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Opponent Offense Preview: Cal Golden Bears

Cal’s offense is more offensive than anything.

Arizona v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Players

Cal is led at quarterback by fifth year senior and Purdue transfer Jack Plummer. He’s a tall and lean thrower who shows good command of the offense and strong pocket presence. He works the pocket keeping his eyes downfield and has good touch on his throws. His passes have a high, looping motion to them, so sometimes they arrive late to the receiver. On the other hand, that trajectory aids him in the red zone dropping passes into the back corner of the end zone. If it’s a helpful comparison, he’s been likened to former Notre Dame and Wisconsin QB Jack Coan. His statistics this year are just okay - 1,509 yards, 61% pass completion rate, 9 TDs, 3 INTs, and 6.7 yards per attempt. The offensive line is allowing too much pressure overall, and Plummer has been sacked 18 times. PFF gives him 8 “big time throws” so far this season, so he makes about one truly excellent pass per game.

His primary targets are the 6-2 WR Jeremiah Hunter, and 6-3 freshman WR J. Michael Sturdivant. Hunter leads the team in yards and receptions (30, 448) but Sturdivant has three touchdowns to Hunter’s two. Averaging nearly 15 yards a reception, Hunter is Cal’s best explosive pass play threat and is top-10 in the conference in yards. He uses his size and speed well to be a vertical threat. Sturdivant is a big bodied WR with strong hands, who is primarily Plummer’s short and intermediate option. At TE, Keleki Latu (younger brother of Laiatu) is usually good for a 20+ yard catch per game.

California v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

At running back, the story has been the emergence of true freshman Jaydn Ott. The 6-0 205 pound runner took 19 carries for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns against Arizona but has had 117 yards on 33 carries in two games since. He’s had one truly great game, but it’s been a mixed bag in terms of pure production otherwise. As a player, he’s a very well rounded ball carrier who possesses a good mix of speed, vision, and power.

The Scheme

OC Bill Musgrave has a long history in the NFL and after 18 years in the pro ranks, he returned to college in 2020. Naturally, he runs a hybrid pro-style/west coast offense, favoring quick rhythm passes and stretching the the field horizontally. It also leans on running backs in the pass game as pseudo run plays - Ott has 19 catches for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns this year. They don’t go vertical as much as UW, but they throw it at about the same high rate. When running the ball, it’s not uncommon to see multiple TEs on the field and heavier formations, and pulling guards. True to his NFL roots, Musgrave will call for plenty of runs under center as well.

Arizona v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The End

Cal is scoring just 23 points per game and is one of the worst teams in the country on third downs, converting less than 32% of their opportunities. It’s been the case for most of Justin Wilcox’s tenure - Cal’s offense is struggling to score and find consistent explosive plays. What they are good at is avoiding turnovers and playing some ball control on offense. But, they only generate about 3.5 red zone opportunities per game and just don’t score enough touchdowns when they get there. Furthermore, Wilcox brought in veteran OL coach Steve Greatwood as an offensive analyst to help the struggling Bears. It can be viewed as both a positive move to bring in a well respected name, or a rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic moment. You decide.

In five games against FBS opponents, Cal’s offense has gone as Ott has gone. If you remove the Arizona game where Ott went off - just against FBS opponents - they average less than 15 points per game. This team lost to a previously winless Colorado last week and the offense looked bad in the process. That said, Washington will be playing a pissed off team looking to get right at home and at this point in the season, how much faith do you have that Washington’s defense can stop even Cal?