Bears Look to Rebound From First Loss

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The Cal football team should be hoping Jason Gesser doesn't have any Willis Reed in him.

The Bears (3-1) will have their work cut out for them tomorrow in their Pac-10 opener against No. 18 Washington State (3-1), but the task will be a even harder if the Cougars' injured quarterback pulls a Reed-style comeback.

A WSU team without Gesser may be a welcome remedy for Cal, looking to make up for a sputtering offense in last weekend's 23-21 loss to Air Force.

The Bears were torched by Gesser last season, in a 51-20 thrashing by the Cougars. Gesser threw for 432 yards with four touchdown passes.

After suffering a bruised rib and dislocated rib cartilage in WSU's 45-28 win over Montana State last week, Gesser's status for tomorrow's Pac-10 opener is still in question.

If he does return, Gesser is expected to wear a flak jacket to protect his injured rib.

Moving down the depth chart, the next Cougar quarterback, Matt Kegel, doesn't look much better. Gesser's backup is bothered by a bruised knee suffered last week.

So WSU is left with freshman Chris Hurd, who has taken most of the snaps in practice this week.

Still, Cal coach Jeff Tedford believes Gesser will play no matter the pain, just as long as it won't further complicate his injury.

As for a replacement for Gesser if he does sit, Tedford believed it wouldn't make much difference to a high powered Cougar offense which is averaging 392 yards per game.

"Kegel is very athletic also, but Gesser is the type of guy who can break tackles and get out in the open," Tedford said. "They run the same offense though, it's not like they switch to a different offense when the other guy comes in."

One offensive star who will play for certain is Devard Darling, a junior transfer from Florida State. The 6-foot-3 wide receiver has caught a team-high 22 passes, including five for scores.

Darling joins 6-foot-6 senior Mike Bush, who lit up the Bears for 144 yards on five catches last year, in a mammoth receiving corps. But the Cal defensive backs say size won't be a big issue.

"For both Jemeel and me the hardest guys are the short, shifty guys," cornerback James Bethea said. "A lot of times the big guys try to overpower you and that throws them off."

Because of WSU's success in the passing game this season, Tedford said the defense will stress pressure on the quarterback.

"You have to press him," Tedford said. "You can't let him sit back there because those receivers will get open sooner or later."

On offense, the Bears will have to deal with some pressure themselves. Defensive ends Fred Shavies and Isaac Brown have combined for five sacks and 21 tackles, including six for losses.

"When you get the defensive ends with single digits on their jerseys you better watch out," Tedford said. "That normally means they were a running back somewhere down the line. They are very fast and they are very physical inside and quick."

The Cal offensive line has been up to the task this season, allowing only four sacks and giving quarterback Kyle Boller a chance to have the career season he is having. Through four games, Boller is 69-of-128 for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.

However, the Bears' offense ground to a halt at the most critical moments against Air Force last Saturday, failing to score a touchdown until the last minute of the game.

Against the Cougars this week, Boller will be throwing to receivers who seemed to have butter-coated paws against the Falcons, struggling with dropped passes all day.

Tedford said the same receiving corps-Lashaun Ward, Jonathan Makonnen and Geoff McArthur-will start as last week.


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