Q&A with sports editor of Orange Media Network, Brady Akins

Photo of Cal vs. UCLA football game
Meg Oliphant/KLC fotos/Courtesy
November 15, 2020; Pasadena, California, USA; Football: California Golden Bears at UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl; (Photo credit: Meg Oliphant/KLC fotos)

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Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Ethan Waters, sports editor of The Daily Californian, Jasper Kenzo Sundeen, football beat reporter of the Daily Cal, and Brady Akins, sports editor of Orange Media Network. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The 2010s were a rough decade for the Oregon State and Cal football programs. Sure, they both produced high-caliber NFL alumni such as Brandin Cooks and Jared Goff, respectively, but neither program garnered double-digit wins in the Pac-12 era, which began in 2011. In fact, the last time both schools had ten victories was in 2006 — the same year Marshawn Lynch took his now-memed golf cart ride around Memorial Stadium.

The narrative has not changed much at the outset of the new decade. Both the Bears and Beavers are winless entering the third week of Pac-12 play, though Cal has only fallen once. But this weekend presents an opportunity for both squads’ first triumph of the new decade, if only they can solve what’s plagued them thus far.

Ethan Waters: I guess we’ll start with something that’s been on a lot of Oregon State fans’ minds. Quarterback Tristan Gebbia was night and day in his first two starts. How do you figure he’ll adjust moving forward?

Brady Atkins: Well, night and day is one way to put it. The Washington game was obviously rough, but there was a lot going against him. It was rainy and windy, and I don’t think that helped on top of the fact that the Huskies have such a tough secondary. With that said, you could look at the box score for the Washington State game and say he had a great game, but I think the night was a bit rougher than the numbers suggested. And to be fair, it was only his second career start. If he can just start getting more aggressive in the passing game and moving the ball down the field, then things will likely start getting better. 

Jasper Sundeen: Who do you think will perform better this weekend: Chase Garbers or Tristan Gebbia?

BA: That’s a tough question. I want to say Gebbia. I want to say that he has it in him. He’s a hopeful dual-threat quarterback who hasn’t shown much with his feet yet, but he’s slow getting going. The hope in Week 3 against a (no offense) easier defense than the Washington secondary is that he will be able to bounce back. So I’m going to say Gebbia. 

JS: Outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. led the Pac-12 in sacks last season, but he hasn’t recorded a single sack through two games this season. Was last year an anomaly or is he going to step up again?

BA: People know Rashed Jr. is good, but the dude was a monster last year. He led the FBS in tackles for a loss. So it is a bit concerning to see a drop in production this season, but a lot of his struggles in the box thus far are schematic. He doesn’t get into the backfield as much with a three-man rush, and when he does, he’s usually at or around a guy’s ankles. So I think that’s a big reason why he’s struggling, but he’s also faced tough offensive lines. So overall, it’s unexpected to see, but it’s also a combination of factors.

EW: Running back Jermar Jefferson, who averages over 120 rushing yards a game this fall, is nearly good enough to be considered for Pac-12 Player of the Year even with a winless team. How do you expect he will fit into the offense moving forward this season?

BA: I expect the same thing throughout the year. It’s hard to get it twisted. Wazzu and Washington don’t pose the greatest run threat, but Oregon State is an offense that lives and dies by the run game. If they can’t get Jermar Jefferson going, they’re going to have trouble. It has to begin and end with Jermar Jefferson. He’s already historically one of the Beavers’ best running backs, and against a Cal run defense that really struggled at UCLA, he’s going to have the opportunity to shine. But it all starts and ends with Jefferson.

JS: I think this has been a problem across the country, but I’ve seen Coach Smith talk a little bit about tackling as an issue. Do you have any thoughts in that department?

BA: See, you want to say it’s a nationwide problem and I’d agree to a certain extent. Time off messed with fundamentals. But this has been a thing for Oregon State since the Stone Age. Don’t get me wrong — I think Smith is the right guy for Oregon State, but he’s offense-minded and I think a lot of defensive fundamentals might slip through the cracks. 

EW: What’s your prediction for the final score for this game and what do you think is going to happen on the way there?

BA: Before I tell you my prediction, I want it to be known that last week when I talked to the Daily UW sportswriters, my prediction ended up being the final score. So I have kind of a hot streak going on right now. And I don’t want to worry anyone, but I do have Oregon State winning and winning big. This is a matchup problem. Jermar Jefferson can completely take control and Gebbia won’t need to do much approaching a defense who struggled to stop the run last week. Oregon State’s two games of experience this season to Cal’s one are also huge just for their ability to adjust. So my final score prediction is 38-17 — kind of like a reverse Fetty Wap.