What to expect from Cal football’s offense in 2020

Cal Football
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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let’s just say that Cal didn’t reach its offensive potential in 2019. There’s really nothing more to say about a group that ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in almost every significant offensive category, and it may be best if the past is left in the past.

There’s a lot to look forward to for Cal fans, and the stellar play of Chase Garbers along with the emergence of Makai Polk and Christopher Brown Jr. give Cal’s offense hope. These up-and-coming stars, along with another solid recruiting class by Justin Wilcox and company, point toward the emergence of a talented offense poised to make a splash in the Pac-12 North. But it’s not about talent for the Bears — it’s about finding an offensive coordinator who can consistently execute a game plan that will put the team in the best position to win week in and week out. So, without further ado, let’s meet the man of the hour: Cal’s new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave.

For those who are unfamiliar with him, Musgrave is a former offensive coordinator for the Broncos, Raiders and Vikings, among other teams, and his long tenure in the NFL speaks volumes toward the effectiveness of his system. Musgrave has traditionally employed a number of “West Coast” concepts in his passing game, as well as an emphasis on zone run schemes. Knowing this gives the avid Cal fan two questions: What is the West Coast offense, and how will it help the Bears in 2020?

The good news is that the West Coast offense is relatively easy to define but fairly difficult to defend. West Coast offenses predicate themselves on more plays with the quarterback under center and emphasize precise horizontal movement and ball-control offense. In the passing game, play-callers, and Musgrave in particular, call timing and rhythm passing plays that have high percentage completion rates, such as slants, hitches and the like.

With QBs making quick progression reads, it allows receivers to catch the ball in plenty of space, creating opportunities for incredibly athletic players such as Nikko Remigio in the slot and Polk on the outside to get easy receptions and create yards after the catch for big gains.

With such action, Cal intends to make itself an absolute nightmare for defenses on a play-by-play basis, as all that precision passing and space will ensure that someone is always open. On top of that, there are a lot of players who can make opponents pay for lapses in coverage on this Cal team.

Additionally, West Coast offenses utilize both the fullback and tight end much more than other “spread” offenses, and these versatile players create matchup problems for the defense. Musgrave adheres to this philosophy, and about 18% of all receiving yards and 24% of receptions come courtesy of the tight end position. With the late-season emergence of Jake Tonges, the tight end spot looks like it will continue to be relevant in Musgrave’s offense.

Now, let’s move on to the running game, where the Bears saw most of their offensive triumphs in 2019. Musgrave has a long, long history of success in the running department as well. Utilizing a “zone” style of run blocking, Musgrave allows the running back to pick a hole in a zone that the offensive line creates by moving as a cohesive unit in one direction. Giving the running back the option to choose which lane they run through creates even more space on offense and provides the offense flexibility and the ability to adapt to whatever the defense shows them.

Musgrave also mixes in power and counter running schemes, along with a heavy dose of under-center play-action passing. Over the last four years of his coaching, Musgrave’s running backs have averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry in the NFL, with former Colorado standout Phillip Lindsay reaching 5.1 yards per carry and making the Pro Bowl. To add on to that, remember when Adrian Peterson ran for more than 2,000 yards in a season? Musgrave was his offensive coordinator. Now combine Musgrave’s running schemes and NFL success with Brown’s 7.5 yards per carry in 2019, and you have a running offense that should absolutely terrify opposing defenses.

Cal fans have a lot to look forward to this season, and the avid viewer should look for all that aforementioned space and precision in the offense as the season progresses. Musgrave brings a new offensive philosophy to this Cal team and looks poised to have the first offensive identity since Sonny Dykes and his Air Raid offense. Under Musgrave’s guidance, Garbers and the entire offense should be able to make significant strides toward the excellence they are so clearly capable of.

Jesse Stewart is a sports staff writer. Contact him at [email protected].