When Cal has the ball
Going to the air
Cal’s wide receivers haven’t been able to run away from anyone in the last few seasons, but head coach Jeff Tedford plans to change that. The only player with proven breakaway speed for the Golden Bears is converted cornerback LaShaun Ward, who is battling a hamstring injury and has shaky hands. Quarterback Kyle Boller is more likely to find players open on crossing patterns, so look for more creativity with routes and overloading defensive zones from Tedford and offensive coordinator George Cortez. Baylor’s returning players accounted for just two picks last season.
Tedford has vowed to incorporate the tight end into the Cal offense, but starter Tom Swoboda isn’t much of a pass-catcher. Backup Brandon Hall should be in the game in obvious passing situations.
In the trenches
Baylor’s left end A.C. Collier is a fierce pash rusher, so Cal right tackle Chris Murphy will have his hands full. Look for him to get help from right guard Jon Geisel (or David Hays, as Geisel is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury) and the Golden Bear tight ends. Tackle Mark Wilson and guard Scott Tercero have been working side-by-side for two years so they should provide a solid wall on the right side.
The ground game
Baylor has three 300-pounders in the middle of the line, so the straight-ahead running lanes may be clogged up for Cal’s Joe Igber and Terrell Williams. The linebackers are no great shakes, however, so if Igber and Williams can get past the first line of defense they could get some big gains.
When Baylor has the ball
Taking to the air
Baylor quarterback Greg Cicero was just plain bad last season, throwing 13 interceptions and just six touchdowns. Backup Aaron Karas tossed just one less touchdown and only one pick, but Cicero remains the starter. The Bears should blitz to pressure Cicero and possible force some turnovers, something that was sorely lacking in Strawberry Canyon last season. Cicero’s main target will be Reggie Newhouse, who caught eight touchdowns last season, and Baylor will spread the field on occasion with extra receivers.
In the trenches
Baylor surrendered 27 sacks last year, not bad for a team that lives on the pass. But they have just two starters back, so Cal shouldn’t have much trouble mounting a pass rush. Rush end Tully Banta-Cain finished last season on a high note and could be a terror this season, and tackle Daniel Nwangwu has the quickness and agility to give Baylor problems on the inside.
Stunts and blitzes could confuse the new Baylor offensive linemen, so keep an eye on outside linebackers Calvin Hosey and Matt Nixon. If they can make a few big plays, the Baylor offense will stall.
The ground game
Baylor had four running backs with nearly identical numbers last season and struggled to reach 100 yards on the ground per game. Tailback Jonathan Golden is the only returning back and should get the lion’s share of carries this year, but a team that averaged a miniscule 2.6 yards per carry shouldn’t strike fear in the hearts of Cal fans.