Since I'm not out in San Francisco covering the Emerald Bowl, I figured the next best thing was to give you some insight on the Canes' opponent from an expert out on the West Coast. This week, I got the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Bears beat writer Demar Richardson, who covers the team for CalSportsDigest.com, which associated with Scout.com.
Here are the five questions I sent Demar about the Bears followed by is responses.
Q: No knock on Cal running back Jahvid Best (he's had a tremendous season), but when you take a closer look at his numbers 511 of his 1,394 yards and 7 of his 13 rushing touchdowns came against Washington and Washington State, the nation's 117th and 119th rushing defenses. He's also put up some stinkers -- 25 yards against Maryland and 30 yards against USC. Is the 5-10, 193-pound sophomore really that special? Or, are his numbers a bit inflated? And, why did Maryland and USC have good days against him?
DR: Best's numbers against Maryland were down for two reasons. Maryland got off to an early lead against the Bears forcing Cal to pass a lot more and the Bears coaching staff made a mistake by completely abandoning the running game when they fell behind. Best has shown that he can break off fifty or sixty yard runs on a consistent basis. As far as the USC game goes I would just go with the theory that nobody will have success against that defense this year. Jahvid's numbers would have been better if he didn't miss the ASU game because of injury. One thing Jahvid must do this off-season is add some more muscle in the weight room and get up to 200 pounds. In my opinion Best will be a top five back in the country for the 2009 season. Jahvid is explosive running the ball and he has the ability to make defenders miss tackles. Best has tremendous hands. He finished the regualr season with 27 catches. At the NFL level, Best has the ability to give a team 10-15 carries a game, catch passes and be a very effective kick returner.
Q: As good as Best is, what impresses me most about Cal on paper is their pass rush and their ability to create turnovers. The Bears look like they bring the heat. Is that really the strength of this team? And, if so, has anybody had any real success against Cal's pass rush and pass defense?
DR: Cal is known for being a very good offensive team, but their defense was the strength of the team this season. They have a very talented secondary lead by CB Syd'Quan Thompson who is very good in man to man coverage. The opposite corner Darian Hagan is only a sophmore and he is very solid in coverage. The Bears play a 3-4 and not many offenses are use to playing against that front. The linebackers get after the quarterback a lot, but the defensive line has been able to apply consistent pressure all season. The Bears have been very succesful when the get off to an early lead and force teams to become one demensional. This allows Cal to be very aggresive with their blitz packages. The top players on the Bear's defense are LB Zack Follett, DE Tyson Alualu and Thompson.
Q: With true freshman Jacory Harris slated to start at quarterback for Miami, I have to imagine the Bears must be salivating at the thought of knocking this kid out and or getting in his head. Miami's backups are walk-ons for this game. What are you hearing from the Bears this week about facing Harris?
DR: I don't see the Bear's defense being over aggresive, because Jacory Harris is young. If Cal gets up 10-0 or 14-3 that is when the Bears would turn up the heat. This game can remain very close if Miami can contain Best and consistenly run the ball with Graig Cooper. Miami should be more concerned with not turning the ball over instead of worrying about giving up sacks. The Bears defense has been very good at creating turnovers.
Q: How would you measure the excitement out there for this game? The University of Miami used to create a stir when it went out on the road during its championship years? Notice any real excitement from the Bears about facing a 7-5 Hurricanes team?
DR: Miami is a very respected program and this is without a doubt the best match-up in Emerald Bowl history. Cal has a very big student following. I'm not sure if the Christmas break will affect attendance or not, but Emerald bowl representatives expect a sell out for Saturday's game. I would expect 80-85% of the crowd to be Bear fans. I expect the Hurricanes to challenge for the ACC over the next few seasons and the Bears should be ready for a big year in 2009. Anytime you can play against a team with the traditon and talent of the Hurricanes I feel it will be a good test for Cal to see where they are as a program and what they need to add to their roster if they want to win the Pac 10.
Q: What's your prediction for this game? And what does Miami ultimately need to do to pull off the upset of Cal in your opinion?
DR: I believe this game will be very close because Cal is not explosive at the reciever position. Cal has very good kick and punt returners, but Miami's speed should contain the Bear's returners. The Hurricanes should have oppurtunities for big kick returns, because the Bears have consistenly left their kickoffs 10-15 yards short of the end zone. If Miami can run the ball they have a great chance to win. I believe Cal will again find ways to force a few turnovers. Final score: Cal 27, Miami 24.