Look at me now. I'm broken. Inherit my life. I'm broken. That pretty much sums up my feelings after last weekend. Broken. Shattered. Not much more to add. I grossly overestimated how prepared we would be as a team..because we weren't at all. I am epic disappoint. That said...I bring good tidings, fellow Cal fans. As I wandered the streets last Saturday after our loss to Nevada, I made my way to the Flea Market and sought the wise counsel of a three-nippled fortune-teller. And do you know what she told me? That all is not lost. Despite the fact that Nevada looked utterly pedestrian and downright sloppy in many phases of last Saturday's game, they will go on to win 12 games and knock off USC in the National Championship. Cody Fajardo will win the Heisman, the Davey O'Brien Aware AND the Walter Camp Award. Also, the entire Nevada secondary will win the Thorpe Award. Nevada will finish the season ranked #1 in total offense and total defense. So, there's really no shame in losing to them...they're not a middle of the road team from a mediocre conference after all. Really. SUPER SERIAL. ALL IS WELL.
Holy smokes, did we suck. From the top down, it was BAD. What exactly it bodes for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but I've got a pretty good idea...and it isn't good. Or maybe it is, depending on how you look at it. But really, that's a discussion for a little further down the line.
This week, we'll be hosting the FCS Southern Utah Thunderbirds. Formerly of the Great West Conference, SUU is beginning its first season as a member of the Big Sky. After compiling a 6-5 record last season, they were dispatched with ease when they visited Utah State last week, 3-34. The Thunderbirds compiled just 209 total yards in the losing effort, while they surrendered 581 yards of offense to Utah State. They're a pass-happy team with a quality quarterback though, and in Tedford's own words..."we're in no position to overlook anyone after losing last week." Sad but true.
So let's look at this Thunderbird offense after the jump.
2011 Record: 6-5
2011 OFFENSIVE STATS:
Rushing: 93.6 yards/game
Passing: 287.4 yards/game
Scoring: 30.2 points/game
2012 - Week 1 Result: Lost @ Utah State, 3-34
STARTER- Brad Sorenson, Senior - 6'5, 235 lbs
This will be Sorenson's third season as a starter for the T-Birds, and he's on the verge of becoming the all time leading passer at SUU. His path to Southern Utah was interesting; out of high school he committed to BYU and redshirted, then transferred to San Bernardino Valley College for a season, then arrived to SUU in 2010. As a redshirt sophomore, he threw for 3163 yards and 21 touchdowns, then followed that up with 3143 yards passing 17 touchdowns in 2011. He was named first-team All Great West, and the Great West Offensive POY after that 2011 season. Going into 2012, he was selected as a preseason FCS All-American. Thanks to his size and arm, he's widely considered one of the best FCS QB prospects out there. When he has time in the pocket, he's pretty accurate too; he completed almost 69% of his passes in 2011.
Southern Utah's spread offense is very heavy on the pass, with shotgun sets and four or five wide receivers the norm. They lean hard on Sorenson, partly due to his skill and also due to the fact that their running game is just a half-step above non-existent. He likes to stretch the field when he can but will utilize the play action pass at times too.
His day against Utah State last weekend was poor by anyone's standards though; as he went 12-31 for 153 yards and threw and interception to end the game. He was only sacked twice, but was under considerable duress and looked rushed in the pocket. That led to some serious accuracy problems as Sorenson didn't complete a pass in the 1st quarter of the game.
Upside: Size, arm, accuracy (most of the time), pass-happy offense
Downside: We're not UC Davis
What to Expect:
Depends entirely on whether we generate any sort of pass rush, and moreso whether we can rattle Sorenson early. Expect SUU to do everything they can to give Sorenson time to throw while attempting to keep him upright and sparkling clean. I'd expect quick throws and minimal time to invite the pass rush into the backfield. If they watched Nevada, it's doable unfortunately. Wouldn't be surprised to see Sorenson challenge our inside linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field in coverage. That's looking like it could be our soft underbelly. I'm hopeful that our pass rush looks a little better this Saturday. While we certainly made a few plays in the backfield, our inconsistency was unacceptable. Gonna need the front 7 to apply good pressure to force Sorenson into some hasty throws and mistakes. Then our secondary is gonna be tasked with making plays on third down...rather than giving them up. If we can't do it Saturday, we won't do it this season.
