UWDP: Talk to me about Jared Goff - what improvements have you seen in him so far this year? Are there any weaknesses that can be exploited?
Nick Kranz: Two things have really stood out to me: The speed of his decision making, and the accuracy of his pass placement. Goff was always a solid decision maker, but he's making decisions so quickly now. I'm not convinced that Cal's offensive line is all that different from last year, but Goff hasn't been hit much because he so quickly decides where he wants the ball to go, and gets it out in a flash. Cal has had some big completions despite blocking scheme mistakes that leave linemen completely unblocked, because Goff hits his hot route so fast. In terms of accuracy, it's all about placing the ball where only his receivers can make a play. When guys are wide open, the ball hits them in the chest. When they aren't wide open, he's always hitting the right side of the shoulder, or putting it up where only the WR's hands can reach. It's been uncanny so far.
Weaknesses? Nothing really stands out. He doesn't have amazing deep arm strength, but that's more of an NFL scout nit-pick, rather than a flaw that makes much of a difference at the college level. Eventually Cal will probably face a team that can regularly get pressure with 3 or 4 men, and when that happens Goff might comparatively struggle in a way that any QB would struggle. I doubt that team is Washington based on early season sack totals, but who knows?
Ruey Yen: Huskies fans should enjoy being able to watch Jared Goff this weekend. The kid is special enough that one may be telling future generations about how (s)he has seen Goff play before he became big in NFL.
Echoing what Nick has said before, Goff's biggest improvement this season has got to be his decision making as the Bear Raid offense requires the QB to read and react to the defense to be at maximum efficiency. Goff has also build quite a connections to his receivers (the bromance between Goff and Kenny Lawler is particularly strong) that he knows where his receivers love to have the ball and they are all quite synchronized in their thought process.
As for weakness, Goff is not the most mobile QB, although he has enough foot speed to make a running place if needed. Of course, if the Huskies D doesn't allow time for Goff to wait for his receivers to get down field and to be open, Goff and the Bear Raid can be contained.
LeonPowe: Strengths - Decision making, he's decisive, but he's not locked in on a single receiver. It's easier when you have a bunch of weapons (Anderson, Lasco, Lawler, Treggs, Powe, Harris, Davis are all excellent targets), but you can watch him check check check, keep that mental timer in his head going and then flick the ball right to the target. This year, I can count on one hand the number of bad throws he's made (ok maybe two, since there have been a couple of underthrown completions that if thrown on the money would've been six, instead of just a big gain). He's totally dialed in.
Weakness - To add to what everyone has previously said, he does have a habit of throwing off his back leg. Now he's got the arm strength to do it - but as the defenses get faster and we get into the Pac-12 level athlete of our schedule, are those throws getting there a millisecond too late and leading to interceptions now that the defenses are better? I don't know enough about QBs and mechanics to answer, but I think it's something to keep an eye on.
UWDP: Sounds like there are some injury concerns in Berkeley - how are you guys feeling about the status of folks like Daniel Lasco, DeVante Wilson and Damariay Drew? How confident are you in their backups if those guys are out this week?
Nick Kranz: Drew is by far the biggest injury concern because Cal's depth at safety is so precarious, but he was immediately cleared for practice and suited up, so the assumption is that he's just fine. Wilson and Lasco are a little iffier, although the former will almost certainly end up playing as well. Wilson is one of about 6-7 defensive ends that are similarly talented, so I think Cal could deal with his absence decently well. Not having Lasco is probably the biggest concern, because he's Cal's most reliable back in terms of always gaining solid chunks and keeping the chains moving. He's not a home-run threat like Khalfani Muhammad, but Cal really missed him in the 4th quarter against Texas when they were trying to kill the game off with the running game.
Ruey Yen: The latest news is that Drew is healthy and practicing fully this week while Wilson and Lasco are likely questionable. I think last week has shown that Lasco's backups are capable of sustaining a solid running attack in his absence, of course a healthy Lasco is still the most dangerous running back.
I am a bit concerned with the Cal DL without DeVante Wilson, but I had previously thought that he would be out longer than the latest projection of maybe just this week and the next.
UWDP: Cal continues to show that the Bear Raid isn't just a passing offense. What's been the secret to the success of the run game so far in 2015?
Nick Kranz: The obvious answer is that Cal has been able to establish the passing game so quickly that teams started pulling back safeties and linebackers, thus opening up running lanes. But I think lots of credit should go to Cal's wideouts for improved blocking in space, and particularly to the right side of the offensive line, who have been doing really great work with run blocking. Goff probably deserves credit as well - he's usually the guy who decides whether to call a run or a pass when he reads the defense at the line of scrimmage, and I have no doubt that his ability to make the right decision has improved in his 3rd year in the offense.
