1. Cal leads the conference in total offense at 530.2 ypg including 377.8 ypg passing. The Bears complete nearly 61 percent of the passes thrown. Davis Webb has accounted for all of that yardage except punter Dylan Klumph’s sole completion for 11 yards. Webb injured his thumb in the last game before the bye against Oregon State. The obvious question, is Webb expected to play next Friday night? If not, which one of the redshirt freshmen or true freshmen will start? What kind of passer would that player be?
Webb practiced each of the last two days, and will practice today. Head coach Sonny Dykes has said that he’s experienced no lingering effects from the thumb injury, and the bye wee rest probably did him a bit of good, as he didn’t throw for at least the first two days of practice last week. He is cleared and expected to play. How effective he is remains to be seen, but if he does need to get taken out – and I sincerely doubt that would wind up being the case, as he didn’t get taken out when he couldn’t even grip the ball well – I think Cal goes with Chase Forrest. Forrest is more of a game manager than redshirt freshman Ross Bowers, who I think has more arm talent, but is also more of a gunslinger than Forrest. Forrest has been in the offense – Jake Spavital’s and Tony Franklin’s systems are very similar – for three years, and if Cal is going to beat Oregon on the ground, he’s going to be a guy who will make sure the Bears check into the right run reads, rather than trying to force a passing play.
2. Oddly enough for putting up the type of stats Cal does, the rushing stats lag a bit behind with the Bears at 153.2 ypg. Considering the success of the passing game, obviously the Bears rely on it heavily but what about the rushing game, particularly going against a porous Oregon rush defense, will the Bears run the ball and how effective will the Cal rushing game be?
It’s not incredibly odd, considering the fact that the Bears are, at root, still an Air Raid team, running an offense that comes from that particular coaching tree. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital came from the Kliff Kingsbury-Dana Holgerson-Mike Leach branch of that tree. It’s a bit surprising only because the offensive line returned four starters from last year, and the Bears returned their three most productive running backs. All that said, the Bears made a huge leap last week while Webb was ineffective, committing to the run game by rushing 44 times (fourth-most in Sonny Dykes’s tenure in Berkeley) with two 100-yard performances from Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson. Given the fact that Oregon’s rushing defense is a tick below Oregon State’s rushing defense, I think that that’s where Cal attacks this week, particularly on the edge. That said, when Cal runs inside the tackles, Cal is the best team in the league, averaging 6.02 yards per carry.
3. We all know that Bears pick up a lot of yards and score a lot of points (42.3 ppg), yet defensively they give up 40 points and 283.8 rushing ypg. How vulnerable are the Bears to the run game?
Especially when teams can peel back the interior – double-teaming James Looney, for instance – Cal is incredibly vulnerable to the run game. The biggest issue has been second-level fits, and after that, tackling. Texas ran all over the Bears with their big backs, as Oregon State did with 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ryan Nall. When dealing with smaller backs – like San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey – Cal’s not been able to get a solid handle on getting them to the ground. With backs who are in between those two extremes, though, like those of Utah and Arizona State, the Bears’ tackling has been much more secure, and their gap integrity that much stronger. But, after giving up 474 yards to the Beavers, the gains Cal made against the Sun Devils and Utes have fallen by the wayside. Cal has allowed 85 plays of 10 yards or more this season, and given Oregon’s propensity for big plays, and the Bears’ inability to tackle, it doesn’t look very good for the Cal defense.
4. Cal passing defense allows 210.8 ypg, which isn’t all that bad, but does the Cal passing defense rise to the occasion against a true freshman (Justin Herbert) starting his second game?
Even given the injuries the Bears have sustained – losing starting safeties Griffin Piatt (injury retirement) and Damariay Drew (ACL), and then replacement starter Evan Rambo (ACL), safety-turned-linebacker Derron Brown (hand) and nickel Trey Turner (he’s tweeted in recent days that he’s on the comeback trail, but from what, we do not know) – the secondary has not been the bane of Cal’s defense, given how porous they’ve been against the run. Teams haven’t needed to go to the air to get yards against the Bears, so not many have tried (I suspect we’ll see that more with Washington and UCLA in the coming weeks). All that said, Darius Allensworth and Marloshawn Franklin have been very good on the outside, Luke Rubenzer is a ball hawk, and Jaylinn Hawkins has been a very, very pleasant surprise at safety, after moving from corner. Because Cal’s offense uses a lot of perimeter passes in the quick and screen game, I think that should prepare them, and the nickel backs, for what Oregon’s going to do in the passing game.
5. As you know, Oregon has a no media allowed in practice policy so that makes transparency a big question this year. How is Cal in its relations with media?
Sonny Dykes and his staff have been pretty open. We get to see one full practice per week (save for this week), and get access to Dykes four times a week – Sunday nights, Tuesday pressers, Thursday after practice and of course, after games. We get assistant coaches and players whenever we want over the course of the week, save for players who may or may not be hurt. Dykes has generally been relatively open with injury news, in that he will actually speak on them to an extent -- we don’t quite know how healthy Chad Hansen is, but we do know that he’s doing more and more each day, and we also don’t know about Turner, but I expect we’ll find out on Thursday.