Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Spencer Golanka, sports editor of The Daily Californian, and Alex Luther, sports chief of The Daily Barometer. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Spencer Golanka: Let’s get to talking about the game this weekend. Are you excited?
Alex Luther: Game day is always great, in theory, but after last week it’s pretty hard to be excited. You have to always have a little bit of hope if you’re a fan of the Beavers — what I like to call cautious optimism. To keep yourself going you have to be optimistic about the next week being different, but you never really know. I’m going in with cautious optimism, and maybe something will happen? But the chances of that, as we’ve seen, are pretty unlikely.
SG: Talk a little bit about that game last week. What went wrong? You guys came off a high from UCLA; quarterback Jake Luton performed really well. Then you had this beatdown on Saturday. Talk about what this does to the psyche of the team and how you expect them to rebound.
AL: I think it started pretty early on. We’ve seen this season, if you lead by posting points on the board it can very easily become a downward spiral for the team. This is not the first game where they have not scored until very late in the game. But against Stanford, the difference was that the defense was able to stand up a lot better and keep it within a few scores, so that when they scored late in the game, there was actually a little momentum in the stadium, a little momentum on the field. It felt like, for a minute, that it could be a little different. In contrast, the defense was pummeled on the field. Up until this week, we’ve had really good third-down conversion rates — up until that game, at least. There was an issue with a lot of third downs, a lot of punting, and that leaves a lot of time with the defense on the field, which just tires them down even more. At halftime, at least half the stadium was gone; by the third quarter, even more people were gone. That plays, again, on the psyche of the team when they look around the stadium and see that all of their fans are gone. It’s going to be a really tough rebound because this was a recruitment game. There were both football and basketball recruits who were at that game watching. The team knows that they were watching, and I think that’s going to be a tough bounce back. It was, all around, a very difficult situation and one that is going to have some lasting impact on the team’s mental ability to bounce back. To go from that to going on the road is going to be really, really tough.
SG: It’s weird with Oregon State — they have this surprisingly productive offense, especially with Isaiah Hodgins taking a bulk of the wide receiving yardage and touchdowns. You contrast that with the defense, and it doesn’t make any sense, really. It’s like what we’ve been dealing with at Cal the last couple of seasons: Great defense, but the offense leaves a lot to be desired. I know you’re not hopeful going into this weekend, but what do you think the defense can do for Oregon State? Cal’s offense has a new quarterback now and they have to adapt to his play style, so do you think they could take advantage of that?
AL: I think that it really comes down to the middle. I’ve been watching Oregon State football since I was 3. I’m a senior in college now. Longtime fan. Something that I’ve seen recently that has been an issue on the defense is simple fundamentals in terms of following through on tackling. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve yelled “wrap up” at the field and just been frustrated. You can see that with the 91-yard touchdown Utah had. It’s as simple as, instead of throwing your body weight, it’s driving with your shoulder, driving to the ground, finishing the play, and that’s no longer a 91-yard touchdown and you can really change the game. I’m sure that they’re watching a lot of film, and I’m sure they’re really criticizing that. If they want any chance of having a decent game, of being competitive against Cal, it’s going to start with those minor fundamentals that are really going to be focused on. How do we stop the play before it develops into something that we can’t contain?
SG: Head coach Jonathan Smith had an interesting start to the season. That upswing, and then this shot to the stomach. Do you think his job is in danger at all?
AL: I think he has a couple more seasons. A lot of people understand that he came into a program that was struggling pretty hard, to begin with. Some of these players have seen some really intense coaching changes. We haven’t had a consistent coach since early 2010. If you line up stats from last season and previous games, you start to see that there is improvement. It’s just not showing up in points on the board and wins and losses. The team itself is getting better than it was last year. They’ve been under the same coaching staff, besides one coach, for the second year now. The only chance for success with this program is at least some consistency in coaching. I think it’s going to be a very long, long rebuilding process. I don’t think his job is in danger as of now. I think people will be watching him a little closer, but I don’t think he’s in danger until he’s looking at his third or fourth season at 2-10.
SG: What are your score predictions for this weekend?
AL: I would guess from an offensive side that we’ll be a little bit better this week. Let’s go 21, if I’m being generous. I doubt we will kick any field goals. It makes sense — we’ve not been doing that. But let’s say 35-21, in favor of Cal.
SG: Yeah, I think Cal does have a pretty good chance, but then again, it is Cal. There’s always that caveat, that historical caveat that we could blow it at any moment.