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Film Study: Cal Golden Bears

If UW could have executed for all 60 minutes, they wouldn’t have needed the extra time to win.

NCAA Football: California at Washington Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Notes on Cal:

  • UW did a better job of getting off blocks in the conventional run game.
  • Containing mobile QBs is a problem, as are tackling angles.
  • Rome Odunze is a huge player for this offense in the screen game. He is physical, and the WR screen suits this group very well going forward.
  • Morris had an OK game, but he needs to find the balance between off-script playmaking and maximizing the opportunities within the system.
  • Mixing tempo & using motion: Two things we need to see more .


To the Film:

4th & 2:

First up here we have a 4th down and short play that perfectly illustrates how mobile QBs and RPOs throw off conventional defensive structures. Cal is rolling with 11 personnel in a shotgun tight wing formation in a probable run situation. To counter we are running with 2-4-5 personnel (3 OLBs & Ulofoshio at LB) in a 3-4 “Bear” alignment to clog the interior gaps. Pre-snap, we’re showing a single-high shell and with a tight press-bail look on the perimeter, but at the snap we roll into a two-high shell.

After the snap, Cal runs what looks almost like a broken play action zone slide play. On the LOS, Cal pulls their LG, showing a power type of blocking, but then they also bring #4 across the formation from right to left, simulating a zone slice play. The LG and #4 almost collide, but in a sense they do their job by creating such a messy read for the LBs and DBs that we don’t actually know where the play is going. #4 was probably supposed to be a lead blocker for Garbers, who after giving a long play action fake, pulled the ball and slid to his left in a rollout/moving pocket action. For all of the backfield and blocking window dressing, the read looks fairly simple for Garbers. Reading Mishael Powell’s reaction to the rollout, Garbers will either follow his lead block for the first down, or he’ll loft the ball over Powell’s head to #11 settling in the hole between Powell and the safety along the sideline.

Unfortunately for our defense, Powell gets stuck in no-man’s land. Reading the play action, Powell doesn’t get a hand on #11 to redirect his route and throw off the timing of his route in order to avoid running himself into a block. He then reads that there’s rollout action in the backfield and for a split-second thinks that he might need to be bringing pressure, but then finally decides to drop into coverage, although it’s too late to recover and stick with #11.

Conventional rollout or scramble rules on defense dictate that the flat defender needs to either commit 100% to the receiver or 100% to the QB, depending on the defense. Typically, UW’s DCs have had the defender trigger down on the QB to force the tricky pass on the move and under duress. The problem is the communication between DBs in handing off coverage responsibilities. Here, it looks like we are rolling with a Cover 2 look where both Powell and Gordon are supposed to play the hard flats, and Cook and Williams should’ve been dropping into their halves of the field. This would mean that Williams should’ve been tracking to #11 much earlier than he otherwise did.

John was definitely wondering in the moment why we’d be in a 2-high shell in what looked to be a short yardage situation, but Coach B is okay with the call. We were largely gap sound because we played Gordon and Powell nearly in the box and on the LOS, we had 5 underneath defenders to cover the underneath zones if it was a quick pass, and we even made an attempt to sow confusion for Garbers with the late rotation. A single-high wouldn’t have necessarily been any more successful on this play because of the same hesitation that Powell and Williams showed. Powell didn’t trigger into the backfield, and Williams didn’t slide over to his only vertical threat. In a Cover 3 call, Bookie probably would’ve needed to trigger downhill, and Powell would need to sink on the snap, but this still doesn’t provide a scheme silver bullet for this play. Its a learning rep for him to remember their rollout responsibilities.


2nd and Goal:

On the offensive side, we have a good example of scheming WRs open out of bunch formations and some technical route running by Jalen McMillan. The offense is in 11 personnel aligned in an under center tight bunch formation out of which we like to run toss, inside zone, and counter plays. Being that we are so run-heavy out of this formation, it makes perfect sense for us to try some hard play action. We run a simple 2 route pattern with max protection, but this is going to McMillan the whole time.

