Cal talented wide receivers Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen vs. Colorado's seasoned cornerbacks Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith
For those looking for Allen to get a big test against real competition, it comes quickly and early with the Buffaloes. Brown and Smith combined for four interceptions, 25 pass breakups and 136 tackles last season, and they managed another interception and seven tackles last week. Colorado went 3-9 last season, but deep pass defense was not a problem.
The seasoned Brown will probably handle the polished Jones. Brown is strong and can definitely play close up on Cal's top receiver. This will probably lead the more physically gifted Smith to try and shut down the exciting Allen.
Allen did what he did for most of high school against UC Davis, leaving defenders in the dust. If he can replicate or even reach half those numbers against the Buffaloes, you can really get excited about what he's capable of this season. If he's not, no sweat. Smith is projected as the 4th best cornerback in this year's NFL draft. Allen will have other days and other corners he can handle, but a quiet game against the Buffs isn't an ominous sign.
Kevin Riley will probably have to look elsewhere on the field to cause damage, but he does have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Colorado's talented receiving corps (Scotty McKnight, Toney Clemons, Travon Patterson) against Cal's uncertain cornerbacks (Darian Hagan, Marc Anthony, Bryant Nnabuife)
We've heard a lot about how much better Cal's defensive backs are this season after a horrid 2009 campaign. They get their first true test this weekend.
McKnight leads the Buffaloes in career receptions (earning that distinction last week in the beatdown of Colorado State). He's a skilled senior receiver who knows how to run his routes and get open on the field. As the most experienced guy on the team, he'll probably draw the most experienced guy on our unit, Darian Hagan. But he's also a typical slotback receiver, and has drawn comparisons to Wes Welker. If that happens, the nickleback (most likely Bryant Nnbauife) will probably draw McKnight's number, and free safety Josh Hill will have to watch him coming down the field.
McKnight was double-teamed because he was the only true Colorado receiver, but that won't happen next year thanks to the better talent. You have Michigan transfer Clemons, a strong athlete who can flash some moves in space. Sophomore Marc Anthony gets his real first test, and gets to show off that his impressive summer camp can be translated into impressive September play. Open-field tackling will be critical for Anthony, and he might get some chances to play on the ball.
There are plenty other wildcards, especially USC transfer Patterson, who is finally getting a chance after being buried on the Trojan bench. But a lot will depend on whether young quarterback Tyler Hansen can get the ball to them.
Colorado left tackle Nate Solder vs Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan (or Ernest Owusu and Deandre Coleman)
For those who are huge NFL draftniks, the biggest draft prospects will probably square off for most of this game in a compelling matchup of pure raw ability versus. Nate Solder is Colorado's surest prospect for the pros, as is Jordan for Cal.
Jordan is known as a goofball who gets down and dirty on Saturdays, and his performances have varied from brilliant to puzzling. But he's playing out of position as a 3-4 defensive end (he's really more suited for the 4-3), which could explain some of his struggles off the edge. Solder, by constant, is solid, and he'll do his best to try and render Jordan ineffective and give his young quarterback Tyler Hansen. It'll be a fun battle to see how those two handle each other, although if they cancel each other out, it might not be the most important line battle on the field.
CORRECTION: Actually, I just noticed a error. Jordan played left defensive end for the UC Davis game, so it might be Ernest Owusu and Coleman vs Solder--a huge advantage for Colorado. But that means Jordan and Trevor Guyton battle right tackle redshirt freshman David Bakhtiari, which would probably be a huge advantage for Cal. Colorado's tight ends are not their strength, particularly so in pass protection, and the double-teams will be needed to keep Jordan at bay.
On the other hand, Solder deals with Owusu and Coleman. Even though both have shown some great potential, it's likely the blind side will be well-protected this Saturday.
Cal's tackles (Mitchell Schwartz, Donovan Edwards, Matt Summers-Gavin) against Colorado's rush ends (Forrest West, Nick Kasa, BJ Beatty, Marquez Herrod and Josh Hartigan).
It's almost expected Cal's best lineman, Schwartz, will match up against Colorado's best lineman, Herrod. Standing at an imposing 6'3, 280, Herrod is shockingly the 3-4 defensive end we've always wanted--and irony of ironies, he's in a 4-3! He'll make Schwartz work for most of the game, and it should be a fun battle to watch. It won't quite be on the level of Solder vs Jordan, but if you enjoy watching two guys wrestle with each other for three hours, this is your show.
Edwards struggled last week. He had his head low on a couple of snaps (a big no-no), his footwork wasn't crisp, he didn't engage with his man and let him get inside of him, etc. There are very fundamental things that can be corrected, but will they be ready in time to deal with a deep stable of Colorado defensive ends? Good news for Cal fans is that Summers-Gavin (our most physically talented linemen) returns, and he should help Edwards deal with this onslaught on the right side. We should get a clear look as to whether the tandem can handle the main four-man rushes the Buffaloes like to send.