1. Obviously, the first season under Sonny Dykes isn't going well in terms of wins and losses. As former Dykes followers ourselves, I'm sure Arizona fans would like to know how Cal fans are liking him -- or not liking him -- thus far. Is it all on him the Golden Bears are struggling to win games?
NorcalNick: It's not. Cal has, simply stated, more injuries than any team in the entire nation. Those injuries have devastated the entire defense and the offensive line. And Cal had one of the top 5 youngest teams in the nation entering the season. Basically, Sonny Dykes was handed nearly a worst case scenario roster. So far, I like Sonny. He seems like a nice guy, and he says the right thing. And I trust him to turn things around eventually, at least on offense. But there are concerns about the defensive staff he's hired, so the jury is certainly still out. Unfortunately, the previous regime left behind a significantly weaker team than Cal fans suspected. It'll take time.
Kodiak: I happen to like the man. He comes across as genuine, says most of the right things, and looks like he's committed to building a balance between graduating our players while fielding a competitive team. The previous coaching staff left some significant issues both on and off the field. We're just realizing that Coach Dykes has a tougher mess to clean up than we realized. That being said, it's too soon to judge whether he's the right guy for the job or not. I think most rational Cal fans are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and wait at least a couple of years before sharpening our pitchforks.
2. Freshman Jared Goff has shown flashes but has also had turnover issues at times. What do you expect of him against Arizona, whose secondary has been good but also has given up a few big plays in Pac-12 play
NorcalNick: More of the same inconsistency, probably. Goff just hasn't looked the same since conference play started, and part of that might be due to multiple major injuries on the offensive line that has led to a decline in Cal's ability to pass protect. Goff just doesn't look as confident and decisive as he seemed against Northwestern and Ohio State, as if the constant pass rush has gotten into his head. He's certainly been fumble prone, which means that if the Wildcats think they can get to him, they stand a good chance of forcing turnovers. But if he regains his confidence and feels comfortable in the pocket, he has the skill (and more importantly, the downfield targets) to rack up a bunch of yards quickly.
Kodiak: Seems like his turnover issues have been from pressing and trying to make plays that aren't there. It's tough with inconsistent protection and no running game. I'd expect him to make his share of plays down the field. But, he'll probably throw one to your secondary, too.
3. What weapons does Goff have to work with, and what's up with the run game? It seems Cal is rolling with two running backs.
NorcalNick: Cal has had a rotating cast of running backs that has included Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad, Jeffrey Coprich, Darren Ervin . . . hell, even former tight end Richard Rodgers got a brief opportunity to run the ball as Cal desperately looked for a spark. The ground game is struggling because the injuried, inexperienced offensive line is struggling. But Cal does have one of the best WR combos in the conference with Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. They just need a quarterback who has time to get them the ball more often.
Kodiak: Harper and Treggs are a great receiving tandem. Both of them are dangerous in space or going deep. They'll move Harper all over to create mismatches. Richard Rodgers is a former tight end moved to inside receiver who is emerging as a steady third option. He's getting better at using his big body to wall off defenders in traffic. Powe and Lawler are athletic backups. They were highly regarded out of high school, but have been a bit inconsistent. The run game has suffered from poor blocking up front and a startling lack of production from the presumptive starters, Bigelow and Lasco. Bigelow has been moved to slot receiver because of fumble issues and Lasco has been out with a separated shoulder. True frosh Muhammad has been our best overall runner, but has also been nicked. That leaves converted DB Jeffrey Coprich, and 4th-stringer Darren Ervin. Both Coprich and Ervin run hard. However, neither can be considered a game-breaking threat.
4. The defensive side of the ball seems to be the biggest issue. From what I understand there's a lot of youth there. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Cal's defense?
NorcalNick: The strength (in a relative sense) is the defensive line. DeAndre Coleman and Viliami Moala are excellent defensive tackles, and two of the few players on the team that would start for many other Pac-12 schools. They've been effective at keeping teams from running inside and occupying blockers so that the ends can occasionally get a decent pass rush. The biggest weaknesses are everywhere else. Cal's linebackers and defensive backs are collectively young, inexperienced, and not terribly athletic. There's little or no depth for either unit, and because of injuries Cal has been forced to push players who just weren't ready into action. I think as a result those players have improved . . . but they're still generally overmatched against Pac-12 offenses, and the results certainly bear that out as every team has scored 37 or more points against Cal.
Kodiak: Weaknesses: Poor tackling. Slow reads/bad angles from the linebackers and safeties. Lack of speed with our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th corners. Lack of size/athleticism at defensive end.
Strengths: Defensive tackle. Moala and Coleman are pretty stout inside. Low expectations.
5. What's your biggest worry against Arizona?
NorcalNick: I mean, can you really worry much when you have no expectations of victory? I guess I'm always worried about more injuries to Cal's already depleted roster, and I'm worried that Cal's home crowd will be depressingly tiny.
Kodiak: Carey and Decker run for a beeellion yards.
6. How do you think the game goes?
NorcalNick: Exactly the same as every other Cal Pac-12 game, which has finished with a typical score of something like this: Cal's Opponent - 45, Cal - 17 Maybe Cal will score into the 20s because Arizona's defense probaby isn't quite as good as UCLA or Oregon's defense, but I'm pretty sure the basic script will be followed.
Kodiak: Carey and Decker run for a beeeellion yards.