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Snap Shots: Creasing the Solid Cal Rush D

The Context

After a nice improvisational play by Cal quarterback Zach Maynard to loft a short pass to back-up running back CJ Anderson for a 74-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 10 late in the third quarter, Arizona State needed a strong countering drive to stay within reach entering the final frame.

A 27-yard pass from Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson, followed by three consecutive runs from Cameron Marshall, set up the Sun Devils just outside the Golden Bear red zone.

The Play -- 1st and 10 at Cal 24


Arizona State lines up with running backs on either side of the quarterback and three wide receivers, while Cal counters in their nickel looks w three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs, with the safeties up close to the line of scrimmage and linebackers flanking the defensive ends.


The running back to the left of Osweiler goes in motion, drawing the strong safety outside in pursuit to stop the potential swing pass, while the zero tech nose tackle lined up over the center slants inside on the ASU right guard trying to execute his reach block.


Osweiler holds the linebacker who is the end man on the line of scrimmage and the ASU defender slow plays it to force the give read, while the playside defensive end Trevor Guyton, a real load at 6-3 and 280 pounds, attacks the right tackle head up.


Guyton gets held a bit here, but the real issue is that he's lost his run fit working in concert with the defensive tackle slanting inside and the linebacker responsible for dealing with a quarterback who isn't much of a running threat. Instead of sliding into the A gap, Guyton leaves the crease for Marshall to hit, a pretty significant issue given that the Mike 'backer misses his run fit as well with the slant from the defensive tackle really eliminating both A gaps due to his penetration. The center gets to the second level and walls of the Mike easily.


By the time that Guyton tries to spin off the block, no easy feat for someone that size, Williams has hit the hole hard and is looking at a great deal of green grass in front of him.


The free safety starts running his alley to contest Williams, but breaks down on a little shimmy from the ASU back and gets caught flat-footed.


Williams is faster at top speed than the safety is quick laterally, leaving Williams uncontested for the final 10 yards.


The Takeaway

There are some breakdowns here for the Cal defensive front in handling gap responsibilities and making the proper fits, with Guyton and the Mike 'backer seemingly not aware of how the slant from the defensive tackle impacts where they need to be. It's a pretty fundamental breakdown and one that costs a touchdown at a critical point of the game.

And though the Cal safeties mostly had a solid game, missing open-field tackles as the last line of defense is hardly the hallmark of a successful defense.

Oddly enough, despite a solid Rushing S&P+ ranking of 44th in the country and a similar ranking of 42nd in avoiding giving up rushes of 10 or more yards, the Golden Bears did have some issues giving up runs of 20 or more yards, which accounted for about 40% of all long runs and ranked 92nd in the country, a major statistical outlier for a team that generally performed pretty well defensively.

Almost half of those runs of 20 or more yards went for 30 or more, indicating that when Cal got gashed defensively on the ground, the breakdowns were pretty significant and probably the result of multiple players making mistakes.

What it means for Texas

Since Cal plays three defensive lineman who are all essentially the weight of a defensive tackle, it could be hard for the interior of the Texas offensive line to get consistent movement on the power-running plays like the iso and Power O that make up the backbone of the rushing attack.

Instead, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and the Texas offensive line may be better served running the zone scheme used here by Arizona State to get the defensive linemen moving laterally and take advantage of any issues in fitting gaps, which isn't stressed to the same extent on man blocking plays. Unfortunately for Texas, the best zone back on the team has a couple shredded ligaments.

Part of what made this play happen, however, is the motion from the running back that vacated the other safety and allowed Williams the opportunity to score a touchdown after making only one defender miss. Expect DJ Monroe to play a significant role for the Longhorns as a decoy with the same type of motion, just coming from a slightly different spot.

The other question is whether Longhorn running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron can make the free safety miss in a one-on-one situation. It's not a particular strength for Brown, who has had some issues breaking long runs. Bergeron, on the other hand, has a bit more fluid hips that give him a little more slipperiness in those situations.

In terms of numbers, if Texas does want to use a fair amount of zone blocking, it would make sense to more heavily include David Ash in the gameplan to option off another defender to get better numbers in the box. Not forcing Osweiler to keep the ball doesn't make much sense from the Cal defensive standpoint, but expect a bit more coherent scheme with more preparation time against Ash, who could be given a keep read on those plays -- at least that's the play that makes the most sense for the Golden Bears.

As the Longhorns try to emphasize the running game and take pressure off of the quarterbacks and attempt to generate some opportunities for play-action passes, finding some creases against the stout Cal front and creating explosive running plays will be a key to offensive success for a group that plays poorly behind the chains.