Cougs girding for Cal's resurgent Bears

<b>JASON GESSER</b> didn't take a snap and <b>Matt Kegel</b> took just a few, so No. 3 signal caller <b>Chris Hurd</b> was the big man on campus Tuesday as the Cougars prepped for their Pac-10 opener in Berkeley. But rest assured, says <b>Mike Price</b>, Gesser and Kegel will play at Cal.

Gesser is feeling the after effects of a dislocated rib and Kegel is hobbled with a twisted knee. While maybe not 100 percent, both will be ready to go on Saturday. But Price isn't taking any chances this week, so he's treating Hurd, a 6-2, 200-pound redhsirt freshman, as the No. 1 QB in practice.

Gesser and Kegel are old war horses, Price says. They can get by without practicing. Hurd, though, is still learning the ropes and needs to be ready to roll if Gesser and Kegel go down.

In the first meaningful action of his career, Hurd completed five of six passes for 44 yards against Montana State last week. The buzz about him since coming to Pullman a year ago is that he has a great arm, good wheels, tremendous poise and an insatiable thirst for studying film. He just needs time behind center.

Ironically, Hurd's father is former track coach at Cal. Hurd grew up in the Northern California burb of Antioch.

Both the Bears and Cougars are 3-1 this season. WSU is ranked No. 16 nationally and Cal just fell out of the Top 25 after losing a tight one to Air Force.

IN OTHER INJURY news, tight end Adam West's ankle sprain is worse than thought and he could be out for six weeks. With fellow TEs Jesse Taylor (hand/out for season) and Troy Bienemann (shoulder/questionable) already on the shelf, all eyes are on redshirt junior Mark Ahlberg and JC transfer Eddie Robinson.

Linebackers Donnine Jackson and Will Derting are also unlikely to play Saturday, and receiver Jerome Riley's hamstring is not doing well --- and it showed as he struggled in Tuesday's practice.

In better news, receivers Trandon Harvey and Curtis Nettles may play Saturday for the first time all season and running back Jonathan Smith looks good to go as well. Defensive tackle Jeremy Williams' broken thumb is healing nicely.

SIZING UP THE BEARS: Cal -- and senior QB Kyle Boller --- have found new life under first-head coach Jeff Tedford, most recently the offensive coordinator at Oregon. Like the Cougars, the Bears come into the game 3-1. They cruised to victories over Baylor, New Mexico State and Michigan, and then fell 23-21 last week to Air Force in a nail-biter that went down to the final seconds and a failed two-point conversion attempt..

Boller leads the attack but he gets big-time assistance from running back Joe Igber who is averaging 83.5 yards a game and nearly 5 yards per carry. His is fifth on Cal's all-time rushing list. The Golden Bears also sport three talented receivers who average more than 50 yards a game: Geoff McArthur, J. Makonnen and Lashaun Ward.

On defense, end Tully Banta-Cain is a sack-machine. LBs Bert Watts and John Klotsche are studs, but Klotsche has an ailing knee and is questionable for Saturday. Bears' CB Jemeel Powell is a Marcus Trufant clone, both in the secondary and as a punt returner.

SPEAKING OF TRUFANT, he leads the Pac-10 in punt return yardage and is No. 11 nationally. Moreover, the Tacoma senior has nine career interceptions and needs one more to move past Greg Burns for sole possession of eighth place on the WSU career list. Two more would tie him for sixth with Don Paul and Torey Hunter.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Cal's defensive coordinator is former Cougar defensive back Bob Gregory, the Pride of Gonzaga Prep, who played for Jim Walden in the mid-1980s.

One stat tells the tale of the Bears' sudden resurgence: A year ago they had the second-worst turnover margin in the nation (-17). Today that have the second-best in the nation (+11).

Bear senior kicker Mark Jensen set a school record with five field goals against Air Force last weel.

Despite completing just 13-of-37 pass attempts last week, Boller is having the most productive season of his career. Now connecting on 53.9 percent of his tosses, he has thrown for eight touchdowns with only two interceptions.

Because of Gesser's injury, oddsmakers have yet to establish a line for Saturday's game.

WSU is 14-5-1 against Cal since 1979, with wins in five of the last six meetings. A year ago the Cougars thrashed the Bears 51-20 behind Gesser's 432 passing yards and four TD tosses. Cal leads the overall series 36-24-5.

Ted Turner's TBS SuperStation announced this week that it would broadcast the October 5 WSU-USC game live to most of the nation. Game time has been moved to 4 pm PT to accommodate the cameras. The payday for WSU will be $240,000.


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