GAME DAY CENTRAL: Cal vs. Northwestern

The preview of all previews: The most detailed and yet, the most concise. We've got top-fives, top-threes, videos and scouting reports, a Q&A and fall camp content. Everything you need for this Saturday is RIGHT HERE.

California (2013: 1-11) vs. Northwestern (2013: 5-7)
Last Time Out: Northwestern 44 – California 30, Berkeley, Calif.
Cal Roster
Northwestern Roster
When: Aug. 30, 12:30 PM Pacific
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Watch: ESPN2, Mark Jones (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst), Jessica Mendoza (sideline)
Listen: KGO 810 AM, Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Todd McKim (sideline)
Live Stats: NUSports
Twitter: @RGBearTerritory

Five Bold Predictions:
1. Cal will gain over 100 yards on the ground.
2. Freshman QB Luke Rubenzer will play.
3. Michael Barton will see more snaps at MIKE than Hardy Nickerson.
4. Cal’s defense will be in nickel more than 60% of the time.
5. Brennan Scarlett and Mustafa Jalil combine for 2.5 TFLs.

Q&A With

What to Watch for on Offense:
Watch the outside. Last season, Chris Harper put on a show with 11 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Bryce Treggs had a 13-catch, 145-yard day, and has since moved to the H-receiver spot to take advantage of his skill set, and to open things up on the outside for others, including sticky-handed Maurice Harris and speedy Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis, who’s still locked in a battle with Harper that’s making both of them better, and more explosive.

Adding to the sheer number of weapons Goff has, is his year of experience under fire, and his 10 more pounds of muscle.

“I feel like he’s reading the defense a lot better,” says veteran defensive back Stefan McClure. “He’s seeing when there’s two-high, one-high, a lot sooner, a lot faster, even when we try to disguise and roll to it on the road. He’s picking up that stuff on the run, while he’s dropping. He knows where his outlets are, and knows where the ball can go quick, when we are pressuring him, or zero-maxing or anything like that. I really have seen a lot of growth from his first and second year, and from the spring, also, where he was coming off injury. I think he’s grown a lot, just as a leader, and as a quarterback.”

Quotable: “Sometimes, you go, ‘Can I have just one of these guys I can focus on?’ but, no. I mean, they’re all great,” Goff said. “They all understand that they all can’t get the ball every play. I’m excited to get to throw. I’m so lucky to get to throw to one play, Chris Harper, the next play, Kenny Lawler, the next play, Bryce Treggs. It can go on and on for seven, eight guys, we’re so deep. I think we’re two-deep at every position, with NFL talent, honestly. It’s crazy.” – Quarterback Jared Goff

[READ MORE: Goff Matures]

The offensive line. Last year, the Bears played 12 different linemen, and had to deal with injuries to center Chris Adcock, interior lineman Matt Cochran, Mark Brazinski, Geoffrey Gibson and Christian Okafor contributing to the 138 man-games missed. Freddie Tagaloa (since transferred to Arizona), Jordan Rigsbee and Steven Moore were the only three linemen to play in every contest. This year, the outlook is a bit rosier.

The move of Moore from right tackle to left has helped to stabilize the line, and allowed Rigsbee to move to the right tackle spot, making room for Alex Crosthwaite at right guard, Adcock at center and true sophomore Chris Borrayo at left guard.

Before Borrayo was inserted with five games left in 2013, Cal averaged 106.4 yards per game on the ground, and 2.9 yards per carry. Afterward? 144.2 and 4.4.

“You always talk about, with a right-handed quarterback, how important that position is, and Steve, right from the beginning, when I asked him to move over to left tackle, I think that’s one thing that makes this group special, is that they’re unselfish young men,” said offensive line coach Zach Yenser. “They’ll do whatever you ask them to do, and Steve, from the time that ‘left tackle’ came out of my mouth, he said, ‘Whatever you need, Coach. If I need to move to left tackle, I’m moving to left tackle.’ He was up for it, and obviously, guys have stepped up and filled holes in the right side. Steve’s responded just like I expected him to, just like any of those guys. We’ve talked about it since Day One: We’re football players; we’re not just tackles or guards or centers. They’re going to play where they’re needed.”

