Hawaiian and Cal open up the college football season in Sydney, Australia, on Friday night and to get a better look at the Cal Bears we sent over a few questions for the good guys over at California Golden Blogs to get a closer look at the Bears.
1. What are the expectations for new quarterback Davis Webb as he is taking over for Jared Goff?
1. Leland Wong: Even though Webb has started gathering rumors of being a first-round pick, I think it would be foolish to expect him to pick up where Goff left off. All I want out of Webb is someone who can deliver the ball to our playmakers and not turn it over (which the statistics at Texas Tech show he struggled with).
boomtho: I'd say expectations are pretty high for Davis Webb, though obviously not as they were for Jared Goff last year. When we started the offseason, it looked like our QB options would be one of a couple young, unproven guys.
Davis Webb basically falling into our lap was an unexpected bonus, but it definitely ratcheted up the expectations, given his pedigree and familiarity with our style of offense.
2. Cal's rush defense was not great last year and the Warriors have a good trio of running backs, so what improvements have been made?
2. Leland Wong: I'm actually expecting our run defense to take a step back this year... Our defensive line is a mix of returning starters (DT James Looney and DE DeVante Wilson) and experienced first-year starters (DT Tony Mekari and DE Cameron Saffle), but our linebacker corps have been completely ravaged to graduation, injuries and medical retirement, and transfers.
Because of that attrition (coupled with the generally pass-happy Pac-12), indications out of camp is that we'll be playing a lot out of a 4-2-5 nickle, which isn't built to stop the run; and even if we do move to a 4-3, I'm just not sure if we have the linebackers to stop a strong run game.
boomtho: None... no improvements have really been made. We had significant attrition at the LB spot, with probably our best run-stopper, Hardy Nickerson, transferring to Illinois to play for his dad.
We also lost some of our interior muscle, with Mustafa Jalil and David Davis graduating without a clear succession plan. I am certainly worried about our ability to stop the room, given I expect to see a lot of nickel formation (like Leland mentioned).
3. How will the offense changed, if at all, with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital?
3. boomtho: The biggest change (that I understand) with the arrival of Spav is a change in the OL blocking technique used. Tony Franklin was a proponent of the Vertical Set Pass Protection, which I understand made it harder to pass block and deal with stunts (I'm by no means an OL expert, or even amateur, so I hope I'm right on that!)
This technique was not very effective at Cal at times, so even at the end of last year they started moving towards kick-step. Spav should continue that transition and we'll have a full offseason under our belts of running that scheme.
The other big change I'd expect is less freedom for Davis Webb to change plays at the line. That's by no means a knock on Spav or Webb - the Goff/Franklin connection was a once-in-a-decade one that allowed for a ton of freedom that isn't typical at all.
4. How does the fan base, players and coaches feel about this game being played in Sydney?
4. Leland Wong: This game has been rather polarizing for the fanbase. A lot of fans love the exposure that comes with being not only the only game this weekend, but the game to kick off the whole season. They're even using the game as an excuse to take an international excursion and for some of our fans, this game is closer than games in Berkeley. On the other hand, there's also a set of fans that are livid at the loss of a home game and see this as a slap in the face of the fans and a mere greed-fueled money grab.
boomtho: Totally agree with Leland that the game has been polarizing. Personally, I'm a fan - we gave up a home game, but it was against South Dakota... and in return we get great publicity, a decent paycheck (though there are reasonable questions if it's actually significantly higher than a home game day haul), and the players get a really unique opportunity to travel.
5. Who are the key players that Hawaii needs to know?
5. Leland Wong: Much like the Rainbow Warriors, we've also got a triad of killer running backs. Our big man is Vic Enwere, our speedster is Khalfani Muhammad, and the well-rounded back is Tre Watson; Muhammad and Watson were named to the Doak Walker watchlist and it's been said that the only reason why Enwere didn't join them is because the list is limited to two players per school.
Defensively, DT James Looney deserves your attention and will—frankly—grab your attention with his size, crazy hair, and being a D-lineman wearing the svelte number 9. CB Darius Allensworth is one of our defensive stars last year and reports are that he's only become better at turning pass deflections into interceptions.
boomtho: Since Leland went RB, I'll go WR. Cal has been blessed with great WR recruiting recently, even if they unexpected loss of Carlos Strickland set the corps back a bit. The first name I'd call out is superstar, 5* freshman Demetris Robertson. All reports out of camp are that he has ridiculous top-end speed and is already a pretty polished route runner.
Second, I'll mention another freshman, Melquise Stovall. He's a jitterbug of a player, capable of making a lot of people miss... oh, and he also has breakaway speed once he gets into the open field. That's not to say these two are the only threats - Chad Hansen (a veteran as a RS-Junior) is a consistent threat, Jordan Duncan and Brandon Singleton are touted freshmen in their own rights, and there's even more depth behind these guys.
6. There is a reason that Cal is a three-touchdown favorite, but what are Cal's goals for this game?
6. boomtho: For me, Cal's goals are to see how the new-look offense functions (with particular attention on Webb and the hyped OL), and to see whether the maligned defense is capable of stopping anyone this year. With pretty good coaching continuity (HC Sonny Dykes and DC Art Kaufman both returned), I wouldn't expect a ton of schematic wrinkles.
Obviously we'd also love to escape without any major injuries, especially on defense. Last, it'd be nice to get some of the younger guys PT, especially at WR and on defense.