1) Oregon State seems to be flirting between being one of the elite teams in the Pac-12 and being a second tier team. What do you think has been the biggest attributer to them inching towards being part of that top tier? Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks taking their game and leadership qualities to the next level. They both have proved to be true leaders this year and the numbers they are producing lead the nation. Riley’s offense takes a QB atleast until his 2nd year to make considerable progress and these guys have been money so far.
2) Sean Mannion is the best quarterback in the nation you don’t know. Give us a quick rundown of his game. Sean isn’t overly mobile but he is making good decisions this year and understands they can win most games so long as the offense is productive and errors are at a minimum. He is reading the coverage and going through his progressions and finding the best target instead of having much of a preference. With the running game struggling, he has still been able to manage the game and spread out the ball so defenses are still uncertain as to who will make the next big reception.
3) Oregon State is ranked 11th in the nation in scoring offense. What is it about this year’s offense that makes it so dynamic? Mannion and Cooks first and foremost, but the other receivers are also talented and effective at moving the chains and making big plays. Richard Mullaney has past Oregon State Biletnikoff winner Mike Hass like hands and Kevin Cummings has been effective at getting open for a timely catch when OSU needs it. TE Commor Hamlett has also been good but is out so TE Caleb Smith, who has been getting better, will need to continue to do so.
4) Defensively, Oregon State has not been as good. They are ranked 71st in the nation. What things must they do in order to stop the offensive attack of the Cal offense? The secondary can help themselves by being opportunistic and playing sound enough that the linebackers can focus on keeping the Cal running game in check. OSU leads the Pac-12 with 12 interceptions. Pressuring Goff and mixing up some blitz packages makes sense. Goff does not appear overly elusive and it is only those very mobile QBs that really give Oregon St. fits.
5) One area that the Beavers have been solid is in the turn over department. Despite the offense having turned the ball over 7 times this year, the Beavers are at +8 with 15 turnovers of their own. What has been the cause of the Beavers ability to get turnovers? CB Steven Nelson leads the nation with 5 picks and Ryan Reynolds earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week against WSU. They are running with receivers but keeping their eyes open and towards the QB whenever possible. In rushed QB scenarios they are quick enough to make a play on the ball or tip it. They seem to have good chemistry and with passing being popular in the conference it has produced opportunities.
6) Mike Riley has this team sitting at 5-1 on the year and 3-0 in the Pac-12. We’ve seen Stanford look vulnerable, Washington has two Pac-12 losses already… Is this team a real competitor for the 2nd spot in the Pac-12 North? OSU is usually a real competitor for the #2 spot. They had Stanford in trouble last year until Hogan just squirted out a pass as he was being tackled that went for a TD. That and the Vaz accidental fumble swung the game and were all that kept OSU out of the Rose Bowl.
7) Which players should Cal fans be paying special attention to this weekend? Mostly the usual suspects but the leadership is so good that OSU is tough to stop for long on offense. Mannion, Cooks, Mullaney, Cummings and then Storm Woods and Terron Ward at RB. The running game has been down but Ward is looking better and Woods is effective on screen plays and short passing routes.
8) Finish the Sentence: Oregon State wins if…they don’t beat themselves. Goff, Cal and Sonny Dykes will no doubt be hungry and try to make it a ballgame in the first half. If OSU can get to atleast a 10 point halftime lead most OSU fans will feel good about securing the win. Turnovers could hurt us but we have been pretty good about playing smart for the most part. Our defense has some vulnerabilities but OSU so far this season has been able to move the ball more consistently. If the Beavers stay focused and go to work for 4 quarters they should have a little more firepower than what Cal will find it easy to keep pace with.
1) Cal has struggled so far in 2013 and no doubt injuries have been an issue, but does the fan base still feel good about Dykes or is there some grumbling about who else may have been available? Justin Wilcox was mentioned a fair amount by the fans during the search but it seems Sandy Barbour was not as sold. Do you think fans would be happier with Wilcox right now and would he be more likely to have the team at 3-3 by now you think? The fan base is a bit torn. Some people blame him for the losses, some blame defensive coordinator Andy Buh and some think that this is just a really unlucky season for Cal. However, the people who do think this is all Dykes’ fault really don’t have a replacement in line. I believe Justin Wilcox would be the first person most fans would choose when really thinking about who they’d replace Dykes with. I don’t think even Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles or Bill O’Brien, let alone Justin Wilcox, could do much with this Cal team as currently constructed. This was going to (at best) be a .500 season, but likely was going to be a under .500 season. I say that because the cupboard was bare when Tedford left, the schedule is ranked as the 3rd toughest in the nation and Cal having bad luck has nothing to do with coaching. This team could have been hovering around .500 right now had the depth really not become an issue. I doubt anyone would be really happy with this team right now, no matter who’s coaching and what game plan Cal uses. This team is rebuilding and is without a lot of their key cogs.
