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Week 6 Matchups to Watch: Strength vs Strength in the Run Game

Oregon State looks to press their advantages in the trenches for another week

NCAA Football: Utah at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After two weeks against ranked teams, the Beavers head south to take on a Cal team that is a couple close calls away from being in the same category. The Bears nearly took down Auburn and are next to Oregon State in the Pac-12 standings at 1-1. The rushing attack on both ends and turnovers will play a large role on Saturday night as OSU looks to grab a Pac-12 win on the road.

Beavers on Offense

Cal’s defensive strength is their run defense. They held Auburn to 3.6 yards per carry in a close-fought 14-10 loss so it is not just racking up stats on bad competition. Unfortunately for the Bears, the pass defense is not at the same level and other teams know that. Some of the stats are hurt by a 304 yard, 4 TD performance by Michael Penix Jr. and Washington two weeks ago, but there are opportunities downfield against the Cal secondary if Oregon State can scheme them open.

LT #67 Joshua Gray vs EDGE #44 Xavier Carlton

Carlton leads the Bears with 16 pressures leads team and his 75.3 PFF grade is the second highest among Cal regulars. Gray and the rest of the offensive line have been as advertised this year. Carlton and fellow linemen Myles Jernigan, Brett Johnson, and David Reese are a solid unit, but not at the level of last week’s Utah defense. Giving DJ Uiagalelei a clean pocket to work though his reads and take advantage of the Cal pass defense is key to keeping the offense balanced and on schedule.

RB #6 Damien Martinez vs MLB #53 Kaleb Elarms-Orr

Similar to last week, the Beavers will likely look to prioritize the run and will keep at it regardless of early resistance. Elarms-Orr leads the Bears with 29 tackles and 16 stops (Mascarenas-Arnold leads the Beavers with 17 for comparison). Martinez is coming off two straight games where he has failed to break 100 yards or 5 yards per carry after reaching both marks in each of the first three games. Last week was the first game this year, he did not have a run for more than 15 yards, expect that to change on Saturday.

Beavers on Defense

Cal’s offensive approach is a similar run-first approach to Oregon State, but where they differ is tempo. Cal has run nearly 15 offensive plays per game more than the Beavers, getting as many as an astounding 99 offensive plays in their opener against North Texas. Ball control by the Beaver offense will be key, since the defense has not seen that volume of work so far this year. Turnovers have also been Cal’s friend, and they have taken advantage of the short fields their defense has provided as an extra boost to the offense.

Sam Jackson V is Cal’s starting quarterback, but has dealt with injuries at times this year. He played the entire Arizona State game last week, but if he does exit the game, backup Ben Finley has experience this year and can keep the offense moving.

DE #99 Isaac Hodgins vs RG #71 Sioape Vatikani

With James Rawls suspended for the first half after a targeting penalty against Utah last week, Hodgins will likely step up in the rotation and plug holes in the interior of the line. Vatikani is the lowest graded run blocker by PFF on the Cal O-line. 62% of Cal’s 1,130 rushing yards have come after contact, which is an indication that the line is not clearing much of a path (OSU’s number is 51%). Credit for that metric is also due to running back Jaydn Ott, so strong tackling by Hodgins and the front seven are needed to shut down the Cal ground attack.

CB #21 Noble Thomas vs WR #3 Jeremiah Hunter

Hunter leads the team with 45 targets, 27 receptions, and 4 of their 8 TD receptions. He is the biggest downfield threat the Bears have and with the uncertainty in the Beavers secondary I would expect that Cal looks to him early. Hunter lines up primarily on the left side of the offense. If Jaden Robinson is unable to play, Thomas & Ryan Cooper Jr. will have outside responsibilities if last week’s rotation holds (and given its success it probably should).