"Bear Raid" Offense Poses Challenges for Buckeyes

By Kyle Rowland on September 12, 2013 at 9:15a
Sonny Dykes watches over one of the nation's top offenses.

Ruston, Louisiana, might be located in a football-mad state, but try luring blue-chip college football players to Louisiana Tech. It rarely happens. What occurred last year at the school located in the rural Deep South nearly resulted in a BCS bid for the Bulldogs.

A two-point loss to Texas A&M, a six-point loss to Utah State and a nine-point loss to San Jose State derailed those plans, though. And soon after the season finale, Louisiana Tech’s bowl plans were derailed by a greedy athletic director.

When Cal came calling for head coach Sonny Dykes, the decision was a no-brainer. Dykes had already said the San Francisco Bay Area was his ideal living location. So he packed his up-tempo offense and went to the West Coast.

Dykes comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree, and it’s obvious to anyone who watched Louisiana Tech last year or Cal this season. The Bulldogs led the nation in total offense and scoring offense, were third in passing yards per game, seventh in sacks allowed and 17th in rushing.

The Bears won 15 games in the final three years of the Jeff Tedford era. He left as the school’s winningest coach, but his offense, which produced several NFL quarterbacks, grew stagnant.

Enter the Bear Raid.

Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is just as important to the equation as Dykes. The duo got their start at Kentucky under Hal Mumme and Leach. Dykes and Franklin want Cal to run plays quickly and efficiently. Consider that goal accomplished. The offense can run 100 plays per game and put up crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

True freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who leads the nation in passing yards, said defensive linemen are noticeably tired as the game goes on. The surge in offenses with the goal of running play after play after play has led some teams to faking injuries, a la the other futebol. Northwestern was accused during its season-opening win at Cal. Ohio State said it will stay away from that strategy.

“I’ve never tried to fake an injury. I've tried to fake not being injured,” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said, with a chuckle.

Said linebacker Joshua Perry: “There will be none of that faking stuff. We’re just going to go out there and play the game that we play.”

Dykes said he was disappointed and found it unusual that Northwestern seemed to suffer injuries whenever Cal picked up a first down. Defenses have found it nearly impossible to substitute when facing teams that run a hurry up style offense, magnifying the importance of depth.

The Buckeyes were without Adolphus Washington for three quarters last week after he suffered a groin strain, and the versatile defensive end hasn’t practiced yet this week. Pressuring Goff is essential in limiting the Bears’ effectiveness and efficiency on offense. To prepare, the Silver Bullets have practiced in constant motion.

“When we do scout work and we go against the twos, they’re just going to be doing jet,” Bennett said. “They’re just going to be going play after play. Whether they complete passes or not, the coaches are going to put the ball on the ground and we have to run back and get set.”

“There will be none of that faking stuff. We’re just going to go out there and play the game that we play.”

Nick Saban, Bret Bielema and other coaches have bemoaned the growing trend of fast-paced offenses. Some have called it unfair while others have concerns about player safety. Not coincidentally, all the complaints have come from coaches and players with defense in mind, something Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers pointed out.

“It’s good for the offensive game. It’s good for recruiting,” he said. “Defensively, just like anything else, wishbone, the run and shoot, now this – it will come back to two back, one back, pretty quick.”

That’s a possibility, but even NFL teams are moving toward offenses that are centered on a high volume of plays and giving quarterbacks the freedom to decipher the appropriate action. From Mike Shanahan, a veteran NFL coach, to teams hiring college coaches – Chip Kelly being the biggest example – franchises are looking to gain any and every advantage on offense.

Philadelphia’s performance Monday night only lent more credence to the pro-up-tempo crowd. The Eagles built a huge lead behind Kelly’s style. What Cal does differs, but the end goal is the same: get the defense fatigued and put the offense in situations to succeed.

Dykes has orchestrated 103 offensive snaps per game so far with 468 yards per game coming through the air. The pace has helped Goff due to defenses being on alert every play.

“It’s a challenge,” Bennett said. “As a defensive player, you hate it because they just run it and run it and go and go and go. It's really tiring and you don't have time to bring in subs. People don’t like it because it’s hard. But you don’t just get to ignore something because it’s hard.”

