If Cal running back Patrick Laird needed a wingman, wide receiver Vic Wharton III might not be a bad option. Midway through the second quarter during Cal vs. Oregon State, Wharton exemplified that while he is capable of being the showstopper, he can also be a pivotal behind-the-scenes man on the way to securing any type of bag.
In this specific Tale of the Tape, Cal’s offensive scheme dismantled OSU’s cover four defense, (we’ll get there in just a bit), and Laird got the glory and the touchdown. But as Wharton met him in the end zone, he smiled, likely knowing that by selling his route, the Bears were 6 points closer to a win.
As the Bears led the Beavers 7-0 with seven minutes to play in the second quarter, wide receiver Kanawai Noa was pitted on the left side of the field, with Laird in the backfield and Chase Garbers at the helm as quarterback. Wharton lined up on the right side of the field at the Beavers 29-yard line as the other of the two eligible wide receivers.
The play starts with a less than typical offensive scheme from Cal, with no slot receiver on the field. More often than not, the Bears will run with “10” or “11” personnel schemes that leave four or three wide receivers on the field, respectively (10 — one running back, no tight end; 11 — one running back, one tight end). But the magic behind this play is in the “12” personnel scheme — one running back and two tight ends.
Here you will see Cal’s tight ends lined up on the field — 6’4’’ Jake Ashton and 6’7’’ Ian Bunting — big bodies whose primary responsibility is to block. More specifically, look at Bunting as the play progresses (closest to the bottom of your screen).
OK, I told you we would get back to OSU’s cover four defense. The Beavers have two linebackers in the middle of the field and two on the line of scrimmage. The cornerbacks and safeties then split up their coverage of the field into four zones.
Bunting is going to take on OSU linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray’s initial contact once the ball is snapped.
While Bunting holds off Hughes-Murray, Laird begins running his slant route out of the backfield, and Wharton takes off deep downfield. Garbers immediately looks to the right side of the field.
Once Hughes-Murray reads the play, he lets up on Bunting and turns his attention to Laird, who is in his zone and who becomes his new assignment. Garbers looks to his right, and Wharton, who is in one-on-one coverage closer to the end zone, steals the spotlight for just a second. Wharton demanded the attention of the cornerback as he cut inside, creating just enough of a window for Laird to get open.
But just inside the 20-yard mark, Hughes-Murray just got beat by Laird. A juke here, some lateral movement there, and Laird makes it (basically) impossible for Hughes-Murray to recover lost ground. To expect even an explosive linebacker to match the physical and swift running powers of a tailback is foolish, and Laird exposes the mismatch.
Garbers targets Laird down the sideline and connects with his man — Hughes-Murray has no chance of stopping him at this point. Laird hauled in the pass and zoomed past two OSU defenders into the black spray-painted turf. Touchdown.
Wharton was scheming and selling his route when Laird caught the 29-yard pass from Garbers that put Cal up 14-0. A gentlemen’s handshake and a smile later, and Wharton and Laird knew they got the job done.