Cal’s performance in its first two games suggest the Golden Bears (1-1) have little chance to win its Sept. 15 game against Ohio State – which is the Bears’ first road game and first game against a ranked opponent.
Quite simply, the Golden Bears have played poorly in both games – losing to a Nevada team that subsequently lost at home to South Florida and leading FSC team Southern Utah by just three points entering the fourth quarter before walking away with an unsatisfying 50-31 victory.
It’s safe to say the Golden Bears did not get the confidence boost they needed from that game.
Cal would have to reduce its penalties significantly and get the best game of the season – perhaps career – from quarterback Zach Maynard for Cal to be in contention in the fourth quarter in a stadium filled with more than 100,000 Ohio State fans.
Maynard has been OK in the Bears’ first two games, but he has not continued the improvement he showed late last season when it appeared he might turn into an elite quarterback. He needs to play the way he did in the final two regular-season games last season, against Stanford and Arizona State. If he does that, the Golden Bears can stay in the game, because the Buckeyes’ defense has been vulnerable against the pass, both last season and this year.
The Bears would also need to figure out how to contain a dual-threat quarterback, something they could not do against Nevada’s Cody Fajardo. And Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is a far more dangerous run-pass threat than Fajardo.
Miller has passed and run for 664 of Ohio State’s 949 yards this season, and with injuries to the Buckeyes’ running backs, Miller becomes an even bigger focus of the Buckeyes’ attack.
It comes down to two individuals – Maynard and Miller – and if Maynard is not outclassed by Miller, the Bears have a shot to at least stay close.
That’s because the Buckeyes have not been spectacular themselves despite the 2-0 record and comfortable victories over Miami-Ohio and Central Florida. Like the Bears, they have had issues with penalties and turnovers.
Ohio State was a 6-7 team last year, and Miller has yet to prove he can be a consistent passing threat against topflight defenses. Certainly, his skills fit perfectly with Urban Meyer’s spread option offense, and Ohio State figures to improve with Meyer as its coach, but the 2012 Buckeyes remain an uncertain commodity.
If the Bears played like they did in the first two games, it could get ugly, and that might produce a disillusioned, fragile squad heading into the Sept. 22 road game against USC.
—Three Cal starters — OT Matt Summers-Gavin (knee), OLB Chris McCain (shoulder) and TE Richard Rodgers (ankle) — are questionable for the Ohio State game. The most critical of the three is probably McCain, who would be a vital part of the defensive scheme to prevent Ohio State QB Braxton Miller from getting to the edge. Miller has rushed for more than 140 yards in each of Ohio State’s first two games and is particularly dangerous if he breaks containment.
— Ohio State may start a true freshman at running back. The projected starter, Jordan Hall, has missed the first two games with a foot injury and he’s questionable for the Cal game. Carlos Hyde, who started against Central Florida, sustained a knee injury in that game that is likely to sideline him against the Bears. Freshman Bri’onte Dunn could get the start for the Buckeyes after rushing for 29 yards on five carries against Central Florida and running seven times for 31 yards against Miami-Ohio.
— Cal has faced Ohio State six times, and the only time the Golden Bears won was in the 1920 season, when the Bears, coached by Andy Smith, finished off a 9-0 season with a 28-0 Rose Bowl victory over an Ohio State team that was 7-0. Cal outscored its opponents by a combined 482-14 that season.
—How effective Cal is in its no-huddle offense will be critical. The stepped-up pace seems to fit Zach Maynard’s personality, especially if it leads to some broken-play situations in which he gets outside the pocket. He has been more accurate on the run than standing in the pocket. If the no-huddle offense sputters, though, it will allow the Ohio State offense to stay on the field a long time, giving the Buckeyes a chance to overwhelm Cal with its ground game.
SCOUTING CAL’S OFFENSE: The Bears improved over the second half of last season when they became more of a running team, and they were expected to be a run-oriented team this season. However, Cal has not run the ball as effectively as expected. Its 6.1 yards per carry average is skewed by the numbers achieved against outmanned Southern Utah. Cal has not shown an ability to consistently move the ball on the ground. Whether Isi Sofele’s 104 yards against Southern Utah means he has found the rhythm he showed late last season is an question that will be answered against Ohio State. QB Zach Maynard has better numbers than last season, having completed 64.2 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and just one interception, but he has not yet taken the step to elite status that seemed possible at the end of last season. He still has accuracy issues, and he’s a better passer when he’s on the run than when he stands in the pocket, although he throws from the pocket most of the time. The wide receivers have been better than Cal could have hoped, with true freshman Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper providing a nice complement to the team’s star, Keenan Allen.
SCOUTING CAL’S DEFENSE: Cal has been much better against the run than against the pass, but that is skewed a bit because Southern Utah was ill-equipped to run the ball against the Bears and relied on its star quarterback Brad Sorensen. The Bears were unable to handle the spread option attack of Nevada, and Ohio State runs it better than Nevada, with Braxton Miller at quarterback for the Buckeyes Cal’s defense has been hot and cold under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, coming up with some great games and some poor ones. It should be evident early against Ohio State whether Cal can contain the Buckeyes, because the Bears typically carry a good or poor performance through the entire game. Cal has used a lot of linebackers in its first two games and figures to continue that practice.
QUOTE: “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the schedule.” — Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen, to the Oakland Tribune, regarding the game against Ohio State.
SATURDAY’S GAME: Cal at Ohio State, Sept. 15, 9 a.m. Pacific time, ABC TV, KGO (810) radio – Cal won the first meeting between the teams in 1920, but has lost all five since then. This is Cal’s first road game of the season. Cal is just 3-8 on its opponent’s home field since the start of the 2010 season, while Ohio State has won 20 of its past 22 home games.
SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State leads 5-1 (last meeting 1972, 35-18 Ohio State).
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR CAL: It’s all about the quarterbacks. Cal must contain the running of Ohio State QB Braxton Miller and force him to beat the Bears with his passing. Even though Cal’s weakness is its pass defense and Miller has good passing numbers this season, forcing Braxton to throw gives the Bears the best chance to force turnovers and prevent Ohio State from marching down the field. For Cal, QB Zach Maynard needs to have his most efficient game of the season, and he has to play with a zeal and confidence he has not displayed since the final two regular-season games of last season. Cal needs to get Maynard on the move, either to run or throw, because he is more effective when he reads a situation as it develops when he’s running in space.
CAL PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Keenan Allen — Always quarterback Zach Maynard’s No. 1 target, Allen is capable of producing a big play as a pass receiver or runner or punt returner. He probably needs to create at least one big play against Ohio State for the Bears to have a chance.
TB Isi Sofele – He had just 22 yards against Nevada and 104 against Southern Utah, and he needs to have his best game of the season against Ohio State’s tough run defense.
CB Steve Williams/Marc Anthony – With the Bears probably focusing most of their defensive attention on stopping the run, Williams and Marc Anthony will have a lot of responsibility in preventing big passing plays. They have played pretty well so far this season and need to play mistake-free defense against Ohio State.
QB Zach Maynard – The Bears need him to be the player he was in the final two regular-season games of last season when he went 39-for-55 (70.9 percent) for 517 yards, three TDs and no interceptions against Stanford and Arizona State.
—OT Matt Summers-Gavin is questionable for the Ohio State game with a knee injury.
—TE Richard Rodgers is questionable for the Ohio State game with an ankle injury.
—OLB Chris McCain is questionable with a shoulder injury.
—G Dominic Galas is not expected to play for at least the first half of the season because of a pectoral injury and he could be out for the entire season.
—LB Khairi Fortt is not expected to play as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery.
—LB David Wilkerson is questionable with a foot injury.