Oregon State may be five games below .500 on the season, but even Cal safety Sean Cattouse admitted that this game still carries a bit more significance.
Cattouse was roaming the home sideline as a redshirt when Kevin Riley was tackled nine yards short of a number one ranking in 2007. As a sophomore, he saw Jahvid Best crash helmet-first to a season-ending concussion on the Memorial Stadium turf in 2009. And as a junior, Cattouse watched Riley writhe in agony on the Reser Stadium turf with a career-ending leg injury.
Because it’s not just that the Bears haven’t defeated Oregon State since 2006: It’s that each time, the Cal football team has seemed to lose something else.
“We haven’t beat Oregon State in a while, not since I have been here at least,” Cattouse said. “There is definitely a bit of redemption mixed in this game. Last year we didn’t execute too well, and we’ve lost some good players against them the last couple of years.
“I know for a lot of older guys and me especially that we definitely want to beat them. There is a lot of motivation, especially with bowl implications.”
The Beavers (2-7, 2-4 in the Pac-12) are down this year more than ever, but the Bears (5-4, 2-4) must win on Saturday if they want to guarantee bowl eligibility, something that would become increasingly more difficult with a fifth consecutive loss to the Corvallis Crew. The two teams face off at AT&T Park at 3:30 p.m. in Cal’s last home game of the season. Cattouse and 20 other seniors will be honored before kickoff for the annual senior day.
With road tilts against conference stalwarts Stanford and Arizona State after this Saturday, even head coach Jeff Tedford admitted that this game is a defining moment in an otherwise inconsistent season.
“We understand the good football team they are and they have been,” Tedford said. “If we win this week, then we’re bowl-eligible. We can’t act like that doesn’t exist. But Oregon State has gotten the best of us the last few years. This one is about us preparing and executing.”
After missing a bowl game last year for the first time in his nine seasons as head coach, Tedford knows that this game is essential to restoring some of the credibility that was lost last year.
The Beavers have spent the year breaking in redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion, who has steadily improved over the course of the season despite leading the conference in interceptions. The local boy from Pleasanton, Calif., has recorded three games of over 300 yards passing and turned in a sound, interception-free performance against Stanford last Saturday.
Without its usual potent running attack, Oregon State has made Mannion the focus of the offense, which has translated into an unusually high number of passing attempts. After displacing Ryan Katz as the starter at the beginning of the year, Mannion has had at least 40 attempts in four different games and even recorded an eye-popping 66 tries against Arizona State.
While Jacquizz Rodgers has since been drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, his brother James remains Mannion’s most consistent weapon now that he has overcome a rash of injuries that has plagued the senior’s time in Corvallis.
Rodgers’ explosiveness has been mitigated by the general stagnation of the Beavers’ offense, but he and wide receiver Markus Wheaton remain dangerous offensive weapons.
Running back Malcolm Agnew started the season strong with a 223-yard rushing performance against Sacramento State, but injuries and general ineffectiveness have more or less phased him out of the offense. Agnew carried the ball eight times for a paltry 15 yards against Stanford last weekend.
“(Mannion) has some good offensive weapons around him, and they definitely have speed,” Cattouse said. “They always have a good offensive scheme. We’ve got to play ball like we did last week and match the intensity that we had.”