Here's what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Quarterback was going to be a big question mark this season for Cal. Enter Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. He is putting up big numbers every week. Has he looked as good as those numbers indicate?
atomsareenough: Until he dislocated his thumb against Oregon State, yes. Since then, he hasn't been as accurate on long passes, and he's just off target more often than he was in the first several games of the year. Hopefully he's healing up and will be back to normal soon.
boomtho: He's looked pretty great, yeah. It's interesting to me because he's following right after an all-time great Cal QB, Jared Goff, and putting up numbers that are basically as good while being completely different stylistically.
In summary, Goff had basically perfect footwork, a great command of the offense (diagnosing coverage at the line and making play changes), and moved through multiple progressions very frequently.
Webb has what looks to me pretty sloppy footwork (he frequently throws backing up or without planting), has less freedom at the line to make changes, and frequently locks in on his first read (which was often superstar WR Chad Hansen). And yet, despite all this, he has put up video game numbers and at least given Cal a chance to win every game except USC.
How has he done it? Webb has great arm strength, and maybe more than that, great arm talent .He's able to overcome his shaky footwork and drop balls right where they need to be, especially on deep balls down the sideline. He's got great confidence - he's thrown some bad picks this year (but also on a super high volume of passes), but always bounces back quickly. He looks super comfortable in this year's incarnation of the Bear Raid, which involves a lot more WR screens than last year.
All in all, Webb has been as good as anyone could have hoped when we landed him in the offseason.
UWDP: The Wide Receiving corps was absolutely depleted with most of Cal’s top outside targets moving on. Who in particular has stepped up besides Chad Hansen. What is Hansen’s status for Saturday?
atomsareenough: Hansen's status is questionable last I heard, and I think it's probably most reasonable to assume he's not playing. I wasn't worried at all about Cal's receiver corps coming into this season, as it's one of the few position groups where the Golden Bears have been stocking up talent for the past few years. Several receivers have stepped up, including true freshmen Demetrius Robertson and Melquise Stovall, as well as Jordan Veasy, Vic Wharton, Ray Hudson, Brandon Singleton, and Bug Rivera. However, Hansen has obviously been out, Wharton's been banged up, Singleton was injured and didn't play against USC, and Veasy was just moved from the slot to the outside due to the injuries. With everyone healthy, it's a deep and talented group. At the moment, it's relying more on guys who don't have a ton of experience.
boomtho: For me, Cal's ability to reload at the WR position has been the most impressive part of the offseason. You're right that most of our top WR's moved on from last year - in order of catches, we lost Lawler, Powe, Treggs, Anderson, Davis, and Harris - so our top 6 pass catchers. In their place, a number of new contributors have emerged. Chad Hansen exploded at the start of the year as a 'do it all' receiver - speed, downfield separation, underneath routes, and contested catches. His injury has really set the Cal WR corps back.
Beyond Hansen, 5* freshman Demetris Robetson, freshman jitterbug Melquise Stovall, transfer Jordan Veasy, Vic Wharton, and Bug Rivera have all had nice moments.
UWDP: Tell us about the Cal running game. How has the offensive line performed? Who should we expect to get the bulk of the carries?
atomsareenough: The o-line has been another strong unit for the Bears this year. We came into the year with an experienced 3-headed RB group, with a shifty fast guy in Khalfani Muhammad, a strong, hard-to-tackle bruiser in Vic Enwere, and a solid all-around guy who emerged late last year in Tre Watson. Enwere's been hurt the past few games, so Watson and Muhammad have been splitting carries and doing a pretty commendable job of it. Muhammad in particular has been running really hard and getting consistent yardage between the tackles, which has been impressive to see from such a small running back.
boomtho: The Cal running game has been a pretty good success this year, even though a couple games ago our power back, Vic Enwere, broke his foot and is out for the year. The remaining backs, speedster Khalfani Muhammad and more balanced back Tre Watson, are both averaging 5.4+ YPC this year. In this game, I would expect a pretty even split between Khalfani and Tre.
The offensive line has done a nice job blocking for these guys, as that position group came in with a lot of continuity from last year. However, LT Aaron Cochran, who is a BIG dude, broke his left foot game. This could pose a problem for Cal as they face a really dangerous UW defense.
