I have completely changed my mind on my assessment of the Cal game, and it’s not good. I have had the benefit of reading the varied analysis as you have—heard the videos, and read some really superb comments by coaching-types on the football boards. We nearly lost that game due a confluence of factors, the biggest one being what Cal did in terms of strategy and execution. After pondering it for a week—I’ve come to a conclusion that Oregon’s talent has not caught up to the rankings or the coaching. If we had faced a team with a normal offense, then we would have lost badly that day. I am concerned about the scheme applied against us, and how we are to counter it when playing an elite team in a BCS/National Championship game.
Cal’s scheme was quite a surprise, wasn’t it? Other teams have implemented components of it in the past, such as bringing the Free Safety up to spy the QB. That began last year (Arizona) and I saw teams do this throughout this season, whether it be lowly Portland State, or the game before in the Huskies. But actually assigning man-on-man pass coverage on the Wide Receivers for the whole game? Packing the box with seven and eight defenders—with the Free Safety (FS) nearby watching the QB? Normally a FS 10 yards off the LOS is not close enough to stop many plays, yet because our Zone Read takes some time, and we are behind the LOS by five yards with the Shotgun—it allows the FS to help in pass coverage while spying the QB. On the Zone Read the FS has the second or so it takes to run up and stop the QB, and the man being Zone Read, (ZR) would take the RB, thus both in our backfield are covered. So all the WRs are covered, both in the backfield are covered in the ZR, and we have seven in the box to be blocked by five of our Offensive Linemen? In terms of scheme and execution it is brilliant as it is easy for the defenders to carry out their assignments, and Cal players commented how it “simplified” things against us. Lovely.
We have had many games where the Defensive Linemen beat our blocks often to blow-up plays, as the Arizona State and USC games come to mind. Yet in those games we were able to employ a passing attack to offset the negative yardage plays, but not this time. I counted a number of plays aloud where Darron Thomas barely had THREE seconds to get the pass off before taking a hit. You can’t get longer passes open against man-to-man coverage in only three seconds, and you aren’t going anywhere quickly with the short ones. I haven’t seen a game where we had TWO Offensive Linemen driven two yards into our backfield by two of the three interior defensive linemen on so many plays. Talk about blowing up a play and creating a longer second and third down play! Against Cal and against elite teams we face superior talent in the trenches, and the question is—can we offset it with technique and strategy?
A major component in our offensive success is the no-huddle element in terms of creating mistakes in the early going, and creating fatigue in the later quarters. Yet if we do not complete enough no-huddle drives in the first half—then our talent-negating factor, (fatigue) will not materialize in the second half as we saw in this game. What occurs early is crucial for winning, and successful drives in the first half assure second half victory. We ran into a dynamic I wrote about last week that could, and this week DID have an impact in the game; our incompetent Pac-10 Officials.
In the game’s first series for both teams we saw inept handling that changed the game against Oregon as Maehl was trying to beat the one-on-one coverage but was grabbed on the jersey, with no call. Either it keeps a successful drive alive, and pulls Cal out of the man-on-man, or we punt. In the Cal series soon after we see Cliff Harris held by his jersey, and then has his arm held as Vereen ran past in his longest run of the day. No call. Later we see a ten yard gain nullified by a questionable hold by Holmes on the backside of the play. Again—no points. So let me get this right—they can see holds in the middle of the LOS, but cannot see obvious ones out in plain sight? A new DB technique must be the “pin” of the WR’s arm as the ball approaches. We saw a UCLA DB do it to Paulson, and then we saw a TD prevented by a Cal DB from the same technique in front of the official! When a WR is only able to put up one hand—doesn’t that tell you something? Pac-10 officials—HERE’S YOUR SIGN! Look for one arm up, and it’s not hard to figure! Now did we lose due to the officials? No, but it was a factor and I fear that their bungling could cost us and the conference huge in the future. Overall I felt that we deserved the majority of the calls against us, but it was NOT called evenly against Cal, and that is WRONG. (and incompetent) Get those calls, complete those drives and the game changes.
