September 29, 2004

Cal at Oregon State

Cal is #10 in both the coaches' and the AP poll; Oregon State received no votes in either. Cal is #17 in the Sagarin ratings (83.11), and Oregon State is #27 (80.58). With the 3.41 home advantage, that makes Oregon State a one-point favorite over the Bears by Sagarin standards. The oddsmakers disagree, though, making Cal a 7-point favorite.

Oregon State has won the last five games in this series, including last year's 35-21 walk-over in which the Bears had just 52 yards passing and Oregon State racked up 269 yards rushing. In addition, OSU is the only team to beat Cal in both of Tedford's first two years.

OSU is used to difficult competition, as their 1-3 record comes against three ranked opponents, including the near-miss on the road against LSU. Their one win was over New Mexico, and their losses were LSU (22-21, OT), Boise St (53-34), and Arizona State (27-14).

Oregon State has only allowed 7 points in the first quarter and 37 in the first half in four games. They held both LSU and UNM scoreless in the first half, but Boise State exploded for 20 in the second quarter of that game. On the flip side, OSU has scored 27 points in the first quarter and 44 in the first half.

QB Derek Anderson, who torched Cal for two rushing and one passing TD last year, is poised to become just the 8th player in Pac-10 history with 9,000 yards passing. In the first four games, he has 1,300 yards on 101 completions (192 attempts) with 10 TDs and 7 INTs. The Beavers lead the Pac-10 in passing offense with 325 yards per game. But because of the low completion and high interception-to-TD ratio, they are just 9th in the conference in pass efficiency.

The bigger story may be on the ground, however: The Beavers have just 2 rushing TDs and are currently worst in the conference with just 61.8 yards per game rushing. In addition, they've lost seven fumbles and have a remarkable -2.00 turnover margin, AVERAGE. (That's -8 overall in four games.) OSU also has given up 2.5 sacks a game and over 80 yards in penalties each game.

From a personnel standpoint, OSU is OK, returning 5 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters from last year's 8-5 team that won the Las Vegas Bowl over New Mexico. On offense, the other returning players they have are experienced, with several years of backup action. Their stars are Anderson and SE Mike Haas, and they have a solid offensive line returning with the center, RG, and RT all experienced veterans. The big loss was TB Steven Jackson, and it shows in their rushing totals. On defense, their defensive line is sort of experienced with two starters returning, but three of the four positions having only one year of experience. The rest of the defense is solid, though, and with the exception of the SS, they return all their defensive backs. (That's the story this week--Cal had only 52 yards passing last year, and it's largely the same passing offense and defense against each other again.)

Statistically, Cal should demolish OSU. But we are in the odd position of justifying gaudy statistics against weak competition, something I usually accuse opponents of. Oregon State is the team with the difficult competition (and the record and statistics to prove it), and Cal is the cream puff killer.

But let's take a quick look at the stats anyway, keeping in mind the fudge factor for the strength of the competition:

Cal has averaged 48.5 points per game scoring and given up only 14 ppg. They've done it by averaging nearly 600 yards of offense, including 339 yards per game rushing. JJ Arrington is averaging over 11 yards per carry. In two games, Aaron Rodgers has three TD passes and no interceptions, with a gaudy 73.8% completion rate. Cal gains, on average, 8.0 yards per rushing attempt. Oregon State gives up, on average, 3.7 yards per rush (not bad, but a little high). In two games, Cal has scored 14 TDs; in four games, Oregon State has scored 12.

Cal and OSU have the top two passing defenses in the conference, at 132 and 155 yards per game respectively. OSU is pretty good here, allowing only 7 TDs in four games and picking up 4 interceptions. The Bears have given up two passing TDs and claimed one INT. The Beavers are holding opponents to just 40% passing completion and 4.1 yards per completion, both very good statistics. The way the Bears are running the ball, though, this might not be important.

Cal has 52 first downs in 2 games (26 per game), 32 of which were running. Oregon State has 77 first downs in 4 games (19.25 per game), only 14 of which were on the ground. Clearly, this is a tale of two different teams: the Beavers are strong in passing and weak on running, and Cal is strong in running (and also pretty strong in passing).

One final statistic: Cal is 100% in the red zone. Cal has scored on all 8 of their red zone chances. Turns out that these were all rushing TDs. Not a single field goal or passing TD. OSU, however, has scored on just 9 of 13 opportunities in the red zone. 8 of those 9 were TDs (7 of them through the air), with three turnovers and 1-of-2 on field goals.

Cal is 100% in the red zone on defense, too, allowing four touchdowns in four opportunities. OSU has done better, allowing 9 TDs in 17 opportunities (plus 5 field goals).

All in all, this should be a very interesting game. I think Oregon State is hard to judge at this point. They got steamrolled by Boise State but nearly beat LSU in their opener. They have a good defense, the first time Cal's seen that this year. But I think Cal's offense is stronger than their defense. To wit: The OSU D line averages 259 pounds, much smaller than Cal's 312 pounds per man. With Cal's three weeks of rest, the offensive line is finally healthy (as Makonnen may also be), and rested. The Bears under Tedford are known for extraordinary fitness and could probably play a 90 minute game where most teams could play 60. OSU's corners are tall and athletic, which is one reason they're so good. Lyman will not have any height advantage this week, so that will limit Cal's passing offense somewhat. I expect, though, that Tedford will be completely focused on this game because he apparently took last year's loss personally. (Also, remember that OSU is the only team that's beaten him twice since coming to Cal.)

This will be an entertaining game. I expect the Bears to have a great rushing day again, and to style the passing attack to open up the run. On defense, the Bears have to contain the run and get some pressure on Anderson if possible, try to knock the ball loose. I think turnovers will be a factor in this game, and the Bears must hold on to the ball. If they take care of the ball and play a reasonably solid defensive game, they should win in the end. The Beavers will be close at halftime, but I expect the Bears to out-fitness them in the second half and pull away for a final score of 35-24.

Go Bears!

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