How do you feel about Cal having a bye week so early in the season?
Christie Aguilar: I don’t mind a bye week so early in the year. Cal got off to a perfect-on-paper start, but the team knows it is not even in the realm of playing perfect football. A week off to tighten up, get some fresh legs and take on conference play full force could bode well for the Bears. Down the stretch, Cal is going to have a relentless schedule of tough teams, when a bye week would be a nice break, but because the Bears don’t have any Friday games I don’t think one should read too much into the bye week.
Josh Yuen: Before recognizing the full severity of Cam Goode’s injury, I saw the bye week as an excellent opportunity for the Bears to rest up for conference play. Kanawai Noa also missed the Idaho State game. But while the short-term benefits are nice, the reflection period is simply too early in the season. Let’s not kid ourselves — nine straight weeks of Pac-12 competition is a daunting task, with or without Goode. Although the bye week is undoubtedly a boost in terms of the Oregon game itself, the Washington State, USC and Stanford games down the final stretch of the season don’t bode well.
Sophie Goethals: Obviously, a bye week is nice no matter when it occurs. It provides a vital time for teams to reset and reassess and can truly change the trajectory of a team’s season in a more positive direction. That being said, there are clearly more valuable and less valuable times for a bye week, and this is one of the latter. It’s not ultimately harmful, but the Bears will likely be pining for a break in the middle of their long stretch of Pac-12 play. All in all, it could have come at a better time.
Andrew Wild: Going into the bye week, I thought it was a fairly big hindrance for the team, and it still means they’ll likely be exhausted for important late season matchups with USC and Stanford, but it’s looking like it will be a big plus in the match vs. Oregon, which should make a big difference in how the Pac-12 North shakes out. The Bears coming off a week of rest while Oregon comes off an emotionally draining overtime loss to Stanford could absolutely make the difference in this game.
While the defense has shined in the early season, the offense has its fair share of question marks. What needs to improve as Pac-12 play begins?
CA: Cal has still yet to prove it can be a consistent deep-threat passing offense. The quarterbacks are shifty on their feet, but against tougher defenses, simply scrambling and short runs aren’t going to win the Bears games. Cal needs to start putting the ball in a receiver’s hands deep downfield to start establishing trust and testing opposing defensive schemes.
JY: For all the talk about the quarterback circus and lack of a consistent tight end presence down the field (did you see how Stanford beat Oregon?), the run game hasn’t exactly shined in the early going. Defenses have game planned for Patrick Laird, and it’s worked so far. It was nice to see Marcel Dancy establish himself against the Bengals, but early down runs to make third downs more favorable have been overlooked thus far. Cal needs to win field position if the offense wants to have a chance against Oregon.
SG: While Cal started to use its tight ends more against Idaho State, I’d like to see that become a more consistent part of its offensive arsenal as the season continues on. The Bears have a lot of depth at that position, and their size and strength can be used far more effectively to churn out yardage for Cal.
AW: The offensive line looks a lot better in pass blocking, but run blocking is still a work in progress, and because of that, the run game is still too boom or bust. Laird either gets stopped before the line of scrimmage or gets a first down, and without being able to rely on getting something in the middle, short yardage scenarios are tough to deal with, and the passing game doesn’t get set up for easy throws as much as it should.
Do you expect Oregon’s recent loss to Stanford to affect the Ducks mentally in a positive or negative way? Short-term/long-term?
CA: In the short term, the Ducks’ recent joke of a loss to the Cardinal is arguably the worst thing that could have happened for the Bears. Had Oregon blown Stanford out of the water, perhaps Cal could have been favored with a slight overconfidence from the Oregon team as it heads back to the Bay. But now, Oregon should be pissed. Oregon should be out for blood. And, Oregon should be looking to boost its national ranking back up with an uprooting of Cal.
JY: According to sources surrounding the Oregon football team, head coach Mario Cristobal emphasized that nobody in Berkeley feels bad for what happened to the Ducks last weekend. That’s scary to me, and while CJ Verdell is likely still kicking himself about his late fumble no matter what people say about his current attitude, the rest of the team is, as Christie puts it, out for blood. While the Bears have the benefit of the bye week, the Ducks are fired up.
SG: Let’s put it this way: a team that messes up as badly as Oregon did will be doing everything in its power to ensure that another flub like that never happens again. Right now, college football chatter has been all about how poor they performed at the end of that game, and that will likely rile them up for this next game. Conversely, if things start going poorly for the Ducks it could lead to a detrimental downward spiral. At the end of the day it’ll push Oregon to play extremely well or extremely poorly.
AW: I’m going to disagree with my fellow writers here and say that the Ducks coming off such a tiring loss is a coup for the well-rested Bears. If, say, Oregon had its loss on the road and was coming back home to face Cal, I’d be a lot more concerned. As it stands, I think Cal has a significant advantage.
Will tonight’s matchup be more of a high-scoring shootout or a defensive struggle to the end?
CA: If the Bears want to win, the game has to be a high-scoring matchup. Oregon is going to put up the points, and Cal is going to have to fire back. I just don’t see Cal taming Justin Herbert’s offense, which has averaged 46.5 points per game over its first four contests.
JY: Two years ago, the Ducks visited Memorial Stadium and tore Cal’s defense to shreds in the second half. The Bears ultimately prevailed 52-49 in double overtime, thanks to Jordan Kunaszyk’s late interception. There’s little chance that this game features less than 50 points, no matter how solid both defenses have looked at times this season.
SG: There’s no way this won’t be a high-scoring game, which will render it a really exciting one to watch. This will come down to which offense can rack up more points and take advantage of its opportunities.
AW: Once again, I’m the odd one out, and I’ll say this is a low-scoring affair. In my mind’s eye, this game goes like last year’s against Washington State University; highly hyped quarterback and offense visit Memorial Stadium and get totally flummoxed by Wilcox, DeRuyter and company. I don’t think it will be as lopsided as last year’s 37-3 victory over the Cougars, but something like 24-17 doesn’t seem off to me, and I think most would consider that relatively low-scoring.
Christie Aguilar, Josh Yuen, Sophie Goethals and Andrew Wild are the 2018 football beat writers.
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