The key to this whole play is McMillan’s set up for his corner route. Bunch formations are an awesome tool for play callers because, like pulling linemen in power plays, they can create mismatches and confusion for a defense that is set up to account for matchups and receiving threats based on pre-snap alignment. McMillan in this bunch set is aligned as the #1 WR on the bunch side. Typically defenses try to match 3v3 on a bunch set and assign guys to take the outbreaking route, in-breaking route, vertical route, etc. Here we are using Bynum, the point on the bunch, as a decoy because he essentially sits down in pass protection to give a false read for the DBs to distribute their post-snap assignments. McMillan takes an inside switch release between Bynum and Culp, and because of the alignment and release, he is able to win early positioning with the CB’s hips flipped inside opposite of the route. Once McMillan cuts outward against the DB’s hips, this play was over for the defense.

McMillan showcases his physical tools: His exceptional quickness (which allows him to get a nearly free release), and his strength (because it was NOT a totally free release, and he absorbs the jam to the shoulder from the corner and stays perfectly on balance).


1st and 10:

Earlier this week in Coach’s Corner, Coach B talked about the missed opportunities on offense that could’ve been the difference between our close OT win and a major tone setting blowout. This play is one of them. There were a lot of Husky fans who were screaming at their TVs about the wide open downfield receivers that were WIDE open, and we were right there with them on this one.

On this play we are in a potent downfield passing personnel grouping with McMillan, Bynum, Culp, and Davis all on the field in a wing trey shotgun look. On 1st & 10 from our own 39 yard line, everything is on the table situationally, it’s a great place to take a deep shot. Cal has the LOS loaded with 5 likely rushers against our 5 OL plus a potential 6th blocker in Cam Davis, and they also have #46 (a 260 lb OLB) and #54 (a 240 lb ILB) aligned as if they are matched up to cover Bynum and Culp respectively. In my mind, this is an automatic check into a vertical play.

Looks like Donovan had a similar thought here, and he dials up a Double-Post Wheel concept (McMillan: skinny post, Bynum: inside release post/crosser, Culp: wheel). Coach B has loved this concept since his coaching days, because of the stress that it creates on both single-high and two-high shells. Against a single-high shell like we see here, McMillan’s skinny post is both clearing out the CB for the Culp’s wheel and attacking the top of the FS if he doesn’t get depth. Bynum’s post/crosser is attacking underneath the FS to create a high-low read with McMillan’s skinny post (the primary read in a basic Double Post concept). He also needs to get inside release to hold #46 inside as long as possible if its zone and to create a pick for #54 to spring Culp free if its man. Culp’s wheel is really the last read here since he is trying to attack the sideline hole that McMillan should’ve cleared. These are long developing routes, so pass protection needs to be bullet proof to maximize all the options that are open.

If both DBs (FS & playside DB) drop hard at the snap (like they did here), or the safety starts drifting to the sideline, then Morris has to immediately move on to Bynum. Bynum should be the read here, but the LBs play good “collision” technique and reroute his route, thereby throwing off the timing of his route. By this point, the Cal pressure moves Morris off of his spot and to his left, which takes Culp’s wheel out of the picture despite the good mismatch on #46.

Bynum’s post/crosser is turning into a wide open touchdown as he runs away from the linebacker chasing him on the scramble drill. Sadly, Morris drops his eyes too early to recognize that he isn’t facing pressure from the flat defender in front of him, and Bynum gives the “Oh man you didn’t see me??” wave in vain.

Morris ends up making a solid play on the ground based on what the defense’s reaction to the scramble drill was (flat defender drops instead of triggers downhill; see my earlier breakdown of scramble rules for defense). However, this is still a missed opportunity for Morris to move away from his 2nd option that was open after climbing the pocket and into an open passing lane. The play call/design was sound, but not fully capitalized on.

1st and Goal:

Everybody’s favorite formation/package to trash... except when it works.

