California Golden Bears (2-0, 0-0 Pac 12)
Texas Longhorns (1-1, 0-0 Big 12)
Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. CT
The Series: Texas leads 5-0-0
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH (Chip Brown)
1. Two words: Sustain drives
The Longhorns are dead last of 123 teams in FBS in time of possession - averaging 18 minutes per game with the ball. UT has had 26 possessions in 2015. Only two of those 26 possessions has resulted in drives of more than 6 plays. Almost half of those possessions (12) have resulted in three-and-outs.
In a 42-28 victory over Rice last week, the Owls had the ball more than 44 minutes. If Cal has the ball 44 minutes against Texas Saturday night, the Bears might score 100 thanks to QB Jared Goff and an experienced set of skill players.
This is a huge test for the offensive coaching staff in terms of narrowing the plays to what this unit does best and then calling a game that sets up Texas for success - and sustained drives.
2. Run the football
The move to true dual-threat Jerrod Heard at quarterback gives Texas the best chance to run the football.
And against Cal, a team that averages 54 points per game, the best way to beat the Bears and keep their explosive offense off the field is to eat the clock by running the ball.
We know Heard can run the ball. He showed that last week against Rice by rushing for 96 yards on 10 carries, including a 35-yard burst on the third play of the game.
Last week, Foreman appeared to be the more decisive runner on seven carries for 36 yards (4.6 ypc) than Gray, who had 8 yards on 8 carries, including a long run of 7 yards.
Texas is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. That has to improve - quickly - or the Longhorns won't have a chance against Cal or Oklahoma State - two winnable games (and most likely must-win games if the Horns hope to have a winning season).
3. It's time to man up - literally - on defense.
As in press man - all over the field. That's how you disrupt the rhythm of a timing offense, by muscling receivers at the line, re-routing them and making Jared Goff hold the ball a second longer or forcing him to reset in the pocket.
Yes, it's high-risk, high-reward.
But this is a grow-up game for the Texas defense, especially for the freshmen in the back seven. The Horns probably had to play zone against dual-threat QBs Malik Zaire of ND and Driphus Jackson of Rice, so they could keep eyes on the QB.
Jared Goff is a pocket passer.
Charlie Strong went out and recruited 6-foot-3 CB Holton Hill and 6-foot-2 CB Davante Davis and 6-foot CB Kris Boyd to be able to play press man against the big receivers from Baylor, TCU and West Virginia and disrupt their timing routes at the line of scrimmage.
Well, everyone, say hello to Cal's 6-foot-3 WRs Kenny Lawler and Stephen Anderson, the team's two leading receivers who combined for 14 TD catches last season.
It's time to play a man's game - as in press man.
4. Texas has to get pressure on the QB
Obviously, you want to get that pressure with a four-man rush. But even if you have to blitz, Texas has to make Cal QB Jared Goff uncomfortable.
The Longhorns couldn't blitz the dual-threat QBs they faced the last two weeks, because they didn't want to lose contain.
But now is the time to get after the QB.
Texas led the Big 12 in sacks last year, so let's see what the Horns' pass rush really looks like in 2015.
5. More special teams magic
Freshmen, such as Kris Boyd and Breckyn Hager, are making their presence felt on coverage units.
The Longhorns need as much help limiting the other team while manufacturing points that another big game from UT's special teams could be critical to pulling the upset on Saturday.
FOUR AREAS TO IMPROVE (Taylor Gaspar)
Texas is coming off of a win against Rice but have a difficult task Saturday when Cal comes to Austin. The Longhorns win over the Owls showed signs of improvement on both sides of the ball, but it is going to take a lot more improvement in week three against the Golden Bears.
Here are four areas where Texas needs to improve for Saturday’s game.
1. Third down defense: The Longhorns defense have allowed opponents to convert 62.9 percent of third downs, which ranks dead last in FBS. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has stressed the importance of getting off the field on third down, and this week will be the perfect week for the defense to start putting his words into actions.
2. Third down offense: Similar to the defense, the Texas offense is struggling to convert third downs, which is not helping out the defense at all. Many people say the best defense is one that is not on the field; however, the Longhorns defense was on the field for more than 44 minutes against Rice. The offense has to move the chains and convert on third downs to give the defense some time to rest when it is going up against Cal’s Air Raid offense.
3. Convert quarterback pressures into sacks: Bedford counted seven missed sack attempts against Rice, which ultimately led to roughly 150 yards of total offense for the Owls. That cannot happen against Cal. If the Longhorns can get past the Bears offensive line and pressure quarterback Jared Goff, they need to finish and take him to the ground. Goff is one of the better quarterbacks in college football this season and the last thing Texas needs to do is miss opportunities against this high-powered offense.
4. Win in the trenches: Teams that win in the trenches typically win ballgames, but both lines for the Longhorns are not dominating the line of scrimmage. While there was improvement in the trenches against Rice, one has to consider the opponent. Texas needs to win the line of scrimmage Saturday on both sides of the ball.
