KERRY SAYS: Scratch that itch, Oregon State
Justin Wilcox has breathed some life into California football. The former Oregon defensive back took over the program from Sonny Dykes and brought Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin along as his offensive coordinator.
The Bears beat North Carolina and Mississippi in the preseason and stunned Washington State 37-3 on Oct. 13.
But Cal (4-5 overall, 1-5 in Pac-12 action) remains on the lower end of the Pac-12 ladder, presenting another opportunity for interim OSU coach Cory Hall to gain his first victory.
The Bears throw the ball well. Quarterback Ross Bowers has completed 203 of 361 passes (56.2 percent) for 2,356 yards and 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. The 6-2, 200-pound sophomore was 29 for 52 for 359 yards and three TDs in a 44-28 loss at Colorado last Saturday. Sophomore Kanawai Noa has 43 receptions for 655 yards and four TDs.
Cal has struggled with the run game — offensively and defensively. In three recent losses to Oregon, Washington and Colorado, the Bears were outrushed by a collective 691 yards to 29. And yes, Oregon State's strength is with its ground attack.
The defensive-minded Wilcox didn't like what he saw at Boulder.
"(The Buffaloes) throw the ball over our heads," he told reporters. "Then they got into the run game, and we missed tackles. You name it … you can't do that and win. You can't beat anybody doing that. It's unacceptable playing like that."
The Beavers (1-7, 0-5) are "just itching for a victory," defensive end Titus Failauga says, scratching his chest for emphasis. There's no question the desire is there.
But will there be enough healthy bodies in the secondary to survive?
Cornerback Dwayne Williams (knee) is out for the season. The other starting corner, Xavier Crawford (thumb), is out for at least another week. Cornerback Jay Irvine (shoulder) is listed as doubtful and Shawn Wilson questionable for the Cal game. If none of the four play, that would leave true freshman Isaiah Dunn and converted running back Kyle White as the ones still standing at the corners. It also would likely force safety Omar Onu-Hicks into the nickel spot.
David Morris (concussion) will return to pair with Jalen Moore as starting safeties, but senior Landry Payne — who played the game of his life against Stanford with 10 tackles and a forced fumble — has an undisclosed injury and will miss the game at Berkeley.
All of this is not the best scenario against a passing offense.
The Beavers are 0-14 on the road since Gary Andersen took over the OSU program at the start of the 2015 season. Oregon State's last victory away from home was at Colorado on Oct. 4, 2014. (For perspective, Cal has lost 11 straight Pac-12 road contests).
This is Hall's first foray as interim coach away from home after too-close defeats to Colorado and Stanford. He is champing at the bit to taste victory. And yes, his players have an itch that needs to be scratched.
I'm seeing it happen at Strawberry Canyon.
THE PICK: Oregon State 27, California 24