Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 36 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2022 37 GAME PREVIEW: CALIFORNIA Three Things To Know About California 1. Familiar Quarterback Like nearly half of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams this year, Cal found its starting quarterback in a transfer portal import. The Golden Bears pulled graduate student Jack Plummer, a 13-game starter at Purdue, from the transfer wire this offseason. He started the opener against UC Davis, and completed 23 of 35 passes for 268 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Notre Dame has seen him before. And he has seen the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium before. Plummer started for Purdue in the Boilermakers' 27-13 loss to the Irish last season. His memories of that game aren't likely positive ones. Purdue benched him in the fourth quarter after consecutive punts, trailing 20-13 at the time. He was 25-of-36 passing for 187 yards with a touchdown before leav- ing the game. Plummer started the following week's game against Illinois, but was again pulled in the second half. Aidan O'Connell, his replacement in both contests, started every game for the rest of the season and helped the Boilermakers go 9-4. That was that. Plummer entered the transfer portal at the end of the regular season. 2. Defense First Cal's 21-21 record and two bowl games from 2018-21 was largely fueled by its defense. That has been the Golden Bears' strength in head coach Justin Wilcox's six seasons. It's hardly a surprise. Wilcox was a defensive co- ordinator for 11 years before Cal hired him, starting in 2006 at Boise State and ending in 2016 at Wisconsin. In each of the last four seasons, the Golden Bears have finished in the top 50 of the defen- sive Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), which cal- culates the per-possession scoring advantage each defense would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. The high mark was No. 11 in 2018. Last season, they were No. 41. That has generally translated to keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Cal has ranked top-50 nationally in points per game allowed every season in that span and finished 32nd last year despite a 5-7 record. The expectation this year is more of the same. Cal was 37th in ESPN analyst Bill Connelly's returning production rankings this year, bring- ing back 73 percent of their defensive con- tributors from 2021. The Golden Bears were 25th in Connelly's preseason defensive SP+ rankings, a predictive metric that uses return- ing production, recent history and recent recruiting as major factors. 3. One-Off Game Most Power Five teams that come through Notre Dame Stadium get a return game at their home field from the Irish. Not Cal. The Golden Bears are making this trip as part of a one-game agreement. It's not a home-and- home. The two teams agreed to play each other once — at Notre Dame — exactly three years before the game date. Why would Cal agree to it? A guarantee of $1.9 million is hard to turn down. The Golden Bears will pocket that sum within 60 days of the game no matter the result. Cal doesn't have a one-off game against a Power Five team on its future schedules. It hasn't played one this century (Cal had a two-year series with TCU, but its 2020 home game was canceled due to COVID-19). Notre Dame does not have another game like it on tap. The most recent instance of a "buy game" against a Power Five team was 2018 against Vanderbilt. The Irish did not make a trip to play the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn. Terms of the payment to Vanderbilt were not disclosed. This game will be the first meeting between Notre Dame and Cal since 1967. They have played four times previously, twice at each team's home stadium. The Irish have won all four. — Patrick Engel could point to areas where we have to be much better." Utah transfer Xavier Carlton is taking that upon himself. The junior linebacker flashed with 4 tackles for loss and a sack for the Utes last year, but he felt there was more out there for him. He transferred to Cal and re- corded 1.5 sacks in his first game with the Bears. A four-star recruit with offers from LSU, Ohio State, Michigan and Texas out of Draper, Utah, Carlton is the type of talent who can elevate Cal's defense to the standard Wilcox be- lieves it can reach. Still, Cal gave up 387 yards to UC Davis in the opener, leaving much room to improve before facing a Notre Dame team that is going to be heavily focused on offensive improvements of its own. "We have to play faster and with more physicality," Cal defensive coor- dinator Peter Sirmon said. "Those are the areas of emphasis I've presented to the defense as a whole." ✦ 2022 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 3 at Ohio State L, 21-10 Sept. 10 Marshall L, 26-21 Sept. 17 California (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at North Carolina TBD Oct. 8 vs. BYU* (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 Stanford (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22 UNLV (Peacock) 2:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Syracuse TBD Nov. 5 Clemson (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 vs. Navy^ (ABC/ESPN) 12 p.m. Nov. 19 Boston College (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Nov. 26 at USC TBD * at Las Vegas; ^ at Baltimore 2022 CALIFORNIA SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 3 UC Davis W, 34-13 Sept. 10 UNLV W, 20-14 Sept. 17 at Notre Dame (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Sept. 24 Arizona TBA Oct. 1 at Washington State TBA Oct. 15 at Colorado TBA Oct. 22 Washington TBA Oct. 29 Oregon TBA Nov. 5 at USC TBA Nov. 12 at Oregon State TBA Nov. 19 Stanford TBA Nov. 25 UCLA (FOX) 4:30 p.m. The Golden Bears have forged a defensive identity during head coach Justin Wilcox's tenure, finishing in the top 50 of the defensive Fremeau Efficiency Index each of the past four seasons. PHOTO COURTESY CAL ATHLETICS/KELLEY COX

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