However, the 2000 season was the pinnacle, transforming the Beavers from the middle of the pack in the conference to title contenders. They finished 10-1 overall and #8 in the nation, but more importantly, finished in a three-way tie for the Pac 10 crown with a 7-1 mark. They beat up & humiliated legendary Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, 41-9, announcing to a national audience that they were a force to be reckoned with in the future. Sports Illustrated put them on the cover of their 2001 pre-season football issue, picking the Oregon State Beavers to be #1 in the nation.
Unfortunately, SI didn't do their homework because Erickson had lost the majority of his team built on junior college transfers to graduation. OSU had the fewest returning starters in the league in 2001 and ending up 5-6, only the second losing season experienced by Dennis Erickson in 16 seasons as a college headcoach. Actually, the young team came on strong late in the season, barely losing to USC & Oregon by 3 points apiece. Sports fan that observed those games, would likely concur that the Beavers outplayed those two teams, respectively. The young OSU team's defense re-fortified itself into the #2 Pac 10 unit (in total defense) & #1 in pass defense. The hindrance that held the team back was a negative turnover margin of minus seven in 2001.
Oregon State has expanded Reser Stadium to seat 35,500 Orange clad maniacs (only kidding), creating an intimidating environment for visiting teams. Dennis Erickson's teams are 19-3 in this "pit" to date. To Cal's misfortune, the Bears will be traveling to Corvallis for the fourth game in the last five seasons. Who makes these Pac 10 schedules, anyway? The Beavers under Erickson have yet to lose in Corvallis to either Cal (2-0) or Oregon (1-0), with Jeff Tedford as offensive coordinator! Can the Bears under Jeff Tedford continue to make their own history and stop another losing skid of three games against Oregon State in the process? Recent history suggests that this game will be close with the last four contests ending within a ten point differential. This battle will be between the two most experienced team in the Pac 10 in 2002. Cal & Oregon State returns 16 & 15 starters, respectively, so both teams should be ready to do so damage...
Cal's Offense vs Oregon State's Defense
One intangible factor jumped out of all the statistics this week: that possibly Dennis Erickson's defense can "control" Jeff Tedford's offense. Both of the last two seasons, 2000 & 2001, Oregon State held Oregon to their season low in points scored. In 2000, in Corvallis, the Beavers defeated the Ducks in the Civil War, 23-13. Last season, in Eugene, Oregon squeaked out a 17-14 triumph despite being dominated statistically by their archrival, Oregon State, 359 yards to 209 yards. Duck star quarterback, Joey Harrington, was shutdown to 104 yards passing. The Ducks only passed 22 times and ran 34 times, suggesting that Tedford played the game conservatively to win the Pac 10 championship.
Oregon State is number two (to USC) in most Pac 10 statistical measures including scoring defense(18.1 ppg) in 2002 with eight starters returning. The Beavers have not yielded in excess of 23.5 ppg on average in any season since the arrival of Dennis Erickson in 1999. OSU also ranks No. 2 in the Pac 10 in total defense, holding opponents to 318 ypg and a conference-low 10 touchdowns. The secondary of Oregon State has finished in the top twenty nationally every year since 1998. Right now-they're ranked #3(198.1 ypg) in the Pac 10 & #10 nationally in pass defense (as measured by yardage per game). This veteran group permits a completion ratio of 50% but for only 5.9 yards per catch. They have intercepted 14 passes while giving up a paltry 5 TDs via the air. The Beaver rush defense is 7th in the conference but 29th nationally, permitting 120 yards of real estate per game. This is a substantial improvement because they were #8 in run "D" in 2001, coughing up a statistically significant 157 ypg. Both UCLA & ASU ran the ball effectively against the Beavers in the last two games. The Bruins ran wild with Tyler Ebell "breaking out" for in excess of 200 yards rushing in Corvalis on October 5th...
Last season, Cal pursued this approach, running the ball on 50 carries for a season high of 225 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. QB Reggie Robertson was literally running the show in that game for the injured Kyle Boller. He ran several option plays and scrambled on a couple of other occasions for first downs. Joe Igber's style of running benefits from an artifial turf field and he scooted effectively until suffering a broken clavicle. Terrell Williams pounded inside the tackles effectively as well. It's fairly predictable that Cal will test the proverbial "soft underbelly" of the Oregon State defense. Remember, however, that it's not really soft-that Cal is strategically choosing the best statistical alternative. Also, Cal is ranked only #102 in the nation (out of 117 teams) in rushing offense with 104.5 ypg. The Bear's offensive strength is passing the football. Cal's passing attack is rated # 8 in the pass happy Pac 10 but #39 nationally with 249 ypg...
Cal's strength is faced with Oregon State's strength so this is a poor matchup for the Bears. In 2001, Robertson only completed 12-32 passes but did connect with LaShaun Ward on 4 occasions, once on a deep pattern. The Beav's defense sacked Robertson three times. This season the Beaver pass rush has been ok, racking up 12 sacks in 7 contests. However, the OSU "D" does swarm to the ball and has registered in excess of 8 TFLs per game.
**Offensive Line vs Defensive Line**
Cal's offensive line has exceeded expectations in 2002. However, it's been proficient primarily in the pass protection department, yielding 13 sacks over an 8 game span. The other side of the equation is run blocking and the Bears NEED a duplication of its results from last season. Maybe not 225 yards but 150+ yards on the ground this Saturday might produce a Cal victory.
Weakside LT, Mark Wilson, matches up against soph DE, Bill Swancutt. Swancutt is their sackmaster with 3.5 sacks plus an additional 7 TFLs. Wilson has been beaten by his counterparts the past two games for sacks. Hopefully, he's ready to run block vs Swancutt and take advantage of the weight difference (45 pounds). Cal's best offensive lineman, weak guard, Scott Tercero, goes man-to-man against Dwan Edwards. Edwards has impressive numbers for a defensive tackle: 31 tackles(#4 on the team), 7 TFLs including 2.5 sacks. His reserve is juco monster, James Lee(6'5" 310), with 3.5 TFLs. First team all-Pac 10, Eric Manning (6'1" 300), takes on Cal's Jonathan Giesel. Manning has 5.5 TFLs inclusive of one-half sack. Cal's strongside RT , Chris Murphy, faces off with Noah Happe (6'5" 238). Happe has garnered 4.5 TFLs including 2 sacks plus 5 QBHs ("hurries"). Murphy has sixty pounds on his foe and needs to dominate him in the run game. Ryan Jones will have to keep an eye on the top linebacker in the Pac 10, MLB Richard Seigler(6'3" 230), or double one of the two stud defensive tackles.
**Running Backs vs Linebackers**
The Beavers return two of the top playmakers in the conference at linebacker in strongside backer, Nick Barnett, & MLB Richard Seigler. Both earned all-conference honors last season on the second & first teams, respectively. James Allen is now playing in the NFL so Erik Tuma has replaced him on the weakside. He's great in pass coverage with 1 pick & 5 passes defensed plus 1 QB sack. Seigler & Barnett led the team in tackles in 2001 with 93 & 73, respectively. They're right back at it this season but Barnett leads the team with 68 stops in 7 games (almost a 10 tackle per game average) while Seigler has posted 55 stops (about 8 per game). Included in those stats are 9 TFLs for Seigler & 7.5 TFLs for Barnett...Also, Seigler has two interceptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Beaver defense is probably the fastest in the Pac 10. Seigler is a future NFL prospect that sprints from sideline-to-sideline. Cal should run right @ them or wide plays that allow the running back to cut back against the pursuit. Misdirection plays and screens can be effective against these guys. Derek Swafford took a WR "slip screen" 70+ yards to paydirt in Berkeley in 2000. Pana Faumina might see more time as the lead-blocking FB this week to see if he can make a difference. If possible the Bears should run off-tackle because Cal's tackles should be able to move their opposition. It will tough to penetrate the huge DT tandem up the gut especially with Seigler waiting behind ‘em...
