THIRD DOWN (PART TWO)Among many interesting things about Brian's 3rd down charts at MGoBlog is the following: teams employing the zone read option do pretty well in 3rd and short situations. Well, that's not quite precise. Teams with mobile quarterbacks that run the zone read option clean up in 3rd and short. Take a look at Florida, a team that lacked a really solid running back:
Lots of Tim Tebow in that graph. Note that Florida became a very average team in 3rd and more than 7 situations.
Another spread team is West Virginia, who had the marquee back but, just as important, employed an athletic run/pass threat behind center:
Don't know what happened on 3rd and 1 - maybe the Mountaineers shift into a more conventional formation there. The rest of the graph is eye candy.
Even Oregon, a pretty mediocre team in '06, looked all right on the penultimate down:
Interestingly, Oregon's defense was pretty good on 3rd down as well - it was the other two downs they struggled with, apparently.
Speaking of defense, let's have a look at a very interesting graph: Cal in 2006.
As loyal reader Pete Morris points out, there's a lot of Brandon Mebane in that green area on the far left. Cal's opponents were successful only about 40% of the time on 3rd and three or fewer yards to go. It's not just Mebane, though. 3rd and 3 is a passing down in the Pac 10, and Cal was about 15% better than the national average in stopping opponents' attempts. That reflects good pass drops and cover skills by linebackers, and excellent tackling on quick outs.
Third and long (more than ten to go) is another story. There's two things at play here, I think. First, no pass rush - these patterns call for five and seven step drops and Cal rarely brought consistent heat on opposing QBs. The second factor is less troubling - Cal often surrendered third and longs when holding a big lead and sitting in a soft zone. This was even true in games like UCLA that were tight in the first half. Gregory's philosophy post-Tennessee was quite clear - the Bears would give up completions as long as no one got behind the secondary.
So what should we expect in 2007? It's impossible to say, but I think there are three people who will determine whether Cal can produce green graphs next season:
Kevin Bemoll. We need a guard who will be a road-grader in the short yardage game. Bemoll could be that guy.
Zach Follett. As much as I love Desmond Bishop, Follett will be a north-south Mike who stuffs fullbacks and creates chaos at the point of attack. Cal will need even more consistent Mike play to compensate for the loss of Mebane up front.
Jeff Tedford. Longshore was 19-33 in 3rd and 5 or less to go in 2006. The Bears converted each of those 19 completions for first downs (plus one PI call), so their success by air was much greater than their success on the ground. When you shorten the distance to 3rd and 3 or less, Longshore went 10-16 with two touchdowns and no picks. While everyone loves the power run game, JT may be tempted to put the ball in Longshore's hands more often on third down next season.