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Football: Getting closer to game time

The Bears just retreated to their locker room after pregame warmups. The band is on the field!!! (Sorry, had to do it). At any rate, Cal is wearing white jerseys and blue pants.

I can’t believe we still have about 25 minutes until kickoff, but this baby’s going to start eventually …

Posted on Saturday, November 19th, 2011
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Football: An early Big Game update

Just a quick pregame update from Stanford Stadium. Fans are starting to trickle in as we’re just under two hours from kickoff for the 114th Big Game. Weather.com calls for the temperature to be 48-50 degrees tonight. There’s a 60 percent chance of rain at 7 p.m., with percentages dipping greatly after that. I’m not sure if either team has a real advantage on a wet and slippery field since both like to run the ball.

You’ll be watching the latest kickoff for a Big Game ever. It didn’t seem to spoil the festivities outside the stadium. I saw plenty of tailgaters …

Check back with you soon!

Posted on Saturday, November 19th, 2011
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Football: Does opportunity await Cal’s defense?

Checking in w/you as we’re a little more than 48 hours away from Big Game kickoff …

Obviously a big storyline is whether Cal’s defense can contain Stanford QB Andrew Luck. There’s no doubt Luck will have many NFL scouts watching him Saturday, as he has all season. But Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants his defensive players to realize that those same NFL scouts also will be watching them. “When you’re going up against one of the better players, everybody is going to dissect (all) the plays,” Pendergast said. “So whether you’re a lineman, a linebacker or a secondary guy, you’ve got a chance to make an (impression).”

That sounds like good motivational strategy. How effective will it be in stopping the Cardinal, which is averaging 493.7 yards per game this season? We’ll find out. Pendergast said Stanford provides more different looks and more ways to move the ball than most college football teams. “They’re very unique in what they do,” he said. “They use a lot of different personnel groups, they use the whole field. The run game, pass game … they can run tackle to tackle, get on the perimeter, throw down the middle of the field and spread you out and throw it. So it’s a very unique, and I’d say, dynamic offense.”

Cal defensive end Trevor Guyton mentioned earlier this week the importance of putting some heat on Luck. Look for the Bears to bring pressure from lots of different angles. “We’ve got to mix some things up, come after them a little bit, try to win up front,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “But they do a nice job of protecting him. He gets rid of the ball, and sometimes even when you’re there to get him, he breaks out of things and runs. It’s not an easy thing to do to get him on the ground.”

But first and foremost, the Bears can’t let Stanford – which is averaging 215.1 yards on the ground — run the ball at will. Asked how his defense matches up against the Cardinal offensive line, Pendergast replied: “I like our defensive front regardless of who we’re playing.”

–It appears Cal will once again be without starting outside linebackers Chris McCain (concussion) and David Wilkerson (bruised knee). Pendergast indicated he doesn’t expect either to play, meaning Cal will go with Cecil Whiteside, Dan Camporeale and Ryan Davis for those two spots.

–The Bears did have one player at practice Thursday who could help their pass-rushing cause if only he were eligible. Defensive end Cameron Jordan, now playing for the New Orleans Saints, is in town since New Orleans has a bye. Jordan plans to attend Saturday’s game. Wow, talk about a chatty guy. It looks like Jordan is on his way to a long NFL career, but I could see him making a living behind the microphone someday.

–Eric Kiesau, Cal’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach, said the Bears’ play calling has been so run-dominated over the past two games partly because Cal jumped ahead of opponents early, then tried to grind out the clock. Kiesau said the plan going into the Washington State and Oregon State games was to balance the pass and run, but that strategy changed once Cal’s backs started eating up yards in chunks. I don’t doubt that’s the case to a certain degree. But it’s been an aim to boost the confidence of quarterback Zach Maynard, and rolling out a dominant run game is the best way to do that. Kiesau says he’s seen “big strides” from Maynard in practice over the past two weeks. “That’s what we want, just throwing the ball with confidence and accuracy,” Kiesau said.

I thought Maynard did a good job of just throwing the ball away a couple times last week when the pocket collapsed and he had to scramble. But make no mistake, if Maynard is dropping back to pass 30 times on Saturday, Cal is in trouble. An efficient running game is a must …

Posted on Thursday, November 17th, 2011
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Football: Tuesday practice update and some interesting reading

Not all that much to share as far as Cal news from today’s practice. Here’s a story worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet. My co-worker, Jon Wilner, provided a nice breakdown of the bowl scenarios for both Cal and Stanford based on what happens in Saturday’s Big Game.

–This espn.com blog takes a look at Stanford’s need to bounce back from its poor effort against Oregon. And that brings up an interesting point to ponder. One school of thought says that Stanford will come out sharper and more fired up than ever against the Bears after absorbing their first defeat last week. Do you subscribe to the theory that Cal might have been better off had the Cardinal beaten Oregon and still been undefeated for the Big Game? I really don’t think Stanford was going to overlook Cal no matter what it did against Oregon. But it’s food for thought.

–If you want to jump ahead and study up on Arizona State, which Cal visits for its regular season finale on the day after Thanksgiving, you might be interested in this blog entry.

–No word yet on the availability of outside linebackers Chris McCain and David Wilkerson for the Big Game. If we get any clarity on that in the coming days, I’ll be passing it along …

Posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
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Football: News and notes from the Big Game Luncheon

The Big Game Luncheon took place Monday at Gordon Biersch Brewery in San Francisco, and it wasn’t surprising that Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Stanford coach David Shaw both went to great lengths heaping praise on the opposing team. Here’s a few noteworthy items from the event:

–Tedford on his assessment of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck: “He does it all. He’s very smart, competitive, very physical. He’s accurate throwing the football and has a great understanding of what they’re doing, so I think he’s arguably the best quarterback in the nation. And I think he’s one of the top guys that’s ever played in this conference.”

But Tedford said Stanford’s balance on offense is what makes them so dangerous. “We haven’t played a team like this yet that lines up and runs the ball downhill like they do.”
You can bet Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is working overtime this week looking for ways to pressure Luck. Teams have been able to throw Luck off his game a bit by putting heat on him. And the Bears have to find a way to do that without getting burned in the running game.

–Shaw is very impressed with Cal sophomore receiver Keenan Allen, who is one of 10 semifinalists for this year’s Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s best receiver. “Not enough people are talking about him, but he’s having a dominant year,” Shaw said. “He’s a guy that if you don’t pay attention to him, he’ll hurt you and hurt you bad. … Much like (USC’s) Robert Woods, there are certain things he does that you can’t defense.”

I don’t expect Cal’s running game to buzz through Stanford’s defense the way it did against Washington State and Oregon State, so Zach Maynard will have to complete a few passes to keep the chains moving. And you figure the Cardinal will be keying on Allen during obvious passing downs. If I had to pick a single player who could be a game-changer for the Bears on Saturday, I’d go with Marvin Jones. Maynard has to look for him (and get him the ball), and Jones has to make some things happen to take the focus off Allen. No doubt Jones would like to make noise in his final Big Game.

Who’s your “game-changer” prediction for Cal?

–Stat to remember: Cal is 13-18 against nationally ranked teams since Tedford took over as coach in 2002. Stanford enters the 114th Big Game ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.

More Big Game coverage in tomorrow’s paper …

Posted on Monday, November 14th, 2011
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Football: Sunday practice update

And so Big Game week begins …

–There was one piece of news coming out of Cal’s practice Sunday: Redshirt freshman defensive back Michael Coley is lost for the season after his leg injury Saturday was diagnosed as a broken fibula. He registered 14 tackles on the season with two pass break-ups. Coley was hurt while serving on the punt return team in the second quarter against Oregon State.

–The early odds I’ve seen have Stanford as a 20½-point favorite in the Big Game. Cal coach Jeff Tedford was asked if the dynamics are different preparing his team when it’s either a big favorite or big underdog against Stanford. “I don’t look at it that way,” Tedford said. “We go into the game expecting to win, and so we don’t worry about what other people think or say about what’s going to happen in the game. It’s about what our expectations are of ourselves and how we need to play.”

