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Opponent Q&A: Talking California Golden Bears Football

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Rob Hwang answers our questions on Justin Wilcox and the Cal Bears

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Cheez-It Bowl - Cal v TCU Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to Rob Hwang (@rob11hwang) from the SBN community California Golden Blogs regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

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UWDP: Chase Garbers put up decent numbers last week against UC Davis. How would you rate his performance overall? Where does he need to get better?

Rob: His performance was average. I think the first thing is that needs to be addressed is what he went through last season and the offseason. He split time with Brandon McIlwain all season, injured his shoulder at some point and dealt with confidence at an all time low. McIlwain is now focusing on baseball, transfer Devon Modster is still ineligible and the job is squarely his. The first quarter was very much a continuation of the Cheez-It Bowl. I don’t think I need to describe it further than that. The second half beyond? He started to gain some rhythm and you could see his confidence returning. His throwing mechanics were off but I think that can be attributed partially to him trying out some different throwing angles to get around the defensive line. I give his performance a C. He didn’t win us the game, but he also didn’t lose us the game. In terms of improvement, he needs to throw with more decisiveness. What I mean by that is he sometimes looks to be second guessing his decisions after the turnover prone season he had last year. He needs to make a choice and launch the ball to his playmakers, however he can.

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UWDP: Chris Brown carried the ball 36 times on Saturday. Is that surprising? Describe his running style and what makes him such a good back. How did the offensive line look against UC Davis?

Rob: Yes and no. Its surprising it was that high, but I did expect him to be the workhorse from that unit coming out of camp. He’s more of a power back than a speed back, but RB coach Nick Edwards has done a great job coaching up the RBs elusiveness and making that first guy miss. He does a great job waiting for his lead blocker and exploding into the gap. The most impressive is his natural body balance. A trip up that should be a 1-2 yard gain is made into 3-4 because hes able to maintain his balance and keep his legs under him to maintain his stature.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 UC Davis at California
Chris Brown had only 37 carries as a true freshman last season in a reserve roll. He ran the ball 36 times last week as the starter.

The OL came out sluggish in the first half and completely turned it around starting the second quarter. In the run game, Brown gained over 200 yards, ultimately netting 197. They pushed the experienced UC-Davis line around to whatever running lane they wanted. In terms of pass protection, they gave Garbers an eternity to throw and did not give up a single sack.

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UWDP: Give us some details on the pass catchers for the Golden Bears. Who is the deep threat? Who is Garbers’ favorite target? How involved will the tight ends be in the passing game?

Rob: The receiver unit is totally revamped from last year. Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton, Moe Ways, Ian Bunting, Ray Hudson have all moved on. The corps instead is about 8 deep with guys that all have different body types and skill sets. No one has really established themselves as the deep threat yet, but a few guys look to be the part, so I cant really name anybody. Garbers’ favorite target, at least from this last game was Kekoa Crawford the transfer from Michigan and Nikko Remigio. Both had 5 targets, with Nikko catching 4 for 46 yards and Kekoa catching 3 for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. The tight ends should be a big part of the passing game as the season goes on. It’s a very young group, no one is older than a redshirt sophomore. Look out for McCallan Castles and Jake Tonges to be pass catching threats as they had some opportunity to showcase that against Davis.

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UWDP: Cal has another very good defense this year. What is their strength? Where are there some newcomers?

Rob: The strength has to be the defensive backs. Everyone returns after having the chance to go to the next level. I may be biased, but I think it is the most experienced and most talented DB group in the conference. S Ashtyn Davis is being touted as the second best S prospect for the upcoming NFL draft. CB Cam Bynum and CB Elijah Hicks are shut down corners that can be put on islands if need be. S Jaylinn Hawkins is the backfield leader who is literally everywhere on the field. As the DB goes this defense will go. In terms of new faces that will be impact players this season you need to look at the front 7.

North Carolina v California
Fifth-year senior safety Jaylinn Hawkins had six interceptions a year ago.

Husky fans remember Evan Weaver from last year, but his new ILB partner is a force to be reckoned with. Kuony Deng (pronounced coin deng) was the #1 JUCO OLB this past season but the staff transformed him to ILB. You can actually catch glimpses of him in the most recent season of Last Chance U. Kuony led the team in tackles this past weekend in his debut game. Another newcomer is freshman DL Brett Johnson. Arguably the best player in the state of Arizona last season, Johnson was too good in camp for the coaching staff to redshirt and hold onto. He’ll burn through that redshirt and through offensive lines this season.

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UWDP: Justin Wilcox has had a great impact on the defense since taking over. How is the fanbase feeling about Wilcox in year three?

Rob: He’s already done things that give him some room and time to grow. The biggest being beating USC last season and ending a 15 year losing streak. A bowl game in year 2 after coming up a game short in year 1. Beating ranked opponents at home: WSU on that Friday night game in 2017. So he’s built up good will with the fan base. The question now becomes can he take that next step. Fans have been hungry for bowl games and consistently hitting the minimum 6 game mark will be huge, but after coming so close last season to 8 or 9 wins last season, it seems its closer than we think. Since that expectation has now been heightened, we’ll be looking for that to come soon. By no means is he on the hot seat. He got a huge extension this offseason and we have him locked up for another 4 years after this year.

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UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?

Rob: I’m going to go off a few things. Very close friend of mine is a big Huskies fan. Shout out to you Jason Lim. He’s worried about the defense and how quickly they’ll learn and improve since they’re replacing good talent. He’s also worried about the defensive line and the depth there. After watching the EWU game for myself, I think that’s the way Cal can win the game. Cal was very good running the ball against Davis and if we can emulate that even by 75% we should be able to control the clock and maintain drives. Eason looks to be real good but he’s facing the best defense on the schedule in just his second game as a starter. His ability to step up to the challenge and gain experience on the fly will sway the game for UW. I think the game will be closer than people think. I’m going to go with a 24-17 loss for the Bears with my head. And a 24-21 win for the Bears with my heart.

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Thanks Rob. For more on Cal, be sure to check out California Golden Blogs.