Cal 'spreads' the wealth

California coach Jeff Tedford has had one of the nation's most productive offenses over the past few seasons. But that wasn't good enough. Tedford wanted more. So he ventured to the Midwest to hire Northwestern's Mike Dunbar to incorporate the spread option into the Bears' attack.

How has the hybrid offense meshed? The early returns are positive, but the proof will be in the pudding Sept. 2 when the rising Pac-10 power faces the rebuilding Tennessee Vols in Neyland Stadium.

``I think there's always a transitional period of time.'' Dunbar said. ``But I think it's gone pretty well. We've had all spring and (most of August). We're not reinventing anything here.''

The emphasis of the spread is different from one program to the next. Last year at West Virginia, 70 percent of the yardage was generated by the running game. At Oregon, 70 percent of the total offense came from the passing game.

At California, Dunbar said the spread-option is designed to help the running game, not feed the passing attack.

``When we were at Northwestern, we originally went to the spread with the idea we could keep people honest and make them cover us in the passing game and create running lanes,'' Dunbar said. ``Some people go to the spread to throw the football. We went to the spread predominantly to run the football, and we're trying to do the same thing at Cal.''

And why not? When you've got talents like Marshawn Lynch (1,246 yards) and Notre Dame transfer Justin Forsett (999 yards), you'd be foolish to ignore their abilities. Lynch is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and Forsett averaged more than 200 yards in two starts for the injured Lynch.

Cal, which averaged 235 rushing yards per game last season, plans to run from the spread and the I.

``Lynch has obviously proven he can run from the I,'' Dunbar said. ``He has great instincts and vision from the I. But I think he'll find a tremendous advantage in running lanes created from the spread offense.''

Cal will start Nate Longshore at quarterback with Joe Ayoob as the backup. Longshore won the job last year but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the opener. Ayoob took over, but lost the job the last two games as he struggled with the system.

Longshore is 6-4, 230 and has a strong arm, but he's not mobile. Ayoob is more mobile but he won't be mistaken for Vince Young.

Dunbar said there is a misconception that the quarterback in the spread has to be a good runner.

``A lot of people think the spread is all about the quarterback option or quarterback run, which it can be, as was demonstrated by West Virginia,'' Dunbar said. ``At the same time, the spread is a great opportunity for the quarterback who might not have the athletic ability to run the option to take advantage of throwing lanes and some running lanes.

``We're asking our quarterback to make good decisions, see the numbers in the box and take advantage of those various numbers.''

That means pass or run depending on how many defenders are in the box.

Dunbar points to the success of Northwestern's Brett Basanez, who could see the field, get the Wildcats in the right play and keep defenses honest with an occasional run.

Dunbar said the spread option can be an equalizer for an offense that doesn't have exceptional talent. But he also thinks the spread can be explosive for an offense that has ``outstanding'' personnel, which Cal has.

``We have some tremendous talent, and we think we can maximize that individual talent into a great team effort,'' Dunbar said. ``We have some skill at wide receiver. We have some people that can run and make things happen in space.''

Dunbar said whether his quarterback is quick or slow, he'll run the option to keep the defense honest.

In the spread, is it more important to make a defense defend the entire field or exploit favorable matchups?

``A little bit of both,'' Dunbar said. ``We want to make defenses defend the whole field so the option will be a part of our game. At the same time, we want to be able to take advantage of the numbers and matchups.''

Dunbar said the spread helps reduce sacks because defenses are leery of blitzing against an option team.

``We measure five key areas every week and one of those areas is sacks,'' Dunbar said. ``That's an area of focus. We throw a lot of quick game and move the pocket and have various outlets. We don't want to stand back there in the pocket and allow people to hit the quarterback.''

Not only did Tedford hire Dunbar to operate the spread, Dunbar will call plays.

``That's a popular question out here,'' Dunbar said of the play calling duties. ``He and I discussed it at great length. Coach Tedford will be involved. I've been in this business long enough to realize five or six heads are better than one.''

Inside Tennessee Top Stories