PREVIEW: Seth Collins and Victor Bolden are Oregon State's biggest weapons against Cal

Oregon State's decimated offensive line presents an opportunity for California to gain confidence headed into the bye week, but Victor Bolden and Seth Collins may have something to say about that.

BERKELEY -- On a chart populated with Oregon State's national statistical rankings, ranging from green (top 30) to yellow, to orange, to red (bottom 30), the Beavers aren't orange and black; they're entirely crimson.

The Beavers rank 127th in the nation in percentage of plays going for a first down or a touchdown (23.57%), 109th in offensive explosiveness, 123rd in passer efficiency (100.69), 116th in passing touchdowns per game (0.75), 109th in passing yards (172.75), 104th in passing first downs (8.00 per game), 120th in offensive power ranking, 111th in power ranking adjusted for strength of schedule, 115th in rushing first downs (6.5 per game) , 100th in rushing yards (139.25 per game), 107th in scoring offense (22.5 points per game), 121st in total yards (312.00 per game), 127th in yards per passing attempt (5.08), 128th in yards per completion (9.21) and 102nd in yards per rushing attempt.

By almost every measure, Oregon State -- which managed just two field goals last week against Colorado -- is in dire straits, offensively.

So, what should we be watching for when the Beavers take the field on Saturday against California?

Well, for starters, halting the rush game, and finding a way to stop Bolden

The Bears are last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and 118th in the nation in rushing defense (245.8 yards per game), but that doesn't quite tell the whole story.

Over the first three games, Cal allowed 6.54 yards per carry to opposing offenses (889 yards on 136 carries), but that number has dropped to 3.27 (340 yards on 104 carries) in the last two weeks against run-first teams in Arizona State and Utah.

The Utes piled up 442 yards of total offense last week against the Bears, but averaged 4.56 yards per play, a number that would rank third in the Pac-12. Two weeks ago, Cal held the Sun Devils to 100 rushing yards below their season average. Has the defense finally turned a corner?

"We'll see," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "The thing about football is, you're as good as your last game. Our guys, I don't think we're walking around here, pounding ourselves on the chest or that kind of thing. We're trying to get better, trying to improve, and I think defenses are always measured on their ability to stop the run. Good defenses stop the run, and bad ones don't. We want to be a good one, so we continue to stop it, and I think it's going to allow us to play winning football." Defensive tackle and Clown Prince of Crush James Looney, whose goal-line stop on Saturday earned him a Play of the Week nod, has already surpassed his 2015 totals in tackles for loss (3.0), and sacks (1.0), and ranks seventh on the team with 25 tackles, including 20 over the last three games. As Looney has gone, so has defensive end Cameron Saffle. The true sophomore ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in tackles (35), behind three of his teammates in Ray Davison (top tackler in the conference with 45), Devante Downs (39, 5th) and safety Khari Vanderbilt (38, 7th). Saffle also ranks 11th in the conference in sacks (2.5) and ninth in tackles for loss (5.0).

"Oh, I think they're really good [together]," said Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. "The big thing is, one, they're talented players, but their level of intensity is the difference. I think they feed off each other for that."

Oregon State's offensive line is reeling from a tumultuous offseason which saw them lose six of the 17 scholarship linemen from 2015 to cancer, injury and tragedy. The Beavers are so starved for personnel up front that they're calling up true freshman Gus Lavaka, and bringing Sean Harlow back early from an ankle injury, just to get enough warm bodies.

"I think the big thing is, they've got some changes week-to-week, and it's just like last year, there were quite a few changes, when we came in," Kaufman said. "The big thing we try to do, is, if we understand what we're doing, we have the ability to adjust over the course of the game to what an opponent's doing."

Although Cal's own run game hasn't been stellar, rushing for 119.4 yards per game (116th in the nation), its top rushers are still running backs by trade. Senior receiver Victor Bolden is analogous to what we've seen so far out of Melquise Stovall, except the Beavers have utilized Bolden much more in a traditional run game, getting him in motion on fly sweeps out to the edge. While the defensive tackles will have to contend wth 6-foot-2, 234-pound battering ram Ryan Nall (211 yards, 3 TDs on 49 carries), the ends, safeties and outside linebackers will have to hem in Bolden, who's averaging 19.2 yards per rush, and has a 92-yard rushing touchdown to his name.

