Coach Chip Kelly and his staff spent the short week exploring the Golden Bears, but they’re not the only ones getting an inside look at what’s going on at Berkeley.
With 18th UCLA football (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) away in California (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12) coming up Friday, All Bruins editor Sam Connon has answers to the most pressing questions Questions surrounding the end-of-season showdown, courtesy of Jake Curtis, Editor of Cal Sports Report.
Here’s what Curtis had to say about Cal’s season so far, the changes in the coaching staff, and the impact of UCLA’s upcoming move to the Big Ten on their northern neighbors:
Sam Connon: How hot is Justin Wilcox’s seat after Cal officially lost three straight seasons?
Jake Curtis: His seat is only tepid, and there’s little chance he’ll be fired after this season. He earned some equity with the People That Matter when he turned down an offer to become Oregon’s head coach last December. More importantly, on Jan. 1, 2022, Wilcox signed a six-year contract extension, two years longer than his then contract. The extension runs through the 2027 season, and if he were fired now, the school would still owe him around $17 million. A school as financially strapped as Cal would have a hard time rationalizing that payout.
Also, fan ire was directed not so much at Wilcox as at offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave because Cal’s offense with him at the helm was terrible. Wilcox may have solved that PR problem by firing Musgrave last week. It was the first time Wilcox had fired an assistant coach and there is a feeling, although unconfirmed, that some people higher up the chain of command may have pressured Wilcox into firing Musgrave.
SC: How much of a bright spot was Jadyn Ott’s outburst with so many negatives dominating the conversation about Cal’s offense this season?
JC: When Ott rushed for 274 yards against Arizona in the fourth game of the season, the Cal people were ecstatic about this remarkable freshman. They thought they had the next Barry Sanders. But when he didn’t rush for more than 70 yards in any of the next six games, the fanfare faded. A lot of his recent troubles have come from poor offensive play and people like me wonder if that lack of upfront might prompt Ott to consider a move.
SC: How was Chase Garbers’ move to Jack Plummer this year, and how has offense changed without a quarterback capable of passing the ball?
JC: Certainly Plummer isn’t as mobile as Garbers, who set a school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback. That removes several elements from the playbook, though Plummer gained a few yards on scheduled quarterback runs.
However, in my opinion, Plummer is a better passer than Garbers, especially on his deep balls. He’s more crucial in the pocket than Garbers, who would wait and wait. But mobility is a factor, a reason Plummer has been fired 31 times. That’s no more dramatic than last year when Cal allowed 25 sacks. With better offensive play, Plummer could become an elite quarterback. You can say that about a lot of quarterbacks, of course.
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The question here is will he return in 2023 because he has one more year of college eligibility. He admitted Wilcox’s choice of next offensive coordinator could influence his decision.
SC: Given the Bruins’ imminent move to the Big Ten, where do Cal fans stand on the stakes of this year’s rivalry game with UCLA?
JC: The UCLA or USC game (depending on what’s happening at Berkeley) is always the second biggest game on the Cal schedule (after the Stanford game) from a fan interest standpoint. I would imagine Cal fans discussing the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten and the direct impact it might have on Cal, hoping that somehow the Bruins can be kept in the Pac-12.
There is some upset about the UCLA move because the perception is that UCLA left while leaving its Pac-12 UC brother behind. But I expect the Bruins will be booed just a little more than usual when they take the field on Friday.
Cal fans will just miss not having UCLA on the schedule in both football and basketball. This isn’t a rivalry game for Cal like Cal-Stanford is for the Bears or USC-UCLA for the Bruins. Even with the expected departure of the Bruins, there will be no rivalry in the “Big Game” sense.
SC: Can the firings of Bill Musgrave and Angus McClure later provide a spark to this Cal offense, or was that just a step forward?
JC: There was hope that it would start a late-season fire, and a change in play-calling was noticeable as the Bears called passes in their first 14 games against Stanford, despite the Cardinal possibly having the worst defense in the country.
However, the offense only scored 20 points, and seven of those came from an interception on a nine-yard drive. There is a belief that Cal’s offense at UCLA will be more aggressive than it was under Bill Musgrave, but I don’t think the Bears are expected to score 40 points.
Hiring an offensive coordinator next is critical to Wilcox’s future. He’s swung and missed with his first two new hires, Beau Baldwin and Musgrave. When Musgrave was hired, the assumption was that Cal’s offense would come alive with all of his NFL experience. It never happened, and some are wondering if the Bears can ever have a strong offense with the players they recruit. The key, of course, is landing an elite quarterback.
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