A View From Bear Territory

Dawgman.com spoke with BearTerritory.net's Ryan Gorcey to get some more perspective on the Washington-California matchup, scheduled for 3 pm Saturday at California Memorial Stadium. Gorcey gave us his thoughts on Sonny Dykes, Jared Goff, Daniel Lasco, Sandy Barbour, and a bunch more in this Q&A.

Chris Fetters:Are Cal fans generally pleased with the outlook so far, given where the program has come from year one to year two under Sonny Dykes?

Ryan Gorcey: I think many, like me, are surprised. A 1-11 season does a lot to even the most hardened of psyches, and given the institutional ineptness that Bears fans have faced over the last 50-plus years, there’s been a lot of ineptness. I think most Cal fans would have been happy to have four or five wins all season, much less four wins in the first five games. The performance of the receivers, the actualization of what was only an alleged running game based on last season, and of course, Jared Goff’s stellar performance so far have all been a welcome change for a beleaguered fan base. Of course, the defense is still an issue, but that stems mainly from the youth in the secondary. Of the 10 players who played defensive back last week, only two were older than redshirt sophomores, and only one of those was not in his first year with the program – redshirt senior Michael Lowe. The linebackers and defensive line are fairly experienced, but the inexperience in the back end has really led to all the ridiculous passing numbers.

CF: Jared Goff is on a roll right now. Is there any way UW's defense can stop him and his host of receivers?

RG: Honestly, I’d say pressure Goff, but even under pressure, he’s been able to find open men in the flats or the pressure-release valves like the running backs or inside receivers. He’s truly only had one bad game, and that was against Colorado, when he had about 13 errant throws on balls that he normally completes with his eyes closed. He won three national Player-of-the-Week awards that week. He’s so much bigger and stronger and more confident than he was a year ago, and he’s a lot more sure of himself. As for the receivers, well, there are a lot, and there truly isn’t much drop-off from the first group to the second to the third. When Stephen Anderson went down with a knee injury at the end of fall camp, Darius Powe stepped right in at that inside receiver spot, catching nine balls for 188 yards and a touchdown. When Powe went down three weeks ago, Anderson stepped back in and caught 14 balls for 274 yards and two touchdowns. That’s to say nothing of the acrobatic Kenny Lawler, team catch leader Bryce Treggs (5 TDs) and the dynamic Chris Harper. The fact that I’ve gotten this far without talking about reigning special teams player of the week Trevor Davis is a testament to just how deep that corps is.

CF: How vital has Daniel Lasco's running been to Cal's attack? And if Khalfani Muhammad can't go, how much is that going to affect the offense?

RG: Lasco has been invaluable. He’s developed into such a complete back, but more importantly, a tough, hard-nosed runner. He gets the short, hard yards as easily as he gets the big breakaway yards, and you can see both of those on display in his 92-yard screen-pass catch that he took for a touchdown, breaking through a wall of four Colorado defenders and dragging a couple more before he cut back in and took it to the house. Muhammad is a different animal in that he’s a straight speedster, and in the fourth quarter, after being worn down by Lasco’s hard-charging running, he’s a really big change of pace. Muhammad had surgery on Wednesday on an injured right thumb, and his availability for the weekend is questionable (judging by the wrappings on his hand yesterday, he won’t go), but that doesn’t mean the Bears don’t have another option. I doubt that Jeffrey Coprich gets in just yet, as he comes back from a broken foot, but if Cal is truly looking for a speed analogous to Muhammad’s, they’ll turn to Tre Watson. Watson put up video game numbers last year at Corona (Calif.) Centennial, and he’s much shiftier than Muhammad. Watson has more side-to-side wiggle and can really plant and go. Other than him, the Bears have fellow freshman Vic Enwere, who’s more of a power back at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. There are a lot of options behind Lasco, and while the loss of Muhammad hurts, it’s not a crippling blow.

CF: Cal's defense is putting up crooked numbers. Is there any hope they can figure it out - not just this weekend, but also for the rest of the season?

