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Cal Numbers & Notes: Matchup v Bear Offense & Special Teams

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Let’s follow up with our notes on Cal’s defense with a look at the Bear’s offense, which is one of the most explosive in the conference. Although they are coming into this game on a down note, they might be well set up for a potential explosion against the Bruin defense. Here are the three story lines I am picking up heading into this weekend’s game: 1) the status of Jahvid Best, 2) the ongoing QB drama involving Longshore and Riley, and 3) Walker’s ability to scheme against Tedford.

Before we get into those issues here are the numbers matching up Bruin’s defense v. Bear offense including conference rankings.

Bruin Defense 08 Rank Per Game Bear Offense 08 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense 8 182.57 Rushing Offense 5 168.33
Pass Defense 3 175.43 Pass Offense 5 245.50
Pass Eff. Defense 6 120.97
Pass Eff. Offense 5 125.91
Total Defense 6 358.00 Total Offense 4 413.83
Scoring Defense 8 29.14 Scoring Offense 4 37.33

Right now the biggest concern for the Bruin defense is how it will stack up against Cal’s rushing attack. Given what we have seen from last two games, we have reasons to be concerned about our rush defense. The situation could go to bad from worse depending on the status of Jahvid Best, who might be the most explosive running back the Pac-10 has since Reggie Bush. Best dislocated his elbow earlier in the season. He played last weekend and sat out the second half, but according to Miller’s latest report he is feeling "really good":

"It's been positive the last couple of days," Tedford said. "I think it was more muscle issues. His elbow felt pretty good on Sunday and [Monday] he came in and said it felt really good."

Even if Best is not in 100 percent, Cal can still field a devastating big play ground game thanks to his backup Shane Vereen. Jonathan Okanes noted in MercuryNews.com earlier this month how the freshman from Valencia had stepped up in Best’s absence:

Vereen has been consistently productive and occasionally brilliant in his second-string role this season. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Vereen is averaging 69.8 yards per game and eight yards per carry. He also has 10 catches for 44 yards.

His 81-yard touchdown run helped seal the Bears' season-opening win over Michigan State. And after Best reeled off an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play against Washington State, Vereen later scored on an impressive 39-yard touchdown run in which he spun out of a tackle by a defensive back.

"He really has it all," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. "He can run between the tackles, and he has some speed when he gets into the open area. He catches the ball as well as receivers catch the ball. He's a great all-around back."

Here are Vereen’s latest stats. He is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He is also a threat (like Best) as a receiver out of the backfield as he has caught 16 passes for almost 100 yards. Tedford loves to get these guys in open spaces and kill opposing defenses with mismatches. And considering the lack of experience in our back-7, it’s not good new for DeWayne Walker. Here is what Walker had to say wrt to containing Best and Vareen:

"We can't let them out of the cage," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "They get out and they're gone. This is different than any backs we've seen. These are speed guys. They can hit it and get it."

Our defense can’t let Best or Vareen get in open spaces. Walker sounded off the same note:

No matter who runs the ball for Cal, Walker expects the game plan to be the same.

"They are going to try to catch us in space and we have to keep them as confined as possible," Walker said. "If we let them out, we could have some problems

Big trouble would be an understatement.

Best and Vereen also get to run behind an OL, which was expected to be one of the best if not the best in the conference. From Rivals.com’s season preview:

STRONGEST AREA: Mack leads a line that returns three starters and was among the most productive in the league. Cal allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-10 last season and blocked for 1,500-yard back Justin Forsett. Gaurd Noris Malele is a three-year starter, and senior Mike Tepper moves to left tackle after starting on the right side last season.

The question mark around Cal right now is which QB this line will be blocking for on Saturday. Per Miller’s report earlier this week both Longshore and Riley were going to get equal reps in practices:

"Our quarterback situation will be the same as last week as far as they will get equal reps during the week and we'll see how the week goes to see who's going to start," Tedford said.

