Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The California Golden Bears football team will be hoping to continue a trend of Pac-12 Conference dominance over the Big Ten when they play Ohio State this Saturday.
On the second Saturday of the college football season, three Big Ten teams traveled west to play Pac-12 teams, and all three of them – Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois – lost their games, respectively to Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State. But this Saturday, the tables will be turned on California, which travels east to play the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium.
California comes into the game with a 1-1 record, coming off a 50-31 victory against Southern Utah, after opening its season with a 31-24 loss to Nevada. California’s first road game of 2012 comes against the Buckeyes, which are 2-0 and ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press top 25.
Even though his team is on the road and unranked, California freshman wide receiver Chris Harper believes his team will defeat its ranked opponent on Saturday.
“I think that even though Ohio State is a great team, I think that we’re a great team also and we’re going to be able to compete and come out victorious,” Harper said.
Junior Keenan Allen, a fellow wide receiver, agreed.
“I think our chances (of winning) are high,” Allen said. “We’ve been practicing pretty good all week, and I just think we just got to polish up on a couple of things from these last games and I think we’ll be a great football team.”
Coach Jeff Tedford said during the weekly Pac-12 teleconference on Tuesday that playing OSU, who will have senior linebacker Storm Klein and senior running back Jordan Hall suited up, will be a “great challenge” but believes his team is prepared.
“I think our guys are ready for that test against a very good football team,” Tedford said. “We’ve had to play through a couple things the first two weeks actually that have kind of persevered us through some things.”
Harper said his preparation for playing the Buckeyes has been the same as it is for any other game.
“I’m preparing the same I would any other week,” Harper said. “This is just, it’s another game. Although it’s a big game against a big team, my preparation is still the same because I try to come out and work hard every day at practice.”
California ranks 49th nationally in total offense, with an average of 441 yards per game in its first two contests, and is tied for 35th in scoring offense with 37 points per game. Defensively, the Golden Bears have been worse statistically, ranking only 78th in total defense while allowing 410.5 yards per game, and 91st nationally in points allowed with 31.
Nonetheless, OSU coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes’ opponent has no shortage of talent, including future NFL players on its roster.
“You’ll see some Cal Bears going in the draft next year,” Meyer said.
One California player whose talents have received considerable recognition from OSU coaches and players alike is Allen, who ranked ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in both receptions and receiving yards in 2011.
“Anytime you play a great receiver, you have to have tremendous respect for their ability, and what they do well,” said OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. “Keenan Allen is a great route-runner, he’s got great speed, he does really well, he’s got great body control when the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it. They’re going to run vertical routes, so he’s going to be a factor. They’ll do that with multiple receivers, but he’s a tremendous talent.”
OSU sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said he is looking forward to the opportunity to “go against the best.”
“Everybody has been talking about him, saying he’s one of the best in the country,” Roby said. “I think he’s a good athlete and I think he’s a good football player, so I’m just ready to go against him.”
Allen said the Bears “definitely need to make progress” with their passing offense from their first two games of the season, but pointed out that he is not the team’s only offensive playmaker.
“We have a lot of guys on offense who make plays,” Allen said. “C.J. Anderson (senior running back), Isi Sofele (senior running back), myself, Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs (freshman wide receiver). We all make plays in open field, so once we get the ball into our hands, they really going to have break down and make the open-field tackle.”
Coombs also praised California’s quarterback, senior Zach Maynard, who is Allen’s half-brother.
“He’s very athletic, he’s very fast, he does a great job of avoiding pressure, pulling it down, making things happen, and sometimes scrambles to run, sometimes scrambles to throw, makes a lot of big plays,” Coombs said. “I think he’s a total package and a guy who’s got experience.”
As for OSU’s quarterback, sophomore Braxton Miller, California senior linebacker Robert Mullins compared him to Colin Kaepernick, who played the position at Nevada from 2007-2010, and is currently the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
“(Miller)’s the most athletic (quarterback) I’ve seen,” Mullins said during California’s weekly press conference on Tuesday. “In terms of how dynamic he is, he reminds me of Kaepernick.”
Mullins also discussed how the California defense can slow down Miller, who has accounted for 664 yards of total offense in his first two games of the season.
“Any time you have a dynamic quarterback like that, you have to be disciplined,” Mullins said. “We have to rally to the ball because he can move in space, he may break some tackles … ultimately, it comes down to what we do.”
Another OSU player to whom Tedford gave specific praise was senior defensive end John Simon.
“(Simon) plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Tedford said.
Meyer said that he has great respect for the coach that will be across the field from him on Saturday.
“One of my great friends, I’ve known Jeff (Tedford) for a long time,” Meyer said. “Studied football with him back when I was at Bowling Green.”
Kickoff in the Horseshoe between OSU and California is scheduled for noon on Saturday.
Patrick Maks contributed to this story.