Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ice Skates

People will want to get excited about this game as a glimpse to what the future holds. When you're playing an 0-11 team, you're not allowed to draw any conclusions about how good or bad you are, or are going to be. I prefer to just focus on what we saw, for what it was: a rare performance by a rare talent.

I always said Reggie Bush looked like he had a jet pack on when he ran. To me Best is different, though Bush is the closest analog. Best glides when he runs, and explodes out of his cuts without losing speed. I stick with my take after Best's debut vs. Tennessee last year: Best looks like he's on ice skates, while everyone else looks like they're in cleats.

Cal's had some great tailbacks over the years, and Best is a bit young to yet be talked about among those great ghosts. But he's already shown a speed and cutting ability like no Cal player I have ever seen. If he can add a couple other elements to his game, which seem to be coming along, we can start talking about him among the Mt. Rushmore of Golden Bear backs.

Here are some video highlights of his record setting performance against the Leg Humpers this weekend, courtesy of Rivals:

Zone Running and Best's Development

Petros Papadakis talked a lot about the zone running scheme and how well Cal and Best were executing it. First off, I consider Papadakis the best Pac 10 TV commentator in the business now that Keith Jackson has retired. Papadakis clearly loves the Pac 10, as evidenced by his genuine interest in the details of various players and teams. Not the usual token media guide facts, or regurgitation of the local beat writer stuff you hear from the typical Pac 10 guys.

But what I liked about Papadakis' comments is they highlighted something that I think goes to the very core of this team's offensive philosophy and identity on offense starting now and heading into next season. Cal and Gould love the power run scheme if they can get it working. That typically involves a pulling guard and fullback blasting open a big hole over guard or tackle. The problem with that power scheme is that it requires better blocking by the line, relies more heavily on angles, and is susceptible to defenses overloading.

The answer when it is not working is often to go zone, which simply involves everyone stepping to one side or another (zone right or left) and blocking whomever is there. The idea is the RB goes laterally until he finds a crease and then blasts through it. The Denver Broncos with Terrell Davis were probably the best zone team I've ever seen. It relied on quick o-linemen, and a patient runningback who could get a few extra yards by stumbling forward once the defenders got a hand on him.

Zone may suit this team better. The line next year is going to be on the smaller, but more athletic side. They don't have a true power back, but both Vereen and Best have nice burst. And Vereen is great at falling forward for extra yards. The only missing link is Best's learning curve in terms of reads. This Cal team could be a deadly zone team once Best becomes more effective at picking his crease and blasting through. Early in the season, he tended to hit the hole too quickly, or pick the wrong hole (and often there just wasn't a hole). But he has grown this year in this regard. If he gets this down, look out. Cal can run zone all day once they get it clicking.

Riley: Big 10 QB?

I could see Tedford and Cignetti moving more toward the Big 10 model with Riley, game managing, limiting turnovers, and getting the ball to playmakers, but focusing heavily on the run. Riley is never going to be a 250+, 3 TD per game guy. He might have days like that, but it is clear he is not ever going to sit back there and pick defenses apart with laser beams as part of the game plan.

But if the offense can get its run game clicking, the defense and punt team can win the field position battle, Cal won't need that from Riley. Though we lose a fabulous linebacking crew, the d-line and secondary are going to be nails, and Anger returns as the best punter in the conference. With Best and the o-line a year better, and the receivers blocking downfield as well as they do, I could really see this team looking more like Ohio State or Alvarez's Wisconsin teams next year: pound the run, try to get a couple back breaking deep passes or big plays, and otherwise play ball control and field position. Riley's job will just be to manage and not turn it over.

Since 2005, I have kind of sensed that this is where Tedford wants to get eventually with the team. I think he eventually wants to have the horses to control the game with defense, punting, and a dominant run game, featuring blazing speed that can put the game away with big plays early. It will be interesting to see how things look in the bowl game and next year.

Overall, another dominant day for Gregory's 3-4 defense, a well-called game by Cignetti, and a performance for the record books by Best.


California Pete said...

Nice call on the ice skating. Indeed, I'll never again be able to watch Best run without seeing him as Eric Heiden.

Marshawn Lynch once described his own running style as like when he was kid riding his BMX bike. Upright, sudden change of direction, stiff arm out wide, and legs always pedaling. I think the ice-skating Best is just as accurate.

It will be very interesting to watch the Cal run game and blocking schemes next year.

SD said...

It's sort of a cross between speed skater and hockey skater, because the way he cuts and keeps moving looks like a hockey player.

Funny thing about Lynch. Sounds like something Lynch would say. The word I always used to describe his running style was "herky-jerk."

Eliezer said...

I recently got new ice hockey skates... They are very comfortable and fine...

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