Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quick Stanford Preview

Words fail.

Does anyone feel like Gerhart and the Stanford running game is approaching semi-mythical, tall tale status? From Sunday to today, it seems like they have evolved from being viewed as a very physical, effective rushing team, to being touted as Jim Brown running behind a pro bowl offensive line. I get that they're good. But the Stanford love is getting a laid on a little thick.

In fact, the only significant difference in this year's team as compared to last year is Andrew Luck, not Toby Gerhart or the offensive line. From the games I've watched, I actually think their offensive line was better last year - they lost senior all conference OL Muth (1st) and Fletcher (2d) to graduation. Stanford's run game is well-executed, they play very hard (something I wish Cal did more), and Gerhart is definitely the hardest guy in the conference to tackle. But what makes this team go is Luck, plain and simple. Without him, their run game would get stuffed and their middle-of-the-road defense would wear down. That is exactly what happened last year to Stanford, notably when they played Cal.

So how do you slow this offense down?

1. Disrupt blocking schemes. Stanford's run game is predicated on outnumbering you at the point of attack. They like to pull 1 or 2 linemen/TEs, join them with a FB, and let them plow the gap for Gerhart. In effect, they run anywhere from 2-3 blockers into the gap, followed by the ball carrier. What ends up happening is Gerhart runs behind a cone of blockers and often does not get touched until he is 3 yards downfield.

The weakness in this approach is that to really run it smoothly, it requires the defensive front 7 to be somewhat static and predictable in where they are lining up and what gap responsibilities they have. Teams that do a lot of stunting or who are strong enough to get a lot of penetration at the LOS can disrupt the pulling and trapping schemes that Stanford runs. Exhibit A: the way OSU always frustrates Cal's power run game (which is somewhat similar to Stanford's). When the defenders are constantly moving and aren't where you expect them to be, it screws up the OL's timing, and often leads either to someone not getting blocked, or gaps closing too quickly. This in turn slows the RB down, allowing time for the DBs and LBs to come in and make plays.

OSU did this to Stanford this year and held them to 149 yards rushing, their lowest total of the year (a game Stanford lost). Cal has the front 7, particularly the front 3, to accomplish the same thing. But they can't sit back and play gap control. They have to be aggressive and try and disrupt the blocking schemes.

2. Pressure Luck, but mix it up. Luck's throws are mostly predetermined. From what I have seen, if he is under pressure and has to check down, he is not nearly as effective (most QBs aren't, particularly freshmen). Stanford does a good enough job with the quick passes to FBs and TEs that constantly blitzing is not going to work. But good mixes of fronts, coverages, and pressure packages will rattle him.

3. Strip the ball. Gerhart is a bit careless with the ball. When trying to break tackles, he will chicken wing it leaving it out there for someone to grab. And as big as he is, he is not a tall guy with big hands and long arms, so he's a bit easier to strip. I wouldn't be surprised if Cal is able to recover a fumble or two.


1. Commit to being overpowering in the run game. No one is expecting Cal to wear people down in the run game. I think Cal can gain an advantage by taking a page out of Stanford's book and trying to run over these guys. Stanford's run defense is average, and their defensive speed is average. If the OL plays with the intensity they showed last week, and Vereen doesn't get worn down after his 30-carry game last week, Cal should be able to run on these guys. What that will do is keep them out of 3rd and long by moving the ball decently on 1st and 2d down. When Cal's been able to do that, the playbook has opened up significantly.

2. Use the quick pass. I have been saying this for a few weeks. Cal has WRs who are more quick than fast as deep threats. And Riley is pretty accurate when stepping into a throw and going downfield (rather than lateral touch passes). Quick slants, curls, and short posts to the slot and TE will keep the chains moving and slow the LBs and safeties down.

No time for more than that today, but in all, I think if the Cal defense and the QB play the way they are capable of playing, and play with focus, I really do think they have more matchup advantages than Stanford. The question is whether the coaches' game plans and the players' mental focus will be where they need to be to maximize those advantages. In Cal's losses, they have not. The game plans either stunk (Oregon and OSU on defense, OSU on offense) or the focus and execution stunk (Oregon and USC on offense). If Cal can avoid that today, I like their chances. If not, as always, start drinking heavily, rinse, repeat.

One final thought. A loss would ruin Stanford's season. Truly. Their tie breaker situation is such that a loss could knock them down to 6th place with some help. It would silence the Gerhart Heisman talk. It would mean the best they could finish is 8-4, which though not a bad record, would make them only 1 game over .500 since Harbaugh's been there. This is a golden opportunity for Cal to stick it to the Cardinal.

(Edit: Here's a link to an article about Tedford's "Academic Game Plan," the system he uses to hold the players accountable for their academic performance.)


Anonymous said...

Take down Gerhart in other words and a House of Cards comes tumbling down...nice analysis!

abraham said...

SD you called it. The Bears dominated at the LOS on both sides and pounded Stanford to death on the ground.

Anonymous said...

You are the Nostradamus of Cal Football. Coach Tedford should have you on his payroll or at least on speed dial...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling the story that Furd is Bear Territory.

abraham said...

I totally concur with that recommendation, I think Tedford can use someone with such uncluttered understanding of this game on his staff. I read a ton of articles and blogs leading upto this game and nobody gave Cal a shot let alone point out specific areas where Cal can exploit to get a win. Now who should absolutely go? Alamar. Special teams almost gave this game away AGAIN with poor protection in that blocked punt and the usual notorious lack of coverage on kickoffs. This team has a lot of fisicality and speed to allow stuff like this and I would be stunned if this guy is coaching special teams next year. Special coordinator, Assistant head coach, are a few job duty suggestions.

Anonymous said...

really enjoy all of your analysis throughout the season. Thanks for the time and effort. The part about ruining Furd's season was so good I read it twice. Go Bears!

Anonymous said...

SD, you are the most knowledgeable CAL FB analyst in the blogosphere. May i ask what your background is? Are/were you a coach?

Doug said...

Christ, did Ludwig and Gregory read this together before making their game plans?

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