The Bears needed every point they could get to outduel Washington State 42-39. And it began with their first offensive possession, a 12-play, 65-yard drive capped off by a touchdown from tight end Jack Endries.
Endries’s touchdown was set up by a series of plays during that drive down field that put the Cougars’ defense on their heels by the time Cal got into the red zone. The efforts of running back Jaydn Ott and quarterback Fernando Mendoza throughout the drive put Endries in position to catch his second touchdown of the season.
Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital called a series of read-option plays in the shotgun that allowed Ott to churn ahead for a number of chunk runs. Aware of Mendoza’s legitimate threat as a runner, the WSU defense had a difficult time distinguishing where the ball was going, but more importantly, establishing the threat of the run game early in the drive.
This forced the Cougars to start stacking the box with these seven-man fronts. Washington State began to run several 4-3 over front formations to sell out and stop the run game, which started to stifle the Ott runs a bit during that drive.
However, Spavital countered by running a series of jet sweeps off of the wide receiver motions. With WSU taking away the inside run game, the Bears used these jet sweeps to Mavin Anderson and Justin Williams-Thomas to get to the edge quicker and also force the Cougar linebackers to play laterally.
Above all, the jet sweeps had the linebackers’ eyes looking in the backfield. Presnap movement is tricky because the offense can run a number of options and similar looks off of the motion. It forces opposing linebackers to quickly diagnose a run or pass play because if they get caught leaning one way or another, the offense can punish them.
So, eleven plays into the drive, the touchdown play has arrived. To this point, Cal ran eight straight run plays (technically the two jet sweeps were forward passes but they are plays designed for action in the backfield). The Washington State defense is intent on stopping the run near the goal line.
The Cougars show their same 4-3 over front with a single high safety. The Bears have Endries stacked on the left, another tight end stacked right and two wide receivers outside on the right. The play is for Endries to leak out to the left corner after feigning a block on a fake quarterback keeper. There’s no need for presnap motion — the Bears have the left corner cleared out with the two receivers outright.
Mendoza snaps the ball, and the entire offensive line pulls to the left to sell the run. As the play develops, all three linebackers have their eyes in the backfield due to the set up with the jet sweeps and play actions. Mendoza also fakes a handoff to Ott before keeping the ball, helping to hold the defense long enough for Endries to convincingly fake a block.
With the linebackers preoccupied with stopping the run, Endries chips the outside edge rusher and sneaks behind the second level of the 4-3 front. Mendoza acts as if he’s darting for the end zone long enough to keep the linebackers distracted before throwing a jump pass to Endries — standing wide open in the corner of the end zone.
Washington State’s offensive lineman sold out to show run and might have gotten away with an ineligible receiver downfield — with Barrett Miller on the edge of the three-yard legal zone for blockers on a pass play. But regardless, the Bears exploited the Cougars’ aggressiveness in stopping the run — which Cal strategically set up throughout the course of the drive — resulting in the Bears’ first offensive touchdown of the game.