In what has been a disappointing season for the Cal football team, the upcoming five-game stretch leading up to the Big Game against Stanford could be even uglier.
Of the five teams the Bears will face, four are nationally-ranked squads, the lone exception being USC, which dropped out of the polls just last week. After this Saturday’s home game against No. 15 UCLA, Cal hits the road to face No. 10 Washington and the Trojans, return home against No. 20 Oregon State, then head back out to take on No. 12 Oregon. In a good year for the Pac-10, the Bears face one of the toughest stretches in college football in the upcoming weeks.
First up is the Bruins, who are coming off of a bye week. Head coach Bob Toledo has several players who needed the extra week to heal, including cornerback Marques Anderson and fullback Matt Stanley, who will both play as much as they can Saturday. Cornerback Jason Bell, defensive tackle Ken Kocher and safety Jason Stephens will also return to the lineup in more limited roles.
The Bears, on the other hand, go into the game having suffered key injuries each of the last two weeks. Left tackle Langston Hughes was lost for the season with an ankle injury two weeks ago, and center Marvin Philip, a true freshman who was himself filling in for the injured Brandon Ludwig, suffered a knee injury last Saturday against Arizona State and will be out for at least four weeks.
The offensive line will get a boost from the returns of Ludwig and guard David Hays, although neither is at 100 percent. Both saw limited action against Arizona State, and Cal head coach Tom Holmoe seemed optimistic about Ludwig’s return to the starting lineup. That should allow senior Reed Diehl to return to his starting center position, although Diehl has been bothered by nerve palsy in his left hip for the past four weeks.
The shuffling on the line hasn’t affected the Cal running game, as Joe Igber rushed for 182 yards on just 15 carries last week. But Kyle Boller has struggled since the season opener against Utah, and it’s no coincidence that the Bears haven’t won since that game. Unless Boller and his receivers can hook up for some first downs, it will be another long day for a Cal offense that has produced just 30 points in the last three games.
Andre Carter and the rest of the Cal defense will have to be on their toes against the Bruins, as Toledo loves trick plays. He has the horses to pull them off this year, with multi-talented wideouts Freddie Mitchell and Brian Poli-Dixon both able to throw the ball as well as catch it. Mitchell has thrown for three touchdowns in his UCLA career. Poli-Dixon is still recovering from an early-season hamstring pull, but at 6-5 is still a big threat against Cal’s secondary.
Holmoe said the Bears have spent a lot of time this week preparing for UCLA’s playbook.
“You have to prepare well for it, because they’ve done it a lot, and their coaches like trick plays,” Holmoe said.
Toledo had good things to say about the Cal defense, which was torched for 420 passing yards by Arizona State.
“They’re very hard to move the football on, especially with Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp up front,” he said. “And it seems like (Cal punter) Nick Harris buries us inside the five every time we get the ball.”