Colorado at California – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs first trip to Berkeley as a member of the Pac-12

This past summer, when Buff fans looked at the upcoming 2014 schedule, it wasn’t hard to spot the difficulties facing the CU football team.

Four of the opponents this fall won ten or more games last season; three others won at least eight. It was hard to pick out six wins and a bowl bid from a schedule which had eight of twelve opponents fresh off of bowl berths last winter.

But there was a ray of hope.

Mixed in the 2014 schedule with the four double-digit winners from last season were three double-digit losers. On the calendar were games against three teams which went 1-11 in 2013 – Massachusetts; Hawai’i; and California. And, as luck would have it, the Buffs got to play all three teams in the first five weeks of the season.

A quick start for the young Buff team, it was hoped, might just propel the Buffs into some upsets down the road, and into a bowl game in December.

Well, the Buffs took care of business against the first two 1-11 teams, albeit with enough difficulty to warrant concern amongst the Buff faithful. Colorado fell behind UMass, 31-20, before rallying to win, and then failed to put away Hawai’i until late with a scoreless second half from the Buff offense.

Now the Buffs move on to the third 1-11 team from last season, California.

The Bears have shown signs of life in Year Two of the Sonny Dykes era in Berkeley. In the 2014 season opener, Cal avenged a 2013 home loss to Northwestern with a 31-24 victory in Evanston. The Bears then returned to maul Sacramento State, 55-14 (yes, yes, the same Hornets who defeated Colorado in 2012). Cal was in prime position to run its record to 3-0 last Saturday night, taking a 28-6 halftime lead on the road against Arizona, and then a 31-13 lead into the fourth quarter, before falling on a Hail Mary at the end to lose, 49-45.

Whether the Bears will suffer a hangover from the loss to Arizona remains to be seen.

All Buff fans know, though, is that California is certainly the most improved 1-11 team Colorado will face this September.

Let’s check out this week’s “T.I.P.S.” to see what the Buffs have in store for them this Saturday (2:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks):

T – Talent

The careers of Cal quarterback Jared Goff and Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau will be subject to numerous comparisons over the next three seasons. Both were thrown to the wolves as true freshmen, and both are expected to lead their teams to bowl games – hopefully sooner rather than later.

Goff threw for 3,503 yards last season, completing 60% of his passes. Goff had 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but was sacked 32 times (Liufau’s numbers, in four fewer games: 1,779 yards passing, 59% completion rate, 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions, sacked ten times).

Goff, who finished third in the Pac-12 in passing yards and sixth in total offense last season, is off to a good start in 2014. Goff has completed 56-of-86 passes (65.1%) for 890 yards, with ten touchdowns to only two interceptions (Liufau’s numbers: 110-of-172 (63.9%); 1,124 yards; ten touchdowns with five interceptions).  Last weekend against Arizona, Goff threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns.

It will hard to key on any one receiver for the Bears, however, as Cal currently has five wide receivers with eight or more catches (as does Colorado). Bryce Treggs is the leading receiver, with ten catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Not impressed? (After all, Nelson Spruce has 37 catches for 518 yards and seven touchdowns). Well, try this – five Cal receivers are currently averaging over 20 yards per catch (CU has zero).

Goff and his receivers may not have the numbers of Liufau et al., but they have been very productive so far in 2014. Cal is 17th in the nation in total offense, and are 16th in scoring, at 43.7 points per game. Colorado, meanwhile, is 49th in total offense, and 85th in scoring offense.

The Cal defense – at least until the 36-point meltdown in the fourth quarter against Arizona – has not only been effective, it has been effective using young players. Five of Cal’s top seven tacklers are either sophomores or freshmen. The Achilles’ heel for the Bears is their pass defense. The first three opponents this season have averaged 316.7 yards passing, dropping Cal to 118th nationally in pass defense. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon completed 47-of-73 passes in the improbable comeback Saturday night, going for 520 yards and five touchdowns.

No one is expecting 73 passes out of Sefo Liufau this Saturday, but 300 yards and three or four touchdowns would go a long way to ensuring a Colorado road victory.

I – Intangibles

The lead question for this week in Berkeley is: How will the Bears react to blowing a 22-point lead, losing on a Hail Mary after giving up 36 points in the fourth quarter?

“You can’t let something like that linger on if you can help it,” said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “Any game that you lose on the last play of the game, any way like on a field goal or touchdown at the end, however it happens, you’re always a little bit more emotional afterwards. But, usually, it’s still a win or it’s still a loss. You’ve got to get over it either way”.

The loss to Arizona also kept around a few demons which have been haunting the California program the past few seasons.

The loss to the Wildcats kept alive a Pac-12 losing streak which dates back to 2012. Cal has now lost 15 straight Pac-12 conference games, dating back to a 31-17 win over Washington State in October, 2012.

The loss to the Wildcats also kept alive Cal’s losing streak in Pac-12 games under Sonny Dykes. The Bears are now 0-10 in Pac-12 play under their second-year head coach.

