Saturday, October 10, 2009

Offensive Film Study and Other Thoughts

When you lose, there are three kinds of film study sessions that follow. First, there's the one where you see that the other team just had you beat at all the critical junctures, both schematically and in how they played. For example, most of Wazzu's film sessions last year went like that. As a coach, you feel a bit small watching those sessions, but you've got so much work to do that you don't have time to dwell on it. And you know your talent level has pretty much set a ceiling.

Second, there's the one where everything pretty much went right except a couple key plays, say in a close loss. That's the film session Belotti's staff had after the loss to Cal in '07. While the loss hurts, as a coach you look at those and feel pretty good that you're on the right track.

Then there's the third one, the one that makes you want to slide all the papers and gatorade bottles off the table, throw some furniture, and then slump down into a chair and start rubbing your eyes and your temples in frustration and exhaustion. This is the one where time and again, all game long, you've got the right scheme, your guys have won their share of individual matchups, just like in practice, but unforced mistakes and sloppiness by one player (same one or different one each time) keep killing the plays.

Watching film of the SC game is going to sting. It's going to gnaw at a details guy like Tedford in a way that very few things in football can. It makes me green with nausea to think of all the points and chunks of yardage that Cal left on the field Saturday through unforced errors. And I'm just a fan. My investment in the program pales in comparison to the coaches' and players' investments. I wouldn't trade places with those guys right now. I guarantee you Tedford would forfeit his salary to have some of those plays back right now, because he knows he had the SC defense beat.

With that, let's look at some of questions people have raised this week concerning the game plan, the play calling, and the in-game adjustments.

1. The game plan was pretty good, just like last year, but variety of play calls was better than last year. Last year I thought Cignetti had a sound game plan and I thought he dialed up the right plays. Same goes for Ludwig this year. The difference is Ludwig showed an even better diversity of looks. Bottom line, I really liked the game Ludwig called.

There were just so many plays where Cal had the matchup they wanted, and the receiver was open. Against a defense that good, I was impressed. The problem of course was poor execution at critical times, which is beyond frustrating, but the fact that the plays were there is a good sign.

The offense showed a nice mix of looks: fakes out of the screen packages, moving the pocket around and rolling Riley out, nice use of the reverse, the wildcat, and the quick passes to the TE, tailback and slot receiver. Lots of attack points all over the field.

If this team can limit the mistakes, it can get back to scoring 30 a game easily.

2. Riley wasn't as bad as often as I initially thought, but his mistakes were just killers. On rewatch, he made plenty of decent throws, more than I thought. And some of his misses weren't all that bad -- good coverage, under pressure, good throw aways. But rewatch also confirmed that his bad plays were the kind that makes you pull your hair out as a coach.

Last year I wrote that Riley's biggest nemesis was the "freethrow" passes, the ones that were easy, wide open passes. And on rewatch, it was definitely the gimmes that he struggled with. This is 100% mental. Like I said earlier in the week, it remains to be seen if he can shake this.

3. Riley has not "regressed" under Tedford. I keep reading and hearing about how Tedford turns his QBs into head cases until they regress into mediocre QBs. Not to be a downer, but I have news for you: I have seen nothing to suggest Riley is an elite talent. He is a decent QB with the potential to play some great games, but that's all.

And before you cite the Armed Forces Bowl, the second half of Ore St. 07, Mich St., MD 09, as evidence of his upside, those games all have one of two things in common: (1) they were coming off several weeks to prepare, and/or (2) the game plans were simplistic. Tedford said at the coaches' tour before the 08 season that the AFA and OSU game plans were considerably simplified for Riley (ditto for Levy vs. Stanford and BYU), and though he gave Riley credit, he also noted that having Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan really helped.

Why do I make this point? Because there is a big difference between game planning and mentally preparing for the opening game or a bowl game, and the grind of putting in and executing full blown game plans week in and week out during the course of a college football season. The latter is 10 games a year, the former is 2. This a huge component of the mental aspect of playing QB.

And Riley's performance in those week-to-week games, especially against good defenses, has frankly been average from the very beginning. So I am not sure how much regression there has really been.

