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Film Study: Dawgs keep cruising, Cal just a bump in the road

All anyone saw was purple, especially Ross Bowers

California v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Another week in the 2017 season, another opponent that was completely overmatched by the Huskies. The Cal offensive line had no chance to block UW, and the two-deep safety look Justin Wilcox employed meant Jake Browning easily dinked and dunked the Dawgs to a 24-point first half.

Nothing really spectacular in this one; just more domination on defense and the offense making enough plays to make sure it was never in doubt.

To the tape:

2nd and 12:

Lots of defensey goodness to digest on this play.

First, Greg Gaines is lined up as a 1-tech tackle on the defense’s left. Outside linebacker Tevis Bartlett is showing blitz, but through the B-gap, as opposed to the outside. Ben Burr-Kirven is outside Bartlett, like a stand-up defensive end. Keishawn Bierria is inside, also showing blitz. Where’s Vita Vea? That’s him, playing a stand-up defensive end on the defense’s right, well outside the left tackle. Behind them are six defensive backs - a true dime defense and something not commonly seen from the Huskies, even against teams that run five wide receiver offenses, as Cal does on this play. The personnel on this play is unique, as is the alignment. Throughout the course of the evening, though, the result quickly came to be fairly commonplace for Cal QB Ross Bowers.

Bierria drops back into coverage at the snap, leaving four men to rush. Bartlett and Gaines (not to be confused with the wine cooler Bartles and James) clog the middle of the field. This is an outstanding effort by Burr-Kirven in a season filled with outstanding efforts, as he simply defeats Cal’s right tackle. On the other side, Vea has every single advantage possible in a one-on-one matchup - he’s bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic than Cal’s left tackle. His spin move is a nice show, even if not incredibly valuable. The coverage is phenomenal, and it’s Burr-Kirven that actually makes the play here - his rush makes Bowers uncomfortable and causes the QB to move off his spot. Bowers’ feeble attempt to divorce himself of the ball and potential punishment is swallowed up by the human eclipse that is Vita Vea, but is effective in saving his ribcage from a full shot of the human b-b that is Ben Burr-Kirven.

1st and Goal:

It’s easy to look at this play as an example of the running game not working, as Cal appears to simply blow this play up at the snap. That’s not really what happens, though.....

The Huskies are running an inside zone here, basically right up the gut. Lavon Coleman is coming across the formation to seal the back side of the play, making it much like an inside zone split that’s usually accomplished by bringing a tight end or H-back across the formation at the snap to seal the end. This, in theory, creates a natural cutback lane for Myles Gaskin should he want it.

Cal is in a four man front, but is wide across the line of scrimmage, leaving the middle of the field to be contained by the inside linebackers. You can see guards Nick Harris and Jesse Sosebee get to them fairly easily. Right tackle Kaleb McGary dominates his block. Left tackle Trey Adams doesn’t, but if the timing of the play is correct, he’s “won” his matchup. Lavon Coleman doesn’t do much of anything, but he’s also not the reason the play doesn’t work.

So what happened? If you look carefully, you’ll see Nick Harris step on center Coleman Shelton’s foot as Shelton is adjusting to the angle of his man. Shelton loses his balance as he’s not able to lift his right foot, and is beaten. An example of the stupid stuff that happens during the course of a football game that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Cal is spread wide as mentioned, and is blitzing from the outside (note #20 come into the screen at the bottom). The guards have sealed the inside linebackers. If not for the friendly fire on this play, there’s a nice gain to be had, and if Gaskin saw the opening to the offense’s right side vacated by the blitzing safety, would’ve strolled in for a touchdown.


4th and 2:

A play straight out of the 2000 Rose Bowl season, with Marques Tuiasosopo at quarterback.

This is a speed option, meaning there’s no dive action with a fullback. If you look at the pitch relationship Myles Gaskin establishes on this play, you can see the design is wide, outside the tackle. The option man on this play is #36 for Cal (with the long dreads), the last man on the line of scrimmage on the offense’s left. He’s not blocked, and it’s his response to the play that should in theory determine what’s done with the ball.