FIVE LONGHORNS TO WATCH (William Wilkerson)
1. Hassan Ridgeway, defensive tackle – The Longhorns desperately need to improve their play up front, and Ridgeway is precisely the guy that can help UT dictate the line of scrimmage. He’s actually not been terrible in his first two games – he’s gotten push in the back field but has sometimes over-pursued, which allowed the dual threat QBs Texas was facing to step up in the pocket and do their thing. Cal QB Jared Goff isn’t going to look to run all that much so Ridgeway should pin his ears back and go full steam ahead. He’s going to need to be a monster in the middle as Texas needs to keep Goff’s feet moving. He’s also going to be key in UT’s run defense, which has taken it on the chin the first two weeks.
2. Jerrod Heard, quarterback – No surprise here. Heard looked good against Rice, but he knows he’ll have to step up his play big time if the Longhorns want a chance in this one. He needs to continue to be decisive with his throws, especially early, to set the tone. That’s something Jay Norvell was really pleased to see him do against Rice. And he needs to look to run when he has the opportunity. Find a way to sustain drives and don’t turn the ball over.
3. Johnathan Gray, running back – He knows he needs to play better. The staff knows he needs more opportunities. The fan base wants to see him involved more. We’ll see. Gray hasn’t done much in his first two games but he’s going to be vital to UT’s success in this one as dictating pace and keeping Cal’s high-octane offense off the field is going to be of the utmost importance.
4. Jason Hall / Dylan Haines, safeties - These two are going to be tested throughout the game, but can’t get caught looking in the backfield. They’ve got to remain poised and sound in their read responsibilities. It’s crucial. Goff is going to try to beat them deep on more than a few occasions. They can’t let that happen.
5. Taylor Doyle, center – The senior needs to be poised and in control. Cal has some horses on its defensive line, especially in the interior, so he’s going to need to be ready. The Longhorns have to run the football more effectively than they have in their first two games. They won’t be able to do that unless Doyle plays better.
CAL OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO KNOW (William Wilkerson)
Daniel Lasco, running back – Everyone knows about Golden Bears QB Jared Goff. He’s one of the very best in the country. But his job becomes a lot easier if Lasco is moving the chains on the ground. The RB from, you guessed it, The Woodlands (Texas), has rushed 24 times for 152 yards and two scores so far. He’s gotten twice as many carries as any other Cal back, so stop him and that will hurt the Bears offensively.
RICE DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO KNOW (William Wilkerson)
Mustafa Jalil, defensive tackle – This is the guy (No. 90) the Longhorns need to control up front if they want to have any success running the ball. Jalil (6-4, 315) has had some trouble staying on the field due to injury but is healthy and ready to go in this one.
The Longhorns will face a difficult task Saturday when they take the field against the Cal Golden Bears. Cal’s quarterback Jared Goff is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in college football this season. In fact, Vance Bedford believes he is the best quarterback he has ever faced as a college football coach, which is not something Texas fans will want to hear.
Texas showed significant improvement in its 42-28 win over Rice, but it will take a much more consistent effort for the Longhorns to leave Saturday’s game with win No. 2.
What I am about to say will probably make some of you think “Duh,” but if the Longhorns want to beat the Bears, the offense will have to convert on third downs and the defense needs to get off the field on third downs. This, along with consistent offensive play and defense pressuring Goff will be key to a Texas victory.
At this point, it is difficult to put full faith in the Longhorns ability to put together a complete performance. I think this could easily go either way, but I’m giving the edge to the Bears.
Cal 42, Texas 38
Ah, what the hell – Texas wins this thing.
But William, the Longhorns secondary is really going to have their hands full with all of these Cal receivers? I get that but I think those guys will play a little more sound knowing that Goff isn’t as big a running threat as they’ve faced the previous two weeks.
Alright, but what about Texas’ ability – or inability as they’ve shown the first two weeks of running the football? Yeah, it hasn’t been pretty. And I don’t think this game is going to be anything to write home about because Cal’s defensive front is really good and interchangeable without much of a drop-off. But I know Johnathan Gray is a better back than he’s shown so far this season. Look for him to be more involved in the passing game with a wheel route here or there to keep Cal’s defense honest.
OK, that all sounds fine and good, but there are going to be points scored in this one. Can Texas keep up? Honestly, I have no idea. But something tells me Heard is going to continue to show confidence in the deep ball and he’ll really enjoy having Marcus Johnson back on the field after he missed last week.
A whole lot of but’s and what if’s going on, BUT I think the Longhorns escape with one here. Call me crazy, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Texas 31, Cal 27
I can see Texas winning this game, but I think the 5 key factors I laid out on the message board ALL have to happen:
* Running the ball
* Sustaining drives
* Getting a pass rush
* Playing press coverage
* More special teams magic
And the problem is we've only seen one of those (special teams magic).
I'm not expecting the Texas defense to create five turnovers again this week - not against a QB as skilled and experienced as Jared Goff and a set of skill players as talented as RB Daniel Lasco (No. 2) and WRs Kenny Lawler (No. 4), Stephen Anderson (No. 89), Bryce Treggs (No. 1) and Trevor Davis (No. 9).
This is the biggest challenge the back seven on defense has had yet.
Texas is going to have to win a shootout, which means Jerrod Heard is going to have to have a star-making game at QB both running and throwing the football. And that's possible.
But based on what we've seen so far this season, it's not likely.
Cal 35, Texas 27