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Film Study: Cal out-executes Huskies in the wee hours

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This was hard to watch, even through falling eyelids.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Cal at Washington Photo by Michael Workman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That wasn’t much fun. Not much fun at all.

To the film:

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2nd and 18:

Lost in the emotion of so many metaphorical dropped passes (we at the film study have decided that that we are going to use “metaphorical” the way many people use “literal” - incorrectly, and far too often), there were actually some really good things that happened on Saturd - er, Sunday against Cal. Chief among them might metaphorically be the ongoing emergence of DT #91 Tuli Letuligasenoa. Being a relatively spritely 6’ 2” and 318 pounds, fans won’t confuse him for Husky nation-state Vita Vea, but this is Vea-esque, metaphorically speaking.

There’s nothing really special on this play; it’s second and long, and the Huskies are rushing four and dropping seven into coverage. But there in the middle, right at the hash mark, is one man wrecking crew, doing work. Other than a solid understanding of the applied sciences (that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line), we don’t see anything particularly special about this play, at least metaphorically.

Until we switch to this angle, and you get a better appreciation for the power and the violence of this rush, which is a series of pushes and punches and making Cal’s left guard use the roller skates he’s seemingly wearing on this play. Juxtaposed here to Ariel Ngata and Benning Potoa’e, Letuligasenoa is a mauler compared to the slaps of the other two.

This is great stuff. This is a position of critical need for the entire function of the Husky defense. This classic two-gapping defensive tackle filling the middle of the line is a huge part of the nickel base the Huskies want to run, and Letuligasenoa and #94 Sam Taimani look like able-bodied bison (metaphorically) to fill the spots the next few years. Hallelujah.

This play is worth watching on a full game video if you get the chance, just to listen to the announcer butcher Letuligasenoa’s name, and sort of trail off like “I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here.”

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1st and 10:

This was QB Jacob Sirmon’s lone snap in Saturday’s game. After Jacob Eason had to leave for a play when his helmet came off, Sirmon entered with zero notice or time to warm up.

What does a coach do in a situation like this - play it safe with a run? Throw it to catch the defense off guard? Short of dramatic success, it’s a bit of a no-win situation.

Washington sort of goes in the middle, and appears to be setting up a screen to RB #26 Salvon Ahmed. Cal is blitzing a defensive back right at the play, but a missed assignment would’ve doomed the it regardless.

The left side of the offensive line is trying to seal the edge. Center #56 Nick Harris pulls around and is going to lead the charge, but immediately has the blitzing Bear right in his face. Ahmed is the intended receiver, so he can’t really block, and Harris is left with a task that’s pretty difficult physically and mentally just in recognizing the pressure.

On the right side of the line, RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland’s first step is forward instead of at the defender between he and RT #70 Jared Hilbers. It’s possible that Kirkland was going to release to the inside linebackers and Hilbers was supposed to block the tackle, and it’s possible Kirkland just made a mistake at the snap. Either way, Hilbers blocks nobody, and Kirkland is out of position for a quality block. The result is the tackle and the blitzing DB forming the bread on either side of a Sirmon sandwich.

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4th and 1:

This is a huge play for the Huskies that doesn’t really look like it should’ve worked.

It’s old-school smash-mouth football out of the “I” formation on 4th and 1. Cal has eight men in the box. Jackson Sirmon is the fullback, and this is set to be a lead play or “blast” right inside the left tackle.

By all counts, this play should’ve been dead in the backfield for a loss. There’s an outside linebacker on the offense’s right side, between the right tackle and the tight end. At the snap, the tight end takes a Bear defender further outside, and the right tackle moves inside.

You can see the free path the OLB has to the back side of the play, but luckily for the Huskies, he trips on the leg of RG Jaxson Kirkland. Ahmed sees the penetration and calmly cuts back away from his blockers. At that point, it’s a foot race, and one that he’s going to win the majority of the time.

Washington only has seven blockers for the eight defenders in the box plus the safety closing down when he reads run (#27 in pursuit). Maybe there was intent to use Cal’s penetration and aggressiveness against itself, but that’s a pretty big risk to take. It looks more like the Huskies just got lucky.

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3rd and 1:

This play right here probably represents the #1 story line of the Husky defense on Saturday night - OLB #9 Joe Tryon getting sucked into the middle of the play, losing his outside contain, and a call ball carrier cutting to the outside and turning in a big play on the ground.

It’s an inside zone split with a tight end arc block across the play. Tryon is quick off the ball and makes contact with the tight end over him, but instead of doing his job and holding on to the edge, he allows his eyes to get into the backfield and find the ball (a big no-no).

