Welcome to another installment of the CougCenter Q&A, wherein we tap into the vast wealth of knowledge around the SB Nation network to get the skinny on WSU's upcoming opponent. Today, our resident experts are Berkelium97 and NorCalNick from one of our favorite sites on the network, California Golden Blogs.
Normally, we simply trade three questions. But since I have a special place in my heart for the Golden Blog boys, I made an exception! Here are their answers to my six questions; you can read the answers provided by myself and Brian Anderson over here.
CougCenter: Does your team's breakout performance against UCLA make you less or more anxious about what will take place on Saturday? Because if I were you, I'd be more freaked out than ever that the Cougs are going to get you!
Berkelium97: I still have no idea whether the good Bears or bad Bears will show up, so I'm not feeling any less anxious about the game.
NorCalNick: Honestly, what makes me most anxious is residual agony from the 2004 Holiday Bowl, which is (for me at least) easily in the top 5 of most painful losses of the Tedford era. I don't have the same love for Mike Leach that the rest of the college football world has because he and Mack Brown conspired to taint the end of Cal's best season in decades.
More rationally, I've managed to maintain a consistent level of anxiousness for every Cal game. The Bears have been so consistently inconsistent over the last few years that it's unwise to get too confident or too pessimistic, because they'll always prove you wrong. Except against USC.
Are you still trying to make sense out of Zach Maynard? Because we'll be honest -- we've quit trying.
Berkelium97: We've reluctantly accepted that we'll have to take our lumps along with the occasional performance like the one we saw last weekend. Good Maynard is more likely to come out when the offensive gameplan is tailored towards quick strikes, slants, and screens. We need to keep it simple for him and avoid relying too much on the O-line for sustained pass protection.
NorCalNick: Zach Maynard is Cal and Cal is Zach Maynard. He gets criticized too much for his failings because when he looks bad he looks baaaaaaaaad. He doesn't get praised enough when he plays well, because when he does it feels like it's because Keenan Allen and company get the credit. The reality is that he's an average quarterback with more varied swings between his best and his worst. Just like Cal.
Serious question, though: What do defenses do that seems to give him the most trouble?
Berkelium97: We lead the nation with 28 sacks allowed--that's 6 more than the second-worst team. Try to sustain a pass rush and you will have a great shot at disrupting the offense.
Disguising the coverage also works well--Maynard still struggles to read the field.
NorCalNick: In addition to what Berkelium97 says, successful teams tend to play tight, bump and run coverage on Cal's wide receivers. Ohio State and UCLA both sat back too much, and that gave Zach space to complete the short passes that Cal excels with. USC played Cal's wideouts tight, knowing that Maynard wouldn't have enough time to wait for them to come open deep. I don't know if Washington State has the pash rush to pull off that kind of defense, but if they do it works.
The defense seems to have a weird home/road thing going on. Coincidence, related to the level of competition, or what?
Berkelium97: I disagree that it's a home-road issue. We've been bad both on the road and at home. UCLA was a pleasant outlier. The defensive struggles may be a result of strong competition and youth at several positions in the defense. Safety play and defensive line play have improved over the past couple weeks, so hopefully they continue to improve against the Cougs.
NorCalNick: Mostly, the defense has just been gradually improving because players are getting healthy and because more talented younger guys are starting to step into the lineup more often. Against UCLA, 8 of Cal's top 11 tacklers were freshmen or sophomores. In particular, there are times when Cal has underclassmen on the field at every linebacker position in a 3-4 defense. There have been growing pains, but the hope is that the light bulb is starting to turn on for all of these talented young guys.
The question over the next few weeks is if the UCLA game was just a one game thing, or the start of a trend.
Which defender should scare us the most?
Berkelium97: Chris McCain. He's our starting outside linebacker opposite Brennan Scarlett (he's pretty scary too, but he's still learning the ropes). He has a team-leading 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and a team-leading 3 QB hurries. He's a long, rangy, tenacious defender with great speed and a penchant for getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. Tedford nicknamed him "Gadget" last summer because of his ability to use his long arms to disrupt passes.
NorCalNick: Berkelium has it right, McCain is the most explosive guy on defense. I might add safety Avery Sebastian as a guy to watch. The sophomore just recently was promoted to starting, and although he's raw he's been all over the field over the last few games and it feels like he's primed for a few big hits or a key interception or two.
Last question: Does Jeff Tedford survive this? Do you even want him to? Is there a fear that changing could actually make things worse? Yes, I know I asked three questions there. Feel free to answer any or all of them.
Berkelium97: If Tedford can turn things around and get us to a bowl, he'll survive. It's hard not to feel like another year is simply prolonging the inevitable, however. For several years we've been waiting for him to turn the program around and get Cal back on the upswing.
Many of us have the utmost confidence in our AD's ability to find a solid replacement candidate. We've spent a ton of money on the stadium renovation and facilities upgrade; our AD is committed to excellence with the program and will continue to provide a sound investment in the program's excellence at the coaching level. With her track record of coaches hired so far, many of us expect her to bring in a solid candidate if she has to replace Tedford. I'm not worried about things getting worse if this is Tedford's last year.
NorCalNick: I very much want Jeff Tedford to survive - but that would mean that Cal would win a few more games (probably 4 more) and beat Stanford, which would warm the dark cockles of my heart. At this point in the season, I feel like Tedford's future will mostly be shaped by the result of the Big Game. If nothing else, Tedford's greatest 'sin' over the past few years was getting so obviously passed up by Jim Harbaugh. Cal fans are very forgiving, but losing to Stanford is the best way to lose that goodwill.
Your question about whether firing Tedford could actually make things worse gets to the heart of many Cal fan neurosises. Objectively speaking, Cal should be a pretty attractive destination for a coach, right? A huge public university with a big fan base in a gigantic media market. Relatively fertile recruiting grounds in Northern California, and easy access to the MOST fertile recruiting in Southern California. Brand new, beautiful facilities and a stadium that fans and alumni are raving about. An athletic department that proved with Tedford that they're willing to pay for performance. Academics that help convince mom and dad that their son can have a successful life after football. A recent NFL pedigree 2nd only to USC in the Pac-12.
But . . . Jeff Tedford still has the most wins in school history. There must be some reason that Cal has gone 50+ years without a Rose Bowl. There must be some reason why Cal was, between Pappy Waldorf and Tedford, perhaps the single worst Pac-10/12 program. There's always that boogeyman hanging over our heads - that if we let go of a solid-but-not-great coach, that it will be back to the days when a win over Stanford was the best we could hope for each year.
I'd like to think that the most obvious reason Cal was so bad for so long was a lack of any administrative support. For decades football was ignored or even outright reviled by campus administration. That seemingly has been fixed. Will that result in improved outcomes if Cal has to replace Tedford? I have no clue.