Cal’s quest to start the football season with three nonconference victories for the second year in a row faces a serious obstacle on Saturday night at Provo, Utah.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Bears, who beat North Carolina 24-17 to open their season, were expected to face a once-proud program that is struggling to get back on its feet. A win at BYU is crucial to the Bears’ quest for bowl eligibility.
Well, the Cougars are upright and looking ready to pounce. A year after going 4-9 — the program’s worst season since 1970 — BYU looked formidable in its 28-23 upset win at Arizona last Saturday.
The Bears are three-point underdogs and will need to deliver a more complete performance in what promises to be a hostile environment at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
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Here are five things to watch in Cal’s second game:
1. Who is the quarterback? Coach Justin Wilcox played three of them against North Carolina — returning starter Ross Bowers, redshirt freshman Chase Garbers and South Carolina transfer Brandon McIlwain — and none of them did enough to secure a public endorsement this week.
Wilcox said he would not announce a starter until Saturday, and none of the three was made available this week to reporters. So stay tuned.
2. Can the Bears stretch the field? One of the things the coaching staff is looking for is a quarterback who will loosen the defense, either with deep throws or his ability to run the ball.
North Carolina’s defense crowded the line of scrimmage, daring the Bears to go deep. They were unable to exploit the Tar Heels’ strategy, with no completion longer than 23 yards.
3. Will the run game be more diverse? Patrick Laird, who rushed for 1,127 yards a year ago, had all but one of the 30 carries by a Cal running back against North Carolina. Wilcox said it had to do with a variety of circumstances and suggested others would get their turn this week. It might be tough for anyone to carry as heavy a load as Laird did last week while playing at Provo’s 4,551-foot elevation.
4. How does Cal’s defense match up vs. BYU? The Cougars unveiled a new offensive scheme last week, complete with pre-snap shifts and lots of jet sweeps. But the Cougars pair that deception with a physical approach that includes an imposing offensive line and multiple tight ends.
5. Don’t expect to see No. 19. Cal sophomore outside linebacker Cameron Goode, who had a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Tar Heels, probably is out. Goode injured his left foot late in the game and was taken off the field on a cart.