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November 12, 2011
Beavers have won four straight
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BERKELEY -- There is no Jacquizz Rodgers. There is no Sean Canfield. But, Oregon State is still Oregon State. Mike Riley is still Mike Riley, and the Beavers are still 7-2 against Jeff Tedford, having won four straight times against California at home.
"I think that every year is a new year. I don't think that you can put too much stock in the past," Riley said. "We look at last year's games and try to use that in preparation for this game, but new personnel, both of these teams are at different places. Certainly, we are. It becomes a brand new game, really.
"I think that it's just one of those, it's just our old cliché here -- whoever plays the best that day -- we've played well against Cal, and we have a ton of respect for Jeff and that program, and we've had a longstanding rivalry. You always feel that way with all the teams in the league, but especially when staffs have been there for a while. I will say this: it always seems hard. They're always a good, well-coached team, and it's going to be no different this time."
AT&T Park may not be California Memorial Stadium, but, for the Bears' seniors, the ghosts of past failures are still as extant as ever.
"I'm looking forward to it," said senior Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks. "We haven't beaten them since I've been at Cal, so it'll be an exciting game."
The fact that this game could wind up being the game that makes the Bears bowl-eligible is not a small factor for the All-Pac-10 linebacker, who "most definitely" wants to get the sour taste of last year's 5-7 finish out of his mouth.
"That gives me a lot of juice," Kendricks said.
Oregon State (2-7, 2-4 in Pac-12) comes into this game with its fewest wins since 2006, when the Beavers came into a 41-13 loss in Corvallis with a 2-1 mark. However, this year's edition boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in redshirt freshman Sean Mannion, a big-armed, 6-foot-5, 218-pound aerial threat that has the Beavers ranked as the No. 5 passing offense in the Pac-12. Mannion brings a few things to the table that his predecessors -- Canfield and Ryan Katz -- did not.
"He's a taller guy. He has a real nice arm on him," Kendricks said. "I feel like he reads his receivers a lot and has better chemistry with his receivers. His timing is pretty on-point. That's what I've seen out of him. He doesn't roll out too much, but he's a pocket passer. The other two [Canfield and Katz] could roll out and do a little more on the run, but he's a taller guy, he can see over the line."
Mannion is fourth in the conference in passing yards per game with 271.9 -- the best average that Cal has faced aside from USC's Matt Barkley -- and completes 64.3 percent of his throws.
"He's played well," said Bears defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the brains behind the Pac-12's No. 2 overall defense. "He sees the field well, he manages the game well, he makes a lot of good reads in the passing game and goes to the right spots with the football, based on what I can see, and is very impressive for not having a lot of experience, this being his first year in the fire, so to speak."
While Jacquizz Rodgers is no longer donning the black and orange, his brother James Rodgers is back after redshirting last season due to injury, and is eighth in the conference in receptions per game with 5.0. James Rodgers has caught 35 balls for 394 yards in 2011, behind starting wide out Markus Wheaton. Wheaton is third in the Pac-12 -- behind Cal's Keenan Allen -- in receptions per game with 6.7, and has caught 60 balls for 772 yards -- the fourth-most in the conference.
"He's been solid," Pendergast said of James Rodgers. "He's coming off the injury and he's very good run-after-catch. He's a very physical runner once he gets the ball in his hands, so I'm very impressed with what he brings to their offense. He's a very explosive guy."
Mannion will face a Bears pass defense, which is tops in the league, allowing 194.3 yards per game through the air.
"I think it's a big test, and I think that those pass defense statics have a lot to do with pressure. Therein lies the crucial part: Can we protect him long enough to throw the ball? Then, can our receivers get open?" said Riley. "I think they have a very, very aggressive secondary and multiple coverage schemes, so we're going to have to be very, very smart and very physical. Both of them are going to come into play. We're going to have to protect, stay on the right guy and then give him time to throw. Our receivers are going to have to get open against multiple coverages."
With starting wide receiver Jordan Bishop questionable for the game, Mannion will have one less outside threat, putting even more pressure on his patchwork offensive line to give him time to throw, with starting tackle Grant Johnson doubtful and offensive guard Burke Ellis also dealing with aches and pains.
The Beavers' line, though, has been the least of their problems. One of the reasons Mannion has been so prodigious - throwing the ball 353 times (second-most in the conference) -- has been the utter lack of a running game. Without Jacquizz Rodgers running point, Oregon State has averaged just 94.6 yards per game on the ground -- second-worst in the Pac-12 ahead of Colorado's 94.4.
While James Rodgers has seen a great many of his 73 rushing yards come on the fly sweep that has been so deadly against the Bears in the past, the Beavers haven't hit that particular play nearly as much as in previous seasons.
"I think that a lot of it has to do with winning at the line of scrimmage," Riley said. "You would think that if we'd had good balance with our fly sweep, we'd be doing better inside, and that's our goal."
Because of the lack of a true outside threat in the run game, starting tailback Malcolm Agnew has had particular difficulty running between the tackles, and has gained just 416 yards on 83 attempts on the season.
"If you look at attacking a defense, you want to have all parts working -- the inside run, the outside run, play action pass and then your drop-back game -- you want all those things to be basically in an attack mode, hurting the defense, and we have not hit on all cylinders," Riley said. "We're missing that part of the game. We're going to work hard to try to get it back, and we picked a tough team to do it against."
The Bears rank fourth in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 130.2 yards per game on the ground and 3.7 yards per carry on the year. When asked how the inconsistent running game has affected young Mannion's development as a passer, Riley answered in no uncertain terms.
