As demoralizing as Cal’s recent loss to Washington was, the second-half offensive tape featured a few promising plays, including one Jack Plummer throw that may be among his best of the season.
Having won the coin toss and deferred, Cal got the ball down 6-0 to open the second half and marched down the field in 13 plays and a little under five minutes to score a touchdown. The scoring play came on a second and goal, with a shotgun formation with Jaydn Ott as the running back. The receivers lined up in a cluster right formation, which features three receivers on the right side of the offensive line by two yards. The middle receiver lines up two yards to the right of the offensive line, while the inside and outside receivers line up a yard behind him on both sides.
For Cal, the inside receiver was redshirt freshman J.Michael Sturdivant, who ran a flat route to the outside. Meanwhile, the middle receiver for Cal was Mavin Anderson and the outside was Mason Starling, with the former running a crossing seam route and the latter running a post curl. Both of these players were seeing increased roles due to Jeremiah Hunter’s injury. On the left side of the formation, Cal had tight end Jermaine Terry II run an option route while Ott ran a swing route from the backfield.
On the right side, Cal is running some variation of the “hank” route concept, a basic route combination that features a curl route and a flat route. In this formation, both the curl and flat receivers — Sturdivant and Starling — lined up well behind the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the middle receiver ran a seam route to the left, presumably to draw the safety. Ideally, the hank combination exploits both the hook and flat defender, and the quarterback throws to the first read pending coverage.
The other side of the formation featured a stick concept, where Terry II ran an option route on the flat defender. If Washington had played man defense, Terry II would run to the flat. Since they played zone coverage, he ran a hitch and drew underneath coverage from a deep safety in doing so. Meanwhile, Ott ran a swing route to the left, presumably to draw the eyes of the flat defender responsible for Terry.
On the other side of the ball, Washington ran some variation of a cover 6 defense and a four-man rush. This is a combination of cover 2 and cover 4 defenses: The right side of Cal’s formation faced cover 2 while the left side faced cover 4. This defense had flat defenders ready and sniffed out both route combinations efficiently, forcing Plummer to think on his feet.
After scrambling to the right, the throw seemed all but over for Plummer. However, instead of opting to scramble, Plummer kept his eyes downfield. After drawing inside linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala from his hook coverage assignment in the middle of the field, Plummer saw an opening. Recognizing the scramble drill, Sturdivant did not finish his flat route, and opted to run to the middle of the field, which was open due to Tuputala’s pursuit of Plummer. This was Cal’s first touchdown of the game, as Plummer delivered a strike across his body to give the Bears the lead.
Typically, throwing across one’s body is a big no-no for quarterbacks. Rare talents in the NFL such as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes can pull this off consistently and successfully, but it is generally not advised. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre infamously ended their season in the playoffs in attempting this, as it’s among the riskiest throws for a quarterback to make. In most universes, this likely turns out to be one of Plummer’s worst throws. In this universe, however, it worked out — and he’ll need many more against a tough Oregon team.