The good boys over at California Golden Blogs were kind enough to take our questions and throw back some answers before Saturday’s 11am CST kick. We hit em with the gauntlet and we have not one, not two, BUT THREE sets of answers here. Enjoy our conversation with CGB!
RCR: What has changed the most with this Cal team since they last played Ole Miss? The least?
RH: The team’s identity and culture was being changed that first year under Justin Wilcox. Now the team is fully invested in the identity of being a hard-nosed defensive team. The team prides itself on shutting teams out and keeping you out of the end zone. In terms of the least? The offense has regressed significantly. Even that first year we still had remnants of Sonny Dykes’ offense through his recruits and players, but that has totally disappeared and were struggling to score points every year. If you watched the Cheez-It Bowl... I think you know what we’re talking about.
C: The last time Cal played Ole Miss, Cal still had the semblance of a passing game. Ross Bowers threw for 236 yards? That sounds like a lot to me now. In the years prior to Bowers, Cal had QBs (Jared Goff, Davis Webb) that could throw twice that amount. Now we have a quarterback that throws for half as many yards as Bowers. So the biggest difference is that I used to have faith that Cal could score a touchdown or two if need be. Now I think that if Cal is ever down by, say, 3 touchdowns, the game is over. As for what stayed the same: Cal still has the same stout defense. Many of those young defensive players that made plays for Cal against Ole Miss (Jaylinn Hawkins, Traveon Beck, Elijah Hicks, Cam Bynum,Cameron Goode) are now leaders of that defense, and of course they’ve improved since then.
TD: Camryn Bynum is still an impact cornerback as he was in 2017 and has even improved since then. On the flip side, Evan Weaver is now a game changing linebacker. He managed just one tackle in his last appearance against the Rebels and already has piled up 40 (including 29 solo tackles) in 2019.
RCR: Who is the offensive MVP for Cal so far this season?
RH: So far it’s the offensive line and Christopher Brown Jr. The running back rushed for 197 against UC-Davis and looks to be a star in the making for the Bears. We have had a pedigree of NFL caliber running backs through the years, so it’s nice to see a resurrection of that part of the team.
C: Chris Brown Jr. is definitely the star of this offense. As previously mentioned, Cal can’t throw the ball worth a damn, so the running game has been the focal point of this offense. Cal has had a number of injuries to starters on the offensive line already, but Brown Jr. is the type of big, powerful running back that still picks up yards after initial contact. Some teams last year played cover-0 to try and shut down Cal’s run game, and dared them to throw the ball. I think if Cal had a QB who could at least threaten a downfield pass, the run game would be posting absurd stats. The running backs have still done very well given all the limitations surrounding them.
TD: Running back Christopher Brown has been a bit of a revelation so far even though he has split carries with Marcel Dancy.
RCR: Who is the defensive MVP for Cal so far this season?
RH: Evan Weaver? The Secondary? I think it has to be the two so far. They have wreaked havoc on offense through the first 3 games. This secondary is rated as arguably the best secondary in the country and Evan Weaver was the top returning tackler in all of FBS. These two have accounted for our turnovers and our ability to clamp down on offenses from kick-off.
C: Evan Weaver. I don’t even need to explain this one. If you’re watching the game with someone that doesn’t understand football, tell them to watch #89 of the defense. Evan Weaver is going where the ball is going. If you’re going to run the ball, Weaver will be there on the tackle. If you’re going to throw the ball, Weaver will be there chasing the QB from behind. Even if he doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet (and he will), his impact can’t be understated. For instance, it was Evan Weaver’s hit on North Texas QB Mason Fine that caused the ball to sail for a crucial interception late in the game last week.
TD: There have been several standouts, but Weaver might be the national defensive player of the year to this point.
RCR: How do you think kick-off time and weather will impact your team?
RH: Kick-off time won’t be that much of an issue with 9am not being too early, since the team is up then on gamedays. We had a game against Maryland a few years ago and that was a struggle being a 10AM EST game. In terms of the weather, Berkeley has been in the high 70s over the last few weeks. Granted thats not the humid weather they will see, but thats significantly higher than the average mid 60s weather that the Bay Area is known for. The temperature won’t be that much of a factor, but the humidity will.
C: Blah, there is far too much noise being made about the weather. Justin Wilcox is a coach that comes prepared. There’s no chance that Wilcox hasn’t thoroughly prepared the team for the game time and the weather. I, on the the other hand, am greatly affected. Why are you fucking making me get up so goddamn early on a Saturday morning? How the hell do you pregame a 9am PDT game?
TD: I’m not so worried about the starting time after the Bears won a game delayed by lightning in Seattle that ended at about 1:30am. However, the humidity is a bit of a wrinkle.
RCR: Is there any chance these teams combine for 40 or more points?
RH: From all of what I’ve seen? Probably not if it’s just from the offenses. Maybe a few of defensive scores could put it over the top.
C: Every week when the line opens, I’ve bet the under. Every week the under gets lower and lower, and Cal still keeps hitting the under. I remember an O/U of 56.5 for the Oregon State game last year, and I was sweating bullets as Cal kept scoring (ultimately winning 49-7, basically the only team Cal has blown out in the Wilcox era). Cal put up 49 points and still hit the under. Eventually the lines will get so low that they’ll eventually hit an over (and they are getting close), but I have no idea where that line is. That said, the one or two times the game has gone over, it has been due to defensive touchdowns on Cal’s part. If you have a turnover-prone team, Cal is likely to score on defense, and the offense is liable to score if you give them a short enough field. If Cal plays a team that rarely turns the ball over, then it’s very unlikely to hit the over. Never say never, though.
TD: 40 points is not a super high bar and Cal has enjoyed some success running the football, so it’s possible.
RCR: What’s your final prediction?
RH: Heart? Cal wins 24-17.
Mind? Cal loses 17-10
C: This really does feel like a 23-17 type of game, the same score as the North Texas game. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Cal scores on a pick-six, and this game ends 24-16 Cal.
TD: I will say 21-20 Cal, but only because they really defied the odds in the Washington game. Given their narrow wins at home, many fans of the Bears are wondering whether such victories are sustainable.