Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, November 15, 2013

2013 Cal Football Preview

Well, this is it.  The game BuffNation has been waiting all fall for.  If the Buffs have any hope of avoiding a 0-9 conference run, they need to win tomorrow.  As bad as the Buffs have been, Cal has been a tad worse, only entering with one win on the year, and none out of seven tries in Pac-12 play.  Nothing on the remaining schedule (vs USC, @Utah), is nearly as winnable, making this the game of the season for Colorado. Of course, the Bears are looking at CU in exactly the same way - a chance to avoid an embarrassing winless run in conference.  Thankfully, with ties abolished in college, someone has to get their first in-conference win.

No excuses, Buffs, get it done.


It's the Pac-12 Toilet Bowl, live from Boulder, CO!  (See, I knew we'd make a bowl game one of these days.) Kickoff from beautiful Folsom Field is set for 3:30pm Saturday.  Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

CU and Cal didn't play last fall, meaning we have to go all the way back to September 10th, 2011 for the last time these two teams met.  Records were shattered that day, as the electric Paul Richardson got loose in the California defensive backfield for 284 yards and two scores on 11 catches, breaking the school's single-game record.  It wasn't enough, however, as Cal pushed the game to overtime, and earned a 36-33 win.

The day started out slow for both the teams and Richardson as the two sides combined for only three points in the first quarter.  Offensive fireworks finally started popping off in the second after Cal found the endzone via a Nico Dumont touchdown reception that capped a 10-play, 81-yard drive.  From then on, the game proceeded like a under-card heavyweight bout, with haymakers thrown with reckless abandon.  The two quarterbacks, Cal's Zach Maynard and CU's Tyler Hansen, combined for 717 passing yards and seven scores, highlighted by Hansen's 28-49-474-3 passing day.  Defense need not apply.
P-Rich had a game for the ages two years ago.
With the quarterbacks lighting up the scoreboard, it's easy to envision a receiver, especially one as talented as Richardson, having an all-world day.  The star speedster only had 96 yards on five catches in the first half, but hauled in four catches for 170 yards and two scores in drives started in the third quarter alone.  The two touchdowns of 66 and 78 yards carried the Buffs back from 10 down to their first lead since 3-0 in the first quarter.  After the second lightning strike, however, Cal wised up, and decided to bracket Richardson for the rest of the afternoon.  Hansen was only 2-4 for 18 yards targeting Paul in the fourth quarter and overtime after the 78-yard score gave CU the lead, and Colorado's inability to get P-Rich the ball in space down the stretch eventually spelled defeat.

In the lone overtime period, the Buffs tried to ride Rodney Stewart into the endzone, but the drive stalled at the five yard line, leaving the defense with work to do.  A pair of penalties pushed Cal back to first-and-30 from the 35-yard line, but the porous CU 'D' couldn't hold.  Sensing a weakness on the edge, the Golden Bears were able to place their own star receiver, Keenan Allen, on a mismatch with Colorado safety Parker Orms.  The pitch and catch from Maynard to Allen was perfunctory, and CU lost a game they should've won.

The Golden Bears in 2013 - 

As ugly as Colorado football has been this season, the Cal Bears have been, in many ways, worse.  Their lone win on the year came in week two against FCS side Portland State.  Beyond that, they've spent the season getting pummeled by all comers.

There are some caveats.  They have played a pretty difficult schedule, facing off against Big 10 powers Northwestern and Ohio State in non-conference action (no shame in two losses there) before hitting the conference slate.  Even against the Pac-12, they've been slightly more competitive than CU has (average margin of conference defeat - CU 34.5, Cal 26.1), including a close loss a few weeks back against Arizona.  Still it's hard to look at 1-9 (0-7) as anything but disastrous.
Cal's win over Portland State marks their lone ray of winning sunshine this season. From:
The problem, as has been the case for CU in recent years, has been the defense.  Wracked with injuries - one reporter calculated it as well over a ton of defensive talent - they've seen prodigious points and yards put up against them.  As a team, the Bears are 120th in first downs allowed (249), 123rd nationally in passing yards allowed (331 per game), 121st in total defense (nearly 530 yards per game), and 121st in scoring defense (about 45 points per game).  The definition of sieve, the Cal defensive unit is a weakness CU must take advantage of.

