Cal hopes win over UCLA starts something big

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Momentum is measured in winning streaks, and Cal has a chance to win consecutive games for the first time this season when it plays Washington State in Pullman, Wash., on Oct. 13.
The impressive 43-17 victory over a UCLA team that was ranked at the time gives the Golden Bears a chance to resurrect a season that seemed to be going down the drain. But it's unclear whether Cal's success against UCLA was a product of the Bears' improvement or the Bruins' six turnovers, which made things a lot easier for Cal.
And that victory won't mean much if the Bears turn around and lay an egg against a team Cal should beat.
The Cougars (2-4) have a decent passing attack, but they have not done anything this season that should scare the Bears. Plus, Cal (2-4) has played pretty well on the road, giving itself a chance to beat both Ohio State and USC away from home before falling short both times.
Playing at Washington State in mid-October, when the weather is still relatively mild, is easier than facing the Cougars in Pullman in late November, when snow and other unpleasant weather situations present challenges. But the Oct. 13 game is a night game, so it might be chilly.
As always, Cal's success depends on quarterback Zach Maynard -- not just his numbers, but his attitude, although they typically parallel each other.
When Maynard has a spring in his step and displays confidence, his passing percentage goes up and the Bears' offense is productive. If he misses a few passes or gets sacked a few times, Maynard sometimes shows the frustration, and it tends to pervade the entire team.
The Cougars are not a good defensive team, and they are particularly poor against the pass. So Maynard has every opportunity to have a big game.
In fact, the only way Cal can lose this game is if Maynard reverts to the type of game he had in the Sept. 29 loss to Arizona State, when he was just 9-for-28 and carried a beaten demeanor through much of the game.
Cal presumably will employ a defense similar to the one it used against UCLA when it had five defensive backs on the field most of the time. WSU has no running game to speak of, but the passing attack of a Mike Leach-coached team can never be dismissed.
Leach has not had consistent quarterback play, however. He said Connor Halliday will make his fifth straight start at quarterback against Cal, but Halliday was replaced by Jeff Tuel after throwing three interceptions against Oregon State on Oct. 6. So the Bears may see Tuel at some point if Halliday struggles.
WSU's most dangerous weapon is wide receiver Marquess Wilson, and if the Bears can prevent him from having big plays, the Bears should win -- assuming Maynard plays well enough.

--Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast may have a personnel quandary on his hands. CBs Marc Anthony and Steve Williams have played well this season, but Kameron Jackson was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against UCLA after replacing the injured Anthony early in the game. Jackson had three interceptions and he broke up a pass that led directly to a fourth pick. Anthony, who has a bruised knee, may be ready to return for the Oct. 13 game against Washington State, and presumably he will start if he's healthy enough. So what will Pendergast do with Jackson?
--Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour had been unwavering in her support of Jeff Tedford up until the days preceding the UCLA game. Her words that week hinted that Cal needed to start winning for Tedford to keep his job, although she did not say that in so many words. The impressive victory over UCLA took some heat off Tedford, although an unseemly loss to Washington State will bring the issue of Tedford's job security to the forefront again.
--How Cal uses Brendan Bigelow against Washington State is an issue worth following. He did not carry the ball at all in the first half against USC a week after he rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, and he got just four carries for 31 yards in the second half against the Trojans. Bigelow then did not get a single touch in the Sept. 29 game against Arizona State. However, he was in the starting lineup against UCLA on Oct. 6, when he had five carries for 12 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown.
--Kickoff for the Oct. 20 Big Game against Stanford at Cal has been set for noon. The rivalry game was scheduled for the middle of the season instead of its traditional spot at or near the end of the season as a result of television considerations by the Pac-12 conference.
--Even though Cal is just 2-4, it has outscored its opponents this season 171-168.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 43-25-5 (last meeting 2011, Cal 30-7).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal's offense has been as erratic as QB Zach Maynard, whose performances in Cal's last two games demonstrate his inconsistency. He was 9-for-28 against Arizona State on Sept. 29, then went 25-for-30 the next week against UCLA. The fact the Arizona State defense is dramatically better than UCLA's had a lot to do with it. Cal's biggest offensive shortcoming is pass protection. The 28 sacks yielded by the Bears are the most in the country. Maynard is completing 61.2 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. The Bears' running game has been up and down as well, but the coaches seem determined to use Brendan Bigelow more, which gives the Bears a big-play threat in the backfield it did not have before. C.J. Anderson is probably the team's best back at the moment, and he is coming off a 151-yard rushing performance against UCLA. It leaves the status of TB Isi Sofele, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season, somewhat uncertain.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Forcing six turnovers from UCLA was a major accomplishment for the Bears, who had forced just seven turnovers in the first five games. An improved pass rush had a lot to do with that, as did the play of CB Kameron Jackson, who had three picks and got extensive playing time only because Marc Anthony was hurt. Overall, the Cal defense has not been particularly good against either the run or the pass, and it has not made nearly as many big plays as it did the past two years. The Bears have had solid play at cornerback, and they have playmakers at outside linebacker in Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It can't be, 'OK, take a sigh of relief, and now we're going to coast for a little bit.' We've got to feel motivation from it." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, to the Oakland Tribune, on the importance of avoiding a letdown after the win over UCLA.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at Washington State, Oct. 13 -- Cal has beaten Washington State seven straight times, although this is the first time the Bears are going against the Cougars since Mike Leach was hired as WSU's head coach. Cal (2-4, 1-2 in the Pac-12) is coming off a 43-17 victory over UCLA, while WSU (2-4, 0-3) has lost three in a row, all to conference foes, including last week's 19-6 loss to Oregon State.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If Cal QB Zach Maynard is efficient and plays with confidence, the Bears should win. If Maynard makes mistakes that interrupt drives or give Washington State easy scoring opportunities, particularly early in the game, the Bears could begin to panic in a game they know they should win. Defensively, the Bears' goal is to prevent Washington State WR Marquess Wilson from beating them. He is the one WSU player capable of making big plays. Putting pressure on QB Connor Halliday, who threw three picks against Oregon State on Oct. 6, could create some turnovers, just as the pressure forced mistakes from UCLA QB Brett Hundley. The Cougars have yielded 21 sacks, so they are susceptible to pressure.
WR Keenan Allen -- Always QB Zach Maynard's No. 1 target, Allen is capable of producing a big play as a pass receiver, runner or punt returner. He has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game, though. Allen had more than 100 yards receiving in five of the first six games last season, but he has gone 13 straight games without another one.
TE Richard Rodgers -- Rodgers broke out in a big way against UCLA with seven catches for 129 receiving yards. Coach Jeff Tedford had been saying throughout the offseason that Rodgers is a future pro. Rodgers is still not completely recovered from his foot injury, but he is improving each week.
TB C.J. Anderson -- He had a career-high 151 rushing yards against UCLA, and he will be given plenty of opportunities against a Washington State defense that is not great against the run.
QB Zach Maynard -- He had outstanding games against Ohio State and UCLA, and it's no coincidence those were Cal's best games overall. He has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for the season and is coming off the best game of his career, completing 25-of-30 passes against UCLA.
CB Kameron Jackson -- It's unclear how much Jackson will play because he is not on the first-team defense, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast presumably will find a way to get him on the field after he intercepted three passes against UCLA.
--CB Marc Anthony is questionable for the Washington State game because of a knee injury.
--DE Aaron Tipoti is questionable for the Washington State game with a knee injury.
--G Dominic Galas is not expected to play for at least another week because of a pectoral injury.
--LB Khairi Fortt (knee) has not been cleared for contact and may redshirt.
--TE Spencer Hagan is out for the season with a knee injury.

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