Bears good enough to beat Beavers
BERKELEY, California — Oregon State had plenty of "want-to," but not nearly enough "can-do" Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Beavers couldn't stop California's offense, couldn't get enough going against Cal's defense and couldn't overcome penalties and the loss of two defensive starters in a 37-23 loss.
The Bears (5-5 overall, 2-5 in Pac-12 play) piled up a big advantage in first downs (34-18), total offense (475-299), rushing yardage (216-104) and passing yardage (259-195) against the game but not good-enough Beavers (1-8, 0-6).
"The boys battled," OSU interim coach Cory Hall told the media afterward. "I don't want to take anything away from Cal. (The Bears) play a good game, but it wasn't anything we haven't seen across the conference.
"I'm not lying when I say I'm proud of the boys. I'm proud to be their coach. I'm proud to be leading this team. They're learning. You just wish the learning could be sped up."
Cal is playing for a bowl berth in the first season under head coach Justin Wilcox.
"Really proud of our team today," Wilcox said. "They competed really hard. We played with an edge, a chip on our shoulders."
The Bears have struggled running the ball most of the season, but not Saturday. Patrick Laird, a 6-foot, 200-pound junior who came into the game with 582 yards rushing in eight games, went for a career-high 214 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.
Quarterback Ross Bowers, a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore, completed 24 of 30 passes for 259 yards and two TDs against an Oregon State secondary depleted by injuries and the first-half ejection of starting cornerback Kyle White. Vic Wharton caught eight passes for 121 yards and a score.
But freshman linebacker Kee Whetzel — who came on when starter Bright Ugwoegbu was ejected in the third quarter — was more impressed with Stanford in the Cardinal's 15-14 win over Oregon State last weekend.
"I didn't think (the Bears) were that good," Whetzel said. "I thought Stanford was way better. We knew what (the Bears) were doing against us the whole game. We just have to execute better."
But Cal's offensive line opened holes, and too often when Beaver defenders were at the point of attack they couldn't finish tackles. Senior linebacker Manase Hungalu had a career-high 20 tackles — most by an OSU player all season — but he didn't have enough help.
"When plays are there to be made," Hall said, "we just have to make them. We didn't do that enough today."
The loss of White — on Cal's first possession — and Ugwoegbu didn't help.
The Beavers, who have been decimated by injury at cornerback, were down to converted tailback White and true freshman Isaiah Dunn at corner. When White went out, safety/nickel back Omar Hicks-Onu moved over to corner. The 6-1, 200-pound sophomore didn't back down, but Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin took advantage of his inexperience by picking on him in coverage throughout the game.
Ugwoegbu was having an outstanding game when he was booted following a nose-in-the-numbers stick on Laird early in the third quarter. The 6-2, 235-pound junior wasn't flagged for a penalty, but after review was called for targeting — an automatic ejection that will cause him to miss the first half of next Saturday's game at Arizona.
"Kyle hit his guy on the way down," Whetzel said. "You just can't do that. Bright's (targeting call) was arguable. I thought it was a clean hit, but it's not up to me."
Hall was complaining neither about losing two defensive starters nor the targeting calls.
"No excuses," he said. "We're a team. We have guys who can fill in. We went into the game knowing we were short on (cornerbacks). Omar was serviceable. It's a part of the game. We have to be able to handle those situations better.
"Once those rulings are made, you have to live with it. It's not just Oregon State. Questionable targeting calls are controversial across the country. … But rules are rules. Lead with the crown of your head and there are going to be repercussions. It didn't stop us from executing our defense and calling plays."
In last season's 47-44 overtime win over Cal, Oregon State's Ryan Nall rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday, Nall never got going, carrying 12 times for 35 yards. He also had four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, but the Bears could live with that.
"We were committed to stopping the run, and we played a lot of heavy-run fronts," Wilcox said. "(Nall) hit some runs, and he's going to earn some. He's a really good back. He's a big guy and they have some good schemes — misdirections, so they will get people out of their gaps — but our guys competed really well."
The Beavers managed only 104 yards rushing.
"We're going to have to run the ball a little better," tight end Noah Togiai said. "We have to be able to block better than we did today."
The passing game never got unleashed, either. Quarterback Darell Garretson was 13 for 25 passing for 169 yards.
"(The Bears) did a really good job up front," Garretson said. "Their front seven was really tough. It's a different defense than last year, that's for sure."