For what it's worth, coming off a bye, this pattern suggests he'll have a nice game vs. UCLA.

4. The offensive line played pretty well. On run plays, often they got a good surge and got angles and leverage on the defensive linemen. The exception was Jurrell Casey blowing Cheadle and Boskovich up a couple times. Casey is a load, probably a first day draft pick, and the latest in a tradition of ridiculous talent at DT at SC, so no shame in that.

The breakdowns in blocking were on the edges, by TEs, WRs, FB, or just SC's ridiculous speed. Holley in particular struggled with SC's quickness. Also, I said in my preview that for the past couple years SC has killed Cal with guys coming around the edge unblocked and grabbing runningbacks from behind or making shoestring tackles. This happened again this year. Often Cal's plays don't call for those guys to be blocked because most defenders aren't fast enough to make those plays going away from them. But Carroll sent Mays, a safety, and LBs a few times on run blitzes, and they worked. Cal has got to get this fixed.

On pass plays, the OL protection wasn't bad either, save for a few breakdowns. I actually thought Riley got spooked and started scrambling prematurely a couple times, when the line actually had things under control. Given how many times SC was sending blitzers, I thought the protection was decent. Each guy had a lapse here and there, but for the most part, they protected well, much better than versus Oregon. Jahvid Best on the other hand has pass blocked poorly most of the season, and there is really no way to sugarcoat that.

5. SC's defense was as fast as any I've seen under Carroll. They made up for inexperience with ridiculous speed, particularly on the edges. Cal won't see another defense like that all year.

6. The FG was the right call, and it's not debatable. I keep hearing about how the FG call was gutless. People, listen to me. When you're on the 20 yard line, with 12 seconds and no timeouts, and your offense has been struggling all game against maybe the best defense in the country, you don't get delusional. The way Cal had been playing, the chance they score a TD from 20 yards out against that defense was maybe 5% or 10% tops. Heck, they were having trouble getting 4 yards per play against SC, let alone 20. And in the red zone, their average was even worse.

In contrast, the chances D'Amato hits a FG from there is probably at worst 50%. Coming off your best drive of the game, you want to come away with points. You play the odds there, and the odds say kick it. From 10 yards out, or with 17 seconds on the clock, you try a play. But 20 yards with 12 seconds - no way.

And consider one other point. If you try to run a play, the chances of something ugly or untoward happening go up exponentially. Riley takes a sack and clock runs out. They try to rush the kicker onto the field and can't get the kick off. They complete a pass but the guy gets tackled and clock runs out. Now you get zero points and you look awful doing it. Talk about deflating. Not a great way to head into the locker room.

7. People have overestimated the raw talent on this offense, period. Outside of Best, Schwartz and Tepper, the rest of the offense will not get a sniff at all conference or even a practice squad on an NFL roster (Boateng too could be an undrafted FA on measurables, but that's about it). If Cal gets back to scoring 30 points a game, it'll be a good coaching job.

8. Let's wait until a few other coaches besides Pete Carroll win the conference before we start talking about Tedford not being the guy to get Cal over the hump. Last I checked, no one else has won outright since Carroll's run started, including Belotti, the dean of Pac 10 coaches. Is Cal undisputedly the most talented team in the conference, or even second most talented? Does it have the best or even second best facilities? Does it have the biggest donors or even second biggest? Does it have the most football-conducive administration or even the second most?

The answer is no to every one of those questions. And yet for some irrational reason, everyone thinks Tedford should be fired if he can't get Cal to finish first or second (and 04 and 06 don't count apparently). I am not saying Tedford is god, or he's the best coach in the conference, or even that his teams occasionally disappoint when they lose.

But he's been doing what he's done, which is win at a .663 pace over 7 years, with more hurdles than most other coaches in the conference. He's got a considerably better winning percentage than UCLA or Stanford since he's been at Cal, the only two schools with comparable academic and institutional impediments to football success. If it is so easy to find someone to get a team over the hump, how come Washington, Arizona, UCLA, and ASU haven't been able to find that magic guy? All four are on their second coach during Tedford's tenure.

