Cal can beat Ohio State tomorrow.
Wait, come back! Stop laughing, seriously, you didn't even let me finish.
What I was saying is, yes, the Bears are capable of beating the Buckeyes tomorrow. OSU's secondary has had questionable moments, their defensive line has struggled to consistently get pressure on quarterbacks, and their offense has been mostly one-dimensional for the better part of a season and a half now.
Here's the issue though: the Bears have yet to look like the team capable of notching the upset. Far from it in fact. Thus far, the Bears have looked like a team that's turned what was once supposed to be a highly anticipated matchup of non-conference foes into a game where the Bears enter as 17 point underdogs. That's what sloppy play, penalties, and a general lack of discipline on defense will do to a team's perception.
So can the Bears beat the Buckeyes? They're going to have to play a radically different type of ball than the type they've shown at the beginning of the season. On top of that, I can't remember the last time the Bears beat a non-conference team with a winning record on the road, let alone one that has been ranked. Throw in the fact that the Buckeyes haven't lost to an unranked non-conference opponent at the 'Shoe in about 30 years, and we're looking at what would need to be a completely revelatory effort for a historic upset.
Still, we've got a chance.
After the jump, take a look at a few quick keys to the game.
Containing QB Braxton Miller
For the Bears to beat OSU, it's not going to be as simple as stopping quarterback Braxton Miller, but it certainly is going to be essential.
The Buckeyes have a dangerous offense, but thus far it's difficult to suggest that they have been anything but one-dimensional. However Braxton Miller plays, so goes the offense. Miller has accounted for 60% of OSU's offensive yardage this season, and the onus on him is going to be even heavier with the loss of runningback Carlos Hyde. This has forced Miller to make more plays on the ground, which Miller did in rushing the ball 27 times for 147 yards and 3 scores last Saturday.
OSU has been real multiple in the ways they use Miller to run the ball. Unlike Nevada's Cody Fajardo, Miller isn't simply a threat on the edge. The Buckeye's offensive line is very quick at opening up interior rushing lanes for Miller on designed runs and QB draw plays, in addition to the standard zone read. Throw in the possibility of Miller getting out of the pocket to create plays or pick up huge chunks of yardage, and you have as multiple of a running threat from a quarterback as the Bears have ever seen, perhaps ever.
The sheer prospect of defending a mobile quarterback has to be frightening for Bears fans after the debacles that has been their most adventures in attempting to do so. It becomes repetitive, but it really is going to be about discipline and maintaining one's gaps. There have been far too many instances of defenders trying to force plays, moving too far deep downfield or venturing into a teammate's gap, allowing the runner to cut it back outside. That can't happen against Miller. He's too fast, too athletic, and too strong for those types of lapses, and will ultimately destroy the Bears.
The task becomes even more difficult with the prospect of a limited Chris McCain. I like the athleticism of Brennan Scarlett on one side, but the Bears are counting on Nathan Broussard and Dan Camporeale to really step up on the other.
The Bears could elect get a player like Josh Hill to spy Miller, but again, it isn't that simple. The Bears are going to be multiple in their looks against Miller, who for all his athleticism and talent (and he's got a ton), is still a questionable passer, particularly on his downfield throws. He isn't quite sound in his mechanics and can be rattled in making questionable decisions. You choose to spy him the entire game, you can bet he, or more realistically, the coaching staff will pick up on it and he'll find ways to exploit our secondary.
Cal's going to have to be real multiple in disciplined in their defensive looks. Pendergast has to find ways of bring pressure and making contact will Miller on nearly every play. I'd scrape the "scrap exchange" attack (see what I did there?) and look to force Miller into being a passer. I can live with Miller throwing for tough yards against us, but will be disgusted if he continues to gash us for yards untouched. If the Bears can pressure Miller with his reads and penetrate at the point of attack, they can try and take away at least a chunk of rushing options for Miller, which may be there only hope.
Getting Stops on 3rd Down
The Bears have been awful on third down defense this year, allowing a conference worst 52.5% of opponent 3rd down conversions. And it's not like they're constantly getting themselves in third and short situations. The Bears have had plenty of moments in which they've actually notched negative yardage plays on first or second down only to give up big yardage on third.
This will boil down to good coverage downfield but also good pressure on Braxton Miller, and forcing him to stay inside the pocket instead of freelancing it to create plays.
It can be absolutely exhausting to defend a mobile quarterback who is always a threat to extend plays with his legs. The prospect of defending that type of quarterback of the course 10+ play drives are darn near impossible. The defense needs to get off the field on third down if they're going to have a chance.
You'd like that 3rd down conversion number to be under 30%. Much higher than that, and it's going to be a brutally long day for the Bears.
Keep OSU's Defense Honest
If you've got the personnel, the formula for defending the Bears' offense hasn't been much of a secret. Stack the box and force Zach Maynard to beat you. The Bears have been best when they've been able to get their run game going, but have been less than mediocre when forced to simply be a passing team.
The Buckeyes defensive line has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, so there's reason to believe that they'll be dialing up some extra blitz packages to rattle Maynard into making poor decisions.
It'll be on this offensive line to give Maynard just enough time to find his hot reads and locate his receivers in coverage. If the Buckeyes begin to respect the Bears' passing attack, that could open up some very important running lanes for Isi Sofele and CJ Anderson. Though I'm not usually a fan of the approach, establish the pass and the Bears have a better shot at being balanced on offense.
So You're Telling Me There's a Chance
As much as I want to believe that the Bear's go in and exorcise a multitude of demons, they simply haven't looked like the type of squad yet that's capable of doing that.
In the very worst of circumstances, the Bears come out flat and get blown out by the Buckeyes. Can't rule that out.
But I'd love to see the Bears go out there and play with pride. I'd love to see them compete and keep it competitive through all four quarters and not have to resort to any "winning the second half" talk. I'd love the Bears to play a physical and polished brand of football that gives fans hope for what's a very long remainder of a season.
There are no moral victories in football. A loss will put the Bears at 1-2, with little indication that it won't soon be 1-3 with USC waiting the week after. So no one's going to beat their chest with a loss here. But if the Bears are going to lose, I want to make sure they lose to the Buckeyes and stop the excruciating process of beating themselves.
Ohio State 31 Cal 17
Friday, September 14, 2012
Cal can beat Ohio State tomorrow.