Continuing on with part two of The Dunbar Year (2006) and the four part analysis of how Tedford’s offense has changed in the past four years.
So in this second part analysis of The Dunbar Year (2006) I’m just going to show the famous zone-read plays that are becoming more prevalent among shotgun spread option teams.
So what is the zone-read? Well, if you watched Texas use Vince Young, or Oregon use Dixon and Stewart, then you’d probably know what it is. It’s a bit hard to explain so I’ll just give you an example. As the old adage goes: a picture is worth a thousand words.
Below is the pre-snap picture. Notice, Cal is in shotgun. Ayoob is the quarterback. Notice the TE is to the right of the OL, thus the strength is to the right. Notice the RB is in a "weak" position - the side opposite of the TE (to the QB’s left).
Below is a picture of the play just after the snap. I have highlighted the Tennessee right defensive end (RDE). Notice he is unblocked in the picture. The Cal left tackle (LT), instead of picking up the RDE has crashed in on the Tennessee defensive tackle (DT).
The offense has purposely left the RDE unblocked. The quarterback then "reads" the RDE (hence the name "zone read"). See, the runningback is going to run across the face of the QB, meaning right in front of him, to the right, and prepared to take the handoff. If the RDE dives in to pursue the RB, then the QB will not hand off the ball, keep it, and run to the outside to the area vacated by the RDE. If the RDE stays home or jumps outside to cut off the QB, then the QB will hand the ball off to the runningback who will be running to the right behind the strength. This decision has to be made in a split second. In the picture below, the blue line shows the Cal RB’s running route, and the green line shows that the QB is "reading" the RDE.
Essentially, if the QB reads the DE properly, the DE will always be wrong. Meaning, if the DE dives in to pursue the RB, the QB will run the ball to the outside towards the area that the DE vacated. If the DE stays home or jumps outside, then the runningback will get the ball and the DE has been taken out of the play.
Let’s do a little math. If you go back to the first picture (the pre-snap picture) you’ll see Cal has 6 blockers on the line of scrimmage (LOS). They have the 5 OL-men and 1 TE (5+1=6). You’ll see that Tennessee has 8 defenders in the box. Like said in the previous paragraph, if the QB makes the correct read, then the DE will be wrong every single time and essentially be taken out of the play. Thus, if the DE is taken out of the play then the defense only has 7 defenders (8-1=7), against 6 Cal blockers. Six blockers versus seven defenders is better than six blockers versus eight defenders, right? I didn’t major in math, but I think that’s right.
Below is the next picture in the play. As you can see, the Tennessee RDE has focused on the RB, and crashed inside (represented by the green line from the RDE to the RB). Ayoob correctly read the RDE, kept the ball, and now is running (represented by the blue arrow) to the area that the RDE has vacated (represented by the green area). The only defender who has a chance of stopping Ayoob is a Tennessee linebacker (assuming the Cal WRs adequately block off their defenders).
And in the final picture of the play, you can see the Cal WRs adequately blocking off their defenders. Ayoob beats the Tennessee LB and gets in the endzone.
That was an example of the zone read. Oregon used it with Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart. Texas used it with Vince Young.
For the zone read from shotgun to be as effective as possible, it helps to have a fairly quick and fast quarterback. Such speed helps the quarterback avoid defenders and outrun them for yardage gains. Longshore’s foot speed has long been dissected on many Cal forums so I don’t feel any need to really go into detail about how his athleticism didn’t quite suit the shotgun zone-read that well. So obviously, there was some concern as to how effective the zone-read play could be with Longshore as the quarterback. Had Longshore been the QB above, do you think the play would have been as effective? Probably not. Ayoob’s quickness helped him beat the Tennessee LB and get into the endzone.
But one thing I have noticed, is that Dunbar ran a different type of run from the shotgun when Longshore was the quarterback. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a zone-read. I will illustrate that below.
Below is the pre-snap formation. Notice Cal is (more or less) in the same formation as the previous play (the exception being that there are two WRs to the side of the TE in the picture below instead of one WR in the picture above). The TE is again, on the right side of the OL. The RB is in a "weak" position - to the side opposite of the TE (meaning to the QB’s left). I have already shown what makes this play different than the zone-read illustrated above. Below, I have shown that the Cal RT will pull on this running play. In the zone read above, none of the OL blockers pull. They zone block, hence the name "zone read."
