Mighty Cal visits

Fifth-ranked California fell one spot in this week's polls off their 28-27 squeaker over <!--Default NodeId For Oregon is 553,2004--><A HREF=http://oregon.Scout.com>Oregon</A>, and so figures to pick on the hapless Huskies this Saturday in a game most pundits figure will be over before the first Metro bus lines up to wheel a deflated, half-empty stadium home.

#5 California (5-1, 7-1) at Washington (0-6, 1-8)
Saturday, November 13 - 12:35 PM (PST) – No TV
Series All-time: Washington leads, 45-34-4
Last Meeting: November 15, 2003 - California 54, Washington 7
Line: California by 31

But for Bear backers, the most menacing foe facing their heroes isn't necessarily the 1-8 team pawing the North sidelines across from them –- it could be the coffers of a Washington athletic department in search of a bright, shiny-new top Dawg to erase the stench of what has been a two-year abattoir of doom, gloom, and upheaval on the Montlake cut.

Of course, conference decorum being what it is, nothing can be said publicly about the pending Husky vacancy when it comes to current head coaches. But it is no secret that the name Jeff Tedford is on a lot of Husky fans' minds when it comes to their Christmas list.

And it's not lost on new California AD Sandy Barbour, either. Hired on September 15, Barbour has been through a similar situation before. While the athletic director at Tulane in 1998, she endeavored to keep Tommy Bowden in New Orleans by matching Clemson's potential riches after he lead the Green Wave to a perfect 11-0 season. Bowden, of course, chose to depart.

Much has been made about Tedford's "no-shovel" clause, in which his buyout is cut in half and his PAC-10 employment band is lifted if work hasn't begun on renovations by December 15. And Barbour acknowledged on Monday that it's a near-certainty the date won't be met. "It's unrealistic to think we're going to be able to do anything about that clause," Barbour told the Contra Costa Times. "It would be disingenuous to go and put a shovel in the ground just to meet the terms of his contract.

But Barbour is ready to fight to keep Tedford in the Bay Area. "It's a fabulous problem to have," Barbour said in the interview. "I love having this problem -– I've been through it before. Bring it on."

In a little less than three seasons, Tedford has transformed a floundering program into a power. Chances are the Bears' 1-10 disaster of 2001 will turn to a 10-1 BCS slot in three seasons. There is even a slim possibility of a big-money rematch with USC -– precedence has been set (Miami/Florida State a year ago). To his credit, Tedford paid homage to Washington's plight. "They've really been snake-bitten with turnovers," the wundercoach said on Tuesday at his press conference. "They fly around, they play hard. These guys are good players. It will be emotional for them –- we're going to have to execute to be successful."

Clearly, California's nemesis this week will be focus, and Tedford is pounding hard on that theme. "We're not talking about anything except Washington this week," he says pointedly. "It's where our focus and preparation needs to be."

"And I fully trust that the leadership on this team will continue to do that."

So goes the speculation chain. Keith Gilbertson gets fired at Cal, replaced by Tom Holmoe, who resigns in the wake of a 1-10 season, eventually replaced by Jeff Tedford. Gilbertson returns to Washington, is elevated to head coach under bitter circumstances, and resigns in the wake of a probable 1-10 season.

And if Sandy Barbour and the Bear Backers have something to say about it, this time it won't be Jeff Tedford welding the final link.

2003 STATS:  37.6 points, 492.9 yards
             (1st PAC-10, 240.8 rush, 252.1 pass)
             25-30 in Red Zone offense (.833, 1st PAC-10)

RUSHING:     J.J. Arrington 184-1294-12 TD (7.0), long 89
             Marshawn Lynch 43-319-3 TD (7.4), long 43 
PASSING:     Aaron Rodgers 147-209-4 (.703), 1816 yards,
             18 TD
RECEIVING:   Geoff McArthur 40-597-6 TD (14.9), long 80
             Garrett Cross 20-257-2 TD (12.9), long 49
             Robert Jordan 16-180-1 TD (11.2), long 27

It's a veritable cave of Bear backs for coordinator George Cortez (who will make the trip after recovering from eye surgery) to choose from. Heisman hopeful J.J. Arrington is the nation's second-leading rusher, and has been over the 100-yard mark in all eight contests. The "A-Train" rubbed 185 yards in Washington's face last year. And there shouldn't be a drop-off next season either. Oakland's Marshawn Lynch is the PAC-10's most exciting true freshman, averaging 7.4 yards per carry and over 30 yards per kickoff return. Even junior Terrell Williams averages over eight yards in his 13 carries.

All junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers did at the L.A. Coliseum was complete his first 23 passes, tying a single-game NCAA record. If it weren't for the three incompletions he threw from first-and-goal on the game's last series (one dropped in the end zone), the Bears would be sitting BCS-title game poised. He is one of only four QBs with a percentage rate of over 70-percent, and with a rating of 167.9 is the nation's fifth-leading passer. A quick starter, thirteen of Rodgers' 18 scoring tosses have come in the first half.

Rodgers lost top receiver Chase Lyman (29.6 yards per catch) to a knee injury in the USC loss, but Geoff McArthur has stepped up with a huge senior season (40 catches, six touchdowns). McArthur toyed with Husky defenders last year in Berkeley, hauling in a 79-yard rainbow from Rodgers on the game's first play and ending the fiasco with 180 receiving yards. With fellow seniors Jonathan Makonnen (contusion) and Burl Toler (tendonitis) both hurting, true freshman Robert Jordan came through in his first-ever start at Arizona State with seven receptions for 116 yards. Senior tight end Garrett Cross (20 catches, two TDs) was held out of the Oregon game with a problematic hamstring, but is practicing this week.

