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Cal vs. Northwestern Preview & Depth Chart Analysis

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After a long offseason and a spirited fall camp (HT Nam@CGB), football returns to California Memorial Stadium this Saturday, August 31.  The season opener features the debut of new Cal Coach Sonny Dykes and the high-tempo Bear Raid.  The sturdy Golden Bears – who may have the toughest schedule in the country – match up against the 22nd [in both the AP & USA Today polls] ranked Northwestern Wildcats.

Cal starts true freshman QB Jared Goff, while Northwestern will have the dual-QB tandem of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.  We should expect a fairly high scoring affair, as both teams will showcase explosive playmakers on offense – including RB Brendan Bigelow (Cal) and RB/KR Venric Mark (Northwestern).  With kickoff set for 7:30pm Pacific, everyone should look forward to an exciting night game!

Northwestern Week 1

Our friends at California Golden Blogs have put together detailed scouting reports on Northwestern:

offense and defense

Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald leads an experienced team coming off a 10-win season, while the Cal two-deep is littered with underclassmen:

Cal is not only breaking in two new schemes on offense and defense, both of which are significantly different than what the Bears ran a year ago, it will also start 10 sophomores or freshmen. While the talent is promising, this is a young team that could experience some growing pains on Saturday.

Ted Miller’s Pac-12 Blog

True freshman signal caller Jared Goff will direct the Bear Raid, but Cal will be missing veteran LB Nick Forbes, who is doubtful to play due to a lingering back injury.  RS freshman LB Hardy Nickerson will start in his place.  Leading returning WR Chris Harper, who had hurt his shoulder earlier in the week, will also start – as will SS Avery Sebastian, who had suffered a scary concussion a week into fall camp.  DE Brennan Scarlett will dress, but is questionable as he was limited all camp – as a result of a slow recovery from a broken hand that he suffered last season.

Cal’s offense will feature multiple running backs out of various sets – including the “regular” spread look, as well as the diamond & pistol formations.  Brendan Bigelow will start, but Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad are expected to receive a decent number of snaps.  Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin has been on record stating that at least 10 receivers (outside & inside) will play during a given game.  This means that in addition to starters Chris Harper & Bryce Treggs (Z & X – outside) and Richard Rodgers & Jackson Bouza (Y & H – inside), reserves such as Kenny Lawler & Maurice Harris (outside) and Maximo Espitia & Darius Powe (inside) will receive significant playing time.

The offensive line is led by returning starter C Chris Adcock, who is responsible for the cadence (snap count) and line calls (protections) in the Dykes/Franklin system.  Freddie Tagaloa & Jordan Rigsbee anchor the left side of the line, while rookies Matt Cochran & Steve Moore – both redshirt freshmen, and thus a potential weak point up front – are slated to hold down the right side.  Look for senior Bill Tyndall and walk-on Brian Farley to come in as the first subs off the bench.

Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh runs a base 4-3, and we should expect to see heavy rotation in the front-7 to keep the D fresh – especially if the Bear Raid runs at the 8-second-between-plays tempo that is Franklin’s reported goal.  Deandre Coleman & Vei Moala will start at DT, but Mustafa Jalil & Gabe King should get plenty of snaps.  Similarly, Chris McCain & Dan Camporeale will start at DE, but Kyle Kragen & Todd Barr should play as well.  Puka Lopa & Brennan Scarlett may even get into the rotation at some point.

Jalen Jefferson & Khairi Fortt will be the “everydown” LB’s in the 4-2-5 set – which we should see often as a counter to Northwestern multiple/spread-option attack.  Hardy Nickerson will be the MLB in the base defense, while fellow RS freshman Mike Barton should rotate in when Jefferson or Fortt need a breather.

The secondary is the most vulnerable part of the Cal defense.  Beyond starters Stefan McClure & Kam Jackson (at CB) and Avery Sebastian & Mike Lowe (at SS/FS), there is very little depth.  Buh will need youngsters such as S Damariay Drew & NB Issac Lapite to play well in nickel and dime packages.  Former WR Joel Willis, who converted to DB in the last week of camp, may get playing time in nickel/dime looks as well.

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