Cal thinks it’s a good football team. So does Arizona. But neither team has really faced any sort of challenge that can validify these two college programs this season. That is, until this weekend.
When the Bears (2-0) and the Wildcats (3-0) face off Saturday evening, the game will provide the first chance for these two teams to show the college football world how good they are. Neither wants to be considered a football team that can beat mediocre teams but wilts in the face of real competition. These two teams want to be contenders.
It’s a big game with a lot riding on it.
“You hate to be too cliched, but they’re all big when you only get 12 of them,” said Sonny Dykes, head coach. “Any time you start conference play, you want to get off to a good start.”
The team is coming into the game with more confidence, which Jared Goff has said has been evident in practice. He said the players know they are playing better than they played last year, so it’s been great to get off to a fast start this season. In the past few weeks, he’s seen “a multitude of stuff that makes you want to play and makes you want to win.”
“We just feel great right now going into this game,” Goff said.
Goff has started to incorporate more of a fade into his repertoire, and his talented receivers are helping him. Plus, the fact that Goff has such a strong receiving corps means there is no one dominant target — Goff can spread the ball around.
Kenny Lawler (eight receptions, 72 yards, three TDs) is the Bears’ leader in both receptions and touchdowns. Darius Powe (seven receptions, 156 yards, one TD) and Trevor Davis (six receptions, 161 yards, 1 TD) are the only two receivers with more than 100 yards. Combine that with strong performances from Chris Harper (seven receptions, 72 yards, one TD) and Bryce Treggs (five receptions, 43 yards, one TD) and Arizona has its hands nice and full.
With so many dangerous targets, Arizona’s cornerbacks — who have thus far disappointed the coaching staff with their seeming inability to force turnovers — will need to step it up. They’ll get some help from a defensive line that will try to put as much pressure as possible on Goff, but the Wildcats are without a dominant pass-rusher, meaning the defense will likely use a series of blitzes to try to throw Goff off his game.
Arizona’s defense as a whole has allowed a 64.6 completion rate from opposing quarterbacks and struggles in the red zone, allowing offenses to score touchdowns on seven of 11 drives.
So while the Bears look good on the offensive side of the ball, the other side of the ball — the defensive side — remains a question mark. So far, first-year defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has managed to tighten up the defense, but Cal is still far from being great. And the Bears will be facing a team whose offense ranks No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 with an average of 582.7 yards a game.
The Wildcats have averaged 39.7 points per game this season, largely due to the stand-out performance of freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, who has a 62.7 completion percentage, eight touchdowns and one interception on the year. Three of Arizona’s top receivers — Cayleb Jones, Austin Hill and David Richards — all stand at or above 6-foot-3.
The Wildcats also come into Friday’s game with a strong run game behind freshman running back Nick Wilson. Wilson (66 attempts for 449 yards) is averaging 6.8 yards a carry and 149.7 yards a game. Cal’s defensive line, which has yet to really be tested this year, will need to find a way to stop the run game.
“(Arizona does) a tremendous job blocking up front,” Kaufman said. “Our biggest challenge is we got to take care of the running game and not give up the big pass.”