It’s been a rough two weeks for the Cal football team.
Heading into consecutive road trips against ranked opponents, the Bears seem primed for back-to-back blowout losses, and the prospect of going 1-3 for the first third of the season seems imminent.
But as daunting as Saturday’s trip to No. 12 Ohio State looks, it might be a legitimate shot for the Bears to right the ship.
The Buckeyes have yet to actually earn their No. 12 ranking. They took care of business in an opening weekend blowout win over Miami Ohio, but the Buckeyes did nothing stellar in a 31-16 win over Central Florida last weekend. Time may show that this squad is a legitimate top-15 team, but Ohio State has yet to do anything to earn that title yet.
The Buckeyes have found their success thus far in 2012 by utilizing two fundamental facets of the game: they run the ball well, and they don’t allow their opponents to do the same.
So it might be that simple: if the Bears can slow down the Ohio State ground game and establish a steady rushing attack from Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson, the final score might not be as lopsided as the 17.5 point spread suggests.
Of the two, stopping the run might be the more far-fetched. Despite being thin and banged up at running back, Ohio State is averaging 275 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Braxton Miller has been the main reason of the success, averaging 151 yards per game on the ground.
But Cal’s front seven are the supposed strength of its defense — even if they haven’t played like it thus far. They have to be salivating at the prospect of redemption on national television against a traditional powerhouse like Ohio State.
And if that wasn’t a prime enough situation, the Buckeye offensive line — which brings back just two starters from 2011 — was ranked 118th in sacks allowed in 2012, giving up 3.54 sacks per game. At some point this season they’re going to be exposed as a weakness.
The Bears need to make Miller prove that he really is a dual-threat quarterback . The sophomore completed just 51 percent of his passes last year and has yet to prove he can win games with his arm. If he throws the ball instead of scrambling, it’s already a victory for Cal’s defense.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has made its name so far by riding its run defense, which has allowed just 51 yards a game to its opponents. But again, that keystone will again have to face the strength of the Cal offense — a backfield that put up 289 rushing yards last weekend.
But what probably sits most foreboding in the minds of Cal fans is the team’s most recent unsuccessful trips back East. In 2008, was embarrassed by a bad Maryland team in a 9 a.m. game in 2008. The tilt was marred by a horrendous start by Cal that proved to be too much to overcome.
Yet for the past three years, the Bears have practiced at 8 a.m. during the week, so a 9 a.m. kickoff might not be the same death sentence that it was four years ago. Apart from that, streaks proved breakable last year for the Buckeyes, who went 6-7 for their first losing season since 1999.
Cal has never been a team that does what it’s supposed to do. And while that usually means mindboggling collapses and let downs, Saturday could be a surprise of the more pleasant variety.
Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at [email protected]
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