Texas Tech Football: What Red Raiders must do to beat Cal in Independence Bowl

UCF v Texas Tech
UCF v Texas Tech / John E. Moore III/GettyImages
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It would be wise for Texas Tech to load the box

By now, most Texas Tech fans know that the Bears' offense mirrors Texas Tech's in that it is built around one ultra-productive running back. The Cal version of Tahj Brooks is Jaydn Ott who has run for 1,260 yards and 11 TDs, and today, Tech must load the box on defense to force an anemic Cal passing game to carry the load.

This game will likely come down to which of the two limited QBs can rise above his regular-season standard. For Cal, that means that Fernando Mendoza will have to step up.

A redshirt freshman who entered the year as Cal's third-stringer, he's an unlikely starter given that he wasn't recruited by his 2023 offensive coordinator nor was he a highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school in Florida. However, Mendoza didn't get this opportunity because of injury but rather by out-performing the two players ahead of him.

In his first start, Cal put up 40 points in a loss to No. 15 Oregon State and a few weeks later, he helped the offense score 49 in a one-point loss to USC. He also helped engineer a 42-39 upset of Washington State.

However, the youngster isn't without his flaws. He's thrown seven picks in eight games. In fact, he's averaging one pick for every 30 pass attempts. (Slightly worse than Morton who averages one for every 35.7 passes).

What's more, he averages only 6.9 passing yards per attempt. That means that the Bears don't ask much of him in regard to downfield passing. In fact, he's averaging just 184.6 yards per game through the air.

We know why Morton has averaged only 178.2 yards in his seven starts and the WVU game in which he replaced Tyler Shough in the first quarter. That's because of the sprained throwing shoulder he had to play through for all eight of those contests.

By all accounts, Mendoza hasn't suffered the same fate. Rather, his pedestrian numbers have come by design as he's been protected by his coaching staff, a brain trust that knew it could lean on one of the nation's most productive rushing attacks to move the ball.

Today, Tech needs to force Mendoza to be the hero for Cal and not let Ott play that role. If that happens, it will be interesting to see if he's capable of winning a bowl game by being more than just a game manager.