Cal ready to challenge Woods, Lee

Pressure from front seven will be just as critical to limit USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee as the coverage of California's veteran cornerbacks.

BERKELEY, Calif. – USC junior Robert Woods was one of three finalists last season for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the top wide receiver in college football. His biggest competition for that trophy this year could come from within his own locker room, as sophomore Marqise Lee is tied for third nationally in receptions per game and ranks fifth in receiving yards per game.

That is the challenge California's veteran secondary must contend with in its Pac-12 opener, containing not one but two receivers capable of earning All-America honors.

"They are as gifted as any receivers around, without a doubt," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "As a tandem of receivers, I don't think you could be playing against a more challenging couple of guys than we'll be playing this week."

Through three games, Woods and Lee have combined for nine of USC's 15 touchdowns, with four touchdown receptions apiece. Lee added a 100-yard kickoff return for a score in the season-opener.

They have caught 49 of senior quarterback Matt Barkley's 66 passes for 536 yards this season, or nearly 66 percent of the USC passing game's production.

The Golden Bears had some success last season, limiting Woods to five receptions for 36 yards, but Lee had 81 yards and a touchdown on four catches in the 30-9 USC win.

Cal also had the athleticism of cornerback Stefan McClure, making his first career start, to try and limit Woods in that game. McClure hurt his knee against Arizona State, tearing his ACL and MCL, and is expected to redshirt this season.

That means the task will fall on redshirt senior Marc Anthony and redshirt junior Steve Williams. Both bring good size to the battle, and safety Josh Hill believes their skill and experience matches up well with the USC duo.

"I feel like we have the best corners in the Pac, maybe the nation, and I know they have the best receivers in the nation arguably," Hill said. "I think it's a great matchup for us and for them."

The biggest challenge will be eliminating the big play, something Cal proved susceptible to in its 35-28 loss at Ohio State. Lee's first reception of the season was a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown, while Woods has a 76-yard reverse this season.

Tackling will be key once they get into the open field, but pressuring Barkley can prevent explosive plays before they start. Stanford sacked the senior four times en route to a 21-14 upset win, though USC was without its top two centers because of injury.

To get to Barkley, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast should have a full compliment of defensive linemen at his disposal for the first time this season, with Mustafa Jalil and Austin Clark ready for their most significant action yet.

Jalil was a projected starter at defensive end before suffering a knee injury in fall camp. The sophomore has briefly appeared in the last two games, but has yet to record a tackle.

"Mustafa hopefully will be close to 100 percent," Pendergast said. "We'll see how he is the next couple days, but we're anxious to get him back out there."

Tedford knows that without a consistent pass rush, eventually Lee and Woods will break free.

"Stressing the protections is key because you can't give Barkley a lot of time to throw the ball because those receivers will get open at some point," Tedford said.

Summers-Gavin Set To Return?
While most of the focus on injuries this week has centered on the status of USC center Khaled Holmes (ankle) and coach Lane Kiffin's displeasure with the media reporting on it, Cal could get right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin back after missing the last two games with an MCL injury.

Summers-Gavin practiced Thursday, albeit with a large wrap and heavy brace on his left knee, and "may play," Tedford said.

Said offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik: "We'll see. We'll see if Summers-Gavin can go."

If Summers-Gavin cannot play, Bill Tyndall will start for the third consecutive week.

Troublesome Tongue Twister
The matter at hand was center Brian Schwenke's shotgun snaps, prompting Tedford to joke, "Say that three times fast." But if the ball doesn't get to the quarterback on time, it's certainly no laughing matter.

At Ohio State, Schwenke's deliver frequently came in too low for Zach Maynard to handle, hindering the timing of the offense. After working on it all week, Tedford and Michalczik are confident the senior has worked through his issues.

"There's a feel to that," said Michalczik, comparing the repetitive action of snapping to a golf swing. "Sometimes you get a little bit off and got to get back to basics.

"We've worked on some stuff this week, changed some fundamental things, and his snaps have been pretty solid."

Quick Hits
Tight end Richard Rodgers (foot) will travel with the team and could play this week, Tedford said. … Linebacker Khairi Fortt (knee) will not play this week. Tedford said a decision on whether or not to redshirt the transfer from Penn State could be coming soon. … Cal will head to Los Angeles on Friday, bypassing a walk-through at the Coliseum the day before the game because of restrictions intended to protect the grass field.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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