Stan Szeto - USA Today Sports
SCORECARD TIME, BRUHS
1) Cal DBs vs Ole Miss WRs – WIN – Outside of two plays, admirable job by this unit, which rotated players throughout the entire depth chart.
2) Containment – WIN – Again, generally decent job against Shea Patterson, who ran, but didn’t get far, or ran and threw the ball absolutely nowhere.
3) Mystery vs Mystery – WIN – Turns out, the Ole Miss team we thought we were seeing didn’t have much more to them, while Cal unveiled a series of aggressive, smart four man pressure packages, plus some extra wrinkles on offense that weren’t there in the past, without D Rob, Melquise, or Tre available.
4) Red Zone Trips – HALF – We were bad enough to absolutely lose this category, and only escaped because they were worse, with 3 points on 5 possessions inside the 40.
5) Ole Miss Havoc – WIN – My original prediction was that 16% would ensure a loss. I didn’t think we’d exceed their havoc rate by an incredibly wide margin.
This week, Cal goes to try to prevent the 14th straight loss to USC, and they’ll be two touchdown underdogs while we attempt the damn thing. Am I optimistic? Not particularly. Do I care? No. It’s a house money game. Show out well, and you continue the good vibes around the Wilcox era. Blow out and we can chalk it up to being too young. But I tell you one thing…I don’t expect they’ll be unprepared.
1) Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones vs Cal front 7 –
This is the real test for Devante Downs. Racking up P12DPOY stats against teams with mediocre running games is really, really different than RoJo and Carr, who are putting up over 5 yards a carry and 200 yards per game. We’re also a smallish defense still, against an offensive line going 325, 290, 295, 310, and 280 up front, while lacking a true nose. How they hold ground – if the hold ground – combined with those aforementioned linebackers in 1 on 1 situations will be really key. There may not be a ton of ways to win here except to use an 8th man or to gap fill really aggressively, if we’re not winning up front.
2) Explosives –
Not likely to have D Rob this week, and explosives were incredibly low against Ole Miss already, so how Baldwin plans around that will be really important this week, against athletes and a secondary that will be more than ready to sit and smother the YAC/short yardage game they’ve run thus far. Arguably the top three receiver/weapons will be out, so what he cooks up in terms of formations, schemes, and calls will be crucial.
3) Tricks and extra possessions –
Standard underdog strategy involves maximizing possessions by way of turnovers – USC is -1 and thrown 6 interceptions on the year by way of Darnold, so that remains an option – but tricks, aggressive play on 4th down, and onside kicks are other ways to generate the same effects, as is ensuring you finish each possession with a touchdown. Against Ole Miss, they were mad enough to lose. 2.85 will not cut it against USC. Period.
4) Pass rush –
SC has given up six sacks in three games with an average sack rate (on passing downs and on regular downs, they’re middle of the country in sack rate), so they’re gettable somewhat, which is also why Darnold has that many interceptions thus far. Cal began to slow Shea Patterson when they mixed up their fourth rusher aggressively, confusing the offensive line to such an extent that it often felt like five were out there. Cameron Saffle appears unlikely to play again, which means those responsibilities will fall on Devante Downs, Cam Goode, Alex Funches, Malik Psalms, and anyone else coming off the edge, in any way DeRuyter and company can imagine. They may not need to pass often if they win #1 decisively, but this is also a good way to generate #3, as well.
5) Petite/Imatorbhebhe –
Same as last year. Same as every year. Neither guy has been supremely productive in 2017, but that doesn’t mean I’d ignore them, either. Cal’s struggles with the tight end – Andrew Vollert being the latest – are well pronounced, and they’ll end up being factors in the run game at minimum. USC runs a lot of under-center, I-form with a full-back stuff still, which means they’ll be on the field.