Offensive Woes: Play Calling

Even the most diehard, myopic Wildcat fans realize there is a problem with the offense. Every fan has their solution. To us there are four things you have to look at on offense: talent/experience, play calling, player development and execution. We'll devote a column to each and try to pinpoint what some of the problems are and see if they are fixable. Now we discuss play calling.

One of the constant complaints about the Arizona offense is play calling. The only problem is that few fans can agree about what exactly the problem is. Some complain that they try to run too much, while others feel that they give up on the run too early. Some fans feel that they throw the quick screen too much, but then want the coaches to find away to overcome the run.

Some fans lack the basic concept of offense. One person I spoke with feels that Arizona needs to go deep on every play. Another was upset that at their own one-yard line the Cats tried to run up the middle. One fan claimed that Arizona runs "80%" of the time.

That is not to say that there are not problems with the play calling, but find me a fan base that does not have problems with their play calling. To be honest, I think it is low on the list of the problems of this football team.

More than individual play calling, my bigger concern is overall implementation of the offense. To me, when the team needs to run, they run, when they need to pass, they pass. I can point to a handful of plays that baffle me, but the overall play calling is not too bad.

What concerns me more is the overall design of the plays. There seem to be some curious things happening on some of the plays. Another concern is the overall flow of the offensive play calling. Like a quarterback, an offensive coordinator can get hot, get in a rhythm. This is why some teams like to script their plays, so that they can work and rework the order the plays will be called in hopes to develop an early rhythm.

Mike Canales is taking a lot of heat, but let's be honest, the offensive line play has been so poor this season, that it is tough to really see what this offense can do. Considering that Willie Tuitama has been sacked 16 times this season, it is nearly impossible to say the play calling is bad overall because so many plays were ended early or disrupted by a strong pass rush.

That is not to say there have not been any curious calls. Because of a lack of wide receivers, Anthony Johnson has had to be a deep threat on more than one occasion. Although he is the tallest of the receivers who see regular action, he is also the slowest. Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas are both smaller, but are also both quicker than Johnson.

There have also been some third down play calls where there does not seem to be enough receivers downfield to get the first down.

I have noticed a few pass plays where some of the secondary receivers stop their routes at the sideline before the play develops. Some running plays have also taken too long to develop, especially for short yardage plays.

One thing we must take a look at is the predictability of the play calling. Are there some trends that are just to easy to read? Or is it fairly varied? Overall Arizona has a 56%-44% split pass to run. Considering how bad the running game is and the fact that Arizona has had to try to rally late in a few games that split is not too bad.

First down play calls is even more telling. The Cats have a pass to run ratio of 54%-46% and had it not been for the second half of the Washington game where the Wildcats threw on 12 of 16 first downs, than the number would be much closer to 50%.

These numbers are a fine start to analyzing play calls, but we all know that it is just a part of the overall story. What a team does on third down is also very telling.

Let's take a look at the BYU game. On the first drive of the game Arizona faces a third and nine at the BYU 11. The Cats run a quick screen to Chris Henry that loses a yard. The play developed quickly, leading one to believe that it was the original call, not a check down. It also did not appear to be an audible. It was a play that did not have a great chance at success. Frankly it was a call that I did not really like.

Later in the red zone the Wildcat come up short again. The Wildcats face third and goal from the eight and complete a pass to Anthony Johnson at just the five. This time it appeared that the receiver was a secondary target, but the check down receiver was not down field enough to get the first down.

The next time Arizona completes a pass on third down they convert. This time Tuitama finds Chris Henry for a five-yard pick-up on third and four. Henry slips out of the backfield, past the first down marker and makes the tough grab.

On the same drive the Cats face a third and goal from the two. This time the Cats score thanks to a pass over the middle to Johnson. Not only was Johnson open over the middle, but so was a second receiver. In fact every receiver out in the pass pattern were in the endzone. It was a nicely designed play.

Let's fast forward to the final drive. This was a perfectly run drive where the Cats drove 44 yards and took over 5:00 off the game clock. When Nick Folk kicked the game winning field goal there was just one second left. Although some felt the Cats failed to get close enough, it was the perfect drive to finish the game.

The play calling is not perfect. There have been some curious calls, but for the most part it is not the play calling that has hurt the Wildcat offense. In my honest assessment the offensive struggles is due more to execution, lack of experience and player development than what plays are called.

That being said, it is up to the offensive staff to find ways to overcome the deficiencies. The team made some very nice adjustments in the second half of the Washington game, but execution killed them in the redzone. It will be imperative that the staff continue to make tweaks and changes to the schemes to overcome the deficiencies. With a young line and a lack of big play receivers, Canales and Co. need to find a way to better tailor the offense around the players they do have and the weaknesses they possess.


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