Yo yo. Back with this week’s keys to the game in our Pac-10 opener against Washington State. I thought I hit most of the nails on the head with last week’s keys.
1) Keep Javon Ringer under 100 yards.
Check. I thought this was the biggest reason that Cal was able to stay in control of the game, by taking away MSU’s biggest weapon on offense.
2) Limit Turnovers
Both of Nate Longshore’s interceptions could have been potential back breakers had they happened later in the game. But solid defense and a sustained drive following the second interception stopped the bleeding.
3) The Big Play
Boom. This came in the blocked punt returned for a TD. While one can argue that Shane Vereen’s 81 yard TD run later in the game was more significant of a play, Brent Johnson’s block and Bryant Nnabuife’s subsequent diving return for a TD energized the crowd and the team, and put Cal up for the rest of the game. Remember, Cal only won by 7. That TD was critical.
3 Keys to the Game
This week, Cal travels to Pullman, Washington to face new head coach Paul Wulff and the Washington State Cougars. The Cougs are projected to finish last in the Pac-10, and did very little to dispel any of those notions with their 39-13 loss last week to Oklahoma State. Still, Cal’s first road trip and atypical early conference game of the season should provide enough tests as it is for a mostly young Bears team. If Cal wants to be 2-0 come Saturday evening, here are the 3 keys to the game:
While the Bears don’t quite need to play Beamer Ball, they are going to have to step it up on Special Teams, especially when playing the Cougars who struggled in this facet of the game last week. In last week’s loss to Oklahoma State, Washington State allowed 252 yards in punt and kickoff returns including punt returns of 42 and 68 yards and a 90 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Cougs’ place-kicker Wade Penner missed on an extra point attempt, and converted quarterback Dan Wagner was pushed into punting duties because of an injury to their punter Reid Forest.
Converted quarterback? At least we now have some ideas for other ways Nate Longshore can contribute if Riley remains as the starter all season. Wait, Wagner was constantly line-driving kicks allowing the Cowboys to average nearly 25 yards per return? Nevermind.
The Bears will have to take advantage of a young and struggling Washington State special teams squad. While the Cougars will undoubtedly be better on special teams after having Reid Forest back and another week of practice, solid returns will be critical in setting up Bears in good field position to keep them in the game. And these returns will hopefully come in someone other than Jahvid Best. Excluding Best’s returns, which averaged 25.8 yards on 4 kickoff returns for 103 yards, the Bears weren’t exactly shining in the return game: Sean Young (2 returns, -3 yards), Devin Bishop (1 return, 15 yards), Tracey Slocum (1 return, 0 yards), Brett Johnson (1 return, 5 yards).
Another X-factor will be Bryan Anger’s sprained knee. While the x-rays came back negative, and Anger will travel with the team, Bear fans should keep an eye on whether Anger will still be able to boom the balls into Canada with his injury.
Oh and Bears, don’t allow any big returns. Please, I loved what I saw last week. Solid tackling. Please keep it up.
2) Get Pressure on Mr. Rogers
Despite Washington State’s offense only managing 198 total yards last week, it will be important for Cal to take the Cougars squad seriously. They had better, after giving up 321 yards in the passing game last week against Michigan State.
Wazzu quarterback Gary Rogers is huge—6’7 in fact, and moves much better than his size would indicate. Rogers rushed for TD and threw for only 82 yards in the first start of his career, although receivers dropped numerous balls. It will be especially important that Rogers doesn’t develop a rhythm with his star receiver Brendan Gibson.
Nothing will disrupt that rhythm better than creating havoc at the line. It all starts in the trenches, and Cal will have to take advantage of a shuffling WSU offensive line that is missing starting left guard Andrew Roxas. While Cal showed last week they can defend the run, and put some pressure on the QB, Cal will need more pressure on Rogers to force errant throws.
Oh, and a few sacks would be nice.
3) Air it Out
Washington State’s defense may surprisingly be the strength of a typically offense focused team. I’m feeling a bit more confident that Cal will continue to run the ball decently well. WSU gave up 174 yards on the ground to OSU last week, and Cal will be touting an offensive line and 2 running backs that both went over the century mark on Saturday.
While the running game will be critical to Cal’s success, I’m much more intrigued as to how our passing game will look. With Riley set to play all snaps as the starting quarterback, who will emerge as his go-to targets? Cameron Morrah seems to be the obvious choice after he hauled in 5 passes for 93 yards and a TD last week. Backs Best and Vereen will also get a significant number of catches coming off screens and swing passes. But a number of our wide receivers will have to step up, specifically in the red zone.
WSU’s undersized secondary was abused last weekend on high lobbed passes to 6’2 OSU receiver Dez Bryant. That could prove to be a bright omen to a Cal wide receiving corps. that features all of its wide receivers (minus Sean Young) topping out over the 6 foot mark.
Hopefully, Riley will have the time to throw and develop his chemistry with his receivers. The Cougars lack a proven pass rusher on the defensive line. DE Kevin Kooyman recorded the only two quarterback hurries against Oklahoma State, and linebacker Greg Trent posted the lone sack. Even more damaging is the news that WSU’s best D-Lineman A’I Ahmu will sit the first half after missing a court date over minor drug charges.
The time is now to start airing it out.
Alrite, that's about it. Some people are predicting this might be closer than most fans might think, but I'm hoping that's not the case. It'd be nice to see a decisive win over what is projected to be an inferior opponent. If all goes well, I'll try and post throughout the game tomorrow. Cheers and Go Bears!