Another week, another round of questions! This time, our friends over at California Golden Blog have agreed to tell us everything they can about the upcoming game in Berkeley. Thanks to LeonPowe, atomsareenough, and Vlad Belo in particular for their great answers!
tBBC: California is leading the nation in passing yards at 470 per game. How do you explain true freshman QB Jared Goff’s taking the country by storm?
LeonPowe-CGB: Obviously the #Bearraid offensive system installed by Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes is a big reason why. Spread the field, use passes as the running game. Tempo. And having lots of talent at wideout have been big pluses for the passing offense, but Goff is the guy who makes it go. Despite being a true freshman, his high school ran the Tony Franklin system and he familiarity with the terminology and what the QB is supposed to do gave him some advantages over his competition for the QB job in the spring and in the fall (he’s an early enrollee). But mentioning all of that without giving credit to Goff would be selling him very very short. His strengths are his decision making and his accuracy – he’s been baited into a handful of bad throws but he’s a true freshman and playing catch-up with regards to defender speed and size.
atomsareenough-CGB: Well, first and foremost, the credit has to go to Goff. He’s been as advertised; consistent, accurate, careful, and makes quick decisions with the football. Secondly, those traits mesh extremely well with the new offense, which is conceptually pretty simple but relies on being quick and accurate. Third, we have a talented corps of receivers who have mostly done a good job catching the ball. I wouldn’t have predicted he’d be leading the nation in passing yardage, but I think part of the explanation is that teams have been focusing on stopping the running game and putting the pressure on him to throw. Fortunately, he’s been able capitalize on that, has distributed the football well, and we’ve taken what they’ve given us. The way he plays though, it’s not simply a quirk or a coincidence or a product of the scheme. He’s legitimately very good, especially for a true freshman. Even after 2 games, I feel pretty confident in saying he’s the best QB we’ve had in many years.
Vlad Belo-CGB: Jared Goff does not look like a guy who is overwhelmed. He is extremely composed, keeps his poise very well, and throws the ball on time. He seems to have a command for this offense and it shows. Playing in the friendly environs of his home field to make his debut hasn’t hurt either.
tBBC: Sticking with offense, through two games, the Golden Bears are averaging 97 plays per game. Is this extremely fast tempo by design or dictated by the game situations? Can they keep up this pace on Saturday?
LeonPowe: By design – but the way it runs may be surprising to you (it was to me, but I don’t watch that many college football games) – it’s not a continual hurry up offense, they do seem to have different speeds at which they run things. It feels like the old basketball axiom that its not about going as fast as you can, but really about how fast you can change speeds. When all of the “injuries” started happening against Northwestern, you could really see the play calling and the reactions of the team going faster and faster until the cool Berkeley weather got their defenders to continually cramp up.
atomsareenough: It’s definitely by design. It may vary with the game situation, but the offense is designed to move at a lightning-quick pace. It’s only going to get faster as we get more experience running it. I think the number of plays also has something to do with the tempo of the opponents we’ve faced as well. When we face a slower, possession-oriented offense, that should take extra time off the clock and reduce the number of plays overall. I think Dykes has said he imagines 80-90 plays per game on average. Another feature we’ve found is that the games have been extremely long, as both games have taken nearly 4 hours of real time, due to the number of plays and the stoppages of the clock.
Vlad Belo: Oh, this is by design. This is the Bear Raid offense’s M.O. It is uptempo by nature and is effective when it can remain that way. Cal can definitely keep up this pace unless the defense finds a way to disrupt it somehow.tBBC: Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper appear to be Goff’s main receiving targets. What can you tell us about them?
LeonPowe: Bryce is the son of former Cal star Brian Treggs – he’s got a little bit of everything except size. Good hands, good downfield blocker, both straight line speed and elusiveness. Not to damn him with faint praise – but he’s very good at many many things, but so far hasn’t been amazing at any one aspect just yet (to be fair he’s following a decent line of Cal wideouts – just in the last few years Jeremy Ross, Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen, Lavelle Hawkins and of course Desean Jackson) But he’s going to be a really really good wideout.
