The Lowe Down

With a depleted secondary set to face high-octane Oregon, the Bears will get some veteran help as safety Michael Lowe returns to action, and in his eyes, defending the Ducks starts with some of the simplest advice he can give the young defensive backs.

BERKELEY -- Late in the first quarter against Portland State, California redshirt junior strong safety Michael Lowe was working run support, when a lineman tried to cut block him. He spun away, but came down awkwardly as he tried to stabilize himself.

After hobbling to the sideline, Lowe tried to get back in at the start of the second quarter, but after playing one series, he knew he wasn't anything close to 100%.

After a week of tottering around the practice field with varying levels of mobility, Lowe – who's experience is a rarity in the secondary – tried to play against Ohio State just over a week ago. It didn't go well.

"Basically one series. We got a three-and-out, and I was in on that series," Lowe says. "It felt a little weird, but I went out there, just to show the team that even though I was hurt, I was going to drag it out there and do what I could, especially with how the game went. I wanted to send that message, that, regardless of whatever you're doing, play hard."

With the Bears' top corner -- Stefan McClure -- shifting over to nickel because of his athleticism, and a redshirt junior -- Isaac Lapite -- who came into the season with not a single game to his credit before this season slotting in at left corner, and with starting free safety Avery Sebastian out for the year Lowe is the old man in the secondary.

"I felt a bit of pressure," says Lowe. "Our game last week, how big it was, I did feel a little bit of pressure coming back, just from myself, personally, to be out there with the team, but I just went on, and up until the game day, I went on how I felt, and when I came out, I was still pretty sore, so I felt it wasn't the best decision to go out there."

Lowe felt it his duty to try and play, however painful it may have been. But, when he couldn't go, he saw his teammates surrender 276 passing yards and 608 yards of total offense before all was said and done.

"Just for last week, it was a big game that we played last year that I really wanted to be a part of," Lowe says. "It was tough, seeing it from the sideline, watching. The best I could really do was coach, and get in the young guys' heads and let them know the game's really slow."

For the better part of the last two games, Lowe's charge has been to help coach from the bench.

"I had to learn, from being a freshman, up until this point, that if you're looking at the right things, the game slows down," says Lowe. "I just tried to over-emphasize how important that is. This week, it's really big, because now we're starting the conference, and, of course, I don't want to miss out on that. This week, I'm doing all that I can to get better."

That role becomes even more important as he gets back to full strength, just in time for Cal to square off with No. 2 Oregon in Eugene, this weekend. As special teams coordinator and inside receivers coach Mark Tommerdahl said during the bye, this Saturday will be the "two fastest teams in the universe" squaring off. Lowe has seen that speed first-hand, he's been victimized by it and he at least has some idea of what he and his fellow defensive backs can do to mitigate it.

"I've started preparing already," Lowe said early last week. "This week is a way to kind of get a jump on it, and to get it into my head. Once I come back from two days off, I come back on Sunday and it's not like it's anything new. It's a refresher for me."

Over the last three seasons, the Ducks have averaged 485 yards of total offense, with all but one game – the 2010 affair in Berkeley – in the 500s.

"We just need to focus on our eyes and our feet, especially with coach Stewart preaching that. Eyes and feet are the most important things in our secondary," Lowe says. "We need to look at the right things, play technically sound and just go out there and make plays, once you're looking at what you're supposed to be looking at. For me, it isn't going to be anything new, because I've been doing it for three and a half, four years, now, but at this point, now, being older, I see how important it is, and how it helps you play better and it slows the game down for you."

Saturday's affair will be anything but slow. Between Cal – which is averaging over 90 offensive snaps per game – and Oregon – which is averaging 61.3 points per game, the clash up north will come down not to which defense will get stops, but which defense gets more turnovers. For Lowe, it all starts with the basics, particularly as it concerns to the safeties, which will likely be placed in position to spy on the quarterback.

Against UCLA in 2011, safety Sean Cattouse was used as the quarterback spy against the Bruins' pistol, and in that game, Kevin Prince -- who was told before the game by then-head coach Rick Neuheisel that he had to have a 100-yard rushing performance of he would lose his starting job – ran for 162 yards on 19 carries.

"The biggest thing for this game is just lining up," he says. "They go fast, and that's their catch. They go fast, and they try to get you all over the field, but just lining up, once you line up, read your key, you can play fast from there. The main thing for this week is to line up, to start in the right place. If you start in the right place, you can get it. If you don't, and you're running all over the field, your eyes are all over the place, you're unsettled, and that's where they get most of their big plays. They get them off the defense making a mistake, more so than them just being flat-out better than us."

With several periods per practice dedicated to the No. 1 offense going up against components – or all of – the No. 1 defense, the Bears' secondary has been put through the ringer, as far as speed is concerned, particularly last week, when the offense spent quite a bit of time running at full-tilt, averaging a play every 14 seconds during several stretches.

"Conditioning-wise, it helps a lot, because even in the previous years, we had a scout team that would go fast, but it's [Cal's] actual offensive system to get in plays, so it's more of an ideal look that we'll get than the scouts coming out and trying to implement the same fast tempo, because they don't know," Lowe says. "[The scout team is] reading off cards. But, with our offense, that's their system, so it gives us a great feel, week in and week out, to go fast. It's helpful. It's an advantage for us."

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