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Shooting From The Rewatch: Defense (WhatTheF***ening Edition)

NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The first loss of the Longhorn season is on the books, and that means a wave of anguish, panic, righteous recriminations and deeply-held grievances are surging to the fore right on schedule.

There’s no overall defense for a defensive effort that surrendered a smooth half a hundred, even when accounting for cocked-up Circadian rhythms against a high-functioning Air Raid attack on the road. But preventing similar defensive disaster means delving into the unpleasant task of figuring out exactly what went wrong and how to get it squared away in short order. With that in mind, let’s take a shudder-filled walk down memory lane and diagnose the eight most crippling moments that put the mauling in Bear Raid for Texas. The charges have been laid in public court:

  • Over-complicated and confusing coverages, just like we’ve always had...except for 2014 and 2015?
  • Telegraphed blitzes and an overall ineffective rush
  • Inability to align properly and relate to the screen game
  • Lost and overmatched safeties
  • Getting out-planned and out-called
  • Simple player error
  • Auggghhh
  • I want to die
  • Fire everyone now

Let’s see which ones have merit as we shoot (hopefully not ourselves) from the Rewatch:

Lost In Space, Part 1

The Play: Second Quarter, 10:30 remaining, Cal on the Texas 43

The Outcome: A 38-yard completion to Chad Hansen that set Cal up inside the Texas 5.

The Rush: We sent five against an empty set and the overload brough Freeman free off the edge – he hit Webb as he released the ball 1.9 seconds after the snap. We got what we wanted here.

The Coverage: As best I can tell this is Cover 1/Man Free with Jason Hall working as the centerfield safety. It looks like everyone is relating to their receivers in tight man coverage…well, except for Sheroid Evans

The Problem: There were five receivers and five underneath DBs – four of them stuck tight to their men and would have forced an absolutely perfect pressure throw to surrender a completion.

The Verdict: This is mindlessness by #1. The only conceivable things he could be doing on this play were (almost certainly) man coverage or (very slight chance of) Cover 3 deep third responsibility – and neither of those options are exotic or complex in any way and neither remotely asks the DB to peek into the backfield.

Here’s the chalkboard view:

Here’s the rush:

...and here’s the coverage bust.

Tunnel Trouble

The Play: Second Quarter, 5:18 remaining, Cal on the Texas 44

The Outcome: 15 yards on the tunnel screen to move the ball inside the Longhorn 30.

The Rush: We sent four with Roach attacking an A gap from behind the LOS and Wheeler bluffing a blitz before locking on to the running back. The ball got out in 1.7 seconds including a fake toss to the RB before Webb came back to his receiver on the tunnel screen. They were happy to let us into the backfield on this one.

The Coverage: This looked like Cover Three based on the way Davis started to bail back at the snap on the boundary and the fact that we had Hall floating in a zone between the split-out twins and the box. Wheeler certainly seemed to think he was in man, though, as he sprinted after the back’s first motion despite Hall sitting outside of him with what looked like a short zone responsibility. Had this been a RB screen, Wheeler would have been all over it. Unfortunately…

The Problem: We were in trouble from the jump on this one since the field just wasn’t balanced against that kind of bubble screen. The trouble was compounded when the closest available linebacker in Wheeler went zooming away from the play – just hard to tell how responsibilities should have been divvied here but he and Hall essentially double covered the back while the receiver took off.

The Verdict: An early blitz declaration and unbalanced alignment got us in trouble here – even though we ultimately backed one potential blitzer out into coverage we never showed Webb anything but the prospect of green grass where the ball was going. Quicker recognition from Hughes might have minimized the gain some, but that was about our only shot.

Here’s the chalkboard view:

And here’s the play:

Wheel Trouble

The Play: Second Quarter, 5:03 remaining, Cal 2nd and 10 from the Texas 29

The Outcome: A largely uncontested 29-yard TD strike up the left sideline.

The Rush: Texas sent five with Wheeler blitzing in a reasonably non-telegraphed fashion from the Mike spot. Cottrell came free and the pass got off in 2.6 seconds – reasonable job on the rush, but again a guy was screaming open.

