Bears Bureau: UNLV Football
Some risers, definitely some sinkers
Week 2 was certainly a roller coaster ride for the California Golden Bears. From an opening quarter where the offense could do no wrong in the pass game to the defense forcing UNLV into multiple punts, it looked like proceedings would be smooth. But as we’ve come to know and experience, that is never the case in this era of Cal football. From North Texas to Nevada to now UNLV, turtling has been the name of the game with big games the following week. And it has certainly effected some people’s stock and how some fans are feeling heading into an important litmus test in South Bend next week. This week’s report will be a little different, as I’ll be going beyond the Pac 12 and include said opponents for Cal and possibly others who faced Pac 12 competition.
Where to buy: Jaydn Ott
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Well if you didn’t buy stock in Ott after week 1, I’d advise you do so now before it’s too late. As if his impact wasn’t amazing enough last week, this week he had two opening quarter touchdowns with one on the ground and one via the pass where he literally flew into the endzone in what may have been a PTSD Jahvid Best moment for a lot of fans. It is not much of a stretch to say he’s the most explosive player on the team right now but it is crucial to mention that he is getting a big workload for a true freshman. His snaps and touches per game will be something that needs to be monitored as the season progresses regardless of how good he is. With the workload, he’s earned Pac 12 Freshman of the week honors for weeks 1&2, which definitely looks like a sign of things to come with Ott in the backfield. Through two games he has 156 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, so the production is clearly there and something that will be needed when Cal heads to Notre Dame next week on a national TV stage.
The Wide Receivers:
You’ll notice that the first two nominees for the buying section are the exact same as last week. Well there’s good reason for that since they have been the most dynamic players/set of players across the prior two weeks. Despite the wide receivers not getting into the end zone this week, they were crucial the setups for scores and 3rd down conversions, especially on 3rd and long where Jack Plummer needed someone to bail out the offense. Jeremiah Hunter (5 rec 79yds) had an 18 yard reception on the opening drive when it was 3rd&13 followed up by a 37 yard catch to setup Ott’s rushing touchdown. Next it was J Michael Sturdivant (6 rec 49yds), who had his fair share of 3rd down receptions and has clearly found chemistry with Plummer on timing routes. Mavin Anderson continued to show off his athleticism with a mini moss like catch that would have otherwise been a pick six had he not gotten his hands on it. Mason Mangum saw more snaps this week and had a 31 yard reception, showcasing the depth within the receiver room. Like many other position groups, they have a litmus test this week against Notre Dame and it will not be easy. They have to say disciplined and not get discouraged if they aren’t open on their initial routes and breaks.
Last week, Cal opened up a bit slow in regards to covering guys like Trent Tompkins so seeing someone like Ricky White from UNLV coming to town made for some anxious predictions. For those that don’t know, White transferred from Michigan State after last season and is extremely explosive, having put up 8 receptions for 196 yards and a touchdown against Michigan in 2020. While his statline is extremely limited I would not have been the least bit shocked had he put up around 150 receiving yards, he’s just that good. And yet Lu Magia Hearns and the rest of the secondary held White to 4 receptions for 59 yards. Kyle Williams proved to be a little more challenging to corral but with so much attention on White he was bound to get some numbers. Craig Woodson had what should’ve been an interception taken away from him and Daniel Scott was on a blitzing frenzy in the 4th quarter, applying all sorts of pressure on Doug Brumfield and forcing a ton of incompletions. Notre Dame has a decimated wide receiver core so it will be interesting to see the assignments on Saturday against the likes of All American tight end Michael Mayer and the rest of the skill position players.
Where to hold: Defensive line
Last week I wasn’t necessarily that impressed with the pressure that was put on Miles Hastings and while there was a step up this week against Doug Brumfield, I’m still not convinced it is good enough for this group of defenders. The pressure early in the game was simply not good enough against a UNLV offensive line that struggled last season and hasn’t had the time to put it together this year. Xavier Carlton got a sack in back to back weeks but other than that it took relentless blitz packages in the 4th quarter to get any sort of pressure on Brumfield, a lot of which he escaped out of until the secondary started getting involved. Henry Ikahihifo, Myles Williams, and Orin Patu all got into the action late and provided new life into the pass rush as the Rebels went down the field in the 4th quarter. However, the interior rush simply needs to be better if they don’t want Notre Dame sitting back and picking the defense apart slowly but surely. Of course this task becomes a lot harder without Brett Johnson and Stanley Mckenzie, but these guys can make it happen. They just need to be more consistent. Around the Arizona and Washington State games will be the litmus test for the defensive line’s development and its trends for the rest of the season.
The running game:
Much like last week with Damien Moore individually, this was a hard one to put on here. I feel like Jaydn Ott’s performance masked what was otherwise a pedestrian performance on the ground, in the sense that he broke tackles and made his way outside more often that not by sheer will. That’s not to say the blocks were never there, but like last week it felt like a bunch more creation rather than reaction in the backfield. Cal had 92 rushing yards against UNLV (52 from Ott) and 147 against UC Davis (104 from Ott), illustrating the literal carrying Ott is doing at the current moment. DeCarlos Brooks is averaging 3.15 yards per rush through two games and Damien Moore is averaging 3.55 yards per rush through two games, fairly pedestrian. However this is not all on them, the blocking and push from the offensive line has been iffy at best, forcing the backs to wait and hope a hole opens up and then get tackled for 2-3 yards once it does open. Moore’s and Brooks’s first steps have been slow out of their break, presumably because the holes just aren’t there and while they are patient runners, that’s not sustainable for 12 games.
I’m not entirely sure the turtling dilemma rests solely on the shoulders of Bill Musgrave. But no matter how you slice it, whether the direction is coming from Justin Wilcox or is a product of the gameplan, there simply has to be more urgency and creativity at the offensive helm. Cal scored 14 points against Nevada last year in the opening quarter then scored 3 points the rest of the way. This time, the Golden Bears scored 14 in the first quarter then 6 points the rest of the way against the Rebels. While UNLV added a ton of players through the transfer portal, this was still a 2-10 team last year and the offense scoring 20 points wasn’t good enough. Musgrave can clearly gameplan and have a good opening script, but there needs to be more. Ever since he got here, the offense has unquestionably been more explosive than it was under Beau Baldwin, but the floor needs to be raised a little bit. As a Raiders fan, I saw Musgrave help lead the charge for Derek Carr’s best season in the NFL in 2016, where he finished 4th in MVP voting. So it is clear Bill has it in him, but it’s clear all of us want to see more and need to be observant if we do end up seeing more.
Teetering and Selling: The Offensive Line
By far the most frustrating group on Saturday was the offensive line, who gave up 4 sacks against a UNLV defense that is not known for their pass rush nor their defense as a whole for that matter. 4 different defensive lineman got their name in the box score via a sack, and outrushed Spencer Lovell, Brayden Rohme, and TJ Session throughout the day. That’s not to say they didn’t hold their own early but as the game went on, Keith Hayward made adjustments to the Rebels rush techniques and the Golden Bears failed to subsequently respond. It is the second week in a row the offensive line has underperformed against a defense it was supposed to have its way with. Now the anti gets turned up with a trip to South Bend, where the likes of Bay Area native Isaiah Foskey will be foaming at the mouth to get to the quarterback. Jack Plummer has experience playing in South Bend, starting for Purdue last season in a 27-13 defeat. A lot of short throws and running will be prescribed for next week, so hopefully Cal can limit the amount of 3rd and longs via sack and penalties. Hold your breath everyone, this week could either be a big surprise or a big time reality check. The stock is teetering.
Quick hits from around the league and its opponents:
USC’s offense: Buy
Make no mistake about it, the final score of the USC game vs Stanford was 41-28 but it was never that close. USC put up 35 first half points and had a 41-14 lead heading into the 4th quarter before they sat on the ball and Stanford finally started to put drives together. A lot was made about the Trojans going through the transfer portal and a lot of those additions paid dividends across the first two weeks. From Caleb Williams to Jordan Addison to Mario Williams to Brenden Rice to Travis Dye to Austin Jones, USC has a ton of toys to play with and I don’t envy any defense that has to lineup against them. Fresno State and especially Oregon State will be good benchmarks to see if this offense averages around 35-40 points per game, which will be interesting to observe from a distance because Lincoln Riley has them looking smooth for the time being.
