This Saturday’s matchup between the California Golden Bears and The Texas Longhorns marks just the sixth meeting between the two programs, with Texas leading 5-0. The last time these two programs played was at the 2011 Holiday Bowl where Texas prevailed 21-10. This weekend’s meeting will be the first regular season matchup between the teams since 1970.
Both head coaches have something to prove
Cal coach Sonny Dykes is entering his third year in Berkeley, attempting to attain bowl eligibility for his Bears while Texas coach Charlie Strong is just hoping to avoid the sophomore slump. Cal enters the game 2-0 with wins over Grambling State and San Diego State – they remain the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 North division. Texas’s 1-1 record reflects a precarious situation for Strong in Austin – the 38-3 routing by Notre Dame stung to start the season and the 42-38 victory over Rice at home did little to ease the pain.
Two programs with something to prove, two head coaches looking over their respective shoulders – Cal seeking its first 3-0 start since 2011 and Texas looking to avoid entering conference play with a losing record. If that’s not enough of a reason to watch, here are a few more.
Why you should watch if you are a Cal fan
Jared Goff. Duh.
While the junior quarterback and Pac-12 media darling can’t be the only item on this list, he is absolutely the headliner. Cal enters Saturday’s contest against Texas with the top-ranked passing offense in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation at 396.0 yards per game. The Bears are also second in the conference and seventh in the nation in scoring offense (54.0 ppg). Through two games, Goff has completed 41 of 56 passes for a completion percentage of 73.2 percent, up from his 2014 completion percentage of 62.1 percent. Goff currently holds 19 school records and is a contender for the Heisman trophy.
“He can make the difficult throws,” said Strong of Goff. “You’ll see him throw into coverage and the receiver comes down with it.”
Another reason to watch: the much-improved Golden Bear defense. Through the their first two games, the defense has intercepted six passes, which ranks them tied for first in the nation (with who). They currently lead the Pac-12 in per-game totals for interceptions (3.0 intpg), defense first downs (13.5 fdpg), and sacks (2.5o spg) as well as defense pass efficiency. Cal currently boasts a +4 turnover margin (7 gained, 3 lost), which ranks 15th in the nation and third in the Pac-12. Last season, Cal ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with a -3 turnover margin.
While Cal fans will tune in for the passing game, they will end up staying for the ground game, lead by senior running back Daniel Lasco. Cal rushed for 185 yards against Grambling and 164 yards against San Diego State. Those numbers may not jump off the page at you, but they are impressive considering Cal’s attack plan consists largely of the Bear Raid. Lasco scored his 17th career rushing touchdown against San Diego State, good for 10th on the Cal career rushing touchdown list. He has now scored a rushing touchdown in nine of his last 10 games. Lasco ended with 19 carries for 123 yards against the Aztecs for his sixth career 100- yard rushing game and first of 2015.
Why you should watch if you are a Texas fan
Is it weird to lead off the list with special teams? The Longhorns lead the Big-12 in punt returns, averaging 29.7 yards per return through two games. In the 42-28 win over Rice, the punt return team played a huge role. After Texas forced a three-and-out on Rice’s second drive of the game, Daje Johnson took Rice’s punt 85 yards to the end zone. Johnson’s punt return for a TD was the first by a Longhorn since he did so against Oklahoma on Oct. 12, 2013. That return also went for 85 yards against the Sooners. With Johnson and senior cornerback Duke Thomas’s returns combined, Texas tallied 175 punt return yards against Rice to break the school record. The previous best was 173 yards from Nathan Vasher against Baylor on Nov. 3, 2001. In comparison, Cal only averages 2.8 put return yards.
Another reason to tune in: Texas leads the Big-12 in interceptions with three total in two games and an average of 22 yards per interception. Texas also has three players with one sack each, which means Cal’s O-line will have to be particularly careful protecting Goff on Saturday. Another positive: Texas averages more kick return yards than Cal (23.1-16.7).
The final reason for Texas fans to watch this game is more of a philosophical one: if Texas manages to upset Cal and you weren’t watching, did it actually happen? But really though, all the discord and drama surrounding the program should be enough of a draw to keep fans interested if not entertained. After all, alumni are king in the Lone Star State.
Prediction: Cal – 31, Texas - 17
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.