Arizona looks to keep momentum in Berkeley
Justin Wilcox and the California Golden Bears entered the season with low expectations. Little was expected from the first year head coach, Wilcox inherited one of the least talented teams in the Pac-12. Despite being counted out and having little support outside of their locker room, the Bears have become one of the biggest surprises of the young season.
Cal is 4-3, with non-conference wins over Power Five schools Ole Miss and North Carolina. While the Bears wins over the Rebels and Tar Heels were impressive, it was their victory over Washington State that drew everyone’s attention. The Cougars were ranked eighth in the nation, but the Bears weren’t intimidated, demolishing Mike Leach’s squad 37-3.
The Bears possess one of the least efficient offenses in the country being ranked 108th in total offense, averaging 348-yards per contest. The lack of a consistent running game is a major reason why the Bears have struggled.
Patrick Laird was a factor early in the campaign, but has tailed off. Laird has been hobbled by injury, there are doubts that he will be fully healthy for Saturday’s game in Berkeley. Vic Enwere and Tre Watson will split the carries if Laird is unable to participate. Watson has been a disappointment as he was the top returning rusher.
With the rushing game in shambles, more will be placed on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers. Bowers is an inaccurate passer; his 55.8% completion percentage is below the national average. Decision making is also a problem for the young signal caller tossing eight interceptions this year. Changing pre-snap coverages and blitzes have been a source of confusion for Bowers throughout the season.
Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates may recycle his successful game plan from last week, it baffled UCLA star Josh Rosen. Bowers is a far cry from the passers that have passed through the Bay Area, including former Bear, Aaron Rodgers. His inability to consistently deliver passes on time and on target have made for an inconsistent passing attack. Cal averages 249.9-yards per game through the air.
Kanawai Noa and Vic Wharton are Bowers’ two primary targets. Noa leads the Bears in receiving yards with 468, while Wharton leads the team in receptions with 31. Jordan Veasy may have caught a paltry eighteen passes, but he has a team high of three touchdowns. Cal will rotate receivers, four have recorded more than ten catches this season.
Defensively the Bears have been inconsistent as defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has been unable to find winning combinations. Cal is ranked 82nd in scoring defense and 114th in passing yards allowed. Teams have been able to shred the Bears through the air, despite Cal having one of the most aggressive defensive fronts in the nation.
The Bears have accumulated 20 sacks with defensive end James Looney accounting for two. DeRuyter has relied on linebackers blitzing from the second level and those exotic blitz packages have resulted in numerous tackles for loss.
Devante Downs has thrived in the new scheme as he leads the team in tackles. Downs is a complete linebacker and will be seen on the field for the entire game. With the Bears frequently sending five or more players, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate will be forced to make quick reads. The key will be for Tate to identify hot routes before the snap and deliver the football. Tate will have to trust his knowledge and DeRuyter will look to create confusion before the snap.
DeRuyter’s aggressive play calls place pressure on the secondary, they are forced to play man coverage, which sometimes can lead to disaster. Camryn Bynum is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and is a fearless corner. Joining Bynum on the perimeter is Darius Allensworth who is a senior that has seen extensive playing time.
Kicker Matt Anderson has regressed from what was a breakthrough junior season. Anderson is connecting on 66 percent of his kicks this year, a far cry from the 85.7 percent clip he made last year.
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