GAME DAY CENTRAL: Cal vs. Sac State

EVERYTHING you need to know for Cal's home opener against Northwestern, including video, interviews, previews, analysis and FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS! Plus, what to watch for on offense and defense!

California (1-0) vs. Sacramento State (1-0)
Last Time Out: California 41 – Sacramento State 3, Berkeley, Calif., Sept. 3, 2005
Cal Roster
Sacramento State Roster
When: Sept. 6, 12:00 PM Pacific
Where: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
Watch: Pac-12 Networks – JB Long (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Guy Haberman (sideline)
Listen: KGO 810 AM, Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Dave Barr (analyst), Todd McKim (sideline); KALX 90.7 FM Berkeley
DISCUSS: BRAND NEW Message Boards!
Twitter: @RGBearTerritory

RECRUITING: Cal will have three commits in the crowd on Saturday, along with four four-star prospects. Find out who will be in attendance on our Enormous Visitor List

Five Bold Predictions: After going 3-for-5 on last week’s predictions (plus the bonus, not-bold prediction that Jalen Jefferson would score his second career pick, which he did, making me 4-for-6), I sure have a lot to live up to this week, so here goes.

1. At least one Cal running back will run for at least 100 yards.
2. Jared Goff will throw for at least 400 yards.
3. Chris Harper will score two touchdowns. I’m leaving this open, as he could score them either through the air or on the ground.
4. Luke Rubenzer will complete at least four passes.
5. The Bears defense will tally at least four sacks.

What to Watch for on Offense:
Luke Rubenzer. Rubenzer ran for 48 yards on 11 carries and was 2-for-5 passing for 19 yards against Northwestern. He’s going to get more time against Sacramento State (20 snaps? I think that’s the upper limit), but the question is: How? Does Tony Franklin keep on running Rubenzer, not giving the Pac-12 tams any more film on what the Bears can do with Tiny Tim Tebow? If I’m Franklin, I don't’ do anything different than I’ve done with Rubenzer, but this week, Franklin said that his freshman quarterback can run “the whole offense,” and he’s comfortable having him do that. That may mean we see more variety coming from the young signal-caller, including handoffs, zone read plays and more. So, maybe we get a few more pages of what Rubenzer can do, but we don’t get the whole novel; maybe an IKEA instruction manual, though.

“You’re going to see the same four or five plays that everybody runs when they have a mobile quarterback,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “Backs have to be able to block it. Particularly, we had a little miscommunication issue with the offensive line on the first down that Luke got for us to be able to run the clock out. The offensive line went the wrong way, and Daniel Lasco did a great job of picking up the unblocked player and making a big block so Luke could get that first down. I thought our communication was really good, going into the game, but that was one of the few plays where there was a communication issue between the offensive line and the running backs.”

Here’s my bonus prediction for this week: Rubenzer will get his first touchdown against Sacramento State, either throwing or running, but I’ll go against the grain and say throwing.

Quotable: “We can call the whole offense with him. I don’t change anything. The only thing is, there are some things that he can do that are uniquely different, so you try to take advantage of those things.” – OC Tony Franklin

Offensive Line Rotation: Last year, Cal played 12 different men on the offensive line over the course of the year. On Saturday, the same five horses played every single offensive snap – all 84 of them – and Jordan Rigsbee nearly did the involuntary splits while running to celebrate with the fans afterwards (“Would you expect anything different out of Rigs?” asked offensive line coach Zach Yenser), possibly because of footing, but maybe because of tired legs that caused him to look like he was slipping on a banana peel.

“I almost thought we got winded at times, and that’s why it’s important to get those guys in there and let them play a little bit,” said Dykes. “I’ve always believed that if you’ve got seven, eight, nine good linemen, I think it benefits you in the long run to play them. We’re going to try to do that this week and as we move forward in the season.”

Don’t be surprised to see Brian Farley and Dominic Granado rotate in at the tackle spots, and maybe Matt Cochran, J.D. Hinnant and Addison Ooms rotate in on the interior, with Cochran and Ooms maybe giving senior center Chris Adcock some time off if the Bears can keep a big lead headed into the third quarter.

[READ MORE: Run the Ball Better; The OL and the Run Game]

Quotable: “I didn’t feel more tired than any game last year. I felt sore and everything, just like games last year and in the past. I expect to play every snap of every game this year. I’m not going to look to get subbed out, because Damon [Harrington] has prepared us for playing 90, 100 plays. He’s helped us a lot, changed our bodies.” – Left tackle Steven Moore

The running game. Last Saturday, no Cal running back ran for more than 23 yards, though Vic Enwere averaged 3.5 yards per carry, second on the team behind Rubenzer. The guy I’ll be watching though, is freshman Tre Watson. Watson has an ability that the other backs have not shown: The ability to make people miss. Enwere can run through contact, Daniel Lasco can run around and Khalfani Muhammad can just run past it, but only Watson has been able to consistently evade tacklers to get in space.

