The Buffs head to the Bay Area for their second true road test of the year. The Cal Golden Bears are a significant upgrade over the UMass Minutemen, however, so it'll take a much stronger effort to claim a second-consecutive road scalp this weekend.
Kickoff from Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley, CA is set for 2pm MT. While plenty of our West Coast brethren will be in attendance, those of us back home in Colorado will have to make due with watching the game on Pac-12 Networks. The radio call, pending late-season Rockies 'baseball,' will be on 850 KOA.
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When last we met -
In an absolute ambush last November, the Buffs blitzed past the Golden Bears 41-24 to earn their final win on the year. While Cal was about as bad as they've ever been last season, the easy win kept CU out of the basement; no small feat for a team that lost seven of their eight other conference games by at least 18 points.
|VICTORYYYYYY! From: the BDC.|
Colorado's 300th victory at Folsom Field was undoubtedly won thanks to the passing game, as an aerial assault from messrs Paul Richardson and Nelson Spruce combined for 280 receiving yards on 19 grabs. Despite not hauling in a touchdown catch for the game, the pair wrecked the short-handed California defense, making both scores and the eventual result a fait accompi. Understandably, then-freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau enjoyed a comfortable day throwing to the wideouts, and the combinations produced 12 of CU's 23 first downs.
|With Liufau getting the ball to his targets just ahead of the Cal D, the Buffs were able to claim the win. From: the BDC|
All-in-all, a win to be proud of. With Cal on the rise in 2014, however, it may not be so easy to create a repeat result this weekend.
The Golden Bears in 2014 -
Following up on their 1-11 campaign from a year ago, the Golden Bears appear to be 'back' on the competitive track, looking strong in non-conference play and their conference opener. As it stands, only a converted Hail Mary sits between them and a perfect record headed into Week 5.
As satisfying as I'm sure they were, I don't think there's too much to learn from their early wins over Northwestern and Sacramento State. Other than the fact that they converted both par saves, albeit in convincing fashion, the quality of their opponents makes cogent arguments difficult to generate. The main course of last week's road loss @ Arizona, however, makes for much heartier consumption.
It would be easy to focus on the miracle throw from the UofA's Anu Solomon to receiver Austin Hill. It's certainly a statement moment that will feature in highlight packages for the foreseeable future. But the true tale is so much more interesting when you pull back the camera to take in the whole state of affairs.
First, as was clear from the onset of the action Saturday night, Cal's offense is for real. They scored 14 points on their first four plays in the desert, cranking out a 44-yard run and an 80-yard pass before the crowd had even settled in. Through three games they've out-scored opponents 97-20 in first halves, and the opening frame in Tucson was no different, with the Bears taking a 28-6 lead. Much like with ASU, these guys can score quickly to rock the opponent back on their heels before there's any time to react. As a result, Arizona went into the locker room looking absolutely dead in the water, and were lucky to hit the break as close as they were; the power of a quick-hitting offense. For the game, Cal put up 573 yards, and they're starting to look about as good as Sonny Dykes' high-flying Louisiana Tech squads did when he was lighting up the WAC.
Of course, the flip side is that Cal's defense leaks like the proverbial Polish submarine. Against FBS opponents this season they've been outscored 60-24 in the final 30 minutes, reducing the quick-start advantage that their offense has been generating. Against Arizona, this translated into a ridiculous 627 yards on a Pac-12 record 107 offensive plays, including 444 and 57, respectively, after halftime to fuel the comeback. As any CU fan who survived the Dan Hawkins era will tell you, giving up 35+ points in the 4th quarter is not a recipe for success (and can lead you to make some even larger institutional mistakes), but there was Cal, allowing the Wildcats to score on their final six possessions. I hope Sefo and the Buffs were taking notes, because that defensive backfield can be used and abused.
|Cal couldn't guard a statue late in the game.|
Star Players -
On a team with such a prolific passing attack, of course the depth chart review is lead by the quarterback. Jared Goff is back for his sophomore campaign, as the long-term solution paid off for the Bears. Despite breaking nearly every freshman passing record ever set in Berkeley, he had spent most of last season battling the since-departed Zach Kline for the starting position. That battle only seems to have steeled him for further action, however, as he currently sits as the nation's 7th most efficient passer.
|Goff is already a record setter under center.|
Goff likes to spread the ball around, and five Bears have at least eight catches and 100 yards on the year, as a result. The best is probably junior Darius Powe, who leads the team in yardage with 188, but compatriots Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler are just as talented. The trio have combined for six touchdown grabs on the year, and the quick strikes through them are the biggest danger posed on Saturday. A move inside to the slot has done the junior Treggs especially well, and I'm interested to see him match up against CU's nickels.
|Powe is one of many targets in the passing game.|
Junior linebacker Jalen Jefferson leads the team in tackles this season, and almost single-handedly sealed off the win over Northwestern in the season opener. At 6-2, 220 lbs, he makes for an athletic presence behind the line, and can be very active in pass defense.
|Jefferson has been featured heavily this season.|
The most interesting defensive piece, however, is Griffin Piatt. Originally a walk-on receiver, he was converted to defensive back for depth purposes during last season's incredible wave of injuries. Echoing the successful morphing of CU's own Jason Espinoza into a defensive dynamo in 2011, Piatt has more than held his own playing safety at the FBS level. In just three games (one start) he's recorded 14 tackles, six passes defended, and three interceptions (one in each game). Talk about making an impact! I guess you never know where you'll find the next great performer; for Cal and their shaky pass defense, it's found money.
Sonny Dykes is working through his second season on the Berkeley sideline. At the time of his hire, it seemed that former Cal AD Sandy Barbour had scored a coup, but much of that shimmer has faded, thanks to a historically bad first year. 1-11 is excusable, however, when accompanied by the new coach excuse; CU's Mike MacIntyre certainly rebounded from a similar hiccup in year one of his stint at San Jose State. Still, Dykes better hope that positive early returns continue throughout 2014. With a new athletic director on the way, it's time to be building good will among the fan base.
My record: 3-1. Against the spread: 2-2. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +6.5 pts/gm)
Line as of Thursday @ 7pm - CU +11 1/2, O/U 67
I can't help but sense a shootout coming on. Salt added in the form of CU's road struggles, but I see two offenses primed to put up points and yards, and two defenses who don't seem capable of stopping them. I'm definitely taking the over, but I'll flip a coin on the cover. (*flips a coin*) It came up tails, so I'll say the Buffs slip late in the 4th to fall behind by two scores.
Cal 47 - CU 33
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE BEARS!