Welcome to the official San Diego Sports Domination and California Golden Blogs Q&A. I hope this will help all of our Aztec Fans learn more about this weekend’s opponents. Please feel free to answer the poll question at the bottom of the article. For those who are attending the game on Saturday please check out the end of our interview for suggestions on food, bars and the easiest way to get to the Stadium.
SDSU vs. CAL GAME PREVIEW (LINK)
1) Who is the best player on the Cal Offense?
boomtho: Jared Goff. There’s a reason Goff is a potential top-10 pick in next year’s draft. He’s in Year 3 commanding the Bear Raid and he looks completely comfortable in the system. Goff can make throws across the field and he continues to show an improved ability to move around in the pocket, extend plays, and find the open receiver. If he stays for his fourth year, he’ll obliterate most if not all of the key Cal passing records.
Nick Kranz: I’d love to give you a cheeky answer and mention a WR or lineman, but let’s be real: Jared Goff in every way looks like a future 1st-round pick at quarterback and will make throws every week that make Cal fans rub their eyes to make sure they really saw them happen. As a 3rd-year starter, he’s reaching the point where he can change plays and read defenses pre-snap and Cal fans have a tremendous amount of faith in his ability to run the offense to score lots of points, quickly.
LeonPowe: Everyone will say Jared Goff. And everyone will be right, but wide receiver Kenny Lawler is making a case for being a top draft pick and would be the best player on many other teams. Big, smooth, and with the hands to make amazing catches in traffic, Lawler is a touchdown machine. Even on a team that goes seven or eight deep in “starting” wide receivers, Lawler stands out. Not blessed with afterburner speed, he has everything else you’d want in a wideout. Hands, leaping ability, decent size, and the ability to catch in traffic and drag down the highlight catches and make the easy grabs. Cal from the 15-yard line is almost even more dangerous than Cal on the five because that Goff-to-Lawler back shoulder fade is the easiest money in the Pac-12 right now.
atomsareenough: The obvious and correct answer is Jared Goff. He’s got the tools to be a first-round NFL draft pick at QB and he’s got total control of the Cal offense. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for the Bears. Fantastic arm talent, really good mobility and pocket presence, accurate thrower, and is at the point where he has gotten extremely skilled at reading defenses and quickly making the right decision with the football. The other guy with a case to make is Kenny Lawler, who I think is one of the best wideouts in the country. He’s tall, athletic, runs his routes extremely well, has fantastic hands, and can make the most incredible plays on the ball in the air.
2) Who is the best player on the Cal Defense?
boomtho: This is a hard one… and I’m not sure I can give a great answer. I think reasonable Cal fans could answer any of the following: DT Mustafa Jalil, LB Hardy Nickerson, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Devante Downs, or even potentially FS Stefan McClure. I’ll take the cop out answer by answering our LB corps. While we have a lot of youth playing in the secondary and a lot of question marks on the DL (especially at DE), the LB experience has a great combination of talent, experience, and versatility.
Nick Kranz: A much tougher question, in part because the defense was so bad last year and in part because we haven’t gotten a sense who will get tons of playing time this year. The plan is to rotate early and often to keep players fresh and take advantage of depth, which indicates that the coaches think they have lots of good players, but maybe nobody that’s great. For now the safe answer is Hardy Nickerson, a returning starter at middle linebacker who was 3rd on the team in tackles last year. He’s not necessarily a hugely disruptive player, but he’s a solid decision maker who usually puts himself in the right place to bring down ball carriers.
LeonPowe: Much more difficult question, as the Cal defense has been poor the last two years. I would say the inconsistent but big play–making linebacker Jalen Jefferson. He has the tendency to be in the right spot at the right time and has had a history of making big plays when the game is on the line–but he hasn’t been a consistent every-play reliable guy to date. It’s difficult to really see how good guys are when everyone has spent the last two years repeatedly being burnt and always chasing down running backs and wideouts. A young and often-injured defense hopefully won’t have those issues this year, but Cal has been playing frosh and walk-ons for two years.
atomsareenough: This is a slightly tougher question to answer, as there are no real star players on the Cal defense as of yet, as it’s a defense that’s been awful and is now maturing and developing into a more consistent and capable unit. So I would say that on defense, rather than a “best” player, there are a few “players to watch” types. I’d say on the DL, it’s James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, who is big and strong and very athletic for his size. At linebacker, we have a few older guys at the top of the depth chart who are really solid, but not individual standouts at this point; but there’s a younger guy to watch in Devante Downs. In the secondary, the guy to look for is cornerback Darius White, who was a talented JC transfer that had a really rough introduction to D-I football last year. This year by most accounts, he has really come into his own and has the potential to be one of the better DBs in the Pac-12.
