After two solid wins to start the season in the friendly confines in Austin, the Texas Longhorns travel to Berkeley for the season’s first road test against the California Golden Bears. While Cal probably won’t be an incredibly hostile environment, Texas will still have to travel across the country for a late night showdown against a formidable opponent.
Last season, the Longhorns went 1-4 in road contests, which means Texas will need to continue to show it’s a different football team in 2016 than it was last season. Cal forces some interesting match ups across the board against the ‘Horns, so let’s take a look how the two teams compare.
Texas Running Offense vs. Cal Running Defense
Words cannot describe how horrible the Cal run defense was last week, so let’s let the numbers do the talking. Last week, Cal gave up 334 yards and 7.1 yards per carry on the ground against San Diego State.
So yeah, Cal is pretty horrendous against the run. Texas is averaging 204 yards per game on the ground and should continue a healthy ground attack this week. With D’Onta Foreman and a healthy starting offensive line returning, we should see explosive numbers from the ‘Horns running backs on Saturday.
Texas Pass Offense vs. Cal Pass Defense
So far this season, Shane Buechele has been an absolute stud, completing 71 percent of his passes and ranking eighth in the country in passing efficiency. It’s going to be interesting to see how Buechele responds in his first road test as a starter, but nothing about his game has suggested he’ll react differently in a different environment.
On the flip side, San Diego State didn’t really press Cal in the passing game last week as they stuck to running the football, but there just aren’t enough playmakers on the Cal defense to make me believe they’ll have significant success stopping Buechele.
I expect Sterlin Gilbert to challenge the Cal defense vertically, finding ways to expose the Golden Bears defense with the Longhorns’ more dynamic athletes. For me, there’s just too much speed and skill at the receiver position on the Texas side of the ball for Cal to stop the Texas passing game.
Cal Pass Offense vs. Texas Pass Defense
When Cal hired Sonny Dykes to take over its football team, it committed to a simple offensive identity — we’re going to throw the football a lot. That’s exactly what Dykes has done. Since he’s taken over the Golden Bears, he’s installed an Air Raid system that rivals the likes of Mike Leach’s teams at Texas Tech.
The Texas secondary will need to be ready on Saturday. After losing No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, Cal secured former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb as a graduate transfer. In two games, Webb has been pretty impressive, throwing for 963 yards and nine touchdowns against San Diego State and Hawaii.
The Texas defense, however, will have much better athletes than those two teams and will test Webb in a way he hasn’t seen yet.
It’ll be interesting to see if Texas can dial up the pressure and make Webb uncomfortable, forcing him into some bad throws. The ‘Horns will also need to key on the Webb-Chad Hansen combo, which has hooked up for 28 completions and 350 yards.
Although I think Texas will present Webb with some new challenges and athleticism he hasn’t seen yet, I’ll give the potent Cal pass attack a slight edge.
Cal Rush Offense vs. Texas Rush Defense
The Cal run game has been pretty underwhelming so far this season, relying instead on its heavy pass offense. The Golden Bears only averaged 3.7 yards per carry against San Diego State, ultimately rushing for 82 yards against the Aztecs.
On the other side, Texas did a pretty good job keeping a potent UTEP run attack in check last week, other than a long touchdown run. I expect the Longhorns defensive line and linebackers to overwhelm a weaker Cal offensive line, allowing Texas to shift its entire focus to the passing attack.
Texas Special Teams vs. Cal Special Teams
Texas punter Michael Dickson has emerged as one of the best in the country at his position, ranking second in the NCAA in punting average. Trent Domingue has most put worries aside about the Longhorns’ kicking game.
California’s Khalfani Muhammad is an explosive player in the kick return game, but Texas coverage has been pretty solid all season.
Dickson will be an X-factor in this game.