As we all recover from the soporific effects of consuming too much food this Thanksgiving holiday, and the beat downs that took place in the NFL, we are faced with the unfortunate reality of the end of the college football regular season this weekend, at least as far as BYU is concerned. The BYU Cougars (7-4, 3-2 away) heads to the bay area to take on the California Golden Bears (5-6, 2-4 home), who are reeling from an uncompetitive showing vs Stanford in the Big Game and clinging by the skin of their teeth to their final chance to become bowl eligible.
Unfortunately, since Cal has nothing to lose, this makes them dangerous. The Bears enter this game a four point home favorite, and they will be a unique challenge for the Cougars, because they haven't faced any team with this kind of firepower through the air. The Bears rank fifth in the FBS with 341.7 yards passing per game, and unfortunately, defending the passing game, particularly against top level competition, is not BYU's strong suit this year, where they rank 97th in the FBS at 255.2 yards per game. So, California will likely score, probably early and often, and BYU's defense will have to try to see if they can force turnovers, but Jared Goff has been stingy with the football, throwing only six interceptions to 36 touchdowns.
On the flip side, the good news for BYU is that California has almost no defense to speak of. While they are 13th in scoring offense in the FBS at 38.5 points per game, they surrender 39.5 points per game, for 124th out of 125 FBS teams. Junior quarterback Christian Stewart should be able to exploit this weakness to keep the drives alive for the Cougars, who can win this game with a heavy dose of ball control, keeping Cal's offense, and the Cougars defense, on the sidelines. While the Cougars should be able to run the ball, look for Stewart's go to target, junior Mitch Mathews, to make several big plays in the intermediate passing game to keep the chains moving and Cougar drives alive.
Mathews is the Cougars' leading receiver with 63 receptions, 801 yards and eight touchdowns. Against Cal's historically bad pass defense, the Beaverton, Oregon product could be in position to have the biggest game of his career, putting himself in a position to be a thousand yard receiver for the Cougars. Mathews has broken the century mark four times this season, and has averaged at least 11.4 yards per catch and a touchdown in all of his big games. He's a big bodied wide receiver who has great ball skills and boxes out like a post player in basketball, using his body to prevent smaller defensive backs from getting to the ball. He also has deceptive speed for a possession receiver and is too athletic for a linebacker to get position on him if the ball is thrown well. Mathews should have a big game, with at least ten receptions and a hundred yards, including several key third down conversions. Look for at least one or two scores as well.
Here are some highlights of Mathews this season: