OSU v. Cal: Position breakdown, who has edge?

WILL IT BE A BIG NIGHT FOR COOKS (7) AND WHEATON?

CORVALLIS -- Two home games left before the postseason, and OSU is facing quarterback questions and injuries. Cal faces a similar scenario, yet they are coming off a well fought battle against Oregon and may have Zach Maynard back at QB. Can Cal upset an OSU squad reeling from a heartbreaker in Palo Alto?

Quarterback: Whoever Mike Riley chooses (assuming both are healthy), this Beaver offense probably cannot afford another shakeup at the starting QB slot this late into the season. Neither QB has been consistent enough to be the clear-cut choice. If it's Sean Mannion, how much rust will he have to shake off when Cal comes calling. Jeff Tedford is toying with the notion of whether or not to clear senior Zach Maynard – and he has got to be hoping he can go. Junior Allan Bridgford was okay against Oregon, who kept Cal to a mere 17 points last weekend. But Maynard can run, and run well – an invaluable weapon to take with you to Corvallis. Even if Maynard is playing at 75 percent, he can still hurt OSU with his legs.
Edge is tied

Running Back: Riley has come under recent criticism for underutilizing his running back corps (last week Storm Woods had nearly 100 yards, but did it only 15 carries) and justifiably so from this chair -- the Beavs need to consistently run the ball to the outside with the quicker Woods, and smash it through the middle of opposing defensive lines with the brick house that is Terron Ward. Cal seniors Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson have a combined 1,382 rushing yards this season. Tack on the contributions of sophomore Brendan Bigelow (504 yards, yet to be stopped for a loss) and it's easy to see how the Cal run game can be a little intimidating. The silver lining for the Beavs? Cal has fumbled the ball 18 times this season. If the Beavs have their backs carry it 30 or more times, the edge goes to them. If not…
Edge is tied

Tight End: Colby Prince and Connor Hamlett will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. The Bears' pass defense is quick in pursuit and even quicker in regards to closing speed. Both need to "ignoring the footsteps." Soft hands and surprising speed has turned their hands turn into bricks when defenders are closing in. Look for Hamlett to have a bigger night in the receiving game than Prince, his speed can be key in turning second and long situations into third and short opportunities. Cal brings Richard Rodgers to the table. The sophomore (6-4, 265) is averaging just above 16 yards per catch and has scooped up 273 yards and a TD in the process. He has breakaway speed and will be integral to Cal's offensive attack if star Cal wideout Keenan Allen (battling injuries) can't go. Rodgers is good – but is he good enough to elude Beaver linebackers and a stout OSU secondary all day?
Edge goes to OSU

Offensive Line: Will the Beavers go more run-oriented this week? They may not be as big as the O-line for Cal but the OSU front five makes up for it with agility off the snap. Grant Enger looks doubtful right now, but Derek Nielsen looked fairly good in his stead. Still, expect Cal to target him at right guard. Running the ball will help eliminate complex Cal blitz packages off the edge, and give guys like Colin Kelly and Michael Philip a chance to push instead of being pushed. Despite three seniors up front, Cal has allowed 40 sacks for a loss of 262 yards this season. Compare that to the Beavs, who have allowed just 21 sacks for a loss of 151 yards.
Edge goes to OSU

Wide Receiver: Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks will be taking on the No. 98 ranked passing defense in the nation this Saturday. The tandem is capable of nightmarish deeds against Cal if their QB is given time to breathe and make good decisions. The same goes for the Cal passing attack – but with Allen doubtful for Saturday's game, the Golden Bears might not have their primary receiving weapon. That means much of Cal's offensive production will rely on the likes of Rodgers and Bigelow, and the Golden Bears may become predictable.
Edge goes to OSU

Defensive Line: Cal's lack of depth on the defensive line may have burdened the Golden Bears throughout the season, but give credit to seniors Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne for racking up 50 tackles, five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks between them. The 3-4 set Cal operates out of has been manipulated constantly this season yet Tipoti, Payne and junior Deandre Coleman (42 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss) come into every game with a fire in their bellies. However OSU's d-line has the tendency to fatigue their o-line counterparts as the game wears on. If Dylan Wynn, Scott Crichton, Castro Masaniai, Andrew Seumalo and super sub Rudolf Fifita can get the upper hand early, the tide could turn orange and black very quickly. Needless to say, the front four probably have a chip on their shoulder after sliding from No.5 to No.10 nationally for rush defense. But can they stop speedy QB's? You won't see Bridgford running much – with Maynard sprinting for a first down on a rollout is in his DNA, 100 percent or not. Containment will be essential.
Edge goes to OSU

Linebackers: The Golden Bears may be young in their linebacker ranks, but they have no lack of talent. As a group, the three sophomores and a freshman have racked up 211 tackles, 20.5 TFL and nine sacks. Sophomores Nick Forbes and Chris McCain (who has been struggling with an ankle injury) lead the way. With the help of freshman Jalen Jefferson and sophomore Brennan Scarlett, the Golden Bears can be devastating, but injuries and academic issues have plagued the Cal LB corps in 2012. The rib injury to D.J. Alexander against Stanford shed some light on an unheralded facet of the Beaver defense – the contributions of senior Rueben Robinson. He's a stay-at-home, versatile type of defender with good vision when it comes to reading pass plays. And OSU has received solid work of late from Feti Unga and Michael Doctor. The speed of OSU makes the difference here.
Edge goes to OSU

Secondary: Rashaad Reynolds and Jordan Poyer combine to make one of the best big play cornerback tandems in the Pac-12. Reynolds delivers the hits, Poyer gets the picks, and everyone is jolly right? Wrong. OSU is ranked No.73 in the nation in regards to pass protection allowing over 248 yards per game. But that's what happens when you have your two starting corners also focusing more on run support and turnovers. Reynolds leads the team in tackles, which really isn't all that good considering OSU wants to funnel ballcarriers to the middle and that opponents are completing nearly 60 percent of their passes against the Beavs. But with Allen doubtful, a strong run stopping corner like Reynolds will come in handy against the likes of Sofele, Anderson and Bigelow. Cal has let loose some big gains through the air, but will have a hard time coping with the Beaver secondary all evening long.
Edge goes to OSU

Coaching: Many fans questioned the playcalling last week. The pass game was increasingly ineffective, the Beavs failed time and time again to convert on third down and generate points after big turnovers – yet Riley stuck with his aerial game plan. But that's what happens when you lose – everything is questioned. Jeff Tedford, firmly on the hot seat, and Riley are the winningest coaches in their respective program's histories – hell, maybe they know a thing or two about one another's tendencies.
Edge is tied

Intangibles: While the injures have been relatively minor for both squads, the reorganizing and shuffling of various players to compensate for limited depth have taken obvious tolls on each team. Vaz, Alexander and Enger are key cogs and even if they can go, how healthy will they be? For the Golden Bears, the prospect of having Maynard questionable and Allen doubtful must be daunting. But Cal fared well last weekend against Oregon, even with Maynard and Allen absent. Either way, the game must go on.

Final Thoughts: OSU has the advantage in terms of talent and depth on defense, and the Beaver offense can make sparks fly if they're a little less predictable. With Allen out, Maynard/Bridgford will have a hard time moving the chains unless their trio of tailbacks can make a tremendous impact early on in the contest.
Victory goes to OSU, Final score 30 – 14.

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