Cal vs. Oregon State Week: Jefferson & Willis cleared; Defense shows improvement

Can Jared Goff and the Golden Bears turn their season around versus Oregon State? - Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

The California Golden Bears (1-5, 0-3 Pac12) start the second half of their season at home against the Oregon State Beavers (5-1, 3-0 Pac12). OSU QB Sean Mannion leads the FBS in passing with 2,511 yards and 25 TDs, while Mike Riley's defense has tallied 12 INTs and 13 sacks. Can the struggling Bears make enough progress by Saturday to be competitive and start a season turnaround?

If this week's practices & pressers are any indication, the Bears remain confident and are still competing hard every day. At Tuesday's weekly press conference [link1 & link2] several players mentioned that the UCLA game was a turning point for the team:

If anything, the team's unity grew stronger despite the loss in Pasadena:

"We came together in the middle of the game and definitely felt the unity," freshman quarterback Jared Goff said. "I think the confidence level was a little shaken early in the year, but it’s back to where we want it to be."

"There was definitely a different mentality on the sideline. He’s definitely right," said slot receiver Richard Rodgers, echoing Goff’s remarks. "Toward the middle of the game we came together and started clicking a little bit.

"We haven’t seen that. Sometimes guys get their heads down. But UCLA was different. We came together and were really battling and fighting to stay in the game."

Coach Sonny Dykes commented on his team's growth through the first half of the season:

"There is a better sense of mental toughness then we had at times during the season," he said. "Guys are more confident than they were, and believe in themselves and our program more than they did."

"They continue to buy in even when things aren’t going our way. It shows a real level of maturity and commitment from those kids."

In one case, the growth is literal as Jared Goff - whose dad went to high school with Sean Mannion's dad - turned 19 on Monday:

The defense, in particular, showed promising signs of improvement by the middle of the week, including a NINE-turnover performance during Wednesday's practice:

The offensive line remains a work-in-progress but the group is slowly making strides:

Some bad news on the injury front - Daniel Lasco, who left the UCLA game with a shoulder injury, was declared out for the Oregon State game:

Coach Sonny Dykes told reporters after practice Monday night that running back Daniel Lasco will sit out Saturday’s game against Oregon State.

Beginning with Monday's practice, Jeffrey Coprich took reps in his place, while Brendan Bigelow continued to work at slot receiver and running back:

True freshman Khalfani Muhammad remains the starter, while redshirt freshman Jeffrey Coprich also received reps with the first-team Monday.

"We’ll have some options," head coach Sonny Dykes said. "It’s the same old mantra, if somebody goes down, somebody’s gotta step up."

Brendan Bigelow spent most of the practice at receiver, but Dykes said he will be ready to play running back if needed.

"We’ll see how he progresses," Dykes said. "We’re just trying to figure out ways to get him involved and give him the ball and let him make some plays for us."

There's some good news though, as three key players - Jalen Jefferson, Joel Willis, and Kam Jackson - practiced in full this week and will play on Saturday:

LB Jalen Jefferson and CB Joel Willis, who both sat out the UCLA game with head injuries, are cleared and will play vs. Oregon State.

In other injury news, Matt Cochran should be back in action in 2 weeks' time, but Nick Forbes is back on the sidelines for the time being:

Lastly, don't miss this feature interview with Pierre Ingram and the story behind the name of his daughter Berkley!

Additional Links:

  • Cal vs. Oregon State first looks: We meet again Mike Riley
  • Scouting Oregon State 2013 - Rest of the Pac Breakdown
  • Are you ready for episode six of The Drive?
  • Golden Nuggets: Dykes still building his foundation, defense finally playing as a team, and a birthday present for Goff
  • Daniel Lasco out vs Oregon State
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