Who’s got to step up on defense?
Vikram Muller: Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and the front seven. After a passive three quarters against Weber State, Cal finally started to blitz late and with decent success. De Ruyter should cautiously utilize this a bit more than he has this season. With a secondary that is inexperienced and was porous (if not absent), maybe rushing the quarterback while the secondary sits back sometimes will be a fresh change from allowing big gains on every drive.
Austin Isaacsohn: These corners aren’t going to be able to hang with these Ole Miss receivers for too long on the back end, so the front needs to get pressure through blitzes. Cal now has a base of four linebackers that they can throw in a blitz, so shifting who they send at the quarterback and from where should be a huge part of the game plan. You can’t outmuscle the Rebels, so you need to keep them guessing. Devante Downs has played well, but he’s the ringleader of the backers, and needs to make sure his unit is on its P’s and Q’s.
Andrew Wild: Freshman cornerback Elijah Hicks is now listed as splitting one of the starting spots, and he’ll need to come up big against Ole Miss’s huge wide receivers. I think that after a lot of miscommunication we saw last week against Weber State, the chances are that we see basic man to man coverage, so Hicks will have a hard day ahead of him. No one expects him to be a shutdown guy on day one, but he needs to avoid any big mistakes.
How will Vic Enwere and Patrick Laird split (the now injured) Tre Watsons’ carries?
VM: After the standout performance (the only one among all Bears) against Weber State, Laird will likely get a significant share of the carries. But I guess the power running of Enwere could be utilized, depending on how Ole Miss lines up.
AI: You gotta keep feeding the hot hand, and none are hotter than Laird’s right now. Enwere is a nice power back, but I foresee a lot of no-gain runs with him against the mammoth Ole Miss line. Laird does far better in space than Enwere, which is why and where they should feed him against the Rebels.
AW: Enwere is a power back, and although I think Wilcox and Baldwin would like to get him more involved, the offensive line just doesn’t seem to be good enough in creating holes to allow Enwere to succeed. The marginal gains the line has made in pass protection have not been seen in run blocking, and until that’s the case, Cal needs to rely on backs who excel out of the shotgun and as pass catchers. Laird should get a heavy workload.
What’s the biggest schematic change necessary from last week?
VM: As cynical as it sounds, the secondary needs to consistently keep a deep safety to play prevent. To allow six pass plays of 25-plus yards is unacceptable for any secondary, let alone when facing an FCS team. This won’t work against a strong SEC team by any means.
AI: It’s fun and cute to run an end-around to Demetris Robertson, but this dude needs to be more involved in the offensive gameplan. Seven receptions for 70 yards on the season is not only unacceptable, it’s downright scary. Bowers is getting hit looking for crossing routes, and you have a guy who can pull defenders 40 yards from the line of scrimmage on every single play? Come on.
AW: It’s hard to say what exactly is responsible for the breakdowns in the secondary against Weber State, but I think that the schemes have to be simplified to limit those miscommunications. DeRuyter’s scheme change from 4-3 to 3-4 has been tough on the team already, and it looks like he’s simply asking too much from the personnel that the Bears currently have. Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks are young, but they’re talented, and I don’t think he has a choice but to trust them.
Will this be the end of Cal’s recent out-of-conference success?
VM: I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Cal will be able to take advantage of a potentially sub-par Ole Miss team that isn’t as worried about nonconference success because of its self-imposed postseason ban. For Cal, winning three out-of-conference games before entering Pac-12 play could be huge. For Ole Miss, an out-of-conference away game may not be as important, considering overall record makes literally no difference to their already-dashed postseason dreams. Don’t get me wrong, Ole Miss is still an SEC team and will still push the Bears to their limits, but if anything, motivation could be their glimmer of hope.
AI: Definitely. Cal still hasn’t shown much of a passing defense, and Ole Miss will probably be able to go deep at will. What really concerns me about Cal’s defense this week, though, is the run defense. The biggest change—literally—between any other conference and the SEC is size, and Cal will probably get the ball shoved down their throat all game. Here’s the Rebels O-line, in terms of size: 6’6” and 330 pounds, 6’3” and 318, 6’5” and 294, 6’5” and 318, and 6’3” and 321. And the linebackers thought they had no space against Weber.
AW: Cal’s big wins over Texas and UNC over the past few years have been impressive, but a large aspect of what made those wins possible were terrible opposing quarterbacks. None of those teams had anything approaching a passing game, but boy, do the Rebels have one. Anything can happen at home, but I’m going with Ole Miss here.