Pancakes and punishment: Cal, Oregon State to square off in Berkeley

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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On Saturday, the Bears will once again have the opportunity to tee off against one of the best teams in the Pac-12 as they welcome Oregon State to Berkeley. Coming into the game with a scorching 5-2 record (the opposite of Cal’s 2-5 record), the Beavers will look to improve their odds at the Pac-12 title game.

Meanwhile, the Bears will look to prove that they can hang with the big dogs of the conference.

Last year’s matchup between these two squads saw Oregon State take a 31-27 win from the Bears in Corvallis, Oregon, on the strength of Jermar Jefferson’s 196 yards rushing. This year, expect to see the same type of physicality from the Beavers. Their leading rusher, B.J. Baylor, is currently 10th in the nation in yards on the ground, with 830 yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games. Oregon State also has found success with some other names touching the ball: Running back Deshaun Fenwick has eclipsed the 300-yard mark, while Trey Lowe and quarterback Chance Nolan are both rapidly approaching the 200-yard mark on the season.

“Those guys run the ball exceptionally well,” said Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon about Baylor and Fenwick.

But, as every football fanatic and run game aficionado knows, behind every great run game is an offensive line dishing out pancakes and punishment. And the Beavers are no exception. “They’re a very physical bunch. They come off the ball, and they move the line of scrimmage,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “Run and pass game — they are very, very sound and physically gifted.”

Sirmon dubbed the Beavers “the best-coached offensive line” in the Pac-12 — high praise from a coach who has faced a very good running opponent in the No. 7 Oregon Ducks.

Simply put, Oregon State is going to run the ball all day long in Memorial Stadium come Saturday afternoon. Baylor’s 830 yards rushing are more than the Beavers’ top four receivers combined, who have just 826 yards among them. No Oregon State receiver has cracked 300 yards through the air coming into this game.

To average more than 35 points per game in the modern college football landscape while absolutely refusing to put the ball in the air is beyond impressive. The Beavers have taken a hard-line stance on who they are as a team — and they’ve decided they’re one that wants to deal out the hits on offense, not take them.

This could spell trouble for the Bears. Unfortunately, Cal has played teams with run games that were less than perfect up until this point, with two notable exceptions: TCU and Oregon. Both those teams ran the ball upward of 30 times and surpassed 200 yards on the ground.

Oregon State won’t make it easy on the Bears in any aspect come Saturday, as all three phases of its team have been making huge plays all season. Just last week, Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s nephew, Luke, blocked a punt for a touchdown in what ended up being the deciding factor in the Beavers’ 42-34 win over Utah.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State boasts two “tackling machines” in Avery Roberts and Omar Speights, who have totaled 78 and 48 tackles, respectively. Musgrave, who dubbed them as such, said the two are “steady, got great instincts, and nothing really surprises them.”

The Bears’ offense will have to navigate these two players, along with the rest of a defense that has already logged 10 interceptions this year. To do this, redshirt senior quarterback Chase Garbers will have to continue his two-game streak of keeping the ball out of the opposition’s hands and check in to the right calls in the run game.

“We’re just leaving no stone unturned in our run game,” Musgrave said. “We want to do whatever it takes to create air in the front for our runners.”

Regardless of what the outcome is Saturday, the game will likely be physical, painful and punishing. Both teams will look to run the ball down the other’s throat, but only one will come out on top.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.