As expected, Oregon was most effective on the ground, and probably should have pressed their advantage in that regard harder. The Ducks were successful on 19 designed rushing plays vs 11 unsuccessful ones given the down & distance, or 63%, with four runs going for over 10 yards. Although it wasn’t perfect, Oregon’s offensive line did fairly well run-blocking, especially at the first level of the defense, even though they never really got to the point of d-line exhaustion that previous Cal opponents had. Here’s a representative sample:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any video to play it in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - Nice push here across the board, resetting the line along with #71 RG Aumavae-Laulu sealing off his block from the lane and #89 TE DJ Johnson taking the block exchange. #78 C Forsyth and #77 RT Moore could be doing a better job getting up to the 2nd level to block the backers, but still plenty of running room for a 5-yd gain on 1st down.
- :07 - Cal’s bringing almost everybody, and one gets past the RT to trip up #26 RB Dye before he can cut outside to the C-gap between Moore and #48 TE Kampmoyer. This is the proper read of the DB, the only guy staying outside who has to account for the QB; he’s trapped by the great blocks the TEs are throwing. Almost all of Oregon’s unsuccessful rush plays caused by a blocking failure were like this, a single mistake instead of just getting crushed across the line.
- :14 - This in-then-out motion by #30 WR Redd is something of a new twist on the RPO game, it means this would work vs man or zone coverage, which is revealed pre-snap. The OLB crashes on the back so #12 QB Shough pulls the ball properly; had the DB then stayed in place in zone, he could toss it out to Redd, but since the DB sticks to him in man Shough has a nice open lane to run through.
- :23 - An old standby at Oregon, the split-zone with Kampmoyer slicing under the formation. Excellent blocking here, particularly by Moore and #56 LG Bass opening up a massive lane.
Oregon was underwater in their passing game for the first time this year, 15 successful designed passing plays vs 17 failed ones, or 47%, though it should be mentioned that two plays which would have been successful got flipped to failures by a penalty and a painful fumble after the catch. Four passes went for 15+ yards, and a fifth would have if not for that penalty.
The offensive line was less effective in pass-protection in this game than it was run-blocking - I think six of Oregon’s 17 failed passing plays can be primarily traced to a breakdown in pass-pro. Seven of Oregon’s passing playcalls ended in a sack, scramble, or throwaway … although three of those turned out to be successful scrambles, and two of them were on 3rd down and earned a conversion.
Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s passing plays:
- :00 - The Ducks included a crosser under a square-in on most of their dropback passing patterns, as with this one which exploits the classic vulnerability of cover-3: the deep hole. The ILB is pulled forward and the safeties are spaced out, with no one to defend the center of the field.
- :19 - I saw a couple of miscommunications like this - I’m not sure if Shough is supposed to have thrown deeper or Redd is supposed to have cut to the sideline earlier. It’s a well designed play to exploit Cal’s zone coverage, with a half-roll in response to the OLB crashing and a high-low read between Kampmoyer, who pulls down the DB, and Redd, who’s wide open.
- :34 - It was nice to see #4 WR Pittman back on the field, here taking advantage of the weaker of Cal’s corners on a comeback route that #2 WR Williams would have been running were he available. This throw is absolutely perfectly placed over the DB and then away from the corner where only Pittman can get it, just a beautiful ball.
- :54 - This wasn’t the first time #53 RG Walk got beat in pass-pro by Cal’s best d-lineman. #33 RB Habibi-Likio saves the sack but Shough is still throwing off his back foot due to the pressure and the ball sails to nowhere.
Picking out the run vs pass splits in effectiveness is challenging when so much of the offense goes through RPO reads, since the defense — or more precisely, the QB’s read of the defense — decides which of many play types it’ll be. In this game, Cal dropped its read defender into pass coverage on RPO plays, as opposed to bringing him up to defend the run, on about a 2:1 basis - it was clear that Cal felt more comfortable taking away passing plays and were willing to give up runs to make Oregon march the field, which I thought the Ducks should have taken them up on.
