Cal vs. UNLV: Getting To Know The Golden Bears
Rebels vs. Bears
Can UNLV start 2-0?
UNLV is back in action after a week off from its dominant Week 0 win over Idaho State. Now, the difficulty level has been raised as the Rebels go on the road to face the Cal Golden Bears.
This will be a good test for UNLV to see if they have improved enough to compete and maybe even beat this Cal team that will likely be fighting for bowl eligibility this year.
To get a deep dive on this Cal team we reached out to Jackson Moore who does a number of things for 247 Sports including covering Cal for BearTerritory.com.
1. What was learned from this Cal team after it opened up with a win over UC Davis?
The season-opener validated a lot of Cal’s fall camp storylines. The Golden Bears’ lost a big group of senior receivers and tight ends but replaces them with high-ceiling though young and inexperienced players. Four-Star redshirt freshmen J.Michael Sturdivant and Mavin Anderson looked the part without many hiccups. As did new transfer quarterback Jack Plummer who is perhaps not as exciting as former starter Chase Garbers but is a steady passer who rarely turns it over. The new O-Line was Cal’s biggest concern and they got off to a slow start but ultimately found a rhythm.
Likewise on defense, Cal played well as they returned some missing 2021 players back from injury and a trio of transfers who all made an impact – inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon (Washington) and outside linebackers Odua Isibor (UCLA) and Xavier Carlton (Utah). The defense looks more like a Justin Wilcox defense than last year’s did.
The biggest storyline that was not clear from fall camp was the emergence of 4-Star true freshman running back Jaydn Ott. Returner Damien Moore was a Doak Walker Award preseason candidate but after just three carries the Golden Bears switched gears to Ott, who had a 100-yard day and was the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Week.
2. Who are the most impactful players for this Cal team?
QB Jack Plummer – Cal has a diverse group of receiving weapons and the Purdue transfer has been a good fit. He’s not a big play-maker or scrambler, but is an accurate passer and rarely ever puts the ball in harm’s way. His interception in Week 1 came after a wide receiver bobbled a throw to the defense.
WR Jeremiah Hunter – The 6-foot-2 junior is the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. He’s an athletic leaper with an especially long wingspan that makes him tough to cover noth in the open field and one-on-one throws.
OL Ben Coleman – Coleman is Cal’s top offensive lineman and has moved from guard to left tackle this year.
NG Ricky Correia – The 6-foot-4 junior nose guard had a breakout offseason and is now the key D-Lineman to know after star Brett Johnson suffered a season-ending injury before the season.
ILB Jackson Sirmon – Sirmon was a two-time All-Pac-12 honorable mention at Washington and transferred to play under his father, Cal DC Peter Sirmon. He has quickly become the leader of the defense.
CB Lu-Magia Hearns, S Daniel Scott – Hearns emerged as Cal’s lockdown corner as a true freshman last season. Scott is Cal’s only returning sixth-year super senior as a star safety.
3. What are the expectations for Justin Wilcox? He has just two bowl appearances going into this sixth season?
The Justin Wilcox era is in a weird spot. In his first three years, his teams and recruiting classes kept getting better and better. Then came the COVID-19 season where they only played four games, and a 2021 season where they were hit with injuries, several heartbreaking losses and an overall disappointing year. And at the same time, Wilcox landed a big extension while Oregon was knocking on his door. Yet most of Cal’s eligible super seniors decided not to come back, leading to a new era on the depth chart this season.
Cal appears to be in it for the long haul with Wilcox, which doesn’t put a lot of immediate pressure on this year’s team. But a third straight losing season would be tough to swallow. Cal recruited especially well in 2020 and 2021 and now those players are taking over. If Cal can just go bowling and finish with a winning season, it would regain momentum. That would set the table for 2023 as nearly the whole team is eligible to return. They could be poised for Wilcox’s best season at Cal so far if this year’s team can set the table.
4. Cal has had one of the worst offenses in the Pac-12 during Wilcox’s career. Last year was an improvement, so how good can this offense be?
Cal has struggled on offense and now nearly the whole starting offense is gone. Their 2021 core of senior receivers and tight ends all graduated or transferred for their extra year. Cal lost three linemen including one transfer to Oklahoma. Now they are breaking in a new quarterback too.
But the general consensus is that the replacements are more explosive than the outgoing group – they just need to settle in and get some experience. Plummer is viewed as a better fit for the scheme. Cal has four second- and third- year receivers that were highly regarded recruits and are now taking center stage. They also plugged some holes on the O-Line. The bar is low, but if the O-Line is not a liability this should be the most effective offense since Bill Musgrave came in as offensive coordinator in 2020.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
I anticipate that Cal will see a similar flow of their events as Week 1, but in a more difficult fashion against a better opponent. Cal started off slow and took a while to get going on offense. Once they got into a rhythm they were tough to stop. The defense played solid with few mistakes. I think UNLV will go toe-to-toe with Cal for a while – I expect the Golden Bears’ defense to make life difficult on the Rebels and at some point in the second half Cal will hit a big play or two on offense to separate. I look for a score in the 28-17 range.