I was bothered that our WRs seemed to lack the skills to get separation needed for pass plays, but I also noted Darron was inaccurate and missing open WRs again. While that was a large factor in our near loss, it leads me to think about an additional facet that hasn’t been spoken of as yet. When you are entered in a big tennis tournament, the early matches carry a mental attitude of “go out, play hard, and try to win a game,” which is similar to what we had through our football season. However when you have won a ton of matches and are coming close to a championship—then the mental aspects change on you. It becomes more of, “what I have to lose” versus “let’s win a game.” It is human nature when in the semis or finals and it’s 4-5, add-out and second serve….the knees DO get wobbly. The throat tightens, and the service motion, (which is similar to throwing a pass) becomes a touch stiffer. The result is not as strong a serve and a less accurate one. Could this be happening to Darron? It’s one thing to be 8-0 with “a third of the season left” and another thing to be “9-0 with the prize in a short count-down.” Third and long in these last three games are like the “add-out” tennis situation described above. It DOES affect your reactions and skills, and I assume that Chip is coaching the psychological counters to the normal manifestation of “pressure.”
I was surprised to see us continue to try to run against seven and eight in the box, and Chip has some writers second-guessing his play calling, yet I see Chip as a master at judging the changing elements in the frenetic fog of a game. He sees a defensive line overwhelming our offensive line, and he sees WRs not getting open and a QB who is having a tough day, and might be a little shaken. If you press it and continue to push the longer throws downfield to defeat the man-on-man coverage, then you run the risk of interceptions that set up short fields and a much easier path for Cal to win the game. No—he made the decision that on that day—he could win without us sticking our neck out. Remember when he was asked about closing the play book in the second half of the ASU game? “It’s just basic football and managing the clock.” Chip adjusts his offense to the players on hand each year, and adjusts his current game-plan dependent upon how his players are performing at that moment. He could have taken more risk and won those games by bigger margins or we could have made mistakes that would have us at 8-2 right now. He plays game and PEOPLE percentages, and I admire that.
On defense I noted some surprises from charting the game. I would have thought going in that we would run a 4-3 the majority of the time to slow the running attack and make them beat us through the air. Yet we ran the 4-3 only 20% of the time, and the 3-4 alignments 65% of the time. (Specialty defenses were the rest) The biggest surprise was how we blitzed only 20% of the time which is a HUGE change from prior games. We seemed to plug our gaps well, and it was fun to see Clark cause a fumble which lead to game-winning points. I noted that Michael Clay was in on a ton of tackles, thus the extended playing time is now paying off. Cudos to Matthews for another studly game from our MLB spot.
BTW—I loved that uniform combo worn, as I think it is one of the coolest and we didn’t wear it last year as we went through some odd combinations in ‘09. The 2010 white-white-green looks tight. Hope we see the Throw-backs for the Arizona game and “Oakland Raider” look for the Civil War of Steel-White-Steel.
Chip was asked this week whether there is a scheme that can defeat the Ducks, and he said, “I think there isn’t.” “We’ve got too many weapons and we’ll find a way to get something done.”
So how do you defeat the “Pendergast Problem” when you have five O-Linemen to block seven defenders and both players in the Zone Read (QB & RB) are covered by the defense? It’s simple, but not easy. You BURN those one-on-one pass matchups in the secondary and force them to go back to the usual zone defenses. To do this you need time to throw, WRs who get open, and a QB who puts the ball in the right spot. You know--the type of thing that Oregon has done for years before the Spread Offense! In fact, we usually have QBs and WRs hoping to get those one-on-one matchups with no safety in the center of the field! If DT does the Zone Read mesh and pulls the ball out in a play-action pass, then the FS cannot be in position to stop any number of pass patterns over the middle. (Because he’s coming up to stop the QB) Whether it is a drag route like the TD to Maehl was, a bubble screen that makes someone miss, or a skinny post—these pass plays are there for the taking. If we cannot complete them, then it is because we do not have the talent to execute at O-Line, WR, or QB and thus we are not a championship team and do not deserve to win. One-on-one pass coverages are what QBs and WRs LIVE FOR, and we should beat them easily.
I AM concerned as the Cal Scheme is too easy NOT to do, and we will see it until we carry out the passing attack that we saw in previous games. This scheme is so easy to implement by injecting a fifth DB and have the Defensive Linemen create havoc, that I assume all elite teams will play this as the percentages thus far are in their favor. Aside from the winning, aside from the prize at stake, I will find this Arizona game incredibly fascinating from a Xs and Os standpoint. Stoops is good at devising defenses and came a hair away from beating us last year. I expect him to take the Cal Defense and tweak it a little more, thus our challenge will be enormous. If this new scheme holds down our scoring, then we’ll see games more like 27-23 instead of in the fifties. The Cal corners were up tight—can Arizona pull off the same? Will the Pac-10 officials make the same calls on the Wildcats as us? Can Oregon beat the man-on-man pass coverage? This game is going to be a DANDY!
We love our Ducks,