When the Ole Miss defense takes the field Saturday night, it won’t take long until we find out if alignment and tackling are problems confined to the Central Time Zone. California’s offense presents Ole Miss’ defense with its toughest challenge in the young 2017 season, both in terms of talent and scheme.
The Bears’ offense is directed by Beau Baldwin, who spent the last nine years as head coach at Eastern Washington, where he performed offense at a high level on a BLOOD RED FIELD. While there are all sorts of intricacies that separate Cal’s offense from Ole Miss’, no one wants to read about those on a Friday.
But, in general, Cal’s offense will have a similar look to Ole Miss. Again, that doesn’t mean it is the same, but the ol’ eyeballs will tell your brain, “You have seen this before, I think, not sure, better check Twitter for the fifth time this minute.”
Overall, WHEN YOU TURN ON THE TAPE, BOB, Cal doesn’t have overwhelming firepower, but they have some good skill players and a mobile quarterback in Ross Bowers. Bowers doesn’t have ARM TALENT (and plays behind an average offensive line), but he’s effective and accurate. Of course, an NCAA Football firepower rating of 52 (if there was such a thing) is enough to keep Ole Miss’ defense on its heels.
We start with a couple of plays that, if you are aware of Ole Miss’ linebacker situation, should concern you. Cal comes out in a four-wide set, with a lone running back in the backfield.
North Carolina is showing man coverage, with two safeties deep, meaning defenders underneath will be on their own private islands (minus the five-star accommodations, unless YOU’RE ON A RECRUITING VISIT TO OXFORD, RIGHT FOLKS?). Most notably, two linebackers will be trying to contain faster players.
I DON’T LIKE THIS LOOK, BOB.
As you see on the far side, the outside receivers push up the field, the slot receiver runs into the space they leave behind (and away from the linebacker covering him), and on the near side, we have a wreck about to happen to North Carolina.
The running back, at almost full speed and facing the linebacker, takes one step to the outside, then cuts back inside and
On the same drive, Cal gets its running back in space again. Pay attention to the two receivers at the bottom of the screen.
The Bears sell a screen to the right side of the field to get the linebackers turned that way.
While they’re looking at the fake, the two receivers run “routes” right into the linebackers, and a tackle springs outside to escort the running back, who is the true recipient of the screen, into space.
Cal ended up not getting a good block here and only got five yards, but you can see the danger this play presents for a defense.
Speaking of danger, we arrive at a play that has terrorized defenses for years, and could very well propel some member of Cal’s offense to set a school record in something on Saturday. The play is called “mesh.”
The idea behind it is pretty simple: put a defensive player in the middle of the field (usually the middle linebacker) in an impossible situation, meaning no matter what he chooses to do, it is the wrong choice. This play can be so effective that Hal Mumme once ran it 52 times in a game (FIFTY-TWO).
It can be run out of multiple formations (NEAT), but this is the version Cal ran two weeks ago.
The running back’s motion to the right is designed to draw a defender out of the middle of the field. If no defender goes with him, the quarterback flips it out to him for an easy gain.
One of North Carolina’s linebackers elects to follow the running back, unknowingly setting up one of his teammates for doom.
As that linebacker leaves the middle of the field, the defensive back is faced with the essence of mesh. Trying to defend two players moving in opposite directions, yet he is only one mortal.
Now we move on from terror to just normal scary stuff, as we look at Cal’s ability to hit defenses with a big play. Once again, North Carolina is in man coverage, but our focus is on the inside matchup and safety overlooking the field.
The slot receiver pushes up the field and collects some attention, while our matchup appears to be fairly tame.
The receiver turns up the field and now North Carolina is in trouble. The cornerback has no help because the safety has been sucked too far inside.
Let’s see if we can fit the entire alphabet running down that empty stretch of grass in front of the receiver.
Later in the game, and this has nothing to do with a play design (it was a broken play), here’s North Carolina doing its best Ole Miss imitation.
BONUS SCREENSHOT: ACC, why are you so POOR?
Also of interest, Cal has a version of Jeremy Liggins that occasionally gets the ball. Meet 5’11, 285-pound fullback Malik McMorris as he hurts North Carolina.
The North Carolina linebacker catches up to him and jumps on his back. Keeping in mind this linebacker is 6’1, 230-pound Cayson Collins, let’s see how long this ride lasts.
Finally, here’s Cal finding a way to isolate its best wide receiver, Vic Wharton III, for a crucial third and long.
Once again, Cal uses motion from its running back to draw the attention of a defender they want moved out of the way, so that they can occupy the defender behind him.
The DB is focused on the running back, while the slot receiver runs by him and directly at the safety.
The safety is distracted by the slot receiver, meaning Wharton III just has to beat his man for a split second.
I think it’s safe to say every week will be a real challenge for the Ole Miss defense, but as you have witnessed, they’re finally running into talent plugged into a dynamic offense. I can assure you there will be many moments of unpleasantness, including when it’s suddenly freezing after being 72 and sunny all day because sure, WHY NOT.