Not sure I’m buying it. You can’t tell me that Cal’s coaches won’t bring up the “underdog” theme as a motivational tool at some point this week. The Bears will enter this game feeling they have something to prove against their much more publicized rival. Thing is, Stanford will have a chip on its shoulder too after losing big to Oregon to spoil its national title hopes …

Posted on Sunday, November 13th, 2011
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Football: Postgame notes from Cal’s 23-6 win over Oregon State

****Here’s a few postgame tidbits from Cal’s 23-6 win over Oregon State:

–The six points allowed by the Bears’ defense was a season-best effort. Cal held the Beavers to just 27 yards on the ground, no big shock considering how much OSU’s running game has struggled this season.

–Cal has now rushed for 584 yards combined over the past two weeks against Washington State and Oregon State. Coach Jeff Tedford was asked if it was coincidence that the Bears’ focus on the run came on the heels of Zach Maynard’s four-interception game against UCLA. “That’s no reflection of a lack of trust in Zach,” Tedford said. “We have a lot of trust in Zach. He’s a good player. He just continues to learn each week. Part of managing the game is being able to run the ball.”

–I’ve seen fans on this blog make their case for backup tailback C.J. Anderson getting more involved in the offense. While Isi Sofele enjoyed a field day against OSU with 190 yards, Anderson also had his best game with 96 yards and 14 carries. It was the best example yet of the 1-2 punch that duo can be – with the shifty Sofele providing the quickness and Anderson providing the power. I thought it was also interesting that Anderson split out wide on one play and caught a 22-yard pass from Maynard. Tedford didn’t get asked about that in his postgame session, but I’d like to run it by him.

Tedford credited Sofele for his hard running. The junior sits at 1,029 yards on the season. And Tedford said he’s been increasingly impressed with Anderson’s attitude in practice: “I thought C.J. played excellent. C.J. has really hung in there and paid attention, and now he’s getting his opportunties and making the best of it.”

–Oregon State coach Mike Riley’s thoughts on the defeat: “I thought that this would and could have been a good football game. If we had taken advantage of our opportunities and scored and even kicked field goals, we would have been in position to score at the end and win it. But we had a real, real hard time stopping them. It wasn’t like they were putting up astronomical numbers on the scoreboard. Had we done anything, we could have been in this.”

Posted on Saturday, November 12th, 2011
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OSU fumble keeps Cal up 20-6

The score of this game is much closer than it feels. Trailing 20-6, Oregon State was on the verge of closing to within a touchdown, but the Beavers fumbled a handoff exchange on 3rd and goal from Cal’s 1. Sean Cattouse pounced on it for the Bears. Cal is now driving, and it’s going to be tough for OSU to jump back into this one.

Posted on Saturday, November 12th, 2011
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Football: Halftime stats

The halftime numbers

First downs
Cal = 12
OSU = 9

Rushing yards
Cal = 133
OSU = 5

Passing
Maynard 7-11-1
Mannion 14-18-0

Passing yards
Cal = 86
OSU = 129

Total yards
Cal = 219
OSU = 134

Time of possession
Cal = 17:03
OSU = 12:50

Posted on Saturday, November 12th, 2011
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Football: Cal 14, Oregon State 6 at the half

Halftime at AT&T Park, Cal leading Oregon State 14-6.

Both of the Bears’ scoring drives covered 90-plus yards. They ate up much of the second quarter with a 16-play, 96-yard drive that was capped by Zach Maynard’s 5-yard TD run on an option keeper. They mixed in the pass and run on that drive, including a 22-yard pass from Maynard to backup tailback C.J. Anderson, who was split right on the play. Very interesting. … Oregon State also bailed Cal out on a 3rd-and-goal play, as Rusty Fernando was flagged for a late hit on Keenan Allen. The Bears would have had to settle for a field goal attempt.

Maynard is 7 for 10 for 86 yards and one touchdown. He had a bad interception in the first quarter, but he’s been on target on a couple nice passes to Allen over the middle in addition to the Calvin touchdown. Jeff Tedford has to feel good about the way his offense moved the ball. But the Bears did let OSU drive down for a field goal in the last minute of the half.

Some halftime stats to come …

Posted on Saturday, November 12th, 2011
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