Talking Turkey with Burnt Orange Nation: A Holiday Bowl Chat

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 03: Case McCoy #6 of the Texas Longhorns runs during a game against the Baylor Bears at Floyd Casey Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Now that we've succeeded in getting our fan bases to hate one another, let's talk about the game, shall we? Tell us about your quarterback. How has he fared against defenses that do a good job getting pressure on the quarterback?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: At Cal, there has been, at times, a lot of mediocrity. But it all stems from the quarterback position.

When we lost to USC and UCLA, QB Zach Maynard threw a combined eleveteen billion interceptions. The offense could never get going and the defense always found itself defending a really short field. That is NEVER a recipe for success.

With the improvement at the latter part of the season, Maynard cut down on the interceptions and started making smarter decisions. The gameplan for Texas is pretty simple. Harass Maynard to get him making poor decisions. This seems like it is the gameplan for every QB, but Maynard to be particularly susceptible to that in prior games.

Now, I'd like to think that that is behind him and that he'll be the game manager that we need. There is some talent around him. Keenan Allen is one of the best WRs in the nation. Marvin Jones is a talented senior. Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson are a good compliment at RB. If Maynard can distribute the ball well, the offense can move. But that's the big question there. Can Maynard distribute the ball well?

To make sure that happens, Jeff Tedford is currently running up and down the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art. He'll be doing that and punching meat in Siberia for the next 20 days.

EYE OF THE TIGER!

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. What does Cal need to do to beat this Texas team?

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: On the offensive side of the ball, I think Cal really needs to keep the Texas D honest by making some plays with Maynard's legs. My co-author broke down a well-executed zone read that Cal ran against ASU, and I think it's hard to overstate how much it helps an offense to force the defense to account for the QB as a potential rusher. If Cal struggles to run the ball, Maynard's going to be in for a long evening of pressure, and I'd expect a turnover party. Keep us honest, though, and we have weaknesses (like our strong safety) that can be exploited.

On the flipside, well, basic competency should be sufficient to keep our offense in check. Without Fozzy Whittaker our offense has gone from average to awful, and any defense that can put us in 3rd and Must Pass is going to have a turnover party of its own. Our young quarterbacks have been absolutely dreadful any time they've been forced to carry the load on offense, and our running game simply hasn't been very effective the last third of the season as the injuries have piled up. We should have both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron for this game, but if Cal can put this game on our young QBs, we're in big trouble.

What's the best way to pick on this Cal team?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: Teams had the most success on offense against Cal when they were able to throw the ball well. Our DBs are young and our safeties have been inconsistent, at times. Look at the ASU offense, which threw up 38 on Cal. ASU QB Osweiler was able to pick on the Cal DBs and keep ASU rolling down the field:

Passing C-A-I Yds TD Long Sack
Osweiler,Brock 21-37-2 264 3 37 1

That opened up the running lanes, too:

Rushing No. Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg
Marshall,C. 23 159 2 157 2 34 6.8

It has been my experience that the Cal rush D is superior to the Cal pass D (unless Oregon is involved). So, if Texas can't pass the ball and the Cal D can focus on the run, I think it will be more difficult for Texas to move the ball. However, if Texas is able to pass the ball well and especially pick up 3rd downs, it'll open up the running lanes. I don't think is rocket science, certainly (passing well helps running), but I think that Cal doesn't believe the Texas QBs can pass. So, they'll be looking running first.

UCLA was actually able to run well on Cal without any passing attack. They have that really weird Pistol offense and basically ran the same play over and over and over. I'd like to think that that was an aberration. Texas hopes that it isn't!

What should the Cal offense do to pick apart the Texas defense?

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Sigh... That's not the profile Texas likes to see. We simply have no ability to make teams pay for weakness in the secondary. Same as has been true for every game since Fozzy blew out his knee, our quarterbacks are going to have to step up and provide at least average competency (without turning it over), or we'll lose barring an epic performance from the defense (see, Texas A&M game).

About that Texas defense, our starting strong safety just doesn't have any lateral range, nor the smarts/instincts to compensate for it -- Slow Later Range + Late Breaks On Ball = Disaster. So, if you see Cal trying to pick on #21 Blake Gideon, get giddy, Bears fans. That's the way to do it.

Of course, we don't make it easy on the quarterback, and RGIII's incredible success was as much about his pocket presence and incredible legs as it was picking on our safeties. Your QB has to be able to buy a little time with his feet because this Texas defense really gets tremendous pressure into the backfield.

I know it's not always the first thing people want to talk about, but I'm definitely curious about Cal's special teams. Any glaring strengths or weaknesses that could make a difference?

