California at Colorado – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.”
Finally, at long last, Colorado gets to face a team with as many problems as the Buffs! The Cal Bears come to Boulder this weekend with a team which has struggled this season as much – and perhaps even more! – than the Buffs.
The CU/Cal game pits the Buffs against the Bears, a battle of the only two Pac-12 teams without a conference victory.
The Pac-12 “Game-of-the-Year” was last weekend, with Stanford taking down Oregon.
But don’t tell the Bears and the Buffs that this weekend’s game in Boulder (3:30 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks), does carry just as much meaning.
You can call it the “Toilet Bowl”, or call it the “Basement Bowl”, or call it what it is – the game for bragging rights as the No. 11 team in the Pac-12 conference.
No matter what you call it, the winner of this game will have a much more pleasant off-season than the loser. The winner will end a school-record conference losing streak (CU at 14 games; Cal at 12).
The winner will have just a dash of positive momentum heading into the meat of the recruiting season, plus a dose of optimism to carry through to spring practices.
The loser gets a long, lonely winter of self-doubt, of national ridicule, and (likely) the black cloud of an even longer conference losing streak.
Yea, this game is kinda important …
So here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for California at Colorado:
T – Talent
For all of the problems that Cal has had in falling to a 1-9 record this season, you can’t pin the blame on the freshman quarterback, Jared Goff.
Like the Buffs, the Bears are starting a true freshman at quarterback. Jared Goff was inserted into the starting lineup in the season opener, and he has not looked back. Goff has completed 287-of-467 passes this season (yes, 467 passes), for 3,141 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Bears are 8th in the nation in passing offense, and have run 894 plays this year … more offensive plays than any other team in the nation (in one fewer game, CU has run 622 offensive plays; the Buffs’ opposition, 690).
Cal has a total of ten running backs and receivers who have at least 100 yards receiving this year (Colorado has four). Chris Harper leads the way, with 68 catches for 842 yards and five touchdowns. Bryce Treggs has 69 catches for 681 yards. Got those guys covered? Then keep an eye out for Richard Rodgers, who has 463 receiving yards, and Kenny Lawler, who has 239 yards and five touchdowns.
This just in … Cal is going to throw the ball against the Colorado defense.
And throw, and throw, and throw.
And, if this season’s statistics are a guide, they will be successful against the porous CU secondary, which is giving up 273.4 passing yards per game (111th in the nation).
The Cal running game has been a three-headed monster, with three backs with over 300 rushing yards on the season, Khalfani Muhammad (59 rushes, 336 yards, three touchdowns), Brendan Bigelow (77 rushes, 339 yards) and Daniel Lasco (61 rushes, 306 yards, two touchdowns). The Bears haven’t emphasized the run this year, but … they had almost 200 yards rushing last weekend against USC.
Okay, so the Cal offense has been productive this season. Perhaps not Oregon prolific, but good enough to be 30th nationally in total offense, at 464.9 yards per game.
So why are the Bears 1-9?
First, even though the Bears have moved the ball, they are accumulating yards, not points. Cal is averaging 23.9 points per game, lower than even CU’s 24.2. Cal is 114th in the nation in red zone scoring, coming away with points only 70% of the time.
Translation: CU’s defensive strategy for Saturday – bend, but don’t break. Surrender yards – but not easy points.
The second reason for the Bears being 1-9 is their horrendous defense.
To be fair, Cal has endured injuries on the scale of say … the Buffs the past few years.
When the weights of all the players coach Sonny Dykes had been counting on in his two-deep depth chart are added up, it surpasses a ton – 2,150 pounds.
The roll call: defensive ends Brennan Scarlett (260 pounds) and Sione Sina (275), defensive tackles Mustafa Jalil (295) and Austin Clark (275), linebackers Nick Forbes (230) and Hardy Nickerson (230) cornerbacks Stefan McClure (a CU recruit) (200) and Isaac Lapite (190) and safety Avery Sebastian (195).
In addition, another 755 pounds of defensive players either left the team (safety Alex Logan, 210, and tackle Gabe King, 295) or were dismissed altogether (end Chris McCain, 250).
The decreased depth has led to some really awful numbers for the Bear defense. The Bears are giving up 526.7 yards per game, and 44.7 points (yes, both of those numbers are worse than what CU has posted … 485.3 and 40.4).
