GAMEDAY: Oregon State vs. Cal

THE BEAVERS ARE a three-point favorite over Cal according to Las Vegas -- pretty much exactly the point value of the home field advantage given to teams. So what's going to be the tipping point for two teams fervently looking to right the ship and snap their respective losing streaks?

7:30 p.m. Saturday
Oregon State (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) plays host to California (4-4, 2-4 Pac-12)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: KPOJ AM 620, KEX AM 1190, KKNX AM 840

The media has been banging the drum all week - lose this one to Cal, which would be OSU's third loss in a row, and it will be very hard to reach six wins and bowl eligibility.

I don't agree with that but the remaining schedule after this week of WSU, ASU, UW and Oregon isn't all that friendly either. (It's also worth noting the only road game for the Beavs of those four is at Washington.

But staying in the present, Cal is also desperate for a win. They're 4-4 and have lost three in a row. Much of the capital gained over their first five games has been spent. Oregon State will get their best shot.

But OSU can make things easier on themselves if they open with a strong first quarter. Forge a lead and Cal will likely sag just enough - that's what a lead and a three-game losing streak often does. It makes you lose your fine edge.

Sean Mannion is going to set the all-time Pac-12 career passing yardage mark in this game, he needs only 194 yards to pass Matt Barkley and Cal is dead last in the conference in pass defense.

But OSU needs to help themselves by running the ball effectively and not become over-reliant on the young wide receiver corps of Victor Bolden, Jordan Villamin and Hunter Jarmon. Cal will go video game on offense if you let them.

Storm Woods is likely to return but Terron Ward had a pair of TD runs last year against Cal in the 49-17 win. He didn't get many touches, just nine carries, but I like the idea of the Beavs riding Ward this year because he's capable of getting lost and exploiting the lanes Cal has allowed this season.

Long, balanced drives that end up in the end zone will also help keep Cal's offense off the field and from getting into rhythm. It all looks like the perfect job for Ward from this chair.

That said, if Oregon State's game plan is instead to go after the Cal secondary, and it well might be, Mannion could come close to doubling his touchdown passes for this season if everything goes to plan. No, really. He could. Mannion has just seven TD passes in seven games. I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see him toss five against a struggling Cal D.

The Beaver D was embarrassed against Stanford last week. They're likely going to be looking to hit someone - hard. The problem with that is if they don't take the right angles, Cal can turn a short gain into a chain mover or a TD. Cal averages 41.5 points per game.

The best way to bring them back down to earth is to get heat on QB Jared Goff. Cal is allowing an average of 2.25 sacks per game.

Goff is more mobile than Mannion but like the OSU signal caller, Goff looks like a completely different quarterback when pressured. OSU needs to get there, and they need to send blitzers to do it. Oregon State cannot be afraid to leave corners Steven Nelson and Larry Scott, and their other defensive backs, out on the proverbial island.

Back to Mannion ... When he has a pocket around him, he's as good as anybody in the game. When he gets pressured, he often morphs into a below average quarterback.

If his struggling, injury-laden offensive line can't handle the heat, and/or if Cal throws a blitzing kitchen sink at him (especially on third-down and long), Mannion must not keep moving side-to-side but rather, step up and let it go.

The take down in the Bay Area is thank god, here comes the offensively-challenged Beavers.

Even Cal coach Sonny Dykes had this to say; "From a matchup standpoint it's probably a little better for us than some of the teams we've been playing."

Oregon State needs to throw a few more curveballs, as Mike Riley is fond of saying, than they have been doing in recent games. Surprise Cal enough times and this game will be just the right tonic for the Beavs.

Before the game and also sometime during a TV timeout, the 1964 Oregon State Rose Bowl teams will be honored as part of homecoming at OSU. It's the 50-year reunion for the last Beavers team to play in the Rose Bowl.

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