Cal has 12 days to prepare for what figures to be its toughest game of the season on Oct. 6 at Oregon, then has another Thursday night game seven days later at home against USC.
The biggest issue in preparation for both games will be the Golden Bears’ pass defense, which was poor in their 31-23 loss to Washington on Sept. 25, and will be tested severely by Oregon and USC.
Although the Bears did a good job against Washington’s running game in general and Chris Polk in particularly, Huskies’ QB Keith Price had a big game, completing 19 of 25 passes for 292 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Although Price has played well, he has not established himself as a passer like Oregon QB Darron Thomas and USC’s Matt Barkley have.
Much of Price’s success came after he was forced out of the pocket and made plays while on the move. That figures to be a major issue against Oregon, because Thomas relies heavily on buying time by moving around before throwing.
The Bears must try to duplicate the defensive effort they had against Oregon last season, when Cal came close to upsetting the Ducks before losing 15-13.
However, that game was in Berkeley, and Cal’s defense has been much better at home than on the road since Clancy Pendergast became defensive coordinator prior to last season. Somehow, the Golden Bears must find away to match that kind of defensive effort on the road, and that will be particularly difficult on Oregon’s fast surface and the Ducks’ tough crowd.
Cal handled the loud Washington crowd fairly well, but the crowd in Eugene is even louder, and the offense Oregon puts on the field is much better than the one Cal faced at Oregon.
Offensively, the Bears moved the ball fairly well against Washington, and QB Zach Maynard was fairly efficient with his passing. However, that was against a Washington defense that is poor against the pass, and Oregon figures to provide a much tougher test for Maynard, who still needs to improve his completion percentage.
The Bears also must figure a way to convert its scoring chances into touchdowns, as they have been forced to settle for field goals too often in the red zone. Cal even failed to get a touchdown in the closing minute against Washington after getting a first down at the Huskies’ 2-yard line, trailing by eight points.
–Cal will have what has become a typical bye-week practice schedule for college teams. The Golden Bears will not practice Monday, Friday or Saturday the week following the Washington game, and will practice for about two hours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. With the game against Oregon being a Thursday game (Oct. 6), the team will move its game-week practice schedule accordingly, with what usually takes place at a Tuesday practice occurring on Sunday, Oct. 2..
–Because Oregon’s offense offers so much variety and so many challenges, Cal will begin preparing for Oregon in Wednesday’s practice, more than a week before game day. Typically coaches use most of a bye week to work on fundamentals and give freshmen extra practice time, then begin preparation for a Thursday game on Friday or Saturday.
–Red zone offense will be the main focus on that side. The Bears scored only one touchdown on five trips into the red zone against Washington, and scored just three points on two possessions inside the 10. Cal used 190-pound Isi Sofele on two inside running plays inside the 2-yard line on the final possession in the final minute, and he netted no yards on the two attempts. It was somewhat surprising that 215-pound C.J. Anderson was not the tailback at that time, because he is usually the Bears’ red zone tailback and usually is able to get those tough inside yards. He scored a touchdown earlier in the game in which he simply overpowered a Washington defender by pushing underneath him for a one-yard score.
Cal had scored touchdowns on 12 of its previous 14 possessions in the red zone, so that had not been an issue previously.
BYE WEEK MISSION: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast must figure out two things: How to get his defense to play as well on the road as it does at home, and how to duplicate the performance his defense had against Oregon last season. Cal held the high-scoring Ducks to 15 points and 317 yards, both of which were season lows for the Ducks, who scored at least 37 points against every other regular-season opponent. But that was at home where the Cal defense has been exceptional. On the road, it has been mediocre at best. Containing the quarterback will be the focus, because Washington QB Keith Price did most of his damage after getting flushed out of the pocket, and Oregon QB Darron Thomas is capable of the same thing. It seems unlikely Pendergast will make any changes at cornerback, with Marc Anthony and Steve Williams, but it’s possible because he has said the Bears need to cover receivers better downfield.
LOOKING AHEAD: Cal’s next three games – against Oregon (Oct. 6), USC (Oct. 13) and Utah (Oct. 22) – represent the Bears’ toughest three-game stretch of the season. Cal will be a heavy underdog against Oregon, especially with the game being in Eugene, but the Bears have a shot in the two games after that at home. If Cal can win two of those three games, it will consider it a major success. However, losses in all three is very possible, which would leave the Bears in position for their second straight losing season and would increase the heat on Jeff Tedford, who had not had a losing season at Cal until last year.
QUOTE: “We just have to have better coverage down the field.” – Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, on the problems with Cal’s pass defense against Washington.
THE STATE OF CAL’S OFFENSE: Cal moved the ball pretty well against Washington on Sept. 24, but the Huskies’ defense is not very good, especially against the pass. QB Zach Maynard probably had his best day overall, primarily because he did not throw any interceptions, but that was mitigated by the fact that it was against Washington’s weak pass defense and the fact that he badly overthrew Keenan Allen on the final play of the game from the 2-yard line. He still needs to improve his completion percentage, which, at 52.2 percent, is poor by today’s standards. Isi Sofele has established himself as an adequate Pac-12 tailback, having rushed for more than 80 yards in every game and averaging 95.0 yards a game. Jeff Tedford would still like to get more out his running game, though, and you may see Maynard run the option more often to take advantage of his running ability. The Bears also need to improve their red-zone offense.
THE STATE OF CAL’S DEFENSE: The Golden Bears’ run defense was excellent against Washington, but its pass defense was poor Cal had two sacks against Washington, giving it 13 for the season, but too often Cal allowed Keith Price to move out of the pocket and complete a pass for a sizable gain. Generally speaking, Cal’s defense has been outstanding at home since Clancy Pendergast arrived as defensive coordinator prior to last season, and poor on the road, a disparity that is difficult to explain. Look for freshmen linebacker Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain to get increased playing time, as they have been productive when in the game. It’s possible Pendergast will make a change at the cornerback position, because he said after the Washington game that Cal has to have better coverage downfield.
–Sophomore WR Keenan Allen was named wide receiver performer of the week by the College Football Performance Awards after catching 10 passes for 197 yards against Washington.
— Freshman TB Brendan Bigelow played only on kickoff returns against Washington, because Jeff Tedford said he was not prepared for the tasks required of tailback in the game plan for Washington. By the time Cal faces Oregon on Oct. 6, Bigelow may be ready for some action from the line of scrimmage.
–WR Kaelin Clay missed the past two weeks of games and practices trying to resolve academic issues. He could return to practice during the bye week if those problems are solved.
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