GAME DAY CENTRAL: Cal vs. Oregon State

BERKELEY -- Daniel Lasco heads up a newly-explosive offense as the Cal football team looks to get to within one game of bowl eligibility on the road against Oregon State.



THE MATCH-UP
California (4-4, 2-4 in Pac-12) vs. Oregon State (4-3, 1-3)
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Last Time Out: Oregon State 49, Cal 17 (Oct. 19, 2013)
OREGON STATE DEPTH CHART
CAL ROSTER
The Betting Line: Oregon State -3
When: Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30 PM Pacific
Where: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
Watch: Pac-12 Networks; J.B. Long (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (analyst), Drea Avent (sideline)
Listen: KGO 810 AM, Cal IMG Sports Network; Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Todd McKim (sideline reporter)
Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM; Jarrod Suda (play-by-play), Nic Montano (analyst)
California Injury Report: WR Kenny Lawler (out; foot), WR Trevor Davis (out; neck), S Avery Sebastian (out; quad), DE Brennan Scarlett (out; knee)

Cal Game Notes
Oregon State Game Notes
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Twitter: @RGBearTerritory

FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS
1. Luke Rubenzer converts two third downs.
2. Khalfani Muhammad will see time at outside receiver.
3. Darius Powe will have at least five catches.
4. Jack Austin catches his first career touchdown.
5. Mustafa Jalil comes up with his second career solo sack (he has one solo and two assisted sacks).

What to Watch for on Offense:
BIG PLAYS. Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker said that the first word that comes to mind when he thinks of the Cal offense is the word “explosive,” and he’s certainly not wrong. The Bears rank 12th in the country in offensive explosiveness, according to KnowHuddle.com.

“They’re never out of a game,” said Banker. “That was so true in the Washington State game. They kept playing, kept playing, kept playing. They’ll take deep shots downfield, they’ll take control routes underneath, they’ll dump it off and let guys go run and get you spread out. They’ll run up the tempo – probably the fastest tempo that we’ll see all year. At the same time, they do a nice job in the run game. That running back has done really well for them this year.”

“That running back,” is Daniel Lasco, who piled up 186 all-purpose yards last Friday against Oregon.

“I think he keeps getting better, which is a good thing,” says Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. “He’s taken a tremendous amount of pride in practicing well every day, to get better at his craft every day, and he’s continuing to evolve as a receiver and a runner, and that’s the good thing. The fact that he could have over 100 as a receiver and make plays as a receiver is a huge part of this offense. Whether I hand it to him or throw it to him, it doesn’t really matter.”

Lasco certainly has some interesting memories from the team's last trip to Corvallis.

"It was an adventure," he smiles. "The hotel room, the fire alarm went off at two, three o’clock in the morning, and everybody having to evacuate. There are a lot of memories from that trip. We didn’t get that win, but it just sticks in your stomach and your gut, and you know that you need to go out there and you have to set a statement and play like it’s your last play, every single play. It’s coming down to that point in the season, where everybody’s banged up across the nation, and it’s one of those things that you have to fight through, and continue to go on and play against a great football team. I’m excited to go back there and see what kind of defense they have, face-to-face.”

Both Dykes and Lasco joked that they'll be posting sentries at the fire alarms, this time around.

"Absolutely. That was very suspicious," Lasco laughs. "I didn’t understand what was going on at that point. I think someone said that someone threw a smoke bomb down the stairwell, and a lot of people were freaking out, because once a fire alarm goes off, you’re supposed to take the stairs to evacuate, and once you open the stairwell door, there’s a bunch of smoke coming up, so you didn't’ want to take the stairs. It was very odd. There was some smoke downstairs. I don’t know if it was a fire extinguisher or a smoke bomb or something. I remember it being very late, and I was the only one freaking out, telling everybody to evacuate, but a lot of people were saying that it was just a precaution. I didn’t want to stay in a burning building, so I was trying to be the superhero and pull everybody out and make sure everybody was safe. That happened in the middle of the night, and nobody got any sleep. We played the following night, so we had the whole day to recover and get rested up.”

Lasco ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards, with 912 on the season. He’s averaging 6.4 yards every time he touches the ball.

“He’s taken the lion’s share of the carries, even though the other guys go in the game,” says Banker. “We’ve got our hands full.”

This season, Cal has completed 40 passing plays of over 20 yards, and 15 of over 40. Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff has accounted for 39 of those plays, and 14 passes of over 40 yards.

“I think he’s the most improved player on their team, without a doubt,” says Banker. “He spins the ball, he’s got good accuracy, good velocity and all that stuff. He’s got a good deep ball, a good outside deep ball. I think he’s right around 65 percent completion percentage and he’s got 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions. At the same time, a lot of that’s due to him – and the offensive line – I think they’ve only given up 18 sacks, and they’ve thrown the ball maybe 450 times. That’s a pretty good percentage.”

Also, look out for Rubenzer on third down. As we addressed earlier in the week, the freshman can create havoc when short yards are needed, and he even has a 60-yard pass to Darius Powe, so his arm has to be respected, as well.

“We likened it to Portland State,” says Banker. “They had the one quarterback who we knew had a high percentage that he was going to run. The difference is that this guy here can also throw the ball. He’s been a runner for them, so that’s a pretty good change up.”

