Bears descend upon Horseshoe for first away tilt

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Cal coach Jeff Tedford and No. 12 Ohio State coach Urban Meyer maintain a cordial relationship in the offseason. But this past February a taboo elephant came along for a golf outing.

“This year there wasn’t a lot of talk about football, as you can imagine,” Tedford said.

When Meyer’s Buckeye squad takes on Cal on Saturday at 9 a.m. in Columbus, the Bears may not have a shot  — even if Tedford was given unrestricted access to Meyer’s entire playbook.

This game serves as a fight for Cal’s legitimacy. Teams like UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon State — all considered below the bears’ level before the season started — have dispatched ranked opponents and ascended the ranks of the Pac-12. Cal, meanwhile, has proven nothing in a loss to a WAC school and a lackluster performance against an FCS school.

If the Bears hang with the Buckeyes or even squeeze out an upset victory, Tedford’s pressure chamber receives much-needed relief.

A loss, however, may be the first push in a domino chain, in which the final domino is Tedford’s head.

A 17-point favorite heading into Saturday’s contest, Ohio State’s offensive attack is led by dual-threat Braxton Miller.

Cal fans may remember the season opener two weeks ago, in which a similarly threatening quarterback — Cody Fajardo of Nevada — shredded the Bears’ defense apart with his triple-option attack and ability to break out big runs to the outside.

Miller is like Fajardo with a jetpack and a stronger arm to boot. Ohio State’s quarterback averages over 150 yards a game on the ground and has shed the preseason label as an inaccurate passer by completing 66.7 percent of his passes on the year.

The Cal secondary needs to learn some serious discipline if they expect to halt the Miller train.

A litany of injuries present further problems for the Bears. Starting right guard Dominic Galas is already sitting out with a torn pectoral muscle; starting right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin is on a week-to-week recovery schedule after injuring his MCL. Galas and Summers-Gavin were — and still are — Cal’s strongest offensive linemen. Their absence against a Buckeye line that is considered among the best in the country could be catastrophic. Tight end Richard Rodgers and outside linebacker Chris McCain are also banged up and listed as probable.

Ohio State defensive end John Simon resides on the Hendricks Award watch list, an accolade for the best defensive lineman in the country. Simon will provide a pass-rush on the end and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins will plug up the Bears’ running game.

This will be the most disruptive pass rush Cal quarterback Zach Maynard has seen thus far this season, which will make his suspect decision-making even more erratic. Maynard has overthrown simple screen passes to Sofele and struggled to get rid of the ball when sitting in the pocket.

Cal’s only chance at an upset may lie in its passing attack. The trio of Keenan Allen, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper will pose problems for a secondary that has allowed a 60 percent completion rate to the quarterbacks of Miami of Ohio and University of Central Florida. The secondary is the weakest part of the Buckeye defense, and the Bears passing attack is its strength.

The Bears defense has proved it struggles mightily with the running option attack. If Miller establishes the running game early, the passing attack will break wide open, and Cal will be helpless against the whims of the Buckeyes offense.

Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]