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December 28, 2011

From the film room: Breaking down Cal

There have been plenty of hours spent in the film room by college coaches all across the country, and there has been plenty of time spent working a remote, or in this case a mouse, in order to watch Texas' next opponent by Orangebloods.com. The final game of the 2011 season is here for the Longhorns, which means one final look at the tendencies, players and schemes of the upcoming opponent. This time, it's the Cal Bears that get put under the microscope. What do they have in store for the Longhorns in the Holiday Bowl? Complete breakdowns thanks to footage of Cal's games against Utah, Washington and Oregon State provide this scouting report on the Bears:

OFFENSIVE THOUGHTS

In an ideal world, Jeff Tedford would like to establish a physical, downhill running game with a lead blocker and then play-action off of that running game with inclusion of the tight end in the passing game. When Cal was at its best this season, that's exactly what the Bears were doing. The only problem is that Cal wasn't able to do that nearly as often as it wanted to.

The Bears are multiple with their formations and looks. They'll run out of shotgun formations or formations under center. They'll go to the receivers or running backs in the screen game. And they'll show different looks in the passing game. You really don't get a sense of things being really predictable when watching Cal this season on offense.

However, Tedford tries to make quarterback Zach Maynard as comfortable as possible. In order for that to occur, a lot of times Tedford will cut the field in half for his young quarterback with the usage of bootlegs and sprint outs to one side of the field. This allows Maynard, who is still really raw at the decision making process involved with being a quarterback, to focus only on one side of the field. Plus, it allows the very quick, athletic quarterback to possibly use his feet to make as play as well. The downsides to this are that Maynard will stare down receivers and he's not afraid to throw across his body into forced windows.

Cal really likes to use a lead blocker in its running game, as do most teams. The fullback has been a staple in Tedford's system for a while, and that doesn't appear to be any different this year. However, unlike most years when Tedford has a traditional drop-back passer, the Bears will occasionally show some zone-read type of running out of the shotgun while also using the traditional option to attack the edge. It's not something the Bears go to often, but it is a wrinkle that will give defenses something to think about.

When Cal is able to run the football successfully, Maynard is able to spread the ball out more. When Cal can't run effectively, he'll look on to receivers all game, and other positions almost become non-existent in the passing game.

Keenan Allen is not only the best player on Cal's offense, but he's the best player that puts on a Golden Bears' uniform. In fact, it might not even be close. Allen, who is 6-3, is an outstanding receiver that Cal likes to move all over the place. He has the rare ability to line up in the slot and find holes in the zone while also being able to split out wide and challenge the defense vertically or catch the ball in the receiver screen game. You'll see Allen sitting at the line of scrimmage as a "hot" receiver. You'll see him going across the middle of the field. You'll see him attacking vertically from the split end spot. You'll see him catch a bubble screen. You'll see him … well, you get the point. He'll be everywhere.

DEFENSIVE THOUGHTS

Even though the Bears are very multiple on defense, they are a base 3-4 defensive football team. In games this season, they appeared to really allow their back seven players freedom to really attack and play freely.

Cal will show two-man and three-man fronts with down linemen on defense. That being said, it will move the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to give the appearance of more men on the line of scrimmage. The most common instance of this is the usage of the two outside linebackers walking up on the line of scrimmage, or moving an inside linebacker close to the line of scrimmage against running formations.

The Bears aren't afraid to attack, especially off the edge if they think they can get to the quarterback in passing downs. Along the defensive line, Cal liked to twist and stunt their linemen often on third down passing situations.

Since they're not afraid to attack, the Bears can be taken advantage of. Establishing a strong running attack normally forces Cal to blitz a lot more often and gamble more defensively, which leaves its secondary and linebackers susceptible to big plays in the passing game.

Against the run, Cal doesn't get off blocks well at all. Once a lineman is engaged on a linebacker, the chances are that offensive lineman will have his way with the linebacker. The 3-4 defense Cal uses is heavy with speed, which allows it to really run sideline-to-sideline, but it's extremely vulnerable in the "A" gaps in the running game because of its setup and because the linebackers don't get off blocks well.

With its defensive backs, Cal will play them near the line of scrimmage, or back them off. Against teams that really like to throw the ball vertically, you'd probably see a lot of high cover-two from the Bears. That appeared to be a staple for them defensively against teams that can really stretch the field. As for other teams, the Bears were multiple and not afraid to let the corners play press man, or back them off into a zone.

PLAYERS THAT STAND OUT

Keenan Allen (sophomore - WR) - He's got future first-round pick written all over him. When Cal lines up each snap on offense, the defense has to point out where Allen is. He's physical, fast, big, tall, and a home run threat.

Zach Maynard (junior - QB) - There are going to be chances for the defense to turn him over, but there will also be instances when Maynard makes strong plays in the passing game. He's a legit dual-threat quarterback with great athleticism for a signal caller. Maynard isn't afraid to challenge the defense and can be confused with disguised looks.

Marvin Jones (senior - WR) The 6-2 senior often gets overlooked because of Allen, but Jones is a definite play maker. In Cal's system, he'll attack defenses vertically and is a fairly strong route runner. Jones absolutely has a NFL future, and will hear his name called on draft day.

Isi Sofele (junior - RB) Although he's only 5-7, this running back can pack a bunch. As soon as he touches the football, you can see that Sofele has a good burst, and is tough to bring down with his pad level. Junior C.J. Anderson compliments Sofele in the running game, and is also a runner that wants to run with a physical nature.

Trevor Guyton (senior - DE) Guyton consistently stood out the most along the Cal defensive line with his ability to be disruptive and get up the field. At 6-3 and 285 pounds he'll make a lot of impact in the running game, but is also quick enough to get to the quarterback off the edge.

Mychal Kendricks (senior - LB) He was named the Yahoo! Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. This senior can really play from the linebacker spot, and is a tackling machine.

Steve Williams (sophomore - DB) - You can tell at times that he's still a little raw in terms of playing the position, but Williams looks like he's got a special future ahead of him. He'll gamble, but he's the one guy that quarterbacks shouldn't really pick on in the passing game, especially if he's able to play with some cushion and read what's going on in front of him.

IF I'M TEXAS, I…

For the Longhorns, it all starts with the running game no matter who the opponent is, but this is especially true for this upcoming game against Cal. Traditionally, the 3-4 defense can be attacked at the "A" gap spots, and that's where Texas needs to try to hit Cal hard and heavy. The Bears have struggled to stop the inside running game against quality rushing teams, and the Horns have proven that they can exploit that area of opposing defenses. Of course, a lot depends on the health of UT's running backs, but the Texas game plan will probably center on attacking this area.

Somehow, Texas needs to take advantage of how aggressive the Cal defense is. Against quality passing teams like Washington, the Bears got into man coverage, mistmatch situations thanks to what Washington was able to do in the running game. Texas has to try to get the tight ends involved, has to mix in some screens, and has to at least hit a couple of throws vertically. The opportunities will be there, especially against the safeties.

Defensively, Texas needs to sell out to stop the run. If that happens, Cal basically becomes one-dimensional with a quarterback that can really struggle in the passing game. The Longhorns shutting down the run would mean that Cal would almost play with half of the field in the passing game because of the usage of bootlegs. Plus, Texas' defensive ends need to be extremely disruptive off of the edge, and the outside linebackers need to make Maynard feel pressured when he rolls out. UT needs to not play with a soft cushion with its corners, and needs to take away those easy, one-read checkdown throws.

Oh, and Keenan Allen would almost need to be bracketed, especially out of the slot. Texas might be better off just assigning Carrington Byndom to him for most of the game. He and Jones are going to get a majority of the looks from Maynard, and it's almost a guarantee that Allen is always going to get the first look.

Essentially, Texas needs to be able to run the football, limit the turnovers, and force Maynard into situations where he has to throw the football against confusing defensive fronts with UT's speed at the defensive end spot disrupting him.


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