The Arizona Wildcats have made it out of nonconference play with a 2-1 record, but now the real work begins. The Pac-12 Conference schedule begins Saturday with a trip to Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears, the only team they beat last season.
To better understand this Cal team, we reached out to Rob Hwang of Write for California. Here are his spirited answers to our lifeless questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: The Cal team that Arizona beat last November was missing a ton of starters, and many of those guys are gone. How does this Bears team compare to the one that went 5-7 a year ago?
Rob Hwang: “The simplest answer is that it’s a team with a lower floor but a higher ceiling. After three games, it’s hard to tell whether the offense will ever become good this season, but its also only three games into a season where the Bears replace more than 65 percent of their production from last season. That doesn’t even include the brand new offensive line with three new players and one moving positions. If they turn the corner into the conference schedule, the team will be awfully different from the one we saw the last three weeks. In comparison to the team last season? They’re more explosive and athletic across the entire team. Special teams has turned into a solid unit, not embarrassing or great, but somewhere in the middle. The defense might be the best during the Justin Wilcox tenure and that’s despite the loss of defensive lineman Brett Johnson for the season.”
Jack Plummer came over from Purdue, where he started games in parts of three seasons. How has the older brother of UA quarterback Will Plummer fared so far, and what are his best attributes?
“He’s been exactly what we expected of him. A pocket passer with good awareness and an arm to make all the throws necessary in the Bill Musgrave offense. He has surprised a bit with his feet and his athleticism when scrambling. His decision-making has been pretty solid in when to go conservative and when to take some risks. Despite his experience he’s playing with talented but close-to-zero experience WRs and they look to be gelling as the season progresses.”
Besides Plummer, who have been the most significant newcomers to the program?
“Easily RB Jadyn Ott. He flashed A LOT in camp and the expectation was to bring him along slowly. Heading to Notre Dame he was the unspoken No. 1 and now heading into the Arizona game, they have listed him at RB1. He’s electric every time he touches the ball and was named Freshman of the Week in the Pac-12 in Week 1 and 2. Remember No. 6 on offense.”
What (and who) are the strengths and weaknesses of Cal’s defense?
“There are so many to name here. S Daniel Scott is the steady hand on the back end. S Craig Woodson is the ball hawk. ILB Jackson Sirmon & ILB Femi Oladejo complement each other in the middle of the field and cover a lot of ground. DE Xavier Carlton is an absolute menace against opposing OL. CB Lu-Magia Hearns continues his upward trend after a stellar freshman campaign. The strength is playing the pass and coverage on the outside run. Inside run defense has kept this unit from getting off the field and some missed tackles in gaps has led to some big chunk yard run plays.”
Arizona hasn’t lost to Cal since 2009, with all six wins in its streak decided by one score. Last year you said there might be a curse on the Bears when it comes to playing in the Grand Canyon State, then COVID reared its ugly head on the program. What’s next on the bingo card?
“As long as we don’t play in the state of Arizona there can’t be too many shenanigans. That being said, the last time Arizona was in town Khalil Tate was the QB and we lost after going for 2 in double overtime. I expect that type of game unless we shut down the Arizona offense early, which I can see happening but at the same time severely doubt the likelihood of.”
Prediction time. Does Cal finally beat Arizona after so many close calls, or do the Wildcats pick up another win in the series? Give us a score pick.
“I’m gonna jinx myself again or I stay true to my hype and hopefully I get something right. Bears win 45-28. Let’s get crazy.”