Two surprising Pac-12 contenders square off Saturday in a conference showdown, when #23 California travels to Salt Lake City to take on #5 Utah. Mark Schofield breaks down the California passing concepts.
This game features some standout offensive players, including Utah RB Devontae Booker, California wide receiver Kenny Lawler, and California quarterback Jared Goff. The matchup between the Utes’ defense and the Golden Bears’ offense is one to watch, particularly how Utah handles three of California’s trusted passing concepts.
Three Verticals With a Crosser
As we have covered, California likes to use the four verticals concept, and their quarterback has no fear trying to attack the sidelines against any coverage. But they also use a variant of this play, featuring an underneath crossing route instead of a fourth vertical pattern.
On this play, Jared Goff lines up in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field in a tight trips left and a single receiver split to the right. Washington State has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary. The Golden Bears run the three outside receivers on straight vertical routes, while tight end Stephen Anderson (#89) ‒ the inside trips receiver ‒ runs an intermediate crossing route.
The vertical route from the receiver on the right pulls both the weakside safety and cornerback deep, allowing Anderson to find a soft spot over the middle:
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Goff hits the TE with a perfectly timed and placed throw giving the Golden Bears a first down.
Just because the offense uses a crossing route with this design, does not mean a defense can sleep on the vertical routes. Here California has an 11 personnel package in the game, with a wider trips formation on the left with a single receiver set outside right. The Cougars have their 4-2-5 nickel in the game with three safeties on the field, showing Cover 4 in the secondary before the play. The offense runs three vertical routes, with Anderson again dragging underneath. Washington State stays with Cover 4, rotating the weakside safety into the box under the single receiver, and the playside safety stays with Anderson on his crossing route:
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Outside Zone Play Action with Backside In-Cut
Another concept that California likes to use is a play action design where the running back fakes an outside run, and Goff looks to throw an in-cut on the backside. On this first play, Goff is in the shotgun again with 11 personnel on the field, with trips tleft and a single receiver right. Washington State has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, again using three safeties in the secondary.
California fakes an outside zone run to running back Vic Enwere (#23) while WR Kanawai Noa (#81) runs a skinny post from the right. The Cougars roll their coverage to Cover 1 on the play, making the throwing window very big for Goff to find Noa on the inside route:
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California also uses this design to free up Anderson underneath. On this play against Washington State, Goff is in the shotgun with an 11 package on the field. The tight end is in the trips formation to the right, with a single receiver set to the left. The Cougars have their 4-2-5 package in the game, showing Cover 4 in the secondary. Again, Enwere fakes an outside zone run to the left, but this time Anderson runs a shallow route working from the backside.
Watch as the play action fake draws forward the linebackers, opening up room for the TE:
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The Golden Bears also use this concept in the red zone. Here, California faces 1st and goal on the Texas Longhorns three-yard line, Goff is in the shotgun with 10 offensive personnel on the field, in dual slot formations. Texas has their 4-2-5 defense in the game, showing Cover 0 in the secondary. Running back Tre Watson (#5) fakes the outside zone to the left, while Lawler runs the quick in cut from the right.
Goff, showing the trust he has in Lawler, puts the football where only the WR can get it:
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Lawler runs a terrific route, faking to the outside before cutting on the post, and goes up for the touchdown grab.
Speaking of the wide receiver, the final “concept” to cover is the tremendous trust that Goff has in his favorite target. We have already covered one example, where the QB finds Lawler on the four verticals concept against Cover 2.
Here, California trails by 10 late in the first half, following a strip-sack that led to a Texas touchdown. But Goff has the Golden Bears driving, facing a 1st and 10 at the Longhorn 26-yard line. The quarterback is in the shotgun with a 10 group on the field, and Lawler split out as a single receiver to the right. Texas deploys their 4-2-5 sub package, showing Cover 2.
Lawler runs a vertical route:
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The playside cornerback sinks underneath the vertical route and the safety rotates over, constricting the throwing window. But Goff takes the chance, fitting this throw between two defenders.
Here is another example of Goff looking for Lawler in the red zone, along the sideline. The quarterback is in the shotgun with an 11 package, with a TE trips on the left and Lawler split wide to the right. The receiver is using a wide split, so the CB uses an inside alignment to try and establish inside leverage, expecting an inside route:
But Lawler releases vertically:
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Goff shows tremendous touch, trust, and accuracy here, delivering a pass to the outside:
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Lawler does a terrific job turning his body back to the football. Also, notice how the Cougars try and take away a shorter route from Lawler, dropping the weakside defensive end into an underneath zone, aiming to take away any quick curl or comeback route from Lawler.
These are just some of the ways California attacks a defense through the passing game, but they are crucial to what they do on offense. Whether Utah is capable of stopping these concepts will go a long way to determining the winner.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdowns.