September 9th 2017. That is the last time Cal didn’t have to play a quarterback who most likely will play in the NFL. Many commentators have talked about the “gauntlet” of Cal’s schedule and perhaps nothing speaks to the true magnitude of that challenge like the names of the signal callers the Bears defense has faced. Shea Patterson, Sam Darnold, Justin Herbert*, Jake Browning, Luke Falk and Khalil Tate. That is a lineup of future NFL quarterbacks, all of whom with the exception of Browning have first round potential. Hell, last week even Uncle Ted mentioned Khalil Tate entering the Heisman conversation.
Khalil Tate at some point of spectacular-spectacular should enter Heisman conversation... I mean... did you just see that?— Ted Miller (@TedMillerRK) October 22, 2017
Well hello Colorado! Talk about a breath of fresh air just when you need one. The Buffs are struggling and last week marked a new low after getting shutout by Washington State. Mike MacIntyre has more questions than answers at quarterback and nothing illustrates his personal dilemma more than his quote after the Washington State loss.
#cubuffs coach Mike MacIntyre said Steven Montez and Sam Noyer will compete for starting QB job this week for the game vs. Cal. Said Buffs will not burn Tyler Lytle’s redshirt. Also didn’t rule out walk-on Casey Marksberry— Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) October 22, 2017
Few things say I have zero confidence in my quarterback like blowing the competition wide open eight games into the season with three players vying for the top spot. What makes this matchup difficult for the Bears is you don’t know who or what to game plan for as a defense. However on the laundry list of opponent concerns for the Bears defense in 2017, that falls fairly low on the list.
2017 Season to Date
By all accounts, the Buffaloes season started off the 2017 season on a strong foot with three straight wins. Heading into their marquee matchup with Washington, Steven Montez was coming off a massive performance throwing for over 350 yards and four touchdowns. Shortly after, things started unraveling for Colorado and particularly the Buffaloes offense. Washington held Colorado’s offense to ten points the following week and the next week UCLA’s defense, which hasn’t stopped anyone this season, held them to 23 points. The Khalil Tate show arrived a week later, torching the Colorado defense and then hapless Oregon State nearly pulled off an upset victory. Then, in the worst offensive performance coach MacIntyre has seen in the last five years, Washington State shut out Colorado sending the season into a tail spin.
So who exactly are the quarterbacks that we may see Saturday?
Steven Montez, Sophomore
Montez was the incumbent starter after a freshman campaign that saw him pass for over 1,000 yards with a 135 passer rating. Montez has struggled with his efficiency in the last four games, watching his completion percentage plummet while being much more careless with the football. At the time he was pulled last Saturday, Montez was 4 of 13 for 21 yards and a QBR of 3. Needless to say, the Colorado coaching staff need to see more from him against the Bears on Saturday.
Sam Noyer, Freshman
Noyer is the new name on the block having redshirted his true freshman season. He replaced Montez at half last week and didn’t exactly stand out. He finished the game 7 for 18 for 53 yards and an abysmal 38% completion percentage. Noyer should be a bit more familiar to the Bears as he was recruited by Cal’s offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin before signing with Colorado. Noyer also possesses the ability to run the football however in five attempts against Washington State he failed to impress.
Casey Marksberry, Freshman Walk On
Casey is a real wildcard. He came into the Washington State game last week and completed two of three passes for 20 yards. It is hard to gauge just how serious MacIntyre is about playing Marksberry but it is very clear that he has no tolerance left for his quarterbacks making the wrong reads. Marksberry was the Colorado Scout Team Player of the Year last season and we have seen how well walk ons have done in the Pac-12 in the form of Luke Falk. While it would be a shock to see Marksberry start Saturday, don’t be surprised if he comes into the game if Montez or Noyer struggle out of the gates.
What to Expect Come Saturday
It’s quite hard not to love this matchup for the Cal defense. Look no further than the Washington State’s success against Colorado as a confidence boost for the Bears coming into Saturday. Colorado employs a much more balanced attack than the likes of Arizona which favors a Bears defense that has become much more stingy in passing situations than against run heavy opponents. The Washington defense that gave Colorado so much trouble just a few weeks ago will be what the Bears hope to recreate come Saturday, throwing many different looks at Montez or Noyer.
The player to watch on the Colorado offense is without a doubt senior Philip Lindsay. Lindsay rushed a Shane Vereen Herculean 41 times against Arizona for a school record 281 yards. The Bears have shown vulnerability to the run in recent weeks and you can be sure MacIntyre will lean heavily into his rushing attack with the inconsistencies at quarterback.
Saturday is a much more winnable matchup for the Bears defense than any of the previous six opponents. The disguise defensive looks that have been so effective against more elite offenses should disrupt an already vulnerable passing game which can allow the Bears linebackers to focus on stopping the Colorado run game. If the Bears can force a couple of turnovers early in the game, it could be yet another long Saturday for the Colorado offense.