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The Cal Bears 2013 Spring Football Game Analysis

Cal’s 2013 Spring Football Analysis

Timing matters. It matters generally in life and specifically in college football. New California Golden Bears head football coach, Sonny Dykes, probably hoped for lots of timing issues to be other than they were on Saturday, March 23, 2013. That was the day in which both the spring football and the men’s basketball seasons ended. Undoubtedly, many Cal fans opted to watch their men’s basketball team instead of the football team’s spring scrimmage, but the first 5,000 Cal fans to arrive at the football game not only got a poster, but they also got to be the only 5,000 fans at the game. Bad timing. As for the play on the gridiron, too many bad snaps interrupted the rhythm of this offensive ‘concept,’ now affectionately dubbed, “Bear Raid.” Making split-second adjustments to fairly simple, even obvious blitz schemes also plagued this young offense. In time, however, these things can be fixed.

In addition to the coaching staff and a number of players at marquee positions, the offensive and defensive schemes are new. The spring game served as a telescopic view of these things, since we are only getting a distant impression of what this Cal team can become. The improvement curve is expected to be steep between now and mid-season, 2013. Let us examine what we could see from afar.

The Bear Raid

Thoughts about any form of Air Raid offense are likely to call to mind three, even four-to-one pass-to-run ratios. Surprisingly, that is not the case with the Sonny Dykes version. Of the 2,931 offensive plays called for the Bulldogs in Coach Dykes’ three seasons at Louisiana Tech (2010-2012), 1,497 of them were running plays. That translates to running the ball a little more than 51% of the time. That is a balanced offense.

Running Backs

In Cal’s spring game, of the 84 offensive plays executed, 40 of them were runs. While Ise Sofele is gone, Marshawn Lynch was back. Seriously! Lynch suited up and played one untouched down (for a touchdown). When NFL stars were not lining up in the backfield, redshirt freshmen running backs Jeffrey Coprich- a converted defensive back- and Jonah Hodges were the primary ball carriers (when quarterbacks were not scrambling for various reasons). Coprich appeared to have game-breaking speed but seemed to lack the power to run between the tackles. Hodges showed more of an ability to break tackles, playing bigger than his stature (he is only 5’9” and 170 pounds), but he did not seem to possess Coprich-like speed. Unfortunately for us, Cal’s (potentially) big-time junior running back, Brendan Bigelow, missed the spring game while recovering from a knee injury.


Whatever the play-calling ratios, the quarterback is still the lynchpin of this offense. Zach Maynard is gone. (No scoffing, please.) Interestingly enough, presumed quarterback incumbent, Allan Bridgford, is also gone. He announced his transfer when he discovered he might not be “the guy” by default. Naturally, much of Cal football’s off-season attention has revolved around who will become the signal caller within this offensive concept. The three candidates are true freshman Jared Goff, junior Austin Hinder, and redshirt freshman Zach Kline. All three QB’s managed a touchdown each, and completed 50% of their passes, combined. No one separated himself as the man for the job (the way that Marcus Mariota did at Oregon’s spring game last year), but each had something to contribute. All three could run. Hinder appeared to be the fastest. Kline, at first, seemed to have the best poise and accuracy, but Goff might surprise in the near future. Goff should have been making prom and high school graduation plans for this May, but instead, he worked to graduate early and enrolled at Cal this spring. Obviously, he has the least college experience of the trio, but he might just have the greatest upside. Any way we parse the quarterback play in the spring game, on August 31 against Northwestern, we would not be surprised to see any of those guys lining up behind the center.

