We’ve done plenty of analysis on Northwestern with our positional previews. Here’s a look at the Wildcats’ Week 1 opponent, the California Golden Bears:
The Bear Raid
It has been well documented that new Cal head coach Sonny Dykes will bring a high-powered offense to Berkeley this year. Some have already dubbed the passing-heavy spread attack the Bear Raid. Last year, under Dykes’ watch, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs led the nation in total yards (577.9) and points per game (51.5). The offense was balanced, finishing third nationally in passing offense and 17th in rushing offense. The schedule that the Bulldogs played, however, shows its opponents’ defenses were not exactly the most challenging. The best defense the Bulldogs beat was Texas-San Antonio, which ranked 70th in the country in scoring defense. The three losses in their 2012 campaign came against the teams with the seventh-, 24th- and 26th-ranked scoring defenses nationally. In other words, a good defense can slow down the raid.
One area where the Cats will need to pay particular attention is containing the Cal offense in the second half. Dykes’ Bulldogs averaged 26.4 points in the second half last year and held a halftime lead in all but one of their wins. NU cannot afford to fall behind early because this offense never takes its foot off the accelerator.
As impressive as Louisiana Tech’s offense was last year, its defense was equally disappointing. The Bulldogs allowed opposing offenses to rack up a nearly 30 percent increase in yards compared to their season averages. They finished dead last in the country in total yards allowed per game (526.1). With his move to the Pac-12, Dykes will see an obvious increase in talent, but he is not exactly handed a strong foundation from which to build. Cal’s defense, which returns only five starters, allowed 441.3 yards and 33.1 points per game. It’s safe to say the Cats should see an offensive outburst Saturday.
Cal and Louisiana Tech were two of the least disciplined teams in 2012, each averaging nearly 80 penalty yards per game.
No matter what happens Saturday, NU fans should not hit the panic button after one game. The Cats’ defense allowed their season high in total yards last year in their season opener against Syracuse.
Under coach Pat Fitzgerald, NU has yet to lose a season opener. But in the past three years, each debut has been close. The Cats have averaged a margin of victory of just 3.3 points in those games.
— John Paschall