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Mid-Season Depth Chart Analysis

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What has changed since Week 1?

UCLA v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It is no secret that Cal is struggling right now, to say the least. They entered their fourth game against Oregon ranked #24 in the country, and even though many felt that ranking was undeserved, to drop to the bottom of the Pac-12 after just three games is definitely alarming. What has changed? Who’s at fault?

The purpose of this article is to look at each position group individually and find out what has changed since Week 1, who is getting the majority of the playing time as of right now, and to determine how each position has done performance-wise up to this point in the season.

Offense

Quarterback

  1. Chase Garbers
  2. Brandon McIlwain
  3. Ross Bowers?

So I guess Ross Bowers was technically the starter for Week 1, but for whatever reason he was almost immediately relegated to third on the depth chart despite a solid 2017 campaign. McIlwain and Garbers split reps for a few weeks until the coaches seemingly declared Brandon McIlwain as the starter.

However, as we all know, he has struggled massively in the games he has started. While he looked great on the ground when splitting with Garbers, he has been ineffective as a full-time passer and has simply turned the ball over way too much. Cal then decided to give Garbers another look against Oregon State, and he looked fantastic. as the Cal offense scored 49 points in their best performance of the season. However, it was against Oregon State, who is probably the worst team in the conference. Can this success be maintained as we start playing the top of the Pac-12? Either way, Cal can’t win any games if they keep getting such poor performances from the quarterback position.

Running Back

  1. Patrick Laird
  2. Christopher Brown Jr.
  3. Marcel Dancy

After a slow start to the season, Patrick Laird has been able to pick up things on the ground as of late. With Brandon McIlwain running the ball so often from the quarterback position, Cal hasn’t needed to rotate Laird in and out of games very often. Because of this, we barely even know who is his primary backup at this point.

Both Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy have fewer than 20 carries on the season. Dancy has two more carries (13) and has been more productive stat-wise, but almost all of his production came against FCS Idaho State where as Brown Jr. has gotten the nod lately in conference play. This trend continued against Oregon State, as Brown Jr. got six carries to zero from Dancy. However, this once once again against a poor team, and we will truly find out the primary backup as soon as next week against Washington. Brown Jr. definitely seems like the more likely candidate at this point.

Regardless, Patrick Laird is the workhorse, and if the offense continues to have a similar style going forward, there won’t be much of a need for a backup. However, the offense has struggled so much that we may definitely see some changes in the upcoming weeks. Laird may get more carries, and his backups may as well. Maybe we go with Garbers at QB and run less from that position. Honestly, who knows? Regardless, Laird is our workhorse back and a guy who’s success is crucial to the overall performance of the offense.

Fullback

  1. Malik McMorris

With us doing whatever we are doing this year at offense instead of the more traditional offense used last year, Malik McMorris has definitely been used a lot less. It is a shame, as he is not only an exciting player to watch but a very good one and a unique one at that. I think that a player like McMorris needs to be utilized more going forward as a blocker in order for us to enjoy more offensive success.

Wide Receiver

X: Vic Wharton

Z: Jordan Duncan

Slot: Kanawai Noa

4. Moe Ways

5. Jeremiah Hawkins

The quarterbacks sure haven’t helped, but the receiver position hasn’t been great either so far this season. Vic Wharton III has honestly been pretty bad, Jordan Duncan is now injured, Kanawai Noa hasn’t been able to replicate the same success as last year. His season low was this past Saturday against UCLA where his costly decision to stay in-bounds near the half made us have to settle for a field goal that we would later miss, putting us in a 13-0 deficit at halftime that we would never recover from. Ways has been fine for what he is and Hawkins has definitely looked explosive at times, but this group has been plagued by inexplicable drops and other inconsistencies that have been another large contributor to the recent offensive struggles.

Furthermore, it remains to seen who will replace Jordan Duncan as the starting receiver opposite of Vic Wharton III. I would expect Ways to fill that role and then we will likely see either Nikko Remigio or Brandon Singleton carve out a smaller role in the passing game, but regardless the injury is just another blow to a struggling receiving corps and offense as a whole.

Tight End

  1. Ian Bunting
  2. Ray Hudson

Ray Hudson is one of the fan-favorite players and was poised to have a big season as the starting tight end this year. While he has been an enormous disappointment, Ian Bunting has been able to step up as the starter and become a solid player for us.

Offensive Line

LT: Patrick Mekari

LG: Valentino Daltoso

C: Addison Ooms

RG: Michael Saffell

RT: Jake Curhan

Like I said before, most of the blame is (rightfully) being placed on McIlwain and the quarterback position. However, I also said that he hasn’t been given much help, and the offensive line is likely the best example of this. This is a group that is entirely the same from last season and one that many of us had very high expectations for this season. However, what we have gotten is once again a very confusing regression

The offensive line has simply been awful so far. We have seen countless false start penalties and have simply allowed too much pressure from opposing defenses. While the 13 sacks we have given up, while large, isn’t a huge number, the main reason why this hasn’t been higher has been the ability of Brandon McIlwain to evade pressure. He has constantly been forced to leave the pocket due to immediate opposing pass rush and has never been given the opportunity to comfortably sit in the pocket and go to work through the air.