Chris Harper was not quite as heavily recruited as Treggs, but since he’s gotten here, he seemed to have adjusted to the college game a little bit faster, having broken out in a bigger way last year than Treggs did. He’s got great hands and better size than Treggs, but doesn’t quite have the wheels or the downfield blocking skills that Treggs has. He loves to go up and get the ball too.
atomsareenough: Well, they’re both very good. Neither are really big bodies, but they are great athletes, both run routes very well, have great hands, are enthusiastic about blocking, can make plays to catch it in traffic, and they have speed and quickness to make the defender miss in space… Basically the whole package you’d want from a receiver. Though they’ve been Goff’s top targets, he’s also spread the ball around to a number of other receivers as well, so you can’t just cover Treggs and Harper. The two big highlight-reel plays from the Portland State game were made by Richard Rodgers and Maurice Harris (the Harris catch was #1 play on Sportscenter for the weekend, you may have noticed).
Vlad Belo: Bryce Treggs is probably Cal’s most talented receiver in terms of raw ability. As noted by others, he is the son of former Cal WR Brian Treggs (who played for Cal from 1988 to 1991), a contemporary of mine when I attended Cal. With all due respect to Brian, Bryce is the more talented one, with better size and speed. As for Chris Harper, I love this kid. He is a tenacious, determined kid who gets every bit out of his ability. Originally, he was an SMU verbal commit, but he wanted very badly to get a schollie offer from Cal. He worked his butt off to get better and got the offer from the former coaching staff. He has been extremely reliable.
tBBC: Cal’s defense appears to be fairly young. The top four tacklers are underclassmen. One name that stuck out is RS freshman linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Jr. From what you’ve seen so far, is he a chip off the old block?
LeonPowe: He’s got the physical skills – although is a little bit light right now, however I (personally) think the college game is still moving a very fast speed for him, as it is for all of our defense in the first two games. He’s been out of position several times and been late to react at others. I’m not worried about his improvement because I know he’s going to be good, but right now, he’s still a RS frosh.
atomsareenough: Due to injury and just being a young team, we’ve had a lot of guys taking snaps who hadn’t before this year. I don’t know if having two games under their belts will fully prepare them for a pair of top 5 teams this week against the Buckeyes and next week against Oregon, but that’s who we’re playing, so I hope they’re ready. Yeah, so far Hardy’s been good, so his Dad should be proud. He’s been pressed into the starting Mike role, and done pretty well for a guy who hadn’t played before. He’s made a few mistakes here and there, but overall it’s been an encouraging start for him, and he carries himself extremely well. Definitely more positive than negative. Apparently the incumbent Nick Forbes, who has been out due to injury, was back at practice this week, so hopefully that gives us a little more depth and experience. We also have a trio of D-linemen who could help if any of them are available on Saturday (Chris McCain, Mustafa Jalil, Brennan Scarlett). Safety is an incredibly thin position for us as well, with our best guy Avery Sebastian, out for the year since the Northwestern game. We’re really hurting on defense.
Vlad Belo: I am not yet going to put Hardy Nickerson Jr. in the same class as his dad. Hardy Nickerson Sr. was awesome as a college player and a pro. But so far, Nickerson Jr. has shown signs of being a very good college linebacker. He had a team-high 12 tackles last week against Portland State and was one of the few bright spots for a defense that did not play very well.
tBBC: The match with Portland State was much closer than most people thought… do you think it was “growing pains” for the Bears, or was Cal looking ahead to the Buckeyes?
