Texas (1-1) is making its way back onto the national stage. Just not because of their football team.
After the firing of AD Steve Patterson on Tuesday, the University of Texas' sports landscape looks very, very different. Head coach Charlie Strong and his team are now the focal point of the spotlight in Austin. All eyes around college football are on what happens next after a good, but not great, week against a tough Rice team. Rice had a great running back and a great quarterback, but they did not have the other pieces to take advantage of defensive miscues of the Longhorns.
That will not be a problem for Cal. The California Golden Bears (2-0) are not like Rice. They are not missing pieces on the offensive side of the ball. Cal is averaging 50 points per game after only two weeks. Junior quarterback Jared Goff has thrown for 630 yards and 6 touchdowns in just two weeks, spreading the ball around to as many as six different receivers, starting with Senior Bryce Treggs and Junior Kenny Lawler. The Bears will not struggle to find their offense like the Owls did.
The big question will be whether or not Texas and their young quarterback Jerrod Heard and new coordinator Jay Norvell can develop an offensive scheme that can keep up with the Bears high scoring offense.
College Football Podcast: Week 3 Preview with Dari Nowkhah
California at Texas
Kickoff: 7:30 PM ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: California -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Texas keep pace?
There are two numbers that glaringly stand out in the preview of this game. California is averaging 54 points per game. Texas is averaging 22.5 points per game. Those numbers loom large over this game because they suggest that no matter what Texas does, they may not be able to score enough points to keep up with the scoring prowess of the Bears. In addition to that, Cal's offensive attack comes from anywhere on the field and its not very predictable. Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford is going to have an enormous challenge trying to slow down quarterback Jared Goff's ability to get the ball to his open receivers. The other challenge is whether or not Jay Norvell can put together enough offensive packages to slow the game down for quarterback Jerrod Heard and running back Jonathan Gray to run the ball and milk the clock to keep the Bears off the field. Texas's passing offense must take manageable chunks of yardage, but still keep the Bears from matching them point for point. Either way, clock management could be key to a win.
2. Can Texas get key stops?
Texas, in addition to their offense averaging 22.5 points a game, is giving up 33 points a game in just two games. There are real problems for Texas on the defensive side of the ball and those problems may get exposed this weekend. Texas brings a lot of youth and inexperience to this game, which could be a major problem against a veteran team that returns a lot of key players and will be far from intimidated by Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Coach Bedford will have his hands full, especially in the Texas secondary, where it appears they are extremely vulnerable, giving up 273 yards per game through two games. If this becomes a back and forth shoot out, then that may help the Longhorns because they will be motivated to get the key stops in this game that may seal a victory in a close game. The challenge for Texas is to keep this game from being an early blowout, where the defense spends most of the night playing from behind.
3. Jerrod Heard must play better
Quarterback Jerrod Heard's first game was not horrible, but it was not great. Heard finished his starting debut with less than impressive numbers going 4-for-7 for 120 yards and two TDs. He also rushed 10 times for 96 yards. These numbers are not great, but they were sufficient, and they were supported by a strong defensive performance that provided scoring as well. This week, offensive coordinator Jay Norvell must create a plan that plays to the young quarterback's strengths, while also maximizing opportunities for Jonathan Gray to run to help set up the Longhorn passing game. And Heard must play mistake-free football. Unlike the Owls, the Bears WILL capitalize off of every short field given to them, so Texas must avoid giving the Bears short fields due to turnovers.
The challenge for Texas this week will be the greatest they have experienced this season. The young Longhorns have yet to see the kind of multiple offensive attack that the Bears bring to the table, and they will have their hands full. If Texas attempts to get into an offensive shootout with Cal, this game will get away from them very fast. The Longhorns' best strategy is probably to run the ball with both Gray and Heard, and try and keep Goff and the Bears' offensive weapons off the field. The defense of the Longhorns must create turnover opportunities as well, and take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Bears' offensive schemes.
Texas can win this game, but it is not likely that this young team will be able to execute at such a high level for the full 60 minutes. The Bears have a wealth of experience on their side and they will not be caught off guard by Heard's speed or Gray's strength in the run game. The Bears will make Heard have to prove he can beat them in the passing game, and it is just way too early in the season for Heard to be able to do that.
Prediction: California 33, Texas 21
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.