What are the program's expectations for Jared Goff this season? Has he kept the interceptions down in practice? His first career game came against the Wildcats last year, and he torched NU for 450 yards.
Goff had a bit of a setback, going on the shelf for two months following a separated shoulder suffered in the final game of the season against Stanford, but he came roaring back. He’s now 20 pounds heavier than he was when he came to Cal, adding 10 of those pounds over the last three months. He’s shown much more advanced techniques in the craft of quarterbacking, increasing his accuracy in the mid-range game and down field, as well as quickening his release on the short passes.
Beyond that, he’s much more advanced in using his eyes and his shoulders to manipulate a defense. He’s a much more complete quarterback now than he was a year ago, and a much more capable leader, as the Bears elected him team captain. Running back Daniel Lasco said that Goff was “very timid” last year, and afraid to make mistakes. This year, he doesn’t make nearly as many mistakes, and his voice is much louder both on the field and in the locker room. He’s really becoming a leader, and the team is following.
Cal’s wide receiver corps is arguably the deepest in the conference. Beyond Harper and Treggs (the latter of which has moved to one of the two inside positions), the Bears have speedy Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis, who pushed Harper for the starting X position, and the two are currently listed as co-starters, which gives you an idea of how good Davis is, given that Harper is on all sorts of preseason watch lists.
Kenny Lawler had a few memorable catches last season, and is incredibly springy and athletic, while Maurice Harris – the other top option at the Z spot – is long, rangey and has fantastic hands. It’s really an embarrassment of riches for Goff, and at any one time, Cal can put four potentially all-conference guys on the field at the four wideout spots.
Four starting O-linemen return, but the Cal running game was awful in '13. Who gets the bulk of the carries Saturday?
Take your pick: speedy Khalfani Muhammad, Doak Walker Award Watch List member Daniel Lasco, 225-pound freshman sledge hammer Vic Enwere or freshman Tre Watson. I suspect we see Lasco more than the other three, but Muhammad is going to get the ball in space, and off the pitch, as well as catching it out of the backfield. Watson has the most shake out of the four, and can do the most in open space, while Muhammad is more of a straight-line runner.
If anyone other than Lasco and Enwere gets the ball in short-yardage or red-zone situations, I’d be shocked. Enwere is just so strong and powerful, he’ll take multiple hits and keep on moving forward. There’s a lot more depth than “let’s just hope Brendan Bigelow is the same Brendan Bigelow he was at Ohio State.”
What has new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman implemented thus far in terms of formation and philosophy?
Cal ranked last in the Pac-12 in total defense. Kaufman’s system is fairly simple. It’s based on speed of action, and adapting what they ask of players to the skill sets of those players, so it’s very flexible. That said, it’s a 4-3 base, though I suspect we’ll see a lot of nickel this weekend, because last season’s starting MIKE linebacker – Hardy Nickerson – won’t be able to play an entire game, meaning that we’ll probably see versatile Michael Barton in the middle (or freshman Devante Downs) and redshirt freshman (and former Northwestern commit) Ray Davison at the SAM.
As I said, though, I don’t think we’ll see a ton of three-linebacker looks. I think we’ll more often than not see the nickel, with Darius Allensworth playing the nickel back, and Cameron Walker and Cedric Dozier at the corners. Stefan McClure and Michael Lowe both had stellar camps at safety, and as far as a front-line defensive backfield goes, this is much, much stronger than last year’s edition. Walker’s experience at safety last year at 160 pounds has greatly helped his development as a corner this season, and now that he’s at 180 pounds, he’s much more physically ready for the load of a full-time starter as a true sophomore.
Only one returning starter on the D-line. Who do you like to have the best performance Saturday?
I originally had the following as part of the previous answer, but it goes perfectly here. The defensive line is much stronger, as rush end Brennan Scarlett completely healthy, and top defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who’s going to be a very able replacement for NFLer Deandre Coleman. Both Scarlett and Jalil were slated to be starters last year before injuries derailed both, but they have each come back much, much stronger than expected. If I had to pick one of those two, it’d be Scarlett. He’s a game-changer, and will have more noticeable big plays than even the best players on the interior.
Has Cal tried that fake field goal play since the NU game?
Not a fake field goal, buuuuuuuut (looks at the roofs for snipers) this is a bit like being in a Marvel movie. I’m fairly certain someone’s going to take me out for saying anything. They haven’t tried the fake field goal hook-and-ladder play again, but there are new wrinkles that I, for one, am excited to see in action.
Final score prediction?
I was dreading this. I think this game is a lot like last year’s game, given that I think the kind of pace and precision the Bears sustained for much of that game is going to be the norm this year. In my heart of hearts, I think Cal can pull the upset, but as I’ve said multiple times in interviews and on the radio, Cal can be 100 times better than it was last year, but still win only four games with this schedule, and while I think Saturday could be one of those days, I just need to see the Bears win a D1 game with this staff before I go off predicting upsets against other Power Five teams. I’ll say 44-39, Wildcats.