"A lot. Every bit of running helps a quarterback, and it actually keys success in a ballgame," Riley said. "If you've got all the parts going pretty well, then you're probably going to have a pretty good day, and so, when you run the ball, it really helps protection. What happens, the worst-case scenario we had was Arizona State, where we threw 66 times. Those defensive linemen didn't worry too much about the run, and you have to play that differently. If you're playing a team that's running the ball, then penetration can hurt you."
Part of Cal's success against the run has been due to a defensive line which has amassed 112 of the Bears' 606 tackles and 24 of the team's 71 tackles for loss. That line should terrorize Mannion as much as Oregon State's stable of tailbacks.
Defensive end Trevor Guyton is tied with fellow defensive end Ernest Owusu for 14th in the Pac-12 in sacks (3.5) and is tied with Kendricks for the ninth-most tackles for loss with 7.5.
"I think we can just make [Mannion] uncomfortable by doing our jobs and executing, and killing the plays that they plan on running on us. Maybe some frustration will settle in. Our line has to get to the quarterback to disrupt his passing," Kendricks said. "I think we just need to make our fits and do out jobs and execute to a T. Their line, they're not very big, but they have good speed and they're strong. They like to pull their guys a lot, so they've got good speed on them. We've just got to make our fits and do our jobs."
With the Bears owning the Pac-12's top passing defense and the No. 3 pass defense efficiency, holding opponents to a 117.8 rating, Mannion may have to depend overly much on a suspect running game. However, with the status of outside linebackers Chris McCain (concussion) and David Wilkerson (bruised knee) in doubt, other outside backers may have to step up and disrupt Mannion's rhythm.
One of the candidates there is freshman Cecil Whiteside, who has proven to be a revelation on passing downs in his first collegiate season as he's been used more and more as an every-down player over the past several weeks.
In six games of action, Whiteside has recorded 11 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one pass break-up and two forced fumbles. "If you're playing a team and all they're doing is passing the ball, penetration is your friend," Riley said. "There's a subtle key there, and so that's where balance is really, really important."
With the Beavers passing on 60.9 percent of plays this season, Whiteside figures to see a lot of opportunities to shine.
"We always have some success [passing]," Riley said. "I know, one year in particular, when Derek [Anderson] was here, and we had just lost Steven Jackson and Dwight Wright was a pretty good running back, but we were not a good run-blocking team, and we threw a lot more than we ran and I think that was Derek's senior year. That's just what we did, and I vowed that we never wanted to live that way again. We want to get back to being a really well-balanced football team, and we can work on that right now."
With Wilkerson and McCain -- who have a combined 43 stops, 10 tackles for loss and five sacks -- uncertain, Kendricks -- named an all-conference outside linebacker last season -- could continue to see snaps at his old position, as he did last week against Washington State.
"He could, if need be," said Pendergast. "In some of the packages, he does get an opportunity to rush on the perimeter, but it's not been a full focus on putting him out there.
"We've got guys that have played in there. We've got Dan Camporeale and Cecil Whiteside, Ryan Davis, so we've got guys that have worked in there and played in there this year that we feel good about."
Kendricks recorded 8.5 sacks, 15.0 tackles for loss and tied for the most fumble recoveries in the Pac-10 last season with three as an outside linebacker, while his 66 tackles were fourth on the team. This season, Kendricks has 65 total stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, two pass break-ups and one fumble recovery to his name on the inside. His fellow inside linebacker -- D.J. Holt -- is second on the team with 61 tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss, adding 1.5 sacks, one pass break-up and two QB hurries.
"The first thing that you always look at when you're protecting or running is the front," Riley said. "This is a very, very active, big, aggressive front with really good ability at linebacker. Playing the 3-4, we're seeing this for the third week in a row where the inside guys are kind of the anchor to what they're doing, and then, they kind of spread you out with the 3-4 look and the outside backers. They'll bring those guys a lot and become part of that rush group, but blocking the interior guys will be the key to the run."
Though there is no Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, Riley does feel that the Beavers do have a good future at tailback.
"I think that we do," he said. "I think that we've seen spurts from a number of guys, really, and I think that you take a guy like Jordan Jenkins, who's got another year left, and really had to play this year without getting ready for this year. He spent the whole year rehabbing his shoulder instead of lifting weights, and so he'll be that much bigger and stronger. Then, of course, the experience from Malcolm and Jovan [Stevenson] and Terron Ward is very, very valuable. They're coming into spring practice with a little bit of a veteran's attitude, and that will be a big help.
"We've faced the three top defenses in the league the last three weeks. Cal is now No. 2, so we're hitting some rough sledding here but that's not going to diminish our will to run the football."
That will has been a trademark of Riley's teams in the past, and one which always seems to give the Bears fits.
"It's been really, really frustrating, considering our 2007 season, when we were at the top of the rankings and they took that away from us," said senior Cal wide receiver Michael Calvin. "We just haven't been able to get back on track. It's been really frustrating, and we're looking to take that frustration out."
Emotions will be running high for Calvin, Kendricks, Holt, Davis, Guyton, Holt, and Owusu, all playing their last game at home, along with punter Bryan Anger, safety D.J. Campbell, safety Sean Cattouse, offensive guard Justin Cheadle, wide receiver Coleman Edmond, offensive guard Justin Gates, wide receiver Marvin Jones, quarterback Brock Mansion, tight end Anthony Miller, defensive back C.J. Moncrease, left tackle Mitchell Schwartz, place kicker Giorgio Tavecchio and fullbacks John Tyndall and Will Kapp.
"I think the motivation for all of us -- which is a good thing -- is revenge," Calvin said. "We've wanted these guys for four years. This is our last home game. I think it'll mean something to get them."