Oregon State (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) couldn't get anything going last Saturday against Utah as the Beavers were overwhelmed by the Utes 52-7 at Reser Stadium. The game was lost at the line of scrimmage as the Utes outgained their hosts 256-48 on the ground. Jake Luton was under siege all day long by Utah's pass rush and was limited to 131 passing yards. This game was a disappointing step back for Oregon State as the head coach Jonathan Smith's team had done a nice job of being competitive in every game this season prior to last Saturday.
After a much-needed bye week, California (4-2, 1-2) returns to action and will be looking to get back on the winning side of things. Two weeks ago, the Golden Bears lost a hard-fought 17-7 game at Oregon. The defense played very well for about three quarters and then simply wore down late. Devon Modster completed 17-of-34 passes for 190 yards in place of injured starter Chase Garbers. The inability to run the football was a problem for Cal, who finished with 66 rushing yards on 30 attempts. That's 2.2 yards per carry, a number that simply won't cut it in the Pac-12 on a weekly basis.
Oregon State at California
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: California -9.5
When Oregon State Has the Ball
Head coach Jonathan Smith and his offensive staff are going to have to find a way to keep the Golden Bears slightly off-balance in this game. Jake Luton needs to be patient with the football and get the ball to Isaiah Hodgins on a couple of explosive pass plays. Hodgins (51 rec., 709 yds., 9 TDs) has been very reliable this season as he has yet been tagged with a dropped pass. Artavis Pierce has led the way on the ground with 503 yards and six touchdowns, averaging nearly seven yards (6.8) per carry. He will need to continue to be productive as Oregon State's offensive line will face its biggest challenge of the season to date in dealing with standout linebacker Evan Weaver and the rest of Cal's defensive front.
The Bears will look to create pressure with their defensive line as Weaver (nation's leading tackler with 84) and fellow linebacker Kuony Deng (tied for the team lead with 4.5 tackles for a loss) have done a fine job taking care of anyone who gets past the line of scrimmage. Cal's defense vs. the Beavers' offensive line will be a fun in-game matchup to watch. According to Pro Football Focus, Oregon State ranks ninth in the country in Pass Blocking Efficiency with a grade of 92.8. Pass protection may not matter that much, however, against a Bears secondary that boasts Ashtyn Davis, Camrun Bynum, and Traveon Beck. All three have an interception already this season but also bring a physical presence to their coverage. Hodgins has been excellent in the early going but he will need some help as Cal's DBs will no doubt be focused on limiting the damage he does.
When California Has the Ball
Running the football effectively is a backup quarterback's best weapon. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin should keep the game plan simple and put the game in the hands of the running backs. Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy are a combination that can take over a game as they did in the second half in the win over Washington a couple of weeks ago. Establishing the run will set up quarterback Devon Modster in the play-action passing game along with letting him make some things happen with his legs out on the perimeter.
Oregon State will need a big-time performance from junior linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for a loss (10.5). It will be very important for Cal's offensive line to account for Rashed at all times. The Beavers also need to find a way to force some turnovers in order to give their offense an extra possession or two, especially if it can come in the Bears' territory. Cal enters this game ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 with a plus-one turnover differential. Oregon State is a few spots higher at plus-three.
California is a solid two-score favorite despite their injury situation at quarterback because the Golden Bears are at home and partially due to the fact they hammered Oregon State last year 49-7 in Corvallis. Now, this game does have an 11:30 a.m. local kickoff time, which should keep the crowd down a little bit and create a bit of a neutral-site feel to the game in the first half. If the Beavers can hang around and get this game into the second half it could make things very interesting. Moreover, Cal has better personnel, especially on defense, and should be able to impose their will in the second half and put the game away. It may not be pretty, but the Bears should find a way to snap their two-game losing streak and get one step closer to bowl eligibility.
Prediction: California 31, Oregon State 13
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.