Cal Game Realities

How did the realities of the California game hold up against last week's expectations? Here's a detailed analysis, including a breakdown of the offensive play-calling and its production on different downs...

Thank goodness for Tyler Fredrickson.

I can't read lips, but that is what Karl Dorrell seemed to be mumbling as he raised his arms and eyes skywards and pointed straight up. If there are answers up there, bring'em down quick, Karl!

One thing he does know is that Cal lost to UCLA 23-20, although the Cal Golden Bears dominated play from scrimmage without the benefit of comparable talent.

When it comes to the ability to dodge bullets (or field goals, as it were), I'm undecided as to whether the Bruins are more like Neo or Vincent Vega/Jules Winfield. Whichever, this is now three games that the Bruins have won because of errors by the opponent in the place-kicking game. Which helps to explain why fans are behaving like followers of a 2-5 team instead of 5-2 team that happens to be 3-0 in the Pac-10 and tied for first place.

I guess now we know how Notre Dame fans felt last year. Or how Ohio State fans feel this year.

Things are so bad in Columbus that Jim Tressel has taken to telling the fans how to feel and what to think after a 19-10 "victory" over #9 Iowa: "Don't be disappointed. That was a good football game." Who are the Buckeye fans supposed to believe, Tressel or their lying eyes? Ohio State did win the all-important felony assault battle, 2 to 1. Good thing Tressel wears a tie, a vest and painfully lacquered hair or someone at ESPN might have the ‘nads to criticize his program.

The Bruin coaching staffs in recent years haven't earned high grades for mimicking CFB's hottest innovations, but to whomever convinced UCLA to implement the middle block on FG attempts after the Oregon game last year…thank you, sir, thank you!

The next prediction contest on the board should be predicting the amount of alcohol Jeff Tedford consumed on Saturday night. Bonus points: correctly guess the size of his ulcer. It's games like this that will drive Teddy to the pros at the first opportunity.

Once again, the Bruins won because the defense was able to hang on by the skin of its teeth, while the Bruins unveiled Prevent Offense 2003 (courtesy of EA Sports: "if it's in the game, don't expect to find it here"), which was largely ineffective all game long.

The Golden Bears outgained the Bruins 397 (77 plays) to 228 (59 plays). The offense's output and ability to stay on the field was even worse than I feared it would be. Was it the fault of predictably running on 1st down over and over? You might be surprised.

In the 1st half, UCLA had nine 1st and 10 plays: they ran seven times, and tried to pass twice. Once, Drew Olson was sacked (and he had another carry on a fumbled snap). The one time he was able to get a pass off, he threw a 31-yard touchdown to Marcedes Lewis off of a play-action fake.

On those seven 1st down runs by choice, UCLA gained five yards. Even wannabe UCLA PoliSci majors know that that's less than a yard a carry. Or not. But everybody could see that The Bludgeon, Manuel White, only toted the pig on one of those carries.

So what, UCLA only generated 36 yards on nine 1st and 10s in the 1st half, a four yard average. The theory is that 1-yard 1st down runs lead to 10-yard 1st down runs in the 2nd half, as the constant pounding eventually bursts the dam. Did the theory hold?

Kinda, but not enough to make a material difference. In the 2nd half, UCLA had 15 1st and 10s. They ran 13 times, and passed twice. They gained 81 yards on those 13 carries, for an average of 6.2 yards/carry. The two passes were both complete, for a total of 47 yards, an average of 23.5 yards/pass. The 2nd half average improved, rising to 8.5 yards/play. Unfortunately, UCLA only scored one offensive TD in the 2nd half, as many as it scored in the 1st half.

All told, UCLA ran the ball 83% of the time on 1st and 10 (20 of 24 times), and averaged 6.8 yards/play overall. If you thought UCLA was running the ball on 1st down all the time, you were wrong. Only 80+% of the time. I know, nobody likes a math geek.

Before the season started, visions of crisp, smart passes on 1st down to UCLA's plethora of receiving threats (including the RBs, a passing game resource apparently confined to the dustbin of history) to create 2nd and short situations where the O would have the D at its mercy danced through the heads of those who had seen the so-much-more-sophisticated-than-BT's-O horizontal passing attack implemented and refined during spring and fall camps. We saw that vision come to fruition today. Unfortunately, it was Cal adopting this strategy, not UCLA.

