Oregon State ventures into Strawberry Canyon tonight to take on California. The Beavers have beaten the Bears every time they have visited Memorial Stadium this century, but this year's Oregon State team is possibly the weakest unit they have undertaken the trip with.
California started the season off 5-0, and it looked like this was the best Bears team in years, but a recent 4 game losing streak has caused that to be reconsidered as well.
A Bears win would make California bowl eligible, but the last 7 times they have played a game that they could earn bowl eligibility in, they lost.
Some streak is going to end tonight.
Oregon State has taken one of the least experienced, and thinnest, teams in the country, and proceeded to absorb injuries at an alarming rate. There are only 62 players on the trip (though if Coach Gary Andersen is to believed about these last 3 weeks being about making them the replacement for the lost extra 3 weeks of practice for a bowl game, why not bring someone along, just to get them any sort of experience?). As such, and especially after last week, even making this game competitive will be a major accomplishment. On top of that, Sonny Dykes has a 2-1 record of some success against Andersen form their days back in the WAC, so he understands what he is up against more so than most Pac-12 coaches in Andersen's first year.
At the same time though, the last decade and a half of dominance of California transcended both good and bad teams on both sides, and though the Jared Goff we will see tonight bares little resemblance to the one the Beavers beat onto the bench last time they were here, he's still closer to the one that led the Bears to 18 unanswered points in last year's comeback 45-31 win in Corvallis, despite a drop in accuracy and increase in interceptions that happens to parallel Cal's current 4 game losing streak.
But though the Bears have had their own troubles lately, especially last week when the Ducks ran roughshod over them, it would be disingenuous to predict a Beaver win tonight. That doesn't mean the game can't be won, or that Oregon State can't play a game they can be proud of, instead of embarrassed about. But the former will require some help, like some turnovers (not out of the realm of possibility), and the latter at least will require some pressure on Goff. The secondary can play with some effectiveness, but can't stay on the field all night.
The best way to avoid that is to run the ball. Expecting a passing breakout isn't reasonable, but as Oregon demonstrated, the Bears run defense is very vulnerable. It would be a big help to have Ryan Nall, but that won't be happening. Storm Barrs-Woods might not even have Chris Brown's help, never mind the help having Seth Collins would afford. But his career is quickly coming to a close; I suspect he will soldier up for a big, long night, if given the chance.
Which reminds me of arguably the single biggest problem with this offense. The defense has had some rough outings, but we have at least seen some adjustments, and Kalani Sitake's guys at least stopping the bleeding at times. The offense hasn't scored a point in the 3rd quarter in conference games. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin needs to show some semblance of figuring something out, no matter how rough the start to the game is. No matter what, opponents are going to adjust their defense based on first half events; the Oregon State offense HAS to demonstrate some ability to adapt, even if it isn't enough to get the win.
The Bears are desperately seeking a bowl game, and I suspect they will go to great lengths to avoid what won't be a pretty scene if it doesn't happen. The Beavers don't need to let that be their concern though, and if they want to be the ones celebrating bowl eligibility some day, need to start playing complete games instead of just making plays here and there.
Beaver Believer Believes:
My first concern is to get out without anymore injuries. There have been far two many over the past few weeks, and with two ambulance trips I'm just about ready to call it a season so that no one else gets hurt. I expect Gary Andersen would just say it's a physical game and it's part of the game. It's a part I wish would stop though.
Game-wise, the Beaver offense is still a pumpkin. I certainly wish it would get on a roll, but they have done very little all year to inspire any confidence. With a points per game of 17.2 that is good for 120th in the country. Go down one time and you find the Jayhawks. Go up two teams and you find North Texas who got destroyed so badly by Portland State that their coach was fired at the end of the game. These are the offensive peers of Oregon State right now and if Nick Mitchell plays as poorly as he did the Beavers are going to be in gobs of trouble. Unless the run game can engage against a run defense that was shredded against the Quackers, it is going to be a long long night. I still don't see that happening, as they only really had a successful day against San Jose State, I would expect an offensive output close to the average with 17 points.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Beavers face sure-fire first rounder Jared Goff and at times he really flashes the ability. He has the arm talent to make any throw but has shown some impatience when pressure shows itself. He has made some poor choices while trusting his receivers to win individual matchups, though they were beaten, and they went for interceptions. While that is an issue, he has also shows the ability to shift in the pocket and make good throws with a strong platform.