Their numbers are about the same. However, the sentiment around Bay Area seems to be in favor of Riley (or against Longshore):

The time has come for Tedford to bench Longshore and commit to Riley as the starter, for this week and for the rest of the season. No more week-to-week decisions.

Longshore’s erratic, shrinking performance in the 42-27 loss at Arizona was the final piece of evidence, and it was overwhelming.

How much more does Tedford need to see? How many more second-half meltdowns does Cal need to experience? How many more game-changing interceptions does Longshore need to throw?

He’s making the same mistakes — the exact same mistakes, in the same stadium, against the same team, on the same kind of throws — that he made two years ago. He has not learned; he has not gotten better; and the results are the same.

This is no knock on Longshore personally. It’s a football assessment and a football assessment only. His numbers, his performances and the losses under his command speak for themselves.

Tedford has to commit to Riley and live through the inevitable ups and downs that come with playing a sophomore quarterback.

That was from Jon Wilner, who laid out a strong case for why Riley should be Tedford’s starting QB for rest of the season.

From Bruin’s pov it doesn’t matter as much. If Longshore is in rhythm he will be able to pick apart to Bruin defense. I’d feel better about Longshore starting if the game was at the Rose Bowl, however, I think since this will be a home game, it won’t matter who starts (from UCLA’s pov) for California. Riley though could present extra headache for Walker, since our defense has had tough time with mobile QBs during Walker’s tenure at UCLA.

As for Cal’s receiving corps, they don’t have a go to guy like DeSean Jackson this season. Right now Jahvid Best is their team’s leading receiver with 18 catches (tied with Cameron Morrah who leads the team with 5 receiving TDs). I mentioned above about Vereen’s ability to catch it out of the backfield as well. LaReylle Cunningham and Nyan Boateng are capable of having big games (although they haven’t done it on a consistent basis to date). Last week it was Verran Tucker who stepped up out of nowhere, before Cal imploded in the third quarter. Given the issues Bruin secondary has had with Lockett and Norris’s tackling problems and Moore’s experience, tomorrow could be a perfect set up for the Cal receivers to have a huge game. That takes me to the third story line in this matchup.

I think Walker has done a pretty solid job of in game adjustments last two games against Oregon and Stanford. However, for us to have any chance in this game, our defense will have to come out in an aggressive mode from the get go. Cal’s offense is light years ahead of Stanford in terms of its explosiveness and is more dangerous than Oregon’s given that it presents multi dimensional threat no matter who is at QB.

The goals for Bruin defense in this game is pretty simply (well at least on paper). They will need to come out and tackle. They will need to stay patient ands stay with their assignments.  Lastly, they will have to find a way to generate pressure on the Cal QB. If they allow the Cal QB to get in rhythm and let him pick apart the defense methodically, there is a good chance they will get BYUed tomorrow afternoon.

I wanted to finish up with a quick note on our special teams. Even though I am not doing a separate post, it can’t be emphasize enough how crucial the special teams role could be tomorrow afternoon in the game of field position. Bruins cannot allow Cal to work with short field. And once again we will point to Best:

The Bears might need Jahvid Best on kickoff returns as much as they need him in the backfield. KORs determine field position, and the Bears repeatedly started at their 25 or so. (Jeremy Ross returned four kicks for a total of 86 yards.)

Best was averaging 31.6 yards per return before his elbow injury.

In addition to being worried about Best's ability to take it to the house during returns, I'd also be worry about Syd'Quan Thompson. He can burn opposing special teams as well.  And, the Bruin special team has been a point of concern all season, particularly when it comes to giving up huge returns on kickoff. For them to pull off an upset against the Bears tomorrow, they will have to minimize the sloppy job they have been doing on special teams this season covering kick returns.

I think the Bruins will have a shot tomorrow afternoon if they can replicate their Oregon performance without all those mistakes and good start from our offense. Expect Cal to come out fired up and ready to blow out Bruins out of Memorial Stadium in first few series. If the Bruins lose their composure like they did in their first road trip, it will get ugly. If they can keep this game close in the fourth quarter, I like our chances.

GO BRUINS.