The OC (Examining Frank Cignetti, Part I)

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, July 7th, 2008

We’re inching towards kickoff–and by inching, I mean baseball season sucks. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be eyeing several key points of Cal’s 2008 season, culminating with the crucial quarterback battle. I’ll start by discussing our new offensive coordinator and what his playcalling and personality at Fresno State was like.

Frank Cignetti’s record at Fresno State and the offensive prowess of those teams he coordinated speak for itself. But stats can only tell how talented the team was, not how good of a playcaller he was. I inquired on the FSU message boards and got conflicting responses on how good Cignetti really was as a playcaller. You know, things like this:

“He left more because of family pressure than anything else. Had it been up to him he would have stayed. He liked working for Pat Hill and he liked living in Fresno and coaching at Fresno State.”

“Cignetti’s offense may not have been innovative but it was effective and the Dogs were successful under him. I don’t know how he is outside of football but on the field he had a winning product and really isn’t that all that matters?”

“Really? I thought that if anything, if you want to get a sense of the usual playcalling during the Cignetti era, you don’t watch tape of the Dogs versus USC ’05 or versus Virginia ’04. I regarded those games as total aberrations and out-of-character. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, though.”

Uh. Okay. A whole lot you can learn from that, and that’s that nobody from Fresno agrees on how good Frank Cignetti is.

Thankfully though, a few people wrote more cogent opinions. The best answers I got were from the poster JADogs05, and his responses are after the jump. Questions in bold, my comments are italicized, his responses are in normal font.

What type of offense did Cignetti run while he was at Fresno State?

While Cignetti was here, we relied primarily on a dominant running game. in 04, we had two rushers at 1,000 yards (Mathis actually only had 995, but whatever), and an athletic OL.

The offense in ’05 pummeled opponents. While it may not have been in the flashy manner that many prefer, it got the job done. His offense revolved around the run–runs up the middle preceded a bomb out of play action, at which point the passing game opened up. Sounds predictable, but throughout most of his stint at FS, there were some really skilled athletes to execute this.

Well, this sounds familiar. Tedford seems to have hired a coordinator out of his own box. Nothing out-of-the-box like Dunbar. It seems Cignetti will be perfect for what Tedford desires out of his offensive players.

How much of FSU’s success on the field was due to the talent on the field through recruiting, and how much can be attributed to Cignetti’s playcalling?

As far as the development of your wideouts goes, I really can’t venture a guess. Cignetti was blessed with a complete WR group while at FS–he had the physical specimen in Paul Williams, the speedster in Jennings, the route-runner with hands in Fernandez, and the big receiver in Jamison. All of those guys were legitimate threats while he was here. Two (Jennings/Williams) are in the NFL (not sure what’s going on with Fernandez, though. Last I heard, he was impressing coaches in Seattle), and I believe I heard that the other is playing in Canada.

I have no idea what our receivers will be like this fall. Are we versatile, or is every player a model of the other like last year’s team (fast and small receivers)?

Were there any type of plays he really liked running that you loved to see? Or was it a very dynamic approach where every play seemed unpredictable?

As far as gimmicks went, they were few and far between. Every now and then, we would see a WR lined up at fullback. This did a few things: first, it locked the speedy wideout in a matchup with an LB, which often resulted in an open player (Paul Williams TD 2 vs. BSU in 05, for example.). Secondly, it provided the offense with flexibility. We could move the receiver around as needed to exploit zone coverages. Cignetti, however, was not afraid to use the WR to block for the run…180-lb Adam Jennings made a block out of the FB position that gave Wendell Mathis a TD against BSU…on an interior run.

Aside from that, we did attempt two or three fake punts while Cig was here.

It would be interesting to see receivers like Boateng and Calvin lining up in the backfield. Cal has much stronger receivers than last year, so they could be used a lot more for run-blocking purposes with some occasional Longshore flings toward said receiver moving out of the in backfield.

Given what you know about Cignetti, what will be the most crucial parts of Cal’s offense next year in determining their on-field performance?

I know a bit about Cal’s team this year. If Cignetti stays true to what he’s best at, Jahvid Best’s development will decide the success of your offense. Not only will he have to rely on his speed, but he’ll have to bang it inside. It’s good that Cal has a stable of young backs this year for precisely that purpose.

Cig also made sure that the best players got the ball. If Longshore is going to be your QB, you’re going to have to rely on a mid-range passing game, though, especially with the loss of your top two wideouts. Cignetti will chuck it long every now and then to keep the defense honest or if the safeties can be exploited, but it probably won’t be an integral part of your gameplan.

If there’ s anything we know about Nate Longshore, he can pass that mid-range ball all game long, regardless of ankle injury or no ankle injury. It would have been interesting to see what Cignetti would have done with last year’s talent, but this time around he’s got a developing group. Not exactly ideal, but we’re going to have to see what he does.

At first glance, Cignetti seems like the typical Tedford coordinator, one who will rely heavily on the basic offensive sets of power run, play action, etc. etc. Nothing unconventional, typically conventional. If this blueprint of Cignetti is accurate, don’t expect too many changes in Cal’s playbook next year, other than Jeff Tedford not carrying that Biblical flashcard around anymore. This seems like delegating authority, with the company leader passing on orders to the first sergeant.

Next: Analyzing Cignetti’s playcalls in Bulldog Territory.

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