The first year of the Sonny Dykes era at Cal has not gone according to plan. The Bears have been plagued by injuries on both sides of the ball, and have struggled to a 1-10 record. They've yet to beat an opponent at the FBS level.
Still, the Big Game is the Big Game, and Cardinal Sports Report caught up with the publisher of Golden Bear Report, Grant Marek, to get the lowdown on Saturday's matchup.
Cardinal Sports Report: Cal entered the season with at least some measure of renewed optimism surrounding the hire of Sonny Dykes. Aside from the overall record, what's been the biggest source of disappointment of Cal fans for how the season has played out?
Golden Bear Report: I mean, it has to be the fact that this is statistically the worst defense in THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM. And even crazier, they notched the dubious honor with two games still to go. Before Colorado put up 41, and Stanford does whatever horrible thing they're going to do to Cal. Yes, there were injuries. Lots of them. And inexperience. Sure, plenty of that too. But to have given up more points than any other Cal football program in ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN YEARS of mostly horrible football teams?? Jesus.
Almost as bad: the previous record holder -- Cal's 1-11 2001 atomic bomb -- lost games to No. 13 UW by 3 points, to Oregon State by 9, to Arizona by 14, and to No. 13 Stanford by 7, plus won an FBS game by 10 against Rutgers. Cal's 10 losses have been by an average of 23.3 points. Their closest loss was a 5-point loss to Arizona. In no other game have they been within single digits. With a loss to Stanford on Saturday, Cal will have gone almost 14 months without winning an FBS game.
CSR: What factor (or factors) have been the largest contributors to Cal's 1-10 record?
GBR: 1) Injuries -- at one point or another 10 of the 12 post-Spring defensive starters have missed time with injuries. Cal has lost some major pieces -- three of their four starters in the secondary are either out for the season or have retired from football entirely. Cal's two starters at defensive end? One hasn't played a down while the other was dismissed from the team. They've also been without a starter at DT and MLB (and the backup MIKE is now out for the season too). On the offensive side, they lost two OL, including their center who was arguably their best offensive lineman.
2) Inexperience -- coming into the season mag pusher Phil Steele had Cal ranked as the second least experienced team in the entire FBS. And that was BEFORE all the injuries.
3) Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh -- see: worst defense in the 115-year history of the program.
CSR: Statistically, with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and a completion percentage north of 60%, Jared Goff has had a very solid true freshman season. Yet he was replaced by Zach Kline for a few series in the Colorado game and, from the outside, there still seem to be some questions about the Bears quarterback position moving forward. How would you describe Goff's play this year (his positive attributes and his struggles), and what's your view of the Cal quarterback position moving forward?
GBR: We've actually kept a +/- on every snap this season for Cal's first-ever true freshman to start a season under center for the Bears. I think that tells the story pretty well:
GOFF WATCH HISTORY
vs. Northwestern..... +14
vs. Portland State.... +20
vs. Ohio State.......... +13
at Oregon................ -7
vs. WSU................... +8
at UCLA/................. +4
vs. Oregon State...... +6
at Washington......... +8
vs. Arizona.............. +16
vs. USC.................... +20
at Colorado............. -5
As you can see, he's struggled with consistency. His worst two games were against No. 2 Oregon in a monsoon and... against the second worst team in the conference. He had good games against both nonconference powers, and played a really good game against USC, but because this defense has been so historically bad, most of his best efforts have come with the team already trailing by double (triple?) digits.
The one thing we've yet to see from Goff is him having one of these good/really good games with something on the line. Cal's been within a touchdown near the start of the fourth quarter in maybe three games this season and in all three, Goff has either thrown worst-possible-moment interceptions or failed to move the ball. He's shown signs. He's shown the ability to throw a deep ball Cal hasn't seen in years with Zach Maynard. And he'll have every passing record at Cal by the time his career is over just because of the nature of the offense, and his decision making -- which is generally pretty good. But the thing that's tough is you usually gamble and start a true freshman when you have idyllic circumstances -- an experienced offensive line, a solid running game that can keep defenses honest. Senior leadership. Goff hasn't had any of that, which's made for a lot of growing pains despite the numbers.
CSR: On the other side of the ball, Andy Buh is a coach Stanford fans know well from his three seasons on The Farm. Understanding that injuries have plagued Cal in a major way this season, what are the strengths/weaknesses of the Bear defense as it's currently constituted?
GBR: I honestly can't even think of a strength. Weaknesses, though, Cal has plenty of. From an inability to pressure the quarterback, to an inability to TACKLE ANYONE, to some talent deficiencies at every level. Worst of all though, they haven't gotten better week to week. They'll look stout for three straight series, then give up a 1-play, 80-yard drive and suddenly the game is out of hand.
CSR: In order to pull the mammoth upset, Cal needs to .... ?
GBR: Get lucky. Very lucky. Balls bouncing the right way for the Bears, and wrong for the Cardinal. There really hasn't been a game this season that Cal has gotten a ton of breaks -- I think that's probably the only way they're even close.
CSR: What's your score prediction and why?
GBR: Stanford 51, Cal 17
Don't know if I mentioned this, but Cal's defense this season is statistically the worst defense in THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM.