Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nevada rewind

1. Let's start with everyone's favorite topic, the defense. I think we can all agree the OLBs were pinching and crashing, so I won't rehash that (though for the record, I don't necessarily have a problem with that in itself).

And I think everyone who watches Cal football and his brother has offered an opinion in the last four days on why this was happening, on whether it was the "right" approach, and on who was doing his job and who was getting abused. So again, I'll try not to rehash, except to say that just about everyone on the field was missing assignments and getting faked out at one point or another. When that happens, it goes well beyond scheme or one single thing.

That said, let's get a few other things out of the way:

(a) I think this game was largely a failure defensively, and one of the worst, if not the worst, performance by a Cal defense since Tedford came on board.

(b) I think that if Kaepernick passed the ball like he did last year, Cal forces at least two more punts, and we're talking about a different game--maybe not a win, but at the very least, doubtful the same runaway score. I am not sure anyone thought he'd throw that well.

(c) I think the short week, the gimmick offense, the Mohamed injury only one week prior, and the lack of depth at ILB water down any major conclusions I can draw about how well Pendergast and this defense will perform this year. I am not giving him a pass by any means (see (a) above), but I am not ready to say he's a bad coach yet, although he did coach a putrid game.

(d) As of right now, and this may change, I prefer Pendergast's approach to Gregory's, despite this game.

2. What I find more interesting than dissecting the defensive tactics and on-field mistakes, is what the overall strategy tells me about Pendergast, the message he's sending his defense, and what he thinks he's got personnel-wise on this defense. To me, it looked like he was putting a great deal of faith in the instincts and athleticism of his defense, particularly the safeties and ILBs. It seemed like most of the players on defense were actually supposed to be trying to use their speed and instincts, play downhill, and disrupt, not so much contain, read and react.

I didn't sense there was a lot of, "Be very, very careful not to get burned here, or don't guess wrong here," all week long leading to practice. Some will say maybe there should have been. Maybe so. Those folks can certainly say "scoreboard" and admittedly there isn't much to say in retort.

But I thought it showed confidence in the players, and some looseness, which I think has been missing on this defense the past several years. And to me, that's a breath of fresh air. Obviously, the plan had some warts. And the injuries and the offense did not help, to say the least. But I guess what I am saying is, there is something to be said for telling your players to let it rip a little.

I think the jury's still out on Pendergast and this year's defensive unit, especially with some big tests looming, and what I still consider to be a very shaky secondary. But for now, I like the mindset I am seeing from this group, and that starts with the coach.

3. The OL (including TE and FB) is not impressing...again. This team continues to be able to run up big rushing numbers, but is unable to get the hard yards when it needs to. The two biggest concerns are third down and short, and goal line. In both instances, this group simply cannot get it done right now.

Those are the hallmarks of championship offensive lines, not yards per carry, or breaking off big ones, or producing the now tiresome 1000 yard rusher milestone. It's whether you can tell the other team as you walk up to the line, "Coming right at you," and then get the two or three yards anyway. I'm slowly creeping toward giving up on this as a possibility for Tedford's teams, as we're going on five years since the 2005 team had this kind of ability, and I see nothing indicating we have the horses or the coaching style for it.

Vereen singlehandedly converted on third and short at least twice where the blocking was atrocious. One one play Guarnero literally got run backwards like a tacking dummy, and Vereen managed somehow to extend and scrap for the extra couple yards all on his own, with a guy practically hanging off him. Similarly, the settling for a FG in the red zone was just weak. Cal should have been able to run over this team up front when it needed to.

From what I am seeing, a lot of the problem lies in the technique. The OL are coming off the ball quickly, which is an improvement over last year. But they're laying into their blocks high, and they seem like they're trying to manhandle guys instead of driving them with their legs. That's fine if you're running quick dives where you just need to get in a guy's face or turn him. But with the amount of time Cal's run plays take to develop (a complaint I'll get to in a minute), the blocking technique has to improve.

