Preview 2017: Cal Golden Bears
Previewing and looking ahead at the Cal Golden Bears season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The California Offense
Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin is the new Cal offensive coordinator – it’s one of the best assistant coaching gets by anyone this offseason. Hie Eagles lead the FCS in passing, were second in yards and third in scoring.
There should be more diversity to the offense with a bit more power to the ground game. The passing game will still bomb away, but Baldwin is big on multiple sets and styles. But does he have the quarterback to run his attack?
With Davis Webb gone, it’s open season for the gig with Ross Bowers and Chase Forrest the top options, but with everyone and anyone who can throw getting a shot. Leading receiver Chad Hansen bolted early, but track star Demetris Robertson is back along with almost all of the other key targets in a strong receiving corps.
Tre Watson and Vic Enwere are good enough backs to overcome the loss of Khalfani Muhammad, and now they’ll be used more in Baldwin’s attack. The line isn’t going to punish anyone and only returns three starters, but it’ll be good enough.
Biggest Key To The California Offense
Score touchdowns, not field goals. Scoring in the red zone wasn’t a problem, but punching it in for six instead of three was an issue. The Golden Bears managed to put points on the board 87% of the time, but the offense only came up with touchdowns 59% of the time – that was the difference between going bowling and a losing season. By comparison, the 2015 Cal offense scored TDs 65% of the time inside the 20, and the 2014 team scored six 73% of the time.
What You Need To Know About The California Defense
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter might have struggled after a hot start as the Fresno State head coach – the Bulldog defenses were disastrous – but he should be strong combining forces with head man Justin Wilcox.
First things first – can the defense tackle anyone?
Horrific against anyone who tried to pound away, the Bears had the second-worst run defense in the nation allowing a whopping 273 yards per game. Hitting was stressed in a big way this offseason in an attempt to make the Bears more physical, but it’ll take a little time.
Fortunately, four of the top five tacklers are back along with most of the sack production – experience isn’t going to be a problem. But can anyone really play in the 3-4 alignment?
Early on, it’ll be more about changing the mindset of the program that was offense, offense, offense for so long. Now, the defense won’t be along for the ride with the offseason spent focusing on toughening everyone up.
The Bears will be better, and they’re not going to be pushovers anymore. Not with this coaching staff.
Biggest Key To The California Defense
The front three has to be a rock. There’s athleticism among the linebackers, and the secondary is full of veterans who spent far too much time over the last few seasons making plays in the open field, but on this D, it starts with the line.
There aren’t a whole lot of bulky options to stuff things up on the nose, but a few should be effective enough, starting with veteran Tony Mekari.
The ends have to worry more about holding up against the run than getting behind the line, but there will be plenty of shifting. Cameron Saffle can get to the quarterback, but he’ll work more as an outside linebacker than a true defensive end.
California Will Be Far Better If …
The offense isn’t afraid to crank out long drives with the ground game. Before, it was all about passing and tempo to keep defenses on their toes, and it worked – at least when it came to putting up big numbers. The bad D, though, kept getting gassed with all the quick drives.
Baldwin’s offenses don’t seem to care about time of possession – EWU kept the ball for just over 28 minutes a game last season – but the option is there to pound away with a 245-pound back in Enwere and with the 205-pound Watson able to bring a little thump.
Best California Offensive Player
WR Demetris Robertson, Soph. – It’s never, ever a bad thing when your star receiver is so fast that he’s needed on the track team. Robertson will get to show off all he can do throughout the offseason, bringing his sprinter wheels as a field-stretcher coming off a 50-catch, 767-yard, seven score season. He’s not massive at just 6-0 and 175 pounds, but being physical isn’t his job – he needs to take the top off a D.
2. RB Tre Watson, Sr.
3. WR Melquise Stovall, Soph.
4. PK Matt Anderson, Sr.
5. RB Vic Enwere, Sr.
Best California Defensive Player
DE/LB Cameron Saffle, Jr. – The versatile 6-3, 245-pounder did what he could against the run, making 57 tackles while serving as one of the team’s top pass rushers with four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The 6-3, 245-pounder will be more of a tweener in the new defense, working on the outside and turned loose into the backfield – at least that’s the hope. He’s got the experience and the quickness to be a bigger factor.
2. DE James Looney, Sr.
3. LB Devante Downs, Sr.
4. P Dylan Klumph, Jr.
5. S Luke Rubenzer, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Ross Bowers, Soph. Or Chase Forrest, or any of the options who’ll take over for Webb and his 4,295 passing yards and 37 scores. Bowers isn’t all that big at just 6-2 and 190 pounds, but he’s a pure passer with just enough mobility to get by.
The 6-2, 205-pound Forrest got in a little bit of work, but he didn’t do anything. Like Bowers, he’s a pro-style passer who came in to fit the Sonny Dykes system and can wing the ball all over the yard.
Redshirt freshman Max Gilliam is being given every opportunity, too, with the same skills, great arm, and deadly accuracy of the other two – it’ll come down to who’s the most consistent. Don’t expect a decision until late summer.
The California Season Will Be A Success If …
The Bears go bowling. The improved North should make it harder to make a whole bunch of noise in the conference race, but getting to six wins and a bowl game would be a great first warning shot to the rest of the league from the new coaching staff. It’s not going to be easy, with North Carolina, Ole Miss, USC, Oregon and Washington over the first half of the season, but beating Washington State, Arizona and Oregon State at home – if it happens – should get the team in range.
Key Game To The California Season
Sept. 16 vs. Ole Miss – It’s a brand-name team coming to Berkeley, and it’s an early must-win to avoid a potentially disastrous start. The Bears aren’t going to be favored in any game other than Weber State until mid-October, but they need to hold up against a Rebel team with an attitude, using every game as a bowl since it isn’t eligible for the post-season. Ole Miss will be dangerous on O, and athletic on D – Cal has to take this game down at home, anyway.
2016 California Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Opponents 17 (lost 7) – California 15 (lost 3)
– Penalties: Opponents 107 for 921 yards – California 89 for 909 yards
– Rushing Yards Per Carry: Opponents 6.2 – California 4.5