Ruey Yen: The Bear Raid supposedly is a balanced attack with 50/50 split between running and gunning. Like I what I said earlier about the QB's role in this offense, Goff gets a lot of credit for the Cal running game as well. All of the Bears' main RB's - Daniel Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad, Vic Enwere, and Trey Watson are also all very experienced. It's the 3rd year of the Bear Raid and the players are now familiar enough with it for the offense to come closer to its full potential.
Leon Powe: With defenses occupied with either sending players into coverage OR trying to rush Goff, it's really opened up the middle level of the defense for a running game. When you have an improved o-line, and some experienced tough backs, that opens up the running game.
UWDP: What have you seen from the Bear defense so far this year that makes you optimistic? What have you seen that still concerns you?
Nick Kranz: Through two games, the defense was seemingly doing everything right before getting absolutely torched by the first accurate, mobile quarterback they faced. The optimists are arguing that Cal won't face many more mobile quarterbacks, and that the defense is better equipped to handle pocket passers and more conventional running games. (Lost in the shuffle of the Texas meltdown was that Texas running backs didn't really do much of anything. Granted, when one dude is single-handedly running amok, did they need to?) The pessimists point out that Grambling St. and SDSU are either undertalented or dysfunctional on offense, meaning that Cal got shredded by the only decent offense it has faced.
If nothing else, the pass rush has been upgraded from FILE NOT FOUND to occasionally does something, and Cal has forced a few more turnovers as a result. That makes a big difference when a game devolved into seeing which offense can't hold serve. I don't think anybody has the illusion that this is even an average Pac-12 defense. But if Cal's defense is merely bad rather than STOP STOP HES ALREADY DEAD then the hope is that Cal's offense can outscore most teams on the schedule.
Ruey Yen: The Cal defense has been forcing plenty of turnovers so far this season. That's always a reason to be optimistic. Still, there were way too many plays last week when the defense allowed a Texas receiver to be wide open, not to mention the inability to slow down a mobile QB in Heard and the whole 4th quarter debacle.
With this Cal defense, unfortunately, no Cal lead is truly safe until that clock has ticked down to 0.
Leon Powe: Still unknown if this is a terrible defense or has been upgraded to average. We got gashed badly by Texas, but Heard has been the GUY in Texas recruiting lore - 2 time state champ, 4.5 40. I'm hoping he's a future Vince Young level star, who we happened to catch on his coming out party, instead of what our defense has been excellent at the last two years in giving back-ups or unheralded offenses career days.
UWDP: Cal fans generally seem to expect not just a bowl game this year, but 8 (or more) wins. So far, so good, but how will Bears fans feel about Sonny Dykes if they stumble the rest of the way and fall short of those expectations?
Nick Kranz: The wimpy answer is that it will likely depend on the fashion in which they stumble. Losing a bunch of close games to the various top 25 teams every Pac-12 team has to face probably wouldn't cause a freak out, although there will undoubtedly be plenty of grumbling about the defense and plenty of angst about failing to maximize results with an NFL-level QB on campus. But if Cal gets blown out by all three California rivals it wouldn't shock me if the fanbase turned on the coaching staff. Multi-year losing streaks to Stanford, USC and UCLA (and Washington, for that matter) have infected the psyche of most Cal fans.
Ruey Yen: The back end of Cal's 2015 schedule is definitely much much tougher. It would not be surprising if the Bears quickly get to 5 wins but have to sweat it out to make a bowl game. I am enjoying the optimism for as long as I can. Regardless of the number of wins, it would be a bummer if the Bears cannot snap at least two of the long losing streaks against UW, USC, and Stanford this season.
UWDP: What-if scenario - Fred Tate gets an offer from the NFL or a chance to become a DC elsewhere and there's an opening for a DL coach: How would Cal fans feel if Tosh Lupoi wanted to come home?
Nick Kranz: Persona non-grata. I'm hardly connected with the athletic department or big hitter donors, but there were waaaaaay too many rumors of extremely unethical behavior by Lupoi upon his departure to ever allow for a return. Dude burned his bridges and the AD would never allow it.
Ruey Yen: Cal is a big school and we are not proud of all of our alum. There are a long long list of folks who would be preferred over Tosh.
Leon Powe: I think the fanbase is more divided now than when it happened - especially a lot of the alumni football players and teammates of Tosh, as well as a few significant media personalities. However, being far removed from the situation, I've heard back channel talks that he burned way too many bridges to ever get it through the big money donors. At this point, I'm like why bother - aside from his recruiting prowess, was he ever shown to be anything more than a promising young coach? He's not trustworthy as a recruiter anymore (not for Cal at least) and at most he's slightly above replacement level as a d-line coach. It'd be way too many headaches and lead to internet message board meltdowns if it happened.