With one of the few perceived winnable games left on the schedule, the Beavers travel to the Bay Area to take on the Cal Bears (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12). Over the past decade, the Beavers have won their last 5 games on the road against the Bears. Unlike past trips to the bay, this game will be played at AT&T Park while Memorial Stadium undergoes a facelift.
OFFENSIVE KEYS TO THE GAME:
1. OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
As with so many pro-style offenses, the success and failure of the offense generally starts up front. The Beavers front line has been riddled with injuries and poor play throughout the year.
On the year, Grant Johnson, Joshua Andrews, and Burke Ellis have all missed games due to injuries. Out of any unit on the field, an o-line needs that consistent practice time working as a group in order for them to be effective.
This week there are still questions about whether Johnson or Ellis will be able to go, if they can it will help the unit as a whole as they combine for 53 starts. Regardless of who plays, they need to do a better job of keeping defenses off of quarterback Sean Mannion.
Last week against Stanford, Mannion was sacked 3 times, but defenders spent a good amount of time in the backfield harassing him. With Cal's 3-4 defense, they tend to send blitzes from all over the place.
The Beavers line and Mannion must do a good job of recognizing where the blitz is coming from at the line of scrimmage and adjusting the protection, or else it will be another long game for the Beaver's offense.
2. BALANCED AND IMAGINATIVE PLAYCALLING
One thing that has baffled me all season has been the play calling on offense. Numerous times in post-game interviews Coach Riley has stated that there just wasn't balance to the offense and that he wasn't really sure why they abandoned the run so early in a game. Against Stanford last week, the team only ran 17 rushing plays.
Most will say that the running game just wasn't there as Malcolm Agnew had 9 carries for just 15 yards. But they did run the fly sweep a couple times with James Rodgers, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks all getting carries that resulted in good yardage.
Why didn't Danny Langsdorf call more fly sweeps or at least use fly sweep motion to throw off the defense? In years past, the fly sweep had been very effective against Stanford defenses, as they are known for being strong and disciplined but speed hasn't been one of their strong points.
In 2007, the Beavers also didn't have a very good offense to start the season but made adjustments throughout the year to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. So the fly sweep became a staple of the OSU offense and in the process, Rodgers became a legend.
The Beavers need to get back to using the fly sweep more often, even if it is used just as a decoy, it will force the defense to spread out more and open up more running holes up the middle.
3. CONSISTENCY IN THE KICKING GAME
The inconsistency of Trevor Romaine this season has been puzzling. One thing the Beavers seemed to always have in the past was a reliable kicker. Romaine this year is 12-19 on field goal attempts, having not made a field goal since the Washington State game. Last weekend he had both a field goal and an extra point attempt blocked by the Cardinal.
On top of the inaccuracy kicking field goals, Romaine has also sent two kick-offs out of bounds and picked up a personal foul flag on a kick-off. All have resulted in the opposing teams starting at their own 40.
The Beavers can't waste opportunities to put points on the board. Romaine will have to make the most of his opportunities if the Beavers are to come out of Saturday's game with a victory.
DEFENSIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. HARASS BEARS' QUARTERBACK ZACH MAYNARD
Maynard is perhaps the least talented quarterback that Jeff Tedford has coached during his tenure at Cal. He doesn't quite fit the normal type of QB that Tedford coaches either as he is more of a dual threat rather than their traditional drop-back passer.
Maynard is erratic in his accuracy, having only completed 53% of his passes while having tossed 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. If Scott Crichton and company can get into the backfield, Maynard is not a very poised QB, he will throw some INTs.
2. DON'T LET KENNAN ALLEN GO OFF
Allen is arguably the best receiver in the conference. On the season, he has hauled in 75 passes and collected over 1,000 yards. He's a big time difference maker and one of the few playmakers on the Bear's offense.
The duty of keeping Allen in check will fall largely on the shoulders of Jordan Poyer, as he is the Beavers best cover corner. Poyer is currently ranked 2nd in the nation in pass breakups with 15 on the season and is just 4 shy of tying Andrae Holland's school record of 19 in one season. Poyer is also one of the conference leaders with 3 interceptions.
3. CAN THE BEAVS GET A 3 AND OUT?
A problem that has been plaguing the Beavers defense over the past couple seasons is their inability to get off the field. On the season, they are allowing their opponents to convert on 3rd down 47% of the time, ranking 102nd in the nation in opponent's conversion rates. In the first half alone, the defense has allowed opposing offenses to convert on 55% of their 3rd downs.
Maynard is a mobile quarterback that can easily tuck the ball away and pick up yardage with his feet. The Beavers will need to do well on 1st and 2nd downs, in an effort to keep Cal out of 3rd and short situations.