Oregon St. (2-7, 2-4) takes on California (5-4, 2-4) this afternoon at AT&T Park in San Francisco in a battle for 4th. place in the Pac-12 Northern Division.
It's the first time the Beavers have taken the field to play a game with no chance to reach a bowl game or avoid a losing season since the Civil War in 1998. The Golden Bears need the win to become bowl eligible. Last year, the Bears couldn't beat the Beavers in Corvallis, falling 35-7, and as a result, never became bowl eligible. An outcome they desperately do not want to repeat.
Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 3 touchdowns, and threw for another, as Oregon St. bolted to a 35-0 lead after the first possession of the second half. Meanwhile, California quarterback Kevin Riley suffered an injury that ended his season, and by implication, the Bears' season as well.
However, since that win, Oregon St. has gone 3-11, and needs a late season rebound to avoid having their worst season since Mike Riley became head coach in 1997. The Beavers' 4 consecutive wins over the Golden Bears, each by an increasingly large margin, and especially their 10 wins in the teams last 12 meetings, seem like distant history now.
Last week, Stanford trampled the Beavers for 300 rushing yards, and a 38-13 win, after leading only 17-13 midway in the third period.
California routed Washington St. 30-7 last week, giving them 2 wins in the last 3 weeks, after having suffered a 3 game losing streak to start the Pac-12 season.
Regardless of who wins, at least neither school will be dealing with events of the gravity of those that have been unfolding this week at Penn St. Thankfully. No such situation should ever happen to anyone, anywhere. Nor does it need to. You can never ensure problems don't happen, but you can always make sure something is done about it. JoePa took assurances that "it will be taken care of" at face value, instead of making sure it was.
On to San Francisco.
While most of the country is looking in on what happens down the road at the farm, there's a game in a baseball stadium that's a booger to get to that's important to where a couple of football programs are headed.
Oregon St.'s downfall has been linked to their inability to run the ball, but opponents' success on the ground has been the more telling factor of late, and one that is at once costing the Beavers games, and slowing the development of the inexperienced players in their offensive backfield.
California isn't a great rushing team, but they aren't bad. Zach Maynard has been inconsistent at best, but has good mobility, and actually makes some of his most spectacular plays on the run. Both are bad news for Mark Banker's defense, which has provided many an opponent a career highlight day.
The losses of DT Castro Masaniai, the only really big, rush lane stuffing body on the roster, to a broken leg, and MLB Kevin Unga, who was the Pac-12's leading tackler until he sprained his knee at the start of the BYU game, have really hurt the Beavers.
The slow surface at AT&T Park will be a significant hindrance for the speed-based Oregon St. squad as well.
I fear the Beavers' recent domination of the Bears won't continue, though it would be interesting to see the reaction of the Cal fans and their beat media if it doesn't.
An Oregon St. upset win isn't out of the question, however. If they manage even a modest running game, Sean Mannion should have the time to slice up the Bears' defense. Seniors James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni should both have good games at the expense of the Cal secondary.
If not, Mike Parker might consider simulating a baseball game call, since he/we will be in one of the great baseball parks of the country. And the apologistic nature of the post mortem won't be as believable as a simulated baseball game call.
California is an interesting team and more importantly, a beatable team. The home field advantage for Cal is lessened, because of them playing at AT&T Park. This is a team that Oregon State has owned on the road lately, but the Beavs will have to turn in a good performance to win this matchup.
BB12's Keys to the Game:
1. Stop the Run. Just like against Utah, the quarterback is probably the weakness of this Cal team. Starting QB Zach Maynard has a 53.7% completion percentage and can make throws but will make mistakes. For OSU to win, they need to shut down the most consistent part of the Bears offense. The Bears actually have more passing yards in losses, so forcing California to throw would be most advantageous for the Beavs.
2. Avoid Turnovers. California seems to mostly avoid turnovers, they have had a couple down games too, but throughout Pac-12 play they have been beaten without really turning the ball over. If OSU can play mistake free football, then they really ought to win the game.
3. Watch the Mobile QB. Zach Maynard is not the best passer, but he is able to make plays with his feet as well, he has the second most carries for the Bears on the season. This has been a problem for Oregon State defenses for the last couple years regardless of how capable the opposing QB has been. The pass rushers need to keep contain, while still creating pressure. This is going to be difficult, seeing as how the scheme is unlikely to change, it will be on the defensive ends to really keep Maynard in check.
This is a matchup that OSU can win, both teams have enough talent to compete; it should be a very even matchup. However, I do expect the Beavers to make just enough plays to win.
OSU 31 - Cal 28
In the past, going into the Cal game has pretty much been a highlight to an OSU football season. The Beavs under Riley really have had Cal's number, and last year's Jacquizz led win over the Golden Bears was one of the highlights of a disappointing season.
This year? Honestly I feel like I'm running out of thoughts for these games. Last week's performance against Stanford was not bad overall, but alas still resulted in an another notch in the L column. I feel at this point in time (and yes it is very hard not to bring up that basketball season is also starting this weekend, oh, wait, I just did...) that the Beavs are playing much more for establishing a framework for next season.
The way I personally see this from my fan perspective is that I see this more as establishing some confidence with the guys coming back next year and getting them a solid grounding. I think arguments about certain coaching positions needing to be a bit under the microscope these last three games are valid though, but personally, I just don't really see how I'm in position to comment on the matter in any detail."
And what about Saturday? My thoughts for the game come down to these more generalized questions:
1. Can the Beavs play a full sustained 60 minute football game, as they did against UA and WSU?
2. What is Cal bringing to this game? And along those lines which underachieving team will have more motivation in this game? Will the Beavs have that spark of needing to establish pride that will then outweigh Cal's run at a lower tier bowl?
3. Are the Beavs going to continue their more standard play calling (at least it seems to me they are strong willed holding on to their standard playbook) or will they try some new stuff and let it fly a bit more?
4. Will we see one of the younger guys step it up and have more of a complete game, as in will someone like Agnew or Cooks live up to the glimpses of excellence we have seen from them at times this season?
5. And overall can the Beavs take some sort of forward momentum into the off-season and into next year?
Here's Cliff Kirkpatrick's game day thoughts over at the Gazette-Times, with links to more history than you can digest.
BTD will be at the game, and back later with full coverage and analysis.