We were lucky enough to chat with Christopher Helling of Write For California before tonight’s Oregon-Cal game!
We had a whole lot of questions regarding Wilcox’s Golden Bears and, fortunately, Helling had a whole lot to say. Here are his responses in this week’s ATQ & A!
Chase Garbers has led this offense for what feels like decades, what are the quarterbacks overall strengths and weaknesses?
Christopher_h: Let’s start with his biggest weakness: consistency. He was fairly lackluster in 2018, and just out of nowhere in 2019 (against Ole Miss) he just had a breakout game that I don’t think anyone saw coming. He played fantastic in 2019, although he missed a number of games to injury. In 2020, he looked more like the 2018 version of himself, but Covid led to a weird season and most people are willing to look the other way on that one. So how does he look in 2021? Well, so far it depends on the game (and perhaps the play calling). His biggest strength is his athleticism; his ability to run the ball, improvise, and extend plays. In some games he’s making beautiful downfield passes and breaking off big runs (see: TCU), in other games he’s a pocket passer making 5 yard throws all game (see: Nevada). I have absolutely no idea what to expect at this point, but it’s pretty clear that Cal needs “Ole Miss” Garbers to show up if they have any chance at winning. Otherwise, we’re getting embarrassed by the likes of Wazzu.
Cal has won just one game this season, whose fault is that? Who needs to be cut from the team or fired?
Christopher_h: That’s Sacramento State’s fault, we gave them plenty of chances. Oh, you mean who’s at fault for Cal? Well, there’s probably plenty of blame to go around. Cal has had games with great offense and bad defense, great defense and bad offense, and consistently terrible special teams. Cal just cannot put it all together so far this season. The most surprising thing to me has been the drop-off in the defense and the secondary. When you have a defensive-minded head coach and “co-defensive coordinators” it might be hard to assign credit (or blame) for the defense, but after DeRuyter left, the defense became noticeably worse. Even Wilcox seemed baffled by the play of the secondary in a post-game press conference, so I believe he may have left too much autonomy in the hands of his assistants while many of the really good assistants have already moved on to greener pastures elsewhere. Most notably, the secondary coach Gerald Alexander was turning out NFL studs in the secondary, but he’s since become the defensive backs coach for the Miami Dolphins (and we miss him dearly).
Oregon has made a lot of “underdogs” look like playoff contenders this season. If Cal makes this a competitive game, what unit do you believe will be leading the charge for the Golden Bears?
Christopher_h: I suppose if you view your own team as a playoff contender, then anyone hanging around you in games also looks like a playoff contender, eh? If Cal makes this a competitive game, it’s going to be because the defense is able to keep Oregon’s offense off the field and the Cal offense plays a “dominate time of possession” type of offense to win in a low-scoring affair. Unfortunately, for that to happen, it’s going to require some marked improvement in some units that have heretofore been lacking; namely, the inside linebackers need to play much better if they hope to slow the Oregon run game, and the defensive line needs to generate some pressure, any pressure, on Anthony Brown. I usually have a good idea of when Cal has a shot at an upset, but I’m honestly not very optimistic that it’s going to happen this year.
If Wilcox were to miss a bowl game this season how hot would his hot seat be?
Christopher_h: Eh, we miss bowl games all the time, that alone isn’t enough to put him on the hot seat. If he turns in an unexpectedly disastrous season—and we’re already halfway there—I would imagine his seat would heat up a bit next year. More likely, I think he would need to shake up his staff, because it’s pretty clear that some coaches are not getting it done.
Which Golden Bear skill player will inexplicably have the game of their life this Friday?
Christopher_h: My bet is on the long snapper, Slater Zellers. He’s going to be long snapping it so consistently, you won’t even believe it.
With so many talented running backs, how much confidence do you have in the Golden Bear run game in Autzen?
Christopher_h: So far, Cal has just been using the run to set up the pass. Damien Moore is a good running back, but he’s not going to break off a 90+ yard TD run the way someone like Jahvid Best used to do. Instead, after enough runs, Cal will try to pick up big chunks of yards through the air. I don’t expect anything special out of the run game.
Do y’all miss Tim DeRuyter?
Christopher_h: I think it’s too early to say with a new(er) staff in place, but early indications are yes, dearly.
Any recent injury news?
Christopher_h: Yes, in the latest press conference, Justin Wilcox said that an unspecified player has an unspecified injury to either his upper or lower body, and he will be out for an unspecified period of time. Honestly, no one ever knows Cal’s latest injury news as it’s treated like highly classified information. Cal would love to see Kuony Deng back, but he’s missed enough weeks in a row now that I wouldn’t expect him to be back any time soon. I also would not be surprised at all if he suddenly returned, nor would I be surprised if someone else is out due to some injury in practice. We just never know.
Who are you most afraid of on the Oregon roster?
Christopher_h: Is this even a question? Even if he only plays for a half, it has to be Kayvon Thibodeaux. Another solid choice is Verone McKinley III. McKinley is superb at diagnosing plays and making sure he’s in the right place at the right time. That combined with any sort of inside information DeRuyter might have after seeing Chase Garbers in practice every day could be bad news for the Bears.
How have the Golden Bears fared in the turnover battle?
Christopher_h: Cal is currently +0, with 6 turnovers gained and 6 turnovers lost through 5 games. These aren’t “The Takers” on defense anymore. Conversely, Cal’s not taking a lot of big risks on offense either.
Who is the Golden Bears’ best player?
Christopher_h: Does best mean “biggest impact on this team” or “most likely to play in the NFL talent-wise”? If it’s the latter, it would be Kuony Deng, but he’s been out for a number of weeks with an injury (but presumably not lost for the season). If it means who is the most valuable person to this Cal team, it’s Garbers; Cal’s hopes live and die with him. We do not have a viable backup, and if he gets injured or if he plays poorly, Cal is not going to win any games. I dodged the “skill [position] player” question earlier, but another good choice (for either question) would have been wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter, who I think is poised for a breakout season.
What would a Cal win look like?
Christopher_h: An ugly, low-scoring rock fight.
Christopher_h: If I am being realistic, I’d guess Cal and the under, something like 27-17 Oregon. But because I’m actually a delusion Cal fan, I also think 66-0 Cal makes a lot of sense too.