SECOND AND SHORTDuring the year Tedford and Dunbar came under fire (relatively speaking) for their alleged conservatism in play-calling. We thought it fair to do a quick and dirty analysis of the play-by-play for each of the Bears' conference games and the Holiday Bowl to see whether this criticism was supported by the data.
One can look at aggregate data to see that Cal threw the ball more in '06 as we did in '04 (413 to 331 with only one more game played). That's not what we're after here. Instead, we want to examine situational play-calling to determine a) whether Ted-Bar are generally conservative in situations that lend themselves to stretch plays and b) whether Ted-Bar are more conservative than other successful teams - namely USC, who is often held up as an example of how to be aggressive on offense. For the USC data we looked at their conference games plus ND and Michigan.
For this first look we're examining a down and distance that usually offers good insight into the mindset of an offensive coaching staff: 2nd and short (defined as 3 yards or less). This down and distance is a good test of a team's "aggressive" philosophy, since it offers coaches the opportunity to go for the jugular, assuming that a 3rd and short is makeable in the event of an incompletion.
(We thought of using 1st and 10, but decided against it since many teams ran a pretty deep zone against Cal as their base defense in '06. Under circumstances where the defense is taking away the intermediate and long routes, any coach would be more prone to dink and dunk or run the ball more frequently than normal. 2nd and short, however, usually offers a more vanilla defensive response. That, and we're too lazy to look at all the data).
We analyzed competitive situations in which Cal either trailed or led by no more than two touchdowns, and did not look at possessions at the end of the 2nd or 4th quarters, when the Bears might be expected to pound the ball to kill clock, or 2nd and goal situations.
The numbers back up our collective suspicion - Cal was indeed very conservative in these situations in 2006. Cal faced nineteen 2nd and short's in 2006, and ran the ball 17 times. The two passes were a short completion to DeSean Jackson in the Stanford game, and a more ambitious incompletion to Robert Jordan against the Bruins. Another interesting number: Cal faced eight competitive 2nd and 1's and converted only three of them - a crazy number considering the quality of Cal's running backs.
USC, thought by some to be a paragon of go-for-broke offense, faced 29 such situations and passed nine times (four times on 2nd and 1). So, yes, the Trojans were significantly more aggressive in this down and distance in 2006. Not sure what this proves - nor are we sure that giving the ball to Lynch or Forsett is a bad thing - but it's food for thought.