Cal football 2023 opponent first looks: North Texas
How do the California Golden Bears match up against their season opening opponent from Denton, the North Texas Mean Green?
Cal is rebooting their entire offense, but they aren’t exactly given much of a chance to rest before conference play begins. Cal’s B opponent this year and their season opener is a road game against the North Texas Mean Green, a team that took them to the wire in Berkeley a half-decade ago.
North Texas did employ Mike Bloesch last year as the team’s offensive coordinator (and tight end Asher Alberding came in tow as well), so the Bears should have plenty of familiarity with how these players operate. But this offense that Bloesch left behind is no joke.
Cal’s first coaching faceoff will be against a familiar face. After North Texas made the decision to part with Seth Littrell after a 7-6 2022 regular season, the Mean Green turned to Eric Morris, the offensive coordinator at Washington State last season.
Morris is best known for coaching Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech as his offensive coordinator, as the Red Raiders spit out historic offensive numbers in Lubbock. The decision by Morris and Kliff Kingsbury to pick Mahomes as the Red Raiders starting quarterback led to Davis Webb transferring to Cal. Dominoes!
Morris moved onto Incarnate Word as the head coach where he led them to two playoff appearances, including a quarterfinal bid in 2021. Morris then brought his quarterback Cam Ward to Washington State as Jake Dickert’s offensive coordinator.
Although Wazzu’s offense was fairly average for most of the season (and mediocre in Pac-12 play), it did best Justin Wilcox’s Cal defense in a 28-9 loss that everyone forgot about the moment it ended.
Chandler Rogers was a major target for Cal in the portal, but he eventually committed to playing in Denton. Rogers is a big changeup from college super-super-super senior Austin Aune (the 29 year old averaged 15.2 yards per completion). The former Warhawk is more of an open play scrambling machine (averaging 18 rushes a game last year), but produced solid efficiency (67% completion rate).
This is a place North Texas will have the experience edge over Cal, as Rogers has a ton of starting reps under his belt.
Stopping the run will need to be the primary focus
North Texas retained its entire running corps that produced a top-20 attack in FBS. Ayo Aydeyi (807 rushing yards, 7.21 ypa, 4 touchdowns), Ikaika Ragsdale (755 rushing yards, 5.32 ypa, 7 touchdowns), Oscar Adaway III (583 rushing yards, 4.94 ypa, 5 touchdowns), Isaiah Johnson (246 yards, 4.56 ypa, 3 touchdowns) all return.
That’s nearly 2400 rushing yards returning. North Texas averaged 200 a game on the ground.
Add in Rogers and an offensive line returning four starters (highlighted by freshman standout Febechi Nwaiwu) and three other quality linemen in the portal, and you’re going to have a nightmare of a challenge for the Cal defense to start 2022.
The pass attack won’t be quite as versatile
North Texas lost three of its best receivers in scoring wideout Jyaire Shorter (11 touchdowns, 23 catches) to Auburn, talented freshman tight end Var'keyes Gumms (5 touchdowns, 34 catches) to Arkansas, and sophomore tight end Jake Roberts (3 touchdowns, 28 catches) to Baylor.
The Mean Green still have their wideouts though. Roderic Burns (40 catches, 676 yards, 1 touchdown), Ja'mori Maclin (16 catches, 380 yards, 2 touchdowns), Damon Ward (26 catches, 378 yards, 3 touchdowns) all will provide that vertical stretch. Trey Cleveland is also coming in from Texas Tech.
The Takers will have their hands full having to watch the changeups if Cal can’t keep the run game in check.
The defense was not good last year and it probably won’t be good this year
As tends to be the case with Texas teams that can score a lot, they also tend to give it back. North Texas surrendered 6.08 yards per play (113th), 459.9 yards per game (121st). 45% of their third downs (122nd), and 31.7 points per game (110th).
The hope is new defensive coordinator. But North Texas has not replenished its talent losses. The three top linebackers (and tacklers, 167 in all) graduated or transferred (we’ll also see Larry Nixon III this year, who ended up at Auburn and is slated to start). Cornerback DeShawn Gaddie is off to Ole Miss.
There is a lot of young defensive talent on this roster, and linebacker Mazin Richards (78 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and cornerback Ridge Texada (43 tackles, 3 interceptions) will make their fair share of plays. But if the Cal offense can’t find their way to 30 points in this game, start raising flags of concern.
Cal and North Texas faced off in 2019, where the Bears eeked out a win none of us ever wanted to discuss again.
Cal spotted themselves an early 20-0 first quarter lead, then proceeded to go punt, downs, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, end of game, managing fewer combined yards in the last three quarters than they put up in the first.
That Mean Green team finished 4-8. Their defense graded out to below average.
Chase Garbers put up a 9-22 performance that had everyone wondering if the hook might be coming for Devon Modster. Then he came out the next week at Ole Miss and gunslung the Bears to victory in the SEC. Then he became a Cal legend.
The 2019 season was full of surprises.
Cal fans, what are your early thoughts about the season opener against North Texas?