left and facing a 51 yard field goal.  That is the situation and nothing more.  Our kicker is pretty good and had made some field goals in the higher 40s range, but those aren't gimme field goals at all.  We cannot assume a score.

The simple truth is this: Nothing is nothing until it's something.

You have to get 1 or more points better than the opposing team and until then, you are going to lose.  Discussing how our best score would have been is, in one sense, masturbatory.  We have to score before we can discuss how Cal should have scored better.  And scoring a touchdown is better than scoring a field goal 10 out of 10 times.  I was chatting with Addicted To Quack's  Takimoto through the drive and JUST before the pick, we were talking about how Cal seemed to be going more conservative.  We were concerned they wouldn't get far enough down the field to get a "strong chance" field goal.

So, personally, I LOVED the play call.  Long passes have been our best play, really, this season.  Maybe with two of our best WRs out, we were at a disadvantage compared to normal.  However, we need to score and any way we can take the lead is a good way. 

LeonPowe: I wasn't displeased by the call - I mentioned in the post game threads I was slightly perplexed by the shot downfield instead of running something with intermediate routes, but Goff had the conch on that, and he put his trust in his arm and his wideout, and it didn't work out. We weren't in a space that we were an automatic field goal either - we still needed another 15-20 yards before I felt that we were safe. I feel like we're reacting to the result (suboptimal) rather than the call. A touchdown with 45 seconds left? I'd take that every single time. It didn't work out.

The lack of tackling, especially in the first half (especially on that last play before halftime), the UCLA defensive line being in Goff's face all day, and us not being able to take advantage of some good penetration by our defense (either that or Hundley is just really good at avoiding tackles) felt like much bigger factors in us losing than one play call going wrong.

boomtho: I didn't like the call to throw downfield, though I can't say I hated it. We needed to pick up something like 10 yards to get into FG range, so on one hand the call seems a bit reckless. On the other hand, Goff had 1:1 coverage up top and we've seen this year how successful he can be throwing against that. I personally would have chosen to run the ball there, but I can't say that I totally hated the call.

The other decisions that felt a bit questionable to me were the few times we punted on fourth and short. If I recall correctly (haven't checked the drive chart), our defense ended up holding UCLA on those drives, so the results didn't turn out badly. Nevertheless, Sonny has generally shown a bit more aggressiveness in fourth and short situations, and I was disappointed we didn't go for those as well.

Unlike Avi, I'm actually OK with the squib kicks. If our coaching staff made the call that we would have trouble containing their return teams, I'm relatively OK conceding yardage while taking away their big play potential.

Berkelium97: Two coaching decisions irritated me on Saturday: our coverage against UCLA's passing game and the use of special teams.  First, the pass defense was a bit confusing to me, especially during the first half.  One multiple occasions UCLA lined up four wide receivers on the field side of their formation.  For reasons beyond my comprehension, we responded several times by covering those receivers with three defenders.  Fortunately UCLA did not seem to be able to exploit the obvious advantage.  I can understand if we had the defender of the innermost receiver cheating inside to stop the run (which we frequently did against UCLA's 2x2 sets in the second half), but it looks like we simply blew the coverage several times. Secondly, I was surprised we did not employ more press coverage, especially inside the 30.  UCLA is pretty good at telegraphing its screen plays and giving them soft coverage allows their receivers to block our defenders even further down the field, which helps a 3-5 yard screen turn into a guaranteed 10-15 yard gain.  UCLA was happy to march 10 yards at a time down the field, especially during the first half.  Fortunately we seemed to do a pretty good job fixing these faults during the second half.

The other bizarre decision was the inconsistency with how we used the special teams.  We faced several 4th and short situations at midfield and the only time we attempted a fourth down was during the final fourth quarter drive (because we had no choice).  In these cases we opted to play the field position game.  I have no problem with this strategy.  What was particularly odd, however, was how willing we were to concede field position on kickoffs.  Yes, our coverage team is depleted.  But is it really worse than giving them the ball around the 40-45 yard mark on every kickoff?  After our second kickoff I started yelling (because obviously Tommerdahl could hear me) for us to kick out of bounds on every kickoff.  I'd happily concede the 35 as starting field position rather than start defending from midfield.  If the opposing coach calls our bluff and starts consistently making us re-kick, then we should start thinking about these squib kicks.

Ruey Yen: Maybe Art Kaufman is to blame for this, but Bears during this entire game called timeout defensively 3 times, including the 1 in the 3rd quarter that preceded a UCLA 3rd down conversion for a TD. This aspect of our game has to improve over time if we are able to become a potential conference title contender in the near future.

I agree with Berkelium97 on the special team place (but I may have been influenced by standing one row in front of him during the game) about how we may have been better off to just kick the ball out of bound rather than all these squib kicks. Of course, if we're just playing the long game and one of these weird squib kick play ends up being a critical onside kick recovery against 'Furd then all is forgiven.

As for the Goff play, I do think Goff throwing it up is probably the best offensive play that we have. Nevertheless, my main issue with that has more to do with clock management again. We simply have to rely to much on our young DBs to give UCLA the ball back with about a minute and timeouts.