If I were to ask you which team on average was the top rushing unit in the Pac-10 over the past six years which team would you guess? If you answered the USC Trojans or Oregon Ducks you'd be close but not correct. The top rushing team in the Pac-10 over the past six years is the University of California at Berkeley. For the past few years California has averaged an impressive 182.8 yards per game to edge out the Trojans and the Ducks. In 2004 and 2005 the Bears averaged an impressive 256.7 and 235.3 yards per game in back to back seasons. No other team in the Pac-10 generated back to back 200 yard averages during the same two year period.
PAC-10 Team Rushing Trend 2002-2007
Note: Jeff Tedford became the Cal Head Coach in 2002.
Normally when Cal Bears head coach Jeff Tedford's name is mentioned in the national press it is done in conjunction with the passing game and the impressive number of successful QB's he has developed at the college level. Trent Dilfer, Billy Volek, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, and Aaron Rodgers are among his QB's that have gone onto the NFL as early draft picks. True the QB's have not produced much in the NFL as of yet but Coach Tedford and staff have certainly maximized their talents in the collegiate ranks.
Rarely however do I hear the name of Tedford or his staff mentioned in conjunction with their rushing attack in the national news media. Usually the comments center around the QB's and the Cal passing game or some vague comment about Tedford's noted "play calling" ability. Oddly the more credited Cal passing attack is only ranked 7th in the Pac-10 over the same stretch of time averaging around 237 yards per game while the rush attack has ranked consistently near the top position.
What makes the Cal Bears rush attack so successful? Tight Ends Coach Pete Alamar outlined several success factors in a presentation given some time ago to high school coaches. Here are just some of the reasons mentioned.
The Cal rush attack uses angle blocking and power run schemes highly effectively. The coaches believe this provides the best leverage and set of angles for linemen to attack the defense. There is no need to "out athlete" the defender. The blocking scheme makes it easier for technically sound yet not as athletic players to find success.
Also advantageous is the fact that the blocking rules carry over to multiple series of plays. The personnel, formation, and alignment may change however the blocking rules stay fairly constant. This allows for more repetition in practice which helps foster both technique and confidence.
In 2006 Cal went somewhat away from their power game and tried more spread formation sets with new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar from Northwestern University. The experiment had mixed results and 2007 Cal went back to more 2 back style formations and 2 tight sets in 2007. Mike Dunbar moved onto a new coaching position with the University of Minnesota back in the Big 10 conference.
On the Cal power run plays overall the Bears reportedly averaged an impressive 9 yards per carry over a two season period from 2004-2005. The effectiveness of the play tailed off somewhat the past two years but I suspect it still probably averaged over 6 yards per carry. Stopping this type of run play is key for any opponent that faces the Cal Bears.
Here is the basic Two Back I Formation Power Play favored by Cal. The scheme is similar to the way many teams run it and the details depend upon the exact alignment of the defense and the ability of the Cal players. Here is a typical example.
On this play the right guard and tackle combination block on the defensive tackle. Together they drive him backwards towards the Middle or Mike line backer (M). If the middle line backer goes to the offense's right (i.e. over the top of the play) the tackle will peel off and block him leaving the guard on the tackle. If the MLB tries to come under the play then the right guard peels off to cover him leaving the offensive tackle on the defensive tackle. This double team and release component is very critical to the success of the play and cutting off support.
The center angle blocks down and back to his left on the defensive nose tackle position. The tight end on the right side of the line has a difficult block versus the defensive end. If the tight end can not block the defensive end Cal has some blocking options I'll outline below.
The basic concept behind any power run play is one player "kicks out" and one "leads up". In this basic example above the full kicks out on the strong safety who normally plays near the line of scrimmage versus this formation. The back side guard pulls and leads up aiming for the Strong or Sam Line Backer (S).
The power play is designed to normally attack the strong side A, B, or C gap. The running back has to read the blocks and figure the best open avenue. Normally this particular play does not bounce outside. It is a North South downhill running play.
What happens on the play when the 230 pound pass catching tight end can not block a stud 280 pound defensive end? Multiple options exist and here are two of the most common ways to handle this frequent dilemma. The first is called the "Rail" concept in the Cal running game.
In this version the tight end takes a veer style release and does not attempt to block the defensive end. Instead he targets the middle line backer and attempts to cut him off on the play. The right side guard and tackle work their combination block but this time have to adjust and work one man off onto the Weak side or Will line backer (W).
The so called rail adjustment now forces the fullback to take on the defensive end. If the fullback is a better blocker than the tight end as is the case on many teams this is a better (but still not easy) match up. The back side or left guard is still the lead through player and targets the Sam line backer (S). The back reads and follows his best course of action.
One other alternative for the play is the so called "Arc" version of the power play. This is one more way for the tight end to avoid blocking the defensive end.
On this version instead of veer releasing inside and aiming for the middle line backer (M) the tight end instead arc releases outside of the defensive end and aims for the strong safety (SS) which is normally a better match up for him. The fullback still has to kick out the defensive end on this play while the guard and tackle again work the combination block up to the middle line backer.
The back side guard again pulls and leads through the line up towards the Sam line backer (S). The running back follows as before and either cuts it up inside behind the combo block or follows the guard. In rare cases the play bounces outside.
Which version Cal (or other teams for that matter) use each week is a matter of personnel match ups, game planning and in game adjustments. There are more flavors of the power play than outlined here including a one back version. Also the run plays need to marry up with pass plays that use the same formation and motion. Coaches call this creating complimentary plays out of the formation. Otherwise the formation alignment gives away whether the play is a run or a pass via pre-snap read by the defense.
For those interested in the more details and coaching points of the play, here are several closer looks at Cal's power run game concepts. The first video with the bulk of the coaching material consists of Cal's 2 Back Power Runs and lasts about 40 minutes with explanation and film examples.
The second video contains the 1 Back Power Run examples (no fullback) which I did not explain above and has about 10-12 minutes worth of explanation and game film.
The final video is another 25-30 minutes with the variations which Cal calls the Rail and Arc variations of the play. Which version Cal uses depends upon the skill of their TE versus the opponents DE and the front defender's alignment (inside shade / outside shade, etc.). Take a close look at the execution and you can see one of the key reasons why Cal has been such a strong team in the Pac-10 the past few years on offense especially in the rushing game. For Cal to get back on track after last season's second half slide an effective running game will again be a key ingredient in 2008.
2 Back Power Run Play Examples (click for direct link if not available)
1 Back Power Run Play Examples
Rail & Arc Power Run Examples
Note: At times the video service does not cooperate and display the file right away.