The Coverage: I wouldn’t testify to this in a court of law, but this feels like a Cover Two. Both safeties drop back to deep halves at the snap, Evans is content to bump Hansen and let him go by on the field side, Hill never makes any effort to drop deep or stick to a man, Locke looks like he’s in a zone and starts dropping deeper once he sees both outside receivers are going deep and Bonney looks to be in a short zone and picks up the H-back as he breaks back to the field.

The Problem: Again it’s tough to tell precisely what the coverage was here, but if it was Cover Two Hall should have stayed over the deepest receiver to the boundary but got snookered up by the dig route and let Stovall sail free and clear up the sideline.

The Verdict: If I had to call it this one is on Hall, but it’s also possible that Texas was in a Quarters call to that side and Hill just utterly blew his assignment. Call this one a coin flip without the benefit of being in the Texas film room on Monday.

Here’s the chalkboard view:

And here’s the play in real time:

With another look from the broadcast replay:


The Play: Second Quarter, 1:02 remaining, Cal on the Texas 23

The Outcome: A basically free 29-yard TD up the right sideline that staked Cal to a 35-33 lead going into the half.

The Rush: This was a classic Fire Zone look as we sent five rushers (including the patented Malik patty-cake the guard and accept blocking special) while dropping into zones behind it. Malik was picked up and five had trouble against a seven-man protection. Omenihu started to break through the double team, but the ball was out in 2.7 seconds and…stop me if you’ve heard this one…the guy was open.

The Coverage: We dropped into a 3-3 zone, with the safeties rolling back into deep thirds and Sheroid Evans responsible for the deep third to the field side. This is pure DGBD stuff – Don’t Get Beat Deep.

The Problem: We Got Geat Deep. We never got a clear replay to see exactly how Sheroid got shook, but by the time the camera found him Hansen was two yards clear and hauling in a cake and candy TD.

The Verdict: This is probably poor coverage technique and simply getting cooked – it’s something that you can’t let happen when you’ve got a deep third. It was a lot more fun watching this happen to Notre Dame’s corners than it was watching it happen to ours.

Here’s Chalkboard-Vision:

And here’s the damage in broadcast:

...with a bonus replay that doesn’t really show how Evans got cooked, but if I have to suffer through this shit then so do you:

Getting Outjumped: Easier When You Don’t Jump

The Play: Fourth Quarter, 12:56 remaining, Cal with the ball on their own 41

The Outcome: A wild-ass 28-yard toe tap up the right sideline.

The Rush: We sent four with Hager coming off the edge, which freed Omenihu from having to battle the tackle from a I alignment and let him thrash the guard. As Webb drifted right, Poona came free from the tackle and they sandwiched Webb 2.5 seconds after the snap. Which normally works just fine, but…

The Coverage: The camera angle was so tight on this that it’s damn difficult to tell what was going on coverage-wise. It looked like Haines drifted to center field right at the snap, which kept him from getting over to the sideline throw in time. Boyd had outside coverage on Hansen, and there’s no coverage on Earth where the outside corner releases his man deep with a lone center field safety, but as we see the ball come in Boyd has his back turned to Hansen.

The Problem: Boyd either didn’t know the coverage and thought he had a safety over the top on his half of the field, or he made a mindlessly aggressive move to the ball out of man coverage and totally misplayed the thing.

The Verdict: There’s no legitimate view of the secondary on this one, but if I’m forced to guess this one is on Boyd with a misunderstanding of the coverage or a wild misplay on the ball. If he’s close to Hansen and gives him an excuse-me nudge as the ball comes in, it’s out of bounds and 2nd and 10.

Here’s a sort of guess at what guys were doing in coverage:

And here’s the play in real time:

With a sideline look at the ridiculousness of the catch:

We Only Need TEN Men! Oh Wait...

The Play: Fourth Quarter, 11:21 remaining, Cal with the ball 1st and 10 on the Texas 21

The Outcome: A two-on-one fast break up the right sideline for a wheel route catch that set Cal up inside the two yard line.

The Rush: We sent four, one of whom was Roach sprinting on to the field late. Malik faked a blitz and then drifted out towards a fake receiver screen. Webb had an ample 2.9 seconds to throw, which is unsurprising since one of our rushers started his move from the sideline.