RG: There is, mainly because this defense is actually pretty good against the run, not that they’ve seen a whole lot of running in recent weeks. That’s partly been the issue – the one thing this defense is good at, it hasn’t been allowed to do really for nearly the past month. Against a run-heavy team like the Huskies, and then against more pro-style offenses like USC, Stanford and Oregon State down the stretch, this defense looks like it could actually get better, at least stats-wise. The biggest issue, as I mentioned above, is youth in the secondary. That was a huge issue last year, and given the fact that safeties Stefan McClure and Avery Sebastian have been sidelined for the majority of the season by various maladies, it’s the one thin part of last year’s defense that hasn’t really recovered. If McClure and Sebastian can go (of the two, I’d say Sebastian is more likely, but he’s not quite himself, speed-wise), then the back end is much more stout, but if they can’t, well, 10 DBs played last week, including four seeing their first significant defensive action.

Cal’s defense, admittedly, is last in the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense (oh, and those 1,709 passing yards in the past week aren’t too good-looking, either), but against the run, the Bears allow a paltry 117.0 yards per game.

Even when taking the 25 carries and 78 rushing yards against the Cougars into account, Cal also held run-first Arizona to just 107 yards on 32 carries, and Big Ten offense Northwestern to 108 yards on 36 carries, so this run defense, at the very least, definitely has the appearance of being the real deal

CF: In general, is there a feeling from the Cal fan base that, because of the results the last month the Bears are living on borrowed time and that the luck is going to run out at some point? Or are they feeling it and think the Bears have just as good a shot to play in the Pac-12 Title game as any other team in the North?

RG: I, for one, am waiting for the other shoe to drop, but given that Cal has five of the next seven games at home, and, including this weekend, four of the final seven games against pro-style run-oriented offenses, I think the Bears have a shot of not running the table in reverse the rest of the season. Obviously, with UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and USC left on the schedule, not to mention BYU to conclude the season, this schedule is very, very back-loaded.

Cal’s first four Football Bowl Subdivision opponents are a combined 12-10 to start the season. The next seven foes are a combined 26-9, and that includes the Huskies, so while there are a few nutbars saying that the Bears can take the North (again, nutbars), many are being realistic. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cal is in a bowl game at the end of the year.

CF: A couple random ones to finish...there are some Washington State products in Cedric Dozier and Devante Downs. How long a look did they get on offense before they were switched over to defense, and what is their long term prognosis?

RG: Downs has been on defense from Day One, and he’s getting regular playing time at linebacker. He’s probably the most exciting freshman that doesn’t play on offense, and he’s shown a headiness and a great ability to adapt to all three linebacker positions, particularly the MIKE.

Dozier is one of three corners who see regular starts, and has been very uneven this year. At times, he’s very effective, but what makes him so effective – his physicality – also gets him in trouble with pass interference calls. Dozier started his career at Cal as a receiver during his redshirt season, but has only played in games at corner.

CF: Now that a few months have past, are Cal fans generally happy or unhappy about the state of the program and facilities upgrades - including the work done on California Memorial Stadium - and the way Sandy Barbour left things before her departure from Cal?

RG: I think Cal fans are thrilled with the facilities, and the stadium is a real experience. It’s truly a first-class venue now. The program, as I said earlier, I think the jury’s still out, but leaning towards acquittal. The fans were sharpening pitchforks after the 1-11 season, but after four wins in the first five games – and being a Hail Mary away from being undefeated – I think those pitchforks are back in the barn. If Cal tailspins to finish the season, that could change, but as long as the Bears keep things close in the final seven games, I think fans will still be more or less mollified.

As for Barbour, had she left after the 2009-10 school year, having kept then-still-successful Jeff Tedford, arranged for the stadium and facility upgrades and hired Mike Montgomery, she’d be worshipped. As it stands, she kept Tedford too long until he rotted on the vine, saw Montgomery essentially use the basketball head coaching position as his golden parachute into retirement (though he did bring success to the program unseen in 50 years, his disdain for recruiting kept the program from reaching the next level), oversaw the attempted elimination of five sports (a saga that did a lot to torpedo her reputation as a fundraiser) and a much-maligned stadium financing model (not her fault, but she’ll get blamed for it anyway), her ouster was seen as a welcome sight. The fact that her interim replacement Mike Williams is a former Cal athlete – one who had a very successful career in finance and saw his own program (wrestling) eliminated while at Cal – has endeared him to many, leading a lot of folks to wish he hadn’t made it fairly plain from the get-go that he’s only here on an interim basis.

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