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Colorado - Cal Q&A, Discussion With California Golden Blogs

The Ralphie Report sat down with the great Cal blog on SBNation, California Golden Blogs, to discuss this week's game in Boulder. Thanks to Kodiak, NorCalNick, and Berkelium97 for their answers.

Check out our answers to their questions (and there were a lot) here.

The Ralphie Report The Buffs and Cal did a coaching trade this offseason with Ashley Ambrose and Eric Kiesau going to Cal for Steve Marshall. Marshall's first game didn't fare well, how are Ambrose and Kiesau being perceived at Cal so far?

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  Hard to say with Ambrose so far because our secondary really wasn't tested against FSU.  The initial results are promising.  Starting corners Williams and Anthony were very solid in coverage and did a good job shedding blocks in run support.  New starting safety DJ Campbell had a great game and was constantly around the ball.  And nickelback/safety Josh Hill showed significant improvement over previous years.  

Kiesau is being perceived with significantly more acclaim.  We're not expecting him to walk on water any time soon.  However, our wideouts show substantial improvement across the board.  There was a strong feeling that our WR corps has underachieved relative to their talent the last few years.  Although our starters, Jones and Allen, are perhaps the best WR tandem in Pac-12, it's unknown whether we'll get production out of our #3-5 wideouts.  Many of us are confident that Kiesau will be able to rehabilitate Calvin and Edmond to have break-through senior years.

NorCalNick:  I think both sets of coaches stepped in to pretty good situations, and thus we haven't gotten a great sense of what they are capable of - particularly Ashley Ambrose.  At least with Eric Kiesau we knew what kind of work he had done at Cal in the past when players like Geoff MacArthur, Chase Lyman and Jonathan Makonnen came through Berkeley.  Now he gets to work with Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, which is a pretty nice gift.  That said, we've heard positive reports out of practice about his role in improving their confidence, and the results against Fresno St. were certainly positive.

Ambrose is also inheriting some solid talent, but I've heard much less from the media about what type of impact he's had on the development of younger players like Steve Williams.  But his NFL pedigree and the success he had developing draft picks at Colorado like Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown have Cal fans reasonably confident in his abilities.

The Ralphie Report Gone are Kevin Riley and Shane Vereen. In are Zach Maynard and Isi Sofele. What are your impressions of them after fall camp and the first game against Fresno. What can Buff fans expect?

California Golden Blogs Berkelium97:  Maynard had as rough a start as a QB could have: he threw an interception on his first pass.  He bounced back with some great plays and a few that leave room for concern.  His accuracy when passing out of the pocket was hit-or-miss in Saturday's game.  He missed his fair share of short and long throws, though he had more mishaps on shorter throws than longer ones.  A few of his incompletions were passes that the intended receiver had his hands on, however .  He was surprisingly effective when he rolled out of the pocket and passed on the move.  His missed a few reads and on occasion did not see a wide-open receiver.  He demonstrated some big-play ability with his feet, including a 50-yard run and a 25-yarder that was called back on a penalty.  His running ability gives an exciting new option (literally sometimes) on offense.

There were mixed reactions to Sofele's debut.  He had two fumbles, one of which was lost and recovered in the end zone.  That soured some fans on Sofele, though neither of his backups is a better option at this point.  Sofele will do as well as his offensive line.  He is not the type of runner to break multiple tackles at once, but he is extremely dangerous in one-on-one battles.  He is very shifty and has consistently demonstrated the ability to fake out defenders.  Even when a lone defender wraps him up, Sofele is very difficult to take down.  The departed Mike Mohamed and current defensive captain Mychal Kendricks have commented on how difficult he is to take down.  Moral of the story: if his blockers create space for him, Sofele can be very dangerous.

Kodiak:  Sofele is solid, but he's not going to beat you on his own.  We've been spoiled by great backs like Lynch, Forsett, Best, and Vereen - many of whom could make something out of nothing.  Sofele will need the passing game to be a threat to get guys out of the box, and he'll need his line + tight ends/fullbacks/receivers to help open lanes for him.  If you give him space, he does have the wiggle and speed to make you pay.  Perhaps Sofele's best asset is his strength in pass protection.  Although short, he's very strong and uses good leverage.  Where I'm most concerned is with his hands.  He dropped an easy pass and fumbled twice in the opener.  If he continues to have ball security issues, we'll be looking for one of his backups (Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson or CJ Anderson) to step up.