Washington State defensive line: Buy
By far the most impressive Pac 12 win this weekend came from the Washington State Cougars, who went into Camp Randall and defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 17-14. And the main reason for that was thanks to the resiliency of the Cougars defensive line. The best way I can describe Jake Dickert’s squad is that they are gritty, not afraid to mix it up with the best of them. Dickert’s team identity and culture are slowly revealing themselves and I’m intrigued to see just how far they can go. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Cougs, they use about 3 whole rotations with the defensive line, much like the Buffalo Bills under Sean Mcdermott. And when you consider that Wisconsin won the time of possession battle 38 minutes to 22, they needed all that depth. From Ron Stone Jr to Brennan Jackson to Travion Brown to Nusi Malani, Washington State has all sorts of depth to make quarterbacks lives difficult. They did it to Graham Mertz last week and will likely do it a lot more in Pac 12 play. Week 4 at home vs Oregon will be a big test to see just how far the Cougs defensive line can take them especially against a beefier offensive line from the Ducks.
Jonathon Smith: Buy
The absolute balls of steel from the Oregon State head coach this past week was unreal. A literal all or nothing proposition in the middle of Fresno, Coach Smith was faced with a dilemma after a pass interference penalty on the Bulldogs landed them at the 2 yard with 3 seconds left in the game. Smith brings out the offense, Jeff Tedford calls timeout. Smith brings on Everett Hayes to try a 21 yard field goal to tie it and Tedford calls another timeout. And then with guts that I haven’t seen from many coaches before he sends back out Jack Colletto to go out and win the game on a goal line power run. And he did just that. A decision that probably would have been ridiculed had Oregon State not made it, it looks far from it now. Coach Smith has built a culture in Corvallis that clearly has all the players bought in, one where he will not hold back any punches if it means victory. The Beavers are a team to watch that can play spoiler in the Pac 12 race as a whole and can easily make a bowl game this year if this consistency keeps up. Their floor looks to be about 6-6 and the ceiling is around the 9-3 mark with a Holiday Bowl berth. Stay tuned for Jonathon Smith’s stock as the year continues.
Notre Dame’s offense: Hold
Despite Tyler Buchner recently being ruled out for the season, his first two games of this season were a bit underwhelming as the man in charge of the Fighting Irish offense. Against Ohio State there were some expected bumps in the road since Kyren Williams had recently departed for the NFL. While Notre Dame’s gameplan against the Buckeyes wasn’t so bad considering they wanted to limit the prolific Ohio State offense, the lack of general explosiveness started to show its face. And then it all came to a head in week 2 against the Marshall Thundering Herd, where the Fighting Irish simply got stumped over and over again, enroute to 3 interceptions and 15 points from Buchner and new starting QB Drew Pyne before a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the game. It has been a start to forget for the Irish, as they face similar concerns as Cal with their own offensive line and a lack of explosiveness that hasn’t been seen in South Bend for a while. Another puzzling area of their offense is Chris Tyree not getting many touches, getting 5 total touches in the Marshall game. That’s insane for how dynamic of a player he is. I mean look at this kickoff return last year against Wisconsin at the 8:24 mark here. Maybe he gets more touches this week but all the uncertainty regarding skill position players and injuries elsewhere gives me pause on the Irish offense.
Karl Dorrell got rid of his whole offensive staff after last season. Well they are currently averaging 11.5 points through their first two games and giving up an average of 39.5 points per game on defense. It is an absolute tire fire in Boulder at the moment and there isn’t much hope at any level to be honest. I wouldn’t be shocked if Dorrell ends up on the hot seat by seasons end.
Arizona State: Hold
Despite a ton of turnover and a lot of attention from the NCAA, Arizona State took care of business against Northern Arizona and went on a respectable trip to Stillwater before wearing down in the second half. Emory Jones is a great athlete and can definitely win a game on his own accord as a better version of Chase Garbers for those who haven’t seen Jones play before. A lot of people expected doom and gloom right out of the gate for the Sun Devils but so far they haven’t nosedived to that level. Now are they going to be threats for the Pac 12 championship? I highly doubt it. But are they going to be the doormat and team that falls off the rails like everyone expected? Not necessarily, with trips to Stanford, Colorado, and Arizona all on their schedule as possible road wins. While my floor for this team for me seems to be around 4-8/5-7, they can make a bowl game if things fall their way. And considering everything all these student athletes have gone through in the last year, that’s a job well done. Hold your stock for now but pay attention to the trends.
That’s your market report for week 2! Let’s see who rises, who holds, and who sinks into the abyss after week 3. There are most definitely a lot of prove it moments on the table this weekend and it will be intriguing to see who can rise to the occasion.
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