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Opponent Q&A: Talking Cal Bears Football

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How’s that Justin Wilcox guy doing?

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to Nghia-Piotr Le Trong from the Cal community Write For California regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

UWDP: As a Cal fan, what is your perception of Chase Garbers? Are fans growing tired of him just because he’s been the starter for a few years now? How can he be better?

Piotr T Le: For me he began as a hyped recruit (4* QB, #12 Pro Style QB of the 2017 Class) that was fit into the wrong offense since he was recruited by the air-raid Sonny Dykes and put into a “multiple spread inspired” Baldwin offense and now forced to adapt to a NFL style Erhard-Perkins influenced Shannahan/McVay offense.

Now in his 4th year at Cal, and 3rd year as “The Guy” at QB, he is a rollercoaster QB, at times he has been widely inaccurate and prone to have bad games (See 2019 vs. North Texas [FCS, CUSA, 4-8 that season] where he went 9/22 for 129 yards) and very good games (a week later @ Ole Miss, 24/36 373 yards 4TDs/1INT). He’s our very own 2006 “Sexy Rexy” Grossman, only QB to have 5 +100 NFL rating games and a 1.3 and 0 NFL rating games in NFL history. With him it comes down to comfort in the pocket, and ease in the scheme. If he isn’t under tremendous pressure on the first drive, and has a run game that he can audible into he is a top tier Pac-12 starter, if he’s discombobulated and can’t find his rhythm then it gets uglier than my Math midterms at Berkeley.

NCAA Football: California at Texas Christian
Senior Chase Garbers has thrown 39 touchdown passes in 28 games at Cal.

I think the fans are content with him being the starter so far. This is a factor of Cal not having any heralded recruits behind him (RIP Justyn Martin hype), and the fact that we see the Pac-12 landscape with the WSU QB shuffle with De Laura/Guarantano. The fear is “what’s next?” after Chase leaves.

I think he needs to figure out when to run for extra yards and when to look down the field in the pocket. Previously he has been very willing to just bail out of muddle and clean pockets for 5-15 yards sometimes making iconic plays (ie. 2019 Big Game where he ran in for the game winner), now he has been coached to stay in and that has curtailed his playmaking on his feet. While the former “runner who can throw” style can be frustrating because there were wide open receivers during some scrambles, the latter “thrower who won’t run” style has led to sacks and stalled drives because he has tried to stay in the pocket. I think here he needs to find the balance so that he can become the much desired “thrower who can run”.

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UWDP: Tell us about Garbers’ receiving corps, and any emerging targets we should know about.

Piotr T Le: We have all three of the TE/WR archetypes that have been getting major snaps for us this year.

Big bodied 50/50 guy: 6’5” 250 lbs Jake Tonges who is often schemed from the TE/Slot spot into match-ups against corners. He has been a reliable player in the run and pass. Furthermore, against SacState we played 7 TEs (each 6’4”, 240lbs or bigger) who occupy this role and some of them who have lined up in Singleback 14 personnel packages, and 5 wide ones. Good luck!

Tall and fast split end/flankers : Kekoa Crawford (6’1”, 195 lbs), Jeremiah Hunter (6’2”, 200 lbs), and Trevon Clark (6’4” 195 lbs). Only recently has Cal been able to field a whole 2 deep of prototypical outside receivers who can win either with size or speed (See their deep catches against TCU/Sac State).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Washington State at Cal
Senior wide receiver Kekoa Crawford averaged 27 yards on his three receptions before missing the Sacramento State game last week.

Fast slot guys: Nikko Remigio (5’10”, 190 lbs) and Justin Richard Baker (5’10”, 175 lbs) both who can take a crosser/quick hit for big YAC gains. There haven’t been many deep attempts towards either so far, with Nikko’s ADOT of 6 yards.

Big note here is that despite the archetypes there has been an increased emphasis on cross-training the guys to be able to take any route from any X, Y, Z, F-back, H-back, slot roles which mean you will see moments when Kekoa is taking snaps from the inline Y TE position, and Jake Tonges as the Z.

