John Hefti / USA TODAY Sports

At what point does the Bear Raid become worse-served by Davis Webb's passing?

What does grounding the Bear Raid do for Cal's success rate late in games? New writer David Alan Straub breaks it down.

Though it may seem to be the reverse at times, Cal Football’s first priority is to win games, and their second is for quarterback Davis Webb to sling the ball in all directions positive. Cal’s personnel and coaching certainly lend to innate success as a throw-first offense, but there is a diminishing return to the Bear Raid pass attack: one best illustrated by a Laffer Curve (a supposed relationship between economic activity and the rate of taxation that suggests the existence of an optimum tax rate that maximizes tax revenue; in this case, illustrative of an optimal point for an offense, depending on the balance of passing and running):

David Alan Straub / BearTerritory.net

Point “A”: All-But Final 5 Drives vs. SDSU: 28 - 43 - 399 yards - 4 TD - 2 INT [43 passes, 20 runs -- 2.15 PASSES PER RUN] PASSER RATING 164.46

Point “B”: Final 5 Drives vs. SDSU: 13-29 - 123 yards - 1 TD - 1 INT [29 passes, 2 runs, including 28 throws in a row, 14.5 PASSES PER RUN] PASSER RATING: 84.94

The Golden Bears’ outlook entering the 4th quarter was nearly identical vs. Texas and at SDSU: trailing by a score and struggling to develop their run game offensively or defensively. Davis Webb’s arm and Chad Hansen’s hands were the only assets allowing the Bears to hang with their opponents through the first three quarters of both contests. However, the closing sequence of the Golden Bears’ loss at Qualcomm Stadium showed that incessant use of their #2 national passing offense could be too much of a good thing.

Davis Webb dropped back to pass a school-record 73 times against the Aztecs, most notably all of the Bears’ final 28 offensive plays. The Golden Bears’ final five offensive drives were a furious, ineffective flurry [Webb: 13-29 - 123 yards - 1 TD - 1 INT]. Those 31 total offensive snaps amounted to a 44% completion percentage, an interception, and back-to-back dismissals at the hands of the Aztec defense where Cal failed to even move the chains. The Bears closed out the game rushing on 6.4% of snaps.

Davis Webb was significantly more efficient and productive prior to those final five drives against the Aztecs. The senior quarterback threw for 65% accuracy, gaining 399 passing yards with a 4 TD - 2 INT ratio. During this stretch, the Bears ran the football 31.7% of the time. 

Webb’s Texas outing is broken down in the same format below, the playcalling abrupt step down from the pass-to-run rate of the SDSU game overall. The Bears called a passing play 53% of the time against the Longhorns compared to 78% of snaps against the Aztecs.

David Alan Straub / BearTerritory.net

FINAL FIVE VS. TEXAS:

Point “A”: Final 5 Drives vs. Texas: 10-13 - 145 yards, 1 Rushing TD, 1 Passing TD, 0 INT, 1 sack for -12 yds [14 pass, 14 run -- 1 pass per run] PASSER RATING 196.00

Point “B” All-But Final 5 Drives vs. Texas: 17-27 - 251 yds. - 3 TD - 0 INT, 2 sacks for -18 yds [29 pass, 23 runs -- 1.26 pass per run] PASSER RATING: 177.72

As the diagrams above indicate, California extended and completed drives against both the Aztecs and Longhorns more effectively and efficiently with a more balanced run and pass attack. Additionally, the trend of a lower pass-to-run ratio translating to more efficient quarterback play is a trend that data from the Texas and SDSU games confirm separately and reinforce when combined:

David Alan Straub / BearTerritory.net

Point “A”: Final 5 Drives vs. Texas: 10-13 - 145 yards, 1 Rushing TD, 1 Passing TD, 0 INT, 1 sack for -12 yds [14 pass, 14 run -- 1 pass per run] PASSER RATING 196.00

Point “B” All-But Final 5 Drives vs. Texas: 17-27 - 251 yds. - 3 TD - 0 INT, 2 sacks for -18 yds [29 pass, 23 runs -- 1.26 pass per run PASSER RATING: 177.72

Point “C”: All-But Final 5 Drives vs. SDSU: 28 - 43 - 399 yards - 4 TD - 2 INT [43 passes, 20 runs -- 2.15 PASSES PER RUN] PASSER RATING 164.46

Point “D”: Final 5 Drives vs. SDSU: 13-29 - 123 yards - 1 TD - 1 INT [29 passes, 2 runs, including 28 throws in a row, 14.5 PASSES PER RUN] PASSER RATING: 84.94

As the Bears enter conference play next weekend with the nation’s 93rd best [and 33rd-worst] per-play rushing mark [3.9 per carry], it’s important to remember that the effort alone to establish a ground attack does much more for an offense than doing nothing at all, regardless of how many yards Vic Enwere, Khalfani Muhammad, and Tre Watson do or don’t gain. An inability to routinely jam the ball down a defense’s throat for 6 or 7 isn’t any reason to throw the run game out the window. Even an occasional 2 to 3 gut check dive is exceedingly important for the Bears as a pass-first offense to keep opposing defenses honest and respecting the possibility of a big gain on the ground.


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