Battle of the Pac-12 Undefeated!

Cal and Utah, the two remaining undefeated teams in the Pac-12, clash tonight in Utah.  The Utes are ranked in the Top Ten after destroying Oregon, and had a bye this last week to prepare for Cal and to keep their perspective.  Other advantages for Utah:  they’ll be playing in front in front of a raucous home crowd, at an altitude of 4600′.

All that said, the Bears match up well against Utah.  Cal’s defense is tough against the run — Utah’s strength — and Utah’s defense is strongest against the run, but may be vulnerable against Jared Goff and Cal’s passing game.  Advantage: Cal.  Look for the Bears to establish the pass, and use its success in passing to spread the defense, and make its running game go.  If Coach Dykes tries to run between the tackles on first downs, Cal’s offense will be very one-dimensional, and Utah will win — by a lot.

The Emotional Game

Cal really hasn’t played its best on offense all year.  They’ve made mistakes in execution, and made games close that they really should’ve won by a much wider margin.  I think that the Bears play their best offensive game tonight.  This Cal team is strong & together emotionally.  They’ve won games that past Cal teams would’ve found a way to lose.

With Daniel Lasco back at 100%, and just about everyone healthy, their execution will improve enough to win.

And that’s what will happen, despite the Pac-12’s “favor the leaders” officiating.

Prediction: Cal wins a close one in Utah, 38-35.

And then there were 2…

Cal and Utah the “Big One” in Salt Lake City with ESPN College Game Day.  Hard to believe.  No one predicted that the last 2 undefeated teams in the P12 would be these in a showdown between the leaders of the Norris and Prince of Wales divisions.

Statistically the teams look similar, but Goff, Lawler and the rest of the receiving corps (15 TD, 4 INT) are a cut above Travis Wilson (4 TD, 1 INT) whose performances over the years have been inconsistent to say the least.  Wilson has also been injury prone and is playing with an injured non-throwing shoulder which could be a factor if he decides to take off and run more than a few times.  Cal has to continue their defensive roll – leading the country in forced turnovers (18) and the P12 in sacks (3.6/game).  Bottom line: Cal D-line has to get to Wilson and Cal O-line has to protect Goff just enough to get the quick throws off.

Some analysts say that you can’t take Cal seriously because of their late escapes against UText, UWash and UZoo, but great teams find a way to win and that’s exactly the difference between this Cal team and previous pretenders.  I don’t know what Dykes and his staff has done this year but the team mantra must be “Yes, we can!”  The comeback against the Zoo was impressive as they had composed a specific defensive scheme just to confuse and slow down Goff and that resulted in Goff passing for only 390 yards and 4 TDs.  Goff has over 3 times the yardage and touchdowns compared to Wilson, Lawler continues to be one of the most productive receivers in the country, and the running backs are starting show their potential as the O-line starts to mature.

Vegas has Ooooots by 7.5 and I’m not buying what they’re selling.  Expect Cal to start hot and fast, build up an early lead and then hold on for dear life as the defense kicks in to harass Wilson and Booker during comeback time.  Cal by 7.

In other P12 action, both UWash and USck are stuck at 3-2 after the Dawgs shut down the Coliseum.

Both the ‘cats and the ‘ucks are at home and try to put the pieces back together against OState and WState.  Literally anything could happen in either of those games given the history of the P12 this year.  8 teams now have 2 losses with only ‘cla and ‘furd with 1 loss.  ‘furd faces ‘cla next week with a lot on the line.

Trap Game!

Every year we have our annual Trap Game special – it’s usually one of the ‘state schools and this year it is Wazzoo.  And especially appropriate with the undefeated Bears looking to go 5-0 for the first time this century of something like that.

The brilliant and confused Mike Leach brings yet another rolling question mark of a team into Memorial Stadium and who knows what might happen.

Despite less than stellar defensive performances against UWash and UText, especially during late game jitterfest, Vegas has the Bears as almost an 18 point favorite.  I would propose that 18 points is what may be scored every 10 minutes during this game.  This is The Game for the Bears defense to step up and show that holding the Dawgs under 300 yards was no fluke.  That’s a tall order against a team averaging almost 450 yards a game.

Cal has demonstrated an ability to put pressure on the quarterback and sniff out trick plays so this may be the game that it all comes together.  Expect the game to be closer if the Wazzoo quick passing game can move the ball on Cal, otherwise it may be a blowout.

According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Cal is overall #12 so maybe they are doing something right…

In other P12 action, LA State attempts to demonstrate that they can play an entire game with 10 men on the field against A State.  Literally anything can happen in this game.

‘furd faces ‘zona in what might have been a real test for the Indian Trees if half of the ‘cats weren’t in the hospital.