UWDP: The Cal defense has been… well, not great. Opponents have scored over 40 points per game. Is the defense improving? Who are some key defenders to watch on Saturday?
atomsareenough: I don't know, maybe it was improving a bit over the first few weeks, but some of our most talented players are injured, and this isn't a defense with a ton of talented players to begin with. Our best d-lineman James Looney has been banged up the past couple games, one of our more experienced linebackers Ray Davison has been banged up too. They're still playing, but they were more effective earlier on in the season. Our best corner Darius Allensworth has been out the past couple games, which has hurt. Then against USC his replacement, true freshman Josh Drayden, who had started to really look like a player, went down as well, so now we're running out a walk-on at one of the corner positions. We started the season down about half a dozen safeties, I'm not kidding you. Some guys such as linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk have been emerging, and defensive back Marloshawn Franklin has been pretty solid. But we're lacking a lot of athleticism (and lacking bodies, really) at the safety and linebacker position right now, and that's led to an absolutely atrocious run defense.
boomtho: The defense is working their asses off and trying very hard, but their results have been inconsistent at best.
First, I will caution that using points per game stats against Cal is a bit meaningless, since we run so many more plays/possessions than an average team.
That being said, the Cal defense has never performed great. The DL and LB's have really struggled in run defense, and while the secondary had been holding up pretty well against the pass, they've been hurt by the lack of disruption from the DL as well as injuries. Darius Allensworth is our best CB, by a decent margin, and he's been really banged up. After USC ran for X YPC and Sam Darnold threw for 4 TD's and only 1 INT, I would not expect significant resistance from the Cal D.
In terms of key defenders, I'd call out DL James Looney (our only DL that consistently disrupts the run) and Devante Downs at LB.
UWDP: Sonny Dykes is in his 4th season and has a record of 18-27. Every year the team has gotten better under Dykes tenure. That might not happen this season. What are realistic expectations for the rest of 2016? Is there any talk of Dykes either being fired taking a job somewhere in the south where he hails from?
atomsareenough: Some people are grumbling, but there's no serious talk about Dykes being fired. He just got extended this off-season, and by all accounts he likes it in the Bay Area, so I think that the talk about him itching to go back to Texas seems rather baseless and speculative. I think this year's team has a decent chance to make it to a bowl game, so we'll see if that happens. What we really want to see is a win against a California rival. We haven't beaten Stanford, USC, or UCLA in Sonny's entire tenure. USC obviously didn't happen, but we've got two more bites at the apple this year, and both the Bruins and Cardinal look at least plausibly gettable if we play well. Beyond that, I think we need to see some changes this off-season on the defensive staff. The defense as a whole, despite a few bright spots, has been so bad for Dykes' whole tenure, and there's been very little indication that it's about to take the next step, that I think that at this point Dykes pretty much needs to make a change and hire a new DC as a show of good faith, to show the fanbase that he gets it and values that side of the football. Current DC Art Kaufman's not much of a recruiter, and he runs things pretty vanilla, scheme-wise, so while he's stabilized the situation of the Cal defense somewhat since the godawful 2013 season, he's stabilized it at a fairly low level. We need an upgrade.
boomtho: Hopeful expectations are two more wins to a bowl game. With our remaining schedule, that might be tough, though it certainly helps that Stanford and UCLA are down vs where people expected them to be at the beginning of the year.
I don’t think there’s any chance he gets fired. With regard to a Southern job, that seems to be something only the media brings up any time there’s an opening. Sonny seems really happy at Cal, has done a wonderful job turning around the culture and academics of the program, and has never really expressed any proactive interest in moving to a HC job in the South.
UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?
atomsareenough: If the Bears were healthier, I think we could at least make it tough for the Huskies. Cal's not a great team, but we play hard every game, we're frisky, and we're good enough on offense to turn it into a shootout where anything can happen. But right now, as beat up as we are, I just don't think we have the horses to prevail. I'm expecting UW to win by about 10-14 points, maybe more depending on how things break.
boomtho: Main prediction is that this game will take way too long, run way too late, and I'll get back to SF at about 12:30-12:45AM.
Oh, you meant a prediction about the actual football that will be played on the field? UW 31, Cal 17
UWDP: Thanks Guys. For more on the game from the Cal perspective, be sure to check out California Golden Blogs on SB Nation.
Click here to read our answers to their questions.