Stanford football shootaround: Beat writers talk Stanford offense, Cal defense

Amanda Ramirez/Senior Staff

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Kedon Slovis had a nearly immaculate performance against the Cal defense Saturday. What gives you optimism that the Bears will have a better outing against a Stanford offense that threw for 504 yards in its own game last weekend? 

Shailin Singh: Despite allowing 41 points, Cal head coach Justin Wilcox iterated after the game that there was not an alarming number of blown coverages. For instance, on both of the touchdowns that cornerback Elijah Hicks allowed, he was in position to make a play on the ball before uncharacteristically losing balance on both attempts.

Emily Ohman: Stanford quarterback Davis Mills also threw two interceptions in that game, and Stanford ended up dropping its contest against Washington State 49-22 despite the junior’s incredible outing. Cal held the infamously high-scoring Cougars to just 20 points when the two faced off, which indicates that for the most part, the Bears know how to shut down a passing-oriented offense. The Bears’ secondary had a tough outing last weekend, but the Cardinal have a significantly less NFL-esque receiving corps than USC does, and I’m confident that Cal will be able to defend Stanford whether they choose to move the rock through the air or on the ground.

Josh Yuen: If you know Cal defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander, you know he’s already broken down every throw Slovis made against the secondary Saturday night and grilled everyone on how the unit has to be better. He famously declared, “This team goes how we go!” and that could not have rung truer against the Trojans — on the wrong side of the coin. Even if Ashtyn Davis is unable to go, I’m anxious to see how Jaylinn Hawkins and Trey Turner III hold up on the back end. And against Stanford’s dynamic trio of receivers, I’m sure Elijah Hicks and Camryn Bynum are eager to make up for last weekend’s rough outing. 

 

If Chase Garbers is held out against Stanford, which Devon Modster do you expect to see Saturday? The one who accounted for four touchdowns against Washington State or the one who turned the ball over twice against USC? 

SS: Somewhere in between, as both of those performances are on opposite sides of the spectrum. I would expect Modster to have a game that might not be great but is adequate to win. Especially with key offensive threats such as Kekoa Crawford and Christopher Brown Jr. currently on the injury list, the ceiling for the offense in general is pretty unpredictable at the moment. I’d still expect Modster to throw for about 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns, as the Stanford defense is not nearly as dangerous as it has been for a large portion of this century.

EO: I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Modster to knock his talent quite yet. Ever since his marquee win against Washington State, Modster has been consistently hitting the numbers and delivering on-target passes that were dropped. If Modster’s receivers can exercise consistency, I think the offense will be able to piece together some scoring drives, although I doubt it’ll be as pretty as the Bears’ 426 total yard game against Wazzu.

JY: That same Washington State defense that Modster flourished against was the same one that surrendered 504 passing yards to Stanford’s backup quarterback a week later. I don’t expect much from Modster, even with the Cardinal defense’s rampant inconsistency. One word that our friends over at the Stanford Daily used to describe the defense this year was beleaguered, but that more or less sums up Modster’s Cal career in a nutshell as well. If Christopher Brown Jr. is able to play, I think the offense will be able to strike a better balance and move the ball consistently, but there’s just not a ton of reason to believe that Modster can finish drives in the red zone. 

 

As part of Davis Mills’ record-breaking afternoon, receivers Michael Wilson, Connor Wedington and Simi Fehoko all accounted for at least 90 receiving yards and several explosive plays. It’s no secret that the Cardinal are talented, even if the team’s record shows otherwise. Which Stanford playmaker gives you the biggest worry on either side of the ball? 

SS: While running back Cameron Scarlett has been quiet as of late and has not quite lived up to expectations, Cal has struggled against the run at certain points this season and I expect the Bears’ secondary to have a rebound performance after last week. Thus, I could see Scarlett putting up a strong game after having a touchdown in last year’s Big Game. The running back is averaging a respectable 4.4 yards per carry this season, while also tacking on nearly 200 yards through the air.

EO: I’m worried that Michael Wilson will be to Davis Mills what USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. was to Kedon Slovis this weekend. Wilson recorded 114 yards against Washington State last weekend and is the team’s leading receiver with 513 yards this season. If Mills chooses to plug Wilson like he did last weekend, the Bears offense either needs to come up with a brilliant scheme to score or the defense needs to keep Stanford from doing just that, although both would be nice.

JY: Simi Fehoko is the guy to watch here. One of the coolest things to watch every year in college football is the freshman stud who makes a name for himself as the season progresses. Fehoko has five touchdowns in his past three games and is averaging 30 yards per reception despite hauling in just a couple of passes per contest. On the other side of the ball, Cal fans will remember Paulson Adebo’s one-handed interception in the California Memorial Stadium end zone last December. While the Bears are proud to boast arguably the best secondary in the country, Adebo is going to make one lucky NFL team very happy next April when he gets selected somewhere within the first few rounds of the draft.

 

Things between Cal and Stanford don’t tend to go as planned. Any bold predictions for Saturday afternoon on the Farm? 

SS: The quarterbacks will combine to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. This may not be that hot of a take, but I do envision that this will be a bit of a scrappy game in which both teams take plenty of risks. Modster has shown that he can be aggressive with his passing and sometimes gets caught in some bad situations, while Mills will take on a secondary that is much more talented than the Cougars unit that he just faced.

EO: Cal wins and snaps Stanford’s 10-year bowling streak. Season records alone would suggest that the Bears are the favorite, but given the beatdown Cal took from USC last weekend, the Bears will certainly have to play their best on a macro level to muster a win. This will be a healthy contest, to say the least, but Stanford has a lot of well-kept secrets in terms of talent and it can clearly produce offensively, which is not Cal’s strong suit. If the Bears pull off a win and recapture the Stanford Axe, it will be a huge victory for the fans in blue and gold.

JY: The Cal defense forces three or more turnovers. If the Cardinal go with a game plan that resembles anything close to last week’s 50 passes against Washington State, Cal’s defensive backs will be ready to pounce, with or without Davis. Mills was also picked off twice last weekend against the Wazzu secondary and can’t compare to a healthy K.J. Costello.

 

Bonus Question: Who will be The Daily Californian’s Ink Bowl MVP on Saturday morning? 

SS: Can Sariöz — football is won in the trenches.

EO: Literally anyone other than me, unless I’m trying to get you to think that I won’t be good in order to draw importance away from me so that I’ll be open to make key plays. Maybe I’m using this question as a means of waging psychological warfare on the opponent.  

JY: Definitely Lisi Ludwig or Caden Carter. It’s about to go down. 

 

Shailin Singh, Emily Ohman and Josh Yuen are the 2019 football beat writers.

Contact Daily Cal Sports at [email protected].