The P12 could be described as “fair and balanced” with only 3 undefeated teams left, everyone is at least at .500 (although that will change today) and almost every team has major talent.  With major teams falling in the other big time conferences, there is an opportunity for the P12 to be a major factor in the big trophy playoff this year.

Norris Division Showdown

Winner has the inside edge in the Norris Division.

Both teams are 3-2 in their last 5 games. Once again Cal has the edge in offense, the Dawgs in defense.

Line is Cal by 2 showing that the oddsmakers just don’t know what to make of either team at this stage of the season.

Cal has avoided serious injuries so far and that may be the most important stat of the season.

Dawgs just don’t look right and this may be a rebuilding season for them which Cal needs to take advantage of.

In other Norris Division action, ‘furd looking strong after consecutive victories over Beavs and Troy but still lacking fundamentals by many measures.

‘zona and ‘cla face off for the lead in the Prince of Wales Division, a game which should see as many as 6 players expelled, assuming that LA State can find that many players to suit up after their plague of injuries.

‘tah and ‘gone meet in another early season showdown which I think is a toss-up despite Vegas giving the the Utes 10.5 points.

These three games will potentially reduce the 4 unbeaten teams in the P-12 to just 1.

Payback!

The Bears go to Seattle to face their second true-Freshman starting QB in two weeks.  Last week Jarrod Heard of Texass ran wild through the Bears’ secondary for 188 yards, Cal won on a missed PAT, and Cal came away fortunate to have faced the Longhorns’ talented underclassmen early in the season.

Huskies QB Jake Browning is one of three true Freshmen starting at QB in the Pac-12.  He’s been compared favorably to Jared Goff, and he’s thrown for a lot of yards.  That said, I don’t think that he’ll give the Bears nearly as much trouble as Jarrod Heard did last week.  UW’s receivers aren’t as skilled as Cal’s, and I think that Cal’s defense will get a fair number of stops.  Their WRs are fast, so they might rack up yards on the 10-yard outs while Cal’s DBs give them a big cushion.  They make regular use of their FB and TE in the passing game, too.  As always, watch for the TE up the middle on 3rd downs!

The Huskies’ running game has yet to materialize.  Three of their OL starters are freshmen, and they’re still learning — a lot.  Don’t expect them to break through against Cal.

Defensively, the Huskies are tough, but not as tough or talented as last year.  Daniel Lasco expects to play, so the Bears will have their #1 RB.  That’s a lot of weapons for the defense to track.

The real story of this game is that in 2014, Washington came to Berkeley and administered a harsh physical beat-down on the Bears.  This year, the Bears are looking for payback.  They come into this game stronger, deeper, faster, and more talented than last year’s squad, and last week’s win against Texas gives them some swagger.

Jared Goff will pass efficiently.  The chains will move. And Cal’s offense will turn in another 40+ performance.

Prediction:  Cal wins, 42-35.

Bears Invade Texassistan!

The Cal Bears are on a roll! Two blowout victories, a resurgent defense, one of the top offenses in the nation; and they come to Texas (the Republic of Texassistan) to take on a football program that’s in turmoil — they’ve fired & replaced the Offensive Coordinator (OC), fired & replaced the Athletic Director (AD), their talented Defense has been gashed for big yards & points, and their offense has sputtered.  Cal’s prospects for this marquee game, with a national TV audience, couldn’t be better…

However, I can’t jump on the bandwagon and predict another blowout:

  • I think they (Texas) will use all of the recent turmoil to whip their players into an anti-Berkeley-radical frenzy, and start the game by dominating line play on both sides of the ball.
  • I’m not sure how well Cal’s OL matches up with Texas’s DL. Jared Goff might not have enough time to attempt the deep throws.  And I’m not counting on our OL to push their defense around. The running game will struggle.
  • Daniel Lasco’s hip injury may be critical.  If Goff is rushed, he’ll need a capable receiver at RB, and Lasco is the best in that regard.  The others are definitely capable, but Lasco is best at making the catches and moving the chains.
  • Jared Goff will get hit. If he gets hit a lot, he won’t be as effective.  Remember the 2014 BYU game?
  • Cal’s Defense has come a long way, but they’ll be facing a talented, albeit troubled, offense with some real scoring weapons in QB Jerrod Heard, et al.  Besides, there isn’t that much film for Texas with Heard at the controls. He’ll get his yards (150 rushing), and wreak havoc at times.
  • Jerrod Heard has the escapability to throw some long passes, and potentially do some damage.  That, combined with Texas’s WR speed and Cal’s slower safeties, could be a problem.  Expect 1 or 2 Texas TDs on bombs.  Cal’s safeties will need to come up in run support and cover deep.  If Heard has some early success running the ball, look for him to take a shot deep.
  • Cal comes into the game favored; Texas, the underdog. In Texas.  Advantage: Texas.
  • In closer games, Special Teams becomes a greater factor.  Vulnerabilities: Texas kick return teams vs. Cal’s coverage.  Advantage: Texas.
  • Remember Week 1 — Pac-12 teams had 3 weeks to read about how awesome they were.  “The best conference in the nation.”  The effects were devastating.  It takes a lot of discipline to ignore the praises of respected, expert, unbiased elders, especially when hearing them for the first time. Overconfidence kills, even when your coaches are imploring you to not be overconfident. It happens, even with the best coaching.
  • I sincerely hope I’m wrong on all of these points!

