This is the pregame thread for Cal football discussion only. To talk about other games, check out the early games thread by scrolling down or clicking here.
The California Golden Bears kickoff the Pac-12 North part of their schedule with a matchup with the dreaded Oregon St. Beavers out of Corvallis. They will try to end a miserable stretch of football away from Memorial Stadium, as they've gone 0-3 on the road this season.
The big question for the Golden Bears is whether the entire team can perform at a high level away from the comfy confines of home. In Nevada, it was the defense that looked completely stymied by Chris Ault's Pistol. In Arizona, the offense could barely generate any points and ruined a great effort by the defense. In USC, all units looked putrid, as the Cal defense, offense and special teams combined in the first half to provide a master class in how not to play football.
Jeff Tedford's teams have had trouble as of late on their road trips, going a meager 9-16 in their last 25 road games. He's doing the right thing in saying it barely matters to him what the home-road splits are, but he probably knows that the only way he can rebuild confidence from the Golden Bear faithful is to win. He can do that by beating a team that's had his number, Oregon State.
Time: 12:30 PM PT/3:30 PM ET
Weather: 50 to 56 degrees F, 53% chance of rain
TV: Fox College Sports Pacific (use the channel finder to see if your provider has the channel)
Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KGIL 1260 AM (Los Angeles), KPRZ 1210 AM (San Diego), KTKZ 1380 AM (Sacramento), KALX 90.7 FM (Cal Student radio, which has an online stream)
Streams: Post in in-game threads
Cal Offense vs. Oregon State Defense
Generally, in our losses against the Beavers, there are two factors that come to mind. One, Oregon State's front seven has outperformed Cal's offensive line, leading to very meager production in the run game. Justin Forsett had an impressive 150 yard game in 2007, but a third of those yards came on the opening carry and he was stuffed on a critical goalline stand by Oregon State in the third quarter. Jahvid Best had 116 yards on 15 carries in 2008, but got half of those yards on his touchdown run and was held in check for the rest of the game. In 2009, Best and Shane Vereen were completely stymied, picking up only 39 rushing yards on 24 carries as the Cal offensive line submitted perhaps their worst performance of the Tedford era.
It goes without saying a more consistent performance is necessary this year, particularly against the formidable Stephen Paea, who caused havoc against a weak Cal interior line last season. Centers #54 Chris Guarnero and #65 Dominic Galas (who will both see playing time) and guards #57 Brian Schwenke and #61 Justin Cheadle will be charged with dealing with Paea, who will be and should be double-teamed at all times.
That'll put more pressure on everyone else on the line (the guard not double-teaming Paea, the tackles and the tight ends) to handle one-on-one responsibilities. Defensive ends Dominic Glover and Gabe Miller will battle #72 Mitchell Schwartz, #53 Donovan Edwards and #75 Matt Summers-Gavin, and defensive tackle Brennan Olander is probably the name you'll hear the most as he'll probably be dealt with single-handedly while Paea gets smothered. Oregon State's defense hasn't been getting into the backfield much this year (98th in tackles for loss, 65th in sacks), but they've had the toughest strength of schedule in the country up to this point, so their struggles are understandable. But with Paea there, they are always due for a breakout performance.
The linebacking corps is an uncertain commodity. Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey are holding up alright, but they've had their issues from game-to-game and are really missing Keaton Kristick (now a 49er) and David Pa'aluhi (joined the military), their two leading tacklers from last season. Roberson and Pankey are starting to get the hang of it, but with inexperience at the third linebacking slot (sophomore linebacker Tony Wilson is the current starting Mike), there's plenty of issues at the second level of defense.
Other than that, here's what I see the Bears needing to do.
Cal needs to take advantage of 3rd down. The Bears got manhandled in the Coliseum by not picking up conversions and stretching drives against a pretty average Trojan squad (89th in the country at 3rd down conversions); they can't let the same thing happen here against the Beavers (ranked next-to-last nationally). Work the drives, move the chains, run the clock, keep the ball in their hands.
