BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — When it comes to the ground game, No. 15 Oregon State and California have plenty of similarities.
Both offenses have dynamic backs that fuel the offense with Damien Martinez leading the way for the Beavers and Jaydn Ott doing the same for the Golden Bears.
It’s the passing game that differentiates the two, and the major reason the Beavers (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) head into the game Saturday night at California (3-2, 1-1) as a contender in the conference and the Golden Bears are fighting to get bowl eligible. FanDuel has the Beavers as a 9 1/2-point favorite.
Clemson transfer D.J. Uiagalelei has provided a big boost to the Oregon State offense in his first year with the team. He has thrown for 1,032 yards and eight TDs in five games, while adding five more touchdowns on the ground.
“I think he’s playing with confidence,” coach Jonathan Smith said. “I think he’s a veteran that is aware that this is not a game of perfect. His approach even in the game, not getting too high, too low. And he did, he played really effective (last week) and we’re going to need it again this weekend.”
The Bears have been unable to find an answer at quarterback with Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley splitting time this year with neither being particularly effective.
The two have alternated starts so far this season with both missing time with injuries. Jackson was the first Cal quarterback to play the entire game last week against Arizona State but he completed only 12 of 29 passes for 130 yards with one TD and no interceptions.
Jackson has completed only 52.6% of his passes this season while Finley has thrown four interceptions and three touchdowns.
Coach Justin Wilcox wouldn’t divulge who will start on Saturday but knows the Bears need better play at the position.
“We have a plan, and maybe we’ll talk about it later in the week, maybe we won’t,” he said. “But like a lot of positions we’ve got to get more consistency there.”
Oregon State will be short-handed for the first half with defensive tackle James Rawls and linebacker Calvin Hart Jr. ineligible to play in the first half after being called for targeting in the second half last week against Utah.
That will stress the run defense, which is a key part of this game against Ott and the Bears.
“Especially the way they can run the ball, that back is good,” Smith said. “So you want to have your whole arsenal defensively. So yeah, it’ll impact some things but again, we got some depth that those two positions.”
Finish The Job
The Beavers bounced back from a loss at Washington State by beating Utah 21-7 last week. But Smith was far from satisfied with the performance — especially on offense.
“I do think on the offensive end we wanted to be able to finish better,” he said. “In the fourth quarter we got a good lead. I think we actually had one first down in four drives in the fourth quarter. We want to improve on that, talked about as a team, and coaches.”
The game against the Beavers begins a treacherous stretch of the schedule for the Bears, who are scheduled to play five consecutive games against teams currently in the AP poll. Cal ends the season after that stretch with back-to-back road games against Stanford and UCLA, providing a difficult schedule for a team that needs three more wins to be eligible for its first bowl game since 2019.
Central Oregon Daily News contributed to this report.