This might just be the most important game of Sonny Dykes coaching career. The Bears need to prove they can beat the better teams in the conference, even if it is just occasionally. A win over a struggling ASU isn’t going to cut it for that, so Stanford is the last chance of the season. It’s put up or shut-up time.
The good news for the Bears is there are reasons for optimism.
As the previous post showed, the common opponent analysis suggests the difference in quality between the teams isn’t has high as their current records would suggest. The unbalanced Pac-12 south schedule doesn’t allow a fair comparison. While Stanford was off beating up on Colorado and Arizona, two of the three worst teams in the conference, Cal instead had to play Utah. In contrast, in the Pac-12 north where the teams played an identical set of teams, they have the same record (3-1).
The second reason is that if one looks at where Cal has struggled, UCLA and Oregon, it is against teams the emphasize speed over power. Against the better teams that emphasize power, Cal has held their own. I remain convinced that if Goff hadn’t felt the pressure of trying to carry the whole team on his back against Utah, he wouldn’t have thrown 5 picks and Cal would have won the game. As for USC, Cal had a shot to win in the 4th quarter, and I think we’ll see later today how good a resurgent USC team is when they play Oregon. After all, they haven’t lost a conference game since the coaching change happened.
So here’s the blueprint for how to win this game:
- The offense needs to have a mantra today: “Take what the defense is giving you.” The team does not need to score 50 points. 30 will likely do. They don’t need to be successful on every drive. While it would be wise to *occasionally* take the shots down field to get some extra “free” points and to keep the defense honest, the key to victory for the offense is to be opportunistic and not let a few stalled drives get inside their psyche.
- The defense needs to be VERY physical at the line of scrimmage while biasing towards stopping the run. I think they have it in them. They showed it against Utah and to a lesser degree against USC. Make Hogan beat Cal with his arm.
If they do that, I think they have a 50/50 shot of winning, if not slightly better than that.
The big question is, will they? And here’s thinking that they don’t. (Sorry to say) I very much fear we’re going to see Jekyll and Hyde at quarterback, flippant at some times, and desperate at others. There will be flashes of Goff’s brilliance, but I don’t think it will be consistent.
On defense, we’re going to see them be just barely not good enough. There’s going to be a lot of long frustrating drives where the Bears appear to have it stopped every 3rd of 4th set of downs, but somehow Stanford keeps chugging along and getting 1st downs when they should have been stopped.
This will have the effect of shortening the game and reducing the number of chances for the Cal offense to find its rhythm.
Thus what I expect to see is a game where Cal appears to have a shot, where they remain in tantalizingly close striking distance, but are never able to put together enough drives, particularly at the crucial times, to win.
Bears lose a frustrating one: Cal 20, Trees 27