California will play its first game against an FBC (Division I-A) team on Sept. 11 when it hosts Colorado, a game that may determine whether the aspects that looked so promising in the opener against UC Davis will be as effective against a higher level of competition.
"The speed of the game is going to be a lot different this week," Golden Bears head coach coach Jeff Tedford said.
In fact, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins claims this is the fastest team he has had in his five seasons at Colorado, which raises several questions.
Cal faces plenty of questions.
Can Cal freshman wide reciever Keenan Allen be as dominant against the Buffaloes as he was against UC Davis, an FCS (Division I-AA) team?
Can Cal quarterback Kevin Riley be as efficient as he was against Davis?
Can the Cal defense, which has been reconfigured under new coach Clancy Pendergast, defend the pass as well against Colorado as it did against UC Davis?
The Bears have not proved anything yet, but playing a Colorado team that will join the Pac-10 either in 2011 or 2012 will provide a better indication of what Cal has to offer this season.
The biggest issue may be the defense. The Bears' completely stifled UC Davis quarterback Randy Wright, but he is a redshirt freshman and was making his college debut. Colorado presents a more legitimate challenge with quarterback Tyler Hansen (17-for-25 in a 24-3 win over Colorado State) and wide receiver Scotty McKnight. The Bears' secondary was their weakness last season, and this game will indicate whether it is significantly improved.
It also may reveal more about Cal's defensive scheme. The Bears did not show much of the defensive diversity Pendergast has reportedly added. He may show some of the blitz packages against the Buffaloes.
The game also may reveal whether opposing defenses will put any additional focus on Allen based on his impact in the opener. Tedford thinks he has enough talent across the board to prevent opponents from paying extra attention to Allen. Plus, the coach is trying to rein in some of the premature hyperbole surrounding Allen's performance.
"It's one game,"he said. "You have to make sure you don't get carried away with it."
Notes & Quotes
Cal starting cornerback Darian Hagan Jr. is the son of Darian Hagan Sr., who was Colorado's starting quarterback in 1990 when the Buffaloes claimed a share of the national title. The elder Hagan is in the Colorado Hall of Fame.
It remains unclear whether Colorado will join the Pac-10 in 2011 or 2012. The school originally said it would join in 2012, but when Utah subsequently stated that it would move to the Pac-10 in 2011, Colorado tried to get out of the Big 12 a year early. As of Sept. 7, however, negotiations with the Big 12 have not been fruitful, and Colorado is still scheduled to remain in the Big 12 through the 2011 season. That could certainly change between now and next season, though.
Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau was Cal's wide receivers coach in 2005.
SERIES HISTORY: Series is tied 2-2 (last meeting, 1982, 31-17 Cal).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal's offense was impressive in the opener against an outmanned opponent. Quarteback Kevin Riley threw three touchdown passes without an interception, but he will be facing a Colorado defense that picked off three passes in its opener. Running backs Shane Vereen and Isi Sofele both were productive, but the star of the game was freshman wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had 120 receiving yards and 38 rushing yards while scoring two touchdowns. Whether he can do that against a Colorado defense that did not yield a touchdown in its opener is a big question. However, wide receiver Marvin Jones and TE Anthony Miller provide proven targets for Riley as well, so opponents may not be able to focus too much on Allen.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The aggressive defensive installed by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was impressive in the opener against UC Davis. But unlike UC Davis, whose starting quarterback was a redshirt freshman making his college debut, Colorado has a quarterback (Tyler Hansen) who started most of last season and was 17-for-25 in the opener against Colorado State. The Bears' pass defense is still the issue, with new starters at three of the four linebacker spots and defensive backs who last season did not cover receivers well or play the ball well in the air. Pendergast's scheme depends on applying pressure on the quarterback to limit the time defensive backs have to cover receivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were pretty basic. You saw a little taste of it. You'll see a little more of it this week."-- Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, on the Bears' new defensive approach, which was not fully revealed in the opener against UC Davis.
Strategy and Personnel
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Colorado (1-0) at Cal (1-0), Sept. 11 -- Cal is hosting Colorado for only the second time, the Bears winning the other meeting in Berkeley 10-0 in 1968. Colorado is coming off a 24-3 victory over Colorado State, and the Bears overwhelmed UC Davis 52-3. Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen started the final seven games last season, when the Buffaloes went 3-9, and he started this year's season opener. He has enough mobility to scramble out of a pass rush and gain yardage. The Buffaloes intercepted three passes in the opener, which means Cal quarterback Kevin Riley must be judicious in his passing. This is a game Cal should win at home.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The pass rush is the biggest issue. If Cal can apply pressure on Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen it should stymie the Buffaloes' opportunity to exploit the Bears' secondary. If Kevin Riley has time to throw, he should be able to hit his receivers consistently. If Riley is harried, he may lose his rhythm and end up committing turnovers, either by fumbling or throwing interceptions. Getting the ball in Keenan Allen's hands is a priority, because he is capable of getting big yardage every time he touches the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Quarterback Kevin Riley -- The Bears' season depends on Riley's consistency. He played well against UC Davis, but his performance against a team from a major conference should be more indicative of his improvement from last season, if there is any. He has started 24 games and won 16 of them.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen -- After just one game, Allen, a true freshman, has established himself as a big-play performer. He can do almost anything on the field, and Cal will try to get him the ball in a variety of ways, hoping he can create something.
Linebacker Mike Mohamed -- He had seven tackles in limited playing time in the opening-game blowout of UC Davis, but he will need to be the stabilizing force against Colorado because there are a lot of new parts in Clancy Pendergast's defense. Mohamed's pass coverage will be a significant part of his role against the Buffaloes.
Running back Shane Vereen has had at least one reception in all 27 collegiate games he has played.
Four true freshmen -- linebacker Dave Wilkerson, linebacker Nick Forbes, tight end Jacob Wark, and wide receiver Keenan Allen -- saw action in the Bears' season-opening game.
Defensive ends Trevor Guyton and Deandre Coleman did not start the season opener, but they recorded three of the four tackles for losses Cal had. Guyton had one of Cal's two sacks, and Coleman had two tackles for losses.