LeonPowe: Definitely growing pains. We’re so young (second youngest team in FBS) that we need all the games and experience we can get. We haven’t heard anything about OSU, last week’s practices and preparation were all in anticipation of PSU’s pistol (and we still got smoked by them in the first half). We’re young and injured – no excuse – but that’s the reality.
atomsareenough: Possibly (hopefully) a bit of both. The more cynical and pessimistic among us (and after the last half century of Cal football, there are many of those) have been quick to take the Portland State game as an indication that the team is bad and the ceiling for this year is low. The more optimistic of us are worried, but hopeful that it’s a combination of youth/inexperience and a bit of letdown between ranked opponents. Our coordinator Andy Buh also said that Portland State came out in an offensive package unlike what we had prepared for, and it took several series to adjust. The defense has been good about clamping down in the second halves of both games so far, so that’s somewhat encouraging. But we can’t be a second half team against the likes of the Buckeyes, so we need a good gameplan and we need to execute early. Our tackling needs to get a lot better and we simply must get more pressure up front. In my opinion, the lack of pressure from the front 7 is a root cause of the defense’s poor results so far. One might have hoped that we could simply manhandle an FCS team like Portland State, no matter what they were trying to run, but that clearly wasn’t the case. I still think we can possibly be a bowl team, but it seems more difficult than it did a week ago. There’s a lot we need to improve on, defensively.
Vlad Belo: Probably a little bit of both. Coach Dykes admitted after the game that he did not do a good job of preparing his players to play. No matter how much you try to reinforce in the team that eight FCS teams beat FBS teams on week one, the fact remains that these are college kids. Some things go in one ear and out the other, and I think it was probably inevitable that the Bears would take a peek to the game against Ohio State. There also were growing pains, for sure. Cal is young to begin with, and then throw in the fact that Portland State ran formations that they had not shown on film all last season (according to Cal defensive coordinator Andy Buh), and that adds up to what happened last Saturday. But we’d be remiss if we did not give credit to Portland State’s coaches and players for bringing their A game.
tBBC: Cal fans could be heard booing during the Northwestern game, as they suspected the Wildcats were faking injuries to slow down the Bear-Raid offense. However, Cal has been accused of similar tactics in the past against PAC12 foes. How should the NCAA address these types of “shenanigans”?
LeonPowe: Just one Pac-12 foe and just one game. When we were (rightfully) accused of it, we were super indignant and very much “no way our team would do that” to finding out it was true. Now that we’re running the #Bearraid high speed offense, we were on the other side of it, and it just felt to not be within the spirit of the game. I think Cal fans were very embarrassed that we were cheating (and also, that we were caught). There’s been an idea bouncing around that any injured player who comes off for a play has to sit out a series or minimum number of plays – that’s something that has a good amount of support of CGB.
atomsareenough: Cal hasn’t just been accused of similar tactics. We’re one of the few schools (or possibly the only one) that has actually admitted to faking injury in a game against Oregon a few years back. When it happened, during the prior coaching regime of Jeff Tedford, the team did an internal investigation, fessed up, and the position coach responsible was suspended as a result (in case you’re wondering, that coach was Tosh Lupoi, who subsequently made an unceremonious departure for the University of Washington). Anyway, Cal fans and alumni were almost uniformly embarrassed and appalled that we would resort to such unsportsmanlike tactics, and thankfully, we’ve never done it again since. So, I feel like we can speak with a little authority on the matter, having sinned and repented. It’s a completely unacceptable tactic, against the spirit of the game, and actually explicitly against the rules. The refs can’t be the arbiters of what is a real injury, though, so what ought to happen is that any player who is injured so badly that it results in a stoppage of play and/or medical staff coming onto the field, should have to remain on the sidelines until the next change of possession has occurred. That should give medical staff ample time to make an evaluation, which frankly is what ought to happen if there is in fact a real injury. You don’t want players who are injured returning to the game immediately when it might risk their health. Secondly, doing it that way rather than a fixed number of plays makes it so that a coach who may want to use the fake injury tactic won’t be tempted to make a cost/benefit calculation. Maybe the player might be out for 2 plays and a punt, maybe it will be 10 plays and a kickoff. If you don’t know, you’ll be less likely to risk faking.
