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With UCLA heading to Berkeley to take on struggling Cal, we check in with the guys from California Golden Blogs to get the low down on the Bears.
1. Obviously, the start of the season hasn't gone according to plan for Cal. Have people already thrown in the towel or is there still hope that the season can be saved?
NorCalNick: Well, the die-hards will still show up week-in, week-out the way they did in the late 90s, but there's a palpable feeling of anger or resignation, depending on how seriously you take this hobby. Cal has played well in exactly one game this year, and that's not going to cut it against a brutal schedule in what seems to be a much improved Pac-12. Needless to say, optimism is at a low
Berkelium97: By most accounts, this season's only salvation will be an appearance in a bowl game. That will require us to go 5-2 from here out. With the way this team has performed so far, this looks highly, highly unlikely.
2. Is there any hope left that Zach Maynard can take a major step forward or is this what he is?
NorCalNick: I would say that he is what he is, which is a QB that can only do what his offensive line allows him to do. Right now, that's very little.
Berkelium97: Although Tedford had lofty praise for Maynard during fall camp, he's the same QB we've grown to...deal with over the past year. He still struggles to see his open receivers and usually ends up throwing the ball to Keenan Allen if his first read is covered. At this point, we do not have much hope that he's going to transform into a stellar QB. He's best as a game manager, where he tosses the occasional screen pass or downfield shot to Allen and spends most of his time handing off to Anderson or Sofele (but not Bigelow, because he's apparently not allowed to run the football anymore).
Kodiak: Zach Maynard is capable of better play. However, there's enough of a sample size out there to say that he's maddeningly inconsistent. If you really want to give him the benefit of the doubt, better Oline protection might make him less shell-shocked and more likely to give you Good Maynard instead of Oh-Dear-Not-Again Maynard.
3. Cal has three of the most explosive receivers in the Pac-12 in Keenan Allen, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, while UCLA's pass defense has been sliced up at times. What's the best way to go about stopping the Cal passing attack?
NorCalNick: Sack the quarterback. Cal leads the nation in allowing sacks, and that's with a mobile quarterback. If I'm UCLA, I'm pressing Cal's recieving options and taking away anything underneath, because I know that Cal's offensive line can't give the Bears enough time to go deep against my secondary.
Berkelium97: You guys have a defensive line, right? If so, you'll be fine. As long as you rush three or four defenders, you'll tear through the O-line and disrupt the passing game. That is, unless we bring back plenty of screens, slants, and other short passes. Those were extremely successful against Ohio State but appear to have been stricken from the playbook in recent weeks.
Kodiak: Whatever you do, don't hurt Zach Maynard.
4. Cade McNown was the Bruins' quarterback the last time UCLA won at Cal. How much confidence does that give you going into Saturday?
NorCalNick: If UCLA's quarterback this week was Kevin Craft, the McNown factoid would be encouraging. But in my view Brett Hundley is at the very least the most talented QB UCLA has had since Cade, and perhaps already the most productive. If we are to posit that UCLA needs an excellent quarterback to win in Berkeley (or more generally, on the road) then I would say that the Bruins are probably in pretty good shape. Damn it.
Kodiak: None whatsoever. While you typed that, I think Maurice Jones Drew just ran back another kick for a TD.
5. Will Sutton gave the Bears a lot of trouble last week. Was that just because Sutton was so good or is there a major flaw there in the Cal offense that UCLA can exploit this week?
Berkelium97: We have an obvious, glaring, weeping weakness: our offensive line. We are reasonably competent with run-blocking (although there's a 30% chance that any run of 10+ yards will be called back for holding). But we have been abysmal with our pass protection. We are last in the nation with 24 sacks allowed so far this season (Maynard was "only" sacked 27 times during the entire 2011 season). That coupled with our tendency to get ourselves in third-and-long situations has been disastrous for our offense.
Kodiak: Sutton is a good player. That being said, the Cal Oline does not seem like it could stop a bunch of determined senior citizens from jaywalking right now.
6. The Bruins' offensive line has been shaky at times this year. How do you think the Bears will try to exploit that?
NorCalNick: Ideally, Cal's defensive line would occupy blockers and open up space for linebackers like Chris McCain to wreck havoc in the backfield. In reality, Cal's defensive line has been beat up and has generally underahcieved, and hasn't been providing a ton of push. Cal's linebackers have also been beat up - McCain has dealt with nagging injuries, and off the top of my head at least three other potential contributors are out.
Kodiak: Coach Pendergast likes to send pressure off the edges with either a linebacker or safety creeping up. However, when faced with running QBs like versus Nevada and tOSU, he backed off and played more contain. Not sure whether he'll respect Hundley's running ability and play contain or try to take advantage of his youth by sending blitzes. I would guess a mixture of both.
