I expect Cal to rely heavily on their rushing offense tomorrow, since it was already more efficient -- 39 successful plays to 31 failed ones -- than their passing offense was with #7 QB Garbers. The Bears field two great backs, #34 RB C. Brown and #23 RB Dancy in about a 5:3 ratio, who show a lot of patience and hard running after contact:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - A lot of pre-snap motion here, which they’ve been doing less of the last two weeks; ultimately it amounts to 6-on-6. The trenches are kind of a mess, both #53 C Saffell and #72 RG Mettauer aren’t cleanly moving up to the second level, but Brown picks his way through it and then breaks a couple of lousy tackle attempts.
- :27 - Here’s an outside zone run with an RPO attached. Mettauer gets clobbered but Dancy’s speed has gotten him past it, good outside blocks by #84 TE Reinwald and #85 TE Tonges let him get around the edge, and he dodges a low tackle attempt.
- :46 - Excellent vision by Brown; #73 LG Cindric has given up inside leverage to the linebacker so he cuts back and squeezes through the collapsing hole left by Mettauer losing control of his man. Then he plain runs over the safety for 8 more yards.
The offensive line faces a number of challenges. Both guards are freshmen, and while they look to have the right body type, I think they’ve been pressed into service a little early. Part of that is because of a season-ending injury to #75 LT Craig early in the year; that’s caused #61 LT Daltoso to move over from his right guard spot. Daltoso has had a pretty winding journey through different positions over the years, including a short time at Oregon before transferring. I don’t think he’s ideal for the tackle position, and indeed for a few stretches over the last four weeks he’s been replaced by former walk-on #76 LT Bazakas and freshman #78 LT Mello. They’ve only got two lineman who are, in my opinion, where they’re supposed to be: Saffell snapping the ball and #71 RT Curhan who’s had his spot for several years … unsurprisingly they have the lowest error rates on my tally sheet.
That much inexperience has been taking its toll on the run game:
- :00 - Cindric gets rocked back so far by the initial contact that the gap for the linebacker to run through is enormous, and Brown never really gets a chance to get started on this outside RPO give … he needs a long runway because of the play design and can’t afford a free shot from a fast backer.
- :12 - I’m actually kind of impressed by this play, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all five linemen lose control of their blocks at the same time before. This one is worth watching a couple times in slow motion.
- :17 - This inside zone run is blocked pretty well to begin with. Daltoso is enthusiastically chipping the DT, and continues all the way through the end of the play … so eagerly that he’s forgotten to climb to the second level and block the safety, who makes the tackle for a short gain.
It’s hard to say how the offense will change after Garbers’ injury and replacement by #6 QB Modster, a transfer from UCLA. He played a pretty good game (ironically, against Cal) that I watched in 2017, and so I was surprised when he looked to have significantly regressed in his 34 plays last week prior to garbage time. It’s an awkward situation to come into, and I noticed that the playbook simplified considerably after he went 0-4 with an interception in his first-half passing attemps - the RPO and read components of plays were missing, just straight handoffs or quick-read passes.
I recorded only 4 successful passing plays to 11 failures with Modster in. Three of those four successes were scrambles, and about half those failures were mental mistakes of some kind: not reading the coverage correctly, not seeing open receivers, leaving the pocket too early, etc. It’s possible that with a week plus a day of practice with the first team he’ll have settled down for tomorrow’s game. In my opinion, Cal’s best receiver is #11 WR Crawford and he was out with injury last week; Rob Hwang of ATQ South tells us in a recent podcast that Modster has a great connection with Crawford and he may be back in action tomorrow.
But I was also seeing significant physical limitations that I doubt will be fixed in a week, most importantly poor throwing mechanics and a wobbly, inaccurate ball that can’t get more than about 20 yards in any direction. I have a longstanding personal policy about not making “lowlight reels” of a single kid’s poor performance, so instead I’ve assembled the three best plays he had in this game, and will leave the reader to infer what the rest looked like:
Cal finished last year with the #13 ranked defense in SP+. I expected them to stay at that level or possibly improve after reviewing their roster, but instead they’ve fallen to #25. It’s still a very good, dangerous squad, but I don’t think that tumble is unwarranted.