In the picture below, I highlighted the Cal RT pulling. I also illustrated the RB’s running route. The RB first cuts across the QB to take the handoff, then cuts back to the opposite side to run behind the pulling RT.
Unfortunately, this play didn’t work so well this instance and things get messy. In the picture below, the Cal RB (Marshawn Lynch) cuts back (as designed) behind the pulling RT. But the Tennessee DT gets unblocked and into the backfield - he is barely visible just right above the pulling RT. Had the OL picked up that defender, this play probably would have gone for a gain. Lynch would have snuck up behind the pulling RT, and been on his merry BEAST MODE way.
Anyways, this was the other run from shotgun that Cal used in 2006. I don’t think this is even a zone-read because I don’t believe there is a "read." Why? Because of the tackle pulling. Why would the offense pull a tackle from the right to the left, if it possible that the run could go to the right. That is taking a blocker away from the point of attack. It just doesn’t make sense. As I’ve noted in previous posts, a pulling OL-man is indicative of a run in the direction that the blocker is pulling. So I don’t think this running play was ever designed to go right although it appears like it. In fact, I think it is supposed to appear like it to the defense - which is aided by the fact that the RB runs to the "back side" (the side opposite of the direction of the run; the run is designed to go left thus the "playside" is left and the "backside" is right) before he cuts back behind the pulling RT.
So by using this play to run from shotgun with Longshore, Cal never really placed Longshore in a zone-read situation. In fact, during 2006, I noticed Dunbar called this pulling backside tackle play all the time when running from shotgun instead of a zone-read. This, I believe, was in acknowledgement of Longshore’s lack of footspeed to run the zone-read. What supports my conclusion is that in the 2006 Tennessee game, Dunbar called the pulling backside tackle play for Longshore 2 times that game. Then once Ayoob came in, Dunbar immediately called a zone-read play since he had a QB who had the speed to effectively execute the play (should the QB have to keep the ball). Furthermore, in subsequent games, Dunbar continued to call these backside tackle pulls when Longshore was the QB and rarely, if ever, called a zone read from shotgun for Longshore.
So what does this all mean? Well, because Longshore rarely if not ever ran the zone-read, then his lack of footspeed was never really a factor. Because Dunbar mostly called these backside tackle pull runs from shotgun where the direction of the run was predetermined and it was predetermined that Longshore would hand the ball off to the RB, then Longshore’s speed was never essential to the play. This situation differs drastically from the zone-read where the QB’s speed is crucial in maximizing the effectiveness of the play by (1) outrunning the defenders; and (2) keeping the defense "honest" and not just pursuing the runningback because they know the QB is slow enough to where even if the DE doesn’t play the QB that a LB can prevent the QB from picking up a large gain.
To explain that second point, imagine if Longshore was the QB in the first play, the zone read. The RDE knows that Longshore isn’t fast enough to outrun the Tennessee linebacker. Thus the RDE can just crash inside and pursue the RB because he knows the QB really isn’t a threat to beat the LB to the outside for a touchdown. Furthermore, the RDE knows that even if he pursues the RB and the QB reads the RDE properly and keeps the ball and runs to the spot area that the RDE vacated, the RDE is probably fast enough to change directions and run down the slow QB (as long as the RDE doesn’t commit too much to the RB fake). Thus, the QB’s lack of footspeed has put the RDE back into the play.
Just imagine if you’re the RDE and Longshore is the QB. Would you bite on the RB or sit tight to prevent the QB keeper? Personally, I’d bite on the RB and take my chances that Longshore wouldn’t be able to out-run the LB behind me, and furthermore I might be able to actually run down Longshore despite biting on the RB fake. But imagine if the QB was Dennis Dixon. If you bite on the RB, there is a very good chance Dennis Dixon beats the LB into the endzone. If you sit tight and prevent Dixon from taking the ball outside, then Dixon hands it off to the RB who has a good chance of getting into the endzone because you’ve taken yourself out of the play by covering a "ballcarrier" (the QB) who doesn’t even have the ball.
So this is what Dunbar brought to Cal. Lots of new formations, plays, and these two running plays from shotgun. As we’ll see in Part III of this four part analysis, Tedford kept much of what Dunbar installed in 2006 and carried it over into 2007 (The Tedford Year).
Part III to come in a few days…