Crosthwaite played in 11 of 12 games, with nine starts, and while his name hasn’t been mentioned much, he’s been reliable, stable and healthy, which will be big if the Bears want to run on the interior.

“I tell guys all the time – I tell scouts, I tell whoever asks about Alex – I will go to war with that guy, any day of the week,” Yenser said. “The kid’s a fighter. The kid is determined. He hates to get beat. He has a mentality of, he will do anything to win. He might not be the most athletic, or he might not be the strongest or whatever, but that kid, he has that foxhole mentality that he has your back on anything, and he will get the job done. He’s incredibly smart – he’s obviously a very good student, but I’m talking about football, too, just understanding the whole concept and understanding the offense and what we’re trying to accomplish on every single play – not just his position, but every position. I think that helps him out, tremendously.”

Yenser said that Crosthwaite has been one of, if not the most consistent, offensive linemen every day in the meeting room.

Quotable: “I just think we’re just so much more confident this year. That comes with experience from last year, and physical strength. I think that’s the biggest thing, and just mentality. These guys have turned into a tough group of young men on a mission, and these guys have got to take it upon themselves. We expect the challenge to be as good as we are up front, and we’re ready to be good.” – OL coach Zach Yenser

Third down. Cal was dead last in the conference in third-down conversions. Through fall camp, the first-team offense’s third-down conversion rates have been sky-high, and one of the big reasons for that is 6-foot-1, 225-pound (see what I did there? BIG?) tailback Vic Enwere. No. 23 on offense is a sledge hammer, a bowling ball, a battering ram – take your pick of metaphor – and he’s gone head-up with several of Cal’s best defensive tackles, taken a hit, and still kept moving forward.

Quotable: “It always adds, when you’ve got a physical back that’s a good-sized back. That’s the thing: Those guys counter each other well, just because you’ve got speed, you’ve got elusiveness and you have a downhill runner, and that’s what every running back coach wants.” – Running backs coach Pierre Ingram

IN-DEPTH: Previewing the Cal Run Game

What to Watch for on Defense:
The Northwestern backfield. Without top receiver Christian Jones (out for season; knee), one would think that the Wildcats would turn to the running game to produce yards, but of course, projected starting tailback Venric Mark decided to transfer, rather than face a two-game suspension. So, what does that mean for the Northwestern rushing attack? Enter: Treyvon Green. Last year, Green got the bulk of the carries (15 to Mark’s 11) and gained 129 yards, with two touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per game. Green topped the 100-yard plateau twice more last season, with his biggest game coming on a 20-carry, 158-yard, two-TD performance against Western Michigan in the third game of the season. He was very, very inconsistent, seeing only six games of at least 11 carries, with six games of under 66 yards of production in the running game. With Mustafa Jalil and Brennan Scarlett back on the line, and healthy, he’s going to have a rough go of it.

Quotable: “The good thing is that we’ve got a lot of guys that have had good camps. The positive thing is that Brennan Scarlett has improved from the spring, so he’s given us what we thought he was going to give us, and then even more, so that’s a positive.” – Head coach Sonny Dykes

[READ MORE: Kaufman talks Northwestern]

Cal’s linebackers. Hardy Nickerson will likely not play more than half of the snaps at MIKE, which means Michael Barton could carry a big load, with a sprinkling of true freshman Devante Downs. Last year, Barton played in all but one game, really coming on strong in the final five games, tallying 18 of his 28 solo stops. Former Northwestern commit Ray Davison will take snaps at SAM when the Bears go with three linebackers, and Jalen Jefferson has been quite adept during camp at recording picks against the scout team offense. Last season, Jefferson led all linebackers with 43 total tackles, but has only recorded one in-game interception. Could he get his second on Saturday? My bet is, yes.

Quotable: “I’ve always done that to make us versatile, so you don’t have to say, ‘This guy is the next-best SAM,’ and instead I can put in the next-best guy. I think, what happens is, that when all those guys know every position, if I’m an older guy, and all of the sudden, you come in, as a younger guy, I have confidence in you that you know what’s going on, because we’ve already gone through the rigor of practice.” – Linebackers coach Garret Chachere

IN-DEPTH: One-Time Northwestern Commit Excited to Play

The Cal secondary. Last season, the Bears lost McClure, Alex Logan and Avery Sebastian to injury. Sebastian isn’t 100%, Logan took an injury retirement and McClure has moved from corner to safety. If Cal spends most of the game in nickel, the secondary will be very, very physical, with Darius Allensworth and Cedric Dozier on the field to compliment Cameron Walker, who’s added 20 pounds and a year of experience, though that was at safety.