4. I am sick of watching RBs take a 2- or 3-Mississipi count to get back to the LOS after the ball is snapped, while safeties and linebackers take their sweet time flooding the box until the whole defense is waiting there for the runner. Cal does not have a 230 pound tailback and the Steelers' offensive line. Quicken the power and inside zone plays, and save the slow stuff for stretch plays and cutbacks. You can be outnumbered if the play is quicker, but not if it takes forever to develop. Otherwise, we're going to be seeing a lot of Sofele and Vereen getting hit at the LOS.

5. Riley is Riley. Hasn't changed much, probably won't. Enough said.

6. Keenan Allen already leaves a good sized hole in the playbook when he's out. All the quick screens, fly sweeps, drags, and other design plays for him really complement the rest of Ludwig's plays. Who knows if the outcome might have been different, but anything to take the pressure off Riley and the run game is a good thing at this point. Looking forward to having him back.

7. I am not ready to burn Conte at the stake yet. No one looked good trying to read Kaepernick last week, so let's not draw to much from that. I have always felt he's a natural safety. He covers a lot of ground in a hurry, and gets up to full speed quickly. I wish he were a bit more of a punishing tackler, but sometimes that causes safeties to bite too hard on play action, a problem Cattouse has. Let's see how Conte does vs. a true passing attack this week.

8. The TE and FB blocking has been abysmal. A weakness of the pro-style offense is that it requires TEs and FBs who can do it all well, which are hard to find, and it's hard to keep them healthy. That's another reason teams go to the read option - instead of a fullback, you just use the QB's read to deal with the guy the FB would have blocked.

9. Did I not say Riley needs to learn to slide last week? The guy took a monster shot vs. Nevada because he led with his head. If the coaches don't think defenses are going to be headhunting for him, they're naive. With Sweeney waiting in the wings, Riley needs to stay healthy.

9. So far, I am good with Ludwig's play calling and game plans. The botched passes to Allen and Sofele alone were great calls, and were 14 points Riley left on the field. And Ludwig does seem to be mixing up the rushing styles and formations to keep defenses off balance, and compensate some for the fact that this OL can't run student body left against anyone.

Between the design plays to Allen, the use of Vereen as a receiver, the design QB runs, the TE routes, and the screen game, Ludwig has brought a lot of variety and balance to the offense to complement the run game.


pompusone2000 said...


Never thought I'd hear this about Cal, but I loved this line "...the now tiresome 1000 yard rusher..."

So-so OL play and Vereen gets 198 yds - is he special or what?

Anonymous said...

TBWNQ, you give the most interesting and insightful analyses of anyone out there. I agree with everything you said even though i don't watch OL and LB play that closely. Can't wait for your thoughts on Arizona. Thank you very much.

mike said...

well done, it's a nice pragmatic read that is a calming, realistic voice within all the hub-bub in the wake of the Nevada game. Hoping you'll be more active with your blogging this year, I enjoy reading your comments.


Anonymous said...

agreed about the playcalling. it was pretty good on the whole. the oline is just awful and as much as riley is riley, the shoddy olines haven't helped any of our qb's since ayoob.

but i have to disagree on conte. the guy is the worst db i can remember at cal. ever. he takes himself out of tons of plays, falls down, can't get off blocks and really can't tackle. You wish he were a more punishing tackler--I'd take him being able to tackle anyone at all. The guy is a good athlete but a horrid football player. The biggest sign that either our db recruits have been awful or that our coaching and evaluation are suspect (beyond the fact that we can't evaluate and recruit a servicable qb under the present regime) is that conte gets time on the field.

we've heard a lot about the tight battle at corner and the good play we're getting out of four guys there. why aren't anthony and logan and nbuife getting a shot at safety? Conte's instincts are lousy. Look at the film and notice how often he's covering nobody.

good blog, though as always.

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