Today, we welcome Jeff Schell, another 2013 LTP contributor, in to the mix. Jeff, an avid LTP reader, stepped up to the call for contributors (more on that tomorrow) and will be breaking down a key play each week to help satisfy the football strategists in the house. If you live in Colorado and see a high school football team that has an offense very similar to Northwestern you now might know why. In addition to running a few start-up companies, Jeff moonlights as a high school football coach (offensive coordinator) at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Denver area. Jeff’s first person bio is at the end of this feature and you will want to read it to find out how a current NFL player altered his playing days forever. Ladies and gents, let’s welcome Mr. Schell!
With a catchy (if not forced) name suggestive of formations of B-52s dropping Ursus arctos californicus bombs into gold and blue endzones, one cannot help but wonder – does Sonny Dykes’ offense really bear atomic potential, or has the skillful marketing of the Berkeley propaganda arm fraudulently convinced legions of Cal fans of the second coming of Aaron Rodgers-era offensive potential? Let’s bear down:
Background of the Bear Raid:
The Bear Raid derives from the offense new Cal head coach Sonny Dykes deployed to achieve eye-popping stats in 2012 at Louisiana Tech. So eye-popping, in fact, that Sonny’s boys were the top offense in the country. Yeah, but they were Louisiana Tech, so they only played a bunch of MAC-level pushovers, right? WRONG! The offense worked against Johnny Football’s SEC Aggies to the tune of 57 (!!!) points. Sure, they also decimated bottom feeders Texas State, UTSA and the fightin’ Beckmans (please never fire Tim Beckman! Rantoul’s Big Ten Team 4eva!), but putting up the #1 offense in the country is no joke. We shall see how this plays out with the hippies.
What differentiates the Bear Raid from other offenses?
From a formational standpoint, the main differentiating factor of the Bear Raid is a base modified “diamond” formation. At Thomas Jefferson High School, where I coach offense in Denver, we run the diamond as a power-type offense, primarily in a goal line situation or where we simply want to steamroll another weaker opponent. Our more traditional diamond allows the Q to line up under center, two halfbacks on either side about 2 yards back, and then a tailback about 6 yards directly behind the center. We can run blast plays left or right – where our halfbacks lead block, set up (primarily goal line) play action passes, or run counter plays.
The minor change here from a formational standpoint is that the Bear Raid Q will line up in more of a pistol look, potentially sacrificing some downhill momentum of the HBs and TBs on the dive/iso/power game to give the Q a bit more space from the D line in the passing/option game. Let’s take a look at a typical progression from the La. Tech vs. Texas A&M barnstormer last year (A&M won 59-57):
Here’s your base diamond formation, which Cal now calls the “Grizzly.” (Hey Kellogg, as soon as Dykes is done with football, let’s get this guy an MBA in branding). Anyway, the right halfback looks like a big dude, more like a guard than a running back. For good reason.
Watch the right HB drive the D-end right out of the play, while the left HB comes across on a power block, from left to right, along with a pulling lineman. Boom smash pow:
The pulling lineman seals up that hole, while the tailback still has the left halfback as a lead blocker:
The lead blocking left TB (#99) logs in the LB opening up a big hole to the right. Note the excellent blocking of WR #4 on the bottom right (this offense is about execution, not complexity):
The running back has one man to beat. He lowers his shoulder and runs someone over, bringing a proud tear of joy into my eye. Touchdown, Duck Dynasty. Again note the sustained block by WR #4 at the bottom right. Execution, not complexity
Now lets take a look at another play, again on 3rd and short.
Again on third and short, La. Tech lines up in the diamond, while A&M walks up its safety to bring 8 in the box betting on the power run. This obviously is an exaggerated response by the Aggie D, but lest we ourselves get overly ambitious with our run own stopping…
The play action brings in the safety (likely on a blitz) and linebackers, leaving one on one coverage for the cornerbacks.
The resulting one on one coverage (see the safety sucked in and turning too late to help) does not bode well for the Aggie CB. Touchdown, Duck Dynasty. Everybody happy happy happy
Let’s hope VanHoose and especially Daniel Jones bring their A-games. They will be called upon not only to provide excellent coverage, but to shed blocks like grown men.
Notably – the style of Coach Sonny is worth mentioning. Calling a relatively risky play on 3rd and 1 was a very aggressive call. Yes, they were down big at this particular juncture in the game so risks were warranted, but Dykes is not a gunshy coach as the underdog. I expect a very aggressive gameplan against our ‘Cats. While getting pressure on the QB is a noble objective, we may want to avoid overzealous blitz calls and let the Bear Raid Q, who at this stage is only a cub, make his own mistakes.