3) What under the radar player should Aztec fans watch on Cal’s Offense?
boomtho: WR Stephen Anderson. Cal’s WR corps gets a lot of love and it’s usually focused on Kenny Lawler, Bryce Treggs, and Trevor Davis. Stephen Anderson usually plays in the slot (and is sometimes called a TE), but he is strong, a good route runner, and good hands, even when making fantastic catches. He’s the guy that will catch a lot of 3rd down conversions, and yet he’s a little overshadowed by the talents elsewhere on the Cal offense.
Nick Kranz: Watch out for Stephen Anderson as tight end/wide receiver. Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler tend to get most of the publicity, and rightfully so. But Anderson has worked his way from walk-on all the way to starting inside receiver and against tough defenses, he’s Jared Goff’s safety valve. He’s a great blocker and more elusive in the open field than you would expect considering his recruiting pedigree.
LeonPowe: I don’t know how under the radar Trevor Davis is since he had one of the biggest highlights last year with back-to-back kickoff return touchdowns, but he’s the speed guy. The deep threat. Actually all the wideouts would be starters elsewhere–Maurice Harris, Darius Powe, Stephen Anderson–these guys can all go out and get it.
atomsareenough: I’ll give you two: TE/IR Stephen Anderson and RB Vic Enwere. Anderson was quietly excellent for much of last year. He’s a great third-down threat and has fantastic size and athleticism. Enwere is our second string running back behind Daniel Lasco and he is huge, powerful, and difficult to take down.
4) What under the radar player should Aztec fans watch on Cal’s Defense?
boomtho: DT James Looney: Looney had to sit out a year after transferring from Wake Forest, but expectations are quite high for him to form a potent 1-2 punch with Mustafa Jalil. Last year without Looney, Cal was reasonably stout against the run (let’s not talk about our dumpster fire of a pass defense). With Looney added, Cal could even become a great run-stopping team.
Nick Kranz: I’ll go with Caleb Coleman and Cameron Walker, who are basically in a platoon as nickelbacks. They won’t always be on the field, but when they are they are the most likely guys to make a big play–get to the quarterback, break up a pass, generally do disruptive things. If they can create a little havoc, Cal will look much better on defense than they did last year.
atomsareenough: I’m gonna go with DE Kyle Kragen. He lost last year to a nasty bout of mononucleosis, but spent the offseason recovering and getting stronger and quicker. Cal’s defense is sorely in need of an improved pass rush this year and Kragen is one of the key guys to whom we will be looking to provide it.
5) Do you think that Cal will stack the box in order to shut down the Aztec run game?
boomtho: I don’t, personally. While the secondary looks much improved from last year, there’s still a fair amount of inexperience there. I don’t think DC Art Kaufman will stack the box and risk leaving the secondary on an island. Instead, I think he’ll count on our DTs and LBs to handle it without committing too many numbers.
Nick Kranz: Yeah, probably. I think if I’m a D coordinator and I’m scouting SDSU, it’s not clear whether or not the Aztecs can really stretch the field with their passing game. On the other hand, we know that Donnel Pumphrey is a guy that can hurt you in multiple ways. If I’m Art Kaufman, I design my game plan to stop Pumphrey on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield.
atomsareenough: I hope that won’t be necessary. Cal actually had a pretty decent run defense last year and an absolutely godawful pass defense. It wasn’t that we stacked the box last year, either; it was just that opponents only threw on us because it was easy to throw on us. Anyway, this week I’ll be looking for the Cal offense to start quickly, build a lead, and force the Aztecs to try and keep up through the air, and hope that the pass defense has improved enough to not let them be successful at it.
6) Because Cal has a major opponent in Texas the game following ours do you think Cal will over look SDSU?
boomtho: I don’t think the Bears will overlook SDSU. If you look at the locker room video immediately after our victory over Grambling State, Sonny immediately mentioned to the team how much of a battle the SDSU game will be. In addition, I don’t think the Bears are in position to be overlooking anyone, coming off a 5–7 season where we missed three opportunities to clinch a bowl game. I think the Bears will be locked in and fired up to play their first quality FBS oponent of the year.
Nick Kranz: It wouldn’t shock me. The players and coaches are all saying the right things about avoiding that type of a let down, but you really never know with college kids. Jeff Tedford once said that sometimes he was sure his players were ready to play and they came out flat, while other times he was sure there would be a let down and they came out on fire. Predicting things like that are virtually impossible.
