Deciding which conference loss in 2018 is a painful exercise. So instead of even engaging in it, we’d like to tip our caps to the Cal Bears. Regardless of whether or not they should’ve been able to beat the Huskies, this is a program that’s come a long way in two years. For some perspective, here was our film study from the game at Berkeley in 2016. That just wasn’t a good football team, but many of those same players in 2018, well, that’s a very good defense.
Washington’s defense did its job on Saturday. But the offense had no answers after its initial possession. The team has shown far more capability this year, but it’s a little scary to try and forecast where the answers come as we move forward.
Due to the black magic of computers, you can now control the starting point of the gifs, and the speed they play.
To the Film:
3rd and 3:
We’ve seen this 5-1 look from the defensive front a handful of times, and it gives the Huskies the look of bringing pressure with the opportunity to either do so, or easily drop off into coverage.
This time, the end men on either side of the line of scrimmage are dropping off into coverage. Tevis Bartlett (ILB #17) gives one upfield step from the defense’s left side before retreating into a middle zone. On the other side, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (OLB #9) is dropping at the snap, largely to take away the opportunity to throw a hook or slant to the slant receiver on that side.
It’s 3rd and 3, and the Huskies are dropping eight into coverage. Even still, Cal ends up with a wide-open receiver that easily would’ve had the first down. The inside receiver on the trips side runs a simple crossing route, and various members of the defense seem to see him but leave him alone. With any amount of time, it’s hard to imagine an easier throw and catch.
Luckily that time isn’t available, because (DT #95) Levi Onwuzurike has played very good football the last few weeks. In this case he’s lined up as the nose tackle, and his position a bit off the ball allows him to use his quickness to set up a rush angle on Cal’s center. Onwuzurike uses a short punch to create a seam, and then simply runs past the attempted block. Cal’s QB feels the pressure and attempts to set forward in the pocket. Benning Potoa’e (OLB #8) does a really good thing here: instead of attacking the QB’s movement and likely creating a running lane, he pushes his blocker away from him and gets ready to move to either side. Meanwhile, the QB has slipped, allowing Onwuzurike to catch back up to the play.
Washington only ended up with three sacks, but managed to get pressure on Cal’s QBs several times. Efforts like this one were the biggest reason why, but some well-timed blitzes paid off, too.
2nd and 4:
This is an inside zone split to Salvon Ahmed. The primary hole on this play is to the offense’s right, but the “split” part of this play is the tight end Drew Sample (#88) coming across the formation from his H-back spot on the right side to seal the back side of the play. This frequently creates a cutback lane for the runner away from the primary path. In this instance, that’s exactly what happens, as Ahmed appears to read a nice block by Sample as sealing the back of the play (and opening it up), and maybe a little congestion from Luke Wattenberg (LG #76) as danger at the point of attack.
That’s too bad for a couple of reasons: First, the right side of the play actually sets up pretty well. Kaleb McGary (RT #58), Jaxson Kirkland (RG #51) and Nick Harris (C #56) have the first level blocked, and Harris and Kirkland are actually getting to the linebackers at level two. Second, the man that Sample should be blocking on this play is the defensive end/outside linebacker on the defense’s right side. Sample actually blocks a blitzing safety. The DE is sort of playing a little rope-a-dope after briefly making contact with LT Henry Roberts (#59). Ahmed ends up running right into him.
We briefly get a glimpse of the free safety; he rolls to his right after the blitz. If Ahmed had stayed right, Cal was a man light on that side of the field, and the safety would’ve had a long way to run. That play could’ve been huge. Cal gets credit for a nice play here, but it was really just dumb luck, of the good variety. Ahmed had lots of dumb luck as well on Saturday, but unfortunately for him and the rest of the Huskies, it was all bad. Every last bit.
2nd and 6:
Cal is running an RPO with Brandon McIlwain in at quarterback. The run is a QB power lead to the offense’s right; note the pulling left guard, and the tight end following behind as the lead blocker (like a fullback). The pass is the arrow screen to the running back that we see thrown, set up like a bubble screen. The defense on the right side does a lot of really good things on the play.
First, cornerback Keith Taylor (#27) is in man coverage at the bottom of the screen. He doesn’t attempt to make any sort of jam, but turns to run at the snap. He reads “block” right away, and comes back to set up containment on the edge, holding off the block with one hand and keeping the other free to make a play. Second, just a great read and break by Myles Bryant (#5). He attacks hard upfield and wide, and as soon as the would-be blocker over him turns his shoulders, Bryant knifes up at the ball carrier. Blocking in the back is legal within three yards of the line of scrimmage, but this is pushing that limit and could’ve been called. Bryant’s action slows the runner, though, and Ben Burr-Kirven (#25) is there to finish off the tackle for loss.
2nd and 2:
The opposite side of the “luck of the blitz” pendulum.
The Huskies bring Jojo McIntosh (S #14) from the wide side of the field at the same time Cal is running a power play to the narrow side. Cal’s left guard pulls, leaving only the tackle to disrupt McIntosh’s path to the ball. McIntosh is concerned about a play getting wide around him to the right, so he goes to the wide side of the tackle. Had he instead cut inside the tackle, we’re probably talking about a tackle for loss on this play.
