The Ralphie Report sat down with the great Cal blog on SBNation, California Golden Blogs, to discuss this week's game in Berkeley with our future conference mates. We will post a link to to their responses to our questions once they are posted.
You wouldn't know it by last week but Cal was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 conference this year, first time since 2003 that the Bears have been slotted to finish worse than fourth. What is the mood like in Berkeley and is this team better than the seventh place finish they have been slotted with?
I think the team has a big chip on their shoulder to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the pundits are wrong. Our defense and special teams underachieved last year and will be significantly improved with better coaching this year. Our Oline is probably the biggest factor in determining whether we can contend for a top 4 finish, or whether we're just middle of the pack. Senior QB Riley has the talent and the playmakers to be successful - but we've all seen what happens when he gets pressured. He has a tendency to get down on himself, so we'll also have to see if he makes that leap as senior to display more mental toughness.
Just like last year, games will be made or broken by the performance of the offensive line. If they open up good running lanes and provide solid pass-protection for Riley, the offense will be very effective. We all loved Jahvid Best, but his replacement Shane Vereen is a more reliable running back who is capable of both breaking tackles and pulling away from defenders with his speed. He's not quite as fast as Best, but he's still extremely dangerous in open space. In addition to his versatile running back Shane Vereen, Kevin Riley has a wide range of targets including deep threats with Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, over-the-middle types with Anthony Miller and Alex Lageman, and several other talented receivers, tight ends, and pass-catching running backs. Not since 2007 has Cal had this much talent, depth, and diversity of skills at receiver position.
If Riley is under constant pressure, he is prone to getting rattled. Oddly enough, he is a good passer while on the run, but if he really starts feeling the pressure (getting hit/sacked) he might lose his composure. Last year he was prone to making consecutive mistakes. If he was intercepted, for example, he would become more cautious. This would lead him to hold have a slight bit of hesitation when making his passes, something which often proved to be dangerous if the O-line was letting pressure collapse on him, as his hesitation sometimes turned an incompletion into a sack. Another reason Riley performs rather poorly under heavy pressure is his tendency to fumble the ball when he's on the run. Coach Tedford says Riley has developed substantially during camp and is much more sound with his decision-making, but these could still be issues this season. As we saw last weekend, Riley committed two penalties on the same drive and was visibly frustrated with himself. Look for Matt Summers-Gavin to be an anchor in the offensive line. When he played, Cal's O-line was much stronger as a unit than when he was injured. Luckily for the Buffs, he's coming off an injury and may only see limited playing time on Saturday.
Sounds like Cal lost a good amount of players on the defensive side of ball and are breaking in a few new starters. What is the biggest area of strength on the defense? Biggest area of weakness?
Biggest area of strength is the D line. We have a nice mix of experience (DT Hill and DE Jordan are seniors w/ plenty of starts), and young talent. (DT Tipoti, DE's Owusu, Guyton, Coleman) The depth lets them rotate and keep the big bodies fresh. Also, our new DC Pendergast has shown in previous stops that he's willing to run a hybrid 4-3 if the down/distance is appropriate. Our biggest area of weakness is still our pass defense until proven otherwise. Davis wasn't really an appropriate test. But, our LB's have shown themselves to be inconsistent with their zone coverage. Mohammed and Kendricks are pretty fast, but Holt and Browner are slower and have struggled in the past. Our starting safeties (Hill and Conte) are both converted corners. Our best ball-hawking safety struggled with injury in fall camp and is still getting up to speed.
Just how much did you learn about your team last week against UC Davis? What are you hoping to find out against Colorado this weekend?
We learned that our special teams is improved. It remains to be seen how our coverage is against more athletic/physical teams, but at least the kickoffs aren't landing around the 15-20 yard line, or out of bounds. Our defense looks to be more aggressive. Instead of soft zones, large cushions at the line of scrimmage and telegraphed pass rushers, we're playing more press coverage and the fourth or fifth rushers can come from anywhere. Of course, this opens us up to a lot of big plays if we don't get to the QB in time. It's hard to say how much our defense or offensive line has improved because we could simply out-athlete the competition last week.
This week, we're hoping to find out whether our O-line can handle Div-I athletes, and whether are new-look defense is for real. We'd also like to see more evidence that our senior QB can remain consistently effective.
Talk a little about Bears CB Darian Hagan (son of former CU great and current RB coach Darian Hagan Sr.) and incoming freshman QB Austin Hinder. I am sure Buff fans would like to know a little more about them, especially how Hinder looks in practice while redshirting?
Word from camp is that Hinder might look the best of all the backup QB's. In particular, he throws very well on the run. However, he needs to put some work in the weight room. If he works hard on his body and learning the playbook, he could compete for one of the top three spots in the depth chart next spring.
Hagan had a great '08 and a miserable '09. In addition to injuries, he also had a lot on his mind last year. He was struggling with academics and with his daughter's battle with cancer. He didn't tell anyone until this year. The news story is here: http://www.contracostatimes.com/sports/ci_15834993
It's unknown whether Hagan can return to the guy that flashed lockdown skills and lead the team in interceptions. But, it's already a tremendous accomplishment that he got his schoolwork done and is back on the field. We're all pulling for him to have a big year.
Colorado wins if...
Cal wins if...
The team that dominates the trenches will win the game. Both QB's are capable of being streaky, and both coaches would prefer to keep it on the ground. Whichever team can force the other to become one-dimensional and abandon the run will win this one.
Colorado wins if they stack the box, shut down the run, pressure Riley, and protect Hansen well enough to pop a few big plays.
Cal wins if we can stay balanced on offense and if our defense keeps Hansen under siege and rattled.
Cal 38 - Colorado 17