7. Does Cal have the athletes on defense to play sideline to sideline and handle the quick short passes and screens that UCLA likes to run? How do you expect them to defend that?
NorCalNick: I think Cal absolutely has the athletes. The tougher question is if they have the discipline. Being in the right place at the right time has been as much of a challenge as making the play itself. It seems to change from game to game - against Nevada, the pistol again beffudled Cal. But against Urban Meyer's spread Cal actually did OK for the most part . . . until a blown coverage in the 4th quarter decided thing.
I think Cal's defensive performance against ASU was a small step forward from their performance against USC. But I also think UCLA's offense is an upgrade from ASU's offense, particularly in terms of running back talent. Jonathan Franklin in space scares me, and I'm sure he'll have a couple of big plays. The more Cal can limit that the better chance they have of pulling the upset.
Kodiak: Cal likes to play man on the outside. I'd expect Marc Anthony, Steve Williams, and Josh Hill to line up tight. They're all capable tacklers. Unfortunately, our scheme also seems to go with tight coverage on the side where we have safety help and a deep cushion on the opposite side. If I were UCLA, I'd line up with 3 WR and throw the quick hitch to the deep cushioned side all day.
8. Vincenzo D'Amato has had trouble on field goals from 30+ yards this year (4-9). Does Jeff Tedford still have confidence in him from there or will we see the Bears go for it on fourth down if at all possible?
NorCalNick: Mentioning 'Jeff Tedford' and 'go for it on 4th down' in the same sentence has caused thousands of Cal fans to experience a PTSD flashback. I hope you're happy.
Berkelium97: Vince infamously missed several field goals at Ohio State but has since made a slight correction to his mechanics and improved his accuracy. Except for his first field goal at USC when he snagged the turf on the kick, he has been much better on field goals since the Ohio State incident. I would not be surprised if we continue to bring the offense off the field on fourth downs inside the 30.
Kodiak: Jeff Tedford has more confidence in D'Amato than he does in our woeful passing game.
9. Given the big investment Cal's athletic department made in renovating the Memorial Stadium, was there a specific goal in terms of ticket sales and attendance figures for 2012 season? If there was a set of goals that are publicly available do you guy know if Cal is on pace to meet those goals?
NorCalNick: I'm not aware of any, and I doubt it's the type of thing our athletic department would ever make public. I can tell you that the AD created a new seat program called the Endowment Seating Program (ESP) that was designed to provide Cal athletics with a certain level of revenue stability over the coming decades through purchases of long-term seat licenses. Unfortunately, sales of those seats has probably been a bit less than desired, and the struggles of the football team will undoubtedly further damage the success of the program.
When Cal hosted Nevada to open the season, the entire stadium was full except for some conspicuous gaps in the ESP section. Cal's inability to sell these high-end seats could be a problem that forces change.
10. Now that the facilities are there and the Pac-12 has a ton of TV money, what's the expectation for the Cal football program, year in, year out?
NorCalNick: The answer to that question will undoubtedly change depending on who you ask. Personally, I'm not the demanding type - I find that the more I demand, the less I tend to actually enjoy watching football. And although the facilities are nice, the upgrades were as much about catching up with the rest of the conference as they were about trying to surpass the rest of the conference.
But I do want to see Cal bowl eligible every year. I do want to feel like the team has a shot to contend for a conference championship every once in a while. And I want that to happen without NCAA violations, constant player arrests, and issues with graduating players.
Cal looks likely to miss a bowl for the second time in three years, and depending on how you view 2007, they haven't contended for a conference title in five or six years. Add to that a declining APR and you have a formula for fan dissatisfaction.
Berkelium97: Here is an interesting and somewhat foreboding (for Tedford, at least) quote from Cal AD Sandy Barbour during a radio interview earlier this week:
No one wants to succeed more than Coach Tedford. And no one feels that disappointment in a 1 and 4 start more than Coach Tedford. He and I both are. Having said that, at Cal our entire campus is about excellence. Our players deserve to have their hard work rewarded with success. And our fans and our community deserve the pride of success.
We obviously have to take the measures to put us in the right direction for our players and our fans to be heading towards success. To have our players and our fans believe to expect success.
The university has made an incredible investment in the football program and this raises the standards for excellence. We are never going to generate enough revenue to pay off the stadium if the football team is only winning 20% of its games (and looking abysmal in its losses). This is the first time Sandy has not expressed complete support in Tedford and many of us believe she is willing to make a coaching change at the end of this season, barring some unbelievable turnaround.
We need to run a football program that is worthy of the renovated Memorial Stadium. We are not currently doing that.
Kodiak: A competitive, well-coached team.