If there was ever a game in the nation’s toughest schedule where the nation’s 2nd-youngest team could take a breather, let up, and try not to get hurt, last week’s game against Portland St. was it. Add the Vikings’ yearning to knock off a Pac-12 opponent, plus Cal’s depleted defense, and you get a physical, evenly-matched game. Credit the coaching staff with defensive adjustments, and credit the players for snapping out of whatever mode they were in — the defense clamped down, and Cal prevailed in a close game.
The Wow! play of the year so far — WR Maurice Harris’s ‘how-did-he-do-that,’ one-handed grab of Jared Goff’s laser-beam throw over the middle.
Today’s game against Ohio St. is a different story. When Cal is on defense for their first series, it will be clear that Cal’s DL won’t be winning too many battles at the line of scrimmage. Look for tOSU to put up NCAA-record numbers on the ground, with multiple highlight-reel rushing TDs by backup QB Kenny Guiton (13). Cal’s D will find that the quickest way to get off the field will be to give up TDs. This will be a physical overmatch, pure & simple, except for the plays (especially early in the game) when Cal does some blitzing & gambling to disrupt Guiton & tOSU’s offense. Look for Cal to put 8 in the box to stop the run, and force Guiton to pass. If the Buckeyes ever see a 3rd down, the TE will be wide open over the middle.
The more exciting matchup will be when Cal is on offense. tOSU is likely to “get physical” with Cal’s relatively small & inexperienced receivers — “jamming” them at the line, to keep them from running their routes. This will give tOSU’s DL more time to get to QB Jared Goff. With this approach, officiating will be critical. Cal will need the officiating crew to be watchful for pass interference — and they won’t be. The refs will be “lettin’ em play”, and Coach Dykes will be fuming on the sidelines.
tOSU’s D will also be focused on shutting down RB Brendan Bigelow (5) to avoid a repeat of last year. This year, they’re ready.
Prediction: Ohio St. 59, Cal 38
Note: The Buckeyes bring their Marching Band, and the Cal & tOSU Bands perform the pregame show together. If you love marching bands, ya gotta check this out!