If the Beavers can't get to Goff then it is going to be a loss for the Beavers, and the defense has shown little ability to do that. The one exception has been the strong play of Jalen Grimble, who was the only player I was impressed with against UCLA. He was one of the only guys to get penetration into the backfield before he started facing routine double teams. If he is neutralized then the rest of the Beavers need to win one on one matchups up front, but they have not been able to for much of the year. This unit does not look too promising either, and expect Goff to really get after it.
The Beavers are once again outmatched and away from home. Expect another loss before one last shot at a home win against the Huskies. 44-17 Golden Bears.
A few weeks ago I thought this was actually one of the match ups that looked to be the bad one, versus next week's match up against Washington, as I thought the game against the Huskies in Corvallis was the last favorable chance for a Pac-12 win after the loss to Colorado. Now though my view has changed. The unfortunate part of this change of mind comes down to more of Cal's current slide in their play versus anything I have seen from the Beavs side of things.
That said, to give the Beavs some credit, I am seeing some potential here for tapping into their performances in the Utah and Colorado games on defense, and the first half against Stanford on offense (though this is tough one to fall back to without Seth Collins taking the snaps at QB). But even the Utah game seems like forever ago with mounting OSU injuries and that UCLA game.
In terms of specific thoughts for this game against Cal, I am going to cannibalize some of my thoughts in the Q & A with California Golden Blogs (you Berkeley people can't change that name can you, hmm, too bad...okay I must be in avoidance mode here for I am digressing). I apologize a bit for this cannibalization, but honestly not sure I have any new insights since I answered the question about if the Beavs win then how could they do it.
To have a chance in this game against a struggling Cal team, someone like Victor Bolden Jr. needs to have big play type of breakout game. I guess I don't want to call out Bolden too much specifically, for this could be anyone really, but he seems like the most logically choice right now. I could see this happening on offense (mix it up again with some 'Wildcat' plays?) and/or on special teams, for 100 yard kick returns are good ways for this team to make some noise on the scoreboard.
To complement these quick and bigger scoring plays, the OSU defense needs to find what they had against Utah and Colorado. But in contrast to the Colorado example, the defense actually needs to capitalize on possible turnovers, as in they CANNOT drop sure INTs. The secondary and pass rush needs to play up multiple notches, and ironically enough, I think they can allow for some quick strikes by Cal and Jared Goff, as long as they do NOT allow Cal to control the clock with multiple sustained scoring drives and of course do not let the Cal offense go ape, like the Bruins did, and score basically every time they get the ball.
So some big plays on offense and/or special teams, along with a strong defensive performance could spark things for this team just enough to find more of its game. I don't see the OSU offense turning any type of corner to have a full game performance, but again, if the defense can make things happen in terms of turnovers and stout stands (and maybe even scoring some points of their own) and the offense (and/or special teams return game) can get some big hits here and there, then there MIGHT be a chance.
And to beat that dead horse of my thoughts all season, even if they lose but are able to compete, it could help point some aspects of the program in the right direction, which then can be built upon next year and hopefully beyond. It is going to be tough, and I have my concerns, but I also agree with some of the commentary posted on the site here that the coaches are still coaching, and the players are still trying to focus. I believe at this point of this season that having the team compete at all in a game like this is not at all for the benefit of the fans; it is about the players and coaches getting some reward for their effort and keeping a level of focus going in the face of some big time adversity this season.