Cal runs an interior stunt on this play. The two defensive tackle in the middle of the line “cross” at the snap. It’s this action that really makes the play for Washington. The tackle working toward the play side has momentum in that direction. An incredibly alert Jesse Sosebee sees the action, and pushes the defender outside. This largely takes away the pitch to Gaskin by stringing the play wide (and it’s being run to the narrow side of the field, so there isn’t a ton of room to the sideline), but also creates a cutback lane for Browning. Browning sees it, and heads upfield. Left tackle Trey Adams gets away with a hold/tackle on the inside linebacker, leaving Browning a clear lane all the way to the end zone (but the hustle of that linebacker is worth noting - he was almost able to get back up and make a play). Browning absorbs a cheapie in the end zone, but as you can see below, doesn’t react to it in any way (sarcasm).

Caption this...

1st and Goal:

This is the inside zone split again. H-back Hunter Bryant is the man coming across the field to seal the back side of this play. The blocking from the offensive line is initially “pretty good;” there are no Cal defenders free to make a play, but there’s also no obvious hole for Myles Gaskin to run through. Call it a stalemate. So, Gaskin does the obvious thing and stops. Completely.

Wait, what???!!!?!?!

(every running back coach in the country, in film study with his players): “Gentlemen, this is not how you run the ball. Do not watch video of Myles Gaskin. You are not good enough to run this play, this way. Do not stop. Pick a hole, make a cut, and get upfield!”

My cat eats her food on the counter in the mudroom, and I’d love to know what it’s like to be able to jump four times my height so effortlessly. Myles Gaskin moves and sees like this. But as mere mortals, the rest of us simply aren’t that lucky.

Have you ever dropped a bar of soap, and then made three or four fumbling attempts to grab it as it falls toward the floor, watching your vain efforts in real time in a semi-out-of-body-experience and knowing full well you don’t have a chance while simultaneously realizing the soap is going to land on your toe? Trying to get a bead on Myles Gaskin is kind of like that. Defenders can see him, probably even think they have a chance to get to him, but in the end, they’re left with a handful of nothing and looking like they’re trying to invent new dance moves.

3rd and 9:

Jake Browning got a new toy last Christmas. It was a little complicated, he never read the directions, and he put the batteries in backwards initially, so it didn’t seem all that cool. But then, someone showed him how to use it, and it might very well be his new favorite.

Hunter Bryant has shown his potential throughout this season, but this game was his bona fide breakout. During his post-game interview, Bob Rondeau asked Chris Petersen something like, “Is Hunter Bryant a tight end, is he a receiver, is he just a football player, or what?” Petersen answered, “Yes.”

Similar to what the Huskies did with Austin Seferian-Jenkins five years ago, the Huskies have moved Bryant all around the field to get the matchups they want from the defense (and at the same time, minimize Bryant’s role as an in-line blocker, which isn’t a strength as a true freshman). When the defense treats him as a tight end, the coaches split Bryant out as a wide receiver. When they treat him as a wide receiver, the offense moves him inside as a tight end and runs the ball.

Cal spent much of the game with two deep safeties, which meant that Bryant saw a lot of coverage from linebackers. The Huskies used this route concept on many of the throws to Bryant throughout the course of the evening. The two outside receivers on the trips side (offense’s right) simply run their men out of the play, and Bryant runs a 10-yard out. The outside linebacker covering Bryant also has edge run responsibilities, meaning he can’t simply run with Bryant at the snap. Bryant has the speed to mostly make the linebacker’s recovery in coverage impossible, and this play amounts to an easy throw and catch that we saw repeated several times. Sometimes, football is a simple game. Athletes like Hunter Bryant make it possible.

The Huskies once again dominated an overmatched Pac-12 opponent without flash and pizzazz from the offense. Meanwhile, the defense was stifling, in record-breaking fashion this time. Whether your glass is half full or half empty, it’s hard to be better than 6-0 at this point. On to the desert.