Cal Football: Five Things, Cheez-It Bowl vs. TCU
Well, it’s time for the final Five Things of 2018.
I have nothing else to say. Let’s just get into it.
After an extremely uninspiring end to the season, Chase Garbers hashad close to a month to prepare for a defense that, well, isn’t too far behind the one he faces every day in practice – TCU’s defensive S&P+ is 23rd in the nation, a mere 11 spots behind that of the Bears. Needless to say, this is a huge opportunity to build up some good will in the eyes of the staff, who were unenthused enough long-term to hunt for immediate reinforcements on the JUCO/Transfer market. (Indeed, for this reason, I feel that Devon Modster will be the most impactful player of the 2019 class; either Garbers is pushed to improve further and retains the job, all the better for it, or Modster becomes the starter.)
Meeting Garbers on the other side of the field is Grayson Muehlstein, who started TCU’s final game of the year against Oklahoma State, while playing most of the Baylor game – both wins, although he threw for fewer than 200 yards in each. A recognizable phenomenon indeed.
With neither team being exactly gangbusters on offense, the mistakes made or not made by these guys will play a pivotal role in determining the Cheez-It Bowl Champion. So far, Muehlstein’s been able to avoid that, with a 3:0 TD:INT ratio, and a completion percentage of over 70% on 1st and 2nd downs.
It’s on third down, that he’s been most gettable in this small sample size:
3rd or 4th and <2
3rd or 4th and 3-8
7-11, 135 yards (63.6%)
3rd or 4th and 9+
21-28, 193 yards (75%)
Although Vic Wharton will be skipping the game to begin NFL preparation, Jordan Duncan and Kanawai Noa should both be presumably healthy for this one, which should signal a slight uptick in receiver play compared to earlier in the year.
It’s probably fair to say that the best – and certainly most productive wideout for either Cal or TCU this season -- playing December 26th wears purple, though. That would be Jalen Reagor, a 72 catch, 1061 yard, 9 touchdown tallying, occasional fly-sweep receiving and kick-off returning demon, whose receiving numbers ranked for 6th in the conference…and a spot on the All Big 12 second team. The good news is that smaller guys like Reagor – 5’11, 195 – have traditionally given Cam Bynum and company way less trouble than these guys and their respective measurables:
Jordan Lasley – 6’1, 213
Dillon Mitchell - 6’2, 189
JJ Arcega-Whiteside – 6’3, 225
Will that hold up on Wednesday night? We’ll have to see.
3) Ben Banogu
TCU defensive linemen Corey Blethley and L.J. Collier accrued 8.5 and 9.5 TFLs each this season, numbers which would already be near the top of the Cal leaderboards.
The Horned Frogs have a guy who equaled their production put together.
No, really – Ben Banogu, from his end spot tallied up 17 TFLs in 2018, 7.5 of which were sacks. This is a team that gets pressure and doesn’t allow nearly as much, outsacking their opponents 2:1 on the year (30:14), and controlling Banogu and company will play a huge role in determining if Cal struggles their way to points and wins, or just struggles in general. (I don’t think it’s outlandish to suggest it’ll be a low-scoring affair, even after all the prep work.)
Doing so without Patrick Mekari, who was lost before the Colorado game, makes it even tougher. Hope everyone eats their Wheaties the day after Christmas.
In another bizarre similarity, this Cheez-It Bowl brings together two of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation: TCU had 22, and Cal was right behind them at 26, marks that were bad (good?) enough for 97th and 121st in the nation, although the Bears ended up with a margin of -2 to TCU’s -6.
Again, it seems to go without saying that the group that manages to hold onto the ball will have a pretty good chance at winning the game, which I know is fairly boilerplate analysis, but particularly applicable to this matchup.
5) Hello, Goodbye
As we count down the final days of some of the departing senior class, bowl games – and to the same degree, bowl prep – always beg the question of how much playtime will the young cubs get? Are there any plays or packages prepared to get, say, Monroe Young on the field?
This game, largely meaningless as it may be (and yes, it kind of is), can offer some telling glimpses of who the staff sees in the immediate future, and say farewell to those who are playing their final 60 minutes in the Blue and Gold.
Let’s make it 60 good ones.
See you in Phoenix.