It’s nice to see the return of the Wildcat to show how creative blocking schemes and window dressing are needed to maximize basic concepts. In this iteration of the Wildcat, we are running simple one-back power off Kirkland’s shoulder, but its all about the backside and second level flow that set up this TD play.

Here we are in the Wildcat with 22 personnel (McGrew, Pleasant, Redman, & Culp), and Cal responds with a 2-4-5 stacked 9-man box. We only have 8 blockers pre-snap to counter (5 OL, 2 TEs, Pleasant), but we see a number of ways that we schemed number advantages on this play. To start, “Power” should always create a numbers advantage at the point of attack against a static defense. That is to say that unless the second level defenders (LBs & maybe a safety) are flowing with the pulling OL to fill the new gap that the pulling action creates, the offense should have numbers at the point of attack. The key to this is a static defense.


Going back a couple of weeks to the Michigan Film Study article where we broke down how OCs use pre-snap motion to manipulate the defense on zone run plays, and here we see Giles Jackson get put in motion to perform a similar role here on a power play. The threat of a Jackson handoff does two huge things that helps set up this play. First, it prevents fast flow action from the ILB #55 & WILL #54 to the point of attack. This allows Kirkland and Buelow to get a “Zeus” block on the playside DT. In the OL terminology that Coach B was taught, a “Zeus” call was his favorite because it was a pure double team with no peel off block at the second level. Kirkland and Buelow’s only job is to bury the DT and open a huge rushing lane for McGrew. You always want to scheme a pure double team if you can, no matter how much bigger your OL are. The second objective that Jackson’s motion accomplishes is that it keeps the defense’ contain defender honest (in this case #7).

On this angle you can see how much of a priority we made the backside blocking of the pursuit defenders. Not only did we use the motion to hold the contain defender, but we also had Curne play a backside pivot to pick up a pursuer instead of releasing to a LB, and we also had Pleasant block a hard charging OLB on the backside instead of leading McGrew into the gap. This seems to be a learned lesson after seeing Michigan light up otherwise sound blocking schemes because of an overloaded backside pursuit that couldn’t be accounted for by any single play constraint (i.e. motion OR a backside block OR a pivot).

Overall not a complicated base concept, but one that was tailored to what we were expecting and utilized every trick in the book (as we should be doing on every play).

1st & 10:

This play and the next play were a couple of new play concepts that we rolled out for the first time against Cal, and they focus on a couple of areas that we think are underutilized in our offense. Here on this play we are running a bubble screen to Bynum out of a motioned trips look. Teams have been running bubble screens for decades now, so defenses are well-versed in how to stop the basic version of them. Defenses will almost always match the offense’ formation man for man regardless of their coverage call. Therefore, on a quick screen, like a bubble screen, where the ball is out to the receiver so fast that the only defenders that matter are the ones aligned over your skill players in space, the success on the play hinges upon whether they can make someone miss. That’s fine if you have a dynamic weapon in space, but even if you did, why wouldn’t you want to help them out a little?

The key to this play is the motion. The three pillars of defense are alignment, assignment, and technique, and Odunze’s motion throws off the defense’ alignment and assignments here. His motion draws a defender across the formation with him because the defense is in man coverage. From a numbers perspective, the defense is still matching Odunze, Bynum, and Davis with 3 DBs, but Odunze still has a couple of steps on him and a full head of steam at the snap to take a defender’s head off, so the defense’ alignment is already thrown off at the snap. The motion also opens up a number of options for us to block for the bubble screen in order to throw off the defense’s alignment. It looks like the play is drawn up to have Odunze kick out the playside CB (#21), Davis to block down on the DB in the slot (#20), and make the CB trailing Odunze (#15) the guy that Bynum has to beat in space. This would set Bynum up with an extra second to secure the catch and set up a move in space. However, this isn’t how the blocking ends up working out.

