More Defense than Offense at Ole Miss

The Bears travel to the Deep South to take on the Rebels of Ole Miss at 9am(!) PDT. (What were they thinking?!) It’ll be hot, surprisingly NOT humid (under 50% for most of the game), and loud.

I’m going with Cal 16-13.  I think it all depends on who’s healthy, and as usual, Wilcox doesn’t say a damn thing.  But it looks like the damage from UNT isn’t quite as bad as I thought, especially on defense.

The best bet on this game is the Under on the O/U.  I just don’t see ’em breaking 40 with these defenses and these QBs.  I think the oddsmakers are making too much of Cal’s Top-25 ranking.  If Cal is able to win, they might not stay in the Top-25.

I picked the 16-13 score because I think Cal will finish the game with more FGs than TDs.  Looking for a pick-6…

Against UNT, Cal appeared to lose their top 2 OLBs on both sides.  Their status this week is unknown.  Ol Miss might set out to exploit Cal’s inexperience.

OK, check that.  OLB Cameron Goode should be starting; what looked like a ham pull was more likely a cramp.  RB Chris Brown should be back also.

The biggest question marks are with Cal’s OL.  Hopefully Valentino Daltoso will return to the starting lineup.  If he does, he might have to leave his OG position and play LT, where Bazakas was way too pourous.  UNT had 6 sacks!

With their original starting 5 at OL, Cal had a very good shot at being in the middle tier of the Pac-12 offenses.  But with 3 starters out against UNT, the OL struggled, both in the run and the pass.  That’s not a good combination with Chase Garbers, who isn’t quite trusting his instincts yet, is still thinking too much before he throws, and is looking to run — and not seeing wide open receivers.

Justin Wilcox will have a few of his usual tricks up his sleeve.  Now that #2 QB Devon Modster is eligible (I believe / hope), look for him to get some snaps, especially if Garbers doesn’t suddenly develop his pocket presence.  Modster is more of a traditional pocket passer than Garbers, and if he can deliver some good passes downfield, the Bears might break 20.  OTOH, having Modster as a capable backup allows Garbers to run more, both on scrambles and on RPOs.  That’s a facet of Cal’s offense that’s been underutilized the first 3 games, but is a dangerous weapon.

Also look for RB DeShawn Collins to get a few runs in, and possibly break a long gain.

Cal catches a big break on the weather.  Forecast is for about 81F at game start, 87F near the end, with projected humidity only about 51% at game start, 42% near the end.  The heat will be rough on the Bears.  Look for Ole Miss to get half (or more) of their points in the 4th quarter.


Take the Points! Bears Could Win

This game will be closer than the 12-point spread — and with a break or two, the Bears could win it outright.

UW’s defense won’t drop off that much from last year, but Cal’s offense — even with last week’s shaky first half performance last week — is very much improved.

Look for UW’s D to add disguised coverages to their arsenal, taking a page out of the Cal D playbook (like TCU did in the bowl game).  But look for the Cal D to mix thing up a bit — maybe play straight up & let Eason build some false confidence before they mess with him & lull him into making a careless throw.  Look for HC Justin Wilcox and DC Tim DeRuyter to stay one move ahead of the UW OC in their game of chess.

I think Cal will be able to run on UW.  Chris Brown won’t be fast enough to get the edge, but he’ll be able to get enough yards to open up the passing game for Garbers.

It was good that Cal had their 4 turnovers against UC Davis.  I’m sure that they paid the price in practice this week!  I’m expecting better ball security for Cal, but not sure that Garbers has developed the discipline to consistently throw the ball away to avoid a sack.  While backup QB Devon Modster is still ineligible, Garbers has to severely limit his running, and that’s been an important part of Cal’s offense.  He may be on a somewhat longer leash against UW, but not that much longer than UCD.

Big relief for Cal:  OG Valentino Daltoso (Jr*, #61) is apparently OK & playing today.  He was injured near the end of the UCD game, and there was much concern.  Cal’s OL is good, but thin beyond the top 5 or 6.

The biggest difference between the UCD game and today for Cal is the offense.  The UCD playbook was very limited.  Today, there’ll be a lot that UW hasn’t seen.  Cal doesn’t have that much speed at the skill positions, but they have way more than they had last year.  There’ll be another drop or two, but expect the Bears to take some deep shots, and keep UW honest — something that the Bears were simply not capable of last year.  [Note:  Garbers’ arm was torched last year, and he couldn’t throw the ball more than 30 yds.  He’s back to full strength now.  Last week, he was aiming too much.  In the 2nd half, he was lettin’ it rip, and his throws were much better.]  Garbers’ ability to make good decisions is still developing, so tonight’s game will be a good test.

