Cal’s performance in its first two games suggest the Golden Bears (1-1) have little chance to win its Sept. 15 game against Ohio State – which is the Bears’ first road game and first game against a ranked opponent.
Quite simply, the Golden Bears have played poorly in both games – losing to a Nevada team that subsequently lost at home to South Florida and leading FSC team Southern Utah by just three points entering the fourth quarter before walking away with an unsatisfying 50-31 victory.
It’s safe to say the Golden Bears did not get the confidence boost they needed from that game.
Cal would have to reduce its penalties significantly and get the best game of the season – perhaps career – from quarterback Zach Maynard for Cal to be in contention in the fourth quarter in a stadium filled with more than 100,000 Ohio State fans.
Maynard has been OK in the Bears’ first two games, but he has not continued the improvement he showed late last season when it appeared he might turn into an elite quarterback. He needs to play the way he did in the final two regular-season games last season, against Stanford and Arizona State. If he does that, the Golden Bears can stay in the game, because the Buckeyes’ defense has been vulnerable against the pass, both last season and this year.
The Bears would also need to figure out how to contain a dual-threat quarterback, something they could not do against Nevada’s Cody Fajardo. And Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is a far more dangerous run-pass threat than Fajardo.
Miller has passed and run for 664 of Ohio State’s 949 yards this season, and with injuries to the Buckeyes’ running backs, Miller becomes an even bigger focus of the Buckeyes’ attack.
It comes down to two individuals – Maynard and Miller – and if Maynard is not outclassed by Miller, the Bears have a shot to at least stay close.
That’s because the Buckeyes have not been spectacular themselves despite the 2-0 record and comfortable victories over Miami-Ohio and Central Florida. Like the Bears, they have had issues with penalties and turnovers.
Ohio State was a 6-7 team last year, and Miller has yet to prove he can be a consistent passing threat against topflight defenses. Certainly, his skills fit perfectly with Urban Meyer’s spread option offense, and Ohio State figures to improve with Meyer as its coach, but the 2012 Buckeyes remain an uncertain commodity.
—Three Cal starters — OT Matt Summers-Gavin (knee), OLB Chris McCain (shoulder) and TE Richard Rodgers (ankle) — are questionable for the Ohio State game. The most critical of the three is probably McCain, who would be a vital part of the defensive scheme to prevent Ohio State QB Braxton Miller from getting to the edge. Miller has rushed for more than 140 yards in each of Ohio State’s first two games and is particularly dangerous if he breaks containment.
— Ohio State may start a true freshman at running back. The projected starter, Jordan Hall, has missed the first two games with a foot injury and he’s questionable for the Cal game. Carlos Hyde, who started against Central Florida, sustained a knee injury in that game that is likely to sideline him against the Bears. Freshman Bri’onte Dunn could get the start for the Buckeyes after rushing for 29 yards on five carries against Central Florida and running seven times for 31 yards against Miami-Ohio.
— Cal has faced Ohio State six times, and the only time the Golden Bears won was in the 1920 season, when the Bears, coached by Andy Smith, finished off a 9-0 season with a 28-0 Rose Bowl victory over an Ohio State team that was 7-0. Cal outscored its opponents by a combined 482-14 that season.