It has been an excruciatingly long season for the Bears.
After opening the season with an optimistic three wins and one loss, everything the Bears have built in the offseason has derailed. The Bears have suffered five straight losses, all within Pac-12 play, resulting in the opposite of what they would’ve wanted — a losing record in conference play.
Cal rests at 3-6, and the story has now been flipped completely on its side, especially if the blue and gold still want to see postseason football.
The Bears lost a close one last Saturday night, falling to the then-No. 9 USC Trojans 35-41. Fans saw just a bit of everything in the game, from an explosive offense to Cal’s first onside kick attempt of the year. Although the season has not been ideal, Cal showed that it still has fight left. A near upset against the second-best school in the conference is in every sense a moral victory for the Bears, especially after a rough October.
Quarterback Jack Plummer showed more signs of elite quarterback play in Los Angeles. The fifth-year transfer amassed 406 total passing yards alongside three touchdown passes. This was the most passing yards in a game by a Cal quarterback since 2016, and Plummer’s best performance in the blue and gold thus far.
Plummer’s monster game was backed again by his star cast of receivers and running backs, who helped boost his play. The only falter from this offense came with a late interception in the second quarter, leading to another Trojan touchdown. In a game that ultimately came down to six points, all fans can do is wonder what would have happened if Plummer didn’t make that costly mistake.
After their late night thriller in Los Angeles, the Bears have yet to win on the road, with a final chance to do so Saturday night when they travel to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers.
The Beavers are coming off a tough loss last Friday against the Washington Huskies, falling just a field goal short at 21-24.
Oregon State was ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll and 23rd in the College Football Playoff rankings before its loss to the Huskies. It was the school’s first appearance in the AP poll since 2013 and the first time ever it appeared in the Playoff rankings since the system was implemented in 2014.
The Beavers are now, once again unranked, but they do sit at a comfortable 6-3 overall. They also stand at 3-3 in conference play and are bowl-eligible for just the second time under fifth-year head coach Jonathan Smith.
Although it sits at sixth place in the Pac-12 standings, Oregon State has created a successful football program this season. Its offense has produced a steady 31.3 points per game. While that number has been inflated by blowout wins against Montana State and Colorado, it has proved to be capable of keeping close games under control.
The offense has been tasked with the challenge of a quarterback change midway through the campaign after redshirt junior Chance Nolan suffered an injury during the Oct. 1 meeting with Utah. Redshirt freshman Ben Gulbranson has been able to continue leading the Beavers through the second half of the season. Since taking the helm of the offense, Gulbranson has posted 905 yards through the air alongside five touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Adding to Gulbranson’s elite control of the Beaver offense, the offensive line has allowed only nine total sacks through nine games, with four of those coming from Stanford.
The challenge for the Bears this week is seemingly apparent — get to the quarterback. Cal has 13 total sacks on the year, eighth-most in the conference and one up on Oregon State’s total.
It is firmly a must-win situation Saturday night for the Bears. Win, and they will continue fighting for bowl eligibility. Lose, and their season is mathematically over and they will be forced to do nothing but to look ahead to the 2023 season.