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Cal can learn from Oregon State's turnaround

The SportsXchange

Cal does not have a lot of motivation for its final game of the season at Oregon State on Nov. 17, but it might take some inspiration from playing the Beavers.

Cal is 3-8, and its only possible motivation is to help save the job of coach Jeff Tedford and avoid ending the season on a depressing five-game losing streak.

Another loss would give the Bears a 3-9 season, a long way from what Cal, Tedford and all Bears fans had expected for this season.

But just a year ago, Oregon was 3-9, and the Beavers have turned it around to be 7-2, ranked No. 16 in the BCS standings and still with an outside chance to get to the Rose Bowl.

The suggestion is that perhaps Cal can make a similar turnaround next season.

"That's what can happen," Tedford told the Oakland Tribune. "There's absolutely light at the end of the tunnel. Last year they won three games, and they bounced back. Even though this is not the year we looked for, it doesn't mean there is no hope in sight."

The Bears' hopes for beating the Beavers to end the season on a high note may depend on the health of quarterback Zach Maynard.

He missed the Nov. 10 loss to Oregon because of a knee injury he sustained the previous week, and he is questionable again for the game against the Beavers.

If he can't play, the Bears will again go with Allan Bridgford, who did all right against the Ducks as long as the Bears stayed close and could rely on their running game. But when Cal got behind by a few scores and had to play catch-up, Bridgford struggled. He was just 2-for-9 with two interceptions in the second half against the Ducks.

Either quarterback may be without the Bears' best player, wide receiver Keenan Allen, who could miss his third straight game with a knee injury. Whether the Bears' other starting wide receiver, Bryce Treggs, plays is also up in the air because of an ankle injury.

The Beavers have their own injury issues under center. Starting quarterback Cody Vaz injured his ankle in the closing minutes of the loss to Stanford on Nov. 10, and he is questionable for the game against Cal.

The difference, though, is that the Beavers have an experienced backup in Sean Mannion, who was the team's starter when the season began and would start against Cal if Vaz if not ready.

NOTES, QUOTES

Rushing total vs. Oregon a bit deceiving

--Cal ran the ball effectively against Oregon, gaining 236 yards on the ground, including 134 by Isi Sofele. While that is impressive, it should be noted that Oregon was playing with a lot of backups on the defensive line because of injuries. A number of freshmen who were third-string got significant playing time for the Ducks, which hurt their run defense.

--If WR Keenan Allen plays against Oregon State -- and it seems doubtful as of Nov. 13 -- it will probably be his final game for Cal. Although he is a junior, Allen is expected to enter the NFL draft next spring. He is Cal's all-time leader in career receptions, but he may end his Cal career by standing on the sidelines for his final three games. It has not been determined whether he'll make the trip for the Oregon State game.

--Cal officials have made no statements regarding whether there will be any announcements concerning Jeff Tedford's future. Presumably, there will be some indication sometime after the season whether Tedford will be dismissed. A 3-9 record would not only be the worst since Tedford arrived prior to the 2002 season, but would be the Bears' second-worst mark in the past 25 years. Cal had winning records in each of Tedford's first eight seasons at Cal, but it has had losing records two of the past three seasons, including this year.

SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 34-30 (last meeting 2011, Cal 23-6).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal had perhaps its best ground-game performance of the season against Oregon on Nov. 10, churning out 236 rushing yards before the game dictated that Cal abandon the ground game when Oregon took a sizable lead. Isi Sofele had by far his best game of the season with 134 yards. If Zach Maynard can play, the Bears will have more of a passing threat than they will if Allan Bridgford makes the start. Bridgford has completed just 35.1 percent of his passes this season, and Cal's offense is not effective if it gets into a situation where it has to pass. Even if Maynard does play, his knee injury is likely to limit his mobility. The Bears yielded only one sack against Oregon, which is a dramatic improvement. WR Chris Harper has become the Bears' chief receiving weapon, and Brendan Bigelow provides a big-play component out of the backfield. C.J. Anderson is the team's leading rusher with 729 yards and a 6.3-yards-per-carry average.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Cal played outstanding run defense on Nov. 10 against Oregon, which came into the game as the nation's second-leading rushing team. Neither Kenjon Barner nor De'Anthony Thomas did significant damage on the ground, as the Bears stacked the box to stop them. That left the Bears vulnerable to the pass, however, and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota had the best game of his young career, throwing six touchdown passes. OLB Chris McCain, who has 8.5 tackles for loss, is probably the top member of the front seven, and CB Steve Williams, who has three interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 6.5 tackles for losses, has had a big year. Williams and CB Marc Anthony will have their hands full with Oregon State WRs Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, among the top WR tandems in the country.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I never saw it going in the wrong direction. Each week you felt like you had a chance to win. Obviously, as the injuries started mounting and your depth began to dwindle ... I've never seen anything like it." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, to the Oakland Tribune, on the Bears' season so far.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at Oregon State, Nov. 17 -- Oregon State, No. 16 in the BCS standings, is 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the conference after a 27-23 loss to Stanford that crippled the Beavers' Rose Bowl hopes. Cal is 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12 following a 59-17 loss to Oregon. Oregon State is 4-0 at home this season, while the Bears are 1-3 on the road, beating only Washington State.

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Bears can run the ball and stop the run as effectively they did against Oregon, they have a chance. Running against Oregon State's defense will be much more difficult than it was against Oregon because the Beavers rank second in the Pac-12 against the run. But the Bears cannot afford to fall behind and be forced to throw, especially if Allan Bridgford is the quarterback again. If Zach Maynard can play, the Bears will have more of a passing threat, but they still must stay close and consume time with their running game. The Bears need a few big plays, presumably from Brendan Bigelow or WR Chris Harper, to stay in the game. At the same time, Cal must prevent Oregon State WRs Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton from dominating the game with big plays in the passing game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Chris Harper -- Harper, a true freshman, has become the Bears' No. 1 receiving target with Keenan Allen out. Harper has demonstrated an ability to make difficult catches. Harper has 516 receiving yards, which is fewer than Allen, but nearly twice as many as anyone else on the team.

OLB Chris McCain -- He has 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. He is the Cal defender most likely to make a big play, and he should be healthy after being slowed by an ankle problem in recent weeks.

TB Brendan Bigelow -- Bigelow averages 10.6 yards a carry and has regularly demonstrated the speed that has made him a big-play threat as a runner, receiver and kick returner.

TB Isi Sofele -- He showed flashes of his 2011 season in rushing for 134 yards against Oregon. Whether he can do it against Oregon State's tough run defense is another question.

CB Steve Williams -- Williams has had an All-Conference-caliber season, but Oregon State WRs Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton are as good as any pair of wide receivers in the country.

ROSTER REPORT

--WR Keenan Allen is questionable for the Oregon State game because of a knee injury. He has missed the past two games.

--QB Zach Maynard is questionable for the Oregon State game because of a knee injury.

--OT Matt Gavin-Summers (knee) is questionable for the Oregon State game.

--WR Bryce Treggs is questionable for Oregon State game with an ankle injury.
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