Cal has given up at least 30 points to every opponent this fall, including Portland State, its only victim (37-30).
Immovable force, meet the irresistible object … Cal has surrendered at least 30 points to every opponent this season, while Colorado has yet to score more than 23 points against any Pac-12 opponent.
We’ll see which streak comes to an end Saturday.
I – Intangibles
Colorado has lost the coin toss in eight of its first nine games.
But it might not make that much difference this Saturday who wins the toss.
Most teams, if they win the opening coin flip, defer their choice to the second half, preferring to take the ball to open the third quarter. If Cal wins the toss, and elects to defer, the Buff captains might just say “thank you very much”. The Buffs, if they win the coin toss, may well elect shirk conventional wisdom and decide to take the ball to open the game.
Colorado will want some early momentum, and that would be better served with the Buff offense on the field. While the CU offense has not been great in its opening drives in Pac-12 play this season (one score, a field goal against Oregon), the Colorado defense has been poor – giving up first-drive scores to the opposition in four of its six Pac-12 games.
The Buffs are going to want the Folsom Field crowd engaged early, and nothing is more deflating than another “here-we-go-again” touchdown drive by the visiting offensive unit.
Thing is … Cal probably knows that.
If the Bears win the coin toss, they may elect to take the ball to open the game in a similar effort to take early control of the momentum.
So, keep an eye on the coin toss before the game – it could tell you a great deal about the psyche of the team which wins the flip of the coin.
Mike MacIntyre is 1-2 against Cal coach Sonny Dykes, with all three games being played between San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. I think it would be difficult to extrapolate much out of the head-to-head matchups between the two coaches when trying to determine if there will be any impact on preparation for this Saturday’s game.
But the scores: 38-45; 28-38; and 52-43 could certainly lead to the conclusion that this weekend’s game will be a high scoring affair, with a great deal of total offense (San Jose State and Louisiana Tech combined for a total of 2,999 yards between the two of them in their last three games, or almost exactly 1,000 yards of total offense per game).
There is also this: as unlikely as it sounds, the Buffs have the incentive to move even higher than the 11th-best team in the Pac-12 by season’s end.
If Colorado defeats Cal this weekend, the Buffs will be 4-6, 1-6 in Pac-12 play.
If Utah loses to Oregon in Eugene this weekend (very likely), the Utes will be 4-6, 1-6 in Pac-12 play.
True, Utah has defeated Stanford this season, and has had a chance to win every Pac-12 game this season, with narrow losses in almost every one of its conference losses to date. Still, with CU’s game against USC and Utah’s road game against Washington State next weekend, the two teams could face off in Salt Lake City Thanksgiving weekend with 5th place in the Pac-12 South at stake.
Not much, but it’s still more than the Bears have to play for …
P – Preparation / Schedule
Colorado still has three games to play, two of them at home.
The Buffs will celebrate Senior Day next weekend against USC, when 13 seniors (and likely Paul Richardson) will suit up in the black-and-gold at Folsom Field for the final time.
Meanwhile, Cal has already played its final home game. The Bears have two games left, both on the road. After taking on the Buffs, Cal will travel down the road about 40 miles to take on Stanford next weekend. Granted, the distance from Berkeley to Palo Alto is not that far, so it may not be looked upon as a true “road game”, but those two rivals are far apart in terms of the state of their programs, and it will certainly be a road game for the Bears in terms of fans in the stands.
Stanford, with victories over USC and Cal, will represent the Pac-12 North in the conference title game, and will be looking to impress pollsters in hopes of maintaining an outside chance at a national championship game berth. Cal, meanwhile, will be playing for pride next weekend, with the players and coaches just trying to end the season with some dignity.
So, does that mean that Cal will be “all in” for the Colorado game, pulling out all the stops in their last best chance at a 2013 victory?
Or are the players “all done”, and going through the motions, ready to put a forgettable season in the rear view mirror?
Hard to say.
Colorado, meanwhile, still has – at least on paper – much more to play for. The Buffs, at 3-6, can win out and qualify for a bowl game (though a 6-6 team might not get invited. Right now, the Pac-12 conference could generate 11 bowl-eligible teams, with only Cal eliminated from bowl consideration).
But how do you keep a team motivated, when the Buffs are averaging just 16 points per game in Pac-12 play, while failing to hold any Pac-12 opponent under 44 points?
You have to believe in the system.