Cal’s offense won’t be at full potential, though, until backup QB Devon Modster (transferred from UCLA) becomes eligible.  When Modster is on board, Garbers will be able to run with abandon.

Look for RBs Marcel Dancy and DeShawn Collins to have impact.  They provide the outside speed that could help Cal get some bigger gains on the ground.  Also look for Cal to target their TEs downfield.  Bottom line:  Nearly every phase of Cal’s offense is significantly improved over last year.  If defenses focus too much on one weapon, the Bears can move the ball with the others.

If Cal’s offense can improve enough to be in the middle 1/3 of the Pac-12, the Bears stand an excellent chance of winning 8 games, despite a very challenging Pac-12 North schedule.

For today, look for the Bears to beat the spread, but not the Huskies.  Playing at Husky Stadium, with a loud crowd seeking vengeance, will be the difference.

UW 24, Cal 21 [It was a toss-up between 17 or 21 for Cal….]

Note:  If UW’s All-American C Nick Harris doesn’t start, this game could be a completely different story.  They struggled to run last week, and they if they can’t run against Cal, things could get ugly in a hurry for UW. It could be an outright win for Cal….

Go Bears!!

— Dan

Football – 2019

Aug 31
UC DavisBerkeley, CAW 27-13Pac-12
Sept 7
@WashingtonSeattle, WAW 20-19Fox
Sept 14
North TexasBerkeley, CAW 23-17Pac-12
Sept 21
Ole MissOxford, MS9amESPN
Sept 27
Arizona St.Berkeley, CA7:30pmESPN
Oct 5
@OregonEugene, ORTBDESPN
Oct 19
Oregon St.Berkeley, CATBDPac-12
Oct 26
@UtahSalt Lake City, UTTBDPac-12
Nov 9
Washington St.Berkeley, CATBD
Nov 16
USCBerkeley, CATBD
Nov 23
@StanfordStanford, CATBDPac-12
Nov 30
@UCLAPasadena, CATBDPac-12
Dec 6
Santa Clara, CA5:00pmABC

Ducks? In Berkeley??

Tonight’s game between the Oregon Ducks and the California Golden Bears looks to be a close, hard-fought contest. The oddsmakers have the spread at 3.5 points, with Cal as the home underdog.

With a bye week to prepare, Cal has a big advantage, especially with a superior coaching staff. Coach Wilcox and his crew will have the players ready.

This game might come down to 1) injuries, and 2) team speed. The Bears might be one of the slowest teams in the Pac-12, and Oregon may be the fastest. But Oregon’s run defense is excellent — so if the Bears try to pound away on the ground, like Stanford did in their 1st half against Oregon, they’ll lose.

The way to beat Oregon is in the air. Their best pass rusher may be injured, and without him, Chase Garbers should have time to find open receivers — if there are any. Oregon also has short DBs, so look for Moe Ways (#18, 6-4, 220lb) and Ian Bunting (#83, 6-7, 255lb) to get some chances. They won’t be able to out-run the Oregon DBs, but they could definitely out-jump them.

The running game for both teams will start with a few question marks. Oregon’s starting Sr RB Tony Brooks-James left the Stanford game with an injury, and is listed as doubtful. For 3 of his 4 understudies at RB, this will be their first road game. They were responsible for some turnovers at Stanford, and might be vulnerable. Look for the Bears to do some stripping on defense.

If the Bears can get to QB Justin Herbert and get him to rush his throws, there may be some picks for the Cal defense. The risk is in giving up big plays. FS Ashtyn Davis (#27) has excellent speed, but overall the Bears are slower than the Ducks, and sooner or later, the Ducks are likely to pick up a blitz and break a big one.

The Cal Bears have the potential to beat the Ducks tonight, and I’m definitely hoping they will, in front of a raucous crowd (including the stellar Cal Alumni Band). However, Justin Herbert’s passing & running, along with the Ducks’ team speed, will likely be the difference in the game. I’ll cheer for the Bears, but the Ducks are the likely victors, by a TD.

Big Game – Bigly!

Coming off a big with against UW, and with ND next week, I was thinking (for a moment) that Stanford might overlook Cal.  A little…

However, Stanford MUST beat Cal to win the Pac-12 North.  Even then, they’re depending on UW beating WSU in Seattle next week — and that’s with WSU having a bye this week!  UW plays Utah this week, at home.

So, with the Big Game rivalry, and with the Pac-12 North title on the line, Stanford can’t afford to let up or overlook Cal. Big Game is way more important than ND!