“We ran the ball pretty effectively, but we didn’t have any long runs,” Dykes said. “The longest run we had all day was 11 yards. When you don’t have any big runs, that skews your average a little bit, because, typically, you’re going to have a couple of 20-, 30-yard runs and maybe even a really long one. That’s going to help your average. All our stuff was three, four, five-yard gains, which were very efficient, which is good. Any time you can run the football, and you can get four yards, that’s a really positive thing.”

Taking out sacks and team rushes to end the game, the Bears’ median run was 3 yards. The mode of their running plays, though, was 4 yards, which Cal ran for seven times.

In my opinion, Watson is the most complete back the Bears have, and he averaged 3.0 yards per carry on Saturday. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t average above 3.5 yards per carry, and maybe even 4.0.

The corners for the Hornets will try and lock up Cal’s receivers, and they’ll be in nickel “pretty much all the time,” said Dykes, so the run game will be very important, if for no other reason than to get a better gauge on it headed into Pac-12 play.

Quotable: “We can definitely do better [in run blocking]. I know that we can do better on our run blocking. It’s mainly the offensive line’s fault, when you look at the running back statistics. We all have to be on the same page – the offensive line, the running backs.” – Moore

What to Watch for on Defense
The LLM – Large Land Mammal. – Cal’s top defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil only tallied one assisted tackle last week, but his impact on the game was significant. He blew up several plays in the backfield early, occupied up to three blockers at a time – the attention on him increasing as the game went on – and even when he wasn’t able to out-muscle two or three blockers, he pushed them back and got in the way. That’s Jalil’s best asset: Being big, and in the way. He may not record a ton of stats, but he’s going to have an effect on the game. The big question will be: Will he get tired in the fourth quarter? Last week was the first time in a year and a half that he’s played a full game, so it’s understandable that he’d be a bit worn out. But, that said, even when he wasn’t able to get that second push, he wrecked plays in the backfield just by falling forward and getting in the middle of things, and that’s just as valuable.

Quotable: “I thought Moose had a big play on fourth down, a big play in the game – he knocked the guard back into the backfield and disrupted that fourth down. Physically, that’s what he can do. He’s a good run-stopper. He was a little rusty at times. I thought he looked around a little bit when he got in the backfield, some, and watched a little too much, which was kind of a product of not playing a lot and not having a ton of experience.”

Defensive back rotation. The Bears will probably not play as much nickel as we saw against Northwestern, so how will the cornerback trio of Darius Allensworth, Cedric Dozier and Cameron Walker be mixed in? Also, sources say that A.J. Greathouse has made big strides this week and has gotten some significant reps, so where does he fit into the mix? Beyond that, Darius White and Avery Sebastian traveled last week, but got first- and second-team reps this week, so they could be more of a factor, as well against an offense led by veteran quarterback Garrett Safron.

“You put the tape on, and it becomes obvious immediately that he’s very experienced,” Dykes said. “You can see that just by the way he handles himself, the way he moves in the pocket, the ball is always out on time, he anticipates throws very well, has great touch, can drill balls in there where they need to be drilled in, he throws the ball with great touch when it needs to have great touch. You can just tell that he’s somebody who’s played a lot of football. He’s mobile enough to be a problem. Any time you play against a quarterback that has experience, that is really on the same page with his receivers – he’s got some guys coming back that have played some football for him – and somebody who moves around well enough, that’s a problem; it doesn’t matter what level of football. That’s tough.”

[READ MORE: For DBs, ‘It’s All About Us’]

Quotable: “They’re going to put the ball in the air. They’re going to push the ball vertical, so this is a game where everybody’s going to get tested, and everyone has to know how to keep their leverage. If you’re supposed to be inside, stay inside. If you’re supposed to stay outside, stay outside. That’s one of the things that we’re really going to have to focus on.” – Safety Stefan McClure

Linebacker mix. Last week, first-year transfer Jake Kearney got a lot of run, and his motor’s been hot this entire week. Against the Wildcats, Kearney notched five tackles – the second most of the linebackers – and both he and Ray Davison are a good duo to have at the WILL opposite of Jefferson.

Michael Barton was second behind Jefferson, playing both MIKE and WILL, tallying eight stops, one tipped pass that led to Jefferson’s game-sealing pick, a breakup and a tackle for loss. All of the sudden, a position group that looked a bit thin after Nathan Broussard’s season-ending knee injury during camp has six bodies for three spots, including Hardy Nickerson, Jr., who also saw more first-team time this week at the MIKE (and had two tackles against Northwestern), and freshman Devante Downs, who had two tackles last week.

Northwestern Rewind
Wrap-Up: Cal vs. Northwestern Notes and Social Media
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