Continuing on with the Tennessee Debacle series, here is the third and final part:
Offensively, Dunbar’s playcalling was actually pretty decent given the circumstances. Now I know a bunch of you ol’ Blues who are still bitter over the loss are probably thinking I’m blowing smoke up Dunbar’s ass, but I’m not.
Dunbar maintained an good variation in his personnel packages in liberty situations. Below is a pie chart to show his personnel packages in 20 liberty plays.
As you can see, Dunbar does have a tendency to use 21 personnel (two runningbacks, one tight end, [2 wide receivers is implicit]). But this package is the main I-Formation personnel set, so a tendency to use this personnel package is expected. In fact, the fact that Dunbar is putting 21 personnel on the field in liberty situations shows his adherence to Tedford’s philosophy of using a pro-style offense.
The occasional use of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) is also a reflection of Dunbar’s utilization of another pro-style personnel package. If you watch the NFL, you might know that many NFL teams are currently carrying two quality TEs on their roster for use in twin TE packages.
The most significant part of the personnel package pie chart above is the fact that Dunbar utilized 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) in liberty situations. You’re probably wondering why this is significant. First of all, 11 personnel utilizes 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs. Second, every time Dunbar utilized 11 personnel he put the QB in shotgun. Third, remember that the statistics showed that Dunbar passed 89% of the time from shotgun. Putting those three facts all together: if 11 personnel -> QB in shotgun -> 89% chance of pass. Showing a passing personnel package, and a passing formation in liberty situations keeps the defense off balance as long as you run occasionally.
Imagine that you are the defense. It is 1st and 10 and the offense comes out in a personnel package and a formation that you know they are extremely like to pass. Are they going to pass? It certainly seems like it but it’s 1st and 10! It’s not 3rd and long. It’s first and 10. Ultimately, the offense has the choice to run or pass on first down. So what are they going to do? You don’t know. In fact, shotgun spread teams such as West Virginia thrive on this very confusing look.
So obviously, Dunbar is attempting to keep the defense off balance by mixing in some shotgun spread in liberty situations. Because obviously, if you only utilize 11 personnel with the quarterback in shotgun and pass in must-pass situations, then the defense will know that you’re going to pass. But if you use 11 personnel with the quarterback in shotgun in liberty situations, things get confusing for the defense. Things get even more confusing and threatening when you can run a deadly shotgun option (once again, think West Virginia).
Another statistic that will vouch for Dunbar’s playcalling abilities is the fact that he adjusted to the horrible offensive linemen protection and Tennessee’s constant pressuring of Longshore. In Cal’s 4th possession - by which time it became very apparent that Cal’s OL was being dominated - Dunbar began rolling out the pocket. From that possession on, Dunbar sprinkled in seven plays that rolled the pocket either left or right in an effort to alleviate pressure on Longshore (7 roll out plays out of 34 total plays for Longshore is 20.6% roll out percentage).
The only fault Dunbar might have made in the Tennessee game was the fact that he did not call enough deception plays. When I say deception plays, I’m talking about playaction plays, draws, and screens. These are deception plays because they deceive the defense. For example, on a playaction play the defense is deceived into thinking it’s a run play when it’s really a pass play. A draw play looks like a pass but is a run. And a screen looks like a bad protection play, but it’s really a good protection play.
During last year’s Tennessee game, Dunbar only called 6 deception plays (out of Longshore’s 34 snaps). Four were screens, one was a draw, and one was a hard play action (hard playaction defined as when the QB turns his back to the defense as opposed to light play action where his back is never fully turned and he gives a quick and less deceiving hand-off pump with his arms). Essentially, about two in every eleven plays were deception plays. This number should probably be a little bit higher. Utilizing more playaction plays could have taken advantage of Tennessee’s aggressive defense. On the other hand, Dunbar’s calling of four screen plays was clearly an attempt to take advantage of Tennessee’s frequent blitzing. Obviously, he knew that the Tennessee D was being aggressive and getting penetration, so he attempted to exploit it.
Regarding any tendencies that Dunbar had in terms of down and run/pass, there weren’t any. On twelve 1st down plays, Dunbar called 7 runs and 5 passes (58.3% run, 41.7% pass). On five 2nd and medium distances (4 to 8 yards), Dunbar called 3 runs and 2 passes (60% run, 40% pass). On a single 2nd and short play (inches to 3 yards), Dunbar played it safe and ran the ball (100% run).
Regarding any tendencies that Dunbar had in terms of personnel package and down, there were a few. But keep in mind that a personnel tendency is not that bad (having a run/pass tendency during a specific down and distance is worse).
On first downs Dunbar came out with 21 personnel 50% of the time, 12 personnel 25% of the time, 11 personnel 16.7% of the time, and any other personnel sets 8.3% of the time. Obviously these statistics show that Dunbar is attempting to use a pro-style offense in liberty situations.
On 2nd and medium distances, Dunbar came out with 21 personnel 75% of the time, and 12 personnel 25% of the time. Again, Dunbar is attempting to utilize a pro-set offense in liberty situations.
On 2nd and long distances, Dunbar came out in 11 personnel 100% of the time. Recall that 11 personnel = 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs. Recall that 11 personnel = QB in shotgun = 89% pass. Obviously, Dunbar is conceding all run efforts when faced with 2nd and long, and doing so with the QB only in shotgun and in a pass heavy personnel set. A more balanced approach to passing on 2nd and longs would be to either use 11 personnel with the QB under center, or pass using a different personnel package.
On 3rd and longs, Dunbar came out in 11 personnel 100% of the time (9 out of 9 instances to be specific, and also with the QB in gun all 9 times too!). I find this to be somewhat troubling. While I do acknowledge the advantages of a shotgun snap, the fact that Dunbar showed no variety in the location of the QB on 3rd and long plays leads me to believe that for some reason the coaching staff didn’t want Longshore dropping back on obvious passing situations. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the coaching staff just wants Longshore to concentrate on the reads and not the drop. Maybe his dropback technique and rhythm were not what it should have been at the time. Or maybe nothing was of concern, and it’s just that the coaching staff felt that having a QB take a drop on 3rd and long situations was playing into Tennessee’s hands and strengths.
All in all, the failure of Cal’s offense against Tennessee’s defense was because of the losing battle in the trenches. The offensive line could not provide adequate protection, Longshore became rattled, and the pressure hampered Longshore’s effectiveness. As for the run blocking, the run blocking was fair, no huge holes were opened up but Marshawn was able to grind out some tough yardage on occasion.
So in conclusion, Dunbar’s playcalling was decent and I would have to reject the hypothesis that Dunbar was at fault for the Tennessee loss. If I had to give it a grade I would give it a B (please note that I am not grading him on how well he attacked Tennessee’s weaknesses and tendencies. I did not scout Tennessee’s tendencies or their players. I do not know what Dunbar’s gameplan was, but I am simply grading him on the results of what he chose to do). I know you guys must think I’m crazy but Dunbar did what he could given the circumstances. With the OL not protecting and blocking like normal, it put the offense - and Dunbar - in difficult situations. Like the saying goes, "games are won in the trenches". Last year’s Cal @ Tennessee game was truly a case of "games are won in the trenches". Tennessee won in the trenches and stymied Cal’s offense.
Check back on Saturday as I will address the audibling situation that Ken Crawford brought up in the comments section of The Tennessee Debacle: Out-played or Out-coached? Part I.