Vernon Adams and Royce Freeman lead Oregon's offense against Cal's defense

BERKELEY -- Defensive line coach Fred Tate breaks down what the defensive front has to do against the Oregon offense ...

BERKELEY -- Vernon Adams may not be Marcus Mariota, but, as California defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil said on Tuesday, "He's a shifty little guy, isn't he? Shifty little man."

Adams has run 50 times for 102 yards, but it's his mobility and ability to keep plays alive that make him dangerous. Passing, he's 80-of-136 for 1,168 yards and 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

"What you've got to do, you've got to rush him in pass rush, in terms of keeping him in the pocket," said Bears defensive line coach Fred Tate. "You can't just run around on blocks, where everybody tries to make a play, and be a superhero and try to sack him, and open up rush lanes for him when he's throwing the ball. He extends a lot of plays with his feet. We have made a scramble tape of him, and it's probably 85 percent positive when he scrambles and he throws the ball."

Adams's receivers certainly know that drill well, specifically, the scramble drill. 

"That's the hard thing about him, is that he makes a lot of plays with his feet, and keeps plays alive," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "Even if you cover him, he can buy some time, and let guys separate. Their receivers do a nice job of playing scramble drill, getting back to the quarterback and taking good angles and making plays. He's done a good job of giving them opportunities to, giving them balls that are catchable, and that guys can make plays on. You look at the Arizona State game, there were probably four or five times in the game where they've got somebody unblocked, completely, to the quarterback, and they don't get them on the ground, and a lot of those resulted in big plays for Oregon. That's a challenge, is figuring out a way to get him on the ground, and getting him contained, because he is really good when he's improvising."

The Bears are tied for third in the Pac-12 with 22 sacks, with two against Cody Kessler last week. But one of those came from linebacker Jalen Jefferson and one from defensive end Todd Barr. Jefferson suffered a shoulder injury against the Trojans, and while Dykes said he would be limited in practice, and would become more involved as the week goes on, he was working in defensive skeleton work in full pads on Tuesday.

"We saw a lot of things from Adams and the whole offense," said Jalil, who stayed up past midnight with teammates, watching the Oregon-Arizona State game on Saturday. "We've really got to work on pass rush discipline, and not letting him get out of the pocket. Last week, Cody Kessler got out of the pocket a couple times. That's the thing we're going to work on this week."

The Bears have gotten no sacks from either Kyle Kragen or DeVante Wilson since Utah. Barr has two sacks in the last two games, but Cal has to get its biggest weapons off the schnide. 

"That comes with a lot of the run-pass combinations," Tate said, referencing the defense's troubles against the Bruins. "If they want to drop back and throw the football and pass protect, I think we'll have more success, but when we have to fit the run in transition, that's what we've got to be better at."

That has to be balanced with having the discipline to not overpursue.

"What we want to do as a rush group is keep him in the pocket, and not let him out of the pocket," Tate said. "That being said, their quarterback run game, it's not any different than any quarterback we're probably going to face. The kid can run, but we've got to be technique sound. Guys that have the quarterback on the zone reads have to cut back on the zone reads, and the guys who have the dive take the dive."

Tate, though, says Cal has defended the zone read better than they have in the past.

"We've put a lot of emphasis on it," Tate said. "That's just more mature guys and seeing that kind of stuff. We have got to try to keep him contained. Now, that's a task, and nobody's really done it, but that's what our mentality will be: Try to keep him within the pocket."

Adams, though, is far from the only weapon the Ducks have. Royce Freeman is averaging 138.6 yards per game to lead the conference, and Oregon's rushing attack ranks sixth in the nation.

"They've got a variety of ways they get him the ball," Tate said. "They've got motion plays where they get it to him, they've got plays where he flares out, they've got their normal run plays on the edge and then, in the middle. Their overall run game is so, it's a variety of it, and the thing we've got to do is not let all the window dressing get to us, fit our gaps, play sound football, and we'll be fine."

Tate said that Freeman has speed to the hole, and speed through the hole, but, he continued, Cal has seen running backs like that before over the last three games, including Devontae Booker.

"It'll help, but learning from the Booker's and those guys down at UCLA, even those guys last week, the biggest thing we learn from those guys is just to be gap sound," Tate said. "Don't try to do more than you can do. If you have gap control, maintain your gap and not worry about the other gap. If we do that from the front to the back, we'll be fine."

Cal did hold USC to 3.7 yards per carry last week, though the Trojans were able to take advantage of blitzes for big gains.

"We gave up some plays," Tate said. "There were probably some guys trying to make some extra plays, that opened up some seams. The thing we've got to do is keep everything contained. If we do that, we should have some success in stopping their run game [...] Some of the things we were trying to do in the blitz game ended up being away from things. We thought they were going to be to this particular area, and they got something to the other area, so it made us step back and say, 'Let's just play.' It doesn't make you think twice. You call this, and they do that, you call this and they do that again and it's something different, it's a guessing game. It's not that you're really wrong, but if you call this, but they have a specific play call that, maybe this wasn't as successful as you wanted it to be versus that play. Instead of inventing things and trying to bring pressure, you sit back and let our kids play with their cleats and hands in the ground and go play." Top Stories