BEAVERS NOTES: Who can run the best at Cal?; OSU looks to contain Bears QB; Banker picks Stanford over Oregon; and more
CORVALLIS - From Tuesday's media day at Wayne Valley Center, looking ahead to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. matchup between Oregon State (2-7 overall, 2-4 in Pac-12 action) and California (5-4, 2-4) at AT and T Park:
• The run game will be extremely important, just as it was last Saturday at Reser Stadium, where Stanford outgained Oregon State 300-33 on the ground in the Cardinal's 38-13 victory.
California rushed for 292 yards in last Saturday's 30-7 win over Washington State, with junior tailback Isi Sofele carrying 23 times for a career-high 138 yards and a touchdown.
Part of Cal's run success is due to a veteran offensive line that includes two seniors and three juniors, along with 6-4, 260-pound senior tight end Anthony Miller. Then there is the 5-8, 190-pound Sofele, who is fifth in the Pac-12 with 839 yards (5.0 average) and seven TDs rushing.
'They have a good line, and this guy is a prototype of their backs - a good, hard runner with quick feet and power when he hits a hole,' Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Added OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker: 'Sofele is compact, physical, a one-step cutter, more quick than fast. They have a good scheme for him. They have mixed up their running game more than they used to. They have been more one-back, and they use the speed option, the read-zone concept, with (quarterback Zach) Maynard.'
Oregon State's run game, meanwhile, has reaped an average of only 94.6 yards per game, 11th in the Pac-12 and 113th nationally. The Beavers have gained 100 or more yards only three times all season and picked up 65 total yards the last two games. Cal's run defense ranks fourth in the Pac-12, yielding 130.2 yards per game.
Oregon State went without injured starters Grant Johnson at center and Burke Ellis at right guard, but even with all hands on deck, the rushing game has been a challenge.
'A lot of it has to do with winning the line of scrimmage,' Riley said. 'You would think if we have good balance with our fly sweep, we'd be doing better inside. That's our goal.
'If you look at attacking a defense, you want to have all parts working - inside and outside run, play-action pass and drop-back (passing) game. We have not hit on all cylinders. We're missing that part of the game.
'We're working hard to get it back. You work on what you want to do scheme-wise, getting on the right guy and finishing the block. We picked a tough team to do it against, but that's not going to diminish our will to run.'
Cal will be the third straight OSU opponent to employ a 3-4 defense.
'This is a very active, big, aggressive front with really good ability at linebacker,' Riley said. 'Blocking the interior guys will be the key to the run.'
The OSU coach is referring to junior nose guard Aaron Tipoti, 6-2 and 295, and senior inside 'backers D.J. Holt, 6-1 and 240, and Mychal Kendricks, 6-0 and 240.
• Maynard, a 6-2, 190-pound junior transfer from Buffalo, is a left-hander who has completed only 53.7 percent of his passes (160 for 298) for 2,157 yards and 13 TDs with 10 interceptions.
'Zach is a terrific athlete,' Riley said. 'Their utilization of him is excellent on bootlegs and throwing on the run. An athletic quarterback who throws well on the move is always a tough guy to defend.'
'He is much better out of the pocket,' Banker said. 'When he is rolling out to his left on their naked sprint-out package, he's dead-on. He has struggled when he's in the pocket. He tends to overthrow receivers any time there's a rush.'
That will put a premium on Oregon State's defensive ends and outside linebackers to keep Maynard from getting to the flat.
'You have to contain the quarterback,' Riley said. 'You emphasize pursuit angles, contain angles, reverse contain and gap responsibilities.'
• Maynard has a pair of outstanding targets in Keenan Allen, a 6-3, 205 sophomore who is second in the league in receptions (75) and receiving yardage (1,074), and 6-3, 200-pound Marvin Jones, who has 43 catches for 623 yards.
'That's as good a 1-2 (receiving) package as we have in the league,' Banker said. 'Both of those guys do things after they catch the ball.'
'Both of them are quick, they run good routes and they have good hands,' OSU cornerback Jordan Poyer said. 'When the quarterback puts it in a good spot, it's tough to defend.'
On Maynard, Poyer added, 'He's left-handed and likes to roll to his left. I don't see nothing particularly special that we haven't seen all season, but it's going to be a challenge for us.'
• Oregon State's recent dominance of California has been emphatic. OSU has won 10 of its last 12 meetings with the Bears - including a 35-7 pounding in Corvallis last year. The Beavers have won five in a row at Cal and haven't dropped a road game to the Bears since 1997.
But Riley, 6-2 in his rivalry with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, said history won't play a role in Saturday's outcome.
'Every year's a new year,' the OSU coach said. 'You can't put too much stock in the past. We look at last year's game for preparation for this week's game, but it's new personnel and both these teams are in different places - certainly we are. It becomes a brand new game, really.
'It's who plays the best that day. We have a ton of respect for Jeff and that program. It always seems hard. They're always a good, well-coached team. It's going to be no different this time.'
• Banker picks Stanford in Saturday's other Bay Area matchup - Oregon's showdown with the Cardinal.
'It's going to come down to Stanford's defense,' the OSU D-coordinator said. 'If (the Cardinal) can keep Oregon's offense under wraps. ... Washington had a hell of a (defensive) game against (the Ducks). Something about Oregon's offense right now doesn't look right. I'm not sure what it is.