Maynard is an exciting athlete who may be the best runner at the QB position that Cal has had in a very long time.  He's got a strong arm, but his touch and accuracy are still works in progress.  He has a lot of confidence in his arm and there's definitely a gunslinger aspect to his game.  He has a lot of trust in Jones and Allen and doesn't mind forcing a throw in their direction to see if they'll make a play.  Although he hadn't played in a year, he ran the team well, was cool under pressure, and didn't get rattled when he made mistakes.  He's a bit of a streaky player so far, but there's a lot of potential if he can get more consistent with his throws.

The Ralphie Report If you have looked at the stats of the Buffs vs. Hawaii game, you would have seen that Colorado allowed Tyler Hansen to be sacked seven times. How is Cal's front seven and who are the players that will likely be the most disruptive?

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  Cal's front seven has a nice blend of youth and experience.  The stars are inside linebackers Holt and Kendricks.  Holt is a 3yr starter, and Kendricks has moved inside after starting on the outside last year.  Kendricks is still getting comfortable with the position, but he can be an incredibly disruptive player.  The starting ends are both seniors and are solid players.(Owusu and Guyton)  They're more steady than flashy.  The two nose tackles are both veterans (Payne and Tipoti), but they have yet to show that they can really hold the middle against the better offenses in the league.  Where there's a lot of promise is with the younger players.  Cal has waves of talented young ends and outside linebackers that they can rotate in, especially in obvious passing downs.  At linebacker, Wilkerson, Whiteside, McCain, and Scarlett all have the speed to be dangerous as pass rushers.  

I'm trying to be objective here...But having seen Marshall's offensive lines the past couple of years and knowing how our defensive coordinator likes to bring pressure, I suspect that Mr. Hansen is going to have a really long day.  

NorCalNick:  It's a hard question to answer, in part because Cal's front seven is notable more for quality depth than one or two standout threats.  It would have been Mychal Kendricks, but his move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker means he won't rush the quarterback as often as he did last year, when he led the team in sacks and tackles for loss.

Trevor Guyton is the veteran on the defensive line, so you'll probably see plenty of him.  He scored a touchdown off a fumble last week and is a solid if unspectacular lineman.  From the outside linebacker spot watch out for David Wilkerson and Chris McCain, a couple of youngsters with plenty of talent.

The Ralphie Report Expectations don't seem to be as high for the Cal Bears this season compared to previous years. What is your expectations on the year and do you think this is a team that is flying under the radar in the Pac-12?

California Golden Blogs Berkelium97:  We asked our readers about this earlier this month and the consensus is a 7-5 season.  For once, we might be a team to fly under the radar this season.  We return the best defense in the conference and if we have a competent offense (which we did not after Kevin Riley went down last season), we may surprise some people.  If Zach Maynard and the offensive line play well, we could notch an upset or two this season.

Kodiak:  I think expectations are a 7 win season and a minor bowl.  Our Oline is still unproven, our quarterback is learning, and we are relying on a lot of youth to make this all work.  If the Oline gels and Maynard can settle in as a 60+% passer, then we might qualify as a dark horse threat.  It's too early to tell.

The Ralphie Report For a team that has struggled pretty badly on the road recently, Cal fans seem to be pretty confident going into Boulder for the first time in a while (ever? I have no idea...) Is this one already in the win column in the eyes of your fans and readers? 

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  If Cal fans are confident, it's because of a) last year's win, but mostly b) Marshall.  He is absolutely one of, if not the worst, coach we've had during the Tedford era.  And he's all yours.  I think most fans are expecting to see our defense running through Marshall's Oline all day long.  Also, there's a hefty dose of unaccustomed optimism because Coach Tedford is back to being hands-on with the offense.  Although we'd usually expect a new starter at QB with an unproven line to struggle, we're hopeful that Tedford can go back to his QB guru ways.

Over the past few years, our team has been pretty woeful on the road, however.  So, there's still plenty of cautious pessimism.  As we CGBers like to say, "we're doooooomed."  

NorCalNick:  In fact, the Bears have played in Boulder three times, in 1972, 1975 and 1982.  Colorado took the first two matchups before falling in a year Cal fans love to reminisce about for very different reasons.

