Expert Analysis: DBs vs. Cal

The last time Stanford hosted the Big Game in 2007, we won 20-13 and took back our beloved Axe. I could hardly imagine ending my collegiate career on a better night. This year, we came in to the game with roses on our minds. But anyone who has ever been a part of the Big Game can tell you that everything before this game goes out the window, and nothing matters except the Axe.

No matter how good or how bad a team is playing, you never know what is going to happen in a rivalry as intense as this one. This year's game was no difference as Kal's offense decided that they were going to control the line and keep Stanford's offense off of the field. Stanford got out "Stanforded" by a California team that did not buy into all the media attention that Stanford was getting in the previous weeks. The good guys put up a valiant effort in this one, and you know the seniors played their hearts out, as they came up just 13 yards shy of a thrilling come-from-behind victory on the final drive. The last several weeks, I've been asking for our defense to avoid the big play and make their opponents drive the field. Our offense usually eats up so much clock that our opponents must score quickly in hopes of keeping up. In this game, Kal was able to turn the tables and use our own strategy against us. When it comes down to it, their guys made more plays than our guys and that was the difference in the game. Now for the DBs…

First quarter

After "Touchdown Toby" Gerhart races for a 61 yard score, California's offense takes the field. On their 1st play from scrimmage QB Kevin Riley throws deep on a play action pass intended for #1 Marvin Jones. Stanford catches a break as Riley overthrows an open Jones, while Johnson Bademosi trails form behind. It seems as if Bademosi was fooled by the play action in the backfield and left playing catch-up from the start of the play. Luckily, no harm done and Kal is forced to punt on its first series. 3 and out!

On their next possession, Kal is once again forced to punt after just three plays. Stanford stuffs RB Shane Vereen on first down, and the DBs provide tight coverage, forcing Riley to run the ball on both 2nd and 3rd down. So far, so good. 7-0.

Kal puts together its first real drive on their next possession. After Vereen runs for a few first downs, Riley completes his first pass of the game for an 18-yard gain. On this play, Stanford is in quarters coverage, what we used to call cover 4 when I played. #26 Delano Howell is the safety lined up over the slot receiver. If the inside receiver goes out to the flats, Howell has to get his eyes to the outside receiver, on this play #86 Verran Tucker. More often than not, if one goes out, the other one is going in. Tucker is running a simple slant and Howell is too fast in his back pedal to react quickly enough to make a play, and winds up missing the tackle. I'd like to see Howell be more patient in his back pedal and read the route combination, so he can meet Tucker at the ball for one of his bone-crushing hits.

Stanford allows the Dirty Golden Bears to drive down the field before tightening for a goal-line stand. On 3rd and goal, Riley throws a unique fade route into the end zone intended for Marvin Jones, as he looks over his outside shoulder instead of his inside shoulder. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi is in coverage and able to make a big PBU to keep Kal out of the end zone. Bademosi displays textbook technique on this coverage. He lines up on the goal line and does not back pedal into the end zone to allow an easy TD catch. Then, he keeps his body square and takes away the inside slant route, forcing the harder outside throw. Bademosi closes fast and times his play on the ball perfectly to knock the pass away just as it hits the WR's hands. Nice goal-line stand for the boys, 14-3.

Second quarter

After two Shave Vereen runs, Kal finds itself at 3rd and 2 on its first drive of the second quarter. Bo McNally comes up from his free safety position to make a hard hit on Vereen, stopping him what looks like just short of the first down. McNally is very good at reading his keys fast and is able to make a big impact in the running game by diagnosing plays and making tackles around the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, a generous spot gives Vereen and the Bears a first down.

A few plays later, on 3rd and 10, Riley hits TE Anthony Miller over the middle for a pickup of 18 yards and another first down. Stanford is in cover 2 on this play, and Miller is able to find a hole in between LBs Chike Almajoyi and Shane Skov. Chike chases a short route in front of him and creates a window for Riley to fit the pass in. Chike has to stay deep and form a "picket fence" with the other underneath droppers so that Riley is forced to check down to a shorter route, especially on 3rd and long.

Safety Delano Howell is there to stop RBs Shane Vereen and Covaugh Deboskie on two runs into the secondary. Howell has been able to stop many big runs from happening this year by getting these Pac 10 RBs down after they break up the middle.

Then, Riley tests Sherman on an inside breaking route into the end zone on 2nd and 10. Sherman is playing off coverage outside of WR Marvin Jones. He gives up the inside, which is usually a no-no for corners, especially in the redzone. But Sherman is able to break and close ground to knock down the pass just as Jones reaches out for it. The corners are tightening down their coverage as Kal gets into the red zone.

Richard Sherman dives to catch a tipped ball on the next play to stop any hope for the Bears to get points on this drive! #9 is able to read the QB's eyes and break as soon as Riley releases the football, even though Riley is not throwing to Sherman's man. This is the real value of zone coverage, every defender should be breaking to the ball as it's being thrown. Turnovers happen as guys are reacting fast and flying to the football. What a play by the former WR!

On Kal's next possession, Riley connects with Jones for a nine-yard gain on 2nd and 10. Stanford sends #22 Bo McNally on a blitz, and Riley finds a hole in between CB Johnson Bademosi and LB Will Powers. Powers is too fast to chase a flat route, leaving an open window for the pass, and Bademosi bails too early, giving Jones too much respect, making this a very easy pass for Kevin Riley. This is not how zones are supposed to work.

After another first-down run, Riley throws a deep post pattern intended for Verran Tucker. CB Richard Sherman is in coverage, and uses his speed and long arms to close from the outside and break up the pass. Sherman does a fantastic job of timing his jump and fighting for the ball aggressively to force this incompletion.

RB Shane Vereen caps off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run and Stanford goes into the locker room up 14-10.

