Expert Advance and Viewing Guide: Cal

Arizona State's regular season concludes Saturday against Cal in Berkeley. The following is our scouting report, viewing guide and a prediction.

Cal Offensive Scheme

In 1997 the University of Kentucky hired as its head coach Hal Mumme, a pioneering offensive whiz who had never led an NCAA Division I program and was largely unknown outside of the high school and college coaching fraternity. 

Though his effort to shake up the SEC by implementing a pass-dominant spread offense that largely abandoned tight ends and multiple running back formations had some initial traction and led to consecutive bowl bids in 1998 and 1999, Mumme’s career was derailed by NCAA sanctions before he really started to stretch his legs. 

It led to his resignation from the school following the 2000 season and he hasn’t had a Power Five head coaching job since. 

Chances are pretty good you probably still haven’t heard of Mumme, but he’s extremely well regarded among coaches, and his imprint on the college football landscape is increasingly ubiquitous.

In Mumme’s first year at Kentucky his offensive coaching staff included current Washington State head coach Mike Leach (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach); currently Cal head coach Sonny Dykes (tight ends); and current Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin (running backs). 

Franklin has served as Dykes offensive coordinator for nearly six full seasons now, first at Louisiana Tech in 2010-12 and since Dykes — the offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09 — took over at Cal prior to the 2013 season. 

Together, Dykes and Franklin tinkered with the Air Raid system that Mumme and Leach initially fabricated as an update to legendary BYU coach LaVell Edward’s playbook. Mumme had been an admirer of Edwards while coaching against him at UTEP, and Leach attended BYU. 

The version of the Air Raid offense that is currently used at Cal has been slyly updated with the so-called “Bear Raid” moniker and is widely marketed in the coaching community as the “Tony Franklin System” with a number of associated teaching products and seminars that have been quite lucrative among high school programs for Franklin.

As a former running back coach by trade, Franklin’s spin on the Air Raid is a little bit different from a play calling standpoint, with — as might be expected — more of a reliance on the run. Indeed, the Golden Bears have run the ball about 45 percent of the time, which is much more than the Cougars. 

At the heart of the scheme though is a pass-heavy system that is quick-game heavy with the ball coming out in a hurry on a variety ot slants, screens, mesh/rub routes, and other concepts designed to get the ball to receiving targets across the full width of the field and also significantly include running backs into the passing game. 

Cal has better overall athletes at wide receiver than Washington State, however, and as a result has even more of a vertical passing capability, especially factoring in its quarterback is probably the best overall prospect at the position in the Pac-12, Jared Goff. 

Cal Offensive Personnel

Jared Goff (No. 16) — A big arm, quick release and plus accuracy are visually identifying hallmarks of Goff’s quarterbacking, but his overall field awareness is well ahead of most players at the position in the Pac-12. He has the ability to cycle through progression well while at the same time feeling pressure in the pocket. Sometimes his confidence can get him into trouble with throws he shouldn’t attempt and his interceptions are up this year as a result of that, which has probably come as he’s developed increasing confidence. 

Kenny Lawler (No. 4) — Cal has a by-committed approach with its pass catchers, with six players having more than 30 receptions on the season. But none has more than Lawler’s 46 catches, though his yards per catch is lower than several others at 12.2. He has 10 touchdown receptions though, twice as many as anyone else on the team. A former ASU commit, Lawler is long and rangy with good athleticism and a terrific catch radius at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He’s questionable to play against ASU with soreness after landing hard on a touchdown catch last week. 

Bryce Treggs (No. 1) — A senior with more than 30 career starts, Treggs has been an impact player in each of his four seasons with Cal and is the current leader on the team with 186 career receptions going into his final regular season game. He’s a big yards after catch player who is averaging 18.5 yards per catch, a team high. Even though he’s third on the team in completions, Treggs doesn’t always start at the team’s H-position. 

Darius Powe (No. 10) — A big slot target at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Powe is kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum style wise from Treggs. Though they play the same position, they have somewhat different functionality and usage. Power is more of the possession and shorter yardage target and it’s reflected in the 10.5 yards per catch he has, which is lowest among prominent receivers. 

Daniel Lasco (No. 2) // Khalafani Muhammad (No. 29) // Tre Watson (No. 5) // Vic Enwere (No. 23) — Lasco rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season but has had a lot of injury problems this season and is questionable for ASU with an ankle sprain. Enwere is a bruiser at 230 pounds and the team’s goal line and short yardage back. Muhammad is undersized and the most mobile at 170 pounds; he’s got 13 catches, more than the others. 

ASU defense against Cal offense

This is a very similar offense to the one ASU yielded more than a handful of big plays to just a few weeks ago in a loss to Washington State, with one major caveat: Cal has better and more athletic skill players. The Sun Devils are going to have to avoid giving up yards after the catch due to missed tackles and being out of position. That’s a tall order considering ASU is last in FBS at 40-plus yard passing plays allowed and Cal is first in the Pac-12 in that category. With Jordan Simone out of action, communication breakdowns are even more possible. Arizona wasn’t able to take advantage of a number of opportunities in the passing game against ASU last week due to poor quarterback play but Cal likely won’t have that problem. To start with, ASU’s going to have to try to make Cal one dimensional by owning the line of scrimmage — something it can do successfully — but even then it’ll have to limit the Bears’ backs in the passing game. 