Henna Brown, Senior - 6'0, 225 lbs
Brian Wilson, Senior - 6'0, 210 lbs
The Thunderbirds lost their two leading rushers from 2011 in Austin Minefee (625 yards and 9 TD's) and Deckar Alexander (320 yards and 3 TD's) to graduation. Both guys were also widely featured in the passing game, with Minefee recording 46 catches for 395 yards and 2 TD's and Alexander recording 27 catches for 200 yards and 2 TD's. Minefee was also the primary kick returner. This year's starter is senior Henna Brown. Brown had 9 rushes for 21 yards against Utah State to go along with 3 receptions for 24 yards. In 2011, he rushed for 118 yards on 27 touches (a 4.4 ypc average) and 3 TD's, behind the aforementioned Minefee and Alexander. Brown did start two games last year as well. Brian Wilson was 2011's 5th leading rusher, but only played in 5 games and had 16 yards on 3 carries. He got one more carry (10) than did Brown against Utah State, but only went for 20 yards. It appears he'll be filling the fullback role vacated by now-center Dylan Fox. Frosh Malik Brown (6'1/193) is one to watch for as well. He had a nice showing in the team scrimmage.
In 2011, rushing yards accounted for just under a quarter of SUU's total offensive yardage, and they averaged just under 3 yards per carry as a team. That was with their two leading rushers...who are now gone. If the game against Utah State was any indication, this is not a team that is looking to pound the ball down your throat. It's not what they want to do, and it's not who they are.
Upside: Factors in the passing game, size.
Downside: THIS IS NOT A GOOD RUSHING OFFENSE
What to Expect:
This is not a dangerous rushing team; nor are these backs all that good. These guys worry me more in the pass game than the running game. SUU looks a lot like a poor man's version of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, where the rush is used more as a change of pace rather than a pace-setter. It's utilized just enough that we'll need to respect the run and make our tackles, but it won't be a difference maker in this game and SUU is not looking to pile up 200 yards on the ground. In that way, this will be a much different look than what Nevada gave us...and that's most likely a good thing. I expect few issues with the ground game as SUU probably isn't going to challenge us there, but watch for both Brown and Wilson in the flats once all those wide receivers have spread the field out.
Fatu Moala, Junior - 6'2, 185 lbs
Cameron Morgan, Senior - 6'3,197 lbs
Griff McNabb, Junior - 5'7, 160 lbs
Easton Pederson, Sophomore - 6'3, 210 lbs
Southern Utah lost their top six statistical receiving leaders from 2011. SIX! Belive it or not, that doesn't leave them compeltely void of experienced guys. Fatu Moala is their top returning WR; he started 7 games in 2011 where he caught 26 passes for 370 yards. Had by far the best receiving day of any Thunderbird against Utah State, catching 5 balls for 68 yards. Easton Pederson is another returning guy who saw starting time in the 2011 season. He caught 23 passes for 304 yards last year, but failed to record a single catch against Utah State. Griff McNabb transferred from Utah after the 2011 season, where he had just 2 catches for 13 yards but had 166 yards on 22 punts returns. He's small but quick, and will be a slot guy and factor in the return game. He's also a member of the "White Guys With The Whitest Names Ever" Club. Way to go, Griff! Look for Cameron Morgan as the fourth starter at receiver. He transferred a couple years ago from Wyoming and converted from defensive back to wide receiver last season. He only caught 2 passes for 15 yards in 2011 though.
Upside: Plenty of ball to go around
Downside: these guys are products of a system offense.
What to Expect:
Southern Utah wants to spread the ball around, and spread the field. They'll vary things with deep passes where they try to get behind the secondary and utilize quicker slot guys running underneath routes. Considering how poor our zone coverage looked against Nevada, this could be interesting. Our safeties are going to be challenged, which they seem to need. I'm also looking forward to seeing how our Nickel guys look. This should be a good exercise and moderate test for them, but nothing we shouldn't be able to handle. For the most part, we're not talking about superior athletes lining up for SUU. They've got a couple bigger receivers, and one runt who could should be a bit shiftier in space. I'm a bit apprehensive at the thought of our inside linebackers being asked to drop back into coverage...since I don't consider that a strength of either Mullins or Hurrell. Of course, they didn't do much against the run last weekend either. At the end of the day, we should be vastly superior to this group, but if they manage to score some points on us, it's going to be through the air.