The Coverage: This looked like Hill had Cover Three responsibility to the field side, but he was boned by numbers as two guys came free deep on a switch and he could only cover one of them. He made a good break back to the ball, but it was a great throw out of reach. Locke had to attack the receiver screen action since there was no one else out there.

The Problem: This thing looked to be boned by Roach’s late arrival – he was likely set to flank Hughes on the other side of the formation which would have given Malik the ability to float out to the screen action and, by extension, allowed Locke to stay with one of the vertical routes.

The Verdict: Looks like pure sideline confusion played a major role in this one as trying to cover three with two on the field side never had a hope in hell of working.

Here’s a chalkboard look at these antics:

And the chaos revealed broadcast-style:

CHOMP - We Bit On That

The Play: Fourth Quarter, 5:01 remaining, Cal with the ball 2nd and 10 on their own 35

The Outcome: 30 yards right up the seam on a slant and go to tee up Cal at the Longhorn 35.

The Rush: A five-man pressure with Hall dropping down from strong safety and blitzing the edge. Webb had time to throw, aided by the fact that he released the ball a full ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. Omenihu got close, but not close enough.

The Coverage: This was likely supposed to be a 3-3 Fire Zone based on Haines’ drift back and Hill’s zone-type drop with the boundary receiver. Whatever the coverage responsibilities, all three nominal linebackers bit hard on the screen fake to the H-back.

The Problem: That mean that the slot receiver got a free release up the seam – no one carried him up and Haines was late to recognize the threat (and compounded it by leaping and trying to burrow into the turf rather than laying a hand on the receiver after he made the catch).

The Verdict: It’s likely that Malik blew his assignment of carrying the slot up the seam when he bit on the screen fake. Haines can be forgiven for drifting towards Hansen with the expectation that the slot wouldn’t be running totally free and clear, but if you want this play to go for 15 yards instead of 30 you need someone beside 14 in the middle of the field. There’s also a tip-your-cap component to this one – it’s a really well designed play from Dykes and Spavital.

Here’s the X and O look:

And the most open receiver you’re ever likely to see in BroadcastVision:

Coffin, Meet Nail

The Play: Fourth Quarter, 3:46 remaining, Cal with the ball 1st and 10 on the Texas 12.

The Outcome: A drastically simple slant route touchdown that staked Cal to the winning margin.

The Rush: A five-man Fire Zone pressure with Wheeler coming off one edge and Hager dropping back into a short zone. This one featured a T-T stunt that guys were too tired to execute properly and had the insalubrious effect of jamming three rushers into a couple of clogged A gaps while opening a clean throwing lane for Webb. Most disappointing rush effort of the night.

The Coverage: A 3-3 Fire Zone coverage that just made no sense in the shadow of your own goalpost.

The Problem: Cal’s effective slant/flat switch on the boundary is an effective call against man coverage down close, but it’s absolute stealing against a 3-3 zone. A corner who’s trained to drop back into a (relatively) deep zone at the snap has no shot of getting onto a well-run slant, and a centerfield safety leaves you effectively playing eleven on ten as he can’t effectively get to ANY short throw.

The Verdict: This was a bad coverage call for the situation, pure and simple, and the design of the rush compounded the error by opening a throwing lane and preventing Wheeler from dropping back to be around the guy who was far and away Cal’s most dangerous threat in Hansen. There have been plenty of calls for simple press man since early Sunday AM. Those who think it’s a global panacea against the Air Raid don’t know much ball, but it’s well worth mixing in more often than we saw against Cal…and a damn sight better call than a three-under zone inside the fifteen.

Here’s Chalkboard Time:

And how it looked from your TV screen:

With a closer look at just how easily Hansen came open against the zone (feat. bonus window glare):

Bonus Screen Boning

The above were going to be all she wrote for this piece, but as the article got locked up in a [redacted redacted redacted] SBNation site maintenance this morning I decided to go back to the first quarter and grab one more. I’m sure you’ll thank me once you get to re-live this one.

The Play: First Quarter, 3:24 remaining, Cal with the ball 1st and 10 on their own 34

The Outcome: 24 yards up the right sideline to take the ball into Texas territory.

