(Written by kencraw)
We’re less than 36 hours away from the start of another exciting season of Cal Football!
First up is the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (boy does that strike fear in their opponents… Rainbows!?! Run for your life!) in a unique neutral site location: Sydney, Australia.
There are very few people who are giving Hawaii a chance to win the game, the Bears have to give 20 points on the betting line, and you won’t find me taking the ultra-pessimistic route. Quite the opposite, I’m probably more optimistic than most about the outcome. I expect Cal to win this one easily.
In these sorts of games, the way the smaller school from a lesser conference wins against a power-5 conference school is by having some combination of a weakness to exploit and/or a means to blunt the strength of their opponent. Cal’s biggest weakness is its passing defense, with a decimated secondary and linebacker corps. Hawaii will be starting a QB with limited experience and is generally a stronger running team than passing team. So they don’t really have the means to exploit Cal’s weakness.
As for Cal’s strength, it will be its passing game. Hawaii is switching to a high-risk attacking defense. While that *may* result in blowing up the Cal offense on occasion, I suspect it will also mean that Cal will have a fair number of big plays as well. I can’t imagine that Hawaii will be able to blunt Cal’s offensive onslaught. And I’d think that even if Cal was starting one of their inexperienced QBs. But with Webb behind center, a man who’s picked up more than a few blitz packages in his collegiate career, I doubly can’t imagine this working out well for Hawaii.
So expect to see Cal win big.
That said, within these sorts of games, there can still be a lot of interesting things to watch, that will give insight into how the season will unfold. Here’s a list of things to watch:
- Is Webb as advertised? I generally tend to believe Webb was a key off-season acquisition and will make a sizeable difference in the outcome of this season. But sometimes these things take a life of their own and they’re not nearly as true as the consensus believes (just look at the ridiculous expectations for UW this year…). It will be very comforting if we see Webb come out of the gate strong.
- Can Cal force Hawaii to be one-dimensional, relying on their throwing game? If Cal can shut down Hawaii’s rushing attack, that will bode well for the future.
- How well does Cal pick up Hawaii’s blitz packages? Call me crazy, but I’m not buying the hype around the Cal offensive line. They were moving from weak towards mediocre last year, but a great deal of that was having a QB who was exceptional at operating behind inconsistent line play. That hid a LOT of their weaknesses. It will be interesting to see how clean Webb’s jersey is at the end of the game.
- How well can Cal grind out the clock as the game wears on using its running game? Last year, the inconsistency of the running game was a significant liability. (BTW, to bolster point #2, I think the running game inconsistency was far more indicative of the quality of the offensive line than Goff’s ability to make them look OK.) This year Cal is going to need to take some pressure off the defense by holding on to the ball and grinding out the clock when appropriate. I think this factor alone could result in a 2 to 3 game swing in the final record of the team. While Hawaii isn’t the most daunting test, it might show us something. If Cal struggles with consistent running against Hawaii, be very, very worried about the rest of the season.
- Just how bad is the secondary? This can be a tougher one to judge. Dykes has been claiming the defense has much better depth than in the past and he expects far more consistent play this season even with the troubling number of starters lost. Friday night will be the teams first chance to prove to us that the depth argument holds water.
No matter what happens with the above items, expect Cal to win big, with a few big Hawaii plays being their only glimmer of hope. Final score: Cal 48, Hawaii 23.