Prediction:  Cal wins, but it’s closer than many Cal fans are predicting;  38-31, Cal.

The Mess in Texas

The Roman has been on assignment on the other side of the planet (and still is) but it was time to check in on what’s going on this season.  I had written a season preview and now I’m happy my own predictions did not come true (more on that later).

Playing Texas at this stage of the season is somewhat like cornering a bull in field – almost anything is going to happen and not much of that is going to be good.  Cal has to be disciplined and not get baited or distracted by media, players, history, weather and the Austin music scene.  The game could easily go sideways on penalties alone.  Neither team has shown much in their first two starts so the playbooks are also wide open.  We will probably see trick plays – early – from both sides hoping to seize the momentum.

Frankly, I did not expect Cal’s defense to play this well.  Admittedly the competition has been weak, but they are tied for first in INTs, and all the other team defense stats are way above last year, including #14 in points allowed.  My prediction was for Cal to win 3 of their first 4 while giving up a whole lot of points.  That clearly isn’t going to happen for two reasons – both the ‘horns and the Dawgs have sputtering offenses and, more important, the Cal defense is just that much better.  And 4-0 now looks achievable if the kids keep their heads screwed on.

My take: Cal by 7 is conservative – expect Cal to score early and often. The running attack will get on track as the Orange guys try desperately to stop the pass.  Defense steps up again, rattling a freshman QB into mistakes.

First Tailgate: Grilled Salmon

Our first tailgate party of the 2015 season featured Dan’s grilled salmon.

salmon on the grill

Dan’s salmon is on the grill for the first tailgate of 2015. The fillets are placed on the grill skin side down. No turning!

Sandbagging Aztecs

The online forums for San Diego State have been ablaze with the flames of Alumni discontent.  Why?  Because SDSU’s ball-control offense scored only one TD for the entire game against the Toreros of the University of San Diego — who have a grand total of Zero scholarship players.

No, SDSU isn’t “doing a Stanfurd” — they went up by 3 scores, and just decided to use one page of the playbook.  They’ll be looking to play smashmouth football at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, taking long marches down the field, and keeping Cal’s potent offense on the sidelines.  SDSU’s level of play last week was not an indication of how they’ll play against Cal.

That said, I believe that Cal will be ready for SDSU.  This will be a first test for the Defense, and I think that they’ll do quite well at stopping RB Donnell Pumphrey up the middle.  When he gets outside, and is up against our safeties, he may see a bit more success.

SDSU is a good team, but no match for Cal’s skill players — as long as the OL can give QB Jared Goff enough time to find open receivers.

Cal beats the Aztecs, 52-24.

Can the 2015 Bears Live Up to the Hype?

In a word: YES!

The 2015 Cal Football team is faster, stronger, more experienced, and deeper than in either of the past two years under HC Sonny Dykes.

This year is the year that Cal reaches “critical mass” in two areas:

  1. The Bears’ improved Defense will put more pressure on opposing QBs, and get more stops.  More depth in the defensive secondary will help the Bears give up fewer yards late in games, especially through the air.
  2. OC Tony Franklin’s offense is loaded with fast, capable WRs who are on a rotation throughout the game.  Their mission is to wear down the  DBs, and to test the depth of opposing defenses.  Even if the opponent has a lock-down corner, he’s going to have to come out — and his backup will need to know what he’s doing.

In 2014, the Bears’ offense sputtered, and couldn’t sustain drives against good defenses.  This worked against them, by putting their defense back on the field to soon, and wearing them out, beyond the limits of their depth.

This year, with eight returning starters, the Bears’ offense looks to be much more confident, with better & faster execution overall.  Drives against good teams that stalled last year will turn into TDs and more possession time.  The Defense will rest.  There will be sacks.

The Bears are poised to get “over the hump” on both offense and defense this year, and could do even better than many of the experts are predicting.

Speaking of predictions…:

Grambling has some limited early success, but succumbs to The Bear.  Lots of playing time for lots of people.  Cal 52 – Grambling St. 24.  Offensive fireworks display.  Don’t blink, and do not leave your seat — you might miss a score.

Cal does not beat the spread.

GO BEARS!