Midweek Notebook: Week 4
Midweek Notebook: Week 4Football beat writer Matt Kawahara talks about a bigger role for Jeremy Ross because of Nyan Boateng's injury and the importance of Cal's upcoming game against Oregon.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
The only time the Cal football team sets foot on Memorial Stadium turf on Sundays is for a short conditioning session in the afternoon. It's typically a light affair.
With the beginning of Pac-10 play just days away, this past Sunday -- which included a brief walkthrough -- felt a little different.
"There was a little bit of edge to them," coach Jeff Tedford said during Tuesday's media conference. "It was very serious on Sunday. It was almost like we had lost the game the day before. They were very focused, very serious about what we're getting ready to get into. I think that has a lot to do with the maturity and the experience of guys on the team."
One of the most experienced, senior linebacker Eddie Young, led the players in a chant of "Pac-10 Champs: That's us!" that hadn't been heard since fall camp. Young then walked out into the stretching lines and urged the team that it was time to "not talk about it, but be about it."
The words seemed to carry more weight in the aftermath of what happened in Seattle, Wash., last Saturday. With Washington upsetting USC , many people are now tabbing the Bears as the team to beat in the conference. It's a role that No. 6 Cal will start defending at Autzen Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, when it opens Pac-10 play against Oregon.
"It feels different," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "Everybody's fired up. These past three games were exciting, we did what we had to do there. But coming into the Pac-10 now, we have (the "Pac-10 Champs" chant), so we really took that to heart. Being that this is the first Pac-10 game, everybody's fired up and ready to live up to that statement."
Overall, the conference had its share of success in nonconference play: USC defeated Ohio State, UCLA beat Tennessee and Oregon rebounded from its debacle against Boise State to win home games against Purdue and then-No. 18 Utah. The Bears, in turn, finished 3-0 out of conference. But Tedford , Ross and quarterback Kevin Riley all stressed that Saturday marks the beginning of an entirely new season, and the three wins could be rendered meaningless by a poor showing in Pac-10 play.
"Every game is going to be a fight, and this first one is going to be a fight," Riley said. "Right now and for the rest of the season is how we're going to be looked at. It's Pac-10 play and these wins are the ones that matter."
One thing that Cal is taking away from its win at Minnesota, though, is the experience of playing in a hostile environment. The Bears don't get much of a break between nonconference and the Pac-10, as the Ducks and their notoriously noisy stadium present arguably the conference's toughest challenge for visiting teams.
"Going to Minnesota, there were some similarities there to Autzen's field," Tedford said. "Fifty thousand people. Very loud. So it was a good experience going into this one."
When Cal defeated Oregon at Memorial Stadium last year, the Bears did so in part by neutralizing the Ducks' passing game. Oregon ran for over 200 yards, but quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed just seven of his 21 passes and threw two interceptions.
Granted, that game was played in a heavy downpour, which didn't make throwing the ball against Cal's talented secondary any easier. But the trend has carried over into this season. The Ducks haven't passed for a touchdown in three games, and Masoli has a 45.3 percent completion rate.
Tedford, though, isn't at all convinced that Oregon's offense has become one-dimensional.
"You still have to be disciplined about what's going on," Tedford said. "I think it's pretty well known that over the last couple years the strength of their team is in their run game. That's not a surprise to anyone. But it doesn't mean they can't throw it. They can hurt you at any time. There's no way that you can let down or overcompensate for one."
Although Masoli hasn't been extremely accurate, just the fact that he is a dual-threat quarterback is what carries the Ducks' tricky spread offense. Defensive end Tyson Alualu said that, to prepare for Masoli, the Bears are looking at him as a running threat first.
"He's just a real shifty guy, and will break tackles," Alualu said. "So this game we've got stay disciplined, just do our jobs."
The lasting image of Cal's last trip to Autzen Stadium is one of safety Marcus Ezeff's dramatic, game-saving forced fumble in the fourth quarter. That play preserved the Bears' 31-24 lead, gave them their first win in Eugene, Ore., in 20 years, and propelled the team to a No. 3 national ranking.
On Tuesday, Ezeff said that while he still hears about the play from time to time, he's comfortable with it being in the past.
"It was two years ago," he said. "It was a great play to have on your career, but at the same time it's just another game. Going down there and trying to get another win."
For Tedford, that game dispelled the notion that he couldn't win as an opposing coach in the stadium where he once worked as Oregon coach Mike Bellotti's offensive coordinator. He acknowledged Tuesday that the win was an important one in his tenure at Cal.
"Because I respect how difficult it is to be successful at Autzen," he said. "That day, especially the way that game played out -- the weapons they had on offense with (Dennis) Dixon, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson -- they were a powerful offensive group. And to play the way that we played, we were stretched all over the field and the effort was unbelievable. To win there was a great feeling, but to win the way we did was very fulfilling."
Contact Matt Kawahara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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