There are two thoughts Cal fans have - the belief that the Bears are more talented than the Buffalo, and thus should win - and the knowledge that multiple times Cal has lost non-conference road games when fans believed that they had more talent.  Tennessee in 2006, Maryland in 2008, Nevada in 2010 were all games Cal fans were confident about, and were all games that ended in decisive losses in hostile environments.

That said, most Cal fans had a win probability of about 70% for the Bears, and it rose to about 80% after the results of the first weekend.  I think Cal fans are slightly more confident in the Bears and much more confident that Dan Hawkins really left Coach Embree in situation that will take a year or two to recover from.

The Ralphie Report What are a few areas coming away from the Fresno game that you hope to see improvement against Colorado?

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  No fumbles.  No bad interceptions.  And we have absolutely got to cut down on the penalties.  If we can get more consistent run blocking that would be gravy.

Berkelium97:  Cal can improve in several areas.  One area that stands out most is the offensive line.  Run blocking was great at times and okay at other times.  Part of the problem was Fresno's ability to plug holes with linebackers.  When we opened holes, the running game was unstoppable (as you now know quite well).  Pass protection was decent against the aggressive Fresno D, but the big uglies were penalty-prone.  We had our fair share of holding and false start penalties (including one thrilling drive when we were assessed three consecutive penalties before we could snap the ball).  Jim Michalczik, our returning O-line coach known for his perfectionist tendencies, will probably whip the guys into better shape this week.

As mentioned before, Maynard's accuracy was an issue.  Whether he'll improve in a less windy environment remains to be seen.

Our special teams lived up to the "special' in its name.  Kickoffs were short (likely a result of the wind), punts were short (we had to resort to a rugby-style punt to avoid Fresno's tenacious rush), and we had two blocked PATs.  There was a big focus on special teams during Wednesday's practice and PATs are much-improved.  Again, as long as we're not playing in a windy environment, these problems should be eliminated on Saturday.

The Ralphie Report Who do you hate the most? (the correct answer is Utah).

California Golden Blogs Berkelium97:  You guys already hate Utah? Way to get a head start on that new regional rivalry!  We Cal fans are full of hate and self-loathing.  We hate Oregon State for breaking our hearts the last four seasons (3 out of the 4 losses were bad enough to cause clinical depression).  We hate Oregon because Chip Kelly is so smug (we used to be best buddies with Oregon when Bellotti was coach) and they would not shut up about fakeinjurygate last season.  We hate USC because we have lost to them seven years in a row and Lane Kiffin is as irritating as Chip Kelly.  We hate ASU because they have some of the worst fans in the conference.  We used to hate Arizona because they denied us a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2006...our hate has simmered over the years.  Most of all we hate our cross-bay rivals Stanford.  They have a poor excuse of a band that doesn't even have its own fight song ("All Right Now"? please).  Their fans are too busy playing golf and sipping expensive wine to show up at their games.  Their mascot is an embarrassment to the conference.  I'd go on, but SBN I'm guessing SBN has a limit when I exceed 100,000 words.  However, our hate has been reduced to levels now-known to mankind since Jim Harbaugh left.

We also hate UCLA because they stole our colors, fight song, and mascot and then they butchered them.  Please bring your four-year road losing streak to an end against them this season.

Kodiak:  Answering "everyone" would be anti-social, I suppose.  It's got to be stanfurd.  And 'sc.  Not too fond of Oregon.  Don't think highly of ucla...

The Ralphie Report Cal wins if...

California Golden Blogs NorCalNick:  They don't have any altitude issues and pressure Tyler Hansen the way Hawaii did.

Kodiak:  Our defense doesn't give up big plays, our offense doesn't make mistakes, and our special teams don't overly embarrass themselves.

The Ralphie Report Colorado wins if...

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  Shut down the run and force Maynard to force throws.  Tedford's offense is diverse, but has struggled in the past when teams can make it one-dimensional.  On offense, Colorado has to be able to run the ball effectively to negate Cal's pass rush.  Ball control and getting an early lead would really help CU's cause.

NorCalNick:  The defense shuts down Cal's running game and creates some short fields via Zach Maynard interceptions.

The Ralphie Report Final score prediction?

California Golden Blogs Kodiak:  24-10 Cal.