THE OUTSIDE RECEIVERS. About those 40 plays of over 20 yards: Two receivers who have accounted for nine of those are going to be on the shelf. At times during last week’s game against Oregon, 22 of those receptions were on the bench, forcing the Bears to dig deep into their receiving corps.

“Anywhere I’ve ever been before, you lose four guys, you can’t even function,” says wide receivers coach Rob Likens. “We still managed to score 41 points with second-team guys in, and sometimes, third-team guys in, throughout the entire ballgame. I would say the depth saved us, and it’s going to. I think we’ll be fine. Tony’s done a great job. It’s not as difficult to call plays when you don’t have to worry who’s in, when you don’t have to worry about matchups, because everybody’s good, and that’s where we were at. It makes play-calling a little bit easier, so he has to think just a little bit more about where the ball could possibly go, so you have to think about that before you call the play. It’ll be a little more difficult, but I still have faith in the guys.”

In fact, after only tallying seven explosive plays (passes of 20 yards or more, rushes of 12 or more) in the two games leading up to last Friday, Cal exploded for 11 against the Ducks.

“You were in a position where our one and two, there’s no difference. It made no difference who was in the game,” says Franklin. “They were the same. They were great. They were really good players, and now, you’re at three, so we expect those guys to perform. Whether they will or not, we’ll see. Whenever you’re called upon playing college football, you’re expected to perform.”

Expect to see a heaping helping of Bryce Treggs (six catches of 20 yards or more), Chris Harper (also six catches of 20 yards or more), Darius Powe (four catches of 20 yards or more), Stephen Anderson (five catches of 20 yards or more), Maurice Harris (two catches of 20 yards or more) and Jack Austin, who was a fall camp standout, but did not receive any targets last week.

“He’s looked more dynamic the last three weeks, really, when we called upon him to become more dynamic than he has been,” says Franklin. “I think he’ll be a guy that, when he gets the opportunity, I think he’ll make plays.”

Austin’s nickname in the wide receiver room is RoboCop, and for good reason. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he’s an imposing, physical receiver.

“I just see him improving,” Likens says. “It’s really hard for a kid, when he knows he’s not going to play, to come out and practice and try to get better, and that just says everything about his character. I preach to him this whole year that, ‘Hey, man, you are one ankle sprain, one something away from getting in a ballgame, and you never know when it’s going to be, so you don’t want to choke when you get in that situation, when you get up on the stage.’ Here it is. It’s his time.

“He’s tough, and he is a great effort guy. He’s never going to loaf. His nickname is RoboCop, because he’s like a machine.”

Oregon State won’t try to fool the Bears visually with a lot of movement. They play mostly base defense, and, as Likens says, “They just play tough.”

“They say, ‘This is what we’re in. Come get us. We’re going to out-tough you and out-last you to the last seconds off the clock,’” Likens says. “They’re a zone team until they get hurt, and then they’ll play some man. They’re about half-and-half.”

What to Watch For on Defense
Terron Ward AND Storm Woods. Oregon State’s pair of running backs are eighth and ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing, with Woods averaging 64.7 yards per game and Ward averaging 63.7. That said, the Beavers are 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, averaging 113.1 yards, in large part thanks to the 23 sacks that Oregon State quarterbacks have taken.

Woods averages 5.7 yards per carry – fifth in the conference – and Ward averages 4.7 – the same amount that Lasco has averaged over the last five games.

Where Lasco has separated himself, though, is in his receiving ability. Against Oregon, Lasco hauled in eight passes for 101 yards to go along with his 15 carries for 85 yards. On the season, Lasco has 304 receiving yards on 26 catches. The Oregon State duo? 31 catches for 319 yards.

[FROM THE OTHER SIDE: Cal vs. OSU Against the Grain]

BIG PLAYS THE OTHER WAY. Oregon State is decidedly not a big-play offense since the departure of Brandin Cooks; the Beavers rank 94th among FBS teams in offensive explosiveness. That said, the Bears have given up 37 passing plays of 20 yards or more, and a staggering 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more, with six of those coming in the last four games.

Over the past two games, Cal has given up 12 rushing plays of 12 yards or more, compared to 11 such plays over the previous six, and it’s no accident that Scarlett played in neither of those games.

If quarterback Sean Mannion has time, watch out.

“They like to be physical at the beginning of the game. It looks like they want to run some power runs, try to get you physically, and then they want to open you up, after that, maybe put more guys in the box and they want to throw,” says Barton. “Mannion’s a veteran guy. He’s been there for four years, and he knows what he’s doing with that rock. It’s going to be very important that we get to him early, rattle him in the pocket, and stop that run, because they’re a run-first team and they have a pro-style offense.”

[FROM THE OTHER SIDE: What Happens When Beav D Meets Cal O?]

While Mannion hasn’t thrown for near the kinds of yards he threw for last season, he still owns a 124.0 quarterback efficiency rating, and he’s only thrown five interceptions in 249 attempts.

“They’re running the ball more. Part of it is they’re a little bit young up front, and they lost some seniors last year, and have lost some players this year,” says Dykes. “As a result, they’re trying to take a little heat off the offensive line by not dropping back and throwing every play, but they’re capable of doing that. They’re good enough to do it. They can protect. Right now, they’re able to run the football well enough where they don’t have to do that.”


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