Husky Football Preview: California 09/24/11

California Golden Bears (3-0) @ Washington Huskies (2-1)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
TV: ROOT; Radio: KJR; Internet Feed: SEE BOTTOM
Line: Pick ‘Em

Keenan Allen

Receiver Keenan Allen leads the Bears offensive attack. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Pac-12 season is here, and the Washington Huskies are right where they realistically hoped to be with two nonconference wins and a competitive showing at Nebraska. The Cal Bears lumber into town coming off of a not-nearly-as-dominant-as-the-score-suggests 63-12 win over a team called the Presbyterian Blue Hose.

California fits all manner of announcer clichés—“savvy” and “veteran” come to mind—as 25 of the 28 starters listed on the two-deeps are either juniors or seniors and only six 2010 starters have moved on. Offensively, Cal wants to stretch the field to set up bubble screens for their possession receivers. On defense, they’re creative with their blitz packages and will show a lot of different looks up front. Stout tacklers all around. The Bears are talented, exciting and experienced—the pieces are all there to improve on last year’s 5-7 finish.

On the Washington side, quarterback Keith Price isn’t worried about his knees—he’ll play as long he still has two of them, regardless of condition. Senior cornerback Quinton Richardson is working his way back toward full health, very important with Cal’s looming talent on the edges. And tailback/kick returner Jesse Callier will likely play, meaning freshman Bishop Sankey may not get a chance to redeem himself after a fumbled kickoff last week.

Finally, congratulations to Bears coach Jeff Tedford, who broke the school’s 86-year-old record for career wins last week with his 75th. A nice milestone for a respectable coach.

Scouting the Golden Bears:

  • Keenan Allen is going to be a good one. A five-star safety recruit in 2010 (arguably Cal’s best recruiting snag since Kyle Boller), the true sophomore knows defense is no longer on his radar. He’s on the Biletnikoff watch list after breaking all sorts of Cal freshman receiving records last season and is primed for his breakout performance. He’s big, slippery and dependable. Tedford loves to use him on end-arounds. This also applies.

  • Included in Every Cal Fan’s List of Favorite Things About Keenan Allen (disregarding for a moment that the list is approximately 2.2 light-years in length): Keenan Allen, in all his resplendence, is not even the best wide receiver on his own team. That would be senior Marvin Jones, who gets his very own bullet point because, though he still looks like a 14-year-old girl, this will likely be this third straight year leading the team in every mainstream receiving metric. It is possible that the tired cliché “deceptive speed” applies better to no other Pac-12 receiver than the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jones. Senior Mike Calvin and a bunch of young dudes provide decent depth behind Jones and Allen.

  • Jones and Allen are versatile. Deep routes, intermediate routes, screens, end-arounds, passing… They can do it all. That means they can get going without an established running game forcing defenses to stack the box, good news for Cal because the ground attack has been real spotty thus far With a few 30-yard exceptions, the Bears’ experienced offensive line has been underwhelming in opening holes for tailback Isi Sofele, who has yet to show that he’s anything more than average in creating yards for himself. In other words, the 5-foot-9 Sofele is no Joe Igber/Adimchinobe Echemandu/J.J. Arrington/Marshawn Lynch/Justin Forsett/Jahvid Best/Shane Vereen. (Whoa.) (OK, maybe he’s Joe Igber.) 

  • The offensive line has also had penalty/mental breakdown problems incongruous with their age. The Bears return four starters up front, two seniors and two juniors, and senior left tackle Mitchell Schwartz is a stud. But the only new starter, center/weightlifting machine Dominic Galas, has had some problems with shotgun snaps. Big, recurrent problems. And now he has to deal with Alameda Ta’amu blowing him up just as he snaps it. Definitely something to watch. 

  • From what I’ve seen, new quarterback Zach Maynard has more skill and composure than old starter Nate Longshore. Though that statement means about as much as “From what I’ve seen, Charlie Whitehurst has more skill and composure than Tarvaris Jackson” or “From what I’ve seen, I have more noses than Tycho Brahe,” it’s something, which is as much as the Bears could hope for out of the quarterbacks currently on the roster. Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo last year to play with his half-brother Keenan Allen, is an average runner and an average passer who will throw his share of picks but will get right back out there and attack the defense on the next possession.

  • All good teams have two quarterbacks—one on offense and one on defense—and senior strongside safety Sean Cattouse is the guy for the Bears. Cattouse is a joy to watch on the field. He flies around, makes sure tackles, hits a ton and jars the ball loose, leading both vocally and by example. The converted (offensive) quarterback will likely go in the first three-or-so rounds in April. 

  • But even with Cattouse, the Cal seconday looks… Well… How about 284 receiving yards allowed to Colorado’s only-moderately-nice true sophomore Paul Richardson? To go along with 474 passing yards to definitely-not-nice-at-all quarterback Tyler Hansen? Sophomore cornerback Steve Williams is bitter comes with a lot of hype, junior corner Marc Anthony could not have made a worse decision was pretty decent as a starter last year and senior safety D.J. Campbell is pretty average is pretty average, but the unit as a whole… We’ll see.
  • Weakside inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks is probably the third-best linebacker in the Pac-12, probably a 2012 first-rounder and probably the best player on the Bears. So I probably buried the lede here. Anyway. Kendricks racked up 8.5 sacks as a 3-4 rush linebacker last year, including two big ones that Jake Locker probably hasn’t forgotten. He has very good speed for a middle linebacker and excellent instincts to match. Keith Price will know where he is at all times. 
  • Kendricks’ inside-linebacking running mate D.J. Holt is a big, slow, experienced, run-stopping rock on the strong side. He leads the team in tackles with 23. The outside linebackers have very limited experience but some potential—sophomore Dan Camporeale has all of three career tackles but senior junior college transfer Ryan Davis is huge, strong and can get into the backfield. 
  • There is depth on the defensive line. At end, Redmond grad Trevor Guyton is on the Ted Hendricks Award watch list for the nation’s top defensive end, Ernest Owusu is a solid returning starter and former Garfield Bulldog Biggie Coleman’s reputation precedes him around these parts. The nose guards are both undersized, however—Kendrick Payne is listed at 285 and Aaron Tipoti (apparently healthy after missing last week with an ankle injury) is listed at 295. 

  • With two exceptions, Cal’s special teams has been disastrous this year. Kick protection has been a joke, as all-everything punter Bryan Anger had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown and Blue Hoses (Blue Hose? Blue Hosers? Blue Hoes? Blue Hosiery? Let’s go with “members of the Presbyterian side”) nearly got a hand on all of kicker Giorgio Tavecchio’s nine extra points. Anger has been going rugby-style to avoid further embarrassments. Kick coverage has been a Bears bugaboo for years now and doesn’t look a lot better this year.  
  • Anger’s 50.3-yard average over his last six unblocked punts is one of the special teams exceptions, the other being the electricity of true freshman kick returner Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was Steve Sarkisian’s first commitment from the 2011 class but defected to Cal in December. His fourth collegiate touch came last week in the form of an 88-yard kickoff return for six, earning him Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week. If he puts on a similar show this week, it’ll be like that time Abdul Gaddy went for 30 and 10 against Arizona.
  • That last bit was a joke.

Three Choppy Sentences of Analysis and Some Numbers:

Cal has some star power. BUT, their small 3-4 package has little chance of stopping Chris Polk at the line of scrimmage. THUS, Dawgs roll at home.

UW 30 Cal 20

INTERNET NOTE: Don’t have cable? Out of the area? I’ll be posting links to internet feeds during the game on my twitter account, @EntendreDaGiant.