Cal Defensive Scheme

It appeared Cal’s defense was on the upswing after coordinator Art Kaufman significantly improved the unit’s overall rushing and scoring defenses in his first year with the program in 2014. 

Cal returned 12 of the team’s top 13 tacklers from a season ago but several players who appeared to have a chance to take the next step into greater Pac-12 prominence never did and it’s been run-of-the-mill defense for the most part this season. 

The Golden Bears use a base 4-3 defense that is pretty traditional in nature, and that seemed to help it stabilize in some regards last season, especially against the run. But Cal’s taken a big step backwards in that regard, from 144.6 last season, to 204.6 in 2015. 

In recent weeks, it’s really gotten worse in this regard. Even though Cal went to give man fronts and often had eight defenders in the box against Stanford, the Cardinal rushed for 260 yards. That’s not as bad as what happened against Oregon several weeks earlier, however, when the Ducks had an astounding 477 rushing yards and just had their way with the Bears. Even lowly Oregon State, far and away the worst offense in the Pac-12, had 200-plus rushing yards against Cal. 

It hasn’t done badly in scoring defense at 28.8 points allowed per game though, which is somewhat surprising because Cal’s also dropped off with its red zone defense, No. 11 in the country. 

One of the main reasons for the Bears’ early season success was their turnover generation, with a lot of interceptions. That’s cooled off significantly though in recent weeks, with injuries playing some role. 

Cal Defensive Personnel

Hardy Nickerson (No. 47) — A solid meat-and-potatoes inside linebacker, Cal asks Nickerson to be its primary run stopper inside and he leads the team with 85 tackles. Nickerson is a bit on the light side, at 225 pounds, and isn’t a downhill thumper or gap attack player and it’s reflected in his 2.0 tackles for loss and one sack. He’s not going to pursue and make plays on the backfield either inside or outside the tackle box. 

Jalen Jefferson (No. 7) —A bit more dynamic than Nickerson when looking at his size and playmaking profile, Jefferson is 240 pounds but runs relatively well and is the team’s leading active career tackler from the WILL position. He’s more apt to make a play in the backfield or be used as a blitzer than Nickerson but has been inconsistent with C-gap integrity against the run and is an important player to watch in that regard against blocks of ASU junior tight end Kody Kohl and others. 

Kyle Kragen (No. 13) — Cal’s rush end, Kragen is 245 pounds and not especially physical at setting the edge but he’s the team’s best pass rusher and has team-highest — modest though they are — with six tackles for loss and five sacks. The fact that he only has one tackle for loss that isn’t a sack is a glaring problem and hints at Cal’s trouble against the run. 

Darius White (No. 6) — A junior college addition in 2014, White became a starter at cornerback late into the season and continued to improve as a senior. He leads Cal with three interceptions and also has nine passes defended and six breakups with 50 tackles. 

Darius Allensworth (No. 8) — Cal’s top cover corner and perhaps its best NFL prospect on defense, Allensworth played quite a bit last season as a redshirt freshman and this season leads the team with 11 passes defended and 10 breakups. He’s physical and athletic with impressive size at 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds. 

ASU offense against Cal defense

What makes this a difficult game to project is how awful Cal’s been on defense in the last three games against the run and especially in light of ASU’s improved ground game in the weeks since it got sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage healthy on the field together and returned senior D.J. Foster to the hybrid role in which he experienced so much success earlier in his ASU career. The Sun Devils should be able to run the ball successfully against Cal, and with the Bears also probably without top safety Damariay Drew, their second leading tackler, it could cause further problems against both run and pass. This is a pretty good opportunity for the Sun Devils to show their strength, which is as a run-play-action-pass team that gets defenses really focused on coming up only to yield big play opportunities. 

Prediction

After some struggles forecasting ASU earlier in the season we’ve done better of late, correctly picking the Sun Devils to lose to Washington State and Washington and Arizona. I haven’t struggled with a pick in a game as much as this one since ASU played Utah more than a month ago. I felt that was a toss up game and indeed, ASU led in the fourth quarter before melting down. This is one of the toughest games to pick on the season because ASU’s already achieved bowl eligibility and isn't playing for much from a tangible standpoint. Cal on the other hand has senior day which is an emotional lift even on a holiday weekend, and a crowd behind it. ASU’s struggled against teams that can really air it out all season and Cal fits the description. But the Bears are a bad defense especially against the run, and that’s what gets ASU into a good offensive rhythm. Earlier in the week I was leaning toward picking ASU, but after additional analysis and study am going with Cal to win a close game 38-35, as I believe ASU may simply give up one too many big plays in its secondary to come out on top. 


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