I counted 27 RPO or zone-read plays in this game (although it’s sometimes tough to tell which are just straight handoffs or dropbacks with slide protection, since the other option is a counterfactual), and of those I believe Shough committed five errors in his reads. That’s far too high of a number, since zero is an attainable goal and Shough had been much closer to that in previous games. Errors of this type, in my opinion, were the biggest single reason for Oregon’s offense being less effective in this game than in the first four.
Overall, Shough was mostly making correct calls, and it’s easy to exaggerate the mistakes, but in this offense virtually everything goes through his decision-making process and it simply needs to be better. Here’s a representative sample:
- :00 - The keep option on this play is supposed to go between Bass and the puller #53 RG Walk, but Bass is letting his man get outside of him to close that off. But in my opinion this is a read of the ILB who takes an inside step following Redd’s pre-snap motion, which should have triggered the handoff - Redd would have walked into the endzone, since all three blocks would have outside leverage.
- :08 - Cal picked up a trick from Oregon St’s defense: sending two backers after the mesh, the first one dedicated to the back and the second to the QB. Oregon has responded with this motion to keep the safety honest, so the LT can just climb immediately to the ILB and leave the QB free for a proper read of the OLB and the 1st down run.
- :17 - Here’s a play we saw for the first time - instead of the slicing H-back stepping around the unblocked edge defender and becoming a receiving target, on this RPO the pulling RG does so and now can block the ILB on the double-backer crash, hopefully letting the QB set his feet after a half-roll to throw to the outside. Cal’s defending it well by dodging blocks and there isn’t a great option to throw here (it’s included because that was a big reason Cal did well in this game - they reacted to RPOs appropriately by taking away all options, regardless if the QB is right or wrong), but in the future watch for a throwback to the freed-up RB on the backside.
- :25 - Finally the RPO toss as it’s meant to go, even better for the ILB losing eye discipline. The OLB crashes, Shough pulls, and it’s an easy lob to Kampmoyer who gets downfield with the WRs blocking the perimeter.
The most significant positive takeaway from this game is that Oregon appears to have made real progress in addressing its poor tackling problem that had been plaguing the program for several weeks. Defense against designed rushes was above water again for the first time since the opener, with 19 successful plays vs 15 unsuccessful ones, or 56%.
The Ducks gave up just one chunk-yardage run, a 14-yarder that ought to have been a tackle for loss, with the defender in the right position but allowing the back to step out of the tackle. Other than that, tackling and positioning in run defense was very good, though I think there’s still some catching up to do in strength & conditioning since the biggest single cause of rush defense failures was the back fighting for an extra yard or two which flipped the play to the win column for the offense. Some examples:
- :00 - Oregon has been blurring the distinction between starters and backups in the defensive line rotation, as in this set with #3 DT Scott between #97 DT Dorlus and #95 DT Ware-Hudson. Scott takes on the double-team long enough to delay the center from getting to the second level, while the other tackles shed blocks for walk-on #43 ILB Wiebe to clean up, though he allows an extra yard on 2nd & 3 to make this a win for the offense.
- :07 - I’ve been writing for a couple of years that this ballcarrier is one of the most powerful backs in the league, and this strongside run to the boundary with a pulling guard is meant to iso him on the cornerback, which I’d think is a favorable matchup. #47 STUD Funa gets inside of the blocking TE to close the designed gap, forcing him to bounce outside, and #0 CB Lenoir gets him wrapped up and thrown out of bounds.
- :22 - Oregon played extensively out of a dime package in this game, probably because they were short-handed at ILB for reasons that haven’t been explained to me. While schematically they were matching up personnel appropriately in the box, a few runs looked like this one where naturally lighter DBs had a harder time getting off OL blocks and couldn’t immediately bring the back down.
- :29 - This is what’s been missing in previous weeks from the defensive line: block destruction. Here #91 DT K. Williams throws the LG to the ground right in the back’s path, and #50 DT Aumavae shoves the center back so he can get his helmet on the playside of the blocker and win with leverage, helping #41 ILB Slade-Matautia clean up.
Oregon’s pass defense was excellent, as expected from film study of both these teams, with 26 successful defenses against designed passing plays vs 15 failures, better than 63%. Only two passes went for over 15 yards. Structurally, Cal was limited almost exclusively to short pass attempts — my tally sheet shows virtually every throw was a checkdown, crosser, or little dumpoff to the curl/flat area — with only three pass attempts (excluding throwaways) that traveled more than 10 yards downfield through the air. Some examples:
- :00 - Perfect timing by #2 CB Wright on this quick throw, early enough to break it up but not so soon that it draws a flag.
