The Golden Bears (0-1) had only a couple of days to prepare for their opener against UCLA and it showed. Cal faded after a strong start in a 34-10 loss to the Bruins. The Bears blocked a punt to set up a 31-yard field goal from Dario Longhetto on their opening drive and ended UCLA's second drive with an interception. The Bruins bounced back and scored touchdowns on four of their final five drives before halftime. California generated just 176 total yards while allowing UCLA to rack up 440 yards and 23 first downs.
For the Beavers (0-2), Saturday's contest represents a chance to get over the hump after a pair of close losses. Oregon State fell 27-21 to Washington last weekend after a controversial call cost the Beavers a shot at a game-winning touchdown. The Beavers drove to the Huskies' 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter but turned it over on downs when Jermar Jefferson was ruled short of the line to gain on fourth-and-1, despite visibly picking up the needed yardage.
California holds a 38-34 lead in the all-time series with Oregon State. The Bears have won four of their past six games against the Beavers, although Oregon State came out on top 21-17 a year ago.
California at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: California -3.5
When California Has the Ball
Aside from one 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, not much went right for the Golden Bears' offense against UCLA. California only had three drives where it crossed midfield. The Bears averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per play, including generating just 1.9 yards per carry.
Chase Garbers struggled to get on track in his first game of the season. Garbers threw for only 122 yards and tossed an interception while completing only 54.5 percent of his passes. He completed only one pass longer than 13 yards against UCLA and only four of his 18 completions went 10 yards or longer. The Bears will need Garbers to be able to make more chunk plays downfield in order to move the chains against Oregon State.
Getting a consistent running attack also needs to be a priority if Cal wants to sustain drives. Christopher Brown Jr. was the top rusher against the Bruins, but he only tallied 25 yards on eight carries. As a team, the Bears generated just 54 rushing yards. They are averaging two fewer yards per carry on offense than any other Pac-12 team that has played to this point.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
Two games into the season, the Beavers have established a distinct offensive identity. Oregon State is content to grind out yards in the backfield and give itself a chance to hang around with opponents deep into the fourth quarter.
Emphasizing the run is easy to do when you have a running back like Jermar Jefferson. The junior struggled through injuries a year ago but has regained the form this season that made him a breakout star as a freshman. Jefferson has recorded back-to-back 100-yard games. He ranks second in the Pac-12 with 253 total rushing yards and first in the league with four rushing touchdowns. Jefferson is capable of putting up big numbers on a California defense that allowed UCLA to generate 244 yards on the ground.
Tristan Gebbia was a non-factor against Washington, throwing for 85 yards on 11-of-24 passing. It came as a surprise after Gebbia threw for 329 yards and completed 71 percent of his passes against Washington State a week earlier. Odds are good that Gebbia won't have as bad of a week this time around as he did against the Huskies. If he is able to get into a rhythm early, it will make Jefferson even tougher for the Bears to handle.
Close losses to Washington State and Washington show that Oregon State is on the verge of turning a corner in the Pac-12 North. The Beavers have a bruising run attack and are much improved on defense. If they can be consistent through four quarters, they have a shot at being a spoiler down the stretch. California remains a work-in-progress. The Golden Bears appeared to be hibernating on offense against a weak UCLA defense and moving the ball won't be any easier this week against Oregon State.
Prediction: Oregon State 24, California 17
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Jermar Jefferson photo by Karl Maasdam/Oregon State Athletics)