A couple of caveats to the amount of hype I am dealing:

Jake Tonges was a former walk-on who has moments pass catching when his hands catch like they are covered in butter, From the 7 TEs only 4 were recruited into the position: Gavin Reinwald, Elijah Mojarro, Keleki Latu, and Jermaine Terry II the latter two being true Freshmen.

Kekoa has been fighting injuries and might be on a pitch count, while Clark and Hunter have only 2 games of actual production (TCU/SacState). So there is high uncertainty in future consistency.

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UWDP: Damien Moore is clearly the primary back for Cal. Are you expecting him to carry the bulk of the load on the ground for the Bears? Who will compliment Moore in the backfield?

Piotr T Le: So far Cal has been a running back by committee type of offense. With Moore taking 50% of the snaps (and a 50/50 run/pass split while on the field) I think this will continue not only to reduce wear and tear on the RB but also because the depth is very good.

The remaining trio of Christopher Brooks, DeCarlos Brooks, and Marcel Dancey taking the remaining 50% of the snaps evenly. Pre-season I had Dancey as the go-to 3rd down back however each of the 4 RBs have shown to have good blitz recognition skills and even awareness to slip out into check-down/hot reads for Chase.

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UWDP: How has the offensive line performed so far this season? Has Garbers been under pressure?

Piotr T Le: Pre-season the offense announced the medical retirement of Mike Saffell, the 2 year starter at center. The offense demands a lot from the position with calling out pass protection responsibility while having them make reach blocks on outside zone runs, or pull in some cases. Fall camp was spent breaking in a new C as well as replacing the LG and RT. Against Nevada the offensive line was ghastly in pass-protection, a bit better in run blocking (both man, power, and zone), and has been on the up and up since.

Of course we have to consider the fact that TCU rarely sent more than the front 4, and Sac State came out with DLs who were on avg. 30 lbs lighter than Cal’s OL. UW will be the big test of whether the 12 quarters of football has had a positive impact on unit cohesion or the performance so far was a factor of beneficial talent/scheme match ups.

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UWDP: How has the defense looked in the early going? What seems to be the strength of the D? Who are some key players to watch?

Piotr T Le: Pretty poorly, with new players across the board and losses of our best player due to injury (BRETT JOHNSON and Kuony Deng) there have been issues in execution. If you watch the HC WIlcox presser after the Sac State game you can see his anger over the failure to execute the basics of his offense from the secondary and the fact that the 4 man rush has yet again failed to generate sacks (17 QB pressures on 63 pass blocking Sac State snaps).

The strength of the D is the two safeties that either are the emotional and intellectual core of the team in Elijah Hicks or the ball hawk in Daniel Scott. Either can influence the game and have shown increased chemistry the more they play together. Cal offense doesn’t employ the traditional FS/SS split and has the two safeties cross trained in order to fill roles from a field/boundary perspective.

The guy to watch is Cam Goode, our main pass rusher from the LOLB spot, he has been the designated 4th pass rusher besides the DL. Hasn’t had the efficiency we expected from him pre-season but I think he is ready to bust out anytime.

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UWDP: Cal has been known for solid defense since Justin Wilcox took over. How is the fanbase feeling about the coach?

Piotr T Le: Seat is warm. Wilcox and co. cashed in the 2020 season and bet heavily on contending for the Pac-12 title in 2021. Expectations were high coming in with the program itself stoking the “Finish the Job” mantra. Hence going 1-2 in OOC with a sub-par defense and still questionable stability of offensive output has put the fanbase in a sour mood. I think the fanbase won’t be placated unless we score our first Pac-12 winning record and go at least 2-1 against other California teams.

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UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?

Piotr T Le: As someone on the East Coast I predict I will be asleep before 2am or God help me I will curse Seattle and it’s weather with curses from both Polish and Vietnamese cultures.

I have said in the predictions post on Write For California, 28-25 for Cal with Cal scoring a 4th and 2 stop to seal the game as sounds of Thor’s Thunder begins to resound in the background.

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UWDP: For more from the Cal perspective, be sure to check out Write For California.

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