- :08 - Cal broke out a couple of things they hadn’t put on film before in this game, including a flea flicker, a reverse, a twist on the Statue of Liberty play, and on a few occasions like this one, quick snaps before either the offense or defense had settled. Slade-Matautia is caught by surprise and out of position on this throw to his zone responsibility.
- :16 - Nice awareness here by #5 DE Thibodeaux to not bite hard on the H-back’s initial block, so he can run out with him when Aumavae and Dorlus penetrate the line and force the QB to improvise this pass. He hangs on for the tackles, and #23 DB McKinley is in position to help.
Oregon forced 13 sacks, scrambles, or throwaways, about 32% of all dropbacks. That’s an excellent number but about in line with what Cal typically gives up; the big accomplishment is that they kept Cal’s agile QB from turning all but two of those broken plays into significant gains, which is well below the Bears’ typical success rate on scrambles. Some examples:
- :00 - Thibodeaux simply destroys Cal’s 4-star LT, #99 DT Au. Faoliu is beating their 4-year starting RT as well, and with Wiebe, Funa, and the DBs taking away all the frontside reads they have time to bring the QB down before he can get to any backside outlet.
- :22 - Without #29 OLB Jackson’s phenomenal speed on twists, Oregon’s pass-rush variant of the dime package had to get to the QB through blitzing. That puts some more pressure on the extra DBs to cover while the blitz is getting home; here Lenoir, McKinley, and #19 DB Hill are stuck tight to their responsibilities, with #15 DB B. Williams eyeing the QB for a scramble.
- :33 - Another dime-package blitz, though in a new wrinkle with Scott and Dorlus playing 3-tech. Thibodeaux flushes the QB, #55 OLB An. Faoliu comes off his stunt to force him further outside, and Williams has transitioned from underneath coverage to coming down hard on the ballcarrier.
- :48 - One of the few high camera angles we got in this game, showing Lenoir and Williams locking down both frontside options in man coverage, with the (legal) press technique from Wright on the backside stack knocking them both over like dominoes. The younger Faoliu backs out of the rush to eye the QB, who panics as film study indicated and takes the sack.
I think last week’s preview of Cal’s defense was pretty accurate. As film study indicated, the Bears were much weaker against the run than the pass, and simply being able to defeat their interior line without a nose guard to pick up efficiency runs was Oregon’s biggest weapon on Saturday. The Ducks didn’t run them to the point of exhaustion, however they did exploit that vulnerability by getting proportionately far more chunk-yardage rushes than previous Cal opponents had. We also saw some of the tricks that I’d noticed Cal’s zone coverage is susceptable to, as well as using motions to reveal their rare man coverage and then deploying screens and RPOs against it. The DBs I identified as the weaker part of their coverage were also the ones OC Moorhead chose to attack more often. What I wish I’d spent more time discussing was the role of their OLBs - I’ve liked their starter Cam Goode for years and I always seem to forget mentioning him by name when I discuss Cal in articles or podcasts, and I should have played up more the significance of getting their second viable OLB Braxton Croteau back in terms of allowing heavier boxes without having to go deep into their bench of ILBs. Both of them had a great game against Oregon.
Cal’s offense got its starters at the offensive line back, which made for a challenge predicting their performance; I think that it was accurate to say last week that only their left tackle was a significant improvement on the backups, but still their play across the board was a bit better than that snide dismissal let on and I regret it. I was not expecting in the slightest for Cal’s slot receiver Nikko Remigio to have the second best game of his three-year career considering he was a total non-factor (outside of some special teams heartbreakers) in their first three games; I probably should have mentioned his reliability in 2019 and the possibility that he’d break out. I’ve been struggling with what to do with such 2019 mainstays who’d disappeared in this weird pandemic year, but considering Oregon’s ability to make anyone look like an instant Heisman candidate I should probably include more throwback references. Otherwise, this offense performed exactly as I described in their rush, pass, and (excessive) scrambling tendencies.