Two weeks ago, the outlook for this matchup felt very different. Oregon State was coming off an out-of-the-blue departure from respected coach Gary Andersen, and Cal football had just vanquished No. 8 Washington State at home with a defensive performance for the ages. Now, the Bears are coming off two painful Pac-12 losses in which they gave up a combined 89 points; and while the Beavers are still winless in Pac-12 play, the total difference in their past two losses is a miniscule 4 points. Cal has seen how a coaching change can make an immediate impact, and although Andersen’s departure looked to be an initial disaster, interim coach Cory Hall has Oregon State buzzing as it heads to California Memorial Stadium this Saturday.
Perhaps the only aspect of the program that Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has yet to impact thus far is the Bears’ penchant for poor play in conference road games. It’s hard to know exactly how much stock to put into Cal’s 44-28 loss in Colorado last week, but there are almost no positive takeaways from the game.
The secondary, which had been a strength in Cal’s shining moments, had an absolutely dismal first half, and the front seven seemed to tire into the second half. Additionally, the offensive line looks more and more like the banged-up unit it is, and the second-half revival characteristic of this season simply never came.
“At this point in the year, ‘fresh’ is a relative term, just like ‘health’ is a relative term,” Wilcox said.
It’s a troubling pattern, as the Bears are set to match up with a team playing its best football of the season. Oregon State’s loss to Colorado took a Buffalo 82-yard drive with the clock winding down and a highlight touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining to knock off the Beavers the week before. Oregon State was able to exploit Colorado’s porous run defense in a way Cal couldn’t, racking up 284 yards on 6.1 yards per carry.
Last week, Oregon State’s game against Stanford was even more tense, as the Cardinal only took the lead with 20 seconds left in its 15-14 win. No one came away with a pretty stat line in that one, but it’s impressive to see a supposedly bottom-feeder team trade defensive blows with the Cardinal — who play that style better than anyone — and almost come away on top.
Beavers quarterback Darell Garretson was forced into action because of injury and, although his numbers are ugly, he’s clearly done a decent job of keeping his team in games. Running back Ryan Nall is getting more and more comfortable as a feature back, and he has 47 touches over the past two weeks to show for it.
“(Nall) is one of the top players in this conference,” said Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. “They’re finding ways to get him the ball, whether it’s hand it to him, throw it to him, get him on a wheel route. … They’re doing a really nice job with him.”
Cal needs to win two of its last three games to be bowl eligible, and with Stanford and UCLA both coming up on the road, this upcoming matchup was supposed to be the ‘gimme.’ Now it looks like the Bears will be scratching and clawing for every win.