When this season began, both the California Golden Bears and the Colorado Golden Buffaloes pegged this matchup as one that they could win. Both teams' strengths lie in their offenses, Cal's Bear Raid has come out of the gates on fire while CU's passing attack has successfully made up for the loss of Paul Richardson. Both teams' weaknesses lie in their defenses. So, which three factors will make the difference at Memorial Stadium on Saturday?
Colorado's Defensive Line
The CU defensive front has steadily improved since halftime of the UMass game. Last weekend they managed to sustain pressure on Hawaii's quarterbacks and stuff up holes. If the Buffs are going to really slow down Sonny Dykes' offense, the front four (really, 8 or 9 guys could see playing time) are going to have to find ways into the backfield and into Jared Goff's face. While he has clearly shown that he's got poise and confidence, he's still only a sophomore. Forcing him into awkward situations, and possibly mistakes, will go a long way towards holding Cal's production to a reasonable level.
This seems like a cliché and that it should be a given and all of that, but when facing an offense like Cal's, you have to be constantly checked in to every motion they're running. They build plays off of each other and a play-action will look exactly the same when it's developing as the power rush that they will have already run to that particular side multiple times. Anticipation and recognition will be particularly critical for the secondary, who are going to be called upon to provide run support in addition to covering Cal's dangerous wideouts. If they overcommit or make the wrong guess, Cal will hit a huge play before anyone can yell BEAR! Limiting Cal's explosive plays will be crucial to keeping this one within reach.
Last season in Boulder CU torched Cal through the air en route to a 41-24 victory, accumulating 364 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nelson Spruce, then the Buffs' number two receiving threat, accounted for 140 yards on 8 grabs. He currently leads the nation with 7 receiving touchdowns and has blossomed into a bona fide star. I suspect he'll again haul in a score or two and they may just come on big, timely plays. Cal's defense will obviously key on him, and in the event that they somehow have him covered once or twice, Shay Fields, D.D. Goodson, and Bryce Bobo (You're my boy, Bryce!) will be there to challenge the other side of the field. If the Liufau-Spruce connection has another huge day, the Buffs will likely be in good position to claim an ever-elusive conference road win.