by Kevin Bruce
Well nobody is going to confuse Cal with Alabama but they came into the Coliseum with a potent offense and got a lesson about what good defense can do to an excellent quarterback. There have been other similar lessons (ask Cam Newton from last year’s Super Bowl) but this is the only game I’m interested in reviewing. Coach Pendergast impressed me last night and reinforced my view that his defense is particularly designed to stop RPO, spread and fast-paced offenses principally on 1st and 3rd downs. The Alabama, Stanford and Utah type offenses not so much…yet. The upside was an excellent control of 3rd and 4th down conversions (e.g. 0 for 5 in the first half) and more on this later. This was accomplished with disguised and hard to read coverages and not QB pressure. That’s not without trying but we never really got to Webb (who is an NFL style QB and he can make all kinds of throws…wow) or moved him “off his spot” that much. Where we excelled was in coverage and good “switch” communication in the secondary on pick or rub routes, trips and zone floods. Also The LBs (Hutchings mostly) and the nickel safety moved in and out of the box showing various coverages, blitz alignments or straight up run support during Webb’s pre-snap reads. This worked very well as Webb frequently audibled to run plays when we showed a Cover 7 zone (up or tight) and we checked back to run stop alignments just before the snap. Very savvy…
The numbers showed quite a bit and really do tell the story of the game. For example our TOP for the first quarter was 9:44 vs. Cal’s 5:16…score 14-0. The second quarter was a TOP push but with two fumbles and a botched FG we go into halftime 28 – 10. For the game Cal gained 5 first downs by penalty which doesn’t count the unsportsmanlike conduct boneheaded penalty after a score. Cal’s TOP in the 3rd quarter was 9:19 flipping our 1st quarter upside around. This is when the game got dicey as we opened the second half with a 3-n-out and Cal put up touchdown on the next drive. Score 28 – 17 with momentum to Cal. Time for a nice in-your-face drive which we accomplished to pulled the momentum away from Cal by utilizing some great blocking and impressive RoJo running.
I wouldn’t characterize this outing as a classic fourth quarter down-to-the-wire game. But we had to play all four quarters by letting multiple chances to put this game away starting as early as late in the second quarter get away from us. With our 13 penalties and three turnovers we kept Cal in the game much too long and they have a dangerous offense but fortunately for us a very weak defense. The combination of the defense doing a great job on 3rd & 4th down conversions (5 of 16 or 31%) combined with excellent red-zone defense clearly made this a long night for Cal.
Not surprisingly the secondary (including nickel backs) lead the defense in tackles putting up 34 of 81 tackles with the rest distributed among linebackers and DL (not many others left!). Impressively Marvell Tell’s first quarter pick was really pretty and certainly shocked Webb that he could do that…he is really developing nicely btw. Overall the secondary did a nice job. I couldn’t help but notice that Biggie continues to get isolated and picked on in critical situations. We also got very lucky that that first series deep ball was just a bit too long for Cal’s receiver as both Biggie and safety were beaten. Unfortunately Biggie had another “handsie” PI call…we’re on an unfortunate roll here.
Some nice worked was turned in by Green, Stevie, Fatu and Malik all contributed and made some good plays along the LOS. With two true DLs it is difficult to get a push up the middle without overloading the A & B gaps with LBs. Nwosu had a great game as he continues to develop. I really like his motor and intensity. He’s learning the containment game especially on 3rd downs with a nickel package as both DE/OLBs have to contain versus just pressure. Porter had a solid game and I was thrilled that CP left Cam in on 3rd downs much of the first half and Cam made some plays. I tell you he can play in space really well for a big man. When he gets tired and banged around his knee seems to slow him down some which shows up later in the game.
Net, net this was a good win that was expected but also needed. Home or away we beat Cal. Oregon up next will be a similar test with a similar offensive scheme but a freshman QB. We need to clean up the penalties which is nothing more than poor football discipline and that will really help get the D off the field and the O back on. It was a good night…Fight on!
Kevin Bruce played linebacker at USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA.