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Cal football: A brief Bear Raid guide

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An analysis of the Bear Raid offense and how it works. Or at least how it’s supposed to, as shown with Cal and Louisiana Tech clips. Now replete with gifs!

Sonny Dykes is leading the offense into year two of the Bear Raid
Sonny Dykes is leading the offense into year two of the Bear Raid
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(If the constant repetition of the gifs are bothering you, you can right click on them and click pause from the menu that pops up)

After the 2012 Cal offense of Jeff Tedford became moribund, resulting in a coaching change to Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes. Coach Dykes brought the majority of his offensive coaching staff with him, a group that had led the top offense in the country. That Louisiana Tech group helmed an offense that averaged 51.5 points per game, 350.8 passing yards per game, and 227.2 rushing yards per game. In bringing that system to the west coast, Cal brass hoped that offensive spark could revitalize an unexciting offense. While the passing game set records last year at Cal, the running game left much to be desired. That isn’t even mentioning the trail of compromised livers that the defense caused. So the focus for this year is on what went right, wrong, and how it can fit what the coaching staff wants the Bear Raid to be.

The idea of the Bear Raid comes from the Tony Franklin System, a system developed by offensive coordinator Tony Franklin that is packaged and sold to high school coaches. It is meant to be an up-tempo offense based on balance, packages, and wearing the defense down. The balance part of the offense didn’t emerge last season for Cal as it did in Dykes and Franklin’s final season at Louisiana Tech, but that has to change in order for Cal’s offense to be effective.

One main piece of the Bear Raid is how plays can be built off of one another. In a traditional offense, usually this comes into play in the play-action passing game. Run a power to the right enough that the defense creeps up to attack the run and then fake the power, get the defense flowing to stop it, and throw a delay route to the tight end for a big gain.



The building of plays off of one another has a couple more levels in Cal’s offense. The offense can run a power left or right, with a guard pull left or right. The rest of the offensive line blocks down, ergo against the motion of the run. In this scenario below during the Louisiana Tech vs. Texas A&M matchup in 2012, they run the power out of the Bone formation, but this can be run out of the normal spread formation with two receivers to each side.



The left guard pulls across the formation to block a linebacker, while the right tackle blocks down on the defensive end, opening up a hole for the running back to gain a solid seven yards. The other lineman and fullbacks stick to their assignments in order to open that space for the runner. Linebackers are taught to follow the pulling guard to the hole in order to make the stop, and if the offense runs powers too often, the defense will key in on it. The offense can use different backfield motion, such as placing the running back on the other side of the quarterback and running a counter to the same hole, the quarterback keeping it or running play action to keep the defense off balance as shown below.



Here the Louisiana Tech offense runs the same offensive line blocking as if they were running a power left towards the trips side. However, Colby Cameron fakes the power and hits Quinton Patton on a five yard hitch route. Patton goes for another sixteen yards after the catch due to his open field abilities. What Tony Franklin wants to see is the defense trying to anticipate the next play instead of taking the extra moment to assess the situation. That anticipation can put players out of place, leaving holes for the offense to exploit. In this case, it leaves man coverage playing off on the outside, which allows Patton to make the catch and to get past the corner in the open field and spring free for a big gain.

This leads to another base play, the zone run. This can be run out of any formation, and it uses a series of mesh blocks to give the running back a cutback lane. Mesh blocks are where offensive linemen will double team a defensive player initially, then one will rub off to block a linebacker at the second level. Usually this means the blocking scheme will flow one way. An example of this is below, with Louisiana Tech’s offensive line flowing to the right in the trips right formation. The running back cuts to the outside for a gain of five.



The success of the running game in scenarios like this can lead to greater success for the offense in the passing game. An example of this is later in the drive, they run a power fake on 3rd and 1. The corner plays up expecting the hitch, but gets beat allowing a touchdown on a fade route. Expectations become a killer for the defense.


Of course, the offense doesn’t always need a solid running game in order to be successful with passing and play-action. Cal’s offense last year didn’t have a running back crack 500 yards for the year, and gained 60 less yards on the ground than in 2012. A defense looking to make the big play can still get fooled for large gains. An example of this was against Ohio State. The Ohio State defense had held Cal pretty well up to this point, aside from a broken play leading to a 61 yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to James Grisom. On this example, the offensive line flows to the right, indicating a zone blocking scheme with the ball going to Brendan Bigelow on a pitch, something that the Bears had run previously. Goff wheels around and delivers the screen pass to Chris Harper, four of the lineman break to form a makeshift shield for him to run behind, and 42 yards later he scores. The Cal running game had not been successful up to this point, or ever after this point, but they took advantage of an over aggressive scheme that played right into their hands on this play.



The lack of a running game for Cal eventually caught up to them, as the passing game alone couldn’t keep up with the maelstrom of points their defense allowed. The offense’s high play count also didn’t amount to scoring in the red zone, something that would’ve let the defense not play in as much of a deficit. Luckily, Cal returns four starters and has five players with game experience on their offensive line. Adding that to more experienced running backs, an excellent receiving core, a quarterback who broke the school passing record as true freshman, and another year of familiarity to the system will make Cal a dangerous offense for defenses in the Pac-12 to match up against. Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin now have to put their players in situations for success and keep up a frenetic tempo, and if they do, it's a cause for celebration.