**Wide Receivers/Tight Ends vs Secondary**
Cal has an improved receiving corps as compared to last season. Ward made his starting debut in the Oregon State game and was productive. McArthur & Makonnen obviously did not play in that game so perhaps the Bears can move the chains by hitting short slant patterns, etc. Cal should return to the three wide receiver offense that Oregon State runs. This way the slot receiver, Jonathan Makonnen or Vincent Strang, can target the nickle back, Shamon Jamerson or Aric Williams. The Oregon State corners, Terrell Roberts & Dennis Weathersby, are probably the best pair in the Pac 10. Both play physical bump ‘n run styles to disrupt the timing of the receiver's route. The Beaver secondary plays man coverage about 85% of the time. Geoff McArthur will probably face Terrell Roberts from El Cerrito(I could swear it's Encinal)HS and should try to use his body to screen the receiver. LaShaun Ward should try to wear out Weathersby and beat him deep. Roberts & Weathersby defensed 11 & 10 passes, respectively, in 2001.
UCLA employed their terrific TE, Mike Seidman, bigtime in their gameplan vs OSU. He caught approximately ten passes. He took a tightend screen "to the house" and basically filled vacancies left by linebackers or simply beat strong safety, Lawrence Turner, a transfer from CCSF. Turner is not chopped liver because he has 4 interceptions already. He also is #3 on the team in total tackles with 33. Cal will likely feature its tightend, Tom Swoboda, in this week's gameplan. Mitch Meeuwsen is the Beaver's star safety but he's out with a knee injury. However, Calvin Carlyle, a two-year starter in 1999 & 2000, was granted a medical redshirt for a six year of eligibility (due to missing last season). Carlyle already has made an impact, intercepting a pass & defensing 3 more. He originally was a cornerback so he possesses great speed.
QB Kyle Boller could raise his stock in the eyes of pro scouts by putting up some numbers against the Beaver secondary. Obviously, Boller has yet to taste victory against Erickson's crew. I would look for another Igber flea-flicker play that was used early in the Washington game to silence the home crowd. It's time for Boller to lead his team to a victory by his performance late in the game. Good quarterbacks have comeback wins and last second clutch plays. It's time, KB !
**Cal's Defense vs Oregon State's Offense**
Misinformation seems to abound about the potency of Oregon State's offense. The Beavers were averaging 47.5 ppg in their four non-conference games. In the Pac 10, OSU has only scored 14.7 ppg. There's an explanation for this besides the tougher competition argument. Things began to go bad when starting left tackle, Brian Kilkenny, from Santa Rosa's Cardinal Newman HS, fractured his left leg in the September 21 blowout of Fresno State. He was trying to block the Bulldog's top player, Nick Burley. Then, the following week, his backup, Lee Davis, went down for the season with a knee injury. Lee Davis (6'4" 312) started 11 games at left tackle for Oregon State in 2001. Dennis Erickson was forced to make some tough decisions. He moved his starting left guard, Mike Kuykendall (6'6" 324), out into space @ left tackle. He then moved his backup center, David Lose, from Sacramento, into the starting left guard spot. Matt Brock, ex-Cal recruit, is the starting center as a soph. The right guard is Kanan Sanchez (6'3" 340) who started the last eight games of 2001 as a redshirt frosh. The right tackle is also a newbie sophomore, Doug Nienhuis(6'6" 302). This offensive line was doing fine until it lost its top two left tackles, necessitating a reshuffling of personnel. This is why the Beavers have given up 21 sacks in 7 games for an average of three per game.
However, the original LT, Kilkenny, has made a miraculous recovery and has been practicing this week. It will be 5 weeks this Saturday since he suffered the fracture so if he returns, he should be out of game shape. However, it would enable the Beaver OL to return to its original five guys at their natural five positions. This could make a huge difference ! Hopefully, he won't make it back this weekend so Cal can continue the onslaught on the Oregon State sophomore QB, Derek Anderson (6'6" 235). The jerry-rigged line has also limited the effectiveness of running back Steven Jackson(6'1" 227 4.45), still #2 in the Pac 10 at 109 yards a game.