The two key players they’re missing from last year are the nose tackle Chris Palmer and the inside linebacker Jordan Kunasyzk. Both of the guys I had penciled in to take over for Palmer, #97 NG Maldonado and #99 NG Fuimaono, have been unavailable to start the season, though I think I saw Maldonado for one rep last week and he may be in against Oregon. And #8 ILB Deng, the top rated Juco last season (and briefly seen on Last Chance U) has had in my opinion a very difficult time transitioning to the inside from the outside, and he lacks Kunasyzk’s size and strong commitment to assignment football.
Depth is a big problem across the defensive front. They’re essentially playing the same six or seven guys every snap, several have had injuries and others are playing out of position, and with a couple exceptions (I like #19 OLB Goode and #93 DT Bequette a lot), nobody is quite the right fit for the job: #96 OLB Paul is too big and inflexible to be a great pass rusher, #90 DT B. Johnson is a freshman, #44 DT Z. Johnson has balance issues, Deng is too skinny and inexperienced, #89 ILB Weaver has slow feet in pass coverage.
The secondary remains the strength of the team, and have a number of great plays to show for it:
- :00 - Excellent man coverage here across the board - five receivers in a red zone, all covered real tight, and extra personnel to deal with the QB scramble.
- :09 - Great pass break-up by #24 CB Bynum, one of the best lockdown corners in the league.
- :23 - Textbook coverage sack, the QB just has nowhere to go with the ball and starts panicking.
But between the depth and pass rush problems, the pass defense has taken a big hit from last year, and they’re about 50/50 on pass defense per-play efficiency. Some examples:
- :00 - I don’t understand this coverage choice at all for a spread out empty set. Two linebackers, Deng and Paul, are out in boundary pass coverage, they only rush three, and both safeties are playing 20 yards deep. I’m not sure whether Deng, Bynum, or #27 S Davis is supposed to be on this 9-route but there’s nobody within 5 yards to make the play.
- :12 - I count six Mississippis between the pass and the throw here. It’s true that either #5 S Turner or #3 CB Hicks screwed up and should have stayed with the X receiver on the scramble drill, but if you give any QB this much time to make a pass he’ll find something.
- :36 - Cal is expecting a screen pass from this bunch set and so sends Paul out to crash it, but they all head downfield and he winds up disrupting the coverage, and they don’t have a plan for exchanging with the ILB and DBs.
In rush defense, this remains a formidable group, and at every rushing play type but one, they’re above water in terms of efficiency, routinely slicing inside zone blocks for big plays:
- :00 - Weaver reads this perfectly and gets a great jump on the snap, simply beating the left guard and powering through his reach to get to the ballcarrier.
- :12 - Good play design and blocking opens a big hole and iso’s the backer, but that’s Weaver so the play goes nowhere.
- :17 - Paul demolishes the pulling guard, altering the back’s course, and Goode isn’t fooled in the slightest by his counter step and has an impressive backside pursuit the whole way.
What brings Cal’s rushing defense underwater, however, is a huge problem defending that last play type: power-blocked runs up the middle, at which they have just 6 successes to 24 failures. They don’t give up a ton of yardage on these, the average is under 5 yards per carry and only one went over 15 yards. But in terms of efficiency, opposing offenses figured out they could put together long, sustained drives against Cal featuring heavy rushes up the middle and tire out a depth-depleted front:
- :00 - A lot of window dressing here to conceal a simple A-gap run. Weaver’s taken out of the play, Bequette gets crushed, and the only guy left to stop it is the easily handled Deng.
- :17 - Paul and Johnson just can’t fight off these blocks from the tight end and tackle, the C-gap gets pretty wide fast, Weaver is worked all the way around by the other tight end, and everybody left at the second level lacks size and are pretty easily blocked out.
- :25 - Cal loses contain way too easily on this play despite it bouncing to the boundary. Paul gives up his leverage, Turner gets worked inside, Hicks is out of position, and Deng gets caught in the wash.
- :36 - This is the ninth of what will be a 15-play touchdown drive that effectively seals the loss for Cal. The fatigue is pretty evident here (on both teams, really) … Paul is blocked by a WR who’s 70 lbs lighter than he is, Bequette looks dead on his feet, and at the end of the play there is a line of six blue uniforms on the ground like fallen dominoes.