The Buckeyes have watched plenty of Louisiana Tech film this week to familiarize them with Dykes’ philosophy. One thing they notice is the run game. It’s not absent, but instead a key component. It’s also something Cal has struggled with.

The top rushers from last season’s team are gone and Brendan Bigelow, coming off a meniscus tear, hasn’t been able to break out yet. Louisiana Tech averaged 227 yards rushing last year; Cal is gaining just over 100.

“When we got here a label (Bear Raid) was thrown out there because of the [coaching] tree. We don’t identify it that way,” Franklin said during the spring. “Run it, throw it, it doesn’t matter, whereas the true Air Raid is, we’re going to throw it no matter what. We’re going to play fast and find a way to put points on the board.”

To help compensate, Ohio State is toying with the idea of using as many as six defensive backs. It’s a number Withers has had in mind since the spring. It would mean a three-man rush and eight players dropping back in pass coverage.

“It’s all about personnel,” Meyer said. “If it’s no tight end and no running back, you have to be in some type of dime if you want to play man coverage. And we just didn’t have that type of ability last year.”

More man-to-man coverage against Cal calls for more defensive backs, just how Withers drew it up. That’s the reason for the smile.

“I like it a lot,” he said. “I think in today’s game, you have to be able to do that.”


Comments Show All Comments

jdagrava.1's picture

Last year against Purdue, this Buckeye offense was gouged time and time again by bubble/jail-break screens that went for long plays dues to bad tackling and soft a soft defensive scheme.  In the last two weeks I've witnessed the same, off-the-line/cushion type DB coverage that was the cause of these results last season.  The quick pass has killed us... and not only does Cal execute those plays well, they also bring an up-tempo offense along with it.  (To the tune of 100 snaps per game.)  I truly hope that our defensive coaches come up with a way to shut the short game down because it has proven to be such a thorn in our side in the past.

"It takes a little something special to be a great player.  What you got in you, we're going to find out.  And if there's a touch of greatness in there, how cool would that be?"

-Urban F. Meyer

Buckeye.383's picture

I completely agree. Those quick short passes have been, in my opinion, why we have struggled against Purdue the last couple years. Our man coverage has been too soft in the past, but I think this year's defense will be better able to handle these plays. And maybe more importantly, our defense is doing a better job of tackling which really hurt us last year against Cal. 

Born, raised, educated, and will die a Buckeye ~ BuckeyeNation

buckeye85's picture

How good is Cal's Oline?  If we can play man press and get consistent pressure in the QB it will go a long way towards disrupting their rhythm and with that type of quick pass offense, its all about rhythm.  I think we have the DB's to matchup with what they do.  We will definitely  see that 326 and 416 Dime formation we heard about.

wojodta's picture

I wouldn't think it would require anything too complicated. Just jam the receivers at the line so they can't do that quick stuff. For some reason we love playing soft coverage, at least early in the game.

rider1's picture

Exactly-disrupt the timing of the three step drop! 

The Butler's picture

I think the effectiveness of the jail break and bubble screens are the result of the defensive coverages we tend to run. An underneath pass is definitely a weakness of Cover 6. The philosophy of the defense is to make an offense beat you consistently with those types of plays. Don't let anyone get behind you, and continually force quick, accurate passes in order to move the chains.

I've trained Canaries in the sport of falconry.



NW had 2 pick 6s in their opener, that proved to be the difference. Can we get pressure on Goff with them throwing so quickly?

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Tim's picture

I'm hoping Roby or Grant jumps a route for a pick-6 or two.  Cal's going to be basically rushing to get as many plays as possible, and I can definitely see Roby baiting a freshman QB into a few bad throws.

ibuck's picture

Both of NW's pick-6's were on passes that were batted up in the air, and LUCKILY for NW, a DB was right there to grab the ball with had no one between him and the goal line. Will OSU be as fortunate? Better hope OSU's offense runs rampant against Cal's defense so the game doesn't turn on who has the ball last.
I'll be there rooting on the S&G. Go Buckeyes!

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Knarcisi's picture

I've stated this in other threads, so excuse any repetition, but if I can put it simply:
1) Press Coverage:  No sitting back soft and getting dinked and dunked. 
2) Tackle:  Especially because of #1 and all the underneath stuff.  I think our tackling has gotten a lot better and will be validated (or not) thsi week.
3) Mix up pressure/blitz packages:  Understood that a 3 step drop is hard to get to with a blitz, but we can disrupt.  I'd like to see more come from the middle - quicker to the QB than off the edge and gets someone in his face to disrupt visibility, passing lanes, and creates opps for tipped balls.  Stunts with the DEs/DTs I think can also get us into the backfield quickly. 

Jabba the Hoke's picture

1) open field tackling
2) open field tackling
3) pressure the qb

Even if they do play the short passing game, if you don't allow yac you'll be fine. Man press doesn't have to be there, but if they complete a short pass, we need to come up and make sure tackles for short gains.

cjmgobucks's picture

Put simply, I'm not sold on our tackling ability yet.  I saw some blatant missed tackles in the first two games.  Is it improved?  Maybe.  But we'd better get it squared away and quick because Cal will be a much more formidable foe than the likes of SDSU and Buffalo. 

"When I look in the mirror, I want to take a swing at me."

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

yrro's picture

From the charting project results... the vast majority of those were either 
1) Armani Reeves
2) Freshman backups
3) Armani Reeves
Although he did do better toward the end of the SDSU game, at least.

Ross Fulton's picture

FYI in OSU's dime coverage they generally use a four man rush. They were in dime for Steve Miller and Noah Spence/Michael Bennett's sacks.


They often play C2 or C3 behind it, but at times have sent the LB for a 5 man rush.

Ahh Saturday's picture

Hey Ross!
If you're still lurking in this thread, can you give us a little info on how exactly Cal is picking up all those passing yards?  Can Goff throw a deep ball?  Does Cal have a deep threat WR who can stretch the field?  I expect that Roby and D Grant are a more formidable opponent for Cal than whoever it was that Portland St had at CB, but does the Cal pass attack put particular pressure on the LBs?  Any insight beyond the typical message board banter of "dink and dunk" and "soft" coverage would be greatly appreciated.

Earle's picture

Not presuming to speak for Ross, and apologies in advance for typical message board banter, but a simplistic answer is that they just throw the ball a lot, as in 55-65 times a game.  So yes, it is a lot of yards, but if you break it down on a per play basis, it's not quite as impressive (7 yds per attempt vs. NW).
But it's not as if they are just throwing the ball all over the place.  They run a lot of plays, period (95 and 99 against NW and PSU, respectively), so they're still running the ball 30+ times a game.
So my take is that beyond basic defensive strategy, our staff needs to make sure we keep guys fresh on D, and that we control the ball on offense.  This is why I think Cal will see a steady diet of zone read, and why I think Guiton will start.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

lsjSnail's picture

I think your last point is most important. Controlling the game on offense, while making sure they score. I think that will give OSU's defense time to rest if the O-line can dominate.

hail2victors9's picture

How much does the Bear Raid affect OSU's offense?  Do they slow down to give their defense a few extra minutes of rest, or proceed as usual?

Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

Jabba the Hoke's picture

Proceed as usual, the Cal defense will be in the same boat. Why aren't we asking if Cal's offense will slow down to give their already weak defense a break?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Great point!
From what I can tell, there are two main advantages to "jet":

  1. Tires out the defense. In my inexpert opinion, this advantage is overrated when "jet" teams face defenses of elite programs that have better athletes than the offense and a lot of depth. Against defenses lacking depth, though, it can cause serious stress.
  2. Forces the defense to line up immediately after the previous play. Because "jet" limits substitutions and forces defenses to line up quickly, however, it can stress any defense - including elite defenses - in another key respect . . . not only does it force certain alignments and personnel groupings that might be favorable to the offense; it allows the offense to fake like it's about to hike the ball and then make the defenders stay poised in a ready position for another 10+ seconds while the offense calls audibles or faux audibles and the QB does handclaps, etc. In particular, 280+ lb pound DLmen might have to stay suspended in a 3-pt stance for 20+ seconds, not sure when the offense is going to hike the ball. 

