The California Golden Bears are definitely in a rebuilding phase right now, and have been rocked week after week in Pac-12 play this year. Not sure it really gets better for them this week as the Arizona Wildcats roll into town.
Cal (1-7, 0-5 Pac-12) has not really been competitive in any of their games since week 2 when they won close over an FCS opponent in Portland State. The Bears looked like they might be impressive this season in week 1 when they led Northwestern late, but Northwestern has proven that they're not as good as everyone thought they were either.
In their last six games, the Bears have lost by an average score of 46.3 to 19.3. Yes, they've played Ohio State, Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Oregon State in that stretch, but still not competitive whether at home or on the road.
Only two seniors are listed as starters on their depth chart, and 15-of-22 starters are underclassmen. Nine of those fifteen are on offense, which explains why they're struggling to put points on the board. Cal's redzone efficiency is ranked 111th in the nation, having converted on just 22-of-31 chances inside the 20.
True freshman Jared Goff has started all eight games for the Bears this season. He's thrown for 324 ypg, completed 60% of his passes and has 10 passing TDs plus a rushing TD. But judging by what I've seen on The Drive on Pac-12 Networks, there's a little bit of competition behind him with redshirt freshman Zach Kline.
This is definitely the most vertical offense that Arizona has faced this year, and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel recognizes that. "We're going to get tested this week," said Casteel. "Cal's really athletic, some really good receivers all over the place, big tight end, their quarterback's got a gun. I think our kids are more comfortable with what we've asked them to do."
"They really do a good job scheme-wise," continued Casteel. "They make you defend the entire field vertically and horizontally. It could give us a lot of issues."
At receiver, sophomore Chris Harper is averaging nearly 100 ypg, and has 5 receiving TDs in his 58 total catches this season. Harper, Bryce Treggs, and Richard Rodgers are the most prolific receivers and have helped give the Bears the nation's 8th best passing game.
The running game is not nearly as good as the passing game in the new Bear Raid offense. No single running back is averaging more than 45 ypg, and the team ranks 110th out of 123 teams in FBS.
"They've run it ok at times, but it's almost like they haven't had to," added head coach Rich Rodriguez. "When you're throwing the ball that far down the field and executing like they do in the passing game, it's almost like you don't worry about the running game."
The Cal defense has not exactly been good. They are ranked 120th in points per game allowed, and are last in the nation in passing yards allowed. With B.J. Denker's continued growth as a quarterback, this could be a deadly combination for the Bears Saturday.
"I'm more confident, more knowledgeable," said Denker. "Game-time experience is huge. Everything's slowing down."
"I think we all have more confidence," added Nate Phillips.
So does Cal present anything unique defensively that Arizona hasn't seen yet?
"I don't know if they do anything I haven't seen," continued Denker. "I feel like they're going to try and mimic things that we had difficulty with. I don't think we're going to see anything different, just different personnel and different players."
"They're definitely aggressive," said Phillips. "Their secondary all like to come up and hit you. That's definitely a change of pace. They have bigger, thicker DBs than what we've seen."
Junior linebacker Khairi Fortt leads the team with 54 tackles on the season. Senior nose tackle Deandre Coleman is the leader of the defensive front, picking up 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The other senior, Dan Camporeale, sits at 3.5 TFL and 1 sack for the year.
By The Numbers
So how do the Wildcats and Bears match up statistically? Here you go:
Arizona - 465.3 YPG - 35th in nation
California - 468.4 YPG - 31st
Arizona - 288 YPG - 11th
Cal - 109.5 YPG - 110th
Arizona - 177.3 YPG - 107th
Cal - 358.9 YPG - 8th
Arizona - 366.3 YPG - 33rd
Cal - 540 YPG - 121st
Arizona - 201.3 YPG - 18th
Cal - 350.9 YPG - 123rd (last in nation)
Arizona - 165 YPG - 66th
Cal - 189.1 YPG - 90th
Arizona - 36.3 PPG - 30th
Cal - 22.9 PPG - 94th
Arizona - 19.9 YPG - 20th
Cal - 44 PPG - 120th
For the second straight week, Arizona faces a first-year head coach. This time it's a familiar face in Sonny Dykes. Dykes was the Offensive coordinator and QB coach at U of A from 2007-09 before becoming the head coach at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs went 22-15 in those three years, including a WAC championship in 2011, their first conference championship in ten years.
Current Arizona fourth-string QB and kick holder Nick Isham was the starting QB for the first part of that 2011 season at LA Tech, but the team went on a five-game winning streak after Isham was replaced as starter.
In Dykes' three years at Arizona, the Wildcats went to the Las Vegas and Holiday Bowls. That 2008 offense was the 16th-highest scoring team in the nation, and was 33rd in total offense.
The all-time series between Cal and Arizona is tied at 14-14-2, which makes this game just that much more important (not really, but hey). In Berkeley, the Wildcats are 6-8-2 in the 16 times they've met the Bears in NorCal.
The last time Arizona and Cal played, it was that 10-9 barn burner at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats scored the game's only touchdown with 1:11 left in the game when Nick Foles found Juron Criner for three yards and six points. Both teams combined for just 573 yards that night. By comparison, Arizona had 670 yards by itself last week at Colorado.