In comparison to UCLA, Cal had 14 1st and 10s in the 1st half. They tried to throw the ball nine of those times (64%); Aaron Rodgers completed 3 of 5 attempts for 37 yards, most on short hitches and outs to WRs taking advantage of the large cushion UCLA's CBs were providing. Rodgers was sacked twice for -11, and scrambled twice for 6 yards. When Cal tried to run the ball on 1st down, they did no better than UCLA did. Five carries, 7 yards, 1.4 yards/carry average. All told, 39 total yards on 14 plays, 2.8 average.

In the 2nd half, Cal had 15 tries. They passed 12 times, and ran 3. Rodgers was 6 of 8 on 1st down, for 59 yards, a 7.4 average. He was forced to scramble three times, for 14 yards, and was sacked once, for -6. All told, Cal gained 67 yards on 1st and 10 in the 2nd half, an average of 4.5.

Overall, on 1st and 10 for the game, Cal gained 106 yards on 29 plays, an average of 3.7, passing the ball 72% of the time.

Wow. UCLA averages 6.8 yards/play running the ball 83% of the time, and Cal only averages 3.7 yards/play passing the ball 72% of the time. Looks like UCLA clearly won the battle of first down. With that advantage, why couldn't UCLA execute the ‘4-minute' offense at the end of the game to put the game out of reach and deny Cal the chance to tie the game?

Why did Cal win the game everywhere but on the scoreboard? Why did Cal have an 11-minute edge in time of possession? Why did Cal run 18 more plays and gain 169 more yards?

The mystery deepens when you consider that UCLA also won the battle of 3rd down: Cal was only 4 of 16 on the day on 3rd down, while UCLA was 7 for 16, a respectable, not great, average. So the culprit must be 2nd down. Check it out going forward.

Now, harken back to the speech Bob Stoops gave to his colleagues at the AFCA convention for more insight: "We really didn't have a quarterback on campus when we arrived. We started with making sure our throwing game was what it needed to be. I believe, in today's college football, to win big, to win championships, you've got to be able to throw every bit as well as you rush the football."

Cal passed the ball 55% of the time and gained 397 yards overall. UCLA only passed the ball 33% of the time for 228 yards overall. Every pass play has much more potential for real yardage than a running play does, especially if the running plays are extremely repetitive and predictable. And every pass completion has a greater chance of putting a defender in a position where he has to make a one-on-one tackle in space than a run up the middle does. Also, an athletic QB has the potential to elude the rush and make back-breaking plays with his feet.

The D uses a great amount of energy rushing the passer and covering/tackling receivers. Maybe more than defending a run. That's why passing in the 1st half to get a lead, so that you can run and pass in 2nd half once you've gotten the D tired, is the predominant strategy seen today among teams that are winning big with O. Here's Purdue's HC Joe Tiller on the subject, after Purdue beat Wisconsin 26-23 behind a 38 of 55 for 411 yards effort by QB Kyle Orton: "They basically took the run away from us. [So] we planned to throw it early and throw it often. We hoped to tire them out." WRs Taylor Stubblefield and John Standeford had 16 and 14 catches, respectively, or more than Marcedes Lewis has caught in 20 games as a Bruin.

Speaking of tired defenses: UCLA definitely does NOT apply. The physical fitness of the guys on defense is insane. Dave and Mat Ball were still delivering a great rush late in the game. The LBs, Brandon Chillar, Justin London and Spencer Havner, had incredible amounts in their tanks at game's end, judging by their end-of-game efforts.

Just look at JLon's incredible 3rd down play in OT: blitz from the outside like a banshee, almost sack Rodgers, get flung to the ground, then get up and run down Adimchinobe Echemandu for a 9-yard loss, forcing a 50-yard FG attempt that just misses.

Another example: Chillar was right back in the game after his 65-yard blocked kick return for TD. He wasn't even blowing hard after the run. Compare this to Wisconsin's Jeff Mack, a Butkus semi-finalist. The 246-lb. Mack, who hits like a truck, intercepted a pop-up on an Alex Lewis (another Butkus semi-finalist with 5 sacks on the day) hit, and rumbled 55 yards for a TD. Mack then had to sit out a series because he couldn't catch his breath. I'd say there's a difference in fitness level.

There are two things responsible for UCLA's 5-2 record, IMO: 1) the pass rush, and 2) the team's fitness level courtesy of Doc Kreis and the work the team did in the off-season, and now in-season.

But back to the central question: why did UCLA have a 2:1 run/pass ratio with Drew Olson at QB? Would it be 2:1 if Matt Moore were QB? Why is UCLA afraid to have Olson throw the ball?

Yes, there were 6 sacks for -65 yards. Some of those were protection breakdowns. Some were Olson's inability to pull the trigger. One of the sacks resulted in a big fumble for loss. So attempting to pass is risky because Olson's wheels and decision-making are suspect, and the pass blocking (OL and RBs) isn't dominant.

