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Stanford Game-Video Breakdown: Offense vs. Cal Defense

In what we hope to be a continuing series of breakdowns of Stanford games played under Jim Harbaugh, I'm starting with a game against the University of California from 2010.  The idea is that in taking a close look at these game-videos, perhaps we get a slight glimpse into the finer points of the X's and O's Jim Harbaugh and his staff used at Stanford...seeing as how he essentially brought the whole band with him to Santa Clara.

While the 49ers' personnel is different both talent-wise and skillset-wise, coaches still have tendencies and favor some plays/formations.  I have no doubt that we'll see at least some of the things from these Stanford games very soon, on Sundays...assuming the NFL and the players get their collective crap together.

So let's get started checking out Stanford's offense versus Cal's defense and see what trends we might identify.  Big props to Josh from Mocking the Draft for clipping these videos, removing commercials, huddles, and all other non-essential content. 

The video is posted after the jump.

High level overview and thoughts:

Wow.  Formations, formations, formations.  No wonder there's constant disagreement on what to call Harbaugh's "system" be it West Coast Offense or something else!  And did you see all the motion?  Backs motioning, receivers, tight ends.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the QB motion out of the formation...

Speaking of the QB, Andrew Luck was VERY active not only as a passer but as a runner too.  Both designed QB options, sprints, etc. as well as being prepared to run if the progressions ran out and a lane was there.  I'm starting to see why Harbaugh likes Colin Kaepernick so much (and Alex Smith too, who's no slouch with his feet).

To be quite honest with you though, I saw several plays that the 49ers have had in the playbook the last few years and that Frank Gore is gonna love.

This offense uses all the run principles: power, stretch, dive, counter...I think Harbaugh and Co. ran the ball just about every possible way it could be called in this game (and I'm betting this is a trend!).  There were single-back sets, two-back sets, THREE-back sets...pulling guards, reverses, hints of option-football.

Oh, and they threw the ball out of just about every "running formation" as well.  This is what Jimmy Raye struggled to do with his spread-QB: modify the offense to get power runs out of various formations which would also allow for creative passing.  I have NO doubt that Harbaugh will be able to keep defenses guessing the entire game.

Some specific plays to note:

At 1:40 we see the offense line up in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) with twins right (2 WR).  Typical run formation, motioning TE dancing in place...we've seen this before, right?  Now, Luck didn't turn this one into a big play but I love this one.  Play action, fast away from center, then bootleg's to QB's right side.  Luck probably could have run for 12 yards here but there should have been an open receiver to hit as well.  One TE stayed in to block while the other slipped up the seam.  You'll see the near-side CB bite on the run fake, then turn and bail...leaving just TWO defenders deep to cover 3 vertical releases.  Luck was a bit late getting rid of the ball here but he had his choice of the TE seam or the deep out on the sideline.  If the TE had modified his route to be a little more vertical the safety would have had NO chance to make it over the top and a quick throw would have gone for a huge gain.  Pause the video at 1:44 and see the void left by 8-in-the-box and a good run-fake.  This is an NFL play out of a personnel package the 49ers LOVE to run with Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

At 3:26 we see 12 formation again, only this time with a bunch right.  Now this is something I expect Kendall Hunter to get a chance to run immediately: the toss sweep.  Not only do you get two receivers and a tight end blocking, but they pull a very athletic tackle as well to create a varitable wall of Cardinal for the runner.  The TE seals the edge as the tackle pulls around him and looks for someone to hit.  The receivers take any LB/S in front of them, leaving a DB or S to contend with an offensive lineman running downhill.  Just the sheer confusion and bodies around make it hard for a defender to sift-through the trash and make a tackle.  A speedy back turns this into a big gain.

At 6:05 is a key play, a gotta-have-it play that although it was run on 2nd down, would be a great 3rd down play.  The receivers all draw man-to-man coverage and the defense also sends some pass rush up the middle.  It looked like a 5-man rush with a LB spying the RB.  When the RB didn't release into a pass patter, rather stayed in to pass protect, the LB smashed the middle, leaving a huge void there.  The outside receiver just has to have inside leverage on the CB, who's playing the sideline (you'll see him turn 45 degrees towards the sideline at 6:10), then make a good cut on the drag (5yd square-in) and it's an easy catch-and-throw for 5 yards with only one man to beat for more yardage.  The inside receivers, having man coverage from the safeties, ran verticals to clear out the middle.  You'll notice the RB baits the LB by staying in the pocket just long enough to draw him in, then releases to the right flat.  That would have been a great checkdown option for a first-down if the middle was covered.

Those are just a few plays that are legitimate NFL calls.  The bottom line is that Stanford came out in run-heavy formations and beat the ball down Cal's throat, then passed on them when they stacked the box.  When Cal played the pass in multi-receiver sets, Stanford sent TE's and OL's at them, blocking for nice runs, to make them pay.

I'm certainly no Matt Bowen, but looking deeper at these plays get's me excited about Harbaugh and his staff calling offensive plays that maximize the personnel and matchups we see, throughout the entire game.  I have no doubt in their ability to adjust in-game either.  In fact, that's desirable to Harbaugh I'm betting.  He wants the defense to stop his running game after a while...that sets up the play action, the bootlegs, etc. so nicely.  He wants the defense to key in on something, anything, so he can take advantage.

I can't wait to get the NFL out of the court-room and onto the football field so we can take this new car for a drive!