Thursday, September 2, 2010

UC Davis Preview

Some little known facts about Davis. For some time, one of Davis' great attractions was the cow with the glass stomach, where you could actually see the cow's stomach digesting grass while it was chewing cud. They've long had the #1 (or thereabouts) veterinary medicine school in the country. They are steeped in a tradition of authentic binge drinking, bordering on a club sport. 21 gun salute to the Bossie Cows.

Some more well known facts about their football program, but nevertheless worth mentioning. They peed in Stanford's cheerios in 2005, overcoming a 17-0 deficit to emasculate the Cardinal, on the Farm no less, solidifying the Walt Harris era as another of the long line of precious donkey heads in the venerable Leland Junior football pantheon. They played a decent game against Boise St. on the blue turf last season, down 27-16 with 11 minutes to go in fourth quarter. And head coach Bob Biggs' name was on the list (probably one of the much longer, early lists) of coaches to replace the departed Tom Holmoe. With that, onto the game.


Below is some decent footage of the UCD offense from last year. You will note these are highlight tapes of UCD's junior tight end Dean Rogers (I hereby declare that is a stage name) and sophomore fullback Ishman Anderson. You will also note that Dean and Ishman chose the music for their highlights. If you can get past those distractions and actually watch the football, what you will see is the following.

First, the Aggies are fairly disciplined in what they do. Their linemen, backs and receivers look like they know where to go, and they get there quickly, with good punch. They look like a very well coached, decisive team, that plays well together as an offensive unit.

In terms of the run game, from the cross section of plays shown in the clips, they appear to alternate mostly between zone stretch-type plays, and power run plays behind extra blockers. I don't see a lot of deception, or a lot of trapping and misdirection. They seem like a pound the rock, run right at you offense, trying to get into rhythm and to set up the pass, and mixing in some cutbacks and draws.

That said, they don't seem to have the personnel to overpower Cal with that scheme. They have some good blocking on the edge, in their tackles and TEs, but their interior blockers got pushed around a bit in these clips, and seem like they will be susceptible to that against Cal's front. They also seem to lack the one cut and go knifing-type runner you need to succeed on stretch and edge runs.

As for the pass, based on this film (to clear the air, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never been to an Aggie game), they actually do some nice things off the run packages. This is where "Dean's" highlights are actually...highlights. They used him really well in a couple clips. They pulled him like a run blocker and then released him into the flat, almost like an H-back, reminiscent of the way SC has used Havili (and that TD to Smith in 2006 where he snuck behind the line and got open - awful). Davis also snuck "Dean" behind coverage and got him wide open in the seam a few times. They also do a good job of quickly getting to dead spots in the zones.

What I didn't see much of, and don't expect much of, is stretching the defense with the wideouts. This seems like a rhythm and timing, mostly first option passing game. This will be especially true in this game because they are starting a RS freshman at QB. I don't think they are going to have him going through a lot of 5 step drop, 3-4 progression reads in his first start, at Memorial.

Their QB from last season Denham, a two-year starter, left to join the seminary. (I am sorry I cannot resist. I can't think of a worse indictment of quality of life for football players at Davis. The life of a starting college QB, even at Davis, is supposed to be the envy of every college student, the pinnacle of pimpdom. I'm all about higher callings, but things have got to be pretty bleak around Davis if your starting QB is so ready to take a vow of celibacy in college that he can't just wait two short years and sow his oats a little longer. Plus, if you are going to go cold turkey for life, at least put together a nice mental highlight reel to take with you. Wow. On another note, talk about giving other coaches negative recruiting ammunition. You can bet if that was UCLA's QB, Ed Orgeron would be having a field day in recruiting against them.)

So they're starting a redshirt freshman this season, Randy Wright. As you'll see in the clips, Denham made some really nice, accurate throws last season, got rid of it really quickly, and showed some good pocket presence and command of the offense. That will be a lot to expect from a RS Freshman making his first start in front of 70,000 football starved Cal fans at Memorial Stadium. And now the offensive clips.

