The final game of the 2012 season. And what a season it's been. Maybe it's only fitting that it all ends with the Beavers.
2012 THUS FAR: 7-2 (5-2 in Pac-12)
Week 1- Win vs Wisconsin (10-7)
Week 2- Win @ UCLA (27-20)
Week 3- Win @ Arizona (38-35)
Week 4- Win vs Washington State (19-6)
Week 5- Win @ BYU (42-24)
Week 6- Win vs Utah (21-7)
Week 7- Loss @ Washington (17-20)
Week 8- Win vs Arizona State (36-26)
Week 9- Loss @ Stanford (23-27)
2012 OFFENSIVE STATS
Passing: 297.2 Yards/Game (24th)
Rushing: 111.33 Yards/Game (113th)
Scoring: 25.9 Points/Game (82nd)
PROBABLE STARTER: Sean Mannion, Sophomore - 6'5, 212 lbs
After Cody Vaz sustained an ankle injury at the end of the Stanford game last week, it's looking like sophomore Sean Mannion will be the starter this weekend. Mannion started the first 4 games of the season for the Beavs, prior to missing 2 games with a knee injury. In those first 4 starts, he completed 63.3% of his passes and AVERAGED 339.5 yards per game through the air. He threw 7 touchdown pass against 4 interceptions. Vaz then stepped in and led the Beavers to wins against BYU and Utah while Mannion recovered from knee surgery. In a debatable move, Mike Riley handed the starting gig back to Mannion going into the Washington game. Whether Mannion was hurried back or just pushing too hard is unknown, but he really sucked against the Huskies; completing just under 53% of his passes in that game and throwing 4 interceptions against just one touchdown before being benched in favor of Vaz, who nearly led the Beavers to a win. Mannion is a smart kid with a good arm and plenty of ability, but it remains to be seen how he will respond with his confidence possibly shaken. The sample size is admittedly very small, but he didn't look like the same quarterback against the Huskies that he was earlier in the season.
UPSIDE: Arm strength, quality receivers
DOWNSIDE: Consistency, durability
WHAT TO EXPECT:
The Beavers rely heavily on the pass, and will throw the ball a minimum of 30 times. Mannion will test our secondary both underneath and over the top, but he could also make some mistakes. They key will be whether we can take advantage when those mistakes happen, something we haven't done consistently. It would be nice if our depleted front 7 could put some pressure on Mannion and force the issue, but this isn't something we can count on at this point. A shame too, because our secondary has been tasked with too much this season... and they'll be facing one of the better wide receiver duos in the conference this Saturday. Mannion relies very heavily on his two star wideouts, and that at least represents a starting place where the defensive staff can focus its energies. If we find a way to take away Cooks and Wheaton and pressure Mannion into some mistakes, our offense could be set up with some shorter fields to work with against a pretty tough Beaver defense.
STARTER: Storm Woods, Freshman (RS) - 6'0, 202 lbs
A run game that was absolutely abysmal at 86.75 yards per game in 2011 (bad enough to put it at 118th out of 120 FBS teams last year) has improved to average a more respectable 111.33 yards per game in 2012. Much of that increased production s can be attributed to redshirt frosh Storm Woods, who has emerged as the durable and tough inside runner the Beavers have needed. Woods has rushed for 634 yards and 6 touchdowns on 132 carries this season (4.8 YPC), and has also caught 25 balls for 191 yards...good enough for third on the team in receptions. Woods is a bigger back who is more of a grinder than an explosive runner. All of his touchdowns have come in the redzone. He can get the short yards, but is also capable of breaking arm tackles and gashing a defense. While he has had a couple better statistical games, watching him average over 6 yards per carry while rushing for 94 yards against a stout Stanford defense last week impressed me quite a bit. Backing up Woods are two sophomores in Malcolm Agnew (45 rushes for 177 yards) and De La Salle's own Terron Ward (34 rushes for 185 yards, 2 TD's). Both are built in more of the Quizz Rodgers mold (short and sturdy), without his explosiveness. Senior fullback Clayton York doesn't have any carries on the season, and is utilized strictly as a blocker in rare scenarios where the Beavers will run an I-formation.
