For our weekly look at UW’s opponent, we turn to Jonathan Okanes, who covers Cal for the Bay Area News Group. You can check out his blog here.
As always, it’s our questions and Okanes’ answers breaking down the Bears.
Q1: How has the offense changed with Zach Maynard now at quarterback, and is there a legitimate hope that he is finally the QB it seems like Cal has been searching for since Aaron Rodgers?
A: Cal is going with a lot more shotgun. Maynard (pictured at right in an AP photo) has the quickest feet of any quarterback Jeff Tedford has had at Cal, and possibly ever if you include his days as the offensive coordinator at Oregon and Fresno State. This has allowed Tedford to incorporate new elements into his offense not usually seen in his pro-style schemes. There are more designed runs from the quarterback and more plays designed to get Maynard out of the pocket and make plays either throwing in space or using his legs.
As far as giving Cal hope, Maynard certainly has displayed potential. He has made some nice throws and obviously his athleticism is a plus. But he still needs to work on his accuracy. One thing tha thas been very impressive about Maynard is his poise. He doesn’t seem to get rattled very easily. Even when Colorado had all the momentum in the second half a couple weeks ago, Maynard really seemed calm and made the plays he needed to lift Cal to an overtime win.
Q2: What makes receivers Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen so dangerous? That seems like an obvious matchup for Cal to try to expliot this week given UW’s struggles defending the pass.
A: Allen (20 catches for 301 yards in three games) is simply a dynamic athlete with big-time NFL potential. He actually was recruited by most schools as a safety but played receiver as well in high school and came to Cal to catch passes from Maynard, who is his half-brother (they were raised in the same home and consider themselves brothers in every sense of the word). Allen is fast, fluid, runs good routes and has excellent hands. Jones (17 catches for 296 yards) is a very good possession receiver. He doesn’t have blazing speed but has some of the best hands in the conference and is big and strong. He usually always wins a 50-50 ball against a defensive back.
Q3: How is the running game now with Shane Vereen gone?
A: The running game so far hasn’t been at the level Cal fans had got used to seeing in recent years with the line of NFL draft picks they’ve had. The Bears’ last five starting running backs have been drafted, and two in the first round (Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best). They’ve also had J.J. Arrington (who led the country in rushing), Justin Forsett and Vereen. Isi Sofele (277 yards on 61 attempts) is very quick but is small and goes down pretty easily. He also doesn’t have the gear that guys like Best and Vereen had the past few years. C.J. Anderson, the backup (93 yards on 13 attempts), is a bruising back who has rushed for some tough yards so far. The wild card is true freshman Brendan Bigelow, who I know most Husky fans know all about. He didn’t play in Cal’s first two games because he was still rounding into form after multiple knee injuries. But he made his debut last week and had a couple carries (he also returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown). He might get a few more touches this week but it still should be mostly Sofele and Anderson.
Q4: Looked like the defense bended a bit against Colorado but otherwise has good numbers. What happened against the Buffs?
A. Colorado (which gained 582 yards overall and 474 passing) had a pretty good game plan, one that I’m sure Doug Nussmeier paid very close attention to on tape. The Bears are pretty aggressive on defense and try to get to the quarterback, so Colorado used a lot of three-step drops and kept running backs into help protect. The Buffaloes also moved the pocket quite a bit to buy some time for quarterback Tyler Hansen, who had a terrific day. The result was the Bears had no pass rush to speak of and their secondary got torched, especially cornerback Marc Anthony. Cal says they have made the adjustments from that game, but I would think most opponents would at least try to do some of the things Colorado did because they were so successful.
Q5: Seems like this Cal team is a little under-the-radar compared to past years, when the Bears always seemed to have such high expectations. What’s the expectation for this team in Berkeley?
A: I think expectations going into the season were pretty low. Cal is coming off its first losing season in 10 years and most experts picked the Bears to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North. Also, nobody knew what to make of Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo. I think with Maynard playing pretty well so far and Cal at 3-0, expectations are picking up a bit. But fans also know the competition will start getting much stiffer starting this weekend. Cal’s first four conference games are at Washington, at Oregon, home against USC and home against Utah. That’s a brutal way to start the Pac-12. I think a lot of fans are happy they are 3-0 but are waiting to see how they do the next four games.