Freshman quarterback Jared Goff has had his good moments and bad, but generally runs the offense well and has been more effective than not.
Goff has had four games of 300 yards or more, including an effort against Washington State where he threw for over 500 yards. However, he has struggled to get the Golden Bears into the end zone, only throwing for ten touchdowns and having four games in which he failed to throw more than one touchdown.
Cal has tried numerous strategies with Goff, whether it is sticking to the normal offense that Sonny Dykes has grown accustomed to calling, or throwing more deep routes like he did against Washington. Goff showed some solid glimpses last week against UW, completing 59 percent of his passes for 336 yards and one touchdown.
The biggest issue for Cal offensively is that it has only scored a touchdown on 13 of 31 red zone appearances. It has scored nine field goals as well, but a 71 percent rate in the red zone is not going to win a lot of games when a team does not have a strong defense.
The main reason for those struggles is that the Golden Bears just don't have much of a running game. Khalfani Muhammad will get the start at running back and the 5-foot-8, 175-pound freshman has had two or three games in which he put up a decent performance.
Against UW last week, he had 4 carries for 90 yards due in large part to a 73-yard run. He also had a 14 carry, 63-yard performance earlier in the season against UCLA.
Behind Muhammad will be sophomore Darren Ervin. Ervin tends to run in between the tackles with nice effort. He may not be the type of potentially explosive back that Muhammad is, but we would not argue with the idea that he is more reliable. Ervin has a combined 21 carries for 77 yards the past two weeks and he is likely in line for 10-15 more this week.
It is also possible that sophomore Daniel Lasco will get some carries, but his status is up in the air due to injury. If Lasco is good to go, he will definitely be used and averages 4.6 yards per carry. His best game of the season came with a 10 carry, 64-yard effort against Ohio State followed by a 15 carry, 52-yard performance against Oregon.
The majority of Cal's weapons are at wide receiver, where the Golden Bears have a 1-2 punch that is as good as any in the conference.
Sophomore Chris Harper has 58 catches for 785 yards and five touchdowns. He will be a player that Arizona's defense will likely try to account for each down because, if not, he will torch the Wildcats. Harper's best performance of the year came against Washington State when he caught 14 balls for 231 yards.
In addition, Harper caught 6 balls for 115 yards and a score against Ohio State. He has come a few yards short of reaching 100 the last two weeks, but the talent is there and a big game from him can change the entire offense.
Bryce Treggs has battled some consistency issues, but he is usually good for about five catches per game. After going for over 100 yards in each of his first two games, Treggs has not reached that mark again. However, he has 54 catches for 591 yards on the season and has had at least five catches in his last four games.
The third receiver to watch is 6-foot-4, 245-pound Richard Rodgers. His size makes him a matchup nightmare for numerous teams and he has used that to his advantage to become a deep threat. Rodgers has become more of a threat the past two games with 13 combined catches, but he has only scored once on the season. Still, the way Arizona runs its defense could cause some mismatches with Rodgers.
Cal has numerous other receivers that it will use, but the majority of the offense is likely to go through those three.
The Golden Bears' offensive line has struggled this season and a lot of that has to do with injuries. They have given up 26 sacks and continue to move players around in order to fit that right match, which has not come yet.
Players to Watch:
#34, RB Darren Ervin: Dykes has said this week that Ervin is in line for more carries and it makes sense. Ervin is not going to make the spectacular athletic play, but Cal does not need that right now. It needs a reliable guy that can make the running game respectable to open up the passing game even more.
#5, WR Brendan Bigelow: I have to admit, Bigelow is one of my favorite players on Cal and I thought he would eventually become one of my favorite in the conference. Bigelow is a running back that has been moved to wide receiver because his mentality regarding his injuries was affecting his play. He is strong and fast and could be dangerous to Arizona if he gets going.
#76, OL Christian Okafor: This might be the first time that we have put a lineman on this list, but there is a reason for it. Okafor has really struggled and we expect for Arizona to attack him on the left side of the line. If he can hold his own, Cal's offense will be much better for it. If not, Cal's offensive line will continue giving up sacks.
#1, WR Bryce Treggs: Don't let Treggs' one touchdown fool you, he is capable of scoring. Whether it is McKnight or Richardson, Arizona is going to have its work cut out for it containing Treggs. He seems somewhat due for a touchdown because the talent is definitely there.
Keys to the Game:
Keep Cal one-dimensional: It is no secret that Cal wants to pass the ball, but if it is able to develop a run game, that will be dangerous. If Arizona stops the run early, there is a good chance that the Golden Bears will abandon it, which plays right into Arizona's hands.
Score early: This is somewhat similar to the first key, but it is not easy for a passing team to come from behind. It makes everything much more predictable and allows Arizona's defense to be more aggressive. An early score or two mixed with defensive stops puts Cal in a bad position.
Contain Harper: When Goff is in trouble he tends to go to Harper, which makes sense when you consider how good he is. Arizona can't let Harper get behind the secondary, similar to what Paul Richardson and Nelson Agholor were able to do this season. Limiting Harper's deep threat will go a long way towards winning the game.