Remember last year? Ugh, so do I. Fortunately, that was a road game under Hawk, and some very positive changes have been made since then. Not only that, but this is a home game. 52-7 will absolutely not be repeated, thank goodness. But it's tough not to think about it every time this years game against Cal is brought up. Yeah. Yech. Anyway, on to todays edition of our opponent previews: California Golden Bears!California Golden Bears
Cal has a lot to prove this season. They too went 5-7 last year, though they felt their record should have been much better. They suffered some close losses in big games, but what it really all comes down to is talent. Cal is a very talented team, but they haven't been living up to that in terms of winning. And they lost quite a few of their key contributors from last season, and just about everybody who made big plays against the Buffs. Plus, Tedford is taking the offense back over, so this will be a fairly different looking team than the one we saw, and I say that is a good thing.
They have a talented group of receivers, headlined by Marvin Jones and sophomore sensation, Keenan Allen. But shhh, don't tell Cal fans: we have a better sophomore receiver. That's not to say Allen isn't good, it will just be fun to check the box-scores after this game to see how many more yards and TDs P-Rich has. Jones and Allen are good and fast, but they'll be adjusting to a new QB. Zach Maynard a junior transfer from Buffalo, is the guy going into this season as the Bears leader on offense. A threat with his legs as well as his arm, he can be dangerous. But he also has been known to turn the ball over. And while I know Cal is excited to have him back as a coach, I know that all of us Buffs are not unhappy to see Eric Kiseau leave. It still seems like the problems started at the top, but Kiseau was never able to turn the position group he was coaching into much, or do enough with the offense when he took it over. Well he's back at Cal coaching their wide receivers.
On the ground, Cal will definitely look different. We had trouble stopping Shane Vereen last year, especially as a receiver. But he is gone, and they are trying to figure out how to replace his production on the ground. That will be Cal's biggest question going into the season. They have Isi Sofele back who caught a short TD pass against us last year, plus a few others who have contributed. Cal tends to get good production out of their running backs, so I would expect the same this season. And they like to use their running backs as receivers in the flats and on screens, so this is going to be a big test for Brown's defense, and hopefully we'll see why Mike Tuiasasopo and Kanavis McGhee were brought on. We'll need our defensive line to flex some muscle and our DEs to hold the edge. And It'll be a good test of Jon Major's knees. We'll need every bit of his sideline-to-sideline speed.
Speaking of the Cal running game, their offensive line will be an interesting thing to watch this year. Cal was incredibly unhappy with the way Steve Marshall coached them last year. Cal fans couldn't be happier to see him leave, not to mention that he's now coaching at a conference rival. It's funny, CU fans and Cal fans get extremely opposite images when they think about Steve Marshall. Try something. I want you to think about him and CU, what do you see? Yeah, me too. It's 2001 and we've got one of the biggest and nastiest offensive lines CU has ever fielded. Cal fans? Not so much. Turns out Marshall wasn't great at coaching the style off offense that Tedford likes to run. So there's a good chance that Cal's offensive line will be improved this year, but so will our defensive line. The key to the matchup between our defense and the Cal offense will be whose linemen have improved more.
Thankfully, they lost most of the players here that made big plays against us last season. Now yes, Tedford has stated that he thinks they will improve in their second year under Coach Pendergast, I'm not sure that will make up for who they lost. Yes, they return starters and contributers at just about every position, but I was very impressed by the play of guys like Cameron Jordan and Mike Muhommed last season, and I really think they'll miss them.
Cal plays a 3-4 and they were able to use the odd front last season to confuse the left side of our offensive line. Well, fortunately our line will have a different look this year that I think will help face that. We were still working on figuring out which 5 starters we wanted to use in the Cal game, which led to Mike Iltis lining up next to Solder. With the stronger Ethan Adkins at guard and David Bakhtiari at tackle, I don't think we have the same problems with Cal's pressure this time around. We spent a good amount of time doubling Jordan, and I'm not sure there's anyone along their defensive line we'll need to focus on like that this season, which will also help the line adjust to their blitzing linebackers. Yes, they return Kendricks and Holt inside, but they have brand new OLBs which I think will help us, especially facing them this early in the season. Having experienced blockers at TE like Ryan Deehan and Matt Bahr will give our run game an enormous boost against Cal this year, which will allow us to introduce them to a man they didn't meet last season: Paul Richardson. We were playing from behind so early last year that they were able to pin their ears back and come after Tyler Hansen with extra guys for most of the game. I don't think they are able to do that in this game, which means it will have a very different feel. I also think that having a guy like Tyler Ahles at Fullback (A former OLB who has a solid grasp of 3-4 responsibilities) will help us to set the edge in the run game more effectively.
Their DBs didn't get a lot of work against us last season because Hansen had so few clean opportunities to get the ball downfield, or even just into the hands of our playmakers. I see us testing them plenty this year, and we'll find out if Ashley Ambrose was just having a bad season here last year with all of those injuries, or if he really isn't an x's & o's kind of guy (which is what I believe).
Cal will have an advantage here, though I think our coverage units will be much improved. They have some dynamic returners, including Keenan Allen, not to mention returning their punter and kicker. Speaking of tests, this is where J.D. Brookhart can begin to earn our trust. He's going to need to get his guys on point and ready to stick to their assignments.
As much as CU has to prove, Cal might have even more. Jeff Tedford has been there for a while, but they have never been able to achieve quite as much as they want, and last year was the low point of his tenure. Fortunately for us they have to start over at QB, which along with some of the other things I mentioned makes this game feel winnable to me. We may not be able to bottle up their outside threats, but I think we can get to Maynard and hopefully knock him out of his groove. That will go a long way to countering their talented wide receivers. I think this is a good game, and I think playing in Boulder makes the biggest difference (from last year, not necessarily going forward). I'm excited, because Cal fans absolutely did NOT see the Buffaloes last year. This time we get to show them what we're all about!
Truth be told, I think the biggest thing is that Cal will not be improved this year over last year. This is just a David-prediction, and I know at least one friend of mine who is hoping I'm wrong. But something tells me Jeff Tedford has lost his touch. I don't think they have the answer at QB and I don't know if the coaching changes they've made will make the difference. But mostly, I don't think the Buffs are going to let them win. Guys like Ryan Miller and Toney Clemons won't let this game be a repeat of the last one. I don't now how our coaching staff will handle this. They could force these guys to watch all of their mistakes from that game, or let it go and focus on what to do right this time, but I'm certain that the outspoken guys like Miller and Clemons will make sure this game goes well for us.