If it weren't for the defensive issues, the Bears might have had a nice season.  Comparatively, their offense is world-class.  While they only get 119 yards per game on the ground (108th nationally), they've killed through the air, notching nearly 350 yards per game as one of the top-10 passing attacks in all of college football. True, they've had to throw the ball down big throughout the season, but they've moved the ball well.  The success ends there, however.  They're last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, and 114th nationally in red zone success (70%).  Much like CU, they struggle converting promising drives into points.

Star Players - 

The story of the Cal offense, from fall camp to today, has been the quarterback controversy between freshmen Jered Goff (true) and Zach Kline (redshirt).  Goff won the battle in camp, and enters Saturday's game with a workman-like 17:9 TD-to-INT ratio.  With those numbers, he has has only been able to maintain a tenuous grasp on the job.  Kline has relieved him at multiple points, and the two-headed QB monster known as 'Kloff' has been a continuing topic of discussion.
The freshman Goff still runs the offense in Berkeley.
Still, even with the controversy, Goff has started every game, and Kline has only attempted 60 passes on the year. Kline is more mobile, giving him a slightly better chance behind an offensive line that has struggled at points (29 sacks allowed), but the coaching staff maintains that Goff is the 'long-term solution,' and has decided to grow with the young slinger.

The Bears pair a freshman QB with a very young receiving corps.  Leading wideouts Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are only sophomores, but have combined for 1,523 yards and six scores with three games still to play. In addition, freshman Kenny Lawler has come on to reel in five touchdown catches in limited action, including this insane one from earlier this month.  Combined, the youthful passing combinations suggest a bright future through the air in Berkeley, which is good, since not a single running back has over 400 yards this season.
The young Bear wideouts, like Treggs, have a bright future ahead of them.
The most productive player still healthy on defense is Khairi Fortt.  With everyone else on the DL, he leads the team with 69 tackles.  Senior linemen Dan Camporeale and Deandre Coleman have bucked the overall trend by starting and playing in all 10 games to date, and are the only defensive stars to be able to make that claim.  In the backfield, the main threat is safety Michael Lowe, who has caused three turnovers on the season.

Coaching - 

New to the Cal sideline is Sonny Dykes.  The first-year coach, formerly of Louisiana Tech, made a name for himself as an up-and-coming offensive guru.  To be sure, Cal has moved the ball this season, but they aren't getting into the endzone enough, and the defense is atrocious.  They deserve to be 1-9.
A rough first year for Dykes.
With Dykes in his first year, the blame is going to fall at the feet of defensive coordinator Andy Buh.  Injuries and a mediocre level of talent haven't helped, but you can't put up those kinds of numbers at a power-six school and not see the axe.  I expect him to be gone, with new blood tasked with getting something out of the defensive unit.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 9-0.  Against the spread: 4-4.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +5.75 pts/gm)

Lines as of Thursday @ 5pm - CU -3, M/L -135, O/U 67

Wonders never cease.  Here the Buffs sit at 0-6 in Pac-12 play, a week after suffering through a humiliating defeat at Washington, yet Vegas installs them as a three-point favorite over Cal.  In my eyes, CU shouldn't be favored over any Pac-12 team, for any reason.  They are simply not capable of competing in the conference right now.

That said, the Golden Bears are nearly as woeful as the Buffs are, and the game is being played at Folsom, giving me plenty of reason to think CU has a chance to pull one out.  Why not, nothing this team does will surprise me anymore, so I'll say they find a way to get it done in a high scoring affair.

CU 41 - Cal 37


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