Wait until the facilities get built, the talent improves, and a few other coaches still beat Tedford to the Rose Bowl after all that, before we say the Tedford experiment is a failure.

[Comments glitch fixed by the way, so you can again leave comments.]


Scott said...

Thanks for the sanity check. I feel better (honest).

Hopelessly Hopeful said...

I agree with Scott. Once again, thank you for a very thorough and insightful analysis. I think you're right on with your expectations of the program and where Tedford has taken us to this point... I think the problem is that the hype machine the last few years has got Cal fans way out of wack and as a result, they make overblown conclusions when things don't pan out. Save for the two years we shoulda, woulda, coulda gone (Rodgers: 4 downs, 9 yards / and AZ one toe DJAX), we haven't had nearly the opportunity and talent to take us...

Anonymous said...

Brilliant analysis, particularly the comments regarding the lack of star power on offense. It is too bad that so many "fans" don't share the perspective of the author of the column.

abraham said...

Boy this makes me feel much better about what ensued these past couple of games. Learning that much of our offensive impotence is due to lack of execution and not due to deficiency at coaching is a relief because the roaster changes every year but the coaching staff is less fluid and if the problem was in the latter then that means it will stick around for a while. Having said that I have one question for you SD: How good do you think our offense will be next year with most of our starters coming back? How about our defense? I know this season is not ever half way but I must admit I am already thinking about next week and I would be indebted it to you if you would indulge me. Thanks for the great break down once again.

nickle said...

A lot of thoughts about the usc, oregon games as well as just cal football in general went by my head this week and I'm wondering if Riley needs a couple of plays where the throws are safe and easy just to get his confidence up. Similar to the way Tedford always had Longshore "manage the game" instead of trying to be a superman qb and force things that aren't there.

This would help both Riley and the receiving corps get their confidence up, but more importantly, I think, is for them to get "in the game" so to speak.

The past two games it seemed the game plan was to get the other team (oregon,usc) to respect our passing game, and THEN open up the run. Our passing game never executed the way we liked it to, and so there was no reason for the defense to NOT respect the pass, making it snowball into situations where we had to throw (later in the game, catching up, time issues). But our qb/receivers weren't confident at that point in the game.

And it's pretty sad because I don't think some of the plays really required an amazing arm or accuracy. But in some ways I think making some REALLY simple, safe passing plays (did we run any passing play out of a standard formation w/ a 3 step drop? maybe we did, but im just imagining a buncha drops) might be the key.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your stuff.And per usual,you are spot on.I can not imagine a better coach for Cal than Tedford.And I suspect years from now some poor coach will be fired for not being Tedford.
That being said,playes win and lose games.Right now,we just don't have enough of those players that are really difference makers.Guys like Follet,Jackson,Hughes,Mack...If you get all the 5 star guys you want,like USC,Florida it usually just works out.If like Cal,you live in the world of 3 plus stars,you need to make very few bad choices on talent,and you also need a healthy dose of luck.Too many bad picks,career ending injuries,and bad luck takes you from a borderline bcs team to also ran.As someone who has watched Cal be an also ran for almost all of my fandom,I am very familiar with the look.
It will take quite a lot for me to jump off the SS Tedford.And until we get our new performance center built,I don't think it is fair to critize his recruiting.In fact,I am stunned he had been able to get so many good players to come to Cal.
Thanks for all the hard work.Love the blog.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate you comments, the time and effort you have put into putting them on this blog. CAL fans whose expectations exceeded the talents of the football team should read this over and over. Tedford has done a magnificant job with the resources he has at CAL. There is no better coach for this team.

Jim said...

I agree with most of your assessments on Riley. It's been difficult watching his 'development'. Without going through his history, I think what began to weigh on his confidence was his benching after the '08 Colorado State game. From where I sat, it looked like the 'trust' between he and Tedford had been seriously damaged.