Vlad Belo: Let’s get this right, first of all: Cal has been accused of similar tactics once, against Oregon in 2010. And, as atomsareenough points out, Cal accepted responsibility for the tactic and we moved on. (Though karma may have gotten us back in the Northwestern game.) As for what the NCAA should do about it? I don’t know. This is a difficult one to police. How do you tell when a guy is faking? It may be easy in some instances, but not so much in others. I’ve seen it suggested that a guy who comes out should have to sit out the remainder of the offensive series, or a minimum number of plays. Or maybe every second or third injury in a series results in a charged timeout. I’m not really thrilled about these suggestions, but I don’t really have any good answers.
tBBC: What are the general impressions of the stadium renovation? Are there still vocal concerns regarding expenditure and environmental impact? Does “tightwad hill” still have it’s amazing sight-lines?
LeonPowe: There’s still lots of concerns about expenditure, but the environmental impact protesters didn’t really have a legitimate argument and have moved on to their protest of the week. Expenditures are still a pretty precarious situation, especially as the top public research university in the nation/world, with many many people in and around campus who don’t care for athletics, any sort perception of money diverted from the academic side of the university, accurate or not, is going to be controversial.
atomsareenough: The stadium renovation is fantastic! Yeah, okay, I’m biased, but even trying to be objective, I honestly think it must be one of the best venues in all of college football now. It really is the best of old and new. It’s retained its classical character but at the same time it’s very clean and modern. It is truly spectacular. My only real complaint is that the final phase hasn’t happened, and the east side is still lacking in amenities and dependent upon port-a-potties. As for people with vocal concerns, there are lots of folks still worried about the nearly half-billion-dollar expenditure and how the athletic department is going to service the debt. It’s a legitimate concern. Hopefully the football team becomes so wildly successful that it’s not an issue, but as a non-powerhouse since the 1950s, we can’t bank on that. Pricey donor seats simply aren’t being sold at the rate they were banking on when they planned the stadium project. There is still enough time to turn it around and find a solution, but lots of folks are worried that our already strapped university budget is going to have to make up the difference someday. Though, a lot of the loudest critics simply don’t like athletics and are taking advantage of the stadium finance issue for axe-grinding purposes. Thankfully, the environmental concern-mongering seems to have died down a bit. Once the tree-sitters lost and the oak trees (yes they were oak trees planted by the university, not ancient redwoods) were removed, that battle was over. I haven’t been to Tightwad Hill since the renovation, but people still sit there and you can still see the game for free. The field was lowered a few feet but it doesn’t seem to have changed the view much.
tBBC: Ohio State fans travel well- other than Telegraph Avenue, what are some “must see” things for a visit to Berkeley?
LeonPowe: Top Dog is a must for any fans of sausage. CREAM for ice cream sandwiches. The campus is beautiful – from Sather Gate to the Campanile to the view from Memorial Stadium down to the Bay, Berkeley has one of the nicest settings for a university campus in the world. Obviously San Francisco being across the Bay, there’s a million things to see there as well.
atomsareenough: Fans traveling to Berkeley simply must eat at as many interesting local restaurants as possible. Eat eat eat. No matter what you like, I guarantee you there will be a place to be found serving a good version of it. I’d also encourage folks to walk around campus. It’s a beautiful, delightful place to be, and there is so much great architecture both on and off campus. On campus, there’s an art museum, a botanical garden, a science museum. Go to the top of the Campanile. See a live theater or music performance of some sort. Watch some America’s Cup sailing. Visit museums. Take a trip across the bay to San Francisco while you’re here. Go up to Napa/Sonoma and try some wine if you are so inclined. There really is no shortage of options.
tBBC: Who ya got for Saturday?
LeonPowe: Maybe the defense shows up big this week for Cal? Cal 42, tOSU 41. (yes this is the defense showing up big)
atomsareenough: Roll on you Bears! Look, obviously Ohio State’s a great, well-coached, extremely talented team and this is going to be a difficult game for us. But we played you guys tough in Columbus, and even though we’re young this year, maybe we’re too young to know any better, and we’ll come out firing on all cylinders! We’ll need to do that to win. I think we should have enough offense to make a game of it, but whether we have a chance will hinge on whether we can play a full 4 quarters of defense. So, I’ll say I’m hopeful that we can win, but realistic enough to not really be expecting it. My heart says 41-35, Cal.
Vlad Belo: Ohio State has too much talent for a young Cal team to overcome. OSU 42, Cal 24.