“You just keep trusting in them,” said Mike MacIntyre at his Tuesday press conference. “You keep believing in them. You keep working. You keep fixing the stuff and keep working and keep going and keep processing. You stay positive with them and push them at the same time. And challenge them and challenge them to challenge themselves to get better. It gradually just keeps making increments. And eventually it definitely happens. That’s the way it works. I truly believe that you keep working, you keep working, you keep working, you keep being positive, you keep recruiting, you keep working in the weight room, you keep working on the practice field, you keep working with them individually, you keep working with them being better people off the field then, they just incrementally keep growing. Then, when you have enough men there that understand what it takes to win, understands the focus, understands the practice habits, understands off the field, understands academically, understands what it takes when you walk out there and all the ebb and flow of a football game then it just happens.”
Buff fans hope it can happen this week.
S – Statistics
Hide the women and children!
Shade your eyes if you must … we’re going to look at the stats put up this season by Colorado and California.
The two teams are at the bottom of the conference in almost every meaningful statistical category:
– Scoring offense: CU, 11th (24.2 ppg); Cal, 12th (23.9 ppg.);
– Scoring defense: CU, 11th (40.4 ppg); Cal, 12th (44.7 ppg.);
– Total offense: CU, 12th (369.0 ypg)
– Total defense: CU, 11th (485.3 ypg); Cal, 12th (526.7 ypg);
– Rushing defense: Cal, 11th (195.6 ypg); CU, 12th (211.9 ypg);
– Passing defense: CU, 11th (273.4 ypg); Cal, 12th (331.1 ypg)
Okay, you get the idea. Let’s move on to the positive stats:
Paul Richardson watch …
– Last weekend, Richardson became just the 7th Buff to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season … His 1,061 receiving yards to date is good enough for 4th on the all-time single season list. Countdown to single season record: 88 (school record: 1,149, Charles E. Johnson, 1992);
– With his touchdown against Washington, Richardson has moved into a tie for second on that single season list, with 9 … Countdown to single season record: 2 (school record: 11, Derek McCoy, 2003) … Richardson, with 20 career receiving touchdowns, is also two shy of that record. Countdown to career record: 2 (school record: 22, Scotty McKnight, 2007-10).
– With his three receptions against the Huskies, Richardson moved into sole possession of fifth place on the single season list, with 60 … Countdown to single season record: 18 (school record: 78, D.J. Hackett, 2003).
– Richardson is also moving up the list for all-time reception yardage. Richardson has 2,130 career receiving yards, good enough for 6th on the all-time list … Countdown to the all-time receiving yardage record: 418 (school record: 2,548 yards, Michael Westbrook, 1991-94).
Addison Gillam watch …
– Gillam has 88 tackles on the season, already the single season record for a freshman (old record: 85, Matt Russell, 1993).
– Gillam is on track to become the first freshman in school history to lead the team in tackles (second on the team currently is Derrick Webb, with 63).
– Gillam has also moved up the list for number of plays on defense by a true freshman. Gillam has been on the field for 618 plays, third on the all-time list, behind only teammates Kenneth Crawley (642 plays last season) and Greg Henderson (823 plays in 2011). (Chidobe Awuzie is also moving up the list, currently at No. 6 with 464 plays).
Chidera Uzo-Diribe watch …
– Diribe has forced five fumbles this season, and has ten in his career. With his next forced fumble, he will tie Brian Cabral (1974-77) and Barry Remington (1982-86) for the all-time record (11). With two more forced fumbles, Uzo-Diribe will tie Jashon Sykes (1999) for the single season record (7).
Running back watch …
– Two weeks, Christian Powell became the 50th player in Colorado history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career. Powell now has 1,140 yards rushing, good enough for 42nd on the all-time list.
– Up next: Tony Jones. With 821 yards rushing in his career, Jones is 55th on the all-time rushing yardage list … Countdown to becoming the 51st Buff with 1,000 career rushing yards: 179.
The Colorado men’s basketball team faces Jackson State on Saturday morning. The 17th-ranked CU women take on Alcorn State Friday night. The CU cross-country teams will be in Utah on Friday for the Rocky Mountain Regional championships (with the CU men the top-ranked team in the nation). The CU women’s soccer team made it to the NCAA for the first time since 2008, and will play DU in Denver on Saturday.
It could be a great weekend for Colorado sports teams.
Here’s hoping …