Who most needs to prove themselves?
Austin Isaacsohn: Justin Wilcox. That sounds harsh, but he coached a great game on the road against a not-awful team, and it was impressive. Now, he has a gimme — Weber State at home in front of the Cal fans still riding high on the horse from last week’s win. This team could still come out flat! They could still only win three games this season, and we could look back at North Carolina as a fluke, a result of no film to study and a team playing extra hard for a new coach. If he wants to build a monster at Cal long-term, he needs to prove that his philosophies have staying power, because the old coach’s didn’t.
Vikram Muller: As an area that the team struggled with significantly last season, the run game needs to prove itself. Admittedly, a standout aerial game from quarterback Ross Bowers against UNC was more than enough to power the offense, but a powerful run game with the experienced Tre Watson and Vic Enwere ─ who combined for only 93 yards at Chapel Hill ─ would certainly go a long way.
Andrew Wild: It’s understandable that the team is still adjusting to a defensive scheme chang under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, but the early results in converting Cameron Saffle and Alex Funches from defensive end to outside linebacker weren’t great. DeRuyter mentioned that most teams make the biggest jump between weeks one and two, and it’d be good for Cal if those two looked more comfortable playing with their heads up and reacting rather than simply rushing.
Who should post big numbers against a FCS school?
AI: Demetris Robertson’s biggest play by far last week came when he chased down and tackled a guy to prevent a pick-six. That just won’t happen again. I don’t think Bowers can survive a Pac-12 schedule without developing a better relationship with his premier offensive weapon. Defenses are going to continue shading over to Robertson, but that’s what the best players need to overcome. I think he’s gonna explode this week.
VM: Robertson, no question. UNC did their best to shut him down with whatever coverage they could provide, but Weber State should have a much more difficult time containing his speed. He’ll get open, but it’s up to Bowers to find him.
AW: Vic Enwere did a pretty excellent job in short-yardage situations last weekend, looking the part of a bona fide power back. A lot of his snaps came in the few times Bowers lined up under center — I think against a likely undersized defense, he might get some more touches as offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin experiments with using him in different ways.
What is the biggest thing Ross Bowers needs to show?
AI: This guy’s gotta stop telegraphing his passes. He has the arm to fit it into tight windows with accuracy, but he got picked off twice last week under pressure throwing short to his left. Both times, the defender snuck under the right-to-left crossing route because they could see Bowers staring it down. The pressure sure didn’t help, but have you seen this offensive line? He needs to do better under heat. I also think the first touchdown of his career was an interception, but we don’t need to beat him up too bad. He played well overall.
VM: Patience. He adjusted well in the second half against UNC, but he still needs to trust the line a bit more. Obviously the line is relatively inexperienced, but there were a few plays early on where he forced passes, even when he did have time to search for a second option.
AW: He’s going to need a good connection with his slot receivers and make accurate throws in the middle of the field. With Ray Hudson missing time due to injury, Bowers doesn’t have a safety-blanket tight end he can get the ball to, and his running backs were running wheel routes deep down the field last game, not giving him easy completions in the flat. Finding Kanawai Noa for short yardage will be an important part of the game plan, and one the QB will need to execute better.
What can we expect from Devante Downs coming off a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week nod?
AI: Hopefully he’s yelling in practice this week, because he needs more from his teammates. It felt like the Tar Heels could have put me back there and I’d have broken off a 40-yarder in the first half. The defense wasn’t quite the sieve we’ve come to know it, but if the Bears’ 3-4 is going to allow the linebackers to roam free as it’s intended to, the lineman can’t get blown off the ball. That pick was nice though.
VM: Another solid performance. Just because he got a title of recognition this past week doesn’t mean he hasn’t been playing with that type of defensive awareness for quite a while now. The senior linebacker definitely made his presence known last season ─ most notably with double-digit tackle games against Utah and Stanford ─ and he hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down since.
AW: Downs has the talent to keep putting up big numbers, but that might not be the best thing for the team. A lot of the reason he was so active in the first half last week is that the front seven was doing an extremely poor job setting the end, allowing the Tar Heels to run free. They were asking too much of their guys in the middle, so although Downs showed he’s up to the task, they shouldn’t be putting that much on his shoulders consistently.
Austin Isaacsohn, Vikram Muller, and Andrew Wild are the 2017 football beat writers.