What’s the path forward for the offense after having seemingly fallen apart?
Austin Isaacsohn: The offense needs to protect Bowers, even if it takes seven guys hanging back to protect the quarterback. Sending out three routes, seeing no one and throwing it away is a hell of a lot better than taking sack after sack until you’re as behind as you are demoralized. This dude has talent, but it’s hard to complete any throw on your back. The lack of commitment to his protection is becoming unacceptable.
Vikram Muller: Fix the line. This is far easier said than done. Communication is one relatively evident issue, but solving communication issues can only go so far. This unit needs games together to understand each other’s tendencies, not to mention time to get physically stronger. Reaching a point where this unit can realistically compete against strictly more talented defenses, such as Washington’s last weekend, will take a long time, possibly as much as a year, but resolving communication issues is definitely a good place to start to at least give Bowers a few more seconds per snap.
Andrew Wild: After posting a combined -32 yards rushing in the past two games, the Bears need to manufacture something resembling a ground game. With this offensive line, they can’t play like anything close to a ground and pound team, so offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin likely needs to get it going with end arounds, draws and simple screens that work like run plays. No team can survive so one-dimensionally.
Can the defense hold Luke Falk to nonvideo game numbers?
AI: Nah, probably not. In his past two games, Falk has averaged 311 yards against the No. 25 and No. 34 defenses in the entire country (in terms of passing efficiency). If he can cut up USC and Oregon, he can cut up Cal.
VM: Washington State is a passing offense. Pure and simple. Its ground game is solid, but when you have a quarterback as talented as Falk and a receiving core that seems to win so many 50-50 balls, it’s unrealistic that the Cougars will deviate from their tendency. Cal’s turnover-forcing secondary has taken advantage of errant passes (and not risky ones as much), but with Falk, those opportunities are minimized.
AW: This sort of depends on how committed Mike Leach is to his usual play-calling style. An air raid adherent, he’s dialed up 40+ passing attempts in each of the past four games. If that’s the case, Falk will put up a line for the ages, but Leach might be smart to pivot toward more of a ground game against Cal. The Bears’ secondary is playing impressively thus far, and the defensive line can be taken advantage of.
Does Cal’s offensive line stand a chance in this game?
AI: Nope. The majority of heavy pressure that came against Washington came on, at most, a four-man rush. This line is just kinda bad, and it needs more help from its coaches. Whether it’s leaving backs behind, having tight ends chip or running more screens, the team needs to employ more tactful strategy to keep its quarterback upright. Right now, the line is getting worked.
VM: Last week, Washington was able to rush three for a significant portion of the game and still managed eight sacks. Admittedly, Washington ranks second in the nation in yards allowed per game and third in points allowed per game, but Washington State isn’t far behind. Hercules Mata’afa will probably have a field day, as long as anybody else on the WSU front can put on decent pressure.
AW: WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is really good at dialing up pressure through different looks, and considering how much trouble the line has had with vanilla schemes, this could get ugly. Defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa is going to be a nightmare matchup, and I’m not sure a double team will be enough to stop him.
What would it take for you to replace quarterback Ross Bowers after this game?
AI: He’s played in six games thus far and had two good ones. In his four games not against Oregon and North Carolina, Bowers has thrown two touchdowns to six interceptions. I don’t put as much blame on him for those games as I do the guys calling the plays, but if he has another game like the majority of ones he’s had and the losses continue to come at wider margins, I’d reshuffle my cards in this lost season.
VM: This really depends on how ready Chase Forrest, Chase Garbers or Brandon McIlwain are to play (Forrest had a poor showing in garbage time against Washington, not that that means much). If the season continues to go downhill, giving younger guys a shot may give them valuable experience that could translate well to next season. Bowers has struggled with turnovers and protecting the ball, but it’s hard for me, personally, to gauge how much of that should be on him as opposed to the line.
AW: With how banged up the skill position players are and how poorly the offensive line has played, I can excuse miniscule passing yards and completion rates. I truly don’t even mind the 80 yards put up against Washington much at all. The inexcusable portion of his game is the turnovers, both interceptions and fumbles. If he can’t keep the ball in Cal’s hands after seven games under center, he’s a liability no matter how bad the rest of the offense is and is only learning poor habits.