Anyone else excited that Adam Duritz, the conqueror of Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, may be in town tomorrow? Anyone else excited that Gopher Nation is warming to the idea of an upset of a top 10 California team? Anyone else excited to see good ole maroon jerseys tomorrow (what would Cal wear opposite gold, their home blues?)
Good. The 2-0 Cal Bears enter The Bank tomorrow (insert requisite deposit, withdrawal, loan, and default jokes here) for an 11:00 CST game being televised on the WWL. In case you haven't heard, the game starts at 9:00 am PST. In case you don't follow football, Cal lost an early game to Maryland last year 35-27, after falling behind 21-6 at halftime. Also, if you're a bit queasy, avoid watching this clip of Jahvid Best getting blown up and then, er, blowing chunks in the 2008 Maryland game.
Back to the preview. Here are some depth charts, as usual:
Also dig the pronunciation chart for Cal's players, which is what you'd expect from a progressive institution like Cal.
Take the charts with bricks of salt at this point - Jahvid Best is supposedly no longer returning kicks, although I wouldn't have had him on that duty last week against Eastern Washington given the level of opposition. Don't be shocked if he's back there this week - his straight line speed is absurd and possibly the quickest in the nation.
Other places around the Internets have done pretty good jobs comparing the teams' offenses and defenses and picking out some key strategic matchups. I have no interest in replowing ground. Here are five additional matchups to consider tomorrow:
(1) Cal vs. the second, third and fourth quarters - the sports media will never give up an opportunity to beat a theme into the ground. The current theme for Cal is whether they'll be awake and ready for this game tomorrow. Cal flew into Minneapolis Thursday night, and I'm guessing they had a morning practice to acclimate themselves to the early start. I have a sneaky sense that Cal is going to be extremely ready for the first quarter and will be bouncing all over the Bank. Jolt Cola, 5 Hour Energy, an In and Out Burger, an early morning protest of capitalism - whatever Berkeley kids do to start off the day and be buzzing with energy, expect it Saturday.
However, what happens after the sugar high? At about noon, will Cal still be riding high, chock full of adrenaline, ready to play at a top level? Importantly, the Gophers never seem to start playing until the third quarter. I wouldn't be surprised if the script flips for this game for Cal, but the Gophers' halftime adjustments lead Cal into a corner they don't have the energy or momentum to overcome. It will be an interesting storyline to this game to see if either team can flip their supposed script (Cal can't play early, Minnesota plays well late) and break tendencies.
(2) California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio v. anything beyond the opponents' ten yard line - Tavecchio should load up on the pasta, because he has significant problems kicking the ball deep on kickoffs. This is a significant problem, especially considering Troy Stoudermire's proficiency returning kicks. If the Gophers receive the opening kickoff and get a big return, it could immediately force Cal on the defensive and, at the very least, force Cal into poor field position. At the best for the Gophers, it could mean an early lead and a chance for the Bank to start jingling (dear me).
(3) Cal RB Jahvid Best v. whoever would defend him in pass coverage - I have supreme confidence in Minnesota's ability to neutralize Best between the tackles. I'm pretty sure that if you asked Coach Tedford the same, he would have a little concern after watching Minnesota's front seven against the flying Duke PGs and Air Force. However, where Minnesota was prone to giving up some yardage was on the edge to Asher Clark last week. Despite his moderate success, the LBs were able to regularly flow to the ball and make tons of tackles. And, of course, in an obvious passing down, Ryan Collado still bit horribly on a play fake for the Air Force's only TD.
Why is that concerning? Jahvid Best is, other than Michigan QB Denard Robinson and Florida RB Jeffrey Demps, the fastest player in the FBS. His speed, cuts, and acceleration are frightening. If Best is utlized wide in a 3 wideout set, who defends him? A linebacker? Probably not. Simmons? Maybe, but then who's guarding the starting wideouts? Rallis or Collado? Help us - they'll responsible for 2 TDs this year, where they were play-faked at least 20 and 10 yards behind the catch, respectively. It'll be imperative for whoever is responsible for covering Best to not fall for a play fake to Vereen and also to shade him to the outside so that the linebackers and secondary can flow to Best and assist in gang-tackling him. If he's allowed to the outside, though, Minnesota may help jumpstart his Heisman campaign after only getting 28 carries the first two weeks, albeit in blowouts.
(4) Once again, QB Adam Weber versus his man crush - I do realize that Cal's CBs, Syd'Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan, are 5'9" and 6'0", respectively. However, Eric Decker is going to probably attract safety help the whole game, thereby making it absolutely imperative that Weber look to Stoudermire, Carpenter, Green, Tow-Arnett and others to carry the receiving load for Minnesota. There's no issue in going to Decker intermittently, as Weber seemed to distribute the ball quite well in the second half against Air Force. Cal's defensive backfield is considered top 10 nationally, however, and I doubt Minnesota can pick on any of their defenders with regularity. Distribution is key. Oh, and let Gray pass a ball already - he's got a better arm than Weber.
(5) Minnesota's stretch running game using Cal's speed against them - I watched Cal's game against Maryland 2 weeks ago, and was stunned at their speed. I have not seen a quicker team, perhaps, ever. Yes, that includes the SEC. However, Minnesota can use that speed against them, and the stretch running game is one place to do it. I realize Wills was eaten up a few times by the speed of the Syracuse defensive ends, even giving up a sack and fumble in the third quarter. However, while Cal's ends can probably beat Wills to a spot on the field, the stretch running game can use that overpursuit against Cal by the RB establishing a solid cut and heading upfield. Of course, this will require solid blocking behind the cuts, but it's a way to gain an advantage. Bennett, Eskridge and Whaley could benefit from precisely running behind these blocks.
So, a big opponent coming to town, expectations are rising, and by the way, we have an outdoor stadium. Ready?
Bang your head (against a table) if: QB Kevin Riley is accurate, RBs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are getting yards between the tackles, and Minnesota is the team sleepwalking again through the first 3 quarters.
Bang your head (like you're at a rock concert) if: Adam Weber is allowed to throw to Hayo Carpenter, if the stretch play is working, and Aramark actually decides to install 1960s era technology at the food stalls - yes, cash registers are not too much to ask.
My prediction for Saturday: While I don't think it'll be a Long December for the Gophers, daylight will be fading a little bit on the Gophers. California 31 - Minnesota 21.