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Ask the Expert Q&A: Cal

For this week's Ask the Expert feature, we caught up with BearTerritory.net publisher Ryan Gorcey for his take on the Cal Bears.

SunDevilSource: Cal has replaced quite a bit of offensive talent from last season including No. 1 overall NFL pick Jared Goff and receivers Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Darius Powe and Trevor Davis. Even so, the team is averaging 47 points per game. What's enabled a continuation of the strong offensive output through three games?

Ryan Gorcey: It comes down to Jake Spavital. The new Cal offensive coordinator didn't just bring in a new way of looking at offense, but he also brought in Mel Kiper, Jr.'s top senior quarterback for the 2017 draft class, Davis Webb. Without Webb, Cal would have gone with a game manager-type in Chase Forrest, a redshirt freshman who missed a good chunk of spring ball because of a sinus surgery in Ross Bowers, or a true freshman in Max Gilliam -- none of whom, I think, are ready to lead a Pac-12 team, yet. Webb has the benefit of a corps of receivers that have a ton of promise, in junior Chad Hansen (who's leading the nation in receiving yards, receiving yards per game, catches and catches per game), slot receiver Melquise Stovall and five-star freshman Demetris Robertson, although Robertson is more of a work in progress. Webb has such a depth of understanding of this offense -- it's very similar to the one he ran at Texas Tech -- and he comes in as a guy who has started more than 20 collegiate games. That sense of confidence and comfort really has relaxed the rest of this offense. Beyond that, the Cal offensive line is the same bunch -- minus left guard Jordan Rigsbee, who's with the Panthers -- that didn't allow a sack against ASU's blitzing defense last season, and they're a year older.

SunDevilSource: Cal's last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. What's been so problematic for the team on this side of the football and is there hope to turn it around or will Cal only beat good teams in a shootout?

Gorcey: The personnel losses are the easy answer here. Cal is missing what it thought would be its big run-stopping safety in Damariay Drew (ACL), two linebackers who decided to transfer (Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson, Jr.), one linebacker who didn't seek a sixth season (Nathan Brousard), one linebacker who retired due to injury (Jake Kearney), a nickel back who retired because of concussions (Caleb Coleman), a safety with starting experience (Griffin Piatt) who also retired due to injury, along with seven defensive linemen and two starting defensive backs (Stefan McClure and Darius White) who matriculated. Now, the players that Cal has brought in the last two recruiting cycles, I think, give this team as much talent as it has had, and the team is as deep on the depth chart as it has been since Sonny Dykes got to Berkeley, but the problem is, a lot of that talented depth is very young. Jaylinn Hawkins redshirted last season due to injury, Marloshawn Franklin is in his first year with the program, Malik Psalms is adjusting to safety and Evan Rambo -- who played a bit of dime last year, but not much -- has been thrust into the starting safety role. Beyond that, the Bears really have only half of a defensive line that's been productive, in tackle James Looney and end Cameron Saffle. DeVante Wilson has played soft, and as much heart as tackle Tony Mekari has, he's just flat-out undersized and doesn't have much lateral quickness. I suspect we'll see more Evan Weaver and Luc Bequette as the season goes on. Those two, and freshman end Chinedu Udeogu, are tremendously talented, but, again, very young.

SunDevilSource: Who are the players who have really stepped into major roles this year after maybe not being key players in the past? Also, who are the non-standout players who are important to watch and why?

Gorcey: I think this has to start and end with Chad Hansen. This is a guy that Cal, for all intents and purposes, got off the waiver wire from Idaho State, who sent 15-20 emails twice a week for two months to FBS coaches looking for a spot, and who was told by San Diego State that he wasn't good enough to play for them. Now he's leading everybody in everything, and is considered the best pro prospect on the team, outside of Webb. Hansen has doubled his totals from last season in just the first three games. If you'll remember, though, the gem of his 19-catch, 249-yard year in 2015 was his four-catch, 91-yard performance against the Sun Devils.

As for the unheralded players to watch, keep an eye on Bug Rivera. The nephew of Ron Rivera, he's a jitterbug type slot receiver who's small enough to be sneaky, and very quick. He'll get up underneath coverage on a cross or a slant and has enough explosion to make you pay. He's not a straight-line speedster, but he's dangerous.

Luke Rubenzer -- who, this past week, became the only Elite 11 quarterback to intercept another Elite 11 quarterback -- isn't the fastest, or the biggest, or the strongest safety, but he somehow always winds up with turnovers. He's another guy who'll sneak up on you.

SunDevilSource: When are things going well for Cal and when are things not going well? What are the signs the team is performing at a high level and what are the indicators of its struggling?

Gorcey: That's a really tough question, because Cal has played three very different games. I think when Cal's offensive tempo is high, that's when the Bears are feeling it. They're a lot like Arizona State in that way: Run, run, run, all out of the same formation, and then pass for a big gain. Also, when Davis Webb can get into a rhythm, complete three or four passes in a row, that's when the engine really starts turning over, and he'll hit eight, nine passes in a row all over the field.

How can you tell the Bears will struggle? Quick, unproductive offensive drives. That's not necessarily because of the lack of scoring, but because that means the defense hasn't gotten any rest, and they're going to have to go back out again and hold somebody. If the offense can put long drives together, the defense gets a breather, and they do what they did on Saturday, at the end of the second quarter, and for the entire third.

SunDevilSource: Are there any important injuries or other absences expected for Saturday and how will Cal compensate?

Gorcey: Cal left tackle Aaron Cochran finally got back to his starting role against Texas, after missing the first week with a sprained knee, and playing sparingly against San Diego State. He didn't look great, but he got better as the game went on. He has looked very good this week, particularly his lower half. He's still not quite 100 percent, but he's close.

His understudy, Patrick Mekari, rolled his ankle against San Diego State, is on the shelf, and I doubt he'll play against the Sun Devils, but he is out of the protective boot and was doing conditioning as of Wednesday.

Outside receiver Kanawai Noa, who made his first career start on Saturday, hasn't been in pads all week, so I don't think he'll be playing. No word yet on what his injury is.

SunDevilSource: What type of game are you expecting and what's your prediction?

Gorcey: 'High scoring' seems to be an understatement. I'm going to go with you, Chris, my esteemed fellow Camarillo High School alum, and say this one may go over 100. On the one hand, Cal's rushing defense has been pretty poor (though tackling form did take a noticeable leap against Texas), but its passing defense has actually been pretty solid. I love what I've seen out of Darius Allensworth, and Marloshawn Franklin is starting to make some big-time plays. Rambo and Khari Vanderbilt, after the first game, have really settled in up the middle. On the other side, ASU's run defense has been stellar, and their passing defense, well, I think we all know the numbers. Cal has proven it can score without working much of a ground game (82 yards on 22 carries against San Diego State), and that passing game can score quicker than it will take Arizona State to score on the ground. That being said, the fact that the Cal defense may have to be on the field for longer, given those realities, is not a prospect I think many Bears fans relish. Gun to my head, I think it's 55-50 Bears, because I don't think Arizona State has an answer for Hansen, Stovall or Brandon Singleton, who, if Cal runs him opposite of Hansen, is going to create a matchup nightmare for the Sun Devils.


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