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UNC Football: Preview Q&A with California Golden Blogs

A few friendly California fans give us their take on Saturday’s game

NCAA Football: California at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Alright. Finally. It’s here. Opening week for most of college football. It’s a week that most UNC fans have been waiting for since...approximately week 4 of last season.

Yesterday, Chad Floyd posted our joint podcast we recorded with Rob Hwang, the manager of California’s SBN blog, California Golden Blogs. After we were done discussing the upcoming rematch of last year’s season opener, Hwang and some of his contributors answered some written questions for us. I reciprocated, and my answers will be posted on their website later this week.

Being the great overachievers one would expect from Berkeley students, they provided great insight....but you don’t have time to read the 2000+ words I received in response to the questions. So below are some of the highlights of their responses. I provide some context in italics underneath each question. Enjoy!

Which player on offense should UNC fans know about?

(RB Patrick Laird was a popular name. Here are two answers explaining why.)

  • RB Patrick Laird is going to be the star of our offense - a senior former walk-on had over 1100 yards rushing last year and over 300 yards through the air. He doesn’t have fantastic breakaway speed, but his vision, patience, balance and decisiveness hitting the hole make him a great all-around back. He’s also running behind an experienced O-line in the second year of our offensive scheme, and should be notably better than last year.
  • RB Patrick Laird. UNC fans may remember Laird’s 54 yard catch-and-run TD in the 3rd Quarter to put Cal ahead 21-17 in last season’s meeting and he will certainly have a much greater role in the rematch. Laird looked his best at the tail end of last season totaling an incredible 641 total yards of offense in the last three games. This man is the real deal and should carry a heavy work load playing alongside an offense more experienced and more run-oriented than they were last season.

Which player on defense should UNC fans know about?

(Every position group got a mention, but two separate LBs received attention.)

  • UNC RBs, meet Evan Weaver. The former DE/OLB is now going to start at MLB for Cal, after an offseason of shaping his body and learning his role on the defense he will be the key run-defense, gap shooting MLB for the Wilcox/DeRuyter defense. Weaver has the unique experience as a DE/OLB to sort through the line of skirmish and find the hole through which the RB could run through.
  • OLB Cameron Goode. Goode had a very promising 2017 season cut short after 9 games but has recovered seamlessly and emerged as a surefire All Conference candidate in 2018. He is an incredibly versatile OLB with loads of speed and length. He excels in coverage, consistently sets the edge, and will provide more as a pass-rusher in 2018.

Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for Cal?

(There was zero consensus for this question, but two folks mentioned experienced tight ends. Not usually a position that comes to mind when you think “x-factor”)

  • Keep an eye out for Ian Bunting. The 6’7” 255lb Michigan grad transfer will be a dangerous tight end who can block and catch. He looked good in the public fall practices and could have a breakout year.
  • I’ll go with 6th year TE Ray Hudson. Ray has had a bit of a roller coaster Cal experience, dealing with a ton of injuries and seeing his position somewhat de-emphasized under previous HC Sonny Dykes. Hudson is experienced and smart, has had the chance to build chemistry with Ross Bowers, and will likely be a bit under the radar vs the RB and WR corps that Cal has. He may be able to make a big impact at a position that Cal has not gotten much production from in recent years.

What does Cal need to do to win the game?

(Some interesting insight, but there is obviously a misunderstanding about how much the recent suspensions will actually impact the team.)

  • This will sound a bit silly, but Cal really needs to avoid mistakes and just execute a solid, no-frills game plan. Given how UNC will be down a number of starters and contributors, Cal should have enough talent and coaching to win. I don’t think Cal needs to pull out trick plays, and I don’t think anyone needs to play an out-of-body game for Cal to win. Instead, the team needs to finish drives, get off the field on defense, and take advantage of UNC having to play less experienced players than they’d like.
  • Get solid RB and LB play. We have a great #1 RB in Laird, but the pecking order behind him is still unclear: there’s practically no college-game experience behind him, although there’s plenty of players that looked good in camp (including a JC transfer and a couple talented true frosh that might play). We also just lost one of the top-4 ILBs to injury and depth there is questionable, so the coaches will need to figure that out in the next week. It might mean switching some OLBs inside or using non-traditional personnel packages, but if that gets worked out then the D should be solid and keep UNC in check.

What does UNC need to do to win the game?

(Again, a lack of understanding with the suspensions are influencing some of their analysis. Apparently it’s a repeat of 2010? Interestingly, two contributors have concerns with the Cal passing game.)

  • They are going to need some big plays. They are less experienced at most positions and depth is taking an early toll on their season. Players like WR/KR Anthony Ratliff-Williams need to provide a spark early and they have to win the turnover battle. Nathan Elliot has to play smart football and know when to take chances.
  • Find a way to make Bowers’ life hell. By shutting down the 1st receiving option and keeping Laird contained to small gains you can force him to make 2nd/3rd level reads each play.
  • If UNC gets a 2 TD lead early, that would make things really dicey for Cal - the offense doesn’t appear to have tons of explosive play potential, and so playing from behind, given Bowers’ arm strength limitations, would be tough. Cal likely wants to heavily feature RB Patrick Laird, and so if Cal is forced to pass earlier and more often, I think that would give some advantage to UNC.

How do you see the game going?

(Spoiler alert: Everyone picked a Cal victory by at least two possessions. So. That’s nice. Of course, I predicted a 45-27 victory for the Heels. SORRY. NOT. SORRY.)

  • Both teams are improved from last season but I expect Cal to lead throughout and win the game by two scores. The Tar Heels will keep things interesting but eventually I predict a critical second half UNC turnover to put Cal in the driver’s seat as they wear down the Tar Heels in the 4th.
  • The 1st Quarter will be the feeling out period for both teams with some sloppy plays here and there. However, Cal’s more experienced team comes together sooner and takes a 14 point lead coming into the 4th and then grinds out with tough runs by Laird/Dancey/Brown.
  • I hate predicting a Cal win - since that belief is usually extinguished by year 2 of being a Cal fan - but Cal really does appear to have the advantage in this game. I’m predicting a 34-24 win for the Golden Bears.
  • Cal win by at least 2 scores. We look good and surprise a lot of people, even get a little national attention - although it’ll largely get chocked up to UNC being short on players.

Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

(This is a question California Golden Blogs poses to all their guests from other sites, so we threw it back to them. We received responses befitting of Cal-Berkeley students/fans.)

  • Prince of Bismark and Duke of Lauenburgh, Iron Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto Eduard Leopold. AKA Otto Von Bismark. Read up on the history of Poland and European diplomatic relations in the post Franco-Prussian War. If it has to be a living person then any NFL pundit who think that Goff was and is a bust.
  • The atrocity that that junior university on the peninsula calls a mascot. Go Bears.
  • The Stanford band.