Ohio State will fly to Cal this week to face a Bears offense, which is really flying. They ran 99 offensive plays in their season opening loss to Northwestern and 95 more in their narrow win versus Portland State last week.
The Bears rely heavily on their aerial attack. They’ve tried to throw the ball 125 times this year while rushing 78 times. As a result, Jared Goff leads the nation in passing yards (935) and total offense (458).
He also has two of the three best passing days ever for a Cal quarterback…Oh, and did I mention he’s only played two games? He’s a true freshman. The only Bears signal caller to have a better day in terms of passing yardage is Pat Barnes in 1996. However, he needed 4 overtimes to rack up 503 yards.
So dedicated are they to throwing the ball, first-year coach Sonny Dykes converted all his returning tight ends to wide receivers this offseason.
And they use many of those wide receivers. Bryce Treggs has been the primary target so far, but already Cal has 5 players with 5 catches or more.
They only returned two full-time staters on the offensive line, which is why they have given up 9 sacks and might account for some of Cal’s struggles to run the ball early this season. As a team, they are averaging 2.82 yards per carry.
However, Ohio State fans will surely remember Brendan Bigelow, who had touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards last year at the Shoe. He totaled 160 yards that day in just four carries.
The early returns on Khalfani Muhammad have been impressive, too. He is a two-time state champion in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, and is only the third man to do that in the history of California high school athletics. He can catch as well. He has 100 receiving yards.
Finally, Cal has shown a willingness to be unconventional. They will sometimes line up with an offensive lineman and fullback in the backfield. They call it their “super bone” formation.
Why, with all that being said, did Cal struggle to beat an FCS team last week, squeezing out
a 37-30 victory against Portland State at home?
Coach Dykes explained that the Vikings ran a formation Cal hadn’t seen on tape. Due to the Bears inexperience on defense, Portland State was able to take advantage. That inexperience issue has been exacerbated by some bad luck, too.
They suffered so many injuries on the defensive side of the ball that they only went live two times in fall camp. In addition to this, the one area they were most thin was at defensive back…so of course, they lost starting free safety Michael Lowe last week after he hurt his ankle in the first half. His status for the OSU game is uncertain.
Cal is making a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator, Andy Buh, and he’s trying to get more out of senior nose guard Deandre Coleman, who the staff has bluntly described as a non-factor to this point.
Still, the Bears struggles to stop teams are way too great to blame on one player. Portland State recorded 553 yards against Cal, and that’s after Northwestern rolled for 508.
As for special teams, Cal returns All-Pac-12 kicker Vincenzo D’Amato. Their punting and return units have been solid as well.
Since there’s a Big Ten coach who has already faced Cal, here is Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald discussing his team’s preparations for the Bears.