From there, he tries to slide down the line of scrimmage and make a play from behind. Meanwhile, the rest of the defense has closed the hole but isn’t really free to make a tackle. Cal’s back see’s this and comes all the way back away from the play, around the edge that Tryon just vacated.

Bad fundamentals, bad execution, bad coaching, freelancing, call it whatever you’d like, it’s all true. Tryon was guilty of this exact play against the run and the pass at least a half-dozen times against Cal. He ended up with a sack and drew a holding penalty out of it, which is good. He also was the primary culprit in at least a few runs just like this one, plus a few QB runs that had varying success, because he just didn’t do his job.

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2nd and 10:

Problems #2 and #3 with the defense...

Cal is running an inside zone here with some window-dressing read action. Kyler Manu is showing blitz up the middle. At the snap, though, he’s just completely blown backward like he’s not even there. MLB Brandon Wellington then drastically overpursues the play, and vacates his gap in the middle of the field. As with Tryon, this freelancing by Wellington was a huge story from the game.

You can see Manu just get blown backward here, and then watch Wellington take one, two, three bounces too many toward his right and leave the wide-open cutback angle.

Down the field is problem #3 - we see S #16 Cam Williams duck his head and straighten his legs (both fundamental tackling mistakes) and lose leverage and sight of the ball carrier right at the critical contact juncture. Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant both miss on wild drive-by attempts.

Fundamentally bad tackling technique from the Husky defense is just not something we’re used to seeing from a Jimmy Lake/Pete Kwiatkowski team.

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1st and 10:

We saw this exact same blitz work out poorly for the Huskies last week, but that time it was Washington on defense, and the result was the long TD the Eagles had in the first half.

Cal’s defensive front manipulates Washington’s line by stunting to their right. All five offensive linemen are working on that slant, to their left. Meanwhile, Cal blitzes away from the slant, away from the line of sight of the offensive line. That leaves RB #26 Salvon Ahmed one-on-one with the blitzing linebacker moving at full speed, plus a second, later, blitzing linebacker. Ahmed handles this by flinching right before contact and being pancaked straight onto his back. A second linebacker follows right up, and the tight end attached to the offensive line is beat right from the start. That means three rushers are in Eason’s face almost immediately, and his only choice is to launch the ball in the hopes his receiver can make a play against man coverage.

Here we see that route in isolation. What #5 Andre Baccellia is attempting to do is sell the defensive back on the in-breaking route such as a dig, curl, comeback, etc. Receivers are taught to “sink their hips” as they make their break to be able to make sharp cuts with as much speed as possible, and to show that some action when they’re trying to sell the defensive back on a fake into the middle before running past him.

Baccellia has plenty of speed, but this is a bad route. First, he’s getting to wide in the stem of his route. He’s drifting toward the sideline instead of running straight down the field, at the DB. He’s taking away much of the room Eason has to make this throw. Second, the fake is lazy. it’s obviously not a real move inside, and the DB pays little respect to it. It does nothing to get Baccellia even a step on the DB, and coupled with his drift to the outside, there’s just no way this was going to be completed.

The protection is the bigger issue, but blame one, blame all. That’s our motto.

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1st and 10:

This is the ultimate back-breaker; it’s the play that assured the loss, and gave the Bears time to take knees and get the ball to the middle of the field and run out the last minute of the clock before kicking the game-winner from inside the one. Whether this is a designed pick or just a broken route isn’t clear, but it’s almost poetic that Cal wins with a little offensive mush.

This is one of those “short pass, long run” plays Washington has been so good at preventing the last few years. Cal has two receivers right in the same area, and the Huskies are actually in fairly decent position to hold this to a five yard gain. Keith Taylor has outside leverage to keep the play turned inside and as long as Elijah Molden doesn’t run in all crazy and out of control... damn.

If Molden keeps his head here, Cal is still in longish-but-makeable field goal range. Frankly, they’re still probably going to win, given the momentum and amount of time on the clock. But missing this pretty simple play turns a 68% odds into 99.5%. And it’s a bad look for the whole team.

Washington didn’t match Cal’s intensity in the second half of this game. And frankly, it’s a game that should’ve seen Washington with a two or even three touchdown lead at halftime that maybe breaks the Bears’ will before they even start to get that confidence going. The mistakes that were made on offense, like the dropped passes, the turnovers, the missed blitz pick-ups, were obvious. But the ones on the defense —the freelancing, the lack of fundamental assignment-soundness, the poor tackling— are probably more nefarious because they’re so subtle.

It was a bad game. Particularly, a bad second half.

Moving on...