This Saturday, the 125th Big Game is taking place at Cal for the first time in three years. With both teams entering the matchup at 3-7, The Stanford Daily’s Bridget Stuebner sat down with Will Cooke, a football reporter at the Daily Californian, to talk about Cal’s season, the impending rivalry matchup and what this weekend’s bout will entail.
Bridget Stuebner [BS]: How has the season gone as a whole for Cal football?
Will Cooke [WC]: It’s been disappointing. I don’t think it’s disappointing by Cal standards because Cal has never, or at least [not in] the last few decades, really been that good consistently. But it’s now the sixth year that our head coach Justin Wilcox has been in charge. And things have only seemed to get worse. It seems like there’s not really a direction with the program right now. We’ve been getting great recruits, like we have maybe some of the best skill players in the Pac-12. So that’s promising. But for some reason, that coach can’t figure out how to utilize them properly. The offense is pretty lackluster. Our offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, he’s this older guy. He’s been coaching for a long time; he lacks creativity [and displays] pretty conservative play calling. So it’s disappointing for all of those reasons. I think by now, Cal fans kind of hoped that Wilcox would be building something and it just seems like he’s losing ground, if anything. And so we can only hope for coaching staff changes in the offseason to avoid missing out on another bowl game. We’ve lost six straight games now. So it’s hard to watch six losses in a row, even though we’ve played some good teams. We’ve also lost to Colorado; we’re still their only win of this season. They’re 1-9 now. So that’s pretty bad.
BS: Are there any differences going into the Big Game this year in comparison to last year?
WC: Last year, I remember thinking Cal could stick it to [Stanford]. I think there was some confidence knowing that Chase Garbers, our old quarterback, was starting. He’s someone who did really well against Stanford; he started against them three or four times. And so there was some confidence with him doing well. I think last year, it didn’t feel like we were just gonna look terrible in the Big Game. But this year, there’s a very real possibility that both teams play down to each other’s levels and it just ends up being a really bad game of football. I think this year there’s a feeling that it’ll look like a JV team playing [a] JV team. And it’ll just look really bad for both teams and the least bad team will win. So it might be really ugly. I think also playing at home this year, there’s at least some excitement there. It’s been three years since Cal has played a Big Game in Berkeley. Alumni are excited to come back, so Memorial Stadium might be more packed than it usually is. Obviously last year’s [game] was at Stanford, so I didn’t feel as much build-up last year.
BS: Who are key offensive players to be looking out for on the team?
WC: Jaydn Ott is our true freshman running back. He was a four-star recruit, and he’s one of the two best freshman running backs in the Pac-12, second to Damien Martinez at Oregon State. He’s leading the team in rushing yards, he’s been starting as a true freshman. Earlier this season, he had the third-highest single-game rushing yards by a Cal player ever, 274 yards against Arizona. So he’s been playing really well. Also Jeremiah Hunter, who’s a junior. He’s definitely one of the better wide receivers in the Pac-12: super tall, wins one-on-one battles in the air. Those two are the two to watch out for, but obviously our quarterback, Jack Plummer, too. He played better in the first few weeks than he has recently, but I think that really comes down to the offensive line. But I would say those two players, Jeremiah Hunter and Jadyn Ott are the two to look out for.
BS: Who would you say are key defensive players to look out for on the team?
WC: Jeremiah Earby is a true freshman defensive back. He made a Midseason All-American team, so he’s one of our better players this year. Xavier Carlton on the defensive line has been playing okay. Our defensive line hasn’t been great this year, so it’s pretty easy to stand out on that unit. Also, Jackson Sirmon, he’s our middle linebacker and son of our defensive coordinator, Peter Sirmon. He transferred from the University of Washington last year and he’s been playing really well. He gets lots of tackles and almost had an interception this last game.
BS: Do you have a score prediction for the Big Game, based on how the season has been going?
WC: I don’t know what to expect just because of how offense has been so bad this year, just really inconsistent with analysis. Stanford hasn’t been playing great, either. I would say something low-scoring. Based on how the season is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stanford won this one, just making this year a really bad year for Cal. So I’ll say 27-20 Stanford.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.