Offensive Line

On the subject of centers, Cal needs a couple- or at least one. Gone is Brian Schwenke and his 36 career starts for the Bears, including all 12 starts at center in 2012. In this Bear Raid offense, despite all the different formations, lining up the quarterback in the shotgun is standard, so that snap becomes critical when timing is of the essence (which it is, in this offense). Dykes alternated two candidates for the job, senior Mark Brazinski and redshirt freshman Matt Cochran. Of Brazinski’s 46 snaps, 19 of them (more than 41%) were bad. Of Cochran’s 38 snaps, six of them (just under 16%) were bad. While Cochran could get the ball back there more reliably, Brazinski appeared the better blocker. Translation: Brazinski is a good offensive lineman, but not a center. Three out of Cal’s seven negative plays came after bad snaps (including the offense’s only lost fumble), and six out of 11 quarterback runs came after bad snaps- meaning that these young or inexperienced QB’s just took off running when they perceived a play’s timing to be off. Cal must find or develop a center who can snap the ball and block well. Without him, this offense will struggle.


Losing Keenan Allen, Cal’s all-time receptions leader, does not help. Assuming, however, that centers execute good snaps and the offensive line blocks well, the Bears appear to have a capable, young receiving corps. In the spring game, at least seven different receivers caught passes and  helped make quarterback statistics look better than deserved by grabbing jump balls, making tough catches, breaking tackles, and delivering good YAC (yards after catch). At this position, Cal should be in good hands (literally).


Only two defensive players started in all 12 of Cal’s games in 2012. They were defensive backs Josh Hill and Steve Williams, and they are both gone. Cal also lost defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is known for his experience with the 3-4 defensive scheme (although he also used a 4-2-5 when he thought it would be more effective against certain spread offenses). New defensive coordinator, Andy Buh, held the same position at Stanford (2007-2009) and Nevada (2010-2011). Buh prefers a 4-3 defensive alignment. Since each phase of football affects the others, here is what needs to be understood about how the Dykes’ Bear Raid offense affects the defense: it puts them on the field longer. In the three years that Dykes was at LA Tech, his offenses never ranked better than 100th in time of possession. Whether learning the new system in 2010 or mastering it in 2012, his offenses got off the field fast. That puts a lot of strain on the defense. In LA Tech’s first year with Dykes, their total defense ranked 119th (out of 120). In his last year, when their offense was the best in the nation, the total defense ranked 123rd (out of 124). Combine that pressure with Andy Buh’s past performance: At Stanford, his highest ranked total defense was 76th (in his second year). At Nevada, his best total defense was ranked 52nd (in his second year). Needless to say, things could get challenging for Cal’s defense, especially this first year. Buh needs more time.

All of that said, this spring game was not a fair exhibition of what Buh and Cal can do defensively. There were so many injuries that kept defensive personnel out of the game that the Bears were down to just three linebackers. (Good thing they switched out of that 3-4 scheme.) Even so, for the most part, when Buh’s defenses blitzed, they were successful in disrupting the offensive play. That, however, may have been more the result of bad snaps, questionable offensive line play, and inexperienced quarterbacking. There is definitely some young talent on this defense, including the only returning two-year starter, linebacker Chris McCain, and the 2012 team leader in tackles for a loss, defensive lineman Deandre Coleman.

Schedule Concerns

It has been a while since Cal has had an easy schedule. Last year, their strength of schedule was considered by most to be top-10. This 2013 season might be even tougher. For a new coaching staff, inexperienced quarterbacks, and new offensive and defensive systems, it should take time for this team to develop. Time is not on Cal’s side. They begin the season with Northwestern (who finished 17th in 2012’s final AP Poll). Then they get a dangerous look-ahead game against Portland State before facing Ohio State (who finished third in 2012’s final AP Poll). After that brutal introduction to the 2013 season, the Bears have an extra week of preparation for Oregon (who finished second in 2012’s final AP Poll) up in Eugene, and so on. Playing in the Pac-12 North in 2013 is the most difficult time to begin doing so. The schedule and conference alignment were contrived before Sonny Dykes and staff got to Berkeley. For them, it is just tough timing.

Please read this related article assessing the 2013 Cal Bears football team from a sports betting perspective.

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