Every time Bolden touches the ball this season -- whether it's receiving, returning kicks and punts or rushing the ball -- he's averaging 15.3 yards.

"He's a guy who can make plays," said Kaufman. "He makes things happen. He knows what he's doing with it, and the big thing is, we've got to stay focused on our stuff."

A third straight game of strong play against the run would send the Cal defense into the bye with confidence, and something to build on. In two weeks, they face Oregon, which will run the same kinds of fly sweeps as its cross-state rival uses to get Bolden into space. Despite a 2-3 record (and another tough test this weekend against 5-0 Washington), the Ducks are still 11th in the nation in rushing, averaging 263.4 yards per game, and tied with th Bears at 46th in fewest tackles for loss allowed. 

Get Back, Defensive Back

Before spring ball, the Bears had eight players listed at the two safety spots, and with two fifth-year seniors coming back in Griffin Piatt and Damariay Drew, Cal was sitting pretty. Then Drew tore his ACL, and Piatt retired due to injury. News came down this week that, against Arizona State, safety Evan Rambo tore his ACL, and will have surgery next week."No question that's been a thing we've talked about," Kaufman said. "Next man up. We're going to have to play guys, because of the number of snaps, is one thing, and the only way you know if a guy can play is to play."

That next man is Luke Rubenzer, who's made 27 tackles so far this season. Behind him is redshirt freshman Jaylinn Hawkins, who roomed with Rambo last year, and is more than likely the future at at position.

"He's really come along," Kaufman said "I would say probably the week before we went to Australia, he kind of flashed a little bit, and every week, he's gotten better and better. One thing about him, is his ability to stay tuned in and locked in mentally."

While Rambo is done for the year, No. 1 corner Darius Allensworth is back in the fold after missing a week, and last year, he marked Jordan Villamin as the No. 2. It's likely he'll shift over to cover Bolden, if nickel Cameron Walker isn't assigned the task. But, Bolden and Villamin (who's had a sub-par year with seven catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns, after piling up 78 catches for 1,238 over the last two seasons) aren't the only two threats on the outside. Former quarterback Seth Collins went through a bit of a dance with the Beavers this spring, at first intending to transfer, and then returning as a wide receiver.

Collins -- who leads the bunch with 21 catches for 241 yards -- is the most athletic, explosive and dynamic pure receiver on the outside, and he's got a bit of a nasty streak, which should make Allensworth a perfect match. "They're good. They're really good," Dykes said. "Collins has been really productive. Villamin and Bolden seem like they've been around for a long time. Those guys have made a lot of plays, but they're different. Bolden's the big play guy, Villamin's the go-up-and-catch-the-ball-with-three-people-on-you guy. They're different guys. But, they're all effective. Collins has been incredibly productive. Really good receiving corps, some guys that can make plays and make plays when they're covered."

Get to the Quarterback

Oregon State quarterback Darell Garretson followed offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven from Utah State to run the Beavers' new-look spread, and so far, he's completed 56 of 102 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Not setting the world on fire, but not awful. The real eye-popping number, though, is the fact that he's taken 11 sacks, and his backup -- Conor Blount -- who's seen more time the last two weeks due to performance and injury, is 19-for-34 for 183 yards with two picks, no touchdowns and five sacks.

"I've seen all of them, but what I've seen is more the offense than anything," Kaufman said, when asked what the substantive differences between the two were. "What I try to do, is I go in and look at, 'Hey, here's what they do, and whoever that opponent is, here's what we've got to be ready for, and here's some match-ups we've got to make sure we're careful where a certain guy is, in certain formations."

Blount is a true freshman walk-on, who's prone to mistakes. Garretson can move a bit, gaining 34 yards with his legs despite the yardage deficit thanks to sacks. In fact, taking out sacks, he'd have run for 101 yards on 13 runs.

"I think the big thing with him is he's improving," Dykes said of Garretson. "That's what's important for playing that position, is a consistent level of play, and you can see him getting better. He's a guy who can execute their offense. He can do what they want to do. He's a mobile guy that they feel like can make the throws, I'm sure, and he's accurate. The ball comes out on time, and it's in the right spot."

The aforementioned offensive line is something the Bears need to take advantage of, as the Beavers have allowed the fifth-most tackles for loss in the nation. Top Stories