By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
It sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? A crucial one-score loss on the road in Pullman, a thrilling win at home against a ranked Utah team, followed up by a trip to Berkley the week after. The Beavers ran this exact gauntlet in the 2021 season, that game at Cal was the first of two straws that broke the camel’s — or former defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar’s — back. The Beavers surrendered over 500 yards of offense and could never dig themselves out of the 17-3 hole they dug in the first half, falling 39-25.
The 2023 edition of Oregon State’s East Bay trip should be significantly different. The No. 15 Beavers open as a 9.5-point favorite after out-slugging Utah at home. This is a prime spot for a letdown game: a dead environment on the road with UCLA looming before the bye week. The Beavers aren’t playing music at practice to prepare themselves for what might be a late night in a quiet stadium on the Pac-12 Network. Oregon State defeated the Golden Bears 38-10 at Reser Stadium in 2022. How can the Beavers come out of Berkley with a win? Let’s examine:
1. Start fast
The first drive or two of the game will tell us a lot about the manufactured energy level the Beavers can bring to this football game. Videos were floating around the internet of the intense crowd that packed Cal-Arizona State a week prior for a 12:30 P.M. kickoff (a skeptically-announced attendance of 34,353). There might be a few more fans (especially Beaver Fans) in the stands for a nighttime kickoff, but I wouldn’t hold my breath too much. Oregon State saw what a strong first drive against Utah a week ago did to the energy level of the team and fans while giving both units the comfort of an early lead. Better to manufacture energy early than force the issue late and stumble into mistakes.
2. Jaydn Ott vs. a thin Beaver Defense (for a half)
Both LB Calvin Hart Jr. and DL James Rawls will miss the first half due to targeting penalties in the second half of the Beavers’ 21-7 win over Utah. Melvin Jordan IV or John Miller should start in that other LB spot and a number of quality guys along the defensive line should have no issue filling in for Rawls. Cal runs a lot of plays, their 45 rushes/game ranks ninth nationally, so if there’s a game you don’t want to be thin at your run-stopping positions, it would be this one. Ott has shown up against some of the lesser opponents the Golden Bears have faced (188 yards against North Texas, 165 vs. Arizona State), and been nullified against some of the better ones (78 against Auburn, 40 against Washington). None of those schools have been as good against the run (2.7 YPC) as Oregon State has been this season. Don’t sleep on backup Isaiah Ifanse either, the Beavers saw him with Montana State in 2022.
3. Somebody get a body on Jeremiah Hunter
Hunter really broke out as a sophomore a season ago with nearly 1,000 yards, and he’s off to a hot start in ’23 with four touchdowns in five games. Cal has been rotating through two quarterbacks, Sam Jackson’s V and Ben Finley, and neither has been particularly effective through the air, so it’s impressive how productive Hunter has managed to be. Who will be lining up across from Hunter? Jaden Robinson left Friday’s game against Utah and did not return with a hamstring issue, his status for Saturday is TBD. We saw a good bit of run from redshirt freshman Noble Thomas and redshirt sophomore Josiah Johnson in his place alongside Ryan Cooper Jr.
Cal has really struggled on defense at points this season, and I think Oregon State can find some success through both the air and the ground game. Don’t be surprised if DJ Uiagalelei has a little bit more success against the same Golden Bears defense that surrendered 344 passing yards to Arizona State’s third-string quarterback on Saturday. The Beaver defense should be just fine against a team that still hasn’t decided which quarterback to entrench as a starter this season.
Beavers 31, Cal 17.