The match-up of the Cal Golden Bears (or University of California - Berkley as no one calls it) and Colorado Buffaloes is being labeled the Toilet Bowl by many of the jokesters. For the team's diehard fans, it’s an opportunity to see if there is hope. A win means that you aren’t the worse team in the conference and can build on that. A loss and you need to build enough to just beat that other crappy team. Mostly what Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff in Boulder brings is the opportunity to get their first win in conference against a team that has struggled as much as they have through 2013.
Breaking down Cal and Colorado
Maybe breaking down is a bad way to put it with all the difficulties these teams have faced in 2012. Cal and Colorado are at the bottom of their respective divisions and are the only two teams without a win in the conference. Both are under new head coaches with Cal ignoring in-state candidate Mike MacIntyre and instead getting Sonny Dykes from Louisiana Tech. MacIntyre ended up at Colorado and both coaches ended up with difficult tasks in rebuilding programs at the Pac-12 level instead of the lower tier conferences they gained their stature in. California and Colorado are similar teams that have atrocious defenses and don’t score enough points to stay competitive in games. The void is probably missing talent, speed, strength and comfort with a completely new system. Cal has faced a brutally tough schedule with their lone win a 37-30 nailbiter against Portland State and losses to Northwestern and Ohio State in the non-conference. Their bye week came between Ohio State and Cal. Colorado is their last game with a real chance at victory with a hungry #4 Stanford slated for their finale. While Stanford is their rival that they hope to knock off in the future, this is the date Cal fans and their team have had to look forward to.
Colorado fans feel much the same way. Many early season predictions was this was the game that Colorado had their best chance at a conference victory in and it looks like that is still the case with the Buffs favored by 3, but this game is set up to be the biggest game for both teams and that little line means nothing. A victory is key.
California and Colorado both average about 24 points a game while Cal give up 44.7 points a game while Colorado has given up 40.4 points a game but Cal has given up 45.8 per game in the Pac-12 to Colorado’s 50.5 points a game. So what does that mean for Saturday? Well, first let’s get to know the Golden Bears.
Cal Bears Offense
The Bears are a young offense with 5 freshman starters and 3 sophomores listed with their starting quarterback, Jared Goff, being a true freshman. Goff was a highly recruited 4-star player that kept his commitment with the change from Jeff Tedford to Sonny Dykes. In all but the Oregon game, which he didn’t play much in, and the Oregon State game, where he got pulled early, Goff has attempted at least 43 attempts and completed at least 26 passes. He has completed 287 passes to 467 attempts for 3,141 yards. In 10 games, Cal has had more yards passing than Colorado has had as a season offensive total in their 9 games. Cal has averaged 89.4 plays a game compared to 69.1 per game for Colorado. Cal likes to play fast and spread the ball around. They run their spread offense out of the diamond or traditional spread. Cal’s passing offense is ranked 8th in the nation in passing yards due to the amount of plays they run, but that number is a little inflated with them sticking to form throughout a game and continuing to heave the ball even in games where they have a large deficit.
Goff spreads the ball around but his two main targets are sophomores Bryce Teggs (69 receptions for 681 yards and 1 TD) and Chris Harper (68-842-5). Junior Richard Rodgers (33-463-1) provides a big target for Goff at 6’-4” and 245 pounds. Kenny Lawler is a goal line threat with 5 TD's on only 28 receptions. The receiving group for the Golden Bears have 10 receivers with double digit reception numbers compared to 5 for Colorado. The Golden Bears have 28 more completions than the Buffs have pass attempts. While Dykes was looking to bring his balance to Cal from LA Tech, the inability to have a lead has kept that from having and forced his hand to pass 60 percent of the time.
The rushing attack is led by… well, someone different weekly it seems. No one has carried the ball more than 18 times the entire year with no one getting over a dozen the last 4 games. Their most electric playmaker may be diminutive speedster/pinball true freshman Khalfani Muhammad, a 4-star back from Sherman Oaks, CA. Muhammad leads Cal in all-purpose yards with 322 rushing, 169 receiving and 819 on kick returns for a 1,310 yard total. Muhammad is a home run hitter at a young age and someone the Cal faithful believes are the electrifying playmakers Dykes will bring in.
Cal’s offense turns the ball over often and has put the ball on the ground a lot with 23 fumbles with 13 of those going to the other team and 12 interceptions. They also allow a lot of pressure giving up 29 sacks on the season. Giving up 2.5 turnovers and 3 sacks a game is a recipe for disaster and Cal has been living that disaster during 2013. Cal will put up a lot of yards and run a lot of plays, but how many points they put up will determine their success against Colorado.
