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Opponent Offense Preview: California Golden Bears

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Peaks and valleys for the Bears offense. Mostly valleys, though.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Week 9 is here! That means Washington’s opponent, Cal, has played more than enough games for me to definitively say they are not good on offense. Despite the presence of OC Beau Baldwin, whose Eastern Washington teams used to torch Washington, the Golden Bears have only cracked 24 points two times this year: against Idaho State and Oregon State.

Overall, there are metrics that really favor this Cal offense: 10th in rushing efficiency and 18th in opportunity rate (% of carries where 4 yards are available that get those 4 yards), to name two. But, turnovers, untimely mistakes, and a real lack of explosiveness have cost this offense from getting into the end zone more. Cal ranks 121st in the nation in turnover margin at -8.

The Basics

Like you would expect from Beau Baldwin (or any college football offense these days), Cal runs their version of the spread passing attack. The QB is always in shotgun, and when not in an empty set, will have a running back on his right or left. I haven’t watched every snap, but it doesn’t look like the running back stays in for pass blocking too often, and will usually run a route if he isn’t taking a hand off. Occasionally an H-Back or TE will be lined up in the backfield, similar to how Cade Otton and Drew Sample line up sometimes. They usually run out of those formations.

Cal likes to run a lot of RPO as well. Often times the QB and RB will have a zone read play going on, while a 3 receiver bunch on one side will show a screen pass. However, it’s unclear how many of these are true RPOs and which are simply “window dressing” to distract the defense. They don’t utilize a ton of pre-snap motion either, and usually what you see, is what you get with this offense. Though in typical Baldwin fashion, this attack is designed to stretch zone defenses, and force safeties and corners to pick which receivers to cover. The route combinations required the WR and QB to be on the same page and read things the same way. In theory, like most versions of an air raid or spread passing attack, there should be a receiver to go to on every play. Unfortunately for a myriad of reasons, that is not coming to fruition for Cal this year.

Through the Air

This was supposed to be the year of the “Bower Hour” wherein Ross Bowers would lead Cal to new heights and be the QB has the team has needed since Jared Goff went #1 overall. He put together a solid and better than expected 2017, after all. But, his time as the starter lasted about 5 minutes and since Week 2, it has been all about Brandon McIlwain and Chase Garbers. McIlwain is a pure athlete at QB who can stretch defenses with his legs, but is just atrocious passing. He doesn’t take many deep shots (5.4 yards per attempt) but has managed to throw 7 interceptions to just 2 touchdowns. It appears since last week’s offensive explosion against Oregon State that Garbers is entrenched as the starter from here on out.

NCAA Football: Oregon at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Some of Garbers raw numbers aren’t so bad. He’s completing over 65% of his passes, has 9 TDs (4 INTs), and throws for 7.2 yards per attempt. Despite that, he’s only got 727 total passing yards, 458 of which were against Oregon State (possibly the worst defense in FBS) and Idaho State (FCS). Other than a good completion percentage, and not getting sacked constantly (only 4.4% of drop backs), there isn’t much to like about this pass game that is neither particularly efficient nor explosive.

The receivers that get the most looks are Vic Wharton III and Kanawai Noa with 31 and 26 catches respectively. But, this is a group that has struggled this year, especially Noa who hasn’t been able to replicate his success last year. The 6-1 Jordan Duncan was having a decent year, tied for the team lead with 3 TDs but underwent surgery for an injury and will miss the game. After Noa and Wharton, Patrick Laird has 30 catches and 3 TDs. He gets a lot of looks in the pass game, either taking swing passes up field or running routes through the middle of the field from his position in the backfield. He’s not very explosive, just 6.2 yards per catch, but is the only Bear with 80+ percent catch rate. Laird is Cal’s most consistent and best overall offensive weapon.

On the Ground

When it comes to Cal’s rushing offense, it starts and ends with Patrick Laird as he’s the only running back on the roster that has more than 17 carries. When McIlwain was getting some run at QB he put together decent running statistics, but now it is Chase Garbers show. Cal likes to run a decent bit of the zone read, and Garbers while not a duel threat, is athletic enough. He doesn’t have a TD yet, but averages over 5 yards per carry and has a 75% opportunity rate. Meaning, most of the time when 4 yards are available, he’ll get them.

However, Laird is the key rusher. He isn’t flashy but is extremely efficient as is the whole Cal running attack, ranking 10th in the nation in that regard. On the other hand, they get almost no explosive plays in the rush game, more or less consistently getting 3-5 yards a pop. This actually gives them pretty solid raw rushing numbers, where they are 40th in the nation with just under 200 yards per game.

Marcel Dancy and Christopher Brown Jr. are the second and third options behind Laird, but have just 31 carries between them.

Final Thoughts

Provided Washington doesn’t get gashed in the run game, this is an offense Washington should have few problems containing. Add to the mix that Cal lost a starting offensive linemen this week, they will be playing the Huskies with a reshuffled OL. LG Michael Saffell is out for the year, meaning current LT Patrick Mekari will slide inside, and true freshman Will Craig will play LT. Is this just the situation Washington’s ailing pass rush needs?

The way Washington plays defense is exactly how Cal plays offense - all about efficiency. Washington’s defense is designed to keep everything in front of them will let Cal get short gains underneath. Cal is perfectly happy to do that, but will need to avoid costly mistakes and turnovers. That is basically the gamble of the Washington defense - they make teams put together perfect drives with lots of short, successful plays. The gamble is most teams won’t be able to string together drive after drive without committing a turnover or making a drive killing mistake. Cal is 125th in finishing drives, so I like the Huskies chances here. They also aren’t great in the red zone - worse than the Huskies, actually. They have 22 red zone attempts and just 13 TDs. Though, it is worth noting they are balanced with 7 rushing TDs and 6 passing.

The Huskies shouldn’t have a problem keeping Cal under 17 points.

Poll

How many points will Cal score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    0-7
    (51 votes)
  • 52%
    8-14
    (192 votes)
  • 25%
    15-21
    (94 votes)
  • 4%
    22-28
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    29-35
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    35+
    (9 votes)
363 votes total Vote Now