Cal’s improved defense for a tough test against Oregon St
After an unusually poor start to the season in defense for California, coach Justin Wilcox’s side have been in great shape in recent weeks.
Cal is coming off his best defensive performance in years when the Bears beat Colorado last week for their first conference victory of the season. But the task becomes much more difficult for the Golden Bears (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) when they host Oregon State (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday.
“It’s a different challenge,” Wilcox said. “Our guys understand that. It’s going to take a very good week of preparation because they are a talented team and they have a very good plan.
The Beavers are one of the Pac-12’s biggest surprises this season, entering the game leading the conference for scorers (35.1 points per game) and seventh nationally on rushing (245 yards per game) led by BJ Baylor and an experienced offensive line.
Baylor is sixth in the country with 118.6 yards per game and has passed the 100 yard mark in four in a row and five of the last six. Baylor ran for 152 yards in last week’s win over Utah.
“He’s a very talented guy,” Wilcox said. “Short downhill, a cut. He can do arm tackles and if he goes out into the field, he can go. He creates explosive play.”
Cal does a much better job of limiting those lately. After allowing 448.3 yards per game and 28.7 points per game in his first three games of the season, Cal’s defense has grown stronger lately.
The Bears held Oregon at 24 points and knocked out Colorado completely, registering six sacks and allowing just 104 yards of attack in the 26-3 win last week.
“They are playing hard, when it comes to quality football on both sides,” Beavers coach Jonathan Smith said. “They don’t try to compete in track and field and they don’t have to because they are so good at defending year after year.
A win would make the Beavers Bowl eligible for the first time since 2013, the Pac-12’s longest active drought. Oregon State had played in 11 bowl games in 15 seasons before entering this rut.
While the Beavers aspire to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1964 season, the focus is currently on Cal.
“We don’t neglect them in any way,” Smith said. “Every year is different… Yeah, we beat these guys last year, but we beat the Ducks last year as well, and I guarantee we won’t… towering over them.
Oregon State has traveled at least 200 yards in six straight games. This is the longest streak for the Beavers since the 1993 team made it in the last seven games.
But Oregon State did it this year with a lot more balance as the 1993 team failed to complete an assist in two of those seven games.
Bears safety Elijah Hicks was all over the field last week. He had six tackles, one sack, one interception and 2 1/2 tackles for a loss to lead the defense.
“Elijah has been playing good football for us for a long time,” Wilcox said. “It might be the best game he’s played since he’s been here. He was very productive. He did a great job. “
During his Monday press conference, Smith revealed that safety Alton Julian would likely miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Julian was injured in the first half of the Beavers’ win over Utah. Smith’s absence will likely have an impact on the planning for Saturday’s game, as defensive back Jaydon Grant will miss the first half due to targeting.
But the Beavers got to see the return of starting left guard Jake Levengood who was injured against Washington State and did not play against the Utes. Smith said he “hopes” that Levengood will play at Berkeley.
Cal Chase Garbers quarterback gave the running game a big boost last week, rushing for a career-high 96 yards. Garbers also became Cal’s career leader in rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,025, topping Joe Kapp’s 931 total.
Garbers also tied the school record for most career TD races by a QB with his ninth.