Cal's linebackers versus Jacquizz Rodgers
California's defense has looked everything from dominant to horrific these past two weeks – from giving up 42 first-half points to USC, to only giving up three points the following week versus Arizona State. It seems as if when the Cal defense plays free and aggressive, they have their way with anybody – as Cameron Jordan stated earlier this year, Cal has the ability to "dictate what the offense does."
Well, to beat Oregon State, Cal's defense is going to need to carry that same mentality from last weekend to this weekend (note: consistency). And the group that will do that?
The challenge is especially true this week, when the Bear linebacking core will be assigned with the task of stopping – or slowing down – Beavers' stud running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Despite having a new quarterback – allowing defenses to key on the running game – Rodgers has rushed for 657 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, good for 14th in the nation.
Earlier this week, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford highlighted the importance of tackling Rodgers.
"The challenges that he brings are really everything," said Tedford of Rodgers. "He catches the ball well out of the backfield, he can pass protect, but he is so strong and so elusive that his feet are awesome. When you talk about jump cuts - jump cuts are when you're in the hole and you can jump sideways and then go forward very quickly - he's a master at that. So if you're in front of him and he jumps sideways on you, you've got to get on him right away or he will spurt through a hole and be gone.
"But I have a lot confidence in our defense. Our defense has played pretty well except for two games, really, and besides those two games, I thought they've done an excellent job."
Slowing down Rodgers early will force Beavers' quarterback Ryan Katz to throw more over the course of the game. And, if that happens, that gives California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast plenty of opportunities to use his blitz packages.
Any individual defensive player can have an impact in the sense that they can dictate what an offense does. But, in rare instances, a defensive player – by himself – has the potential and ability to completely disrupt an offense.
Beavers' senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea is one of those players. At 6-foot-1 and 311 pounds, Paea often commands double teams, which allows for 1-on-1 matchups along the line in addition to creating open gaps for blitzing linebackers. When left all alone, Paea is able to penetrate into the backfield by himself, and completely disrupt any team's running game.
California's centers – Guarnero and Galas – along with the rest of the interior line will be assigned to keep Paea out of the backfield and out of the play. After getting beat by Paea in last year's 31-14 loss to Oregon State, the Cal line is taking it upon itself to do just that.
"I heard [offensive line] coach [Steve] Marshall on Monday – we had our meeting at 6:45 a.m. – and he was making sure they were awake in there, that there's a big challenge but we've got to rise to the challenge," said Tedford.
"I have confidence in [Chris] Guarnero and Galas and our guards that they're going to compete hard against him. We're going to have to do some different things with him, double-team him from time to time and those types of things, keep him off guard."
So crucial to California's offense is junior running back Shane Vereen's opportunities to run downhill and get to the second and third level. If Cal's line can give Vereen that hole, the rest of the offense will have then have chances to attack downfield. The Bears have scored 50 points in three of their seven games this year. With a strong running game, Cal certainly will have a chance to score – see Oregon State's defense ranked 119th in the country. But first, they must get by Paea.
California versus any sort of foreign environment
Corvallis will provide plenty of black and orange for the Bears this weekend – and not just because they are celebrating Halloween.
In a crucial matchup for both teams, you can bet that Reser Stadium will be loud and unfavorable to the Bears. Away from the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium, the Bears are 0-3 while being outscored 110-54 in those contests. Aware of their road woes, the Bears will look to find consistency and fix that problem, starting with this weekend.
"To everybody else I guess it's a big deal about the whole road and home thing. To us, we prepare the same exact way," said Tedford. "Are there challenges to playing on the road? Yes...you can't be naïve and think that there's no challenges on the road, because of the environments that we play in and the noise and things like that, but that's not a reason why you drop a football, it's not a reason why you miss a tackle, it has nothing to do with it."
The best way to quiet a crowd is to get off to a fast start and take the opponent out of their game plan early. For that to happen, it will come down to Cal being ready to dictate the tempo of the ballgame.
And just be consistent, of course.
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