Arizona once again finds itself on the road as it heads to Cal and looks to become bowl eligible. Although a win over the Golden Bears would not guarantee Arizona a bowl, it would give the Wildcats its necessary sixth win.
In order to win, the Wildcats will likely need to contain freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who has been one of the best young signal callers in the country, at least statistically.
Goff broke the school record for passing yards when he went for 504 against Washington State earlier this season and ranks ninth in the nation in passing. Cal relies heavily on Goff and Arizona likely knows that if it contains him or forces him into making mistakes, its chances of winning increases dramatically.
Cal does not run much, but it also does not need to because of its ability to pass the ball on short routes and vertical as well.
"They’ve run it okay at times, but it is almost like they have not had to," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I think I saw a stat somewhere where he is tied for the most 50-yard passes in college football, tied with Baylor.
"When you are throwing the ball that far down the field and executing like they do in the passing game, it is almost as if you don’t worry about running it at times, but they are capable for sure."
In addition, California coach Sonny Dykes did not hide the fact that he believes Arizona poses some problems for Cal with its run defense.
“They do a good job taking away the run game against most teams,” he said. “They’re going to try and out-number you in the box and make you throw the ball and kind of play into the strength of their defense, which is their secondary. They’re aggressive on the back end, very much so. They challenge routes; they don’t want to give you a lot of easy throws, and they can do that because of their personnel.
“They’ve got a lot of speed on the back end – a lot of experience. As a result, they play with a lot of confidence. They’re juniors and seniors and most of them have been two- and three-year starters, so the guys have a lot of experience, have seen a lot of different looks. As a result, I think they’re playing with more confidence and they’re playing much faster.”
It is hard to blame Cal for running so much when you take a look at the talent it has at receiver. Chris Harper has 58 catches for 796 yards and five touchdowns. He is also third in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation in receiving yards (99.5), and ranks third in the Pac-12 in receptions (7.3) and 15th in the nation.
Bryce Treggs is the second receiver that Arizona fans will likely hear plenty about, as he is tied for 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 in receptions (6.6), and is 70th in the nation and 10th in the Pac-12 in receiving yards (70.9).
The Golden Bears are going to do everything they can in order to get those two involved and there is much more to the passing game than Harper and Treggs. Somehow, Cal is only averaging 22 points per game, but the potential for more is definitely there.
Defensively is where Cal has struggled the most, especially in the secondary. However, its biggest concern will be stopping Ka’Deem Carey, which no team has been able to do in quite some time.
“He’s a physical, tough, hard-nosed, talented kid who has been battle-tested,” Dykes said of Carey. “He’s played for three years, he’s been a three-year starter and been very productive, finishes runs well, but as I said, just kind of probably the best back in the league, probably the most versatile. I like the way he plays the game.”
Last week, Colorado put all of its effort into stopping Carey, which allowed B.J. Denker to run for 192 yards and completely control the game on the ground.
“Any time that your quarterback is involved in the run game, it always creates a numerical advantage for the offense,” Dykes said. “That’s why everybody’s gone to these quarterback run games, because it’s hard to defend, and they throw the ball well enough where, if you stack the box, they’re going to be able to throw the ball, and Denker last week really ran the football well.
“Colorado I think tried to take Carey away and dare the quarterback to keep some on some of the read plays, and he did and kept it effectively and really ran well. He’s improved. Ball’s coming out more on-time and more accurately now than it was at any time during the year, so the quarterback’s gotten better.”
In order to stop that combo, Cal will rely on its linebackers, specifically Khairi Fortt, Hardy Nickerson, and Jalen Jefferson. Fortt has been playing his best football as of late and is leading the Golden Bears with 54 tackles, including three for a loss.
If Cal decides to blitz, Jefferson is the guy that Arizona fans should keep an eye on. He has four tackles for loss and holds his side of the field pretty nicely.
The weak link of the linebackers may be Nickerson, who struggles with the run. Nickerson is probably the slower of the three and it would not be a surprise to see Arizona try to take advantage of that with not only Carey, but Denker as well.
California’s defensive line has struggled tremendously and is 10th in the Pac-12 in sacks. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Deandre Coleman provides major size up front with 6-foot-2, 315-pound Viliami Moala, but they have failed to get any type of consistent push.
As far as the secondary goes, freshman Cameron Walker has been its best player. The loss of safety Avery Sebastian has really hurt the Golden Bears and you can make a legitimate argument that they have not found a way to recover it.
Cal’s pass defense is nearly as bad as it gets, although it has improved as of late. You can expect the Wildcats to pick on Adrian Lee and Joel Willis, who will both play because neither has been able to separate from the pack.
Both teams are going in completely opposite directions, but often times that does not mean much in this conference. Cal has the talent to put up points and Arizona finds itself on the road against a team that really has nothing to lose.
Arizona may be favored, but it also probably has more to lose, which makes this a dangerous game as the Wildcats look to become bowl eligible.
Matchups to Watch:
Ka’Deem Carey vs. Cal linebackers: Cal actually has decent linebackers, but they have to be better than that on Saturday. Colorado chose to follow Carey wherever he went and Denker destroyed it on the ground. We doubt that the Golden Bears choose to go the same route, but a lot of that depends on how the linebackers perform.
Jeff Casteel vs. Tony Franklin: Yes, we are going with coaching here. Franklin has started to make some adjustments as California’s offensive coordinator and he is going to have to work against a defense he has not seen much of. Casteel, on the other hand, is going against a pass heavy offense that has started to throw deep a little more as of late. We don’t know if this game will be won on coaching, but this is an intriguing match-up as far as strategy goes.
Arizona defensive line vs. Cal offensive line: With such a pass-dominated offense, time means a lot for Goff. Arizona’s line is going to have to get some kind of pressure on Goff or it could be a long night. Cal’s offensive line leaves something to be desired, but it is not as if Arizona is getting consistent pass rush. One of the main keys to Cal having a chance on Saturday is its ability to allow Goff to sit back and throw down field.
Keys to the Game:
Get up early: A team always wants to take the lead early, but for Arizona, it would make the Golden Bears completely one-dimensional and predictable. If that happens, it allows the UA defense to be aggressive and try to get to Goff consistently while generally knowing what Cal is going to throw at it.
Establish the pass: Yes, the pass. Arizona is going to likely run the ball effectively, but you have to believe Cal is going to do everything it can to take that away. If Arizona shows that it can throw, it will open up the Cal defense and make things much easier for the Wildcats’ offense. If Denker can get a little hot streak going, Arizona’s offense should have a huge night.
No extra chances: Penalties are never a good thing, but they can be especially damaging on the road. Giving the Cal offense something to be hopeful about with an extended drive would be dangerous for Arizona and something the coaching staff has likely talked to the team about.