At 4-3, some might be surprised with how Cal is playing in their first year without Jared Goff. We talked with Cal Golden Blogs about their season so far:
1) At 4-3, how would you describe the season in the post Jared Goff era?
boomtho: A heart attack, prolonged over 6 continuous weeks. Each of the last 6 games has come down to the last possession or score. That's a seriously stressful experience for fans!
With a different lens, Cal has to rebuild half the offense (QB + top 5-6 WR's + OC), and the offense still hasn't really missed a beat. Davis Webb has been incredibly impressive, new OC Jake Spavital has called some absolute gems (Texas, Oregon gameplans) while skewing a bit pass-heavy in others.
The defense is still performing at a pretty poor level, though the team really is fighting hard. They've had some seriously impressive moments (goal line stand vs Utah, game-clinching pick vs OSU), but overall the defense is still really susceptible to large plays.
To summarize: Cal has probably met to slightly exceeded expectations, though the wins (Texas, Oregon) and losses (ASU, OSU) were not what most fans expected. If Dykes can beat a CA school and clinch a bowl game, I think the serious will be considered a success.
LeonPowe: It really has been #CardiacCal - very difficult on the heart and honestly, quite stressful. But it's been better than getting blown out, or losing in a boring way, but not as fun as winning comfortably either.
2) One of the issues with Cal has been their defense and inconsistencies (havent won back-to-back games yet), how can they fix these issues?
boomtho: Honestly, it's a double whammy of talent deficiencies and poor coaching - which means it will be very hard to stop. The defensive depth to be a top-tier defense just isn't there. Between transfers (NIckerson, Barton), retirements (Kearney), and just lack of top-end recruiting, the defense is pretty thin.
The relative strength of the defense is the secondary - Darius Allensworth, Marloshawn Franklin, and Luke Rubenzer have all had really nice moments. But outside of James Looney the run defense is not great.
LeonPowe: I think there's a lot of depth issues with the defense. So the guys get tired - we lost 3 linebackers who we expected to be starters/rotation players to unexpected retirements and transfer graduations - we also lost a starting safety and 3 rotation defensive linemen. So even if the defense plays well in the first half, they get worn down in the second half allowing teams to come back.
3) Davis Webb has been great this year? Did you expect Webb to be this successful?
boomtho: No, I really didn't... though partially that's due to replacing 5-6 of the top WR's, plus bringing in a new OC. Webb has INCREDIBLE arm talent - it almost seems like he succeeds despite his footwork, as he's backing up for a lot of throws and still puts it on the money.
He's had a couple bad picks, but overall he's slinging the ball a ton in a pretty efficient manner. He's come closer to Jared Goff than we had any right to expect (or hope for!)
In terms of weaknesses, he doesn't hit the middle of the field well, and he can lock on to receivers and miss some open reads (like... every college QB), especially when Chad Hansen is playing.
LeonPowe: Frankly, no - I mean, I expected some measure of success, but to have lost the NFL #1 Draft pick, and honestly barely skip a beat at the QB1 position has been a very pleasant surprise. In fact, Webb does a few things better than Goff - he throws a slightly better deep ball and is a bigger, stronger, more physical QB and that shows up in short yardage runs and in the very few option plays we've run, he's run through tackles and trucked a Hawaii linebacker.
4) What can be Cal’s biggest weapon to use against USC on Thursday?
boomtho: Davis Webb + whichever receiver wants to dominate: 5* freshman Demetris Robertson, jitterbug Melquise Stovall, out-of-nowhere superstar Chad Hansen (if he's healthy), or even someone else. If the WR's can beat USC's athletic corners, that will open up running lanes for the RB duo of speedster Khalfani Muhammad and balanced all-around back Tre Watson (powerhouse Vic Enwere broke his foot recently).
LeonPowe: Watson + Muhammad running backs and Demetrius Robertson at wideout.
5) How can they stop the streak against the Trojans?
boomtho: Blood sacrifice, voodoo, lucky talismans... it's probably all been tried, and nothing has worked. This is a pretty decent to good Cal team, but the deck is certainly stacked them: on 5-6 days rest after a grueling double OT win vs Oregon, while USC is coming off a (rightful for a Thu game) bye.
Tactically, Cal will have to put points up early to withstand the inevitable physical USC run game dominance, as Cal has a habit of giving away points (though we can certainly put them up as well).
LeonPowe: Getting up really big in the first half and hanging on to win on the last play of the game. . . again
boomtho: USC 38, Cal 28. I think Cal is just going to be beat down with so little rest and depth, and USC will use their freshness to wear the Bears down.
LeonPowe: Cal 2 - USC 0