Now, Walker is back at his natural position of corner, and will provide a steadying influence. Safety depth is a concern, though, with Sebastian not quite up-to-snuff. Behind starters McClure (who moved from corner to safety) and Michael Lowe, the Bears are thin, with walk-ons Cormac Craigie and Griffin Piatt taking second-team snaps and receiver Patrick Worstell moving to the defensive side of the ball this week.

[MORE: Worstell Makes the Switch]

“The transition has been pretty smooth,” McClure said. “The hardest part about the transition has been the run reads and run fits, and reading the interior linemen, so I had to learn a little different footwork, but mainly, just entry angles and how to fit off the linebackers, or how to fit off the nickel, in the slot. That’s probably been the toughest part of the transition, of now reading the triangle, reading the tight end-tackle box, reading different things. My eyes are a little different than at corner. You’ve got one read – you’re either locked on man or you’re reading the slot receiver and your guy – so it’s a lot less complicated. Now, it’s a little more complex, a little more reading. With time, it’s gotten better. I’ve seen a lot of different looks in fall camp, so that’s really prepared me well for getting ready for the season.”

Quotable: “He’s a lot like their football team. He’s the perfect example of their entire team. He’s a senior, he’s been around, he’s played, he’s got experience. He does not make many mistakes. He does not beat himself. That’s their team. If you look at their guys, it’s a lot of guys that have played a lot of football, that play really hard, that know what they’re doing. They’re well-coached. They understand what they’re trying to do, scheme-wise, on both sides of the ball, and on special teams, really. He’s just like that. He doesn't force the issue. He makes the plays, he lets them come to him, makes good decisions. He’s pretty similar to the rest of the players in their program, and kind of has the personality of his football team.” – Dykes on Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian.

Top 10 Story Lines Revisited, Part 1
Top 10 Story Lines Revisited, Part 2
Fall Camp Day 1: The Need for Speed
VIDEO: Three And Out, Day One
VIDEO: First Look at Rubenzer, Receivers
RECRUIT REACTION: Psalms Talks Fight Night
ONE-ON-ONE VIDEO: Cool Hand Luke
Fall Camp Day 2: Brouhaha Bears
VIDEO: Fall Camp Day 2 Highlights
Fall Camp Day 3: Keeping it Simple With Kaufman
Fall Camp Day 4 Notebook
VIDEO: Three And Out Day 5
Fall Camp Day 5: Luke Uses the Force
Fall Camp Day 6: Tre See Me Rollin’
REPORT: Gibson to Medically Retire
Fall Camp Day 7: Picking on the Quarterbacks
Swagger Games: Swingman? Try Goffman
Fall Camp Day 8: First Double Day
VIDEO: Week One DB Highlights
VIDEO: Week One WR Highlights
VIDEO: Week One Goff Highlights
Fall Camp Day 9: Lasco Rips Off Longest Run of Camp
Fall Camp Day 10: Bears Suffer Big Blows
Fall Camp Day 10: A Look at Special Teams
VIDEO: Three And Out Day 11
Fall Camp Day 12: Running Around
VIDEO: Rubenzer Leads Backup Race
VIDEO: Battle in the Trenches, OL vs. DL
Camp Notebook Aug. 18: Lowe Scores Two Picks
VIDEO: Three And Out Aug. 18
ONE-ON-ONE: To Burn Rubenzer’s Shirt or Not?
Camp Notebook Aug. 19: Pick Your Poison
Camp Notebook Aug. 20: Enwere Best He’s Looked
Camp Notebook Aug. 21: Unfinished Business
Camp Notebook Aug. 22: Winding Down
VIDEO: Three And Out Camp Wrap-Up
Camp Notebook Aug. 23: Position Changes, Depth Chart and Game Prep

PHOTO GALLERY, Part 3 Top Stories