Thearon W. Henderson
Utah's opponent this week is a lot like themselves ... struggling.
So, the fine folks at California Golden Blogs and I put together a pretty nifty Q&A for Saturday's game. It should help give you an idea of what their fans are expecting Saturday and maybe what we should expect.
Like Utah, California isn't exactly having the season their fans expected. It's likely to cost their head coach his job ... which is surprising because Jeff Tedford is one of the deans of the Pac-12. He revived the program after Tom Holmoe decimated it, but, like many coaches, has appeared to have hit the wall ... at 150 mph.
Unless there is a dramatic run to end the season, don't be surprised if the Golden Bears go coach hunting in December (hey, how about Gary Andersen at Utah State?). That makes Saturday's game pretty big for both coaching staffs. While Kyle Whittingham is nowhere near losing his job, Tedford has shown how stagnancy can lead to a lot of places ... and none of it any good. It's big a reason the Utes must win as many games as possible during this transition period.
If anything, Cal offers a warning sign on how fast things can unravel. Let's hope we can reverse course and avoid the pitfalls that have plagued the Golden Bears since 2007.
Is the Jeff Tedford era over?
Berkelium97: It certainly should be. Whether it will be is a financial question, however. Tedford has a complicated "buyout" where he receives the remainder of his salary over time. Of course, keeping him around is lost revenue because no one wants to pony up for season tickets to watch an underperforming team.
NorcalNick: Probably, and if Cal loses to Utah the end becomes even more inevitable. Nobody can be 100% sure what athletic director Sandy Barbour will do, but she has been very forthright in saying that Cal must absolutely have a successful football program, if only to help fund Cal's extensive stable of Olympic sports. Cal football is pretty clearly not successful, and it hasn't really been so since at least 2008. Seats aren't being sold, especially the expensive ones. The writing is on the wall.
Why has Cal failed to live up to its expectations ... or are they?
NorcalNick: So many potential explanations. Turnover amongst assistant coaches. Iffy recruiting a few years ago. Injuries along both the offensive and defensive line. Questionable quarterback play. But really, the biggest single reason for Cal's struggles this year? Awful performances from the offensive line. Zach Maynard was under constant seige against Ohio State, USC and Arizona State, and Cal's line was just completely overrun on every play against Stanford. Cal honestly has a solid (if inconsistent) defense and pretty good talent at the skill positions on offense ... but run blocking has been hit and miss and pass protection has been a complete disaster.
Berkelium97: Cal has absolutely failed to live up to expectations. We didn't pour $320 million into our stadium to put forth a 4 or 5-win team. This was supposed to be an investment to sustain our team at the next level (~9 wins per year and consistently challenging for the conference title).
What's been the biggest disappointment this season?
Berkelium97: The obvious answer is the offensive line. We have surrendered an FBS-worst 32 sacks and 67 negative-yardage plays (again, last in the nation). Zach Maynard is constantly running for his life and our inability to do anything on first down consistently puts us in third-and-fugghedaboutit
NorcalNick: Well, the offensive line struggles I mentioned above have been pretty disappointing. Cal brought back a coordinator who helped build some of the strongest offensive lines in Cal history, but he hasn't yet been able to reproduce his previous success.
But really, the biggest disappointment is the inability of the coaching staff to translate talent into wins. You'll find that the vast majority of Cal fans have a great deal of respect and affection for Jeff Tedford, and few people truly wantto see him fired. But most also acknowledge that college football is a cutthroat world and that the bottom line is that you have to win games. Tedford has done great things, but Cal hasn't really been in competition to win the conference since 2006. It's really a shame that parting ways seems to be necessary.
What should Utah look out for on defense?
NorcalNick: Look out for Avery Sebastian, our young, hard-hitting safety. He's raw but he plays with a ton of energy and knocked two players out of the Washington State game with an injury.(which, yeah, I'm a little uncomfortable with. But I don't think he was leading with his helmet. The message is that for better or for worse he hits like a truck.)
Berkelium97: Watch out for outside linebackers Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett. McCain is a long, rangy type who has a penchant for chasing down QBs and using his long arms to disrupt passes and force fumbles. Scarlett is entirely too fast to be 255 lbs. They're both injured, so your O-line might catch a break. If they suit up, though, watch out!
What's up with Zach Maynard? He seems very inconsistent this season.
NorcalNick: Well, he's been under near constant pressure. Even when he's performed well (against Ohio State and UCLA) he was still hit constantly.
But the reality is that he's not a very complete quarterback. Sometimes he'll show up and hit his receivers. Sometimes he'll miss half his throws, even the easy ones. Accuracy is always a problem for him and always will be. He's speedy and can make plays with his legs, but he's also tentative in the pocket and doesn't have a great sense for manipulating his protection to buy time.
Cal can win games with Zach Maynard at quarterback - even games against ranked teams. But not if they can't protect him and not if they can't run the ball.
Berkelium97: Maynard has always been inconsistent. We've grown to accept that. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the extreme pass rush he faces every time he takes longer than half a second to read the field and deliver the ball. He excels with short passes: screens, slants, etc. Forcing him to drop back and/or read the field is a recipe for disaster. Our O-line can't protect him and he struggles to read opposing defenses.
Predictions for Saturday...?
Berkelium97: Someone's going to be feeling pretty lousy when this game is over. The loser will not get more than 4 wins this season. Score prediction: Cal 3, Utah 2
NorcalNick: It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the winning team finishes with less than 20 points. My general sense is that the Cal defense and the Utah defense are similarly productive. The Utah offensive line is undoubtedly superior to the Cal offensive line, but Cal's skill position players are probably superior to Utah's skill position players.
I think ultimately Cal will get a few more big plays from guys like Keenan Allen and Brendan Bigelow to pull it out. But in a low-scoring game, big mistakes have an even larger impact. If Cal coughs up a couple fumbles like they did against Stanford and Utah plays mistake free on offense, Utah will walk away with a win.
I'll go 20-17, Cal. But you could switch the score and just as easily be correct.
If you could be any animal ... what would you be and why?
NorcalNick: The Golden Bear would be the obvious choice, no? But alas, the ursus arctos californicus subspecies of the brown bear genus has been extinct since the 1920s. But there are still other solid choices. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise seems like a good pick for those after a life of leisure. Dolphins are pretty cool, what with killing sharks and jumping and doing flips and stuff.
Personally though, Anthro 1 fully convinced me that Bonobos are the most noble of animals. All the joys of humanity without all the social BS and unnecessary violence.
Berkelium97: I'd be a tortoise. Some are known to live up to 200 years. That way I might actually see a Rose Bowl in my lifetime.