CU v. Arizona: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ Trip to Berkeley

… Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: ”T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Cal / Review: Buffs shutout Arizona Wildcats” can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can find the podcast here or here.

The Era of Good Feelings is already behind us.

The rush of positive adrenaline from the Buffs’ 34-0 shutout of Arizona has passed.

Now it’s time to show that the program has progressed past the point of defeating an FCS team from Greeley … and, well, basically an FCS team from Tucson.

Cal actually has a worse record than does Colorado. The Bears are 1-5, with an 0-3 record in Pac-12 play. The Bears only win in 2021 cane over a Big Sky Conference team, with Cal taking a 42-30 decision over Sacramento State (much like CU’s status a week ago).

And yet … Cal opened as a ten-point favorite over the Buffs. The ESPN Football Power Index projects that Bears have a 64.8% likelihood of defeating the Buffs.

Can the Buffs prove the lopsided win over Arizona was not a fluke? That the Colorado program is ready to return to the level of play shown in the early weeks of the abbreviated 2020 season?

Or will the Buffs revert to form, and fall behind by double digits heading into the fourth quarter?

Let’s find out …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU at California – Saturday, 1:30 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent

Chase Garbers has a bit of a Steven Montez problem.

Cal’s senior quarterback is a four-year starter for the Bears. He could have opted to turn pro after the 2020 season, but decided instead to return to Berkeley for his senior season to improve his NFL draft stock.

Garbers individual numbers have been good. Through the first half of the season, Garbers is 132-of-213 for 1,492 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. While not particularly elusive (he has been sacked 13 times), Garbers is the second-leading rusher on the team, with 222 yards rushing on 53 carries.

What Garbers is lacking – hence the Steven Montez reference – is that he hasn’t been able to lead his team to victories. Cal has been in every game but one this season, but the Bears have only a win over Sacramento State in the standings. Garbers was very good in the 24-17 loss to Oregon, leading the Bears to a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Then, after the Ducks rallied to take a 24-17 lead, Garbers and the Bears took over at their 25-yard line with 4:50 to play, and methodically put together an 18-play drive which covered 73 yards. The drive, and the game, ended, however, on a failed fourth-and-goal from the Oregon two-yard line in the final seconds.

The game plan against Garbers is clear: force him into bad decisions. From Pro Football Network: Garbers’ mental process can erode at times under pressure. Although he flashes good navigation and escapability, his eyes drop quickly when faced with pressure. The Cal QB can also get shell-shocked by consecutive pressures and fade backward on subsequent reps. He doesn’t always keep his eyes downfield when scrambling out of the pocket — and because he’s not an elite athlete — those physical traits can’t be relied on consistently.

Garbers doesn’t have a favorite receiver to throw to – he has three. Trevon Clark (346 receiving yards, two touchdowns), Jeremiah Hunter (316 receiving yards, one touchdown), and Kekoa Crawford (306 receiving yards), have all taken turns leading the team in receiving. (For comparison’s sake, CU doesn’t yet have a wide receiver over 200 yards for the season. Brenden Rice leads the team with 172 receiving yards … and that was after posting 111 yards against Arizona).

California hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game so far this season (neither has Colorado). Damien Moore (74 carries for 359 yards and five touchdowns) has done most of the damage, but Christopher Brooks had his best game of the season in Cal’s last outing, with 68 rushing yards against the Ducks.

Overall, Cal is averaging just over 400 yards per game in total offense, good enough for a middling national ranking of 59th. Where the Bears are falling short – just as they did against Oregon – is getting the ball into the end zone. Despite showing the ability to move the ball, the Bears are only 104th in scoring offense, posting 23.0 points/game.

On defense, the path to success against the Bears is through the air. Cal is 50th in the country in rush defense (133.5 yards/game), but are 111th in pass defense (274.2 yards/game). At the end of the day, the 1-5 Bears are giving up 27.0 points per game (78th nationally).

Now, last week, it seemed like the way to beat Arizona was on the ground, with the Wildcats 5th in the nation in pass defense, but in the bottom ten in rush defense. So what did the Buffs do? The best passing day of the season for the CU offense, while only gaining 117 yards on the ground.

So … your guess is as good as mine as to how the Buffs will attack the Bears’ defense …

 

I – Intangibles

The psyche of a college football team is a fragile thing.

Cal is 1-5, and has gotten there in agonizing fashion:

  • The Bears lost to Washington 31-24 when Cal running back Damien Moore fumbled at the 1-yard line in overtime;
  • Cal lost to TCU by two points when special teams mistakes doomed the Bears (a missed extra point, followed by two failed two-point conversion attempts);
  • The Bears lost to Nevada, 22-17, after letting an early 14-0 lead slip away.

And then there was last Friday, when the Bears had the No. 9 Oregon Ducks on the ropes. Cal had a 17-10 fourth quarter lead, but let the Ducks quickly post two touchdowns, then fail to tie the score with a failed fourth down at the Oregon two-yard line on the game’s final play.

“Losing sucks,” said Garbers after the Oregon game. “Nobody likes to lose. We’re right there each and every time. Every week, there’s just a few plays where you can do better.