To illustrate the "before & after" effects of this dislocation on the offense, take a gander at these numbers: in Oregon State's first four games-all wins against nonconference opponents-quarterback Derek Anderson completed 62.6% of his passes for an average of 300 ypg, with 15 touchdowns and one interception, while Steven Jackson averaged 134 yards rushing per game. This led to a #23 national ranking in the polls. In the past three games-all Pac 10 losses-Anderson completed 36 percent for 189 ypg with two TDs and five interceptions, while Jackson averaged 76 ypg.
Regardless, Cal has its hands full in Corvalis. Oregon State's offense is superior to Cal's offense in every statistical category except sacks given up. The question is which Beaver offense will show up this weekend. Even with the patchwork offensive line, OSU lost a home shootout to UCLA 43-35 on October 5th. Remember, Dennis Erickson's offenses are always predicated on the play of his quarterback !
**Defensive Line vs Offensive Line**
Bob Gregory, Cal's defensive coordinator, needs to keep the pressure packages coming at the inexperienced quarterback. Hopefully, the Bear's superior depth on its defensive line will take its toll in the fourth quarter against a thin, decimated offensive line of the Beavers. Cal's sackmaster Tully Banta-Cain(14.5 TFLs including 8 sacks), the weakside defensive end, will matchup most of the snaps against monster, Kuykendall. His backup, Tom Canada(6 sacks in 5 games), will also move inside to play tackle on obvious passing situations. Hopefully, speed will beat size most of the time. Lorenzo Alexander(3.5 TFLs) will start at weakside DT-Josh Beckham will miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury-and battle with Lose. Cal's nosetackle, Daniel Nwangwu(6'4" 290) , will have his hands full with returning starter, Sanchez(340#), especially thwarting the running attack spear-headed by power back, Steven Jackson (226#). Tom Sverchek, the Bear's backup NT, might split PT because he's bigger(6'3" 300)? Right tackle, Nienhuis, will attempt to handle Cal's strongside DE duo of Josh Gustaveson (2.5 sacks & 2 passes batted down) & Jamal Cherry (3.5 TFL's inclusive of 2.5 sacks). Cal's defensive front also averages over 8 TFLs per game that include 3+ sacks per game. The Bears DLs need to wrapup on their tackles of Mr Anderson when they have a meeting at the quarterback. He's even bigger than Carson Palmer.
**Linebackers vs Running Backs**
USC is the only conventional opponent (other than option teams) that ran the ball down Cal's throat. Hopefully, Steven Jackson, will be unsuccessful in this endeavor on Saturday. He averages 5.8 ypc this year and he averaged 5.4 ypc last season. The Bears will obviously need to gang tackle him and tackle well against this big back because Oregon State employs the "spread" offense with three WRs. This simply translates that the Cal defensive backs will be spread across the field. If a linebacker fails to secure the tackle, Steven Jackson will take it 80 yards for the touchdown like he did against UCLA on the second play of the game. Jackson can move for his size because nobody from the Bruin's secondary could close on him on that long scoring jaunt.
