AT A GLANCE
12:30 p.m. Pacific Time
While it was up to the secondary to sweat the high flying offenses of Louisville, Boise State, Arizona State, and Washington State, this week the front 7 is on the front burner, as the Bears look to bounce back from an upset loss to UCLA last week.
Oregon State Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker has his work cut out for him again this week. Cal boasts the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the country, rolling up 272.2 yards per game on the legs of stellar sophomores Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Despite missing 2 games, Lynch has 435 total yards at a brisk clip of 6.1 yards per carry. Forsett has an eye popping 8.7 yards per carry and has already totalled up 738 rushing yards. It isn't a stretch at all to expect Cal to have two 1,000 yard rushers at the conclusion of the season.
The defensive line faces a stern test this week, as many regard Cal's offensive line as the second best in the conference behind USC's monster line, despite losing starting left tackle Andrew Cameron to a torn ACL against Arizona on Oct. 1. "This will be the best offensive line we've seen and probably the best set of running backs, too," Oregon State middle linebacker Trent Bray told the Portland Tribune. "Stopping the run will be a focus this week, for sure." Expect to see more of the Washington State game plan: Banker opened up the playbook and used more zone blitzes, both linebacker and safety, and even corner blitzes, with more zone coverage as well. The Beavers may have found a playmaker in sophomore outside linebacker Andy Darkins, who brings a fire and lunch-pail attitude to the linebackers.
The key player in the matchup may very well be Cal QB Joe Ayoob — He was 0-for-10 in the season-opener after Nate Longshore was injured, but he has been more than acceptably accurate since then. In five starts, he has completed 74 of 125 passes (59.2 percent) for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions.
The secondary showed some real promise in the second half of the Washington State game two weeks ago, but has a long way to go. The Beaver defense is allowing an average of 349.2 passing yards per game. It looks like Oregon State has found their starting corners in redshirt freshmen Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis. Another playmaker emerged in the Washington State game in true freshman Al Afalava, and Oregon State coaches will be looking for ways to get the star frosh into the game plan as much as possible. The secondary will have their hands full with all-world freshman wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
Cal's defense, on the other hand, has been an overacheiving unit, despite the breakdown against UCLA last week. Cornerbacks Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon have combined for six interceptions on a defense that has played beyond expectations. The Bears' main challenge this week is to stop Oregon State receiver Mike Hass, who leads the Pac-10 with 47 receptions for 831 yards. "Mike Hass is a guy who is very difficult to stop," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "Whatever you do, they seem to find him with the ball."
The big playmaker on Cal's defense has been highly touted JC linebacker Desmond Bishop, leading the team with 43 tackles, including three for loss. The Cal front 7 was embarrassed last week by shifty dynamo Maurice Drew, and they'll be hungry to show that they're beter than that. "We have a team that battles very hard. They're a pleasure to coach. And now we're going to find out what we're made of. This is a temporary setback. What's key now is how we bounce back." Cal coach Jeff Tedford said, after the Bears lost 47-40 to UCLA last week.
Oregon State's offense, by and large, is living up to expectations and then some. Quarterback Matt Moore has been nothing short of spectacular at times, and the chemistry with wide receiver Mike Hass has been electric. The running game is showing signs of life as well, and the week off for Anthony Wheat Brown to heal his bad ankle can only help the offense be more consistent. Yvenson Bernard deserves a great deal of credit for the improvement of the running game, quietly gaining 437 yards and tallying up 6 scores on the ground.
Ball control will be a key here - the team that controls the clock will have a distinct advantage in the matchup. The advantage in the matchup on both sides of the ball on the lines would certainly favor Cal, and it would take a stellar effort from Oregon State to come up with a win. The Beavers are double-digit underdogs, and traditionally haven't performed well on the road. An upset would go a very long way to securing a bowl-berth for the young Beavers.
The game will be televised on ABC on the West Coast.
Chad can be reached at email@example.com.