LeonPowe: We haven’t had enough success recently to overlook anybody. There may be criticism of Dykes as a coach, but I feel as a motivator, he’s pretty damn good.
atomsareenough: They’re college kids, so that’s always a possibility, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. The Bears seem hungry and focused and determined this year after having three straight years of frustration. They’re saying all the right things about focusing on the next opponent and taking it one game at a time, and it was encouraging to see that we were pretty sharp in the first game against Grambling. I think we’ll be ready to play.
7) What will be the outcome for the game?
boomtho: I think the game will be lower scoring than people think, and close at halftime, before Cal pulls away. Let’ s say something like 41–28 Cal. That would also mean a Cal cover which is extra goodness!
Nick Kranz: Last year, Cal scored points on all but the most elite of defenses. I do think that SDSU has a very solid defense, but I don’t think it’s elite and I think that Cal’s offense is better than last year. So the Bear Raid will put up points. On the other side, SDSU obviously looked very iffy on offense last week. That said, Cal’s defense is still a pretty big question mark, and I’d bet that getting the first game out of the way may shake out the cobwebs for the Aztecs–but not enough to keep up.
I’d go with 41–23, Cal.
atomsareenough: Not to sound like a homer, but I am honestly expecting a comfortable Cal victory here. Our offense should legitimately be one of the best in the country, and it will be difficult for the Aztecs to keep up. My initial impressions of the Cal defense this year gives me some encouragement that we won’t be disastrously bad on that side of the football anymore, and we’re much deeper and more athletic than we’ve been in recent years. I’m expecting Cal to score more than 40 points and the Aztecs to score somewhere around 20.
8) Anything that you think our readers should know? Any tips for getting around the Bears stadium or any tips you have for our large fan base making the trip up for the game?
boomtho: I think Berkeley is a fantastic college town and I love Cal’s campus. While I imagine many people are staying in San Francisco, I’d encourage people to get to Berkeley early to experience the campus. There isn’t a big tailgating scene, but there are a lot of great pregame haunts you can hit (food: Sliver, Top Dog, Pappy’s; bars: Henry’s, Triple Rock, Jupiter, Kip’s for the dive bar fans, Free House) on your way up to the stadium. If you’re not trying to hit up a restaurant or bar, you can walk to the stadium through campus (walking by our clocktower, the Campanile) instead. If you branch out away from the stadium/downtown Berkeley, there is an overabundance of good food, especially in the ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ and the Rockridge area.
I’d also encourage people not to drive, it at all possible–BART takes you to a ~25 minute walk away from the stadium and you pass by a lot of good restaurants and bars between BART and the stadium.
Lastly, it gets pretty hot at Memorial, so I’d suggest bringing sunscreen and grabbing water, especially if you’re on the east side of the stadium.
Nick Kranz: Be prepared to walk uphill and be prepared to get a little sun. Cal’s stadium is up in Strawberry Canyon, and pretty much any way to get to the game (I’d recommend BART because parking is a pain) will require you to go up hill to get there. Most visitor’s seats are on the sun side of the stadium and the weather has been hot lately, so water and sunscreen are highly recommended.
And after the game, win or lose, I can’t recommend enough climbing up to the top of the east side of the stadium to catch gorgeous views of the entire Bay, which will likely be lit up by the setting sun by the end of the game.
LeonPowe: Make sure you stop by Top Dog before or after the game. My favorites are the bockwurst and the garlic. Parking sucks and we have an unusual tailgate situation, being an urban university. Most people arrive early and eat in a restaurant around campus rather than a traditional tailgate–as we don’t have one large parking lot and instead have tons of small lots scattered everywhere. Would advise parking at a BART station, taking BART to a Berkeley station, and walking to the game.
atomsareenough: Driving and parking in Berkeley for football gamedays is a huge pain. I would park elsewhere and take public transit the rest of the way. The tailgating scene isn’t exactly typical, but it’s there. A good alternative though is to hang out in a local bar or restaurant, of which there are plenty. Definitely walk around Telegraph or downtown Berkeley; there are a ton of fantastic options for food and drink. If you’re a fraternity type, maybe hang out along Frat Row on the way to the stadium. There are typically a lot of gameday festivities going on there.
As far as the campus and stadium go, be sure to walk around campus. It’s beautiful, with lots of different types of architecture and monuments, tree-lined paths and glades, and Strawberry Creek running through the middle of it. Memorial Stadium has been recently renovated and is absolutely gorgeous. The amenities on the east side are still a little lacking, but walk around and be sure to check out the view from the west rim of the stadium. There’s no other setting like it in college football.
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