Overall not a bad half by the Stanford defense. We played a bend but don't break style that was able to keep Kal out of the end zone until their last drive of the half. We came up with two three-and-outs and two red zone stops in the first half. Fortunately, misfires and drops by his WRs were able to keep Riley out of rhythm so far. I'd like to point out Shane Skov and Richard Sherman with strong performances in the first half.

Third quarter

Kal marches 92 yards down the field on 11 plays to score on the opening drive of the second half. This drive was fueled mostly by intermediate passing plays from QB Kevin Riley to his WRs and TEs. On one play, Sherman was too fast in his back pedal, and the outside backer Will Powers appeared to leave his zone too early to give an easy lane for the 14-yard pickup.

A few plays later, we blitzed a safety and a linebacker, leaving only three DBs deep and two LBs underneath. On a blitz like this, we have to get home, because there are big holes in our underneath coverage. The California offensive line picks up the blitz, and Riley hits #83 Sklyar Curran for a 21-yard gain.

Next, Riley, now on fire, hits TE Anthony Miller for a 12-yard gain while being blanketed by safety Delano Howell. Howell is in zone coverage, reads Riley's eyes, and makes a break on the ball. Miller is able to use his body to shield the smaller Howell from the pass. Howell makes an athletic effort to jump over Miller and appears to maybe even get a finger on the pass before Miller hauls it in.

On the next play, Riley scrambles and buys enough time to find Verran Turner for a 12-yard gain. Sherman is in good shape, but loses Turner in the "scramble drill", as Turner breaks his route off and comes back to the QB, creating the separation needed for the completion.

Shane Vereen finishes the long drive off with a four-yard TD. Kal takes the lead 17-14.

Kal's second drive of the third quarter was the Shane Vereen show. Kevin Riley only attempted one pass, which he completed to Shane Vereen.

The longest play of this drive came on third and five, when Vereen was able to get around the corner for a 36-yard gain. On this play, safety Bo McNally takes a bad angle and loses contain, making it easy for the speedy RB to get outside of the defense. Richard Sherman shows off his speed and hustle to chase down Vereen and push him out of bounds.

On the very next play, fellow safety Delano Howell takes a horrible angle, and lets the RB get outside for an eight-yard gain, moving the ball inside the Stanford 10. Our defense appears frustrated by Kal's running attack, as guys are beginning to lose discipline in their run responsibilities. Vereen finishes off the drive with a three-yard touchdown score. We are now down 24-14.

Fourth quarter

On Kal's first drive of the fourth quarter, Sherman nearly comes away with his 2nd INT! He is playing the deep zone from off coverage, but is slow enough in his back pedal to get a great jump on Riley's pass. Sherman is showing progress throughout the year and this game by playing much tighter coverage, even when he is responsible for the deep zone. He dives in front of the pass, but is unable to come up with the INT, as WR Marvin Jones is able to haul in the pass as it brushes past Sherman's fingertips. I am excited about the aggressive play by Sherman, even though he was not able to come away with the ball.

Later in the drive, Riley hits TE Anthony Miller for a 23-yard reception. Johnson Bademosi does a nice job of sinking back and finding someone to cover, but he loses Miller as Riley scrambles and Miller works back to the QB for the reception.

A devastating late-hit penalty brings Kal down to the 12 to set up a score on their very next play. Riley hits WR Marvin Jones in between LB Shane Skov and safety Bo McNally. Skov is playing underneath Jones, and is unable to get his head around in coverage fast enough to be able to see the pass and make a play on the ball. McNally is playing over the top and is too deep to make a play on Riley's pass. Stanford trails 31-21.

Stanford's defense keeps them in the game, forcing Kal to punt after just one first down on their next drive.

On the next drive, Stanford forces the Bears into a third and 12, hoping to get the ball back to the offense fast. Instead, Riley is able to complete an 18 yard pass to Verran Tucker to pick up the first down. This is really just a beautiful pass in between the coverage of Bademosi and Yancy in Stanford's cover 2 defense. Bademosi should sink deeper because of the down and distance, making a much smaller window for Riley, and possibly altering his throw to allow Yancy, who is breaking hard on the pass, to close more ground and have a chance at breaking up the pass.

Fortunately, Stanford's defense holds and forces another punt giving the offense the ball down just three points with four minutes to go.

Sudden change! The defense is back on the field after a turnover on downs gives Kal the ball at Stanford's 23-yard line. Tedford goes pretty vanilla here, running the ball and trying to run the clock out. The defense keeps Kal out of the end zone as the Bears settle for a field goal and the game is still in reach with 2:39 to go.

We all know what happens next as Andrew Luck is intercepted and Stanford's final drive falls short. This was a very disappointing game for the Cardinal, who were flying high after back to back victories over top-ten opponents. Nevertheless, this was an exciting Big Game where we had a chance to win it at the end, even after being fairly handled on both the offense and defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, we had to watch those Dirty Golden Bears walk away with our axe again. On the plus side, looks like the team remembered this pain and used it to get ready for Notre Dame.

Here are some of my takeaways from the game:

We need some more work with our LBs in zone coverage. They need to work better as a unit and be more patient in their zones before reacting up to the short throws.

Both of our safeties need to do a better job of keeping contain and forcing plays back inside to the defense. I think these guys are trying to do too much at times when we are struggling to stop the run up front.

California was able to drive the field on us. For the most part we were able to defend the big play, but at some point somebody has to step up and create a turnover or make a big stop and get off the field.

Delano Howell again shows the ability to stop the long run by making sure tackles in the open field.

Our corners have a lot of athletic ability as they have shown this season. Now they need to really master the position.

Good to see Richard Sherman continue to make progress and make some big plays for this defense.

I was happy to see Austin Yancy come in and make some solid tackles in relief of Delano Howell.

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