UPSIDE: Depth, receiving ability, inside running
DOWNSIDE: Smurfitude behind Woods, not explosive.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
This is a run game that should be respected, if not feared. Woods and this o-line are good enough to get yards if we don't front up on them. They've had success against better defenses than us. At the same time, they don't dominate a game; the Beavs' top team rushing effort of the season only saw them gain 180 yards. Cal has eclipsed the 200 yard mark in team rushing 5 times this year. This is an effective rushing team, but it's not the critical component of their offensive success. The run game works because the Beavers have a couple wideouts that ensure no defense can stack the box on them. The pass helps them run. Succeeding against the run will have far less bearing on winning the game than stopping the pass.
Markus Wheaton, Senior - 6'1, 182 lbs
Brandin Cooks, Sophomore - 5'10, 179 lbs
The best players on this offense reside in this group. Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton have accounted for almost 70% of the team's receiving yards and 13 of the 16 touchdowns through the air. Wheaton has 61 receptions for 878 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cooks, a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist, has 57 receptions for 988 yards and 4 touchdowns. Both guys average over 14 yards per catch, and both are capable runners out of the jet sweep or occassional reverse. Wheaton is one of my favorite players in the conference to watch, simply because of his speed and athleticism. Both he and Cooks are equally adept at housing a screen pass or beating a secondary deep over the top. Both guys are very dangerous in space, and Oregon State does a good job of getting them the ball in areas of the field where they can make things happen. With James Rodgers moving on to the NFL and Jordan Bishop retiring due to injury issues, the depth at receiver isn't what it was in 2011. The next man up, junior Kevin Cummings, has just 10 catches on the year.
UPSIDE: Wheaton and Cooks
DOWNSIDE: The other guys
WHAT TO EXPECT:
On the year, Cooks has only been held below 5 catches in a game once (1 reception for 8 yards vs Utah) and Wheaton twice (one being the Washington game where he was KO'd, the other against ASU where he caught 4 balls for 108 yards and 2 TD's). The chances of bottling up both guys aren't very good. And although they're both quick and slippery, I'd much prefer to play a soft zone and keep both Cooks and Wheaton in front of us at all times. If it comes to down to making open-field tackles or just getting burned, I'll go with option A every time. Frankly, even that doesn't give me too much comfort; our open-field tackling has been poor, especially in the secondary. Much like Marqise Lee did, I think both Cooks and Wheaton can pile up some stats on us, even in the short passing game. I'm okay with that, as long as we find a way to keep them out of the endzone. And of course, there's the ever-looming threat of the jet sweep. This will be the matchup to watch either way, and should play a pretty major role in just how close this game is.
Colby Prince, Senior - 6'5, 257 lbs
Connor Hamlett, Sophomore - 6'7, 259 lbs (H-Back)
Joe Halahuni and his 31 catches are gone, and he's given way to a bit of a two-headed monster at tight end for the Beavs. There's senior Colby Prince, who has 17 receptions for 130 yards and a score, but also sophomore Connor Hamlett, who has 15 receptions for 196 yards and 2 scores on the year. Both are large human beings, with Prince being used as a more traditional tight end. He's more of an effective run blocker than a pass-catching threat, and he averages just 7.65 yards per catch. Hamlett is considered an H-Back, and while he is also a good run-blocker, he's used a bit more downfield in the passing game to attack the seams and work mismatches against linebackers and safeties. He's averaging a little over 13 yards per catch. As a tandem, they do their jobs well and add an extra dimension to the
UPSIDE: Run-blocking, size, we can't cover tight ends
DOWNSIDE: Oregon State knows we can't cover tight ends, right?
WHAT TO EXPECT:
If the Beavers are smart, they'll look to Hamlett a fair amount in this game. His height and size is reminiscent of ASJ with slightly less athleticism...but height seemed to be more than enough to give us fits two weeks ago. However, that's not really what this offense does. The tight end has only had more than 3 receptions in a game once this season, and that was Prince with 4 catches in week 1 against Wisconsin. Still, we've surrendered 12 catches, 3 touchdowns and over 200 yards receiving to tight ends in the past two weeks. I'd be pretty surprised if Oregon State didn't take notice of that and try to modify their gameplan accordingly. Sigh.
LT- Michael Philipp, Junior - 6'4, 315 lbs
LG- Josh Andrews, Junior - 6'3, 297 lbs
C- Andrew Seumalo, Freshman - 6'3, 302 lbs
RG- Grant Enger, Junior - 6'6, 293 lbs
RT- Colin Kelly, Senior - 6'5, 298 lbs
This is a group that has improved significantly since last season. Much of that can be attributed to a couple new(ish) additions, but continuity has played a big role as well. At left tackle, Michael Philipp missed the entire 2011 season due to injury. He's held down his spot without injury this season and his 31 career starts are the most among this group. At left guard, Josh Andrews has done a nice job holding down this spot after starting six games there last season. Center Isaac Seumalo is a true freshman and possibly the most highly rated recruit to ever sign with the Beavers. It probably helped that his dad is the DL coach and his older brother is a defensive linemen for them, but either way he's been a nice addition to this line and has provided some strength in the middle as he's gotten experience. Right guard Grant Enger has been the most consistent linemen for the Beavers this season, but injured an ankle last week against Stanford and has yet to practice this week. If he can't go, versatile backup Derek Nielsen would take his place. A sophomore, Nielsen is a walkon who can back up at tackle, guard or center. A valuable guy to have. Right tackle Colin Kelly has good feet for a big guy, and is pretty good at handling speed rushers. He started all 12 games in 2011 at right tackle as well. These same five guys have started every game this season. That kind of familiarity and chemistry matters. They've surrendered a respectable (by Cal standards downright awesome) 22 sacks on the year. While the running game hasn't been dominant, they did a really nice job last week against Stanford.
UPSIDE: Chemistry, adequate at everything
DOWNSIDE: Just adequate at everything
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Whether due to injuries, or a lack of quality scheme, or poor execution...our front 7 hasn't been good at controlling the line of scrimmage. We've let poor running teams run on us (see: Utah), and struggled to get consistent penetration against poor pass-blocking teams (see: Wazzu). This Oregon State line isn't great, but they're not bad either. They've given up 9 sacks in the last two games against aggressive defenses in Arizona State and Stanford. But prior to that, just 13 sacks in 7 games. We're not all that aggressive, and the running of Storm Woods will give our front 7 a little something more to think about. Not terribly optimistic here either. Weird, I know.
The Beavers are undefeated in Corvallis this year, and have only lost 10 home games dating back to the 2007 season. They're also 3-0 against FBS opponents with losing records. They're a pretty well-balanced offense that can chew up yards or score in bursts. Cooks and Wheaton are two very good wideouts who will test our secondary both in coverage and tackling...two things we've been remarkably inconsistent at executing. This O-line gets the job done, and they lead the way for a back who can wear a defense down. Mannion is made better by the pieces around him and the gameplan that OC Danny Langsdorf has implemented. If Mannion doesn't turn the ball over, this offense hums.
They can be stopped. But it would require a motivated and energized defense that doesn't get worn down, thanks to an offense that has done its part to score points and sustain drives. OOPS. As far as our offense, let's just say Beaver DE Scott Crichton is probably at half-mast just thinking about our offensive line and a pocket pass like Bridgford behind center.
This Beaver team doesn't blow people out. Their largest margin of victory this season was 18 points (over BYU). But they win. Us? Well, we lose. To better teams, to worse teams. Whoever, really. This is a better team. At home. Playing for more than pride. Draw your own conclusions.
I'd love to win this game. I want to win every game. This Saturday is no exception. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that this SUNDAY could have a far more significant bearing on the future of this program. We'll see what happens on Saturday. I doubt it changes what happens on Sunday though.
OH ONE MORE THING
This is my last post here at CGB, as I'll be heading over to join the good folks at Bear Territory. I'm excited about the new opportunity, but will also be forever grateful to the good dudes here who gave me a shot to write about Cal sports for such an excellent site.
It's been a real pleasure. Thanks for reading, commenting, and caring.
To each and all of you, I offer a hearty and deep "GO BEARS"