Thursday, March 22, 2007


Among many interesting things about Brian's 3rd down charts at MGoBlog is the following: teams employing the zone read option do pretty well in 3rd and short situations. Well, that's not quite precise. Teams with mobile quarterbacks that run the zone read option clean up in 3rd and short. Take a look at Florida, a team that lacked a really solid running back:

Lots of Tim Tebow in that graph. Note that Florida became a very average team in 3rd and more than 7 situations.

Another spread team is West Virginia, who had the marquee back but, just as important, employed an athletic run/pass threat behind center:

Don't know what happened on 3rd and 1 - maybe the Mountaineers shift into a more conventional formation there. The rest of the graph is eye candy.

Even Oregon, a pretty mediocre team in '06, looked all right on the penultimate down:

Interestingly, Oregon's defense was pretty good on 3rd down as well - it was the other two downs they struggled with, apparently.

Speaking of defense, let's have a look at a very interesting graph: Cal in 2006.

As loyal reader Pete Morris points out, there's a lot of Brandon Mebane in that green area on the far left. Cal's opponents were successful only about 40% of the time on 3rd and three or fewer yards to go. It's not just Mebane, though. 3rd and 3 is a passing down in the Pac 10, and Cal was about 15% better than the national average in stopping opponents' attempts. That reflects good pass drops and cover skills by linebackers, and excellent tackling on quick outs.

Third and long (more than ten to go) is another story. There's two things at play here, I think. First, no pass rush - these patterns call for five and seven step drops and Cal rarely brought consistent heat on opposing QBs. The second factor is less troubling - Cal often surrendered third and longs when holding a big lead and sitting in a soft zone. This was even true in games like UCLA that were tight in the first half. Gregory's philosophy post-Tennessee was quite clear - the Bears would give up completions as long as no one got behind the secondary.

So what should we expect in 2007? It's impossible to say, but I think there are three people who will determine whether Cal can produce green graphs next season:

Kevin Bemoll. We need a guard who will be a road-grader in the short yardage game. Bemoll could be that guy.

Zach Follett. As much as I love Desmond Bishop, Follett will be a north-south Mike who stuffs fullbacks and creates chaos at the point of attack. Cal will need even more consistent Mike play to compensate for the loss of Mebane up front.

Jeff Tedford. Longshore was 19-33 in 3rd and 5 or less to go in 2006. The Bears converted each of those 19 completions for first downs (plus one PI call), so their success by air was much greater than their success on the ground. When you shorten the distance to 3rd and 3 or less, Longshore went 10-16 with two touchdowns and no picks. While everyone loves the power run game, JT may be tempted to put the ball in Longshore's hands more often on third down next season.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


A couple of months ago we took a look at Cal's play-calling in 2nd down and short situations. As expected, the data supported the notion that the Bears were pretty conservative and not very successful in these situations, leading to a fair number of 3rd and shorts over the course of the season. So, how did the Bears perform in those all-important third down situations?

As mentioned earlier, Brian from MGoBlog has a nifty chart that captures Cal's third down performance (and charts for every other D-1A program). Here's Cal's 3rd down efficiency in 2006:

The Y axis measures the completion %; the X axis measures the # of yards to go. The descending heavy black line is the average completion % for D-1A teams - if your team is above average at a given distance, you'll see green; below average and you'll appropriately see red.

As you can see, Cal was slightly below average in 3rd and less than five yards to go. Conversely, the Bears were far above average in 3rd and more than 7 yards to go (and slightly above average in 3rd and 5 and 3rd and 6 situations).

How often did Cal face such situations?

The most frequent down and distance was 3rd and ten (14% of all third downs). As the above graph indicates, Cal did pretty well in these situations, but their completion percentage was still below 40%. Also a fair number of 3rd and threes, and we know that Cal was relatively inefficient in such situations.

For those of us who watched Cal's 2006 season, these graphs are not very surprising. The Golden Bears were an efficient offense who occasionally struggled in short-yardage situations. While many fans justifiably blame Ted/Bar for unimaginative play calling on second and short, the third and short frustrations are due to inconsistent OL play. Just for fun I went back and looked at some TIVO of the '06 season, and what I saw confirmed my view. While Marshawn occasionally danced when he should have darted, the vast majority of unsuccessful third and shorts were due to our OL's inability to generate a push up front. I won't name names, but there are certain returners on the OL who simply struggled when they were forced to go mano a mano with down linemen without any help from linemates. Failing improvement in this area, the Bears may ask Nate to throw slants and tight end pops to convert on third down in 2007.

Now let's look at a graph of a team that gets it done in short yardage:

That's USC's graph for 2006, and that's a big reason they won the Pac-10 despite an offense that lacked the big-play firepower of years past. More on this later in the week.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The Pac-10 has three teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002. Good for the conference, and good for Cal. Conference success = more pressure on Sandy to take this program to the next level. On a related note, I want to hire Tim Floyd.

Of the three conference rivals, UCLA's got the clearest path to the Final Four. They looked like hell on offense against Indiana, but Pitt doesn't have the back court to compete with Collison and Afflalo. When Afflalo attacks the basket, UCLA is the best team in the country. When he's passive or not in rhythm, they can lose to Cal. I'm guessing that Howland reminds him of this fact between now and Thursday.

Oregon's interesting - UNLV is a fine team who plays good defense, but I think Oregon plays at a different athletic level than the Rebs. Florida looms in the Elite 8. If you believe Ernie Kent (which is a hard thing to do) the Ducks have used five different base defenses in the last seven games. Against the Gators they would need to revisit the one they used against Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament. In that 69-50 win, the Ducks collapsed on Radenovic and Hill and denied the easy entry pass. Noah and Horford would be a tougher match up, but the same principle applies - if Florida's bigs get the ball deep in the paint, game over.

USC has the toughest road to hoe, but then no one looked better than the Trojans in the second round. Would love to see them knock off Taylor Hansborough and Carolina, but something tells me UNC is going to get out on SC's shooters a little bit better than Texas did. One question - where was that Daniel Hackett all year? Bruins Nation isn't in their corner, and we won't be either after the next round. SC in the Final Four would be a bit too much to bear.

Michigan canned Tommy Amaker, so the Duke Assistant Coaching curse continues. Ben Braun was named in one story as a potential replacement - kudos to Ben's agent. He's got a slightly better chance of landing that job than I do.

Tony Bennett is a candidate for every coaching vacancy in America. I don't think writers even fact-check it - they just assume that any right-thinking individual would want to leave Pullman at the first opportunity. I suspect he'll stay.

Reason #156 that MGoBlog is the best team blog in the land: this wicked cool 3rd down efficiency chart. We'll have more on Cal's #s later this week.

The naked protest at the Oaks got national publicity, and the good folks at EDSBS found an unlikely political appointee among the rabble. San Diego newsreaders balefully shook their heads when reading the item as Tightwad hurled everything within reach at the TV. Oh, if only Berkeley were not a hermetically-sealed bubble of liberal anachronism. We might actually get something done once in a while.