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Both Texas and California know where they want to be after three games, but both teams need a win to get there. Obviously that can’t happen. Austin is in turmoil, and Texas is looking to shake off the national perception that they’re the awful team everyone saw opening weekend in South Bend. California on the other hand is looking to show people that they’re a team to be taken seriously going forward. It’s strength on strength. An offense that’s been pushing scoreboards to their limits versus a defense tabbed best in the Big 12 to start the season. This will be a non-conference battle not to miss.

California Golden Bears

After the 2012 season, the Cal Golden Bears made the difficult decision to fire Jeff Tedford, a man who had been extremely successful in Berkley, but whose program had grown stale in the last few years of his tenure. Cal turned to Sonny Dykes, a bold hire that didn’t turn many heads on the left coast. Dykes, the son of legendary Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, and Mike Leach disciple, had absolutely no ties to the state of California. It was a strange hire for that reason. Dykes’ first year was rough, going 1-11. There was significant progress in 2014. While the Bears only won 5 games, they were within a score on 4 of their losses, including a hail mary defeat to Pac-12 South champ Arizona. In 2015 NFL QB Jared Goff along with 17 starters return, and this squad appears poised to make the next step. Many consider Cal a team that can surprise a lot of teams out west. Through two games, the Bears are averaging 54 points and 570 yards per game. Sonny Dykes’ team is looking to break through and make some noise in the ultra competitive Pac 12 this fall.

Key Players For California

Jared Goff – If you haven’t laid eyes on this QB, you are missing out. Goff is a wonderful, fantastic, NFL ready QB. He is incredibly smooth and has ample arm strength. Through 2 games Goff is completing 73% of his passes, for an astounding 11.3 yards per attempt, and 6 TDs. He is also in the top 10 nationally in QB rating. Impressive is an accurate word to describe Goff’s play. He is crisp in his short passes and throws a magnificent deep ball. Goff is the best QB you probably haven’t seen. He is a marvelous talent and makes this offense humm. If UT is going to hold serve at home, slowing Goff and this offense is paramount.

Kenny Lawler – Goff’s favorite target, Lawler amassed 700 yards and 9 TDs last season. He is off to a great start to 2015 as well. In their season opening win over Grambling State, Lawler reeled in 3 TDs. Lawler is the kind of big, rangy WR that excels in the red zone. In addition to trying to slow down Goff, this WR core is pretty good as well. The Texas secondary will have their hands full with Lawler and company.

Daniel Lasco – Lasco is best described as a slasher, but don’t think that makes him a finesse runner. He has some serious strength to him and has added weight to make him more difficult to bring down. In 2014, Lasco ran for over 1100 yards and 12 TDs. In Cal’s week 2 win over San Diego State, Lasco ran for 128 and a TD, with an average of 6.5 yards per carry. The ability to run the ball will keep the Texas defense at least somewhat honest in defending Goff and this prolific passing game. Lasco is a real x-factor for the UT defense to contend with.

California’s Keys To The Game

Start Fast – I’m sure the importance of this game is not lost on Cal players. Its only natural that they come out a bit tight. Last week, against San Diego State, Cal did not take the lead until the final moments of the 2nd quarter and did not take control until late in the 3rd. A fast start is mothers milk to this Cal squad. It would loosen up this group and allow them to settle into the flow of the game.

Turnovers – The Bears committed 2 turnovers in each of their games thus far. Cal simply must do a better job taking care of the football. In Texas’ win over Rice, they forced 5 turnovers, returning a fumble for a TD. The Horns are clearly adept at forcing a takeaway. Turnovers are a sure way to help a struggling Texas offense and give them easy scoring opportunities. Meanwhile the Cal defense could really put UT behind the 8 ball, by forcing turnovers and setting their offense up with favorable field position.

Balance the Offense -Texas’ best bet is to make the Cal offense one dimensional. This will force the Bears to shoot the ball downfield rather than accumulate intermediate gains. When that happens, the defensive line will simply pin their ears back and come after Goff with no regard for the consequences. To counteract that aggressiveness, Cal needs to keep them off balance with screens, draws and play action passes. A productive running game with Daniel Lasco is a tremendous help as well. If balance is achieved Charlie Strong’s defense will be on their heels and Cal’s offense will be in the drivers seat.

What Golden Bear Fans Want To See

This Cal team spent most of last season on the cusp of putting a serious notch in their belt. Regardless of the state of the Texas program, a win in Austin would be a substantial skin on the wall for Sonny Dykes’ squad. Bear fans should hope to see Goff with plenty of time to sling the ball all over the field, mixing in short, crisp passes, with the occasional deep ball. Defensively, Bear fans should hope to see a defense that flies around the field and limits the UT offense. In the end, its all about winning the game. This would be a very nice win for a program on the rise out west.