STARTER- Jacob Allie, Junior - 6'0, 230 lbs
Departed senior TE Abbel Aiono was the only tight end to record any receptions in 2011; he had 28 for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. Based on the limited information available, and the fact that the only time I was able to see a tight end lined up for SUU in their game against Utah State...it was junior Jacob Allie...I'm assuming junior Jacob Allie is the tabbed starter at tight end as of now. Allie has no career catches, and SUU seems to only bring in a tight end for obvious rushing situations as an extra blocker. Allie, and the tight end position, appear to essentially be a non-factor. At least, that's what they want us to think.
Upside: Limited film and use could be an elaborate troll by SUU. ED DICKSON!
Downside: It's probably not a troll.
What to Expect:
They don't even line a tight end up most of the time. Whatever.
LT- Cody Burgess, Junior - 6'6, 317 lbs
LG- Gavin Farr, Junior - 6'3, 300 lbs
C- Dylan Fox, Senior - 6'2, 252 lbs
RG- Zach Brackus, Senior - 6'5, 325 lbs
RT- Russell Peterson, Senior - 6'4, 301 lbs
Dylan Fox is a former walkon linebacker who was a starter at fullback last season before moving to center, due to a rash of injuries on the OL. He started the last game of the season and earned the starting job for 2012. He's definitely the runt of the group at just over 250 pounds. The two guards, Zach Brackus and Gavin Farr, are the Thunderbird's best offensive linemen. Farr is a pre-season FCS All-American selection and was the Great West Conference's OL of the Year in 2010. Brackus has started every game in 3 years and was also named as a pre-season FCS All-American. Russell Peterson played in all 11 games of 2011, starting 7 (5 at guard, two at center). He's now playing right tackle. Left tackle Cody Burgess is also a converted guard. These guys are loads.
Upside: Pass blocking, size
Downside: Run blocking, mobility
What to Expect:
These are some big boys, and they're used to pass blocking in this offense. They're talented on the interior, but I have questions about the skill and mobility of the tackles. Furthermore, the lack of a tight end means that the tackles don't get much help and are on a bit of an island. With Deandre Coleman and possibly Payne/Moala commanding double teams, we should have an outside rusher running free at Sorenson. And we'll need to find ways to make that happen in order to get him out of his rhythm. Frankly, if we can't blow up this offensive line and pressure the quarterback, we're not getting to anyone this season. I'd prefer that we take some chances in a game where our offense should give us quite a cushion to work with.
This is the part where I would typically explain how Southern Utah is above average and not to be taken likely, but last weekend has still left me rather raw and humorless. I'm not gonna bullshit you, so let's not kid ourselves here. Southern Utah is, unquestionably, our weakest opponent this season. They're an FCS team that went 6-5 last year and lost their best players at every offensive skill position besides quarterback. They got smoked last week by Utah State and only ran up 209 yards of total offense in a game where they were playing from behind from the get go. That's really bad. They will be completely and utterly outgunned and outclassed on Saturday.
So really, this game is about Cal more than our opponent. We're all pissed about last weekend, and no one should be feeling it more than the team and the coaching staff. And what better way to take out some of your frustration than slaughtering a being weaker than yourself? Sure, this could be used as an opportunity to get some of the youngsters a bit of game experience...and I'm all for that. But not until we've done a sufficient job annihilating this team. Honestly, we're not gonna have a ton of chances to beat up on anyone else this year, so might as well take full advantage of it and boost the team's morale and collective self-esteem in the process. There's no real long-term benefit to a big win on Saturday over a weak opponent. It means little in terms of season outlook, so there's no real point in over-analyzing things too much. A favorable outcome is the expectation, and a big win is what should happen. That's what I expect.
But if we struggle on Saturday?