2) Keeping on that thought is there any general sense that the Cal defense may not get as much attention as needed under Dykes? La Tech seemed to employ a “beat them in a shootout philosophy” so do you feel Dykes is too dependent on needing atleast 35 points a game to win? I think Andy Buh was the wrong choice to be the defensive coordinator. I thought that before the season and I really haven’t had my mind changed. I can’t blame him for the rash of injuries, but I can blame him for the poor tackling, the lack of technique shown by a majority of the players and the really bad game planning. I can’t forgive him for the team giving up big plays. I think that Sonny Dykes isn’t the worst coach in the world when it comes to defense. I think he recognizes that it isn’t his strong suit, he’s said so on more than a few occasions, and he knows that defenses are key to winning championships. I would say if anything changes this offseason, it’s Buh’s employment in Berkeley, and personally, I feel that isn’t a bad thing. I think getting someone more familiar with the Pac-12 style of play is what will lead to success.
3) Does Cal need atleast 4 wins next year for Sandy to not think about pulling the plug if Cal wins 2 or less games this year? Should the 321 million Memorial Stadium renovation mean expectations have to be at a certain level of moderate success? What Cal needs going forward is to compete at .500. I think this year is a little bit of a gimme for the staff, but with the renovations and the dwindling attendance at Memorial Stadium, they need to be at least .500 and competitive. If not, this staff wont be here past the 2015-2016 season. Cal has a history of putting out a solid team. Tedford, for all his faults, had done that. If this staff cannot at least put out a solid product, Cal’s alumni, fans and boosters will not stand for it. They want to win. They showed that in renovating their facilities, in actively being in the JUCO/Transfer market and putting out an ad campaign to draw in the SF market. They want to play for Pac-12 Championships not for last place.
4) Who are the offensive and defensive stars of the Cal Bears team? Jared Goff and Bryce Treggs are the biggest stars on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not to say that other people will not step up, but the Goff-to-Treggs team is the one to look out for. Defensively, I wouldn’t say there are any stars. However, I would say the guy who is the most intriguing is linebacker Hardy Nickerson. He’s gotten a lot more playing time than he probably should since Chris McCain was dismissed a few weeks back. He is a true freshman who has really been a bright spot this season. He has 43 tackles (21 solo) with 3 TFL and a forced fumble. I think he can really be a bight star for Cal going forward. I also believe that someone to watch is linebacker Khairi Fortt. I was disappointed with Fortt when he first transferred over to Cal from Penn State, because he came with such hype and really looked bad to start this season. He’s come on as of late and really cemented a spot in the lineup.
5) Goff is putting up some impressive numbers but has also been inconsistent as is common for freshmen. Are you confident he is the starter for the next few seasons and will make Cal a contender in the Pac-12? Is Cal excited about football and rising up to the challenge in a competitive Pac-12 and to better compete against their cross town rivals or is San Fran perhaps too much of a pro town and the challenge will be difficult for two college programs to excel in the Bay Area? I am confident in him as a player. I believe he is the kind of player you build a program with. He is like Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer or even a Brett Hundley. His inconsistent play is to be expected, he’s a freshman. I worry about Cal wasting him, because I am scared they will not recruit the kind of talent around him that would help this team compete. Goff is a special player. He can be a legend in Cal lore. He’s been breaking records left and right. But, it depends on Dykes (or whoever he’s replaced by) to build around him the way Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and (now) Jim Mora have. As for Cal being excited…I think Cal fans are not interested in the football team right now. The Bay Area is a loyal sports area, but they are loyal for the pro teams. Cal’s fan base seems to be stronger in other places than it is in the Bay. That doesn’t mean they don’t have loyal fans here, but if choosing between an underachieving football team or a playoff bound baseball team, the baseball team wins every time. They Bay Area loves Cal when they put out a good product, not when they are rebuilding.
6) Predict the first half and final score of the Oregon State-Cal ballgame and what the end difference is? Do you feel playing a primetime game on ESPN2 will give the Bears an extra shot of adrenaline? Cal played a top-10 team in UCLA last week in primetime on ESPN 2 and still played horribly. The game being so “close” has to do with UCLA playing a sloppy game and looking ahead to Stanford. I don’t see them playing a good game against a very tough Oregon State team that is looking for yet another bowl bound season. I think Cal’s bad run attack and their depleted defense, I see this game being very much like the Washington St/Cal game…look for a 42-20 game. Goff will do well, but he wont get much help at the running back spot and the defense will not be able to stop Mannion going crazy.
7) If Cal were to pull off the win it would be because…They stopped Sean Mannion. The secondary (which has been atrocious) gives up too many big plays. This would need to stop in order to win this game.
8) Does Sandy Barbour’s seat get hot if Cal struggles to find more wins this season? How supportive are Cal fans of her leadership and what does Cal need most to raise its sports profile? Yes. I don’t think too many fans liked the Dykes hiring, because they wanted to get other guys. While, I (and most sane Cal fans) wouldn’t blame Dykes, the way Barbour handled the Tedford situation and the hiring process left a lot to be desired. Quite frankly, Cal sits in a beautiful city, in a beautiful corner of the world, with a loyal (yet untapped) market with great facilities and yet they are a subpar team (and have been for a while) and cant draw in the kind of talent that they should be. This isn’t just a coaching thing, it’s a regime thing. Cal is good enough (in most facets) to be a nationally renowned program, and it needs a visionary in the leadership role to make it so. If Barbour doesn’t show the base something soon, the likelihood is that she’ll be gone. When it comes down to it, if Stanford (with tougher eligibility rules and older facilities) can do it, Cal must.