Accordingly, on defense, I would normally expect to see Cal load up the line of scrimmage and just try to flood the lanes and overwhelm the run blocking schemes with bodies, forcing Davis to have to throw, and forcing Wright to beat them. However, I could see Pendergast try to play them straight up initially, to see what his players do, and not to give away too much in terms of how he is going to defend various sets.

And when Davis goes to the air, I expect two things: a lot of pressure on Wright, and some coverage disguises to bait him into picks. I think Pendergast wants to (needs to) get these kids excited about this defense. And nothing does that like sacks and turnovers. I won't be surprised if this is a 3-5 sack game for Cal.


They are a 4-3 base team, and I haven't seen a whole lot of gimmick stuff. They seem to favor zone mostly in pass coverage, and did not seem blitz happy. Their DL is a undersized compared to Pac 10 DLs (no surprise there). Their linebackers are a little stiffer than Pac 10 LBs, but decent and pretty disciplined. Where they struck me as a little weak was at corner and safety, both in terms of athleticism, and maybe a bit in vulnerability to blown coverages. In the clips I've seen, and watching the Boise game, I see a well coached defense that is pretty disciplined against the run, but is susceptible to the big play, leaks in the zone, and has trouble one on one on the edges and over the top. That was really their undoing against Boise - in the end, couldn't hang with Boise's faster receivers and pinpoint throws by Moore.

Also, keep in mind that while they played Boise tough, they lost to Fresno State last year in their opening game 51-0, and to Southern Utah 56-35. Now with a new QB, the weak link might be offense, but last year, the defense certainly had some big lapses.

As for the Cal offense, I have no idea what Ludwig is going to do. If I had to guess, I would expect him to throw a little bit of everything in there the first few series, to make sure the players try out a variety of procedures. I'd expect to see power, zone, sweeps, variations of screens, fly sweep, and short, mid and long balls.

But if it were me, I'd be trying to get the passing game going right away, first and foremost. That is the unit that needs confidence, from QB, to protection, to WRs. The younger receivers need to get catches, and Riley and the WRs need confidence they can move the sticks through the air.

Besides, I expect Davis to play conservatively early on and give Cal a lot of a cushion underneath. If I were Ludwig, I'd be looking to march down the field with predominantly pass plays the first few series of the game, rotating receivers and distributing the ball.

As you know, I am not big on predictions. But I will say this (and I am not going out on a limb here): If the outcome is still legitimately in doubt after halftime, then this team is well behind where it should be going into the season. Yes Davis, is going to play hard, and want to prove something. But Cal has the offensive and defensive lines to dominate Davis, and the speed on the edges to win every one on one matchup on both sides of the ball. If Fresno beat these guys 51-0 last year, with a 2-year starter at QB, Cal better have no trouble facing a RS freshman.


Anonymous said...

Very nice write-up. Thanks

abraham said...

umm,looks like we gonna be sober this weekend...or will we? folks do drink to celebrate.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope it isn't, but I have a pessimistic fear that this game could be supremely disappointing. Although I'm comforted by the fact that the Bears usually explode into the season confidently, and from reading interviews with players and coaches, it seems like this season is no different. I hope we get to see some exciting stuff to give us a healthy serving of irrationally high Cal fan optimism heading into the rest of the season...

oldblue said...

Your comment that if the game is in doubt at halftime we are in for a long season is right on target. If Cal can't control both sides of the line early against the Aggies, we are not going to have much luck in the most competetive conference in the country.

Papi said...

Over the top quality coverage, per sempre! This seems like a clean sheet for a new year, but the QB is still the biggest unknown. I agree that confidence is needed ASAP for Riley and the newbies, and maybe UCD is a good start, but the proximity of the schools might make for some increased motivation, intensity that can only help UCD. Anyway, the PAC-10 seems up for grabs, and Cal is way, way below the radar! Go Bears!

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