Not that Colorado has much to brag about … the Buffs are 1-9 in Pac-12 play under second year head coach Mike MacIntyre.

But that win was over California last season. As a result, the Buffs don’t carry with them the burden of an extended Pac-12 losing streak. The Buffs, having defeated UMass a few weeks ago, don’t even have a road losing streak to deal with heading out to Berkeley.

Not huge factors, but recall how much time – and energy – was spent discussing losing streaks when Colorado was mired in its 23-game road losing streak (spanning five seasons)? Remember that last November, the Buffs carried into the Cal game a 14-game conference losing streak?

Winning removes burdens. Losing makes them heavier.

It remains to be seen how the Hail Mary loss to Arizona impacts the psyche of the California football team.

P – Preparation / Schedule

Fans for both Colorado and California have had this game circled on their calendar for months, as fans for both teams were looking at this game as a springboard to a bowl game in 2014.

Buff fans were counting on wins over the three 1-11 teams (UMass, Hawai’i, and Cal), a win over Colorado State, and a pair of wins in the remainder of Pac-12 play to get CU to six wins and a bowl.

Bear fans did not have as much optimism at the beginning of the season, but a road win over Northwestern, an expected win over Sacramento State, and an almost win over Arizona have adjusted expectations.

Both teams have two victories. Both are looking for four more wins on the calendar.

The math for each, though, doesn’t work without a win on Saturday.

Colorado, one win short of expectations to this point after a disappointing loss to CSU, returns home next weekend for a potential victim in Oregon State. That contest, though, is followed by two likely losses to the Los Angeles schools. A home game against Washington is a possible win when the calendar turns to November, as are the road game against Arizona and the home finale against Utah. Without a win over California, though, finding four wins and a bowl bid out of the remaining schedule becomes an almost impossible task.

California, meanwhile, faces a similar dilemma. The Bears have one more non-conference game to play, but that is against No. 20 BYU in the season finale. In fact, five of Cal’s final six games are against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20. As a result, if Cal is to go bowling, the Bears need to gather wins in September and early October. Cal takes to the road to take on Washington State next weekend, with dreams of a 4-1 start still within the realm of the possible … before the schedule gets brutal.

Simply put … the winner on Saturday is halfway to a bowl bid, and will speak optimistically about the near future.

The loser on Saturday, conversely, will be left to speak optimistically … about 2015.

S – Statistics

Ready for a little Jeopardy! ?

Here’s the Answer: 56-0.

Possible correct Questions: What was the score at halftime of the 2012 CU/Oregon game? (Or, for bonus points: What was the score at halftime of the 1980 CU/UCLA game?).

Both good responses (though terrible memories), but not the response relevant for the game this weekend.

56-0, as it relates to this weekend, is the score by which California has out-scored its opponents in the first quarter this season (14-0 vs. Northwestern and Arizona; 28-0 vs. Sacramento State).

I’ll pause a moment to let that sink in …

Buff fans are all too familiar with Colorado starting slow in games on the road. And now the Buffs are facing a team which has started fast in each of the first three games this season.

I have to say, I don’t like that stat one bit …

Other stats of note:

– CU coach Mike MacIntyre and Cal coach Sonny Dykes are 2-2 against one another, with the first three games coming in games between San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. In the four games played between the two coaches, the teams have combined for an average of about 1,000 yards of total offense per game;

– The Buffs have posted over 400 yards of total offense in back-to-back games for just the second time since 2007 (545 vs. Arizona State; 405 vs. Hawai’i);

– In the “Are you kidding me??” department: Cal has 32 players in the NFL this fall; Colorado has ten;

– Bring out the hankies: CU’s lowest national rankings are in penalties per game (8.8; 116th nationally) and penalty yardage (86.8; 118th). Cal, however, is right on the Buffs’ heels, however, in both penalties (8.7; 114th) and penalty yardage (86.7; 117th);

– Defense moving up in the world. It’s still early, but the CU defensive numbers are at the very least encouraging. The following represent CU’s national rankings last season, followed by their current rankings: rushing defense, 101st; 69th … passing defense, 102nd; 30th … total defense, 106th, 55th … scoring defense, 112th; 93rd.

Continued improvement (especially in the category of scoring defense) will be necessary if the Buffs are to harbor any hopes of a 2014 post-season …

and this weekend is a very good opportunity to do just that.







One Reply to “CU at California – A Preview”

  1. IT’S TEMPTING TO OVER-ANALYZE…so, I’ll try not to.

    I think it’s going to be a question of how our DB’s can defend Goff and who will dominate the trenches when we’re on “D”.

    I don’t think we’ll have a problem passing…. good QB (yeah Sefo), good receivers (yeah 4-5-6 amigos).

    It will all come down to our defense, the trench war and who wins the adjustment battle on the sidelines….. of course, couldn’t you say that about any game?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *