Oregon St. returns home for Homecoming this week, and the Beavers face what is approaching a bowl game elimination game against California. The Bears are 4-4 overall, and are in about the same situation as the 4-3 overall Beavers, except Oregon St. has 3 more home games left. But in both cases, the wiggle room will be pretty small for the loser in their endeavor to get to 6 wins, or preferably 7, as 6-6 is no guarantee to get to a bowl game, and the Pac-12 could produce more bowl eligible teams than the conference has bowl tie-ins (7) unless the conference Champion is chosen for the FBS Playoffs. Even then, a 6-6 team could be a 9th bowl eligible team from the Pac-12, looking for an at-large option.
The Beavers have struggled offensively the last 2 weeks, but those games were against Utah and Stanford, the 2 toughest defenses on this year's Oregon St.'s schedule.
Enter the Bears, who have been blown out the last 2 years by Oregon St., to the tune of 49-17 last year in Berkeley, and 62-14 2 years ago, in California's last trip to Reser. And have an even worse defense against the pass and overall this year.
The bad news Bears defense gave up 59 points last week in losing to Oregon, 59 more at Washington St. (in a game Cal won 60-59!), 56 to Colorado (albeit in a game that went to 2 overtimes, and Cal won that too, 59-56), and 49 at Arizona.
This is get well week if ever there was one for Oregon St. If the Beavers offense can't throw the ball against California, then this offense won't be able to move the ball on anyone.
The one thing other than a further rash of injuries that could hurt the Beavers is a slow start that could shake the confidence of a team that came away from Stanford highly disappointed. It's on every player, every coach, and every member of Beaver Nation to not let disappointment devolve into self doubt.
The Bears are better against the run than they are the pass (hard not to be), but if the Beavers can throw effectively, they will be able to run as well. And while Cal is capable of a lot of offense, they can be controlled, as Washington demonstrated. The Beavers aren't as good defensively against the run as the Huskies, who held the Bears to just 7 points, but they have far been better than average, and are better against the pass (still 2nd in the Pac-12), last week not withstanding.
The challenge with trying to duplicate the last couple of year's blowouts of the Bears, who turned the ball over 4 times in each loss, is the Beavers probably won't get a lot of turnovers, as Jared Goff has made a dramatic improvement in accuracy, and the resultant ball security.
But the Oregon St. secondary is a the best one California has encountered this year, and so there should be no reason to play it uber-close to the vest offensively, which has been if not the problem the last couple of weeks, a natural over-reaction to the problem.
It's time for Sean Mannion to showcase his arm and his leadership. If everyone else does their part, that should not be a problem.
Beaver Believer's Keys To The Game:
1. Get the passing game going early. The California pass defense is bad. Worst in the country bad. They give up the most passing yards in the country per game and have given up 31 passing touchdowns in 8 games this season, also worst in the country. OSU can take advantage of the secondary by engaging the short passing game, especially utilizing the tight ends, who have generally been more effective than the wide receivers.
2. Keep pass plays to short drops and screens. The offensive line has been unable to protect Mannion and the receivers cannot get open. That is a terrible combination and to combat that weakness the Beavers need to keep the ball moving. Lots of pre-snap shifting, bunch formations, start using the structure of the offense in order to help the receivers get some space. It is apparent at this point in the season that very few pass-catchers can get open on their own. The coaching staff needs to help their players by giving them different looks and manufacturing looks for the young guys.
3. Pressure Jared Goff. Goff is a very good quarterback. He had moments last year and this season has been much better still. The Beaver defense will get carved up if they allow him time to sit in the pocket and pick out receivers. With two defensive ends likely out and at best limited OSU is already in the hole here. Players like Obum Gwacham need to step up into these roles and knock Goff on his backside. Oregon State cannot afford to let the California offense get going with the current struggles of the Beaver offense.
Both of these teams come in off of some serious struggles, but Cal did put up some points on Oregon. OSU should be able to hold up though, as the defense should recover and the Cal defense should give more opportunities for the Beavers to get some scores. Cal will score a lot to keep it close but OSU will prevail 34-30.
Okay so last week I stated that I thought there was still a little wiggle room left in the season for Oregon State with their game against Stanford. Well the team decided to test that as best they can and laid another egg in California. Now they get a California team at their house and there is no wiggle room left. The Beavs have some winnable and also some very tough to win games left. There is no wiggle room with this season now and especially not with winnable games like what they have against the Cal Golden Bears on Homecoming Saturday.
It comes down this:
Oregon State offense = It is getting even more plain and simple as the season moves on--the Oregon State offense needs to show up and needs to help the defense out by: 1) Scoring more points, 2) Controlling more of the clock, and 3) Keeping the battle of the field position in OSU's favor. The offense should match up well against a struggling Cal defense, but the line needs to protect Mannion, Mannion needs to play up his mental game if it does get rough at times, and the rush game needs to find its legs. Honestly I just do not think it gets any more complicated than all of this, it is simply up to the offense.
Oregon State defense = Again not getting too complicated here and the defense needs to play its game. Cal is going the chuck the ball around and they can light up the yards (they had 560 total yards vs. Oregon's 590 in last week's game), and most likely the OSU defense is going to give up some big plays at times. The defense just needs to limit these big plays and use those times for bend-but-don't-break opportunities, and at other times they need to control the tempo of the game where they want it to be. Specifically they need to put pressure on Goff and stuff the run completely.
In the end that is all I got for this game. Cal this season is not the type of team the Beavs have faced the last few years, they will be handful, but Oregon State does have some potentially very good match ups lined up in their favor. They need to rekindle their offense and the defense needs to play the game their way (put the foot down and keep it down). There is no wiggle room left, and now we have a truly 100% must win game on our hands.