Cal Bears Defense/Special Teams
Similar to Colorado’s defense, this group has left a lot to be desired. Cal gives up 331.1 yards a game by air and 195.6 by ground compared to 273.4 per game and 211.9 per game for Colorado, so 526.7 total yards per game to 485.3 per game. It has not been pretty but Cal has had to play a lot of youth to hide deficiencies from the past regimen. Cal is fairly experienced in their front 7 with 4 of the group being upperclassmen, but they lean heavily on some young freshman and got some good production from mike LB, RS-freshman Hardy Nickerson and true freshman strong safety Cameron Walker. Cal is a team that does not force a lot of turnovers with only 4 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries on the season. It is a young group learning on the fly that plays well in spurts but does not do anything to put fear in opposing offensive coordinators.
As mentioned before, Muhammad has been a force on kick returns. Their punt return consists mainly of fielding the ball with only two 13 yard returns being of any highlight material. The Bears have had really poor punt coverage and thus their net punting is only 33.9 yards a punt. The Bears have a lot to get better in and work on, an all too familiar phrase uttered about the teams from Berkeley and Boulder this year.
Colorado vs Washington Quick Recap
What positives can be taken from the Washington trip a week after Buffs fans glowed about the progress the team showed against UCLA? There aren’t many. The Huskies called off the dogs after an atrocious ending to the first quarter that made any sliver of a chance in the game escape quickly. The ultimate turning point came when the Buffs trailed 24-7 with the rain coming down heavy and the Buffs 34 yards from the end zone on fourth and 1. Milk the clock and give yourself a chance at a touchdown at best, kick a field goal that you could miss and give Washington the chance to put a seal on the game with said miss. Instead of the "what do we have to lose" attitude, the Buffs chose to take two timeouts to mull their decision and line up for a 51 yard field goal. It was missed and with 48 yards to go and a full slate of timeouts to go, Washington quickly worked their way down field and scored on a touchdown pass with 2 seconds remaining in the half. A potential 24-14 halftime with Colorado receiving to start the second half turned into 31-7 and Buffs fans turned their attention to the weekend and the LSU-Alabama game that was on.
Still, there was a couple positives that should be pointed out:
• The main highlight was Paul Richardson joining the select circle of Buffs all-time single-season 1000-yard receiving club. He became only the 5th Buff to hit the century mark in only the seventh time that feat has been accomplished. Richardson wisely sat out the second half to make sure he didn’t do further damage to an ankle that has been bothering him since an awkward tackle late in the Arizona game.
• Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II were solid and picked up some nice chunks of yardage. They appeared the healthiest they have in the season during the Buffs easiest (on paper) slate of games to end the season.
Otherwise this was the type of game that drives a fan crazy, not knowing whether the team is really that bad. The Buffs constantly shoot themselves in the foot when there is no room for error. An error like the 4th down call turns a respectable halftime score into a complete burner. Washington had the opportunity to score on every offensive possession but chose to kneel down late in the fourth. Instead of a pity kneel down at the goal line, Buffs fans are hoping to need a stand to preserve a win like some of those program turning point victories Bill McCartney had early in his career.
Cal vs Colorado Predictions
As touched on throughout, these teams are struggling on defense. Cal can put up monster yardage but doesn’t put up a lot of points due to turnovers and a lot of drives that stall. That will happen with a young team and quarterback as Colorado also knows too well.
Really, it comes down to which offense is going to be more consistent and put up more than 35 points in this game. While both teams have shown the ability to put up 35 points against weaker competition, Cal is awful on pass defense and doesn’t strike fear with their run game.
Colorado has similar issues but has the most issues with quarterbacks that are dual threat. While Washington’s Keith Price is not dual threat and he beat them in every way possible, his experience and accuracy tore apart Colorado. Goff won’t be afforded the same respect and hopefully Colorado starts masking some blitzes and gets to the young line and gets to Goff.
If Paul Richardson plays and Colorado can have long sustained drives and not settle for field goals, they have an opportunity. This is not going to be a blowout but a tough fought barn burner. Colorado has to cause the turnovers that have helped them in games they have won and get some quick 3 and outs from Cal early. Cal will fight back and put up points even if the Buffs get up by two scores. 38-35 Colorado in a much needed win for the Buffs to their previous two seasons victories in MacIntyre’s first year.