Players to watch
QBs Jared Goff and Zach Kline, RB Brendan Bigelow, WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs
G Matt Cochran (Ankle—out), RB Daniel Lasco (Shoulder—questionable)
Sonny Dykes knew that his first season with California was going to be a tough one, but even he couldn't have predicted the perfect storm of a difficult schedule, youthful and inexperienced players, and calamitous injuries that seemingly knocked Cal's year off track before it ever had a chance to get going. Cal enters this week's game with a 1-6 record, with their sole win coming in a too-close-for-comfort 37-30 win over Portland state.
Of course, that lackluster record belies the fact that California has played one of the most difficult schedules of any team in America: Phil Steele ranks their strength-of-schedule as the third-toughest through Week 8 of the season, according to a Golden Bears press release, and four of their six FBS opponents this year (Ohio State, Northwestern, Oregon and UCLA) were ranked in the top-25 at the time of their meeting. The question for Cal this week is whether or not they are prepared to seize upon a more manageable portion of their schedule, or if they are so battered and bruised from the season's first half that they'll simply throw in the towel.
True freshman Jared Goff has started each of Cal's games this year, but there seems to be a quarterback controversy brewing in Berkeley: Though he's been statistically impressive for a true freshman (60.1 percent completion rate, 2,236 yards for 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, 7.3 yards per attempt), Goff's play simply hasn't put the offense in a position to win football games, especially in the last four games—during that stretch, the Bears have scored no more than 22 points, while their defense has surrendered no less than 37. It's likely that both Goff and redshirt freshman Zach Kline will see action Saturday, as the Bears look for something—anything—to kick themselves into gear.
Luckily for California, they don't need to rely solely on their quarterback, whomever he might be. Junior Brendan Bigelow, a former Washington commit, has inherited the mantle of Cal's featured back from the graduated Isi Sofele. Of course, in Sonny Dykes' offense, "featured" is a subjective word, as Cal's 263 total rushing attempts ranks eighth in the conference. Bigelow has taken 76 of those handoffs for just 284 yards and has yet to score a touchdown, but don't be fooled: He's a fast player (he ran the 100-meter dash in high school in just 10.62 seconds) with the ability to make defenders miss, and if Washington plays with the kind of poor tackling fundamentals they showed against Arizona State, Bigelow might be the player who reaps the greatest benefit. With just one touch in the last two games, though, Bigelow may have fallen out of favor, with true freshman Khalfani Muhammad (20 rushes in the last two games, after 22 through the first five) poised to assert himself atop Cal's depth chart.
Cal's offensive scheme is described as pass-first, though it could probably be described just as accurately as pass-first-to-Chris-Harper-and-Bryce-Treggs. The sophomore duo accounts for 97 of Cal's 216 receptions (45 percent), as well as five of the team's 13 receiving touchdowns, and Harper ranks third in the conference in receiving with 98 yards and 7.3 receptions per game. Another player that Washington's defense will have to watch for is James Grisom—though the junior has just six receptions on the year, he's taken them for 144 yards and three scores.
Up front, Cal certainly doesn't lack for size, as its five offensive line starters average 6-5, 304 lbs. Left guard Jordan Rigsbee was a third-team preseason all-conference pick by Phil Steele, and left tackle Freddie Tagaloa was included in the preseason watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award (top offensive or defensive lineman in the country) and the Jim Parker Trophy (top offensive lineman in the nation). Beyond those accolades, though, this unit been porous at best: their 21.0 sacks allowed ranks last in the conference and 111th nationwide; likewise, their 52.0 tackles for loss represents the conference's cellar, and ranks 114th in the country.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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