Stop Stanford’s running game, and you stop Stanford.

I think UW figured they’d stop Stanford’s run with something close to their standard defensive set.  Not enough respect, IMO — and it killed ’em.  (That, and the tendency toward over-confidence that comes with a Top Ten ranking!)  Stanford’s OL is also peaking at the right time.  They played their best game of the season against the Huskies.

It might come down to Bryce Love’s ankle.  He looked pretty gimpy at the end of the UW game.

I think Cal stuffs the box, outnumbers the zone reads, does plenty of disguised blitzes, gets Stanford’s OL confused about their assignments (hopefully), forces them into 3rd & longs, gets a couple early stops, and forces Costello to beat them.  So once again, 3rd-&-longs will be critical.  Look for Cal’s defense to keep Costello guessing by showing all-out blitz, then putting 8 in coverage, hoping to bait them into a blitz-beating play, like a screen pass, that they can stop short of the 1st down marker.

Cal will be looking to gamble & get lucky on defense, and to limit the inevitable big plays when they guess wrong.  Chances are, they’ll be missing Devante Downs.  Cal is still undersized in the front 7, and depends on scheme to get stops.  That only goes so far against an experienced OL like Stanford’s.

On offense, Cal will most likely have a difficult time moving the ball.  They’ll need some turnovers & short fields to make a dent on the scoreboard.  But they have a ton of heart, and they’re persistent & resilient.  They’ll get a few scores out of sheer grit & determination.

Most likely:  A poor turnout among the Cal faithful diminishes the Bears’ spirit just enough to turn the spiritual pre-game tide. Sadly, Stanford beats the spread.

But early stops & turnovers could easily get Cal’s underdog spirit rolling, and make big problems for Stanford (whose fans were mostly no-shows against UW, having already written off their team’s chances against the Huskies).

Plenty of tickets left on StubHub in every section of the stadium for very reasonable prices!

Another factor:  Every time I write Cal off, they play over their heads & win big!


Duck & Cover

The Cal Bears take their injury-depleted squad up to Eugene to slow down & frustrate the nation’s #1 offense.

I believe that the Cal defense will frustrate the Ducks, and stop them for short gains or losses on about half of the plays from scrimmage. Then they’ll rip off a 15 to 25 yard gain. The first half should be very close, with Cal taking the lead at halftime.

In the 2nd half, Oregon’s speed, and the pace of their offense, will take their toll, and the longer gains will come more often.

The Ducks win a close one — but not by much. They won’t cover the spread. If you’re betting, take Cal & the points.

Prediction: Oregon 31, Cal 27

Go Bears!

USC Enters Bear Territory… or is it Zebra Territory?

All the buzz of the Pac-12 is in Berkeley, where the USC Trojans arrive in hopes of extending their domination over Cal teams.

Could it be different this time around?

Not if Pac-12 officials have anything to do with it.

USC, now ranked at #5 nationally, is currently the best Pac-12 candidate to make the 4-team playoff; and the Pac-12 would love to have one, or maybe two teams in the national playoff.  What does that mean for Cal fans, and for anyone hoping for an upset?  It means more outrageous calls and no-calls.  In fact, I’ll make a prediction:  Cal QB Ross Bowers will receive a blatant shot to his head from one of the stalwarts of USC’s defense.  And there will be no flag.

Last week, against Ole Miss, SEC referees sat and watched while Cal receivers were victims of egregious pass interference (PI) on two consecutive plays.  No flags.  But here’s the difference between new Cal HC Justin Wilcox and former HC Sonny Dykes:  Wilcox got mad — and got a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Then he got even.

Did you notice how Cal’s defense shut down Ole Miss in the 2nd half, and how Cal’s DBs had the Rebels’ WRs covered like a glove?  It was no coincidence.  The Cal DBs did an amazing job of holding the Miss WRs just enough to stay with them, but not enough to get flagged.  This is something they’ve worked on.  And it paid off.

Against Ole Miss, the holding came after the SEC refs’ horrific no-calls.

On Saturday, against USC, Cal’s DBs might be tested early — and if they do what they did against Ole Miss, they’ll get flagged.  A lot.

I’m willing to guess that the Pac-12 officiating crew has already been briefed on

  • what to watch for (i.e., what penalties should be called against Cal), and;
  • how much a USC victory (with big numbers from Sam Darnold) will help the Pac-12 conference as a whole.

So, look for the officiating crew to “set the tone” early in the game, especially when USC has the ball.