On the bright side, since there were only 9 completions, each one was memorable. Craig Bragg only caught two balls, but one was a great out that set-up Marc Lewis' TD catch. The second was the bomb for the TD where CBra used an incredibly cagey move to position himself to catch the ball. Bragg slightly slowed so that he could catch the ball with arms outstretched, ensuring the defender would have to go through him to make a play, almost guaranteeing a PI or a TD.

Marc Lewis had his most productive receiving game since the CU game, with 4 catches for 67 yards and one TD. Happily, every catch Marc made were with his big mitts and therefore solid as a rock. His 3rd and 10 snag of a slant late in the 4th quarter was, I hoped, the game clincher, the snag that eluded UCLA in Boulder (or UCLA might be 6-1 and competing with Ohio State for least entertaining top 25 team).

Speaking of catching the ball with the hands: Junior Taylor's (2 for 49) grabs show he's been spending time on the ball machine with Bragg. He's a very reliable receiver, at least until he drops one. But his biggest hands play was recovering the muff that occurred when a Cal gunner ran into Craig Bragg. (What a terrible call. The gunner would have hit Bragg whether Nnamdi Ohaeri was there or not. Bring back the halo rule! And give the refs in BCS conference games replay monitors!) Junior gets the Fast Eddie Felton "Hustle" Play!

However, Ryan Smith continues to be plagued with dropitis. Two drops today combined with two holding penalties (including the one that nullified Tyler Ebell's 82 yard TD run) equals one of Rhino's less than good games. The tape of the game clearly shows Smith's hands outside the shoulder pads and clutching jersey of the DB he's blocking. He had come in motion from east to west, and was clearly visible to the referee, who is the official who threw the flag in both cases. As noted previously, the blocking technique being taught needs to change. If you're going to hold, grab the numbers and pull the defender to you. Or dive at the defender's ankles and get the uni dirty.

Some observations on the game:

- Cal exploited the soft cushion the CBs played time after time with short hitches. I'm surprised that the DEs aren't dropped into the out/hitch route, instead of just the slant route, on zone blitzes. Maybe next week…or for the USC game. Some might want to pillory Keith Short and Matt Clark, but I'm beyond it now. It is what it is. Larry Kerr is determined to make the opposition earn it, following in the Bruin DC tradition of Nick Alioti, Bob Field, and Phil Snow.

- The Bruins waste too many plays on O. Dick Vermeil maintains that Super Bowl teams average 50 positive plays on O a game during their seasons. Out of 59 plays (including the play where UCLA drew a PI), UCLA only had 25 "positive" plays: plays that went for 3+ or got a 1st down/TD. That's 34 wasted plays, or 58% of the time. Want to know why the 1st half was brutal? Sixteen of the 23 plays were wasted (70%). In the 2nd half and OT, UCLA ran 36 plays (50% more), and was equally balanced between positive and wasted.

- More on positive-to-wasted plays: The Bruins scored TDs on their first possession of each half. In the 1st half, the seven play drive had three positive plays that overcame four wasted plays, not exactly an overwhelming drive, but the Bruins moved in big chunks. To start the 3rd quarter, the Bruins had positive plays on five of seven, and actually had four positive plays in a row. However, it still took an extraordinarily positive play (the 40-yard bomb on 3rd and 10) to pull off the TD. There was one drive in the 3rd quarter where UCLA started off with four positive plays, but back-to-back wasted plays killed the drive. And with 11:47 left in the 4th quarter, UCLA actually (gasp!) had five positive plays in a row, but then followed those with three consecutive duds to crush the drive. The five positive plays only moved the ball 38 yards, a reflection of the play calling's inability to capitalize on having the D on its heels.

- The D tackled extremely well. After the "Zone Out in ‘Zona," where the Bruins missed 37 tackles by Kerr's count, the Bruins missed very few, or the outcome would have surely been different.

- The D needs to try to strip the ball more. There were many times where the ball carrier was stood up, and the 3rd guy into the pile tried to put the carrier on the ground instead of ripping for the ball. Including the Cal game, UCLA has 14 picks, but only 4 fumble recoveries, last in the Pac-10. Chillar and Ball showed the presence of mind to attempt strips when they had the ball carrier nailed, but they were the exceptions.

- The crowd was tiny. Theories range from quality of offense UCLA is displaying to game time/weather. You decide. After 68,000 for UW, I was expecting 70K, but I failed to account for Cal's poor ability to travel.

