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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

October 9, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Five questions, five answers: Cal Bears

California head coach Sonny Dykes, left, and Washington State head coach Mike Leach watch their teams warm up before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. California won 60-59. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

California head coach Sonny Dykes, left, and Washington State head coach Mike Leach watch their teams warm up before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. California won 60-59. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

For our Five Questions, Five Answers bit this week, we tackled Cal beat writer Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group. Many thanks to Jeff for his insights. You can follow Jeff on Twitter here and find his work here.

1. How surprising has this 4-1 start been for Cal? Are the Bears for real?

Surprising, but not shocking, at least not when each game is taken on its own.  But did we all expect them to be 4-1 at this point? No. Still, the opportunity was there because the early portion of Cal’s schedule was much less challenging  than the stretch run will be. Starting this weekend they get to beginning answering your second question. They are legit on offense, but how will it translate when they face some of the Pac-12’s more physical teams? Then there’s the defense, which is inexperienced and has little depth, especially in the secondary. They are two wins from being bowl eligible, which is hard to wrap your head around after 1-11 a year ago. But they remain a work in progress. I think even the Cal coaching staff is curious to see how this plays out.

2. Jared Goff has some amazing numbers: 1,875 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions. What’s made him and this Cal offense so effective so far?

Goff has definitely improved — his arm is stronger, he understands the offense  better, he feels pressure better in the pocket, he is a more willing vocal leader as a sophomore. But he is the first to say the biggest improvements are those around him. Their offensive line is better (he was sacked just once by Washington State, which sacked Marcus Mariota seven times) and their run game is much more effective. Last year both of those were major issues. And he’s got a very nice receiving corps. There is a buy-in on the offense that wasn’t there with everyone a year ago. They’re on the same page now and playing with a lot of confidence.

3. For as much as Cal throws the ball, UW coaches have praised the Bears run  game. Was that a point of emphasis coming into the season?

It was a huge point of emphasis because they knew the offense could not flourish  without a ground game. There is a misconception with some fans that because Sonny Dykes learned from Mike Leach when they were at Texas Tech together that Cal’s version of the offense is essentially the same as what Leach runs at Washington State. There are similarities — especially in the tempo — but Cal wants to run the ball and WSU has virtually no interest in doing so. If you look at Dykes’ 2012 team at Louisiana Tech, they were a 50-50 offense with a freshman running back who scored 28 rushing touchdowns. Running back Daniel Lasco, who embraced being a physical, north-south runner, has given the Bears an element they needed.

4. Cal’s defense was historically bad last year. The numbers aren’t pretty this season, but they’re an improvement. What’s worked and what hasn’t there this season?

It not just a question of what has worked and what hasn’t, but when has it worked and when has it not. With new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman and a more streamlined approach, the Bears’ defense was a revelation early. In the first half of games against Northwestern, Sacramento State and Arizona, Cal had given up just 20 points. They were stout against the run and no one had exploited their pass defense. Then, starting with the second half at Arizona, it’s been an onslaught. Cal has surrendered 1,554 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes over the past 10 quarters. They are hoping to get junior safety Stefan McClure back from injury for UW after three weeks on the shelf. But the secondary is very inexperienced and likely a bit shellshocked after allowing an FBS-record passing total by Connor Halliday.

5. If you’re the kickoff specialist, do you kick it to Trevor Davis or just kick it straight out of bounds? Where did this guy come from?

Well, I’m sure WSU’s (former) special teams coach wishes the Cougars had avoided Davis. He’s a terrific open-field runner, but those two kickoff returns for touchdowns worked not just because Cal blocked them well, but because the  Cougars’ coverage was awful. No one touched him on either return. Davis, a Bay Area native but a transfer from Hawaii, had shared kickoff return duties with Khalfani Muhammad all season but was alone deep in the second half after Muhammad left with a thumb injury.

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