Oregon State struck on the game's first possession, using a little trickery to score and finish an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
On first-and-10 from the Cal 26, tight end Tuli Wily-Matagi lined up in the right slot. He took a backward pass from Garretson and served up a rainbow to Nall, who avoided one tackler at the five and dashed into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with just 3:44 gone in the game.
"It was executed just how we practiced it," Hall said. "Now (Wily-Matagi) is in the passer stats."
Cal came back and, aided by a pair of major penalties on Oregon State, tied the count at 7-7. Laird's 12-yard TD run capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive.
After a short Nick Porebski punt, Cal moved 58 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. On third-and-goal from the OSU 14, Bowers found Wharton — who had beaten Hicks-Onu on a fade route — for the touchdown to give the Bears a 14-7 advantage with 1:12 left in the quarter.
Cal tacked on a 45-yard Matt Anderson field goal on its next possession for a 17-7 edge with 11:47 left in the second quarter.
The Beavers responded by moving to the Cal 31, and Jordan Choukair's career-long 49-yard field goal trimmed the Bears' lead to 17-10 with 5:19 to play in the quarter.
Cal marched to the OSU 40, but the Beavers' defense made a stand, stopping the Bears on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, taking over with 3:07 left on the clock before halftime.
A 25-yard pass from Garretson to Togiai got the Beavers into field-goal range, and when Choukair knocked another one through cleanly from 49 yards, the margin was cut to 17-13 with 41 seconds left before intermission.
But the Bears moved quickly to the OSU 33, and Anderson kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired to make it a seven-point game at the half.
After another Anderson 3-pointer made it 23-13, the Beavers came back with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive — aided by a pair of major penalties by the Bears. A 33-yard Garretson-to-Trevon Bradford pass set up Thomas Tyner's 5-yard TD run, and Cal's lead was only 23-20 with 2:09 to go in the third quarter.
Cal's response was quick — five plays, 74 yards, capped by Jordan Veasy's 25-yard scoring reception that made it 30-20 Bears with 23 seconds on the clock in the period.
When reserve back Vic Enware scored from 8 yards to give Cal a 37-20 lead with 10:30 remaining, it was all but over.
Hall wasn't pleased with the outcome but was buoyed by his players' effort.
"Their energy, mind-set and how they prepared was nothing short of my expectations," he said. "You haven't seen this team quit, and I don't think you'll see that."
Still, no "W."
"We didn't get the win," Togiai said. "That's the main goal every game."
"Not good at all," Garretson said. "I don't think anyone likes losing. We have to stay more disciplined than we were on the field today. We just have to keep getting at it. It's on the players to change this."
NOTES — Oregon State's next action is Saturday at Arizona. … The Beavers had won six of their previous seven meetings with California at Berkeley. Overall, OSU is 13-6 against Cal dating to 1999. … The place-kicking was outstanding on both teams. Both Cal's Anderson and OSU's Choukair were 3 for 3 on field-goal attempts. … Oregon State had nine penalties for 99 yards. "We have some things we have to clean up," Hall said. … Tyner carried eight times for 41 yards. "Thomas has been a huge positive for our offense," Hall said. … There were varying opinions when a reporter asked OSU players if they felt pressure to try to win and put Hall in better position to get the interim tag removed from his title. "We're going to try to do everything we can to win and give him at least a slight chance for the job," Togiai said. But Whetzel's take was different: "We really want him to be our coach, but that's not what we're worried about. We want to win the game, not for him but for us." … Oregon State's 299 yards in total offense were the fewest given up by Cal all season. … Beaver receiver Tino Allen left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
Oregon State 7 6 7 3 — 23
California 14 6 10 7 — 37
OSU — Ryan Nall 26 pass from Tuli Wily-Matagi (Jordan Choukair kick), 11:16
CAL — Patrick Laird 12 run (Matt Anderson kick), 8:16
CAL — Vic Wharton 14 pass from Ross Bowers (Anderson kick), 1:12
CAL — Anderson 45 FG, 11:47
OSU — Choukair 49 FG, 5:19
OSU — Choukair 49 FG, :41
CAL — Anderson 50 FG, :00
CAL — Anderson 31 FG, 6:35
OSU — Thomas Tyner 5 run (Choukair kick), 2:09
CAL — Jordan Veasy 25 pass from Bowers (Anderson kick), :23
CAL — Vic Enware 8 run (Anderson kick), 10:30
OSU — Choukair 31 FG, 6:10
Att. — 35,440