'I don't see Oregon's style of play lending itself to winning this game. Plus there's a guy up for the Heisman Trophy (Andrew Luck) leading Stanford. He has good receivers and great tight ends, and the corners for Oregon didn't handle Washington State's pass game when they played the Cougars.
'It's two great teams, but I'll tip my hat toward Stanford, and not because I'm from Oregon State.'
• Though Stanford rushed for 300 yards while Luck was passing for 207 against Oregon State, Banker seemed more unhappy with the Beavers' play against the pass than the run.
'Two of Luck's touchdown passes were (defenders) with their eyes not in the right spot - two really cheap scores just because our rotation back there wasn't proper,' Banker said.
As for the Cardinals' rushing game, 'They didn't flat-out gash us. They'd done that against almost every opponent. They got us for five-yard chunks, but at least we got them into some third-down situations. Did we want to keep them more at two or three yards a shot? Yeah. But nobody has solved the mystery of how they run the power.'
• Riley was asked if college football should allow for instant-replay review on plays such as Poyer's hit on Stanford's Chris Owosu last Saturday.
'That has been brought up since our game, and I think it's a good idea to look at that,' Riley said. 'Somebody in the booth could look at it two or three times, decide if it was targeting or helmet-to-helmet and help the officials with the bang-bang decisions they have to make.'
• Cal leads the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing only 194.3 yards through the air per game.
'That has a lot to do with pressure,' Riley said. 'Therein lies the crucial part - can we protect long enough to get the ball out? And can our receivers get open? (The Bears) are a multiple coverage team. We're going to have to be very smart and very physical.'
• Riley was asked if he will play more young players the final three games to get them experience for next season.
'The best way to take care of next year is to finish strong,' he said. 'We don't want to deter from any of the older guys who have led us through this and want to play. We want to make sure their energy and enthusiasm for each game is up.
'We already are playing a lot of young guys who are getting experience. The best way to take care of the future is to win today. A win over Cal could do a lot for this team as far as that goes.'
• James Rodgers is on the precipice of being Oregon State's career leader in receptions.
The senior flanker, who has 35 catches for 394 yards and two TDs this season, has 212 career receptions - one behind James Newson, who is second on the OSU list. Mike Hass is the record-holder at 220.
'I wasn't even aware of it,' Rodgers said. 'Personal achievements are all right, but I'd trade any record I'd hold for a team win.'
Oregon State's 2-7 record has been rough on Rodgers, who missed the first two games while rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and appears to be looking healthier each week.
'I hate losing,' Rodgers said. 'But I've been on both sides. Losing makes you want to win even more.
'It's just something you have to deal with. If things aren't going your way, you still have to find a way to get yourself ready to play each week. You can't whine about losing.'
Rodgers (2,458) needs 166 more receiving yards to pass Sammie Stroughter (2,623) and move into third place on the school career list. With 18 career touchdown catches, Rodgers is two behind the OSU career co-record holders, Hass and Newson.
Asked what he will miss most after his final game, Rodgers pointed to the camaraderie with his teammmates.
'It's going to be way different not being around these guys,' he said. 'We laugh and joke together - it's been a lot of fun.'
• NOTES: Tedford is 77-46 overall in his 10 years at Cal's head coach, including 46-37 in conference play. The Bears went 5-7 last year, his first losing season. ... Cal starts six seniors, four juniors and sophomore Allen on offense. The Bears have five senior starters on defense but start freshmen at both outside linebacker spots - 6-2, 240-pound David Wilkerson and 6-6, 235-pound Chris McCain. ... Riley passed on commenting on the Penn State scandal, other than to tell Ron Callan of KPAM (860 AM), 'Everybody is rocked by it. .. it has really rocked our world' in college football. ... OSU coaches are hopeful five injured players - middle linebacker Tony Wilson (concussion), offensive guard Burke Ellis (back), defensive end Taylor Henry (back), fullback Clayton York (thigh) and tailback Jovan Stevenson (knee) - will return Saturday. Receiver Jordan Bishop (ankle) is questionable, and starting middle linebacker Feti Unga (calf) and center Grant Johnson (ankle) are doubtful. ... Unga, who has missed the past four games, said his strained calf muscle is 'getting better,' and he is hopeful he will be back for the Nov. 19 home finale against Washington. ... In preparation for playing on the natural-grass surface at AT and T Park, the Beavers will practice on the grass at Tommy Prothro Field all week.
Oregon State has scored only 21 points in its last two games. OSU ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (21.9) and 10th in total offense (379.4). ... The Beavers rank second in the conference in pass defense (220.6). ... OSU and Cal are 11th and 12th, respectively, in the league in pass efficiency. ... Saturday's matchup features two of the league's best punters in Cal's Bryan Anger (third, 44.8) and OSU's Johnny Hekker (fourth, 44.5). ... Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is 12 for 15 in field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder, but has missed five of 31 PAT tries. ... Poyer leads the Pac-12 in passes defended with 15. ... OSU's Scott Crichton leads the league in fumbles forced (four) and is second in tackles-for-loss (10). Fellow freshman D-end Dylan Wynn tops the loop in fumbles recovered with five.