I thought this year would be different. No Longshore, no problem. However, I was curious that Tedford called the QB situation open heading into this season. I don't think that helped their bond. The 3-0 start with solid performances put that issue on the back burner for the time being. Now they're faced with a huge dilemma. The single most important position on the field is underperforming. Oregon showed the fissure and USC was a crevice. I always thought the physical part of the position was Riley's strength but the USC game showed me that when one lacks confidence, the mental part can overwhelm the physical part. The throwing errors were egregious (the overthrow on the skinny post to Ross when the OL adroitly picked up the USC blitz -- a touchdown if the throw was on target, the 3rd down throw behind Ross on his drag route, the overthrow of Vareen on the perfectly called trick play -- Riley couldn't even decide whether to zip it to him or lead him -- culminated by the overthrow of Best on the 4th and 2). The body language said it all and, you're right, the end zone pick was the killer.

Here's the quandary Tedford finds himself in and why I'm not confidant he'll be able to overcome it and, subsequently, why the rest of the season is at risk. One of the roots of the '07 debacle was the way Tedford handled the QB situation. What it showed me was how disconnected Tedford was to the pulse of the team then, and, fearfully, now. Tedford has been backed into a corner. I could make the argument (even at this early stage of the season) that this team, almost desperately, needs to make some changes. I don't think staying the course is going to cut it. I think the offense is losing confidence in Riley. Is he really our best option? The team is looking for some leadership. Tedford needs to assert himself now, before it's too late.

Jim said...

Now, I'd like to go over the units and get your perspective:

Offense: The Riley/QB issue is definitely the elephant in the room. I thought the play calling versus USC was pretty good. There was good mix and good imagination. I actually thought the OL did fairly well considering the competition. I liked the wildcat. The only fault here was that the execution, namely in the passing game, was horrible.

Defense: All I can say is the first, second, third and fourth time USC lined up with a trips formation with a back up tight end as one of the flanked receivers, my 14 year old son turned to me and said, "Here comes the flanker screen." We only adequately defended that play once, when Cattouse stuffed it. USC didn't even bother to run a secondary play off of that formation -- that speaks for itself. Once again, our zone pass defense was shredded. We have huge issues at linebacker. Mohamed is physically overmatched in the middle. If he didn't whiff on a tackle, he was knocked back 2 yards after initial contact. The USC OL dominated the action -- huge push in the run game and very little pressure on Barkley. In our base 3-4, offenses have too much to choose from on 1st down -- play action against our zone or off tackle or lead runs against overmatched linebackers. We need multiple changes here, both schematically and in personnel alignment.

Special teams: What's happened to Bryan Anger? The punt returned for a TD was terrible -- low and short (and with the wind). Then another 28 yard beauty later. Lastly, is D'Amato really our best field goal kicking option? How many more misses is the staff willing to tolerate?

Where is the team headed from here? One could argue that the 72-3 accumulative beat downs are worse than the defeats during the '07 meltdown -- at least Cal was 'competitive' in those games. What do you see happening? What would you like to see happen? Sorry for the lengthy diatribe but considering the current state of the team/program and the bye week, there's a lot to ponder. I don't mean to sound like a 'sky is falling' fan, but I have some concerns that I hope you can refute. Thanks.


SR said...

I just found this blog and loved the analysis. I am as worried about Riley's psyche as everybody, but I am equally worried that the two heirs apparent couldn't beat him out for the job the way Barkley beat out Aaron Corp ( who I think will still be a very good Pac 10 QB). I watched the highlights of Texas Tech's Saturday horsewhipping where their back up QB threw something like 6 TD passes. It would seem as if there are plenty of QB's that could be recruited to outplay Riley (and Mansion and Sweeney if they can't). Why are we having so much trouble, or do you have to have an Aaron Rodgers?

SR said...

PS: If we have no QB's who can make the plays this year, I'd like to see increasing doses of the Wildcat and its kittens. Vereen can throw, so he should get at least some time as the receiver of the direct snap. Between Shane and Jahvid, the Bears could have quite a potent Wildcat set.

93BearInOregon said...

Best freakin' post on any Cal site in the last two weeks.

