Continuing on with part two of a four part analysis examining how Tedford’s offense has changed since his first year.
In 2006, Tedford brought in spread genius Mike Dunbar. If I recall correctly, I believe Tedford reported that he wanted a "hybrid" offense. One that could run both "pro-style" formations and plays as well as spread plays. And for those of us that didn’t have press passes or insider access to practices in 2006, I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect come Cal’s first possession against Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Well, it didn’t take long to see all the new formations that Dunbar had brought and implented into the Cal offense.
The following are pictures of the many formations and a few plays which Dunbar added to the Cal Football playbook. Please bear with me, there’s a lot to show. We shall merely focus on the new shotgun plays which were so frequently used in 2006 and 2007.
Below is what would become Dunbar’s (and later Tedford’s too) favorite personnel and formation set. Below, the offense is using an "11 personnel" set - meaning 3 WRs, 1 RB, and 1 TE. Aside from the "base" personnel set (2 WRs, 1 TE, 2 backs), the 11 personnel set would be Cal’s most common personnel set not only in 2006 but also in 2007. The 11 personnel set essentially subs out the fullback for a 3rd WR. The frequent use of the 11 personnel set in 2006 and 2007 was to get WRs Desean "Tha1" Jackson, Lavelle "The Hawk" Hawkins, and Robert "Rojo" Jordan on the field at the same time. The most common formation for the 11 personnel set is as seen below - from shotgun, with 2 WRs to the side of the TE. A few variants on this formation would place 2 WRs to the opposite side of the TE, or move the RB into the "strong" or "weak" position (to the side of the TE, or to the opposite side of the TE, respectively). In the formation below, the RB is in the "strong" position (to the side of the TE). Desean Jackson is at split end (the WR spot on the opposite side of the TE and on the line of scrimmage). Placing Jackson away from the other receivers and tight end forces the defense to either shift coverage towards the majority of receivers to tighten up coverage and leave Jackson with looser coverage, or to shift the defense towards Jackson to tighten coverage and leave the majority of receivers with looser coverage.
Below is another variant of the 11 personnel set where the WRs are in a "trips" formation - meaning they are all to one side of the offense. Putting all the WRs to one side can flood a defensive zone and also cause matchup problems for the defense. Sometimes the trips formation will be on the same side as the and sometimes to the other side. In the picture below, the trips formation is to the side of the TE. Because the rules require that 7 players be on the line of scrimmage (LOS), a WR must be on the LOS. Because the WR is on the LOS, he covers up the TE and the TE is an ineligible receiver. In the picture below, the 3 WRs, the RB, and the QB are eligible receivers. Had the trips formation been to the opposite side of the TE, then everyone except the 5 OLmen would be eligible receivers.
Another formation that Dunbar installed and became fairly frequent in 2006 (and subsequently in the Tedford Year of 2007) was the bunch formation (see picture below). The bunch formation places three receivers (not necessarily all WRs) in a small tight formation - usually a triangle shaped formation pointing towards the defense. In the picture below, the "bunch" is to the left of the offense. I believe the bunch contains TE Stevens at the point of the bunch, and WRs Hawkins and Jordan forming the other two points in the back. Sometimes the coaches would vary the personnel in the bunch by using all WRs, or using a fullback instead of a WR.
Putting the receivers in a bunch can make it very hard for the defense to cover the receivers in the back of the bunch because the receivers more towards the defense (the ones on the LOS) usually clear out the defense. Also, putting the receivers in a bunch can cause coverage problems for the defense if they are in man-to-man coverage as since the receivers can easily "pick" the defenders (note: "picking" in the basketball sense is illegal in football although the term is used to loosely describe a WR purposely getting in the way of a defender in an attempt to free a fellow receiver). Additionally, in the picture below the coaches are playing WR Desean Jackson at split end (WR on the LOS) away from the bunch to make the defense to choose between shifting towards the bunch or shifting coverage towards Jackson. Essentially the defense must choose whether to shift coverage away from one of the best WRs in the country or shift coverage away from the majority of receivers on the other side of the field.
On rare occasions, Dunbar would use 4 WR sets or split 4 receivers out wide (not necessarily all WRs). In the example below, the offense has four receivers split out wide but they are not all WRs. I believe the middle receiver in the trips is TE Stevens. Very rarely would Dunbar ever use 4 WRs in 4 WR sets. Instead, he would often use a 4 WR formation but split a TE or FB out as a WR instead. Doing this can bring extra blocking power to the outside, put a more powerful tackle-shedder against smaller DBs, and just confuse the defense since defensive alignment is often dictated and predicated on the location of the TE at the end of the offensive line (and not split out wide like a WR).
I suppose the ultimate "spread" play is one that really spreads out the defense. Well, there’s little else that can do that if not nothing at all than a 5 WR set. Below is an example of a 5 WR set. The 5th WR is barely visible at the bottom of the screen and is somewhat hidden behind the ESPN game ticker. I put a blue dot to the right of the Cal WR. I am unable to tell if all 5 receivers are actually WRs or a mix of players (such as WRs, TE(s), and/or FB). Nevertheless, it’s still a 5 WR formation often called by many teams as an "empty" formation or set because the backfield is empty (other than the QB). Actually, I think it’s doubtful that all 5 receivers are WRs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dunbar or Tedford ever put 5 WRs out on the field. The max I’ve seen is 4 WRs and that itself is very rare. I think during the Dunbar Year (2006) and the Tedford Year (2007), only maybe 5-7 plays actually had 4 WRs on the field at once - it’s a very rare occurrence. Actually, I think that the receivers in the picture below are 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 RB).
Finally, one of the more cutting-edge wrinkles that Dunbar brought to Cal was the use of the "wildcat" formation. The wildcat formation was a name coined from Arkansas’ use of runningback Darren McFadden at the QB position (video link with explanation and analysis). Just like Arkansas, Dunar would put the RB in shotgun and send the QB out wide (in the picture below, Marshawn Lynch is in shotgun and Longshore is at the top of the picture). Doing this puts the defense into the box to defend the run - or shall I saw defend against Marshawn Lynch. But as we’ve seen in the past, Marshawn Lynch can pass the ball plenty well so his ability to fake the run and pass, or roll out and pass is a possibility too. As you can see in the picture below, Texas A&M has 8 defenders in the box and man coverage against the two WRs and Longshore. In the maybe 4 times that Cal has ever used the Wildcat formation, we’ve always run the ball. But maybe some day we’ll see a RB throw up a jump ball for the 6′5" Longshore if he’s covered by a shorter cornerback.
Dunbar added a lot to the Cal offense. What I covered is probably not even a third of the formations that Dunbar brought in (the other formations are slight variants of the ones above both in terms of formations and personnel within the formation). Because this post was getting very large, I decided to split the Dunbar Year post into two parts. So in a few days I’ll post part II which includes the famous "zone read" run play that Vince Young of Texas and Dennis Dixon of Oregon ran so well.