CAL (1-1) VS. NO. 4 OHIO STATE (2-0)
Radio: 810 AM
Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff has been wowing fans with its passing numbers in Sonny Dykes' spread offense, but if the Bears' defense does not improve significantly in their Sept. 14 home game against No. 4 Ohio State, Cal will get blown out.
It won't matter whether Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller plays if the Bears' defense is as generous as it was in the 37-30 victory over Portland State, an FCS school. Cal yielded 553 yards to the Vikings, who averaged 6.3 yards per rushing attempt.
That's not a good omen against an Ohio State team that rolled up 445 yards of total offense and averaged 6.6 yards per rush in a 42-7 victory over San Diego State.
The Buckeyes did most of that without Miller, who missed most of the game with a knee injury. Miller will probably play against the Bears, but even if he doesn't, his backup, Kenny Guiton, will provide plenty of problems.
Guiton rushed for 83 yards on nine carries against the Aztecs and completed 19 of 28 passes.
The absence of several defensive starters against Portland State accounted for some of the Bears' defensive problems. Many of those injured starters -- including defensive ends Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlet, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil and linebacker Nick Forbes -- may be sidelined for the Ohio State game as well.
The Bears and defensive coordinator Andy Buh face a major challenge against an Ohio State team that owns the nation's longest active winning streak at 14 in a row.
The one encouraging factor is that Cal nearly upset the Buckeyes last season at Columbus. The game was tied 28-28 with 4:25 left when then-coach Jeff Tedford opted to attempt a field goal rather than go for a first down on a fourth-and-one play from the Ohio State 25-yard line. Vincenzo D'Amato missed a 42-yard field goal, and three plays later Miller threw a 72-yard touchdown in the Buckeyes' 35-28 victory.
Cal tailback Brendan Bigelow had a breakout game with touchdown runs of 81 and 69 yards against the Buckeyes, and the Bears will need a similar performance from Bigelow this time to stay in the game.
Bigelow has been OK, but not brilliant, so far this season, rushing for 136 yards and a 4.1 average per carry through two games. Cal was hoping for more from him and the running game in general.
This is the second of three games Cal plays against ranked teams in its first four games of the season. The defensive challenge will become even greater in its next game, a Sept. 28 contest against No. 2 Oregon.
CAL PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Jared Goff, a true freshman, leads the nation in total offense (458.0 yards per game), passing yardage (467.5) and passing attempts (115). Through two games he already has more passing yardage (935) than Joe Kapp had in Cal's entire 1958 season, including the Rose Bowl. Cal has not been to the Rose Bowl since. Goff had thrown three interceptions, but two of them were tipped.
--WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs - The two sophomores combined for 36 receptions and 475 receiving yards in two games. Treggs has 21 catches and averages 12.7 yards per catch, and Harper has 15 receptions and a 13.9 average. They will need to have big games against an Ohio State defense that is better against the run than the pass.
--TB Brendan Bigelow - Bigelow had an outstanding game against Ohio State last season, when he rushed for 160 yards on just four carries, including touchdown runs of 81 and 69 yards. The Buckeyes no doubt remember that, too, and will be prepared to stop him. With his speed and shiftiness, Bigelow seems perfectly suited to Sonny Dykes' spread offense, which creates space for running backs. However, after running for 51 yards on Cal's first possession of the season, Bigelow has gained just 85 yards since.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal is 1-6 against Ohio State, with the Buckeyes winning last season 35-28 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have beaten Cal six times in a row, with the Bears' only victory in the series coming in the Rose Bowl following the 1919 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not going to be able to come out flat against Ohio State. If we do, they'll run us off the field." - Cal coach Sonny Dykes, to the Oakland Tribune, after the Bears' lackluster performance against Portland State.
ASSESSING CAL'S RUNNING GAME: Cal is averaging just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. Part of that is because Cal has yielded nine sacks, but the Bears still have been far less effective on the ground than anticipated. Brendan Bigelow has gained 136 yards in two games and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. The Bears were hoping for more than that. Freshman TB Kahlfani Muhammad has shown he could be a big-play back with his speed. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
ASSESSING CAL'S PASSING GAME: Cal freshman QB Jared Goff and sophomore WRs Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper were impressive in the first two games in Sonny Dykes' spread offense. Goff leads the country in total offense, and Treggs is tied for second nationally in receptions (21) and sixth in receiving yardage (266). He has yet to have a touchdown catch, though. The Bears have yielded nine sacks, and that's too many, even with the high number of passes Cal attempts.
ASSESSING CAL'S RUN DEFENSE: The Bears have been poor against the run, and the fact that five players projected as defensive starters have already missed games may have something to do with it. A number of defensive starters will sidelined for the Ohio State game, too. Cal ranks 108th of 123 FBS teams in run defense and has yielded 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. Portland State averaged 6.3 yards per run against the Bears. Ohio State's strong rushing offense, which features dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller and RB Jordan Hall, will provide a major challenge. The Buckeyes average 7.2 yards per rushing attempt, including 6.9 by Hall.
ASSESSING CAL'S PASS DEFENSE: The season-ending Achilles injury to S Avery Sebastian in the opener has further hurt a pass defense that has been decent, but not great. The defensive backs are talented, but Cal has been unable to mount a significant pass rush. The Bears have three sacks in two games. Cal has more interceptions (three) than touchdown passes allowed (two), but it has given up more than 300 yards per game over its first two contests.
ASSESSING THE CAL SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Vincenzo D'Amato has made six of seven field-goal tries, although he missed his only attempt of more than 40 yards -- a 46-yarder against Portland State. Six of his 15 kickoffs have been touchbacks. Cole Leininger has been adequate as a punter, averaging 41.9 yards per boot with four of his 10 punts resulting in fair catches and three inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Neither punt-returner Bryce Treggs nor kick-returner Kahlfani Muhammad has done anything spectacular, but Muhammad has shown the potential to produce a big play.
--DE Chris McCain is questionable with a head injury.
--WR Bryce Treggs dislocated his right pinkie finger during practice but is expected to play against Ohio State.
--SS Avery Sebastian is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
--DE Brennan Scarlett is doubtful for the Ohio State game with a hand injury.
--MLB Nick Forbes is likely to miss his third consecutive game with a back injury.
--OLB Michael Barton is questionable with a knee injury.
--DT Mustafa Jalil is doubtful with a knee injury.
-- S Damariay Drew is questionable with a head injury.
--TB Daniel Lasco has been bothered by a hamstring injury but probably will play against Ohio State.