In realityland, though, Jaylen Johnson (DT #92) gets handled at the point of attack, first by a double team from the right guard and tackle, and then by the tackle alone as the guard heads to the linebackers. That guard then gets a small piece of Ben Burr-Kirven before falling to the ground. Burr-Kirven then gets the full brunt of the other guard—the pulling one—and swallows the block but can’t work himself free to make a play. The reaction by Tevis Bartlett (#17), the other inside linebacker, isn’t great. He’s slow to react, and succeeds only in running himself into traffic. Ryan Bowman is blocked out of the play by a tight end (#99), but in fairness, that tight end is 5’ 11” and 290 lbs.
Myles Bryant looks like he’s talking to someone right at the snap. And he never looks like he totally gets “ready” to make a play, as he’s slow and none too aggressive. But he helps a hard-charging Taylor Rapp make the tackle as the chains move.
A defensive tackle tandem of Jaylen Johnson and Levi Onwuzurike just isn’t a lot of beef.
2nd and 8:
And, how a blitz can look good.
Brandon McIlwain is back in at quarterback, and while he fakes the swing pass to the running back, that’s just window dressing as this is a designed run all the way. Byron Murphy (CB #1) is at the bottom of the screen, and he’s blitzing. In fact, he tips it off just a bit too soon, and you can see the receiver over him signaling danger back to the QB. McIlwain might not register the blitz, but it looks like he sees it and plans to run right up the middle in front of it.
The line of scrimmage sort of turns into a mosh pit on this play, with good and bad results. (DT #92) Jaylen Johnson looks like he might be slanting, but trips. (OLB #8) Benning Potoa’e pinches down too far to the middle while he’s pushing the right tackle, but this keeps him away from the pulling guard that’s trying to find him. The guard mostly ends up pushing Potoa’e into the scrum of the tackle. On the other side, Ryan Bowman is left unblocked initially. As the left tackle regroups, the block ends up pushing Bowman into the tackle, while Bowman fights to hold contain.
3rd and 3:
This is just nice play from the Husky defensive front. Cal’s QB is pretty locked into where he wants to throw on this 3rd and short play (he never appears to take his eyes off the running back out into the flat), but the Huskies’ coverage is sound out of their base nickel defense with a three-man front. That appears to be Joe Tryon-Shoyinka lined up as an outside linebacker on the defense’s right side, up immediately dropping into coverage to collect the running back.
The defensive tackles this play are Greg Gaines (#99) as the nose, and Jaylen Johnson (#92) on the right side. There’s pass rushy goodness from both as they’re joined by Ryan Bowman in the Huskies’ conservative three-man front.
Cal saw fit to leave Gaines in a lot of one-on-one situations, which isn’t a good formula for successful blocking. Gaines hits the center before rushing the gap between the center and the right guard. The guard is off balance and moving backward by the time he attempts to strike Gaines, and he’s fairly well doomed, only able to tackle Gaines in the backfield (that’s not holding, Mr. Official?). The center appears to be checking Gaines’ socks for the donut he lost earlier. Johnson is aligned wide, like a seven-tech end. Cal’s left tackle does a good job retreating with a kick-slide, but as Johnson feints back to the inside, the tackle drops and settles, and really can’t get back outside to pick up Johnson’s rush. Johnson eventually out-quicks the tackle to collect the sack. But the credit really belongs to Gaines on this play. He’s the one that collapsed the pocket and made the QB move.
1st and Goal:
This play should evoke a lot of swearing from Husky fans. It’s a toss to Kamari Pleasant with Cade Otton acting as a lead blocker. But it isn’t supposed to be a wide, lateral play, it’s designed to attack the edge quickly, and get upfield. A couple of missed blocks at the point of attack lead this play to appear to be a terrible call and doomed from the get-go. It wasn’t; it’s actually much, much closer than it appears to being a likely game-winner.
Drew Sample (#88) and Henry Roberts (LT #59) get a decent seal on the left side of the play. Luke Wattenberg (LG #76) is attempting to work to the inside linebackers, but can’t quite get there. It’s possible the play-side backer could’ve disrupted this play, but more on that in a second.
Otton is acting as the fullback. He’s the lead blocker. There are defenders showing in his face and he picks up.....no one. Makes contact with not one Cal player. Ty Jones (#20) is the receiver on that side, and his assignment is clear—the cornerback over the top of him. The effort is okay, the technique is abysmal, and Jones does nothing to slow the corner. At this point, the play is doomed.
Draw an imaginary line from the point Pleasant catches the ball to the front pylon in the end zone, and picture even half-way decent blocks from Otton and Jones; it’s easy to see Pleasant following that line and being one-on-one with a safety for the score. These don’t even need to be decleating-type blocks just enough to show that their might be an alley to hit that’s right at the hashmarks, and it’s a physical runner against pursuing arm tackles and a smaller safety.
Credit to Cal for making enough plays to win this game. The drive to hold the ball at the end, eating nearly five minutes of clock when every one of the tens of people in the stadium knew the Huskies needed a stop, was impressive. This is a low point for the Husky program under Chris Petersen, in the conversation with the loss to Arizona in 2014, and Arizona State in 2015, and then ASU or Stanford last year. It feels the worst because it’s the most recent. Maybe it actually is.
The reality is that the team lost a football game, and then some illusory things like confidence and pride. Everything else that they had heading into the game (the conference title, the Rose Bowl) is still in play. As fans, you’re obviously welcome to feel however you must about the game, the season, and the state of the program. No one opinion is more right than another. The key for the coaching staff this week is to not lose that game twice; to take what they can from the coaching, the effort, and the execution—and get ready for Stanford.