Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 39 of 55

40 SEPT. 17, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: CALIFORNIA nior missed last season with a hip injury he suffered in a car crash, but Johnson was still talented and renowned enough even after a year off to become a second-team all-conference pick this preseason. The aforementioned Scott at safety and junior inside linebacker Nate Rutchena tied for the 2021 team lead with 3 interceptions apiece. Also, keep an eye on sophomore cornerback Lu- Magia Hearns III. A budding young star, Hearns landed the starting job halfway through his freshman season in 2021 and helped stabilize Cal's secondary after a shaky 1-5 start. Advantage: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS Ohio State provides the most recent data avail- able but there was little of note with these units for Notre Dame against the Buckeyes. Tyree returned 2 kickoffs for only 22 total yards, and Notre Dame never returned a punt. With no return game, the Irish started six of 10 offensive drives either at or inside their own 16-yard line. The special teams debut for first-year Notre Dame coordinator Brian Mason wasn't completely dire. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe con- verted his 1 field goal attempt from 33 yards and graduate student punter Jon Sot averaged 46.2 yards on 8 punts, including a long of 75 yards with 3 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. For Cal, one of its strengths comes from experi- ence in the kicking game. Graduate student kicker Dario Longhetto is back after converting all 31 of his point after attempts and 11 of 14 field goal tries last season, and so is senior punter Jamieson Sheahan, who averaged 43.1 yards per boot in 2021. The Bears remain in search of primary options on their punt and kickoff return teams. Advantage: Even COACHING The Cal faithful contend that Wilcox, 45, is a fine young football coach and the right man for the job. The Eugene, Ore., native was even offered the Oregon head coaching job this past cycle. But a contract extension that will keep Wilcox in Berke- ley through the 2027 season and pay him $4.75 million a year brought him back. During his first five seasons, Wilcox was 26-28 overall and only 15-25 in the Pac-12. But there's a belief he's ready to turn the corner, even with limited returning starters and star power. Though he did win four of his last six games, Wilcox went 5-7 in 2021 and lost five games by seven points or fewer. This season, Wilcox is tasked with replacing 14 starters from 2021. For Notre Dame and Freeman, the hype and the honeymoon are over. Marshall last Saturday marked the first of seven straight outings that the Irish will be listed as prohibitive favorites, and a loss in any of these seven games won't sit well with the Notre Dame faithful. Advantage: Notre Dame INTANGIBLES Notre Dame entered the Marshall game Sept. 10 winners in 30 of its last 31 home games. In ad- dition, it had beaten 42 straight unranked oppo- nents, the longest such streak in the country. Don't expect this to be a Pac-12 championship season for the Bears. But after losing five one- possession games in 2021, and with a schedule that isn't overly daunting as members of the Pac-12 North Division, it could be a solid one in Berkeley. For Cal, it's about finding some production in the running game. Over the last four seasons under Wilcox, the Bears are 15-1 when they reach 165 yards on the ground. Plummer, the Cal quarterback, might also pro- vide some strategic insight to the meeting room this week. As the Purdue starter against Notre Dame last season, he completed 25 of 36 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown in a 27-13 loss to the Irish. Notre Dame brings a 4-0 record to a series that renews for the first time in 55 seasons. Advantage: Notre Dame Graduate student safety Daniel Scott, who led Cal with 82 tackles and tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions last season, was tabbed as a preseason first- team All-Pac-12 selection. PHOTO COURTESY CAL ATHLETICS/AL SERMENO

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Sept. 17, 2022