“I think our team is very hungry. We’re very eager to learn and move on to the next opportunity. We’re very eager to play our next opponent. We’re going to learn from this game and move on.”

Now, CU has had one agonizing loss (10-7 to No. 5 Texas A&M), but otherwise hasn’t been competitive against Minnesota, Arizona State and USC.

Which would be worse on a team’s psyche? Coming agonizingly close, only to continuously fall short? Or get blown out, with little emotion left in the game by the time the fourth quarter rolls around?

Arguably, the Buffs suffered greatly from their last minute loss to Texas A&M, playing their worst game of the year the following week, looking inept against a beatable Minnesota team.

The Bears played perhaps their best game of the season last weekend, falling just short of an upset win over the No. 9 Ducks. Will the Bears suffer greatly from their last minute loss to Oregon, playing their worst game of the season … this week.

We’ll see …

 

P – Preparation/Schedule

You take what you can get this time of year.

Both teams played well after their bye week, with CU picking up its shut out win over Arizona, while Cal took Oregon to the final gun.

As to this weekend, Cal does get a little bit of a break in their schedule, as their game against the Oregon Ducks was last Friday. This gave the Bears the opportunity to get home last Friday night, and sit at home and watch while the Buffs were taking on the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.

Looking to next weekend, Cal gets to stay home for a second weekend in a row, facing Oregon State, while the Buffs are on the road for the second weekend in a row, taking on Oregon.

Slight advantage … Cal.

Injury report … The Buffs played without running back Ashaad Clayton against the Wildcats, and Clayton won’t be available this weekend, either.

Dorrell said second-year was not in uniform for the Arizona game because “he went through a minor procedure.” Dorrell did not elaborate, but said Clayton “won’t be back playing for at least another week or two.”

Perhaps of greater concern for the game against pass-happy Cal is the loss of cornerback Nigel Bethel Jr., who has played a significant role for the Buffs this season, but who will be out for the foreseeable future.

Bethel injured a knee during Saturday’s 34-0 win against Arizona and head coach Karl Dorrell said on Monday that Bethel “will be down for a while.”

Dorrell didn’t go into specifics on the nature of Bethel’s injury, but said on Monday, “Nigel had his MRI today. He’s getting his knee examined. Right now it doesn’t look so good. … Just from the diagnosis from what the doctors did on site, it could be a very challenging injury. It’s unfortunate.”

Although Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez have been the top two corners for the Buffs this season, Bethel has filled the important role of being the third corner. He’s played 151 snaps, with nine tackles and three pass breakups.

 

S – Statistics 

What do you get when you have two teams with a combined record of 3-9?

Some pretty lousy stats.

You have been warned …

Stats to make you smile … As you might expect from an 1-5 team with only a win over an FCS team, there are some issues on the Cal stats sheet. Categories wherein the Bears are ranked 100th in the nation or lower include:

  • On offense … 104th in scoring offense (23.0 points/game) … 101st in first downs (121) … 114th in red zone offense (.727) …
  • On defense … 111th in passing yards allowed (274.2 yards/game) … 122nd in third down percentage (.467) …
  • Other … 101st in team sacks (1.67/game) … 127th in team tackles for loss (3.2/game) … 104th in punt return defense (11.17) …

Stats to make you cringe … As you might expect from a 2-4 team which played poorly for the past three weeks in succession before CU got a reprieve against Arizona, the Colorado stats sheet leaves much to be desired. Categories wherein the Buffs are ranked 100th in the nation or lower include:

  • On offense … 127th in total offense (260.5 yards/game) … 127th in passing offense (125.0 yards/game) … 122nd in scoring offense (17.2 points/game) …
  • On defense … none … CU is down to No. 33 in the nation in scoring defense (19.8 points/game) … and 57th in total defense (366.3 yards/game) …
  • Other … 129th in first downs (89) … 107th in penalty yards (67.33 yards/game) … 114th in third down percentage (.324) …

Stats to watch (i.e, stats which will decide the game)Possessions … These are two teams who are rotten at converting third downs (see above: CU is 114th in third down conversions; Cal is 122nd). Third down conversions lead to time of possession, and CU is currently 114th in that category. Keeping the ball in the hands of Brendon Lewis, and out of the hands of Chase Garbers, is vital for the Buffs’ chances … Creating Opportunities … CU had generated only three turnovers on defense in five games, but got two against Arizona. In what is likely to be a low-scoring game, having a short field to work with would sure help the Buffs … Keeping Cal to Field Goal Attempts … Colorado is 18th in the nation in red zone defense, while California is 114th in red zone offense. Keeping those numbers up is key to the Buffs’ chances. If the Buffs can keep Cal trying field goals, turning touchdowns into field goals … it could be a victory for Colorado …

 

Prediction … 

I have to admit, I was surprised by the ten-point spread that Las Vegas put on the Cal game. A six- to seven-point spread – perhaps – but Cal a ten-point favorite? Against anyone not named Arizona?

The Buffs were all of a 17-point underdog to No. 5 Texas A&M, thought at the time to be a national championship contender.

