To preview the Cal and San Diego State game we reached out to the fine folks at Cal Golden Blogs to answer a few questions. The big question is how good is this Cal offense with Jared Goff slinging the ball and if Rocky Long's defense can do anything to slow down the Bear Raid.
1. In your breakdown of San Diego State's 3-3-5 defense what stood out most and how does that impact the passing attack of Cal?
Nick Kranz: I'm torn. This could go in a few different directions. Last week, Cal played Grambling, and they ran a very similar style of defense, leaving their cornerbacks and safety in single man-to-man coverage, and Jared Goff ate them alive, because their secondary defenders didn't have a prayer one-on-one, and because even with 5 and 6 man blitzes, their undersized defenders were never going to get to Goff before he found his hot read.
SDSU obviously has much better athletes both in the secondary and in the box, so it won't be as easy for Goff or the line. But I do have a lot of faith in him to find his hot reads when necessary. And when Cal's line really picks up the blitzes, then Goff will have the time he needs to go deep. I'm hoping that last week's game was almost like a scout team scrimmage of what SDSU runs, so that the offensive line will be better prepared for the various disguised rushes that the Aztecs can bring. What would really intrigue me is if SDSU decides to put more of their linebackers into coverage, and how Cal would respond in kind.
2. What are the thoughts from Cal fans on playing San Diego State, is this being considered as an easy win for the Bears?
Nick Kranz: I think Cal fans view SDSU as a good 'group of 5' conference test. SDSU is clearly one of the better non-power 5 teams in the country, and fans are mostly thinking it's a good ramp up towards Pac-12 play . . . and in light of Texas's extreme struggles on offense, maybe the toughest non-conference game of the year.
If this game were being played 2 years ago, Cal fans would have 100% expected a loss. One year ago, and Cal fans would be sweating bullets and fearing the worst. This year? For the first time in half a decade, we're actually an optimistic bunch, and the feeling is that if the program is where it should be (and where the coaches say it is) then Cal should win a home game against any non-Boise-St. Mountain West school without too much trouble.
There's a general consensus that SDSU has a strong enough defense to maybe make things dicey, but conversely we have even more faith in Jared Goff to put up points against . . . well, really all but the most elite of defenses.
3. Everyone knows Jared Goff at QB for Cal, but what other offensive players should San Diego State be looking out for?
Nick Kranz: Well, Daniel Lasco is one of those consistent, less explosive running backs that always seems to be grabbing 4-5 yards on every run regardless of how much space he actually has. But the real strength of Cal's attack is wide receiver depth. Cal is returning over 250 total catches, mostly spread out amongst six different wide receivers that will shuttle in and out of the game. Stephen Anderson is the possession tight end. Bryce Treggs is probably the most well-rounded. Kenny Lawler is the red zone superstar. Maurice Harris won't get a ton of targets but tends to pull off the spectacular when he does. It's very, very tough for a defense to cover all of them, especially when you add Lasco as a very viable target out of the backfield.
4. Also, what is the defensive outlook for Cal this year and particularly in the running game?
Nick Kranz: Cal fans still really don't know what to expect from the defense. As you are probably aware, Cal's defense was one of the worst in the country last year. Secretly, the run defense was pretty OK, but it didn't matter one bit because Cal had probably the single worst pass defense and pass rush among Power 5 schools.
There were some extenuating circumstances. The defense was very young, and not particularly healthy or deep. The hope is that more depth, health, and experience will lead to a rebirth this year. The main change? Three entirely new starters on the defensive line (one returner from a season ending injury, one Juco transfer, one FBS transfer who had to sit out a year) are hoping to provide some semblance of a pass rush.
Cal has a pretty deep group of solid-if-unspectacular linebackers - the type of guys who likely won't be bursting into the backfield to make amazing plays, but will usually be in the right spot and will typically make the tackles they should make. I don't expect SDSU to gash Cal on the ground, nor do I expect Cal to hold the Aztec running game silent. I will say that if SDSU wants to win the game, their quarterback will have to make some plays down the field just to keep up with Goff and company.
5. Game predictions?
Nick Kranz: If SDSU is going to win this game, they will almost assuredly need to force some turnovers. On first glance, Cal might seem to be turnover prone after coughing it up 3 times last week to Grambling. On the other hand, two of those were somewhat fluky interceptions off of balls that were tipped by Cal receivers. Jared Goff is not one to frequently make the type of bad reads and inaccurate throws that usually lead to picks.
And while I do respect SDSU's defense, I just don't think they have the pure talent and depth necessary to control the game. Goff has too many options, too many weapons. Holding Cal in the low 30s would really impress me, and I'm not convinced that Maxwell Smith and the SDSU offensive line have what it takes to keep up. Put me down for 41-23, Cal.