We've finally reached the last game of the regular season and it is safe to say this is not the season Cougar fans envisioned. With Taysom Hill at the helm and plentiful amounts of offensive weapons it appeared the sky was the limit for the BYU Cougars. I even predicted a New Year's Bowl for this team at the beginning of the year. But as we all know Taysom went down midway through game five and the Cougars went on to lose four straight. Since that point they have bounced back and won the last three.
Clearly, it can be said that the Cougars last three wins were against inferior competition and I don't think any would really argue that. Beating Middle Tennessee State, Savannah State and UNLV is not all that impressive. Though the defense has looked a little bit better since the Boise State debacle. Savannah State is horrible, but holding them to a shutout and less than 100 yards is still a strong showing, many BYU teams have failed to shutout an FCS team.
All that said, this season has not been acceptable to most, if not all of the fan base. This was supposed to be a very good year, anything less than 10 wins just wasn't good enough. After
beating destroying Texas at home it looked like the Cougars had a good chance for a strong year as many had expected the Longhorns would get their revenge. It looks pretty clear that Taysom Hill was the heart and soul of this team and they withered for a few games after he went down. Christian Stewart has fought valiantly in his stead and taken control of this team. Despite Stewart's talents, he's obviously not the athlete that Taysom is and the record shows that.
So here we now come down to Cal. The Golden Bears started the season winning their first two but after a crushing defeat, ending with Arizona winning on a hail mary to the end zone, it has been a tough season for the team. Since that loss to the Wildcats the Golden Bears have gone 3-5 in conference play with the only wins coming against Colorado, Washington State and Oregon State.
Cal can put points on the board, scoring 38.5 points per game, but what has led to its 5-6 record is its inability to stop opponents from scoring. Cal is 124th in the country in scoring defense, giving up 39.5 per contest. This number is slightly skewed because of a few high scoring games. Oregon scored 59 against Cal and oddly enough the next highest scoring teams lost to Cal. Colorado scored 56 in double OT and Washington State reached 59 points.
It looks like we have a recipe for a high scoring game. The California Golden Bears, just like the Cougars, have a great offense but lack a strong, lockdown defense. I think both teams are going to score a lot of points it's just a matter of how much. Let's take a look at some bold predictions for Saturday's game.
1. Christian Stewart will have 400 total yards and 4 total TDs
As was stated, Cal is not very strong defensively. In a 60-59 win against Washington State the Golden Bears gave up 812 yards with 734 coming through the air. That was Connor Halliday so don't expect close to 700 yards from Stewart. Colorado put up 455 yards and UCLA put up 567 total yards with 330 through the air to give a slightly more realistic expectation. Teams love to throw the ball against Cal and I expect the Cougars to do the same. The Golden Bears are going to score points. BYU's subpar defense isn't going to stop California's 13th ranked scoring offense.
With how prolific the offense is for the Golden Bears the Cougars could be chasing the game from the get go. Playing catchup will lead to a lot of passes and a quarterback-receiver connection that continues to grow between Stewart and his top receivers, Mathews and Leslie, will lead to a lot of yards for Stew.
2. Nate Carter will score a touchdown
In all of his appearances Carter has shown to be an explosive and elusive running back. He averages 6.3 yards per carry though it has been in limited reps, he has 290 yards on 46 attempts. Lots of his rushing has come in garbage time or against lesser opponents but he's been impressive every time he touches the ball. He gets yards when other running backs against the same defense struggle. I think Carter has done enough to warrant more touches, particularly now that Jamaal Williams is done for the year. With an expected high scoring affair this is Carter's chance to get in on the action.
3. Trevor Samson will boot a 50+ yard field goal.
Why not, right? He hasn't had a chance to do it yet. He is one of two on 40+ yard field goals. The Cougars are going to need all the points they can get. They can't afford to punt from the 35-yard line area, thus a 50+ yard field goal attempt. Samson has been pretty solid on kicks this season, albeit in limited work. He's attempted 12 field goals this season. I'm not sure he has the leg to get it there, though at this point, it can't hurt to try. With bowl eligibility locked up this is a great game to try a couple new things and a 50+ yard field goal is just that. Bronco is quite conservative with what he does though, so this could be a long-shot. But that is why they're called bold predictions.
No matter the outcome, this is going to be a fun game to watch. Both offenses should score a lot of points, have a lot of long drives and have some big plays. I expect teams to score in bunches and for BYU to play Cal close, but when it all comes down to it as much as I'd love to see the Cougars end the regular season with a win I think Cal wins 42-38. But I wouldn't be shocked to see the Cougars edge them out in a shoot out.