In preparation for Stanford’s Saturday night matchup against the Cal Bears, The Stanford Daily’s Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) had a chance to ask a few questions of Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg), assistant sports editor at The Daily Californian, in order to get an insider’s perspective on the Bears’ chances to take the Axe back from Stanford in the 118th Big Game.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Welcome back to bowl eligibility! It looked for a while like Cal might suffer another collapse akin to last year’s, but the Bears bounced back from a tough losing streak by blowing Oregon State away on Saturday. What does it mean for the program and for Sonny Dykes to get that sixth win?
Alaina Getzenberg (AG): This season as a whole for Cal has been a disappointing one, so the win last weekend is going to put a more positive spin on everything that has happened this year, whether it is justified or not. Overall, getting the bowl game is important because it has been four years since the team has been to one. Besides that, this is still a team that has performed mediocrely throughout the season.
TSD: That being said, do you think this success is sustainable in the years to come with Jared Goff (and, rumor has it, Sonny Dykes) set to leave the program after the end of this season?
AG: I don’t know about the success being sustained, but there will be some consistency going into next season as Sonny Dykes is currently in the middle of contract negotiations. With him continuing his time in California, most of the schemes and style of play will remain the same. The biggest problem will be whether the Bears will have the talent to make up for what they are losing after this season. With Goff most likely leaving for the draft, and many prominent seniors leaving with him, I would be surprised if the team improves after this year. Despite losing the quarterback, the many parts departing will leave behind an inexperienced team.
TSD: This year might very well be the Bears’ best shot in the last several years to take the Axe back to Berkeley, with Stanford’s best cornerback, Ronnie Harris, out with an ankle injury. This means that Stanford will be playing first-year starters at every position in the secondary. Can Goff and his receivers keep up their hot play from Saturday?
AG: The fact that young cornerbacks are playing for Stanford on Saturday is quite promising for Goff & Co. to have success. Coming off its record-setting offensive performance last week, the offense has been successful when Goff is able to find receivers open downfield. With the cornerbacks being so young against the senior Bear receivers, it is very likely that Goff will have a significant amount of success on Saturday night and will be able to put up a lot of yards and points.
TSD: What’s wrong with Cal’s defense? It’s definitely not as bad as it’s been in years past, but I think a lot of people expected more progress, especially up front, in year two of the Art Kaufman reign. Is it recruiting? Coaching? Both? And more importantly, is it fixable?
AG: The defense has suffered a significant amount of injuries this season, which is by far what has ailed it the most. Both starting safeties, Damariay Drew and Stefan McClure, have been injured in recent games and many other important pieces on the defense have missed large amounts of playing time. This has created a lot of problems for the defense. Beyond that, the defense has had a hard time simply because it has played tough offenses that are more talented. There have been noticeable improvements from last year as the defense has become more comfortable with defensive coordinator Art Kaufman’s system, but the unit hasn’t been consistent, which is its biggest problem.
TSD: That leads into this question: Can Cal stop Christian McCaffrey’s ungodly romp through the Pac-12’s defensive fronts? What will the Bears need to do to keep him in check? Are they capable of doing that?
AG: The Cal defense will not be able to stop Christian McCaffrey. The defense has given up huge yardage all season long to running backs, running quarterbacks and basically anyone else who has run the ball. The Beras would need to transform into a different team to stop him. It seems entirely unlikely that anything the defense could do would be incredibly effective against the run.
TSD: What does Cal need to do to pull off the upset and steal the Axe from its rightful home? What’s the most pivotal matchup in this game? How do you see the 118th Big Game ultimately playing out?
AG: In order for Cal to pull of a win, Goff will have to put up enough points and hold on to the ball for a long enough period of time that the defensive performance will be rendered less important. The only way the Bears will win is if the Big Game turns into an old-fashioned shootout. One of the most important match-ups is probably between the Cal wide receivers and whether or not they can actually be effective against Stanford’s defenders. My score prediction is for the game is 52-45 Stanford.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.