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Texas-Cal Holiday Bowl | 'Horns Offensive Playmakers Healthy-ish

Mack Brown is hardly the only college coach who talks about not using injuries as an excuse, but as he mentioned during his mid-month press conference, when injuries happen to "everybody that's touching the ball," it can be a bit difficult to recover:

I think the combination of you take Fozzy, the two young backs and Jaxon, that's your oldest senior leader and the heart of your team, and he got about every award at the banquet. And then you take three of your best freshman stars that were all touching the ball and making a difference in the ballgame, I think it took everybody aback.

While senior Fozzy Whittaker's career is obviously over, running backs Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are both expected to play, even if both are now not completely healthy. Brown was held out against Baylor after injuring a knee in addition to his lingering turf toe, while Bergeron was limited for much of the season late with a hamstring that could tighten up on him at any time before or during the game. Both should be able to contribute at their highest respective levels in close to two months, but the extent of those contributions won't truly be known until game time.

The defensive front of Cal is strong enough that it's hard to expect a level execution from the Texas offensive line that will consistently create blackboard type of plays, so Brown and Bergeron will likely need to be healthy enough to either break tackles at the line of scrimmage (Brown's strength) or make players miss at the second level (Bergeron's strength).

At the wide receiver position, the major news is that freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley is also as healthy as he's been in two months, since he sustained his knee injury against Kansas. There is even some discussion that Shipley could forego the bulky knee brace he wore against Texas A&M and Baylor in favor of a sleeve that would allow him more freedom of movement. Shipley built on a solid performance against the Aggies with his longest catch of the season against the Bears, which went for 78 yards and was the longest pass play off the season until the next possession when junior Marquise Goodwin took a Case McCoy pass 80 yards to paydirt.

Brown also spoke once again -- as he had before earlier in the season in passing -- about sophomore wide receiver Mike Davis, who has had perhaps the most disappointing season of any player on offense. Expected to step into the role of number one wide receiver, Davis struggled at times blocking, catching passes, and generally looking like he cared, with some of the lack of production recently attributed to his departed roommate Darius White, now infamous in Texas circles for bad-mouthing the program to blue-chip recruit Dorial Green-Beckham.

On Tuesday, Brown indicated that Davis has been suffering from a hip flexor injury, as well as a sprained ankle. Considering that Davis has rarely shown the the elusiveness with the football that he often flashed as a freshman, it's possible that the injuries played at least some role in Davis underachieving.

And though it's more like a mental handicap than an actual injury, the fact that Goodwin didn't even know the plays until halfway through the season after spending zero time with new coordinator Bryan Harsin between the former Boise State coach's arrival in January and Goodwin joining the team at the start of the football season, means that the explosive wide receiver is essentially a new player after getting some of the most extensive practice work of his career at Texas. It isn't that Goodwin can't pick up on the offense, he just hasn't had a chance. Don't be surprised to see another strong performance from him after gaining 129 yards on five receptions against Baylor.

Overall, the sum result should be an offense capable of operating at a level at least approximating the emerging rushing juggernaut that gashed Kansas and Texas Tech for 800 yards in two games, production it would take the average FBS offense five games to generate. Competition caveats apply, as always, especially since Cal has a stout defensive front, but the return to better health