- UCLA probably leads the nation in face mask penalties.

- Often the DL who makes the play doesn't get the sack. Rodney Leisle one time drove the LG into Rodgers' lap, forcing him to move up into the pocket, which allowed Dave Ball to get an angle on the LT and scrape left to make the sack. Many times Mat Ball gets to the QB first, but because a right-handed QB can see Mat coming, he's better able to elude the first wave, but the second often gets him. Pass rushing is a team sport, individual stats aside. If the umpire/referee ever decides to call all the holding being done to UCLA's "Baby Bull" DL, the opponent might have 200 yards in penalties. Hook'em, Horns.

- Jarrad Page was a man to play the whole game.

- Monte Parson, the 6-3, 265 lb. DE, terrorized UCLA all game. He had three tackles for loss (29 yards) including two sacks, forced a fumble on a vicious "Look Out!" sack of Olson while he was locked on to the right side of the field, and batted down two passes.

- Chris Kluwe had a momentum-changing punt when he launched one 58 yards from the end zone, carrying the ball over the returner's head and allowing no chance for another return for a TD. Chris averaged 45.6 on seven punts, a great day. One of his best kicks (came down on 10) was negated by a false start penalty, and asked to try again, the second one went into the end zone. I always fear a bad snap on 2nd-time punts.

- At one point, Cal had run 29 plays from scrimmage compared to only 13 for UCLA.

- After Chillar's TD, Cal seemed to deflate. They quickly went 3 and out. The botched call on the return interference would have made a huge difference if Taylor hadn't recovered. Unfortunately, Cal regained its focus because UCLA didn't drive the stake home when it had the chance.

- There's no rule about being allowed to run a successful play only once. That deep middle by Taylor courtesy of Smith clearing out the zone by going deep up the seam? Maybe once a quarter. Even try it to the left!

- UCLA has a vulnerability to post patterns by the inside receiver when it is in its cover 2, 5 under zone. UCLA's safeties tend to shade too far outside, allowing the inside receiver to get inside position, and the MLB can't really be expected to make this play more than 50% of the time. Not only did Burl Toler score the miracle TD on this play, but Vincent Strang was also open just a play or two prior.

- Why did the clock stop on 2nd and 8 run by Tyler Ebell for no yards late in the 4th quarter? And I hope Lorenzo Alexander was truly dinged when an injury timeout was called on the same drive. No comment about whom Keith Jackson might have been channeling when he kept referring to "times out," even after he apologized for the egregious grammatical error. Hey, he's 75 years old, he can say what he wants.

- Dave Ball is a great pass rusher. His 3rd sack was my favorite: last drive of game, and he still has the juice to blow through a TE and RB to scrotum Rodgers. Just imagine what will happen if he gets unshackled in future games?

- The RBs have almost completely disappeared from the passing O. I liked the DO better when he would occasionally check down to the RB instead of trying to force one into Smith or Bragg.

- Adimchinobe Echemandu was held completely in check running the ball. 42 net yards on 15 carries for a paltry 2.8 yard average. Nice job from the D. Teddy did compensate a little by getting AE the ball seven times on receptions for 33 yards, including a critical 18 that helped Cal convert a 2nd and 28 situation that was reminiscent of the horrific 2001 Oregon State game.

- Justin Medlock, true enough, nailed his FG from the left hash, having missed his two prior attempts from that side, one pushed, one pulled. Medlock, or Goldilocks?

- I hope UCLA re-evaluates the substitution pattern on the DL. It's clear the staff has lost faith in the unit as a whole, given how little they saw the field despite how and fatigued the starting DL was by game's end. Wasting Asi Faoa and CJ Niusulu on the sidelines makes no sense. Without the pass rush by the "Baby Bulls," UCLA is 2-5 on the year, and how much longer will they be able to sustain this pace before getting dinged? Singular substitutions seem to be in order.

Are we having fun yet or what?

I expected the Bruins to win a nail-biter, 24-21, so I wasn't far off.

The week ahead will be a difficult one media- and fan-wise for Karl Dorrell as questions about the starting QB, the play-calling and the overall philosophy guiding the offense are sounded ad infinitum. Who knows why Matt Moore didn't see the field? Maybe it was an oversight. Maybe it was to send a message. Maybe it was dictated by game circumstances, although that one is hard to understand because UCLA wasn't exactly lighting it up. Maybe Dorrell doesn't want to tip his hand about UCLA's true capabilities while still in the 3rd quarter of the season, with the all-important 4th quarter still ahead. For my money, I'd like to see the guy who won the job in camp get a chance to start another game.

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