**Secondary vs Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends**
Event hough the Beavers utilize the spread offense with three wide receivers, the pressure will be off of Cal's secondary a bit because James Newson is their homerun threat. For four consecutive Pac 10 games, Cal has been playing teams with three bonafide star receivers (including tightends) on the field at the same time. This matchup makes for a more even competition even on paper. Stockton native, James Newson, almost topped 1000 yards receiving last season. In 2001, he caught 57 receptions for 968 yards & 5 TDs, averaging an impressive 17 ypc. This season, in 7 games, he's upped the pace with 38 grabs for 596 yards & 7 scores. Every opponent knows that he's the primary target of young Derek Anderson yet he's still producing big numbers despite frequent double teams. He's 6'1" 201 and fast. Cal should either put Nmamdi Asomugha or Jemeel Powell on the superstar. For now, assume Powell will cover Newson. This will free Asomugha to cover the #2 WR Kenny Farley (6'3" 225) who's averaging a phenominal 22.2 ypc on 16 grabs. The third WR is another big target, RS freshman, Jayson Boyd(6'3" 181), from Riverside. James Bethea (or Donnie McCleskey) will draw this assignment. The Beavers also have a fine TE, Tim Euhus (6'5" 247), who came into the spotlight last season with 27 catches. Bert Watts or a linebacker will have to deal with him. This is a bad matchup fo Cal. If the running threat of Jackson did not exist, perhaps McCleskey would play strong safety per usual. However, because of the spread, Cal will have to field three cornerbacks, leaving room for only one safety in the game. Watts made 15 tackles against USC when they were pounding the ball inside the tackles with the run.
Under Dennis Erickson's regime, probably only one weakness has been evident: the special teams. The Beavers actually have a new special teams coach this season and they are improved. However, Cal would seem to have the overall advantage. Oregon State is the Pac Ten's best & Cal is the worst in net punting yardage. The Beavers could dictate field position in this area as they have an 8.5 yards per punt advantage over the Bears. They also have had no punts blocked. Cal has had at least 3 blocked in Pac 10 play. Cal is #2(80%) in field goal accuracy as compared to the Beavers #9(55%) rank. Both teams have excellent coverage units. Oregon State is #1 & Cal #2 in kickoff coverage. The Bears have superior returns units than the Beavs. As a matter of fact, Cal still leads the league in kickoff returns thanks to LaShaun Ward.
These teams are close in offensive stats. Oregon State should win the game on paper due to its excellent defense as compared to Cal's "D". However, it's not a game of stats but a game of personnel matchups. In this area, Cal has found a team with similar talent to its own.
Anyone that has read my previous 8 game analyses will probably agree that Cal wins when it succeeds with this formula: (1) wins the turnover battle, (2) starts fast and leads at halftime, (3) converts the positive turnover margin into red zone proficiency (=points), and (4) wins the special teams competition.
This game should be really close and the outcome will probably "turn" on these factors. (1) Cal is tied with Virginia Tech for #1 in the nation in turnover margin at + 16 or +2 turnovers per game. Cal is 6-0-2 in the turnover competition with its eight opponents. The Bears lost the two times that they tied and the third loss was contributed to by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by Washington State. Oregon State is third in the Pac 10 with a +1 turnover margin per game which is a huge improvement over 2001 when minus 7 turnovers led to the Beaver's demise. In 2002, Cal has caused 25 turnovers (leads the Pac 10 in fumbles recovered (14)) as opposed to Oregon State's 23 turnovers created (second in interceptions (14)). Wow. The only difference seems to be that the Bears take better care of the ball than do the Beavers. Cal has lost turnovers on 9 occasions as opposed to Oregon State's 16... (2) Both teams start quickly in virtually every game so something's got to give? Cal has outscored 8 consecutive opponents at the intermission. (3) Cal is tops in the Pac 10 in red zone offense with a 96.8% success rate inside the opposition's 20 yard line while Oregon State is tops in red zone defense, allowing its opponents to score on only 65.2% of its chances. To make this even closer, Cal is third in red zone defense(69%) while Oregon State is fourth best in red zone offense (80% success rate). (4) Special teams-both schools are strong in almost every area but Cal is slightly better overall. [worry factor: Beavers blocked 3 punts in 2001].
In summary, the oddsmakers have OSU as a 5 point favorite. Home field advantage is roughly equivalent to 3 points. Oregon State remains the "thugs" of the Pac 10. They are the most penalized team by a significant margin and average 102 yards per game in penalties. The game may be determined by which team can run the football. Cal & Oregon State are #8 & #9 in the conference in ball control or "time of possession". My gut feeling is that Cal's senior-laden defense will create havoc and cause turnovers against the young OSU offense. GO BEARS !
FINAL SCORE: California 20, Oregon State 17
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