Texas Longhorns

After the week 1 disaster in South Bend it appeared that Charlie Strong and company righted the ship against a decent Rice Owls squad. There are some numbers that are downright disturbing about that victory. Rice was soundly defeated, at one point down 42-14, but out gained UT by nearly 200 yards. Rice earned 30 first downs to Texas’ 11. Rice ran 58 more offensive plays than Texas, who only had the ball for 16 minutes on the night. While on the surface it appears that UT was dominant, there are some disturbing trends in that stat line. In comes a team, in the Cal Golden Bears, that is not as good as Notre Dame but certainly better than Rice. With two games under their belt, we will learn a lot about the state of UT football against a pretty good Cal squad. The Longhorns must improve in several areas in order beat the Bears and keep this season on the tracks.

KEY PLAYERS FOR TEXAS

Jerrod Heard – To the delight on many Horn fans, Heard took the reigns against Rice. He responded with a quality performance. Heard rushed for nearly 100 yards and threw for 120 yards and two TDs on just 7 attempts. Heard is showing a glimmer of promise for an offense that had been completely anemic in their previous 3 outings. The Texas Longhorns need that glimmer of promise to turn into a jolt of electricity. This is an offense that is short on playmakers. A stud, electrifying QB is just what the Dr. ordered. Heard’s performance against Rice was good, but progress must be made. The competition level jumps a couple of notches against the Bears. How will Heard respond?

Malik Jefferson – The word to describe Jefferson is stud.  This true Freshman is just a few months removed from his senior prom and appears to be an NFL type linebacker. It has shown in his 2 collegiate games. Against Rice, Jefferson led the team with 9 tackles, including one for loss, 4 QB hits and a fumble recovery returned for a TD. That is a stat line that is beyond ridiculous for someone in their 2nd game at this level. It appears that Jefferson is already the best player on his team and must be accounted for at all times.

Dylan Haines – Haines is a veteran, leader for the Horn defense. Haines led the team in interceptions and was 3rd in tackles in 2014. Against Rice, Haines had an Int and a sack. Facing Goff and this prolific passing attack Haines must coordinate the secondary and be extremely productive in pass coverage. Cal has several explosive receivers capable of making UT pay for sloppy play. If Haines has a poor performance, I give UT a slim chance to defeat the Bears.

Texas’ Keys To The Game

3rd Down Defense – Through 2 weeks, Texas is dead last nationally in 3rd down defense. Read that again, dead-freaking-last. The Horns are allowing their opposition to convert on nearly 63% of their 3rd down attempts. This inability to get off the field is certainly troubling for Charlie Strong’s outfit and contributed greatly to the disparity in number of plays last week. The Rice Owls converted 14 of 21 3rd downs in that contest. That statistic is astounding. There is no way a team can be successful giving up 3rd downs at that rate. The staff must figure this out, and fast. If Cal can convert at a similar rate as the Rice did last Saturday, the Horns have absolutely no chance to win this game.

Generate Offense – While the offense was abysmal against Notre Dame, there was substantial improvement last week. There is plenty of ground to make up for this squad. The good news is that the Cal defense isn’t exactly the 85 Bears. Sand Diego State was able to move the ball and stay in the game for quite some time. SDSU racked up 325 yards and themselves converted on 9 of 20 3rd downs. The Texas offense will have plenty of opportunities Saturday. This unit must seize those opportunities and be very productive in order for Texas to come away victorious.

Get to Goff – The best recipe for limiting any prolific passer is to pressure them and make them think twice about standing in the pocket. It’s a recipe as old as the game itself. Through two games, Texas has a meager three sacks. That’s tied for 71st nationally. This comes down to the Texas defensive line beating the man across from them.  Otherwise Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will be forced to blitz and leave their secondary vulnerable. A comfortable Jared Goff is a very bad sign for Texas fans.

What Longhorn Fans Want To See

Texas Longhorns Football is not about moral victories. Horn fans don’t want to hear about progress, or a promising future. They want wins. To that effect, the UT faithful will be looking for a productive offense lead by a competent field general. Although more level-headed fans would be good with just seeing some improvement. Jerrod Heard had a productive game last week. There will be plenty of opportunities Saturday against a lackluster Bear defense. Additionally, Horn fans will need to see a defense that is improved and able to slow down, Jared Goff and this explosive Sonny Dykes attack. A win against the Cal Golden Bears could go a long way to righting the ship and cool Charlie Strong’s seat at least for a week.

Final Prediction

It’s going to be tough week for the Texas Longhorn Football program. Texas’ offense has a good day and puts up some points. Jerrod Heard will be impressive. In the end though, I believe it all comes down to UT’s ability to come up with stops and get off the field on 3rd down. While their success rate has nowhere to go but up, it won’t improve enough. As a result the Bears keep drives alive and put plenty of points on the board. Give me the California to go into Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium and come away with a victory over the Texas Longhorns.

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