Cal is showing a press-man look at the snap, so Davis has to make a sight adjustment to chip #21 in order to prevent him from blowing up the play at the snap. This buys Odunze just enough time to kind of make his block, and Davis is just able to get to #20 in time to push him around Bynum. By that point the defense had rallied in pursuit, but not before we gained nearly 10 yards on a quick pitch and catch with no reads for Morris, and it was all set up by the motion and creative screen blocking. A slightly better pre-snap alignment from the defense could’ve had this sprung for 20 yards or more.

3rd & 6:

Tossing this play into here to illustrate two things. One, we still haven’t figured out how to best set up our pass protection schemes or how to ensure we get the protections set, and two, pass protection has become the biggest knock on McGrew’s every down ability.

On this play, we are in a condensed split bunch formation on 3rd & 6. Cal anticipates a pass play in this situation, but they still call a gap sound blitz play in the event that McGrew (our biggest run threat) gets the carry since we are in 4 down territory near midfield. Cal lines up in a 5-man bear front with 6 likely rushers at the snap, so we call a 6-man protection. Where the protection scheme goes sideways is we either don’t follow slide protection technique, or we don’t follow big-on-big blocking principles. With McGrew aligned to the right of McGrew, we should probably be sliding the protection to the left.

#55 is showing blitz, but he’s disguising his blitz gap by stacking over the top of the NT. Morris could be better with his cadence to get the blitzers to show their hand early, but he seems to settle into these predicable snap counts. Either way, the OL should anticipate a pass rush in both A-gaps, so calling Bainivalu down on the slide should be an automatic call. However, at the snap, he doesn’t take a slide step to the left, he’s out of position to pick up #55, and he doesn’t get any part of #99 (who he’d get if he’d stayed in man on the backside). Both basically come unblocked into the backfield and Morris gets swallowed up in the backfield. McGrew looks like he made a business decision to play matador with a 300 lb DE (not that we blame him), but it would’ve been nice to see him at least try to cut block him or something to help his QB out.

If this was supposed to be a three-man slide protection and Bainivalu stayed in man, then McGrew would’ve had a better match up on a 235 lb ILB (still not a great match up), but that still doesn’t fix the fact that Kirkland was cooked on the outside and Wattenberg finished the play on his back after getting steamrolled by the NT. Its hard to fix the individual performances, but its unacceptable to have this many returning starts on the OL and still blow simple assignments like these.

3rd & 4:

Finally, we have what ended up being the longest run of the game for either team, and it came on a concept that we’ll likely see again in conference play. Here we see Cal running GH Counter Bash on us with Garbers cooking us for 23. Counter Bash is an increasingly common option concept that isn’t well discussed or explained by the football media at large. Most casual football fans can recognize and understand read option plays where the OL blocks in one direction for the RB, and the QB can either hand off to the RB or keep it for himself and run to the backside of the OL’s blocking. Bash stands for “back away”, and a Bash call on an option play flips the QB and the RB’s rushing path and option read. The QB still reads the backside of the OL’s blocking, but he is now reading to see if he is running behind the OL’s blocking or if he’s handing off to the RB around the backside of the play.

As most know, read options can be tagged onto almost any blocking concept, and like the read option, Bash options can also be tagged onto most blocking concepts. In this case, the Bash is tagged onto a common GH Counter (guard & H-back). The confusing thing for defenses when they see Bash plays is that they can’t guess where the play or blocking is going based on the alignment of the RB in shotgun, and it looks like our LBs got caught watching the backfield instead of the blocking in front of them. Both the play call and the end result is almost identical to McGrew’s Wildcat TD that we broke down earlier. Similar to how we used motion running to the backside of the OL blocking scheme as window dressing to freeze the LBs, the Bash backfield action away from the blocking froze our LBs and we got outnumbered at the point of attack. The only way we really could’ve stopped this is if we had our LBs trigger downhill faster (something we’ve discussed for years now) and for us to stop doing these half rotations with our safeties that put Williams in no man’s land on the play. We’ll have to sort out our broader run defense issues before we can really shut down this play, but we’ll almost certainly see this out of UCLA and Oregon.

On to Oregon State, who has looked very good on offense. The Dawgs will need to move the ball and cash in themselves to keep pace.