Well, only in respect to #2 advantage above is Cal going to stress the Silver Bullets; whereas the Buckeyes slow/fast nu huddle "jet" will stress Cal's defense in both respects.

Jdadams01's picture

IMO, it will be as usual. Early on we'll mix tempo mid-series. Some downs will quick-snap, others will get to the line quickly, but hold time. And if we get a lead, Meyer will slow it down to an average tempo like he usually does. He will expect the defense to dictate tempo by getting Cal off of the field.

clogan1032's picture

That's a good question.  I would think you would want to slow it down a bit and keep Cal's offense off the field and try to disrupt Cal's offensive rhythm.  Sort of the same strategy deployed when we played Oregon.   Just don't think a shoot out is what Ohio State really wants to get into with a top offense (Statistically speaking), especially when our D still has some question marks and may not have completely shored up the soft coverage and tackling issues that have plagued this team in the past.

Knarcisi's picture

Very good question.  I think you'll see us change pace quite often like we usually do.  Very fast at times, more moderate at others.  I think if we get and build a lead, you'll see us slow it down a bit.

bucks_4_life's picture

this will be a good test for our defense. Im excited for this game. I'd love to see a couple pick 6's and a few big offensive touchdowns. I predict a breakout game by dontre this week. Cal doesn't have the speed to contain him.

The juice is worth the squeeze

saevel25's picture

I really like the idea of 6 defensive backs. Really a safety is just a faster line backer, maybe a little slimmed down. I honestly like the idea of putting 3 safeties in the game, ryan shazier and the top two DB's. Just have Shazier patrol the middle, or drop him in on an occasional blitz, maybe drop a lineman back in to a zone blitz.

Gametime's picture

In our base D, the 4-2-5, we depend on our Safeties and the Star position for run support. If we were to go Man-Press, I'd hope it's a Cover 1 look, and let a Safety play center-field to help prevent big plays deep.
As a guy who played DB, I know most of us prefer to play Man "Bump-N-Run" and if I'm the OSU D-Coordinators, I'd rather force a freshman (or any QB really) to have to make perfect throws deep down-field against our DBs or to have to throw perfect strikes on slant routes rather than consistently giving up 5-7 yards on quick outs and hitches.
Plus, playing press will give our D-line time to pin their ears back and get to the QB or at least get their hands up ala JJ Watt. Let Shazier roam the middle or blitz (i.e. make plays).
I'm sure they know much more about this in detail though :)

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

dlb72osu's picture

GT, I completely agree with your ideas. However, how good is this freshman qb for Cal? Idk, but if as good as advertised his long distance accuracy may be good enough to burn a "bump-n-run' cover db often. It will be interesting to see how our defensive game plan unfolds.
As you point out, the biggest asset to the man coverage is allowing any d-lineman or blitzes to affect the outcome of a pass play simply by getting to the qb. That's the one thing that the first two games have displayed.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

JimMoFo's picture

Cal's defensive coordinator after seeing Dontre Wilson.

southbay's picture

I haven't forgotten what Bigelow did last year, but now I read that he's dinged up, and I know they have a trust issue regarding his tendency to fumble.  He may be a red herring.
Watch out for Khalfani Muhammad, their hotshot freshman RB...
BTW I have to say I am impressed with Sonny Dykes on a number of different levels, and I think he may be able to get Cal back in contention with Stanford and Oregon.  My friends who are Cal fans are very excited now.  Jeff Tedford, on the other hand, didn't even seem like a football coach to me, kind of mild-mannered if you know what I mean.

okiebuck's picture

We've GOT to tackle; simple as that. They will complete a lot of passes but if we stop them in their tracks; game over! We've beat these type of offenses before; remember Texas Tech w/ Mike Leach and Cliff Kingsberry at QB; lots of completions but we kicked their ass!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

pjtobin's picture

Ain't scared!

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.