TwistNHook, California Golden BlogsHmm, special teams. Here is the thing about special teams. It consists of so many differing aspects that it is difficult to really have a clear determination. Let's take it one step at a time:

1. Kicking - Giorgio Tavecchio is the place kicker. He had a rough 2010 and many fans did not like him. You know how fans can be. There was a lack of faith coming into 2011. He's changed completely. Although he has had some XP problems (potentially due to poor blocking up front), he has been incredibly consistent on field goals. Amazing, really. On kick offs, he has made major strides! However, we still have some problems stopping returners at times.

2. Punting - Bryan Anger. Punting superstar! Another consistently great year. Started off a bit rough with some ill-timed rugby punting. That rugby style punting has gone by by and now he's back to his usual self. However, even with that, sometimes we still give up the big return. Cal needs to watch for that!

3. Returning kicks - A cast of characters have been returning kicks. My focus is on frosh Brendan Bigelow, who has Jahvid Best-style speed. However, I don't really think there has been an explosive return game here.
4. Returning punts - WR senior Marvin Jones has been returning punts. He is another speedster, but I don't remember a lot of amazing punt returns. The talent is there, but it just hasn't happened a lot. Woah, that is a lot!

What is Texas looking like?

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Can a kicker with extra point problems be considered good? Maybe so, but I'm glad to hear that Cal's having trouble with blocking in its kicking game. Texas is a danger to block kicks and punts, and our offense needs all the help it can get so that's encouraging.

Our special teams are pretty simple: Justin Tucker. There, I'm done.

Seriously, that's mostly it. Tucker punts it (kinda sucks at that), kicks it off (oddly, he's good in some games, bad in others), and place kicks for us (the dude is nails, and he has range to 52 yards). Losing Fozzy Whittaker (returned 2 kickoffs back for TDs) really stung, but we've got some dynamite speed that can break big ones, both on kick offs (DJ Monroe and Marquis Goodwin) and punts (Quandre Diggs).

Alright, now that we've run through this match up pretty well now, do you feel any differently about the game? I'll be honest: I haven't watched Cal play a down of football this year, and heading into this conversation I sort of hoped to hear you describe a team with a profile that sounded pretty favorable to us. Instead, you rudely informed me that Cal is vulnerable to downfield passing. Greaaaat. We'll get right on that.

You know what, though: I like the Holiday Bowl. Texas has been a half dozen times and I've always had a terrific time in San Diego, and it's always helped raise the spirits after a pretty disappointing season. It's also been a nice launching point for us recently: we followed up our 2007 Holiday Bowl appearance with a 12-1 season, Fiesta Bowl berth, and No. 2 final ranking. And the time before that, we followed up our 2003 Holiday Bowl with, let's see, what happened in 2004...

Oh, yeah. We went 11-1 and made the Rose Bowl. Do you remember that?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs I should note a few other aspects. One is that our outside linebackers are not as good as our inside linebackers. ILB are 2 seniors, DJ Holt and Mychal Kendricks (Pac-12 D Player of the Year). Just to note, Cal plays a 3-4, generally, and has done so since 2008. Outside is a motley crue of talented youth. So, when it comes to running up the middle, maybe not so much. But if Texas can take advantage of some of the inconsistencies of the OLB, they might be able to make some hay.

The UCLA game consisted of UCLA QB Kevin Prince taking almost every snap out of the pistol. Then, he would fake it to the RB and run around the edge. Whenever they gave it to the RB, he got stuffed up the middle for no gain. But every frigging time Prince ran around the edge, he would get the edge and rumble for many, many yards. It was ridiculously frustrating on a variety of levels. So, that is another way in which Texas can take advantage of the Cal D. Will they be able to do so? I'd like to think not. But I never know.

That UCLA loss was truly horrific. We played UCLA the week after they got DESTROYED by Arizona and half their offense was suspended. Cal had no business losing that game. No business. Perhaps the worst loss in the Tedford era. At that point, people were talking when Tedford would leave the program.

Winning 3 out of the last 4 (even if 2 of them against really bad teams) to accomplish our pre-season predictions really turned things around. If Cal can score the win against the Longhorns, we'll see some very happy fans going into 2012. 2012 looks to be a great season as Cal returns to its ancestral lair (Memorial Stadium) and hopes to build off of the hopeful end of the season. And if we can force Mack Brown into retirement...even better!

But, I'm not gonna woof too much. This is a tough Texas team and there are no guarantees.

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Sounds like Texas will have some opportunities to test Cal's speed on the edge with jet sweeps and reverses to DJ Monroe, Marquis Goodwin, and Jordan Shipley. Cal fans should note, of course, that Bryan Harsin is our offensive coordinator, and he's brought his bag of trick plays from Boise State with him. I fully expect to see one of our receivers throw a pass in the game.

Alright, well, this has been fun. Any final thoughts as we wrap this thing up?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs GO BEARS! BEAT TEXAS! HELL YES!

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Just remember:

Hook 'em

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