Even as the managing editor of an SB Nation blog, I can tell you that things with SB Nation aren’t always great. That certainly is the case when it comes to the way the California Blogs were treated with the passing of Assembly Bill 5 in 2019, a gig economy law that led to hundreds of layoffs by Vox Media.
Cal Golden Blogs, previously run by a delightful crew, has been silent for the majority of the last year, so when the time came to reach out to a group for this week’s Q&A, I went and found our old friends, now doing exceptional work under the banner of www.writeforcalifornia.com.
Thanks to Leland and the crew, especially Christopher_H for chiming in ahead of what we all hope isn’t Cheez-It Bowl Part II: Oh You Thought We Were Done With The Interceptions?
Frogs O’ War: The Cheez It Bowl feels like a lifetime ago, and the world is a very different place than when we last met. But we are finally kicking off a home and home that became just a home this weekend. What, if anything, has changed for Cal Football since the world’s greatest bowl game?
christopher_h: That 2018 Cal defense was probably Wilcox’s defense at its peak (or maybe sometime in 2019—hard to say). Just off the top of my head, there was LB Jordan Kunaszyk (Washington Football Team), LB Evan Weaver (FBS leader in tackles in 2019), S Ashtyn Davis (NY Jets), S Jaylinn Hawkins (Atlanta Falcons), CB Camryn Bynum (Minnesota Vikings), and DE Zeandae Johnson (Vikings UDFA). Since then, I think both teams have lost a lot of defensive talent to the NFL. Otherwise, I actually think the two teams have pretty closely mirrored each other—right down to positional groups. I expect both teams’ defenses to be a little bit more beatable and both teams’ offenses to be a little more competent this time around. On paper, anyway—Cal has a very experienced offensive group of guys, but they seem to have regressed a bit since that win over future Pac-12 Champ Oregon in 2020. I’m hoping it was just rust.
FOW: Gary Patterson raved about the Bears’ defense is his postgame press conference, saying if these two teams had met as planned last year, Cal’s D would have been among the best, if not THE best, the Frogs played all season. What is it about that side of the ball that has one of the best defensive minds in CFB singing it’s praises?
christopher_h: I think coaches like to hype up future opponents just so it looks better when they beat them. That said, the Big 12 is mainly known for offensive wizardry, so maybe it was one of those “true, but only technically” things. Let’s just hope there’s no side-by-side interviews of the two coaches with large chess piece graphics.
FOW: Chase Garbers is approaching Perry Ellis territory as far as guys who feel like they’ve been in college Athletics forever. In year four, what are the expectations for Cal’s veteran QB?
christopher_h: In 2018, Chase Garbers struggled a lot. He would underthrow balls, his accuracy was erratic, and just about the only thing he could reliably do was improvise on his feet. In 2019, he had an absolutely shocking breakout game against Ole Miss. He went from averaging under 150 passing yards/game, ~1.5 TD/game, ~1 INT/game the season prior to a 357-yard, 4 TD / 1 INT game (against one of those super-duper tough SEC defenses we always hear about) completely out of nowhere. It was like that scene in the movies where the super famous actress is playing a nerd scientist and finally takes off her glasses and you suddenly realize she’s super hot. He followed that up by winning every game for Cal in which he played more than a half that season—I believe he went 7–0 for Cal that year, although the Cal offense struggled big time when he was injured. Cal fans were largely willing to write off 2020 due to COVID-weirdness and the shortened season, but I’m hoping Garbers looks more like 2019 and less like 2018. So far... not so good.
FOW: The opener against Nevada didn’t go as planned, but the Wolfpack are no slouches, either. What happened after Cal’s hot start that led to the defeat?
christopher_h: Cal has some excellent running backs and ran it down Nevada’s throat the first two drives for two touchdowns. Then we remembered that we don’t like things to be easy and decided to abandon that gameplan for most of the game. Nevada struggled last year against dual-threat QBs and even though Garbers is an excellent runner, he barely ran the football. Instead, we took occasional (drive-killing) shots down the field to covered receivers, whom Garbers would underthrow. I rewatched the game a second time and I still couldn’t figure out what we were doing. So it beats me, really.
FOW: Who do you think provides the biggest matchup issue for TCU as far as offensive players suited up for Cal?
christopher_h: I was tempted to name a tight end here, especially in our new pro-style offense from former Raiders/Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, but Cal only threw at the tight ends once or twice against Nevada, so you’re probably safe here. Like TCU, I think the fate of the offense rests in the hands (and feet) of the quarterback. If Cal and TCU decided to sit Garbers and Duggan, I think we could see another 10–7 OT type of game.
FOW: Is there a unit on TCU’s team that you think most worried Wilcox and co?
christopher_h: Well, I don’t speak for Wilcox, but personally I am most worried about Zach Evans. The dude is an elite athlete—great speed, vision, cutback ability, and oh yeah, he can run through defenders too. Cal has had a very good secondary every year under Wilcox (although this unit may not be as good as in years prior), but Cal’s defense has been susceptible to offenses with strong running games and mobile QBs.
FOW: What’s your prediction for the game and what would Cal need to do to earn a win on the road at TCU?
christopher_h: Prior to the Nevada game, I was expecting a back-and-forth slugfest that would be a great indicator of where in the Pac-12 Cal would end up. After Nevada, I realize the answer to that question is “probably near the bottom” and now think that TCU will probably win this one pretty handily. It will still be tough for TCU to score on Cal, so I’d guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 24–10 TCU.
FOW: Lastly, and most importantly, share an image that best represents the Cheez It Bowl in your mind. What’s your favorite memory from that game?
christopher_h: Even though Cal lost, I loved the Cheez-It Bowl. I don’t think you need an image of this, but my favorite memory of the game was trying to beat the crowds to the restroom with under a minute in the half (Cal had the ball and I figured we’d take a knee because I knew we weren’t going to score). As I stared at the abyss of the urinal, I heard the crowd roar. I knew instantly what it meant—another interception. “Yes,” I thought. “This is the Cheez-It Bowl.”
Thanks to Christopher and be sure to check out www.writeforcalifornia.com to learn all about the Bears ahead of this week’s game and if you like what you see, hit that subscribe button. You can also catch my Q&A with Leland HERE!