Likewise, the offensive line hasn’t done the greatest job of blocking for Patrick Laird, as shown by his somewhat inefficient 3.9 yards per carry on the season. The offensive line is yet another position that needs to show dramatic improvement if we want to be able to change the direction that this offense is heading in.

Defense

Defensive Line

DE: Luc Bequette, Rusty Becker, Chinedu Udeogu

NG: Chris Palmer, Siulagisipai Fuimaono, Aaron Maldonado

DE: Tevin Paul, Zeandae Johnson, Lone Toailoa

Finally, some positives! while the offense has been a disaster pretty much this entire year, our defense has been extremely good outside of the UCLA game. Not only have they played well, but up until just recently they were able to mask many of the offenses struggles by holding opposing offenses even when placed in tough scenarios.

Defensive success begins with the defensive line. Luc Bequette and Tevin Paul have both been solid, although Chris Palmer has struggled a bit. While this group has been neither amazing nor awful, they have definitely cooled off after great performances in our OOC games. During conference play, opposing teams have mostly been able to attack us with the run, and this is where this group struggles.

As far as the backups, we have seen a little bit of Johnson and Becker and they have been just fine as backups. Maldonado really impressed against Idaho St. which bodes well for his future, but he hasn’t seen too much playing time outside of that game.

So again, while they haven’t been completely terrible, I would definitely consider them to be the weak point of our defense. If they can tighten up their play, we could easily see this defense return to dominant levels of play. However, doing so may be tough with our hardest games coming up on the schedule.

Linebackers

SAM: Malik Psalms, Deon White, Ben Moos

MIKE: Evan Weaver, Evan Tattersall, Colt Doughty

WILL: Jordan Kunaszyk, Evan Rambo, Colt Doughty

RUSH: Alex Funches, Joseph Ogunbanjo

Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk have been simply fantastic so far. They have been all over the field, putting up enormous tackle numbers and making their impact felt all throughout games. I think their fantastic play has done a great job masking some defensive line struggles. Someone has got to make the tackles, and they have done exactly that. Both of them have over 45 more tackles than the third highest tackler on the team. The Cal run defense hasn’t been great overall, but without these two, it could be a lot worse. It did show flashes of brilliance as well in the Oregon State game. The linebackers have also played well in coverage, helping protect the middle of the field for what has been a great pass defense so far.

Funches and Psalms have been pretty good in their own right as well. I am especially satisfied with Psalms as he has done a good job filling in for the injured Cameron Goode, although another true stud like Goode definitely could be useful.

With the starters playing so well, we haven’t had too much of a need for backups, but we have definitely seen some promising signs around the board.

Secondary

Cornerbacks

  1. Camryn Bynum
  2. Elijah Hicks
  3. Josh Drayden/Traveon Beck
  4. Branden Smith

Safeties

  1. Ashtyn Davis
  2. Quentin Tartabull
  3. Jaylinn Hawkins
  4. Trey Turner III

Coming into the year, we recognized that the secondary would likely be the biggest strength of this team as a whole. For once, we were right. This unit has been absolutely fantastic, allowing just 166.43 passing yards per game. To put that in context, that is just twelve more yards than the 154.4 we are allowing per game on the ground. Furthermore, it is substantially less than even our own offensive number of 217.29 passing yards per game. Our passing offense has been awful, but opposing passing offenses have been worse (despite turnovers of course).

Cam Bynum is a legitimate star for us. Ashtyn Davis has been fantastic so far. Elijah Hicks is great, and we are getting great production from both Josh Drayden and Traveon Beck. As far as the other safeties, Quentin Tartabull has been good and Jaylinn Hawkins has a team-leading three interceptions on the year, despite all of them coming very early in the season.

This group has simply been amazing. For all of our struggles, it has been fun to watch us shut down opposing passing offenses. While we don’t know what level this can continue at as we start to play better teams, we do know that this unit should be able to at least continue to perform at a good enough level to be able to give opposing quarterbacks a solid amount of trouble.

Special Teams

K: Greg Thomas

P: Steven Coutts

KR: Ashtyn Davis

PR: Vic Wharton/Nikko Remigio

Greg Thomas has only actually attempted six field goals on the season, making four of them. While most people will remember the missed chip shot against UCLA, he has neither been good nor bad in such a small sample size.

Steven Coutts, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise. His 73 yard bomb was his highlight of the year so far, but he has been solid on the rest of his punts as well.

Ashtyn Davis has been truly electric on kickoff returns, averaging 28 yards per return and even scoring on one against Idaho State.

Vic Wharton III has struggled mightily as the punt returner, as he not only has been ineffective but has had trouble handling the punts. This has opened the door for Nikko Remigio to compete for the job, and he has been much more effective in limited time. He did get the start against Oregon State, but was mostly ineffective. It remains to see how this battle will play out in the future.

Overall, this team has a lot of work to do in order to return to competitiveness for the rest of the season. It remains to see how this season will play out, and many of us (including me) are pretty much at a loss at what to expect. I guess let’s just hope for the best while expecting absolutely nothing.

What do you think Cal fans? Let’s get a discussion going in the comment section!

GO BEARS!!!