I can't even read most of the hyperventilating gibberish that fans have been spewing lately. Tedford ruining players & not being the coach who can get us over the hump... utter and total nonsense. But I lack the football background to spell out why. Thanks for doing that!

nickle said...

As Jim mentioned, that wr screen out of the trips formation was unbearable. I'm certain it was an option for the qb depending on whether or not we had enough men lined up to defend against it, and we were ALWAYS at least a man down, I think maybe two on one of those plays (no, I don't have enough courage to rewatch the usc game).

I feel like that falls on the defensive coordinator. Once is ok. Twice is pretty bad. FOUR times? You gotta be kidding me. And those weren't solid 5 yard gains. They picked up monster chunks of yards on such a simple play.

Cal Football how you make me so sad.

Anonymous said...

Really excellent analysis. BUT, I do think Riley has a fundamental mechanics problem with his throwing motion that biases him to overthrow his target. He has a decided loop in his motion: the ball has to travel a long way and entirely go from forwards to backwards to forwards again in order for him to make a throw. It's an unstable motion that breaks down--just like a golf swing-when under pressure.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis! Agree with most of your points. Ludwig's game plan is good, but his situational play calling could be more unpredictable.

I disagree with point # 7. Tepper is much too slow for any tackle spot in the NFL. His needs to improve his footwork on rush ends. He may have some potential as a guard, but again his speed will limit his ability to pull. Marvin Jones and Anthony Miller, if they continue to develop, *may* be 2nd day NFL picks.

SR said...

Took the opportunity to check out last year's Oregon highlights. Both Riley and Longshore threw a lot of accurate (held on to in the rain) balls, and Best was like lightning side stepping a tackler in the hole without losing any forward momentum. Where has this gone?

Ken Crawford said...

Well, I'll agree with you on everything but #6. 12 seconds is worth one shot, particularly on 2nd down. 12 seconds is enough for a play and a rush to spike the ball in most cases. Is it low percentage? Yes, as far as getting the TD. But it's not low percentage in the ability to try the TD throw and fail and still get the kick off. Particularly since Riley is as conscious of not going down in bounds as any QB in history. He wouldn't make that mistake again. And even if he did, the spike after the botched play was a real possibility. At 8 second or even 10, I'm with you, but not at 12 on 2nd down.

But the rest, thanks for the great analysis.

BearlyLegal said...

"The FG was the right call, and it's
not debatable."

Apologist much?

Anonymous said...

Riley is the only real problem. The other players and coaches are good enough that we win against both Ore. and USC; or at least keep it close. We need a QB who comes through in the clutch. That will automatically make everyone else a step better instead of a step worse. I don't think Riley's going to get any better, but
Tedford will probably stick with him--shades of Ayoob. I hope he gives Sweeney and Mansion more chances.

SR said...

Neither Sweeney nor Mansion obviously is significantly better than Riley. If one of them was, he'd be playing.
The Spring game was an eye opener. None of the QB's could consistently make first downs to sustain drives.
Granted Best was out, but the QB'ing was pitiful.

T said...

I like much of this analysis, but I disagree on a couple things. First on the pre-halftime FG attempt, but that's a long argument on probabilities and morale which is not really worth having any more.

Second, you say "Outside of Best, Schwartz and Tepper, the rest of the offense will not get a sniff at all conference or even a practice squad on an NFL roster (Boateng too could be an undrafted FA on measurables, but that's about it)."

Cal's talent may have been overrated, though I think Tedford himself thought he had pretty good talent after fall camp or, say, the Maryland game. But how can you be so sure that guys like Marvin Jones, Anthony Miller, and Matt Summers-Gavin (admittedly injured recently) will not even "sniff" an NFL practice squad or all conference honors eventually? That's kind of harsh for a couple true sophomores and a blueshirt frosh, all in their first year of real playing time, and all of whom may yet turn out to be pretty good, in my opinion. You may be right, and maybe you can discern obvious lack of talent better than I, but "will not get a sniff at all conference or even a practice squad on an NFL roster" seems a little too dismissive of those guys. Or were you talking about upperclassmen only (I don't think you said that anywhere)?

Go Bears!

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