One last point – Dykes is renowned for keeping his playbook simple and focusing on execution. I expect to see much of the above two plays or similar plays throughout the game. On one hand, this benefits us because our DBs likely will not face an overly complicated route scheme. On the otherhand, Cal boasts a very talented RB, Brandon Bigelow, who can really execute. The knock on him was that he couldn’t master John Wayne Jeff Tedford’s complex schemes last year. Remember this highlight against Ohio State?
What specifically should worry you:
As noted above, RB Brandon Bigelow. This is where the B’raid offense starts and ends. If Cal can get a running game going against NU, we’re in big trouble. One of the key advantages we have will be our relative experience, particularly against the inexperience of Cal’s starting QB, true freshman Jared Goff. In his first game since high school, he is going to make mistakes. There is simply no way that he can fully catch up to the increased pace of the college game, particularly against a solid Northwestern defense.
Talented running back Bigelow broke a few monster plays against Ohio State last year. We absolutely must contain him. Relatedly our offense needs to put up points and fast to make sure that Goff is throwing the ball as much as possible. Our secondary should pick him off, and if Goff holds on to the ball longer than three seconds, our talented defensive ends should eat him alive.
Key NU matchups:
Shutting down the rushing attack with our front four is my key to the game. In the Bear Raid, the rushing game sets up the passing game with a predictable formation and select grouping of plays. The emphasis is on execution, not variety of plays. Our front four versus the Cal O-line is the key battle of this game. If we need to start tweaking our defensive sets to bring additional support, we’re going to leave Daniel Jones on a lonely island.
Case in point – Daniel Jones in single coverage last year:
(Ok, that was just a bad bounce and I hear he is MUCH better this year.)
Wrinkles to watch for:
Dykes has a few tricks up his sleeve. He ran a statue of liberty play against Virginia last year to score a key touchdown. Look at the D lineman staring down the QB as the running back heads right by:
Sonny Dykes isn’t a head coach, he is the Cal football brand manager. The Bear Raid (in name only) won’t damage NU’s staunch defense as much through the air as it will through the ground. I think the key stat will be the amount of yardage NU gives up to Bigelow. If he picks up north of 150 yards, we’re in big trouble. Look for our defensive braintrust to put the burden on our defensive backs to handle a true frosh QB, while our d-line and LBs stay home to shore up against the run.
Don’t buy into Sonny’s propaganda machine. Barring the emergence of an unforeseen Cal superman (i.e. Cal’s version of Venric Mark 2012), NU is much better on both sides of the ball. I would take our spread multiple no-huddle in a heartbeat over the Bear Raid, despite our lack of catchy branding.
Scott Chong has an excellent post at California Golden Blogs previewing the Bear Raid Offense. http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2013/6/17/4405736/cal-football-previewing-the-bear-raid-offense
One thing Mr. Chong points out – the up-tempo no huddle offense as a key component of the Bear Raid. Anyone who has watched Northwestern football over the past decade or so knows the value of controlling the tempo of the game. Given that Dykes likely looked to Randy Walker’s NU offense as a template for his own hurry up offense at La Tech, I doubt we will have problems handling the Bear Raid hurry up.
This is my first breakdown for LTP this year. Awesome.
I’m looking forward to reading your comments, and hearing about what I missed. I’m always trying to get better and see things from different angles. Aside from practicing patent law and running a few start-up companies in Denver, I coach offense at Thomas Jefferson High School. Since I am such a Northwestern fan, I literally copied Northwestern’s no huddle offense concepts and built them into our own offense. Before moving to Denver this year, I coached offense at Lincoln Park High School and Vernon Hills High School in Chicagoland. I won the golden helmet in high school at Bay City Central High School as a running back before future Superbowl MVP Lamarr Woodley hit me so hard that I had to be taken off of the field in an ambulance. This ended my football career until I had the opportunity to play for the Dublin Dragons of the Irish American Football League in Dublin, Ireland, while on a program there to study European Union Law.
I’m probably going to reference and compare my own coaching experiences in my posts. I hope this doesn’t annoy you, and look forward to hearing your creative ideas, criticisms and suggestions. You can message me here, or catch me at the NU-Michigan and NU-Nebraska games this year, or at the Blake Street Tavern for game watches in Denver.
Finally, I am recruiting ski buddies. If you want a ski buddy and you are in Colorado at any point to ski this year, shoot me a message. I know all the secret stashes at Vail.