Take advantage of the outside running gaps. Vereen and Isi Sofele have proven to be gifted runners off-tackle; Vereen especially can bounce back and still keep the feet moving properly to elude contact and gain positive yardage. With Oregon State being so weak at defensive end and outside linebacker, I'd expect a great deal of attacking on the edge to open up inside running lanes. Some tosses or zone stretch plays would be a welcome sight early.
This is where Kevin Riley has to step up. He's not going to face a huge pass rush, so he should be able to survey the field and deliver his throws. Expect some rollouts to neutralize the ability of the defensive tackles Paea and Olander to crowd him inside. The Beavers secondary is probably underrated, so I'd go against the weaker linebacking corps and dare them to make plays. If they can't, that'll draw the defensive backs in and open up opportunities for Riley and Cal to go deep to Marvin Jones or Keenan Allen.
Cal Defense vs. Oregon State Offense.
The second big factor is that Oregon State's quarterback does just enough to stretch defenders. Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers have had decent games against us, but they weren't the determining factor in the victories (Quizz only picked up 67 yards in last year's contest). They grinded out Cal defenses, but our generally stout run D has been up to the challenge.
Sean Canfield used his mobility in 2007 to offset a weak Cal defense and make some critical conversions in the second half and get Oregon State two crucial touchdowns. Lyle Moevao wasn't good at all in 2008 against the new 3-4 (in fact, you could probably say that special teams errors cost us the most in that one), but he moved the chains on several occasions and helped put points on the board. In 2009, Canfield shredded the Bears by finding tight end Joe Halahuni over and over again to the tune of a 74% completion rate.
Ryan Katz doesn't have the mobility of Canfield or Moevao, but he's got a cannon of an arm and he showed it off when he shredded Arizona. Both #1 Steve Williams and #2 Marc Anthony (today's projected starters) are going to have to be ready to shadow the deep throws, and will need ample support from the safety rotation of #17 Chris Conte, #23 Josh Hill and #11 Sean Cattouse. Safety play has been a pleasant surprise this season, and hopefully they can use Katz's aggressive nature downfield to pick off any errant longballs he sends their way.
With coverage likely to respect Katz's deep throw, this will put more pressure on the linebackers to play both run and pass. #3 D.J. Holt and #18 Mike Mohamed have been their normal reliable selves week after week and should be ok. Outside linebacker is still an issue; #30 Mychal Kendricks has generally performed well, but #47 Keith Browner and #13 Jarred Price remain a consistent weak spot in the unit. We'll see if Oregon State runs a few fly sweeps early on toward Browner's side of the field to try and test him. Markus Wheaton has been slowly growing into the role James Rodgers had coveted for years--running fly sweeps and being the deep vertical threat. Although he's not quite there yet, Wheaton has shown flashes, and he'll be the guy Cal defenders will have to keep their eyes on at all times.
The big question will be whether Cal's defensive line can play better than Oregon State's offensive line. Nose tackle #76 Derrick Hill didn't play last year against the Beavers, so his battle with the gimpy center Alex Linnenkohl will be one worth monitoring. Cameron Jordan is going to get double-teamed (it's almost a given at this point), so Hill and Owusu's contributions will be of the upmost importance in shutting down the Beavers.
With rain in the forecast, this could be a defensive minded game that's settled in the trenches, which probably means the team that runs the best will triumph. While Rodgers has been shut down by the Bears last season, he did go off for 194 yards and two scores in Corvallis in 2008 against a pretty solid Cal run D, so he's always a threat to break out. Also monitor how well the Bears can stop the fly sweeps.
If Cal wants to win this one, the offensive line has to step up. While fullback play has picked up (Eric Stevens has performed better as the season's gone along), the O-line vacillates in its performances too much from game-to-game to get a read on their capabilities. They've got to seal off Paea and minimize his impact on the game. There's no way they can win if they put up anything close to last year's performance.
This game will determine whether the Bears are capable of finishing in the top tier of the conference or end up on the middle rungs. 5-3 puts them on the cusp of bowl eligibility and gives them a realistic shot at ending their season in the top four (just as in 2008). A loss puts them at 4-4 and will probably erode interest in the team until the Big Game. Safe to say that this is a big chance for the program to prove they can win big games against good opponents in true road environments (do not count last year's Furd performance, that was a semi-home game), and could fuel the team to a huge late season run.