The Bears lost both tackle starters from 2003, but junior center Marvin Philip returned in mid-season from serving a two-year Mormon mission and is developing into one of the league's best. Senior guard Jonathan Giesel is a three-year starter, and Aaron Merz is in his second. Junior Ryan O'Callaghan was moved from guard to tackle in the absence of other experience. California averages 312 pounds up front, and has given up a league second-best 16 sacks.

GAME OUTLOOK: Any way you look at it, last year's 729 total yards will be nearly impossible to top. But the Bears have the most potent weapons in the conference –- it will take every ounce of effort to keep these guys under 450 yards. In their eight 1st-possesions, California has scored seven touchdowns. And Cal does like to romp – nine of their last twelve wins have been by at least 24 points. Any way you slice it, it looks to be a long day for the guys in Purple.

2003 STATS:     14.1 points, 291.9 yards
                (2nd PAC-10, 97.8 rush, 194.1 pass)
                12-20 in Red Zone defense (.600, 1st PAC-10)
TACKLES/TFL:    Ryan Guitierrez 54/2.0
                Matt Giordano 47/1.5
                Wendell Hunter 44/5.0    

PASSES DEF/INT: Harrison Smith 10/1
                Tim Mixon 5/3
                Matt Giordano 5/1
SACKS:          Ryan Riddle 10.0
                Joe Mandingo 4.0
                Brandon Mebane 4.0

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory's unit ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense and 13th in total defense. They held Oregon to 57 second-half yards after giving up 300 in the first, and posted consecutive shutouts against the Arizona schools. To put it bluntly, it figures to have a field day lining up against the NCAA's most anemic offense.

Senior defensive end Ryan Riddle is headed for all-Conference honors, leading the PAC-10 in sacks-per-game with 8.5 in eight starts (just edging Washington's Manase Hopoi). Riddle has 13 tackles-for-loss on the season. The other three guys up front -– seniors Lorenzo Alexander and Tom Szerchek, and sophomore Brandon Mebane –- average 296 pounds and are able run-stuffers. Mebane has four sacks from the nose-tackle spot.

Senior linebacker Wendell Hunter has been on a roll lately, culminating in his defensive POW performance against Arizona. Hunter re-aggravated a lingering shoulder injury against Oregon, and could be limited. MLB Joe Maningo sacked Kellen Clemens twice in the second half, and can move outside should Hunter need to be rested. Maningo has seven TFL, and both he and senior Sid Slater have 61 stops between them.

The defensive backfield is loaded. Safety Ryan Gutierrez was last years' Defensive MVP at the Insight.com bowl, and leads the team with 52 tackles. Junior rover Donnie McCleskey received some pre-season All-American hype, yet plays behind senior Matt Giordano, who has five pass-breakups and two forced fumbles. Cornerback Harrison Smith is third in the PAC-10 with ten total passes defensed, and reserve corner Tim Mixon leads the team with three interceptions.

GAME OUTLOOK: Passing defense isn't a consideration -– Washington can't throw it against anyone anyhow. But it's worth noting that the Bears have 33 pass-breakups -- by far the best in the league. Of more immediate concern is rushing defense, where California ranks number two in the conference (and 13th in the country) giving up three yards per carry. If the Huskies can't find success here, they could be looking at another shutout.

PLACEKICKING:  Tom Schneider 5-11 FG (long 48), 38-39 XP
PUNTING:       David Lonie 27-41.1
               (long 61), .481 inside the 20
KICK RETURNS:  Terrell Williams 6-15.8 (long 28), 0 TD
               Marshawn Lynch 4-31.8 (long 69), 0 TD

PUNT RETURNS:  Tim Mixon 20-10.2 (long 43), 0 TD

RS-freshman place-kicker Tom Schneider might be considered the coldest Bear at the moment. His two fourth-quarter misses against the Ducks nearly spelled doom, but California's defense bailed him out. Schneider did hit a pair of long-distance FGs (48, 42) against Arizona State.

Australian David Lonie, a JuCo transfer from Iowa Falls, has become a weapon in his own right, putting six out of his last eight punts inside the opponent's 20. Lonie could handle both kicking duties if needs arise.

Marshawn Lynch has home-run ability ala Reggie Bush. And he doesn't have to run by you -– he will also knock you down. Lynch had a 69-yard kick return against Oregon State, and reserve corner Tim Mixon had a 43-yard punt return against Air Force.

The Bears have one blocked kick on the season, and have yet to allow one.

GAME OUTLOOK: What will separate these two units is the return game. California has one, and Washington doesn't. Evan Knudsen has nailed his last four three-pointers while Schneider has been struggling, so the Huskies hold ANY sort of advantage that is probably it. Washington is now two-for-two in faking punts - but like just about everything else they have zero points to show for it.


Unless something drastic happens, J.J. Arrington stands to become the first California Bear to win the PAC-10's rushing title since quarterback Joe Kapp (616 yards) did it in 1958 –- the very same year Cal last went to the Rose Bowl ... Washington has scored twice in a quarter only two times all season. Shelton Sampson's touchdown against Arizona ended a 155-minute TD scoring drought for the Huskies ... Win and they will come. California will finish with its third-straight winning season for the first time since 1952. And after drawing 65,000 for last week's win over Oregon, the Bears will eclipse their all-time home attendance record for a season next week when they host Stanford in The Big Game. In Tom Holmoe's final 1-10 season, Cal averaged just over 33,000 fans per home game ... Washington is the only school not have a PAC-10 Player-of-the Week all season ...
Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@comcast.net

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