The Rush: Just a three-man rush from the down DL here – the timing of the rush was kind of irrelevant since they were obviously let through on the screen.

The Coverage: Probably a three-deep, as Evans was bailing back at the snap with Kevin Vaccaro starting to drop down. Honestly all three DB’s to the playside did a pretty decent job of recognizing the throwback screen and attacking, but they ran into a wall of blockers.

The Problem: The player who we most rely on to fly out to the flats and disrupt this kind of thing is the one who took the most false steps here. Malik drifted towards the the action of the back flaring out to the field side, and by the time he recognized the screen to the boundary it was too late. The tough thing here is Malik had Wheeler lined up outside him and also going with the back – that’s one where you have to trust your teammates and stay home a little longer against a team that’s put plenty of misdirection on film.

The Verdict: This was another well-designed and frankly pretty play from the Bears, and we weren’t done in by unbalanced alignment or particularly poor reactions from the DBs. Tunnel screens screw up previously sound alignments and assignments in a real hurry, though, and your interior players have to have a sense of field balance and stay aware when a team has a history of breaking them out.

Here’s how it was drawn up:

And live in all its gory glory:

The Final Verdict

With the evidence in hand, let’s see how each of the charges hold up:

  • Over-complicated and confusing coverages, just like we’ve always had...except for 2014 and 2015? - There’s no question that guys were battling confusion in a few cases. The wheel route TD in the first quarter and the sideline ball to Hansen looked for all the world like different guys were playing different coverages, and on the 30-yard seam route Malik either didn’t understand his assignment or was just wildly overagressive on the play fake. Hell, feel free to throw Roach’s late run-in into the “confusion” bucket as well. It wasn’t as epidemic as it felt in real time, though, and that certainly hasn’t been the Achilles heel of the Strong/Bedford defenses up to this point. We probably tried to throw too much into this week’s game plan in response to all the stuff Cal likes to do and got some guys lost - and we’ll likely simplify some things during the bye week - but this was more than simple bafflement at work.
  • Telegraphed blitzes and an overall ineffective rush - Outside of Cal’s last TD, this isn’t what killed us. The rush was largely better than you remember - we didn’t see the multiple sacks and additional knockdowns on Webb here, and when the ball’s getting out in under 2.7 seconds to wide-open wideouts then the problem isn’t your rush.
  • Inability to align properly and relate to the screen game - We only really got unbalanced against the screen one time, but getting influenced by misdirection was another killer when we were aligned properly. Drilling some stay-at-home into our interior defenders will go a long way towards cleaning up our tunnel screen issues.
  • Lost and overmatched safeties - We don’t have a pair of playmakers in Haines and Hall, but it’s hard to pin a lot of this one on them. Aside from Haines’ Hainesian open-field face plant on the seam route they weren’t blowing coverages or committing outright botches - you want a lot more from the position if you can get it, but the main culprits in this one were elsewhere.
  • Getting out-planned and out-called - There was a good bit of this in the screen game (though player error played a role as well) and the 3-3 Fire Zone in the red zone against four wides needs to be scrapped posthaste. This felt like a B- effort from a playcalling standpoint that ran into Dykes’ absolute A game and a QB who delivered under pressure in ways he never has.
  • Simple player error - Hoo, boy. Evans blew it big-time up the right sideline on at least two occasions, which is likely why he was not to be found in the fourth quarter. Malik may be overloaded in terms of coverage responsibility right now, and his overplay of backfield action helped turn guys loose for a couple of long gainers.
  • Auggghhh - Well, of course.
  • I want to die - Chin up - there’s so much to live for!
  • Fire everyone now - Maaaaaybe wait til’ after we’ve thrown down with the Toothless Twosome of OSU and OU first? There aren’t too many teams in this conference who are feeling great about their overall level of play to this point, and despite the ugly results this feels like more of a tighten-and-refine job on D rather than a burn-it-down-and-play-Cover-One-for-sixty-minutes emergency. Oklahoma State is very capable of exploiting the same weaknesses we showed in Berkeley - and very capable of giving us the ball and bogging down if we’ve got our house in order. Let’s see how it goes.