Other than the officiating, this could prove to be a challenging game.  With RB Tre Watson out for the season, and WR Demetris Robertson injured (most likely), the Bears have no speed.  With a 4.7 sec time in the 40-yard dash, Patrick Laird needs a team like Weber State to make him look fast.  Against Ole Miss, many Cal rushes went for 2 yards or less.  And Miss has the worst defense in the SEC.  USC’s defense is big, strong, and fast.  Expect them to stuff the running game, and dare Ross Bowers to find an open receiver.  This will be Cal’s biggest test so far on offense, and we’ll see that without their outside speed weapons stretching the defense, they’ll be doing 3-and-outs most of the time.

Prediction:  This one stays within reach for a while, but the line ends up about right. USC 27, Cal 10

But USC will come away from Strawberry Canyon knowing that their dominance over Cal, with Justin Wilcox, will be over in a year or two.


This is it, Bears!

OK, I realize that BBQ State isn’t likely to present a huge challenge for the Cal football team. Quick prediction: Cal 41, Weber State 10.

When I say, “This is it,” I’m referring to our coaching staff, and the foundation that they’re building for high-level competition in Berkeley. In their first game at UNC, I saw a very well-coached team that played a complete game, with confidence. So many of the players who staffed our woeful defense last year are now playing very well.

I was especially impressed with the DBs, who were right there for just about every pass, and broke up quite a few. The emphasis on teaching technique makes a difference!

The competition will get way better — but so will these Bears. I’m excited to see what’s in store.

And I’ll say it again — we have the best coaching staff in the nation.


unnamedCal enters the NCAA tournament with an unprecedented #4 seed despite not being able to play defense for 4 seconds in a truly painful loss to the Utes in the P-12 tournament.  Finally, some respect from the NCAA selection committee?  Perhaps.  But of course Cal can’t make it easy and Tyrone Wallace has to break his hand (non-shooting) in what was described as a non-contact drill the day before the Bears take on the Bo’s (I don’t buy into this latent Bo Warrior stuff).  So you can throw that 4.5 point advantage into the wastebasket.  Good news is that smart folks like the Bears without Wallace, who consistently overdribbles into a less than stellar assist-to-turnover ratio and let’s not even get into the (improving) free throw numbers which lead to Hack-a-Tyrone antics.  Without Wallace, the Bears still have 4 solid double-digit scorers and 3 big men who can control the boards at both ends.  The defense has been the key to the 9 (should have been 11) wins out of the last 11 games, and the performance of Jabari Bird has also been stellar throughout that streak.  Teams tend to show jitters in these neutral court games so I expect the game to develop slowly but the Bears prevail 70 to 60.

Can Bowl-Bound Bears Spoil Stanfurd’s Season?

Going into the 2015 Big Game, Stanfurd is alone at the top of the Pac-12 North, ranked #11, and has a chance to be in the Playoff if they win out.

Cal, on the other hand, has just bagged its 6th win to become bowl-eligible for the first time in years, and HC Sonny Dykes has finally pulled the program from the depths of despair to a #20 ranking — for a week, at least.

Stanfurd’s biggest offensive weapon is its offensive line.  Look for them to dominate the line, get about 6 yards per rushing attempt in the first half, dominate time of possession, and throw some passes over the top as soon as Cal brings their safeties in to stop the run.

Cal will attempt to establish a running game, but will need success in passing to set it up.  Look for them to take advantage of their speed in one-on-one matchups.  Hopefully they’ve added a few plays where Khalfani Muhammed or Trey Watson run wide.  If they have, they should see success.

I’m hoping that the Bears have some surprises in store that help them get open against Stanfurd’s defense.  We’ll see.

Cal will need help to beat Stanfurd.  The Cardinal is stronger on both sides of the ball, and is likely to dominate the line of scrimmage.  However, of all the places where help might come, there is one place where there will be no help:  the officiating.

Stanfurd is the Pac-12 Conference’s lone hope for making the post-season playoff.  If Cal wins Big Game, the Pac-12 will be shut out from the playoff.  So the Pac-12, as a conference, has a huge interest in a Stanfurd victory.

Last year’s Big Game was an officiating nightmare.  Cal’s starting safety ejected on the first play of the game for targeting.  Later, on one series, three consecutive TDs, called by the officials on the field, were overturned by the replay official.

Throughout the game, expect Cal’s receivers to be pushed, shoved, grabbed, and even tackled before the arrival of Jared Goff’s passes, with no penalties called.  Sorry, Bears!

Prediction:  Cal makes this one fairly close, and moves the ball well on offense. Stanfurd 44, Cal 38.