So, is Cal is only a touchdown worse than Texas A&M?

I’m not seeing it.

The Bears apparently have the distinction of being the “best 1-5 team in the nation”. Yes, Cal only lost to Nevada by five points, to TCU by two points, and to Washington and Oregon by a touchdown apiece. But they did lose all of those games … plus a 21-6 home loss to Washington State.

Cal’s only win came at home against Sacramento State, a 42-30 win.

Cal does have an experienced quarterback in Chase Garbers, with over 5,500 yards passing in his career, with 43 touchdowns, while Brendon Lewis has thrown for 773 yards and four touchdowns in his first season leading the Buffs.

That alone should be enough to give the home-standing Bears a significant advantage over the Buffs, at least on paper.

A week ago, it was win or bust for the Buffs. A loss to hapless Arizona would have forced even the most ardent CU fan to turn their back on the remainder of the 2021 season.

But the Buffs came through against the Wildcats. The offense made strides, the defense played very well, and CU’s special teams continued their (under-appreciated) excellence.

That buys the Buffs – and their fans – another week of hope for the future …

Prediction … Colorado 24, California 17

Previous predictions …

  • Colorado 38, Northern Colorado 17 … Actual: Colorado 35, Northern Colorado 7
  • No. 5 Texas A&M 38, Colorado 17 … Actual: No. 5 Texas A&M 10, Colorado 7
  • Colorado 21, Minnesota 20 … Actual: Minnesota 30, Colorado 0
  • Arizona State 27, Colorado 13 … Actual: Arizona State 35, Colorado 13
  • USC 27, Colorado 17 … Actual: USC 37, Colorado 14
  • Colorado 24, Arizona 17 … Actual: Colorado 34, Arizona 0

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16 Replies to ““T.I.P.S.” for CU at California”

  1. I should stay negative as that worked out for us last week…..but I just can’t!

    Dorrell said in his press conference he wanted to throw more in the second half, and after the fist 2 series of not throwing, we actually did….. so Chev comes out throwing at least half the time. Sure there are a bunch of 3 and outs, but there are at least 5 explosive plays leading to 21 points. The buffs D stands strong, showing what we saw last week and against A&M and the only score 10.

    I have a feeling we will know in the first 2 possessions:
    1. Count to three on pass plays and if Lewis is gett8mg the ball out in less than 3 seconds we are good.
    2. Count the ratio of run to pass. It better be at least 50/50 or lean pass.

    If those to are true I think we do well and turn the corner. Either of them false we are likely in bad shape unless Cal for some crazy reason doesn’t force us to beat their pass defense and stupidly lines up even against us and let’s us run. If they do we could also finally see Broussard break out, but there is no way they do that 7ntil we break the defense and that will require at least 2 touchdowns and consistent pass success.

  2. I can’t make a prediction but not because of the lame fear of failure reason vk has. Nope, my reason is rock solid. I had an inkling that the mere action of my making predictions were actually causing the buffs to lose. So last week I didn’t make one. See what happened?! Ha!
    (Ok but I like Cjbuffco’s score a lot)

    1. It is not fear of failure.

      It is knowing who the OC is.

      No reason to waste a prediction on something as uncertain as that.

      Go Buffs Beat Cal

  3. Montez should be insulted by the comparison to Garbers!

    I think CU has a great chance to win this game if (and only if) Lewis finally realized that throwing the ball up to his WR when they’re in single coverage is actually OK.

    CU 20 Cal 13

    1. Your comment made me curious, so I had to go and look it up:
      Steven Montez record as a starter for CU: 17-22
      Chase Garbers record as a starter for UC: 15-13

      1. Steve Montez is still on a practice squad in he NFL and I though he outplayed the goof who got the start in the preseason. The drumbeat goes on….lousy coaching,

        1. I was hoping Montez would stick. He still might, but seems unlikely. But, getting paid practice squad money for a bit when you’re 23 or however old he is, ain’t bad! Ron Rivera had an interesting quote about Steven “He’s got two types of passes, a 90 mile an hour fast ball, and an 88 mile an hour fast ball” and went on that they’re working on that w/ him. But I think for the most part in the NFL, they don’t spend time “developing” guys anymore. They figure you’ve got it, or you don’t. Ain’t nobody got time for development in the pros, I guess.

          Go Buffs

  4. Lotta what ifs for the Buffs.
    For the offense that is.
    As RobO pointed out. chev started out the game with his usual scheme and play calling. 6 points
    2nd half more passing, more yards and more points. But 7 by the defense and 7 by the special teams accounted for basically half the points.

    Chev and his scheme and his play calling will decide this game period.
    Same ol chev = loss

    Go Buffs.

    Note: I am not gonna predict it till the game is over cause with chev the downside is too high

        1. It’s tough to call the 10 and 8. I’ll go with two field goals, and two safeties for CU. OR, a touchdown and field goal. I like the sound of 2 field goals and 2 safeties. And, now that I think more clearly about it, the 8 for Cal is from a TD, but with BLOCKED extra point, returned for a safety! They then get a safety of their own.

          Or something like that.

          Go Buffs.

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