Its just the start of a 3 game homestand to finish the regular season for Oregon St., but its also the "final" of several things. Its the final blackout of the season, and its the final game of the season for California, who didn't have a bye week this season, and won't have a bowl game.
Which is why tonight's game might also be the final game at California for head coach Jeff Tedford. It would have been, but won't be, the last game as a Bear for junior WR Keenan Allen, a result of a knee injury 3 weeks ago.
Cal has been clobbered pretty good 4 games in a row, so their focus tonight could be a little out of focus. The Bears have been anything but golden this season, and enter the game with just 3 wins to show for their efforts.
But then OSU has had winnable games get away 2 of the last 3 weeks themselves.
The difference is the Bears were the second team eliminated from the post season, and while the Beavers' hopes for any shot at a Rose Bowl trip evaporated last Saturday when Stanford pulled out a 27-23 win, the battle for highly desirable holiday destinations like the Alamo and Holiday Bowls is still on, and a win tonight is critical to that pursuit. Oregon St. enters the game a 14 point favorite.
Oregon St. could still fare as well as an Alamo or Holiday Bowl bid if they get the right help, but after blowing a winnable road game for the second time in 3 weeks, the Sun Bowl is now a much more likely destination, with the specter of the Las Vegas Bowl looming only a week after Rose Bowl talk was floating around. And that's only if the Beavers take care of business, and California.
California is not a good team, and they are beat up as the season mercifully comes to and end for them. Oregon St. should run a team like this ragged. However, a wounded Bear can be a dangerous thing when cornered. A wet cold night won't help matters either, and neither will the 4th. quarterback change in 5 weeks, as far as continuity goes.
But the Bears' defense should have their hands full with Storm Woods, who ran well against a much better Stanford front 7, and there's no Bears that should be able to do anything about Markus Wheaton, who was invited to the Senior Bowl this week (joining Jordan Poyer), and Brandin Cooks.
In the first half of the season, Oregon St. controlled their games, even when they were close. That's gotten away from them in the last 3 weeks, allowing opponents to gain a sizable first-half advantage. But with a 3 game home stand, and time growing short on the season, especially the more experienced Beavers should step up this week and underscore why they are a top 15 team, and California is not.
Beaver Believer Believes:
The Beavs are coming off a tough loss, and I do expect a bit of a hangover, but the Beavs will figure it out on a way to a quiet victory.
BB12's Keys to the Game:
1. Get pressure. One of the issues with the Stanford game is that the Beaver front never created enough of a pass rush, Some moments were better than others, but overall Kevin Hogan had too much time in the pocket. Stanford has a strong offensive line, Cal not so much, as they've been injured and their ceiling was not as high anyways. The Beavs can and must knock around Allan Bridgford, and not let him gain any confidence.
2. Run the ball. Storm Woods finally looked like himself last week, although he did not see the ball too much. The Stanford D is stout, and while Cal did a nice job against the Ducks for a while, in the end they were simply overmatched. The Beavs need to run the ball to open up the field for Cooks and Wheaton, even more so with Grant Enger out.
3. Focus. The Beavs just took themselves out of the Rose Bowl picture, and the Ducks are coming to town in next week, but OSU needs to focus on the opponent in front of them. Cal is still a Pac-12 team, and OSU already lost to a poor Pac-12 team a few weeks ago. Oregon State needs to be locked in and take control of this game quickly.
Look for it to end 27-14 Beavs.
The Bears really don't stand a chance in this one. Oregon State is vastly superior to Cal in just about every area of the game, even if Sean Mannion's struggles continue.
This is one of those games that raises questions about whether the Beavers are looking forward to the Civil War and ignoring Cal, and they probably are, as they should be. Sure, the Beavs have a tendency to play down to their opponent's level, but I don't see it happening too badly in this one. First of all, the Beavs have something to prove in this one. They'll be playing angry after losing ANOTHER game they should have won. And, beyond Jeff Tedford, not many people have more to prove this weekend than Sean Mannion. I expect him to kick it into another gear after watching Cody Vaz fumble the season away.
For the first time this season, the Beavs coast to a victory, and win by at least 20 points.
Here we are, going into the final stretch of a surprising, disappointing, and exciting season. We now have the Beavs coming out of a tough three game stretch that saw them lose two very winnable games. Now OSU finds itself in a game with two programs going in opposite directions, and the surprising part right now is that the team going upwards is OSU.
This is a game that the Beavs take control of early, and don't dig any type of hole. Or I would argue in this case, don't let Cal hang tough and find any confidence.
I always have kind-of liked Tedford's program and Tedford as a coach. Now it seems this may well be the last OSU vs. Cal game with Riley and Tedford facing off against each other. Maybe I have liked this match up because Riley and Co. seemed to have owned Cal over the years, but even beyond that overwhelming OSU-centric view (and if you think that is OSU-centric just wait until my thoughts next week!), we have been served up some classic games with these two coaches going up against each other.
For this specific Cal vs. OSU match-up, the same applies for this game as basically all the other games this season for me, and honestly, I think the defense and running game will be fine. My main specific concern for this game is Sean Mannion is starting the game. What needs to happen is for Sean to find his pre-injury confidence and swagger. I expect some rust, but personally I think with a decent running game and defensive performance, I think we can live with some limited mistakes in the passing game, especially early.
But going into the Civil War game, and then a Bowl game, we need a QB in there that will be the go too leader. We cannot afford to keep going back and forth, even with things like injuries. I personally believe when they are both fully in their games Mannion has better bounce back confidence and leadership, and I think he actually has better field vision than Vaz.
I like that Vaz can string a ball on a nice line for the receivers, versus Mannion's bad habit of floating the passes in there, but overall I think Sean is our starter, and I give him too-much-rust-and-jumpiness-coming-back-from-an-injury benefit of the doubt for when he stared against UW. We need him to start playing like a starter once again. Again this is important not only for this Cal game, but for the rest of the season.
In the end, the Beavs are playing at home with one of the best defenses in the conference, and I don't think Cal will match up well on either side of the ball. If Cal is going to make this interesting, the OSU offense will need to have another brain-fart QB performance. However, I feel that Mannion will be rested, and after maybe some rust here and there, will again find his form behind a strong rushing performance by Woods.
As much as this game may not seem to be a big one, especially with the other one next week looming, this is a very important game. It is important beyond that cliché of not looking ahead. It is important to get our starting QB back into his Arizona and UCLA performance form. It is important to bounce back, and make a statement at a national level, and show everyone that the UW and Stanford losses are things of the past. It is important to get the home crowd excited and cranked up as we go into a three home game stand. It is important to win and it is important to win confidently. We in Beaver Nation are not expecting anything less.